Saturday, October 11, 2014

Back in Kitale

We've been back in Africa for just over four weeks and are still in that not-quite-settled-in mode. I came 10 days before Kathy because I was part of the leadership group that met in Accra, Ghana, for 5 days of meetings.  That time is worth a blog post all by itself, but fellow staff member Renita Reed Thomson did an outstanding post on it at her blog, so if you're interested, check it out her post for September 22nd at

   We're staying in the home of some other expatriate staff, Steve and Donna Taylor, who are hosting us for several weeks while the renovation work on the Founders Cottage on campus is completed.  They have a nice, spacious house in Milimani - just across the street from where we lived in 2009-2011.  We're enjoying the time we have been given to get to know them better. By the way, Donna maintains a beautiful blog - it really is worth a read:

Meanwhile we are watching the renovation of the Founders Cottage unfold, sometimes way too slowly, on campus.  This is the first of a number of renovation projects that will take place this year on campus.  We've been blessed as a community with some additional funds that are making these changes possible.

For those of you who have visited the campus in the past, the changes will be apparent in this picture taken about a week and a half ago.  We've pushed out the back of the building about 10 feet, reversed the placement of the kitchen and bathroom in the main unit and converted the third bedroom into two en suite rooms, each with its own entrance.  You'll have to come for a visit!

On the work front, we are gearing up for the arrival of the site visitation team from ACTEA, the accrediting body for theological schools in Africa.  This is the final step before we receive full accreditation for our BA in Bible and Theology, Diploma in Bible and Theology and Diploma in Christian Counseling programs.  Soon to follow will be a similar visit for our BA in Counseling Psychology program.

Thanks to all who've followed this blog and our privileged status as Kingdom servants in Kenya.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dry Shelter - A Visit to Mt. Elgon

A few days ago Kathy and I traveled up to Kopsiro on Mt. Elgon. A team of us from the ATS campus in Kitale were making a quality assurance visit to the Mt. Elgon Training Center campus to work with our counterparts and validate the quality of their procedures. It was a good visit and we were all encouraged by the vitality of our study programs there.

Kathy, however, went with a different purpose. There are many widows on Mt. Elgon these days due to the land clashes there in 2006-2008. They are poor and find it difficult to acquire even the essential things in life. One of those essential things is dry shelter. The widows can construct a simple home from clay and posts wove with branches, but roofs cost money. It takes from 8-12 corrugated iron sheets to properly roof a home and at $12-15 a sheet, the cost is beyond them. So they improvise, using canvas and other materials, but the constant rains overpower the roof. One widow told our co-worker on the mountain, Chrispine Juma, "Pastor, I want you to visit me in my home, but only when it is raining..."

Thanks to a gift from a relative of Kathy's which we were able to match, we had arranged through the staff to acquire enough iron sheets to roof the homes of ten widows. Kathy spoke to the widows about the concern that some believers in the US have for them and also about the importance of having the greater shelter, Jesus, covering them.

One of the things that struck us on this occasion was how young the widows were. As the widows waited patiently for the distribution, their children came and went. One young mother caught my eye in particular - so young and vulnerable, but left in a position where she had the sole responsibility for caring for her young.

The widows were very happy to receive the sheets. I was touched as we were driving out of Kopsiro to see one of them walking along, carrying her precious roofing sheets on her head. We were able to help 10 widows, but we have a list of 66 others who still have this need.

I think that Mother Theresa said something to this effect, "I cannot work by multiplication but by subtraction. I cannot focus on the thousands I cannot help, but on the one that I can. Each one I help is one less than there was before."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Funeral in Kenya

Last Friday we received the sad news of the passing of the 20-year-old daughter of one of our ATS Adjunct Faculty, Rev. John Kiboi. Faith Kiboi had sickened and died after a very short bout of pneumonia. Yesterday Kathy and I attended the funeral services. Funerals in Kenya are very personal - the family must retrieve the body of their loved one, prepare it for burial and entomb it on family land. There are cemeteries in Kenya, but most people would prefer to be buried on family land.

The first part of the ceremony was held at our church, St. Lukes. About two hundred people attended, some coming from as far away as Nairobi (a contingent of faculty members from Carlyle University where John is the Academic Dean). The service, scheduled for 10am, began when the coffin and family arrived from their home in Kibomet (a housing area in Kitale). Many people spoke, parents, siblings, extended family, friends and guests. The service lasted about 2 1/2 hours. Then we loaded into cars and caravaned out to the family property. There were no policemen on motorcycles shepherding us on the way, but people and drivers, for the most part, recognized what was happening and made way with grace.

As we stood with the large crowd in the Kiboi's front yard (our group from the church was swelled by neighbors), we watched as the coffin was taken from a table where it lay for a viewing by those who were not at the church, and laid in a grave that had been dug on the side. It is a sobering thing to see the dirt scraped back into the hole and the simple wooden cross set in place. Following this, the family served a meal to all the attenders, and then, around 4pm we dispersed.

Faith would have turned 21 tomorrow (Saturday). One of the speakers suggested that we might honor her life by taking a moment to remember her and her family in prayer. I think that is a good idea.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rites of Passage

Most societies have rites of passage - formalized events that mark major transitions in life. Marriage is one, birth of the first child is another. One that is quite strong in African cultures is the coming of age ceremony for young men and women. Kathy and I had the privilege yesterday of participating in the conclusion of this rite of passage for Seth Mairori, the son of Stephen and Roselyne Mairori, our good friends and national leaders.

The traditional rite takes about a month and involves the separation of the boys of a certain age group (around 13 years of age) from their families. The boys are taken out into the bush or forest by a selected group of older men. They stay out for about a month, learning from their mentors what it means to be a Sabaot man and warrior. At some point the young men are circumcised. When the period is complete the new young men are reintroduced to their community as men who can now begin taking on the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood. They are also expected to leave the things of childhood behind. Typically the new young man would begin living in his own dwelling on the family compound.

One of the challenges facing Christian parents is how to keep their children connected with their culture, while remaining true to biblical principles. Stephen and Roselynne determined that there were aspects of this coming of age rite that they wanted Seth to experience, but there were other aspects they wanted to avoid. They enlisted the help of others, including Dr. Emmanuel Chemengich, a fellow Sabaot, and the Principle of Africa Theological Seminary, who is writing a book on the subject of creating Christian Rites of Passage for African young people.

Seth and his cousin became the age group and were circumcised at the beginning of the period. Then they lived apart in a specially-built shed on the Mairori property for 30 days. During this period they had no contact with the women of their household and were mentored by Dr. Chemengich in what it means to be a Christian man in today's society. Yesterday was the final day of the rite and about 70 family members and guests gathered to celebrate the event.

At the end of the event, Seth was presented with a few new responsibilities - a sheep from his family and a cow from the guest speaker, General Sumbeiywo, a retired Kenya military officer turned peace maker for Kenya. I had the privilege of brining a greeting as an ICM representative. I observed that this is one more area where we in the West have an opportunity to learn from our African brothers and sisters. What rites of passage do we have for our own sons and daughters to help them learn what it means to be godly members of our society?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas in Portugal

It has been a busy run-up to Christmas this year. Kathy and I decided that we would take the Christmas break and visit our friends and fellow finishers, Doug and Myra Gentry, in Lisbon where they are serving as missionaries. 17 hours after departing Nairobi we arrived in Lisbon and were conveyed by Doug and Myra to their home in Loures (pronounced Loo-resh), a community just outside Lisbon.

Yesterday we went for a drive to an old mountain community named Sintra. We walked up and down cobbled streets, explored curio shops and had a meal together in a local restaurant. We wanted to visit the local palace in town, but it is closed on Wednesdays. We had to settle for a picture of the four of us in front of the steps leading up to the entry. High on the hill above the city we could see the remains of a fort dating from Moorish days, and on other hills were the palaces of various Portuguese royalty from days past.

After we left Sintra we drove through the countryside, enjoying the trees and vegetation that reminded us so much of the central coast of California. Eventually we made our way to the coast and were treated to the sight of magnificent waves rolling in off the Atlantic and crashing against the rocky shoreline. As we drove south along the coast towards Lisbon, we visited the "Boca do Inferno", a bowl shaped crevice that had a water level access to the ocean. Waves would rushthrough the opening and explode on the interior rocks. The gate to the pathway to the lower levels was closed to the public due to the rough seas, but the action from the top was impressive.

We returned to the Gentry's apartment for a short rest and then enjoyed a dinner with their teammates, the Ekks, and another missionary couple at a local grill. After dinner we visited a local nativity scene which featured larger-than-life images. It was a mixture of humor and holiness as some of the figures were quite funny, while the center characters of Joseph, Mary and the infant Jesus were striking.

After reflecting on the scene for a while we joined together to sing a carol before departing for a late evening desert and more good conversation at the Ekk's apartment. When we finally dropped into our bed after eleven we were exhausted, but fulfilled by our first day in Portugal.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Do Two Cows Make A Herd?

I wrote in August about our foray into the cow business as a ministry to the ICM staff at the Mt. Elgon Training Center. Since then, Juma's cow has birthed a calf, a bull, and has settled into her new life on his property in Kopsiro.

We've just purchased our second cow, a fine Asian-Guernsey mix, who is currently residing on the Africa Theological Seminary campus here in Kitale. The photo is of Chemway, as her new owners have named her, grazing on campus. If you look close you'll see that she looks thin. In terms of quality she is a very good cow, but her previous owner was trying to maintain a herd of four cows on a small plot of land. One of the points we're trying to make with this project that it is better to own one or two quality cows, who are healthy and fat and who give more milk, than to own many cows who give little.

Our partner for this cow is Jusus Kirui. Justus serves as the administrator of the METC as well as a teacher in the Certificate programs there. Justus has served at the center for many years. He is a quiet man, but is very astute and is quite the planner. We've had a number of long conversations this past two weeks, and I've come to appreciate the wisdom that God has given him. He has just completed the Diploma in Bible and Theology program and will be starting as one of our BA students in January. He is married to Suzy and is currently finishing their new house in Kopsiro

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On Bowes' farm

I've always enjoyed having a vegetable garden. I can remember back to when, as a young boy, I tried to coax tomatoes to grow out of a patch of barren ground in our back yard. I don't recall having any success. After Kathy and I were married, we bought our first home and I enjoyed turning the adobe clay of our back yard into fertile soil by adding to it copious truck loads of compost from nearby horse ranches. Livermore, San Bernardino, Germany, England, Los Angeles and finally Bakersfield - all provided gardening experiences.

I'm not sure what I was thinking when we moved here to Kitale. I knew that our house had a big yard and there was an area for a 'shamba' (garden) on one side of the house. I also knew we'd be busy, and that it takes a lot of work to do a good job of raising vegetable. But, oh for the taste of fresh tomatoes from the garden again.

Enter our day man, Daniel, a farmer by trade. Daniel is supposed to take care of the yard, so having him set up a garden for me fit his experience and responsibilities.

The results so far are promising (if not downright intimidating). Daniel has increased the size of the shamba three-fold by converting attractive, but non-edible lawn into farm land. He set up bedding areas and then proceeded to plant ALL the seeds in the seed packets we purchased. In the accompanying pictures you see the garden as it is today.

The top picture is of our sukumawiki bed, into which Daniel has just transplanted young sukumawiki plants. Sukuma is either the Swahili name for kale, or a close cousin of it. The second picture is our potato patch. We're growing common reds. The third picture is one (one!) of our tomato fields. Each stake you see represents one tomato plant. The other field is larger. "What will you do with all the tomatoes," you ask. We reply, "We don't know!"

The final picture is of our chicken. We didn't plant chicken seeds, or find him on the road. We've begun working with another of our Mt. Elgon staff members to acquire a good milk cow (see a couple of posts down for details). His wife came to our campus today to attend a seminar for pastors' wives and brought us a box of vegetables and a live chicken.

So, if you're in the neighborhood, just stop by Bowes' Farms and we'll fix you up with whatever we're harvesting. But you'd better act fast if chicken is on your shopping list, because this kuku is soon for the soup pot!