Let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding. Romans 14:19
We have followed the Daily Office through Romans and of all Paul’s famous statements this one seemed special to us.
Since our last newsletter there has been a lot going on at St. Phillip’s Theological College. For us to get to know the students we invited them over in pairs on successive evenings for soft drinks and cookies. There are fourteen students, 13 men and one woman, mostly from the provinces of Western Kenya. They tended to come with their close friend from the same tribe and diocese. Tribalism is sadly very real and debilitating here in Kenya, affecting both the politics of the country and the church. All the students are trilingual, speaking their mother tongue (tribal language), as well as the two national languages, Kiswahili and English. The majority of students come from polygamous families, with one young man having 33 brothers and sisters and six “mothers.” Eight men are married with children, with the wife taking care of the farm back home. Several have the background of being an evangelist. This is a sparsely paid church worker spreading the gospel under the auspices of a parish priest who has a minimum of three churches, more often five to seven. Preaching and praying are not new to these students, and their aim in seminary is to hone this skill and add others so that they can be ordained. To be a priest one must be monogamous, but polygamy is a normal part of life for most people here. It does not seem all that strange, even to Christians, and it is certainly not in the same sin league as drinking or smoking.
The Anglican Church in this area tends to be evangelical and the sacraments are under emphasized. One of the first things Sandra did was to find a priest to preside at communion once a week at the daily Morning Prayer service. This has been very well received, as have been the classes on sacramental theology and liturgy. Martin was once again called into the acolyte master role, teaching the fundamentals of how to assist the priest and set up the credence table. The six seniors did a very nice job in their first “practicum” presiding at Holy Communion. They were using their new prayer books and decked out in their newly sewn vestments (more about the new stuff later.) As Sandra’s mother would say, “They were proud as peacocks.”
Each student has, in addition to class work, a job assignment. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians of no work, no food is basic math here. Jobs include milking, tending crops, slashing grass, doing carpentry, repairing bicycles, and grinding maize. Isaac is an electrician, and Tom is a skilled carpenter. All of the desks, tables, couches, and chairs at St. Philip’s are made by four students under Tom’s guidance. To accommodate all the summer visitors this year, Tom’s crew was very busy making several new beds. They begin by cutting the boards from felled trees on the grounds, all without any electric tools. Joash is quite an expert in horticulture and oversees the gardens where they grow cassava, cow peas, beans, a special grass for the cows, and sunflowers, the latter for the honey bees and for the oil from the seeds. Sandra, however, occasionally “sneaks” a few of these stunningly beautiful sunny faces for the chapel vase.
Nan Hardison, principal of the school, has encouraged several self-sustaining projects to raise revenue. The animal husbandry project is growing. There are now two cows, two bull calves, and two more calves are on the way. The hope is to be able to sell milk and yogurt. So far, there has only been enough milk to sustain the demand for chai, a “religious ceremony” here twice a day! To our minds, this is really hot milk with a ton of sugar and a trace of tea. Also, four weeks ago Nan “won” a boy lamb, subsequently named Lambeth, by being the highest bidder at a church auction fund-raising event. All of these animals, including the monkeys, make their homes in our front yard. I can look out our kitchen window and see the little shed for the animals, and they often graze right under our windows. I love the early mornings, hearing the neighboring roosters crowing, the cows beginning to bellow with full sacks of milk, and Lambeth bah-bahing when he hears the workers coming to feed him.
The seminary has hosted several visitors this summer. There was an energetic visit by Canon Jenny Vervynck, assistant to Bishop Gethin Hughes of San Diego, who took two weeks of her sabbatical time to be with us. San Diego is the home diocese of the Hardison’s under whom we are doing our internship here. Vieng Bougeuma, a first year MD-PhD student from UCSD came and spent a month making rounds at the hospital. Her research is on HIV/AIDS and she learned a great deal seeing many facets of the problems of AIDS patients. Judith Allison, a Yale divinity student attending a summer course in Nairobi, came last weekend. For the last two weeks the seminary and hospital have both been blessed by nine high school and college Lutheran girls who came on a short term mission trip and are painting at the hospital. They are from all over the US and Canada. They are under the auspices of an organization called Side-by-Side. There have enlivened the worship services at the seminary and gave the hospital a much needed face lift. The mutual upbuilding and joy emanating from the relationships established between the students and these girls has been palpable. It really is all about incarnation!
On the personal front, our books arrived. You cannot imagine our joy at seeing those bags! The six bags arrived at separate times with the last one coming six months after the January 10th mailing from Columbus. Sandra’s lectures were begun without the benefit of certain texts or notes, but now she can broaden and deepen her class work considerably. Martin’s lab work relied heavily on a single 1950’s text supplied by Dr. Hardison. The arrival of a few key text books and manuals has lifted his confidence to introduce new procedures. The hospital, however, continues to limp along with a low census. A new hospital board has convened with the assignment of coping with the financial problems. Closure is a real possibility.
For now we have decided we will put no significant amounts of money into anything but tools for the theological students and only the day to day necessary items to run the hospital laboratory. We couldn’t agree more with theologian Rev. Prof. Bediako’s statement: “The centre of gravity [of Christianity] has shifted to the southern continents, what happens in Africa will determine what happens in other parts of the world…if Africa does not produce theology…if African churches are untaught or untrained…then Christianity will diminish in the world.” Educated clergy are sorely needed, and scholarships for academically qualified students will be necessary to fulfill this demand. Thirty students can be trained here for about what it would cost to send one African student to a seminary in the states.
As we move toward the end of our “internship,” we are fulfilled and have learned more than we could have ever hoped or imagined. We now face the task of discerning our next step. More than anything you can give or send at this time, we need to be bathed in prayers so that we might have eyes to see and ears to hear where the Spirit is leading.
You are all invited to Sandra’s Ordination to the Diaconate at St Thomas on October 17th at 4:00 PM. We are looking forward to this with great anticipation. As we end this letter, Sandra is packing to go to a town near the Uganda border to give a clergy wives’ conference. This is to let you know that she won’t just be lolly-gaggling over August break!
With much love and joy,
Sandy and Marty