“Tell the people at Grace that we love them, we are thankful for them, and we are praying for their work in America.” I heard some version of this from pastors and church leaders over and over again in the highlands of central Kenya, and I was struck by our connection—like there was an invisible line of communion that joined Greenville to Nyahururu and I was just finding out about it. But when the rain that had fallen left water plastered over the windows of our van, I looked out to the water-distorted faces of the busy marketplace in Nyeri, and I realized I did not know their stories. Where would they go when they left this place? What thoughts and emotions would run through their core when they settled into their homes for the evening? I was struck by our lack of connection.
His listeners were wide-eyed when Daniel Moore told them that he had traveled at 900 km per hour in an airplane on his way from America to Kenya. The marvel in my mind is that we could travel such a distance and find ourselves groaning and exulting with those we had never met because we all felt the brokenness and beauty of a single Story. On the other hand, we could do little to assuage the brokenness over which we groaned, and we did not understand the words of the songs over which we exulted together. In this sense, the extent of disconnection was painfully apparent.
And so my thoughts seesawed between connection and disconnection, alienation and restoration. I had the chance to enter a new world and experience new stories, some things familiar and some strange. The lines below are glimpses of the people and stories we encountered.
- Charles, the pastor of a rural church, would pick at stiff weeds and use them as writing utensils on his own body. His brown skin would turn ashen beneath the vegetation-turned-pencil as he considered with us the correct spelling of English words, worked out math problems, and charted his inquiries into North American geography.
- Margaret could not stop smiling when she stood up in class and thanked us for being there. She gifted us with bananas and oranges before she left the conference site.
- Simon is an elderly pastor whose high-pitched voice was so gentle and deep with experience that I loved when he spoke up in class. At one point during a break he leaned up in his chair and looked me in the eye. He reached out and touched my knees in an effort to get his message across, just like a person would gesture with fingers and hands on a tabletop. “I believe that women are powerful,” he exclaimed. In class we had just discussed the role of women within church government, and I saw in the silence he allowed to linger between us that he shared the same tension we feel, struggling to discern what God created us to be and to align ourselves with that.
- David has been a pastor in Kenya for roughly 50 years. He stood up in class and told Chris Curtis that he had always had questions about the things we were teaching, but that he had never heard a satisfying answer until now.
- Moses, another pastor, translated for us, and he asked me to expound on Jesus’ teaching on servanthood. I told him I would, but ended up shortchanging him due to lack of time—such a regrettable thing to do to a faithful pastor who had to borrow a Bible because the passage we were reading had accidentally been torn out of his.
The day before our return flight, we witnessed an elephant enormously rush away from our van as a giant storm cloud rose up to meet him. I wanted to run across the plains toward the rain and terrify myself with an adventure. I felt an awakening toward a deeper story, the fringes of which were intoxicating. Likewise, the experiences of Moses, David and many others are, like theatrical trailers, introducing me to the stories of Kenya that go so much deeper. Yet I have confidence that at their core is the tale of a God who created us, pursued us when we fell into death, and is vanquishing death from our midst through the gospel of his Son.
This is the grander story that all creation cannot help but proclaim, and we believe that this story would become all the clearer to us if we delved into the sub-plots that we do not know. For opening up the eyes of our church to the sub-plots of central Kenya, we want to say thank you. Thank you from those of us who traveled there, and thank you from the churches in Kenya that we visited. Your generosity and obedience is allowing us to partner with these churches, and you have helped to establish and reveal the connections within a Body that spreads throughout the nations. You have given our church the opportunity to move forward and discover just how deep and wide our one Story goes.