Last week a group of women visited our office for a celebration lunch.  They had recently been acquitted of the crime of giving false information to a public official – a crime of which they were wrongfully accused.  These women were almost certainly arrested because of the work they do and the stigma their job carries in their community; they are prostitutes.  Naturally, the police probably concluded, they couldn’t be trusted.  But we know them to be honest women, and this, their acquittal, was a happy celebration.

The full story of these nine women and how we came to know them was captured so well by my friend and colleague, John, that I won’t attempt rewrite it, but do I urge you to read it here, because this one is important:

http://www.johnramseycomedy.com/2010/11/07/the-nine-honest-women/.

This case prompted a lot of thoughts for me, but most of them can be summed up in this one sentence: radical love is the heart of the gospel.

But radical love isn’t always what I show the world.

It’s far too easy to stereotype people, to put them in a box and tuck it neatly away in a far corner of our minds because prostitution, and the men and women who engage in it, may be less than pleasant to discuss.  Maybe you do this because it makes you uncomfortable.  Or maybe you feel like the church is too judgmental and Christians are too hypocritical to have a meaningful conversation about these things, so you don’t engage.  Or maybe you, like the Kenyan police, would have assumed these women were lying.  I might have.  Maybe they knew everyone would think that too, because at some point they stopped hoping for fairness from the courts and the police and people around them and expected only more judgment.

But Christ presents a very different picture of what it means to love the world – a picture that I don’t think allows us to continue to disengage based on our own preferences for people or situations.  He didn’t change the conversation when it became awkward or avoid tax collectors and thieves and adulterers in the streets.  Instead, he sought them out; he offered them something the world did not – grace.

Why?  When Jesus stood next to the adulteress outside of the temple court, I don’t think the pharisees saw the same woman He did.  Where they saw a throwaway, a sinner they could use to trap Jesus in his words, Jesus saw her – the woman who deserved dignity; a child in need of grace.  And after they had all gone away He asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  No one had.  And then He said, “Then neither do I condemn you.  Go now, and leave your life of sin.”

That day, this woman found grace in the words of her savior.  But what do society’s rejected most often find from us today?

Is it grace?  Is it friendship?  Is it love?

We are called to love those we are not comfortable loving.  I don’t know who this is for you, but to really do this I think we are all necessarily required to step outside of ourselves, our culture, our comfort zones and abandon the boundaries we have built to make our own lives safe at the expense of all else.  The more I learn this lesson, the more I believe that it is only when we are a little bit uncomfortable in life that we are right where we are meant to be.

To echo this point, there is a line in the first book of the Chronicles of Narinia that I love.  Lucy has just cautiously asked Mrs. Beaver if Aslan, the lion, is a safe creature.

“Safe?” Mrs. Beaver replies. “Of course he isn’t safe!  But he is good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

If God is not safe but He is good, then it therefore stands to reason that a life of following God will not be safe either, but it will be the good life.

And that’s what nine prostitutes taught me about the gospel this week.  The call of Christ is to love the world with the same sort of reckless abandon that He first displayed in his love for us.  His radical love.  And there are not limits to where that can take you.  Are you ready to follow?

 

Just one of many Nairobi roadways where prostitutes will look for customers each night.

Last month Kenya celebrated Mashujaa Day (Heroes Day and formerly Kenyatta Day) and naturally, we took advantage of our Wednesday off and celebrated by making a visit to see Nairobi’s most popular… baby elephants.  We visited them at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  I spent more time oohing and ahhing than actually listening to the fun facts, so I made up my own.

Baby elephants drink milk.

Baby elephants wrestle.

Baby elephants give hugs.  Did you know they are extremely social animals?

Baby elephants will whack you in the face (in about 5 seconds) if you get too close.  But still adorable.

Giraffes are cute too.

These guys live at the Nairobi Giraffe Center.

We also visited the lovely Kazuri Bead Factory, which provides employment to over 400 women, mostly single mothers, who create beautiful jewelry and pottery.

Latest fundraising mailer tells the story of Brenda, one of our clients at IJM Kenya!

Support IJM’s work to fight illegal detention in countries like Kenya:

http://web.ijm.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=9681.0&dlv_id=12701

Had a little visa snafu this week, but thanks to a senior immigration officer who, in my hour of sitting next to his desk I learned really likes the Sacred Heart of Jesus posters and is also a big fan of Lil’ Kim and Fat Joe (we listened to We Thuggin’ a few times) – my crisis was averted.

The process ranks high on my bizarre experiences list, from the way my friend the immigration officer seemed delighted to see me, but less delighted to serve my fellow immigrants, to the water bottle full of what smelled like turpentine that he keeps on his desk for you to wash off the ink after your cop-style fingerprinting session, to the knowledge that all of this was taking place in a fading yellow circa-1980’s style building where the government once tortured political dissidents

But all in all the whole thing took less than an hour and a half, which is really like 1.7 seconds in the world of bureaucratic slog.  So now I can say… Extended visa? Check.  Registered alien? Check!

Have you ever wondered what purgatory is like? I’m here to tell you that it does exist in the form of the Kenya Posta Parcel Retrieval Office, and it goes a little something like this….

Step 1: Enter building.

Step 2: Take the elevator to second floor.

Step 3: Hand yellow slip to woman who retrieves your parcel. Show identification.

Step 6: Open your parcel.

Step 4: Wait in parcel assessment (this will take a while)

Step 5: Assessment Man assesses the value of your parcel.

Step 6: Tape your opened parcel back together.

Step 7: Hand repackaged parcel to Assessment Man, who gives you a receipt.

Step 8: Take receipt to Customer Cashier.

Step 9: Receive duplicate receipt from Customer Cashier (whose desk is so far away from the window that she retrieves and gives pieces of paper to customers by sliding them across the counter with a long yardstick.)

Step 10: Take original receipt and duplicate receipt to Assessment Man, who stamps them both furiously before tucking them away in a little wooden drawer. Assessment Man hands you a third receipt, with your parcel and points you toward the woman sitting unnecessarily far away from him at the other end of the counter.

Step 11: Give Far Away Woman your third receipt, show identification, again, and pay (in my case, a whopping 70 shillings, or 93 cents). Don’t worry – she’ll give you a fourth receipt.

Step 12: On your way out, stop and give Man Guarding Door your passport number and sign his (security?) sheet.

Step 13: Take elevator to ground floor.

Step 14: Show passport and receipt numero quatro to Actual Security Guard as you exit the premises.

Step 15: Vow never to complain about long lines at the DC DMV ever, ever again.

Three articles have appeared in the news recently and shocked me, even though they shouldn’t have.

They proclaim things like: thousands of teachers have been fired for sexually abusing students in this country of only about 240,000 educators and more than 500 teachers have been fired this year for sexual misconduct with students.

This brought all kinds of questions to my mind.

How many girls drop out of school every year or attend sporadically because of this phenomenon?

Knowing the stigma that rape still cases in rural communities, if these statistics are only based on reports cases, how many more girls are suffering violence at the hands of their teachers in silence?

When and how did teachers begin to view their students as sexual objects to be had as opposed to children they are charged to keep safe and to educate?

Why, why is this problem so widespread and why does it feel so intractable?

There is certainly not one great panacea for child sexual abuse in Kenya, especially when there are layers of cultural, religious, and political factors that keep victims silent and abusers free. But when the secretary general of the Kenya National Association of Parents blames the government and the Teachers Service Commission for the inappropriate teacher conduct because there was previously no policy framework to guide the teacher-student relationship, I just want to scream.

“In rural areas you will find a student cooking and fetching water for a teacher in his home,” he said. “This makes it easy for her to be defiled.”

It is certainly true that the conditions of students in rural areas increase vulnerability and risk. But passing off the responsibility for rape to anyone other than the rapist only underscores the severity of this crime and perpetuates the attitude often found in rural communities that this is just an unpleasant part of life with no real recourse.

I strongly believe that part of the first step is certainly to break that silence, make the public aware of the depth of this problem and stand by families who choose to fight back.  That choice can often have dangerous consequences for girls, but I have seen strength and bravery rise from within victims when they know their voice matters and when they know they have an advocate, a friend or a family member to walk along side them.

Thousands of teachers abusing their students?  This has to stop.

500 teachers fired in Kenya for sexual misconduct, CNN

Kenya sees rise in reports of child sex abuse, Associated Press

Hundreds of teachers sacked over sex abuse, BBC News Africa

“You know, you’re not so white as when you first came to Kenya. You were as white as paper!”  I laughed, but was secretly proud to have noticeably moved from paper white to any shade less ghostly.

Where will you go when you leave?”  I told him I was  looking at jobs in both America and Africa.

“You have to work and make money?”

“Yep.  Gotta pay the bills, even in America.”

“You don’t want to get married?”

“Eventually I do.”

“Marriage is not so complicated you know.”

“Oh no?  It’s a pretty big commitment.  Spending you’re whole life with someone…”

“No! Not a big commitment.  You people, you just plan and wait and hope that you’ll find someone.   But maybe when you’re old you never get married.  We just get married and never think about it.  It’s not so complicated.”

Well, I guess that’s one way to look at it.

“You should come back to Kenya.  We’ll give you dual citizenship.  You can find a husband.”

“Oh, you’ll accept my paper white-skin?  I had to tease him for his earlier comment.  Amos smiled.

“Yes, because you’re not white like paper anymore.  You got Africa sun.  Now you’re red.”

 

Crushed.  Eight months in Kenya and I am still not tan.

But good to know I have a back-up plan.

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