Reflections on Kenya & Uganda: Neighbors

August 24, 2013

As I contemplate our next, briefer, visit with a local Kenyan family, Mr. Rogers’ theme song “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” comes to mind:

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?  Could you be mine?…

It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood,
A neighborly day for a beauty.
Would you be mine?  Could you be mine?…

I’ve always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day.
Since we’re together we might as well say:
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

c1967 by Fred M. Rogers

I could not write a more apt description of our day in the village neighborhood near Bomet, Kenya. Pastor W saw my interest in his home and heard my questions about how it compared with traditional rural huts. He sent one of his children over to the neighbor’s to ask if we could visit, to further our education. The green light was issued, so we walked across the lane to a plot of land similar in size but not as developed as Pastor W’s. A hut was centrally located in a small, smooth clearing. There were two other small buildings also, dedicated particularly to sleeping. [After age 8, the boys sleep in their own hut.] But cooking and sitting were reserved for the circular mud hut with a thatched roof.

Our host with piercing black eyes and an inner strength greeted us, understanding that this was a house tour. Pastor W translated her language for us, and conversation was brief and to-the-point.

She modestly led us into her hut, and immediately we were thrust into almost total darkness. IMG_4517Only one window on the kitchen side, to let out the smoke of her cooking fire, brought any light into the one room. A corner shelf in the sitting room held a candle. Furnishings were sparse and there were few possessions of any kind. The Lord convicted my spirit: I have more stuff in my bedroom closet at home than this woman owns altogether. How do I feel about that? As to property, her life was very simple. As to life challenges, it appeared to me that she was navigating poverty and its attending complications with grace and good will. Her cooking gear was sheltered in an orderly outside closet. She was raising chickens in another area—a good sign that the children were getting some protein. There was a rain barrel for catching precious water. But unlike Pastor W across the road, she had no solar-powered battery charger to extend her evenings with a little light. Twelve hours of daylight lit her world, and the rest was darkness.

As one who experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) annually—the body’s slow motion panic reaction to shortening days in winter—I do not know how I would handle this scenario if I were to live here. For this electricity-dependent suburbanite, the required mindset would be the one I temporarily adopt when camping and backpacking. We live outdoors: cooking, eating, recreating, fellowshiping, and use the tent only for changing and sleeping. In this little village of southwestern Kenya, I would stay outside as much as possible, simply because I crave the light. When it is not raining this is actually a delightful prospect for the climate at this elevation is moderate. But during the rainy season . . . ?

Sorry, I digress. When the Pharisees asked Jesus to clarify, “Who is our neighbor?” (as in “Love your neighbor as yourself.”), he told the story of the traveler who was beaten on the road to Jericho. Unlike the priest and the Levite who walked right past the robbery victim, a Samaritan bandaged him up and took him to an inn to recover. The first ministry of the gracious Samaritan was to look, to see, and to comprehend the condition of a fellow human being. And the second ministry was to do what he could to alleviate the suffering he witnessed, with compassion and kindness.

I am still working through in my own mind and heart Who among all the people we met in Kenya are our neighbors. This village woman, whose name I do not know (shame on me), surely ranks a place on that list. The question now is how can I show compassion and kindness to her from halfway around the world. I have taken the first few baby steps: A personal visit, a close look into her world, recognition of her strengths, a gift of rice. Is there anything else, Lord, I can or should do? Or can I take this experience and steward it in my world: to see my “neighbors” here in Walnut Creek with similar eyes, really look at their reality, recognize their strengths and struggles, offer a gift of time and fellowship, and bring Christ to them? Who in my community needs an invitation, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

This, by the way, is an essential line of questioning for anyone who desires to be a missional disciple of Jesus: Lord, to whom can I be a neighbor? For some additional thoughts on this very important question, I link here to Dallas Willard’s fifteen minute reflection (one of the last he presented before his death) on “Love your neighbor as yourself.”



2 Responses to “Reflections on Kenya & Uganda: Neighbors”

  1. The bit about the bedroom closet really got me. Oh, my!

  2. Janice Gray Says:

    The bedroom closet is/was VERY convicting!!!!!!! Thanx a lot 😉

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