British Airways flight 0064. Service from London's Heathrow Airport to Nairobi, Kenya. Leaving around 11 AM, local time. 8 hours or so of air time, and the amber lights of African runways called wheels down to pavement and lives into engagement with a world we'd barely recognize save for the trappings of a semi-modern city in the year 2013.
95 Parkview pilgrims touched down armed with knowledge, faith, medicine, and an incorrigible and incorruptible hope that perhaps...just maybe...we might see the dead raised both literally and metaphorically in the next 10 days. We were not disappointed.
I was able to serve a session leader for local pastors and worship leaders in the Mathare Valley, and their faith and knowledge of Scripture took my breath away. Theirs was a faith tested by death, poverty, and oppression. Mine is one tinted by consumerism and the radical Western individualism that saturates me like water to a salmon every day.
They welcomed me in, poor Swahili on my part and patience exceeding all expectations on their part, and taught me about what life looked like when all the crutches and stretchers of convenience are tossed aside. I hope I don't paint this too romantically or idealistically - there were still personality conflicts, ego-driven decisions, etc. but the stark reality of glue-huffing and desperation in the streets leveled the playing field quickly.
Our team were enchanted, daily and immediately, by children. The Mathare Valley boasts a population of around 800,000 and 25% of that population falls into the category of "children." For those of you mathematically challenged, that means 200,000 tiny unkempt souls wander the dirt alleys and tin shanties playing with plastic bags that were previously used as toilets and tossed into the open rivers of sewage that flowed like welcome mats in front of the tin houses packed throughout Area 1.
Yet, there in the midst of the stark desperation, were lighthouses - schools.
Pangani. Baba Dogo. Huruma. Kosovo. Mathare North. Joska.
Our hearts were torn from the immense darkness to the blinding light, from the struggle and trial to the victory and vigilance, from a life of desperation to a desperately beautiful life of education. Mission of Hope International cast a wide beam and now has 16 schools (including those listed above) throughout the Valley and now in the Lodwar province - Turkana, where Parkview has partnered with CMF to adopt almost 1000 children and will continue to sponsor kids so they can get the education they need and become the world changers who can embrace the masterpiece-work set ahead for them (Eph. 2:10).
Construction team built and plastered. Medical team healed and treated. Spiritual growth team taught and directed. Business team cultivated and developed. Photography team created and instructed. Self-defense team protected and stretched. We laid our skills out on the line, and we pray God was glorified. We were definitely transformed. I watched our teams create beauty everywhere they went, and I was humbled to simply be around these incredible folks.
At the end of our time, we were able to see the school at Turkana opened and new life starting to flow to a new tribe, a new tongue, a new nation of people. In the meantime, 8 people from the safari team chose this time of their lives to say that they would join fully into the Kingdom of light, and were baptized in a pool overlooking the wild fierceness of God's creation in the Masai Mara. The roaming lion was denied again, this time in force.
But this is not the end.
Entering back into the stream of life in our Domestica, our home, our country of origin, things are different. Perhaps you can't step in the same river twice, I don't know.
It seems as if the volume has been turned down on the things to which we returned. Daily inconveniences seem less painful, less trivial. The pace of life without 10 AM tea time seems silly - perhaps even dangerous. The choices, the wealth, the overwhelming nature of stuff clings like poison ivy to our souls and the scratching drives us up the wall. They say it is normal, yes, reverse culture shock in full force, and it is a beautiful and joyful transformation to know that you won't be able to see the world the same again.
When you have stared into the brilliance of the Sun - in the joyful smile of a child with little to be joyful for except the Good Shepherd Himself - the flicker of a flashlight simply will not do.
I have been changed. I long to be changed. Come Lord Jesus, now and forever.