As much fun as it was gallivanting through the London streets, I confess: I breathed a sigh of relief as Bill and I boarded our final flight.  This second red-eye (from London to Nairobi) proved a little more true to its name.  (Excitement?  Nerves?  Vertical tilt?  Let’s just say it was thrilling to hear our flight crew announcing arrival in Nairobi.)

Getachew (far left below), our in-Kenya co-host (along with Alison Barfoot, next photo) met us on the other side of customs.  They took us for an American breakfast and then directly to our guest house to nap.  (Do these guys know how to welcome foreigners or what?!  Their gracious hospitality during every moment of our stay continues to blow my mind!)

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After a nice long nap for recovery (I’ve never been good with that “don’t sleep jet-lag recovery” strategy), Bill & I spent the afternoon swapping life-stories with Alison & Getachew.  One of Bill’s friends/seminary classmates, Mueni, (who lives in Nairobi) stopped over for about an hour of conversation.  (We’ll get more time with her next week.)  In the evening, the entire crew (minus Mueni) met up with my dear friends, Luke & Lillian (and, of course, their three beautiful children).  It was a wonderful reunion of old friends and new–an easy and delightful “first day” on the ground in Nairobi.

Things are beginning to ramp-up.

Today, Bill & I woke up early to join Mueni and her father, Motava, for the 7 a.m. Anglican service in downtown Nairobi.  It was fun to see that part of the city; the morning’s liturgy was beautiful.  We returned to our guest house just in time to depart again w/Getachew and Alison for church at Evangelical Victory Church (EVC).

The rest of today was spent in worship and fellowship with folks from this congregation.  They are an amazing faith-community, located in the Kairobangi slum neighborhood of Kenya.  (We’re told this is the second largest slum in Kenya, after the more infamous Kibera.)  EVC is known as the “church on the road” because of it’s position (you guessed it) … smack in the middle of a road.  There has been some tension with the Kairobangi leadership/government? (no surprise) and the church is under pressure to relocate, but … where?!img2008-11-16_0024

Literally thousands of people gather together for Sunday morning worship.  The children’s services are so large … EVC now hosts them as separate early morning events (plural form here, since the number of children in attendance requires several gathering spaces).  Then it’s on to Swahili/Women’s Fellowship services (9-11am), corporate worship (11am – 2:00pm), and — finally — the EVC youth servcies (4-6pm).

Several of the pastors/workers we’ll be serving together with during our conference (beginning tomorrow) spent the day with us.  (One of whom is Pastor Woche, pronounced “ho-chey” … sort of!)  Many of them have been working with this EVC congregation for years.  They describe this church as the “missional engine” behind the ministry happening in N/NE Kenya.  (The work Bill & I have traveled to learn about and – in some small way – support.)  Each of the stories we hear continues to increase my own (1.) disbelief in God’s power/goodness (how can it be that God has done this?!) and (2.) sobriety that I have been invited here, to join in fellowship with my brothers/sisters.  (Today at church, we heard testimony from a young man who accepted Christ two weeks ago.  Part of a rebel militia group, he had for years lived to seek revenge for his brother’s murder, claming the lives of many … until God transformed him through the Gospel of Christ.)

This evening, the conference leadership team we’re a part of met to discuss our specific “plans” (always held loosely here) and the conference participants themselves.  The stage is set for significant ministry & training.  Please be in prayer for traveling mercy (we’ll spend 5-6 hours in a jeep tomorrow; many of the conference participants will have been traveling for days).  Pray also for the cultural translation that needs to take place in the coming days.  (Five different languages were employed in today’s service at EVC, if that gives you any idea; the conference will involve even more diverse – and strategic – leaders.  I’m told nine out of the ten tribes listed as “unreached people groups” in N. Kenya will send representation to our gathering.)  Pray also for the reconciliation of Christ to find full expression as we all gather.  (Many are coming despite long-standing tribal grievances … to say nothing of the cultural/economic/social diversity inherent in our group.)

Only God can assemble, equip, bless, and use a group like this.

Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4

Gregory Wolfe on Flannery O’Connor (below) gives me language to describe my criteria & love for good art.

In one sense, O’Connor’s writing gave her the opportunity to learn and relearn the virtues of self-knowledge and humility: by seeing her own sinfulness in some of her characters she recognized her own need for mercy. But O’Connor did not believe that art is merely self-expression – another problematic legacy of the Romantic era. Rather, she saw herself as a “Christian realist,” and believed that art had to do justice to the world beyond the self. In one of her letters O’Connor writes: “Maritain says that to produce a work of art requires the ‘constant attention of the purified mind,’ and the business of purified mind in this case is to see that those elements of the personality that don’t bear on the subject at hand are excluded. Stories don’t lie when left to themselves. Everything has to be subordinated to a whole which is not you. Any story I reveal myself completely in will be a bad story.”

The whole creation will be set free from its bondage to decay, to share the liberty of the glory of the children of God. And are you and I not going to work for that in the present? We won’t build the Kingdom of God by our own efforts in the present; it remains God’s gift by his grace and by his power. But we can produce signs of the Kingdom in love and justice and beauty and healing and fresh community work of all sorts, internationally, locally, all over the place. And thereby celebrate the whole biblical story, the whole biblical story.

–N.T. Wright, The Christian Challenge in the Postmodern World

It’s no coincidence that just at this point in our insight into our mysteriousness as human beings struggling towards compassion, we are also moving into an awakened interest in the language of myth and fairytale.  The language of logical arguments, of proofs, is the language of the limited self we know and can manipulate.  But the language of parable and poetry, of storytelling, moves from the imprisoned language of the provable into the freed language of what I must, for lack of another word, continue to call faith.

Madeleine L’Engle

The truth of Christianity is not like the universal truths of reason.  The cradle of Christian faith is a story rather than a system.  Though the Bible includes many literary genres, what holds it together is a narrative unity: the story of what God is doing in the world through Israel, through Jesus Christ, through the church.

Kevin Vanhoozer, “Pilgrim’s Digress:Christian Thinking on and about the Post/Modern Way” from Christianity and the Postmodern Turn

SECOND NAZARENE
  There is also the miracle of the daughter of Jairus.
FIRST NAZARENE
  Yea, that is sure. No man can gainsay it.
HERODIAS
  Those men are mad. They have looked too long on the moon. Command them to be silent.
HEROD
  What is this miracle of the daughter of Jairus?
FIRST NAZARENE
  The daughter of Jairus was dead. This Man raised her from the dead.
HEROD
  How! He raises people from the dead?
FIRST NAZARENE
  Yea, sire; He raiseth the dead.
HEROD
  I do not wish Him to do that. I forbid Him to do that. I suffer no man to raise the dead. This Man must be found and told that I forbid Him to raise the dead. Where is this Man at present?
SECOND NAZARENE
  He is in every place, my lord, but it is hard to find Him.

–Oscar Wilde, Solome, as sited in NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope

But Diddley said that while rhythm was important, the secret to good songwriting lay in something else.

“A story with some funny lyrics, or some serious lyrics, or some love-type lyrics,” Diddley said. “But you gotta think in terms of what people’s lives is based on.”

NPR, All Things Considered