Reflections on Kenya/Uganda: Travel as Incarnation

August 19, 2013

My husband and I arrived home yesterday afternoon, after a nineteen-day adventure in equatorial East Africa. In many places we had no electricity, so we had no Internet access, and uploading pictures to Facebook was a problem as well. I decided to catch up now with some reflection that is an inevitable and necessary part of world travel. Though the topic may not always relate to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), most certainly the Word was brought to life for me, and in turn I hope for you. But I can say parenthetically that the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) is alive and well, and we saw signs to many village churches, especially in the central highlands of Kenya.

So here’s my first thought: There is a very real way in which travel is an incarnation. When Jesus left his heavenly throne and royal prerogatives behind in order to enter human history (Philippians 2), he traveled into time and space and made his appearance. His ministry was a peripatetic tour of a relatively small region, where he not only announced but also demonstrated the Kingdom of God. Our travel to Kenya and Uganda had significant incarnational ministry components to it. We did not go as saviors or solvers. We went as tourists who happened to have friends and projects in these two countries. While in the “neighborhood,” we visited them. But oh so much more happened.

To set the context: we were met at the Nairobi airport by our tour agent Felix Koskei (Travel Connections, Nairobi), who organized our itinerary according to our rather unusual specifications. Andrew was our companion, driver, and guide for the entire seventeen days in-country. He shared our passion for birds, had incredible eyesight and insight, and shared his knowledge of economics, politics, nature, and history as we drove all those many miles through southwestern Kenya and southern Uganda.


Here’s where we went (click on the map to zoom):

1–2 August, Nairobi hotel, local sites
3–5 August, Maasai Mara National Park game lodge
6–7 August, at the home of friends ministering in Tenwek
8–9 August, Kakamega, Rondo Retreat in the Kakamega Rain Forest, ministry visits
10–12 August, Kampala, Uganda, with day-long excursion to a village ministry in Masaka district
13 August, Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya for bird-watching and rhinos
14–15 August, Samburu National Reserve, game lodge
16 August, Nanyuki, Kenya, in a wildlife conservancy lodge
17–18 August, forty hours transit home via car, plane, and train.

I would say that the schedule was grueling at times, with some long days driving to accommodate the Uganda phase. We were always up early either to see game or to beat the traffic out of cities, and we tumbled into bed by 9 or 9:30 each night. My exercise routine went out the window. We ate local food, which included all the necessary elements to keep my tummy happy but otherwise did not vary much, and we drank bottled water exclusively. Even in the cities, Kenya’s water is now universally defiled. On this score, we managed fine until we just plain forgot in Samburu and had ice in our drinks. Eating was punished severely for the next two days. Otherwise, we enjoyed fine health, a bug-free environment (the dry season helped), and really nice weather. (They were complaining it was cold, but for us mid-80’s was just fine!)

We thoroughly entered this world. We got our feet dirty and immersed ourselves in village life. We enjoyed amazing conversations with Kenyans and Ugandans on a full range of topics, so when we flew by communities on our long-haul road trips, we could recognize the life these people lead and appreciate either their progress or their challenges. To them, our visits were heaven-sent, because they have disciplined themselves to look for God’s work in their lives. All expressed to us their gratitude that we came representing Christ and the wider church to them. It was a ministry of presence, which is the essence of Incarnation.

Tomorrow:  Travel as Withdrawal



8 Responses to “Reflections on Kenya/Uganda: Travel as Incarnation”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    I’ve enjoyed your Facebook entries, Mary, and look forward to your taking us deeper into God’s hand and your heart through this remarkable journey. Eleanor

  2. shaizydeesly Says:

    Hello, Iit was so nice of you to visit my country, Kenya and share about it. It was also nice of you to share with us the words of Christ. I do hope you touched many souls. What bothers me though is how describe some bit of my country. Oh yes we do have electricity and the bug free part is so rude to me and my country. taking bottled water was clearly your choice. I can’t remember the last time i took bottled water, because the water is not defiled. Christ would not be mean at describing my country.

    • revmary Says:

      Hello Kenyan friend, did we meet while I was in your country? Which group were you in? I’m not sure if you are someone I know personally or if you happened upon my blog.
      I am sorry to come across as mean in describing the conditions I experienced in Kenya. I am glad that you have electricity, and I know that much of Kenya is “electrified” of course; but our travels took us to places so remote that electricity was conserved and turned off during the day if it was present at all. I also traveled to rural villages where there was no electricity, so you are fortunate where you are and I celebrate with you that this very important resource is available to you! Regarding the mosquitoes, we traveled in regions of Kenya and Uganda where malaria-carrying mosquitoes are generally prevalent. However––and this is a praise to God––they were very few during this season, which is a good thing, because I am a mosquito magnet under ordinary circumstances, even here at home in the United States. So I was worried about getting bit and took malaria prophylaxis as a precaution. Regarding water, you must understand that Americans have week guts when it comes to a change in something so basic as water. But I have it on good authority that the water delivery system in Nairobi, for instance, has been breached by illegal tapping into water mains, and defiled water has washed into the system making it undrinkable for people like me who have built up no resistance to microbes. This is no hypothetical issue for me; I came home with a dysentery with fever and have had to get medical treatment. All this because I dropped my guard and had a beverage containing ice cubes made from tap water a couple days before our trip was over.
      Again, I am sorry for offending you. I know that Christ would not be mean, but Christ also speaks the truth, and I am telling my story the way I experienced it. I had a wonderful time in Kenya and was blessed in conversation with many people in all walks of life. Please know that I carry you all in my heart and trust that your work on behalf of the gospel will plant seeds in rich soil!

  3. houstonhodges Says:

    Wonderful stuff, Mary. Not surprised that you were fully engaged in it, and made it work. Good goin’.

  4. Harry Slye Says:

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you for sharing your time in East Africa with so many of us. Having been to Kenya twice with the Medical Benevolence Foundation I could see and feel again the joy of being there with brothers and sisters of the PCEA. I could hardly sleep in the days after I returned. Being there and having my wife Audrey with me for the second trip was certainly one of the highlights of our life in Christ. We’ll never forget stopping our two vehicles and with our team from Grace PC, Houston, silently watching the sun rise across a great expanse of Maasai Mara, then without planning, the words of Psalm 19 were spoken.

    There were so many unforgettable moments in our time around Kikuyu and the PCEA hospitals there.

    Looking forward to reading more about your trip.

    Harry Slye

    Katy, TX

  5. Tim Hunt Says:

    I cannot speak to Uganda, but, based upon three trips to Kenya, the East African Presbyterian Church is definitely on the move. The challenge, incidentally, is demonstrated at the Presbyterian Guest House in Nairobi which is next to a mosque that broadcasts the calls to prayer way too early. My colleague (a woman from Texas) was looking for her shotgun.

  6. Jodie Says:

    My experience in Tanzania was that the battle between Islam and Christianity is fought with music. Each tries to outdo the other in the beauty of their praise and calls to prayer.

    I wish the whole world would follow their role model.

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