Like all experiences, mission has its own stages and cycles, its liminal moments when we are truly betwixt and between worlds, between what we think and how we see the world. Perhaps there are no more potent moments of being “between” than in the beginning of mission, the first moments away from all you knew (or thought you knew), people you cared for and held dear, and all that gave sure anchor to the way in which you engaged the world.
While musing, as I am wont to do, it came to me that 25 years ago this month, I arrived in Kenya to serve as a Franciscan lay missionary. Back in those days there were no blogs to post musings. Where we lived it was a good day to have electricity and that was usually limited to the season when the rains had come and hydro power was available. When you live in the slums and it is time to ration electrical power or water, we often were the first to experience the cuts. Back in 1996 the Web was starting to gain some momentum, but it was still just a few years old.
The first reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews carries an oft quoted verse: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:2) All cultures have their own sense and operation of hospitality. I think most of us grew up is homes wherein hospitality was rarely taught but always on display. So, it is an interesting experience to live in a culture where the dynamics of hospitality are different. Such was my experience while living in Kenya.
I wasn’t too sure what to expect for my first Christmas in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Certainly, the slum in which I lived was devoid of any of the commercial excess. There were no malls, no black Friday, none of the things mark our Advent season. Occasionally, you could hear Christmas carols, traditional and tribal, float out of one of the wood sheds/tin roofed stores. But most the familiar signs and markers that Christmas was coming were missing. Continue reading →
You’ve seen the movies: a person is in danger, slipping off a cliff or a building or some other perilous perch. Another person grasps them by the hand and desperately tries to pull him or her to safety. That is the image Isaiah gives us: God grasps the chosen servant by the hand and hangs on for dear life. “I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant to the people” (Is 42:6). It is an image that Pope Benedict XVI sees in his book Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, the sinless one, plunges into the waters of our life, grasps a new covenant people by the hand, rises from the waters, all the while hanging on for dear life – our life. And we are baptized into Christ, raised toward eternal life, commissioned to journey through this life. Baptized and sent.
18 years ago, on the 2nd day of my mission to Kenya, I found myself in the back seat, traveling by car from Kisumu to Homa Bay on a mostly rough, uneven, dusty and rock-strewn dirt road only meters from Lake Victoria. The land was dry, parched, and in need of irrigation – all the result of irrigation projects promised but never seemingly a high enough national priority for this out-of-the-way corner of the nation. Later we were to discover we were between the short rains of December and the long rains of July and August – and in reality, at the beginning of a year-long drought. Continue reading →