Collecting Tiny Bits of Hopefulness

This morning's Washington Post carried a beautiful story from Kenya--it's buried inside the A section, but its there, and my hat's off to Stephanie McCrummen for reporting it. It tells the story of residents of Kenya's Kibira slum who, during the height of the post-election violence in that country, put their own lives on the line to make peace.

One such person is Joseph Osodo, a member of the Luo people group (unlike the Post, I don't like using the word "tribe"). At a time when everyone around him was hiding in their house for fear of being killed, Osodo walked to the house of his friend John Kyalo who lived in one of the rival areas. He just couldn't stand staying in his house, he said. "Someone said 'You will be killed,' and I said 'Then let me die.'" He persuaded his friend to walk through Kibira with him, and to hold their own peace talks with various leaders the next day.

The other person profiled in the story is Solomon Muyundo who spent weeks painting phrases like "Keep peace fellow Kenyans" anywhere he could find an open space. One night, he even painted words of peace on the body of a man who was about to be burned to death--and saved the man.

Reading this story this morning, I remembered again Florence's words during the last meeting of the Lenten class on Evil I've been teaching with John Lobell. Florence spoke with such stark honesty about her struggle to recover from the awful violence her family experienced some years ago. She talked about how her whole outlook on the world suffered from that event. She lost her trust in people, and began to look at everyone as a potential perpetrator.

But then, she said, a time came when she made a decision to start noticing other things. She decided--made a conscious choice--to see goodness in the world. "I became a collector of tiny bits of hopefulness," she said. "That made it possible for me to delight in the world again."

There were many other powerful things said in that class, such that the class itself became one of the things that makes me hopeful about the world. God is at work, in us and among us and at times, in spite of us. Today this comment from the Post is all the evidence I need:

"Even as former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan was brokering a political settlement over tea and cookies at a posh safari lodge, people in Kibera--Africa's largest slum and a flash point of the post-election violence--were forging their own kind of fragile peace, block by block and person by person, often at the risk of death."

Update from Kenya

I just received an update from Edward Simiyu, the amazing Kenyan pastor of the City Harvest church who Caitlin Kelley and I met in Uganda last May. Edward and his church's response to the recent post-election violence in Kenya has been a very strong reminder to me of what it means to serve the Prince of Peace. I can't do what he's doing, but I want to support him every step of the way because what he's doing sounds a lot like what Jesus calls his disciples to do. Follow the links (added by me) for more news and some jarring photos. To see what he's talking about on a map, look here or here. He refers in his letter to Aaron and Kaarli, two young Americans working in Kenya for Youth For Christ (I think). They were also at the Amahoro Africa conference, and were also impressive and inspiring people. Please keep all of these people in your prayers.

Here's Edward's letter:

Dear Praying friend,

This update comes to you when shocking violence rocked and led to partial destruction of some otherwise peaceful towns of Nakuru and Naivasha. Cynthia (one of our staff) went on official duty to minister to the displaced in Burnt Forest and together with a team of 20 from Nairobi Chapel team conducted the first ever Sunday service for the displaced yesterday.

They are now stuck in the area due to the roadblocks that have seen the death of a Catholic priest and close to 20 others forcefully removed from Public transport vehicles and killed. Last night was difficult for them as raiders attempted to raid and kill the displaced close to the police station where the team is putting up. The police thankfully repulsed the raiders.

It is now official that the road are unsafe without police escort and the situation has worsened since Friday last week...worse than when the caravan of hope went out... The team is trying to get to Eldoret before they can be escorted back to Nairobi, ironically via Burnt Forest again. The police in Eldoret are reportedly overwhelmed by violence further northwest near Turbo towards Webuye (The home of our Webuye Pastors Expositors Conference). Over 20 or so roadblocks have been erected for ethnic cleasning...

Peace gathering in Kibera

On Saturday, January 19th, I held a breakfast meeting with 22 leaders in Kibera, Laini Saba that is also the home of Kibera Transformation and Development Project (a ministry of City Harvest church). The agenda was "How to Restore Peace" by critically examining the impact of (past) conflicts. Some of the worst violence continues to be experienced in Kibera especially around Fort Jesus. It is around this area that the impressive Africa Inland Church was razed by arsonists. Aaron and Kaarli graciously availed themselves to share experiences of what they have seen in Africa over the two years they have been on the continent.

The two hour deliberations saw the leaders make interesting proposals: that we meet again in about two weeks time and hold similar conversations in the hotspots and have as many of the inciters of violence attend. Thankfully our young civic leader has contact with a number of inciters and promised to not only host the meeting but also invite the inciters of violence. Our mediation plan will include engaging warring parties to carry out joint reconstruction of homes etc as a way of rebuilding peace and trust.

Please pray that we shall see calm return to Kibera through these efforts. Pray also that the on going mediation talks led by Koffi Annan will yield lasting peace and reconciliation. One major concern that I have is that the violence, if it continues (and if it hasn't already) may head into an irreversible gear; that of personal/tribal grudge and revenge militias which the two leaders may be unable to contain regardless of who is or becomes the legitimate president. It will be remembered that many conflicts on the continent started as small feuds that then escalated into decades of bloody civil strife by not being contained early enough. Pray also for Aaron and Kaarli. They have so far put a neutral face to my efforts by among others taking peoples' attention from asking questions as to whom I am and my tribal affiliation which is now a very sensitive issue.

Friday 25.01.2008

After our return from the clash torn North Rift areas two weeks ago, our report reached churches in the City with positive responses emerging. Nairobi Chapel has sent two trucks this morning to the region with humanitarian assistance. They also gladly received our consignment of foodstuffs to deliver to those affected. We are sensitizing as many churches with the hope that they will do the same. Indeed many are already involved in some parts of Nairobi.

Asante for standing in prayer with us.

Edward Simiyu

Edward M. Simiyu
Team Leader/Senior Pastor
City Harvest Ministries
P.o. Box 7276 Nairobi 00300

Hope for Kenya

Last year at this time, news of a botched election and inter-tribal violence in Kenya would have been just another sad headline for me. Now, after meeting a number of Kenya church leaders at the Amahoro-Africa gathering I attended in Uganda this past May, this is news that has a human face for me. But Edward Simiyu, one of the Kenyan pastors I met, has given me a reason to do more than worry. He's given me a chance to hope that this conflict might not devolve into the Rwandan-style worse-case-scenarios that some have predicted. I'll attach his most recent email below, and I hope you'll consider writing to him some words of support.

Dear Amahoro Friends,

The last week has been filled with tragedy, confusion, chaos, anger, and disappointment for people across Kenya. Tens of thousands have been displaced, hundreds have lost their lives, and millions have been affected in innumerable ways. The rapid descent into chaos has shocked Kenya to the core. Seeing widespread ethic killings and the ghosts of the Rwandan genocide occurring within the Kenyan boarders is not something that we had ever dreamed possible.

We know many of you have been closely following the story in the media if you have not been living it here inside Kenya's borders. Thankfully, both of us and our families are safe. We want to thank all of you have sent words of encouragement and expressions of concern in this difficult time. Unfortunately, many people were not as lucky.

We believe that it is times like these that people across Kenya need to know that they are loved by others outside of their ethnic groups. They need to be reminded that the love of Jesus knows no boundaries.

What we would like to propose is that a caravan of vehicles drive from Nairobi to Eldoret, which has seen some of the most extreme violence and division, to deliver crucial aid of food stuffs, blankets, clothes and medicine. On the trip, we plan to stop and spend time with youth manning checkpoints on the roads who are looking for people of the opposing ethnic groups on which to take revenge. We would like to remind these youths that they are loved and that there are better ways to respond to this crisis. The two of us have committed to each driving a vehicle for the 5-7 day trip.

To have the greatest impact for people in Eldoret, we need your help. We are looking for:
People willing to make the trip with us or join/support us along the way
4WD vehicles (preferably White Land Cruisers that are known to be used in humanitarian aid responses)
We believe that this activity is just the sort of practical intervention that the church should be making at this crucial time and very much along the lines of our discussions at the last Amahoro gathering.

If you have any of those items that you would like to contribute to this mission, please contact either of us as soon as possible.

Your brothers in Christ,

Edward Simiyu ([email protected]) & Aaron Sundsmo ([email protected])

Another story from Africa: Everiste the Tall Pygmy

I've had some email correspondence recently with Everiste, one of the many fascinating people I met while in Uganda as part of the Amahoro-Africa conference in May. Everiste, I was fascinated to discover, is a pygmy, which is to say that he is part of the Twa tribe, one of the earliest tribes to inhabit the Great Lakes region of East Africa. Everiste is taller than me, so he challenged some of my images of pygmies from the moment I met him. How perfect that he is named after the tallest mountain on the planet!

He also challenged many of the stereotypes of the Africans on the trip. I found out that the Twa suffer a great deal of discrimination within African society. Everiste is from Barundi, and he said that in his country the Twa are a landless people. For many generations they made their living by crafting pottery out of clay which they dug from the river bank, and so they lived in largely temporary structures near rivers. Now that pottery is no longer an essential item for daily life in Barundi, they are even more destitute than they were. Very few continue their education into secondary school, and Everiste said he was one of only 5 Twa students at the unversity.

I talked to Everiste while on an 11 hour bus ride between Kampala, Uganda and Kigali, Rwanda. Like many Barundians, he is much more fluent in French than in English, so our conversation was assisted by Josephine, another Barundian who was sitting next to me, patting Everiste on the back in support as he talked. He told me about the ways in which Twa children are discouraged from going to school by the intense teasing of other children and the extreme discrimination of teachers who often regard Twa as mentally deficient and not capable of learning. Josephine underscored much of what he said, and told a story of an adult Twa woman she knew who, as a child, had been put to work as a servant of her whole classroom when she had attempted to go to school. She was clearly sympathetic to Everiste's work to help his community develop.

"The most important thing my community needs" Everiste stumbled, looking for the word "education". But before he could find the word, Josephine jumped to he assistance declaring with conviction, "You need SOAP!"

It was a funny moment for the Americans listening, but it did speak volumes about what the Twa are up against, even from sympathetic Africans of other tribes.

Everiste was involved with a number of compelling projects to help the Twa--everything from building a boarding school for 40 secondary school students to sponsoring a dinner for all the Twa considering continuing their education. He is looking for support for all these projects. To learn more, talk to me and I will give you his email address.