22 August 2011

القوة‎ and مال

I can hardly believe it, I even have students now who weren't alive when it happened, but next month will mark the ten-year anniversary of the bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City, the crash of United flight 93, and the plane crash at the Pentagon. No doubt the next few weeks will be filled with memorial services and emotion as families and a nation remember.

It seems to me that that was when Islam and the Muslim world really began to be noticed in America. Yet, ten years later, what do most of us really know about the more than one billion people in our world who make up the Nation of Islam? Some of us might say they read and follow the teachings of the Quran or that "they" are trying to build a mosque at Ground Zero. Others might say that Muslims make them feel uneasy in airports or that they are the reason so many of our soldiers have lost their lives. Those things might all be true, and I do not at all mean to diminish or trivialize the sacrifice that so many have given for our protection and freedom, but do those observations really give us a picture of what the Muslim world is truly like? Do we even care? Honestly, until recently, I really haven't.

Sure, I've prayed some pretty generic prayers for "the Muslims," but I've never really understood enough to pray more than that or have even known a Muslim by name. As I write this, I have still barely inched past that point. I know the radical Muslims are being blamed for much of the famine crisis that is going on in Somalia right now, for the continued onslaught of terror against the "Western" world, including the deaths of many U.S. and other soldiers from around the world, and for civil wars that are destroying generations. However as Christians, I think that, all political opinions aside, we have a divine responsibility to engage this culture, remembering that these people are still loved by God as His creation, and He knows them each by name. We could even learn a few things from them.

A year ago, my little Winchester bubble didn't exactly teem with people who were openly Muslim. I remember being in the airport here in Nairobi before I boarded my flight home, after spending 3 weeks here. I had about six hours to wait, and there wasn't a whole lot to do, so I just wandered. I remember that at several points throughout the night, I saw groups of men gathered wherever they could find room. They had rolled out mats and were kneeling and openly participating in their time of prayer. That was so foreign to me, and while of course I disagree with the "object" of their attention, I appreciated their dedication and lack of concern about who was watching. How many of us have hesitated to pray at a restaurant because someone might see us and think we're "weird." Ooooh, 'cause that would be so awful! (Please sense the sarcasm...and yes, regrettably, I have thought that before.) As we saw, and we undoubtedly see again in the next few weeks, the pictures of the planes flying in the World Trade Center, many of us wonder what on earth would possess those pilots to not only take the lives of thousands, but to give their own lives in the process, for this god they believed in. Um, shouldn't anyone who calls him/herself a Christian be willing to do that? Now, PLEASE don't misunderstand me here--we are certainly not called to give our lives in the same way, but when was the last time you felt that committed to the faith you profess? Just food for thought.

I hadn't really thought much about the Muslim world since that time, until I came back to Nairobi. Kenya is still a predominantly "Christian" country (seriously though, most of the stores play Christian radio stations! It's kind of weird to hear gospel music blaring from a shoe store!), but there is certainly a much higher percentage of Muslim people here than Winchester. It's not rare to see women in full-coverage black when we go out. While driving down a street, I noticed that on the side of one building was painted "There is no god but Allah" (that one got me a little bit). Last week while out to eat, we heard the call to prayer over a loud-speaker from the nearby mosque. Many store owners are Muslim. (In fact, after shopping with a friend in a store owned by a Muslim man and his family, she even made the comment that the Muslim men in Nairobi, particularly the store owners, were some of the kindest, gentlest people around.) There's nothing about the Muslim culture that seems to be particularly "in your face", but it's definitely here. So I've started paying a little more attention.

It has also been brought to my attention more by some of the local churches. This month is the Muslim month of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in the Islamic calendar. It's based on the lunar calendar, and this year it's a little earlier than it has been in recent years. Again, here's something I had heard about, but didn't really have a clue what it was. (Here's a decent website to check out if you want to know a little more about Ramadan http://www.suite101.com/content/what-is-ramadan-for-muslims-a138742 .) Now I'm hardly an expert on any of the things I share here, and what I tell you is pretty much the little bit I've learned in the last few weeks. But I'm trying, even if it's just a little bit, to understand what the "fuss" is all about. I have a long way to go.

What has most interested me though is the Muslim "Night of Power," which is coming up this Friday night, August 26. It always occurs during the last 10 days of Ramadan, and apparently this is the night that Muslims traditionally believe was when the Quran first began to be revealed to Muhammad. During this night, millions of Muslims believe that angels perform "special purposes." They also believe that their god will pay special attention to their requests, and many request a dream or a vision for guidance and revelation. Now here's the good stuff! THIS is where is gets interesting, and where you, if you so choose, can play a part! On this night, so many people are praying for visions and revelations, and you better believe they're getting them--but not from Allah! Here are some statistics I've come across (haven't totally validated the sources, but the info is in line with what I've been told in churches around here):
  • One source says that 80% (EIGHTY PERCENT!) of new Christians in South Asia come to Christ as a result of a supernatural encounter
  • More than half of new believers in Iran have had a dream or vision of Jesus
  • At least 35% of recent Turkish conversions were in response to a dream or vision
Here's a story that was shared in the church I was in yesterday:
The man who shared, who is actually the father of one of my students, has a "Muslim" friend. That man has been a Christian now for 15--20 years because of a dream he had during a Night of Power years ago. He had a dream about a pit. All around the pit people were falling in, screaming, and dropping to their deaths. At the edge of a pit was a lamb, and the lamb's neck was slit, and it was bleeding. As all these people continued to fall into the pit, some of the lamb's blood fell on some of the people. Anyone who was touched by a drop of the lamb's blood was saved from the pit. They did not fall. They did not scream. They lived.

I don't know how things progressed next, but that man knew that the truth about Jesus had been revealed to him during that night, even though he had asked another "god" for a revelation. The one God who COULD answer heard his plea, answered, and that man is now serving Him here in Kenya.

So would you join with thousands of other Christians on Friday night to pray for the Muslim world? Pray that they would get their visions, alright! Visions of a risen, living Savior who loves them and gave His life for them. And maybe while you're at it, you could ask God to give you a little bit of compassion for the Muslim world. Maybe you aren't even to that point yet and you just need to care at all. Ask God to work in and on the hearts and lives of more than a billion lost people in our world, and maybe He'll just work on yours too. I know He's working on mine. ~

13 August 2011

New Cuisine, A Volcano, and Some Random Thoughts

It has been nearly a month since I last wrote, and since it's a drizzly, cool afternoon, and things have slowed down a bit, I figured it was time for an update. This one is going to be kind of random--I'll try to recap a few things I've done, for those of you who are wondering, and I'll mention a few thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain for the past week or two. If you've been following my pictures on facebook, some of this might seem a bit redundant to you, so feel free to skip ahead! :)

Over the last month, I've had several new "Kenyan" adventures! Here are a few highlights:
  • A few weeks ago I tried Indian food for the first time. Eh. Not so much a fan (yet, anyway). I miss Don Senor.
  • Last night I tried Ethiopian food for the first time. Definitely a unique experience! I thought a few things were pretty good...but kind of changed my mind when they came back to haunt me at 2 a.m. this morning as it felt like the spices were burning a hole in my stomach lining!
The 2 a.m. Culprit
  • I started driving about two weeks ago, and while I haven't ventured farther than 3 km yet (about a mile), at least I took the first step! For those of you who don't know, in Kenya we drive on the left side of the road, the driver's seat is on the right side of the car, and most cars have a manual transition with the gear shift to the left of the driver. All of those things were a little intimidating at first, but I finally decided I couldn't live for three years without being able to fend for myself a little bit, so I bit the bullet. I have been VERY thankful that my first car back in high school was a stick shift! I hadn't driven one for years, but thankfully it came back to me very easily! Hopefully in the next week or two I'll try to drive a little further and expand my "driving horizons."
  • Last weekend, as part of our full staff orientation, we went hiking at Mt. Suswa, a double volcanic crater north of Nairobi that's in part of the the Great Rift Valley. While the hike was a little challenging (at an elevation of 7000+ feet, my lungs weren't ready for that yet!), it was breathtakingly beautiful. It was great to get out of the city a bit and just see more of God's creation. It made me think about how many beautiful things are out there that I'll never get to see this side of heaven, and it reminded me of how limited my scope of the world is. About 25 of us stayed overnight to camp on the rim--again, one of the most beautiful things I've seen. Plus, all of this was made much more pleasant to me with the fact that it has been cool and/or chilly for the last two weeks! (I love it!) Besides camping, the group of us who stayed were invited to a Masai village for a ceremony that afternoon. More about that in a moment...
On the rim of the crater
The summit
Our campsite

  • Also last weekend, my aunt was back in Nairobi. My cousin and her son were here also before they flew back to Denver. I met up with them and Davis and some of their friends from Indy for lunch at an amazing restaurant on the other side of Nairobi. It was nice to have family in town, and we had a great time visiting and catching up.
  • School started 2 days ago, on Thursday. I have 23 students in my class who are from somewhere around 7 different countries. However, many of them have lived in several countries, so the amount of countries that make up their international experience is quite a bit beyond 7, I believe! I can already tell I have a lot to learn from them this year! They seem like a really sweet group of kids, so I hope we have a great year together. I love that, since I'm at a Christian school, I get to start each day with them by having a devotional time and a chance to sing together! What's more exciting is that several, if not quite a few, of them come from Muslim, Hindu, or nonreligious homes, so I really do have my own little mission field right in my classroom. It's a humbling, but exciting, thought.

So there are a few of the things that have kept me busy. Now I'll share a few of the things that have been bumping around in my head for the last week or two. None of them are quite what I'd call profound in and of themselves, but maybe God will use them to mean something more to you!

1. As I mentioned earlier, some of us had the chance to visit a Masai village near Mt. Suswa last weekend. I don't think I can quite explain the "remoteness" of this village. It was out in the middle of nearly-barren land. Everything around was very dry with sparse vegetation and little to no water supply. Here was this little group of people who live every day trying to survive (which is really beyond me how they actually do). They have TINY, dark houses that are crawling with bugs and full of smoke from the "kitchen". Their cattle are their livelihood, and it's hard to imagine where they got ANYTHING they needed--blankets, cloth, pots for cooking. I have no idea where they get those things. But here they were, welcoming us to their village in the middle of Nowhere, Rift Valley. What struck me as we visited was how many tiny groups of people like this there must be all over the planet--with nothing else around except some tourist buses, cows, and dust tornadoes. Yet, as insignificant as their place in the world seems, God made each of them! He has placed them there in this time and place just as much as He's placed the rest of us anywhere else. He knows them each by name, and He has a plan for their lives! It kind of makes my brain hurt if I think about it too much. But it reminds me of what a great big God we serve!

Masai Man
Masai Woman

2. I've heard this quote from Mother Teresa before, but someone shared it with our staff last week and it keeps coming back to me: "In this life we cannot do great things; we can only do small things with great love." It has meant a lot to me for several reasons. First, I think many of us think we NEED to do great things--great things as defined by the world. We don't. If we can't succeed in loving people in the small things, then no "great thing" means anything in God's Kingdom. The other reason it has resonated with me is in thinking of my students, which was kind of the context in which this was shared with us. I know that teachers can have a big influence--good or bad--on a child's life, and that's a little scary. I also know that as a teacher it is very easy to get focused on the task we have of educating students and forget about the other needs that they have--needs that might take more energy or patience from us, needs that might take us away from our planning time, and needs that might detour from the tasks we had planned. However when we take time to show love, God's love, to our students in the small things, it will could make an eternal difference in the life of that child AND make a change in our hearts as well. Of course this doesn't just apply to teachers and students, it applies to all Christians. Do small things with great love. Think about it. It might just change the way you live.

3. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Another quote I've heard before. What has hit me in the last week or so as I've thought about this is not that I'm fonder of the people I'm absent from and that I miss, I just realize how much they meant to me and how much I didn't always make the most of the time I had with them. It's very easy to take the people in our lives for granted--until they're gone. I am so thankful for things like Skype, MagicJack, and facebook, because moving to Africa would be a very different experience if I were cut off from those I love and miss (and until recently, that was exactly the way it was when people went this far away from home). Getting to see pictures from my goofy teacher-friends in their new t-shirts, see video of my dog, hear a friend's voice on a phone message, keep up with friends through facebook chats--all of these things are simple things, but they have meant the world to me over the last few weeks. I have moved around a lot in my life, so leaving people I love is nothing new. However, the relationships I've developed as an adult in the last few years have been among the most meaningful in my life, and leaving those behind has been harder than I imagined. So, all of this is to say don't take the people in your life for granted. You never know when God will call you or them somewhere else, and while we do have the blessing of communication, it's not the same.

Well, that's all I have for today! I pray that God will use something in this post to bless or encourage you. Thank you for the many prayers so many of you have prayed for me--it means more than you'll ever know! A closing thought: A few weeks ago, I hired a local man to paint for me. He worked 18 hours in a week, and I paid him a TOTAL of about $35. (Considering that the average income here is $2/day, that was a great rate--but still it seemed to me that was nothing compared to how hard he'd worked.) When I'd asked him what I owed him, he didn't really want to say, and finally suggested a total that was about 30% less than that. I really had no idea what the going rate was, so I paid him more than he suggested, which apparently made him very happy. With a huge smile on his face, he shook my hand and in his limited English he said, "God bless you!" Humbled beyond words, the only thing I could think was, "He already has, Meshach. He already has."