Our most exciting news is that our work permits were approved a few days ago. We are going into Nairobi later this week to do the relevant paperwork, which apparently can be protracted. So, after four-months’ preparation, we are ready to start counselling and teaching.
The time we have spent on language learning has been quite intense. It has also been much more enjoyable than we expected, though it was somewhat sobering to realise recently that we now have the vocabulary of an average two-year old child. On the other hand, it has only taken us 10 weeks to get this far, so we are sure that soon we will be fluent! Hakuna matata! Now that our permits have been approved, we may need to reduce our Kiswahili lessons to just one per week; we’ll see – for we do want to press on with the lessons, so that we can build closer relationships.
We look back to our orientation course in January, and realise how far we have come in feeling at home in a different culture, and in building relationships with colleagues-to-be, neighbours, and people at church.
Just after Easter we took a three-day break at a lodge by Lake Naivasha, about 50 miles north-west of Nairobi. As we hadn’t officially started work, taking some days out seemed a bit premature, but we enjoyed a lovely few days bird-watching and animal trekking – oh, and dozing!
Mark has been attending more meetings at Tumaini and has been doing induction / orientation things there, but not yet working as a counsellor. A colleague put a sign on his door saying “This is NOT the office of Mark Phippen” to emphasise my ‘not working’ status – though this is just about to be changed!
Barbara has been meeting other tutors and prospective students, but not working as a teacher. However, as she had students eagerly waiting for lessons, she started working with them the day after the permits were approved! It is really exciting to be teaching an Ethiopian evangelist who has planted churches in an area where there was no prior Christian witness. But he really needs to improve his English if he is to complete his theology degree and take this work further. And from today she has gained two theology students from Madagascar.
We are learning about developing friendships in a way that I (Mark) have not done in the UK. There is a culture of visiting friends at the end of the working day, and we have changed our meal times in order to be available from 6 to 7pm, and most days various people ‘pop round’ for a chai and a chat. The conversation can be anything from the experience of the day to discussing the wonder of a Bible story, to talking about upcoming difficulties.
On Easter Monday, we were very humbled to receive an invitation from one of the Kenyan gardeners on campus, to visit his home nearby and to meet his family. His house was made of corrugated iron, divided into three ‘rooms’ by curtains, and had been beautifully decorated with bunting (string and cut plastic shopping bags) to welcome us! In the midst of financial insecurity, there was his well-thumbed Bible on the table and confidence that God would provide for all their needs. Here is Barbara with his wife, Agnes.
And last week this same member of staff invited us to his college ‘grace-group’, which he was leading that week. The group included students and academics and other staff of the college, led this week by the gardener. He asked us how to consider how to care for plants so that they would grow, and led quickly into using this as an illustration of the importance of God’s Word, prayer and a close walk with Jesus so that we grow in spiritual maturity.
Last Saturday we drove to Machakos, 50 miles south-east of Nairobi, to visit a young woman we have come to know who is doing a Diploma at the local Bible College. We wanted to meet up and encourage her. We also met some of her family, and when we left they gave us half a sack of wonderful avocados from the trees on their ‘shamba’ (vegetable growing land), so we were encouraged too! Fortunately we have friends with whom we can share them!
We are becoming more aware of living in a story-telling culture. Although literacy rates in Kenya are high, the tradition of story-telling remains important. So, when we talk with people about the Bible, it is the familiar Bible stories they know and relate to, as well as particular verses they remember – often those about God being faithful in times of trouble. Today, Joseph popped in for chai after work. He shared with us how the preacher at his church had spoken of Elisha and the woman whose son he healed. He was so enthusiastic about this ‘very wonderful story’. Jesus knew the power and usefulness of teaching by stories. Perhaps in the West we underestimate this in sharing our faith?
We continue to be aware of security issues here in Kenya. In recent weeks, you may have seen on the news that there has been trouble in both Mombasa and Nairobi. Tensions remain high between Kenya and Somalia, and the many Somalis who live peacefully and legally in Kenya feel caught up in the crack-down on the few who have a different agenda.
Personally we feel safe and very well-supported by AIM, but we need to continue to pray for security in Kenya.
If you are the praying kind, please join with us in praising God for:
- our work permits being issued, so that we can start counselling and teaching
- opportunities opening up for Barbara to teach and so support people in their ministry
- continued good health
And please pray for:
- the paper-work related to issuing our work permits to go smoothly this week
- wisdom and a Godly witness as we start counselling and teaching
- hearts which are open to developing closer relationships with those around us
- Barbara’s mother who is recovering from a fall (no bones broken, PTL)
- security in Kenya, and that heightened tensions may be diffused peacefully.