I have been thinking about what to write in this post for months now. I am an advanced planner and I like to reflect on big milestones. I even tried to write it a few weeks ago and got stuck. Trying to recap two years as life changing as my time in Kenya has been is no easy task and has often brought me to tears as I think about the difficult and painful bits. Actually pausing and asking myself how the last two years have been is uncomfortable. At times my life has been terrible and at times it has been magnificent. There has been incomparable beauty and difficulty inextricably intertwined in this season. I have grown and changed so much that sometimes I wonder if I’m still me. With all of that there are so many different angles that I could approach this subject from. However, since my faith is one of the most important parts of my life I am going to share how it has been challenged and strengthened during my time in Kenya. (In part because I think that this might be the topic least likely to make me ugly cry on to my keyboard and ruin my computer.)
Corruption, violence, and injustice
One of the difficult things for me to confront in my time here is that not everyone gets a happy ending. Sometimes things get worse and not better. I often feel powerless to do anything about the evil I see in the world and with the enormity of the suffering I see on a daily basis it has been hard for me to believe that God is good. I relate to the impulsive nature of the apostle Peter. I am quick to jump out of the boat. I walk on water for a second and then I see the waves, I get overcome by my fear, and Jesus has to come save me. Too often I let my feelings dictate how I perceive a situation instead of the truths about who God is. Because God is good I know that he also hates the violence, corruption, and injustice that I see. This is not how he planned for the world to be. My role as a person of faith is to help be a part of making things on earth as they are in heaven. It means that I actively pursue justice and equality because I believe that is God’s heart for humanity, his original intent. Often living in Kenya has meant that I have had a broken heart over the things I have seen and experienced. A song called “Where Were You” from the band Ghost Ship has some great lyrics that I have prayed over and over during this season. The song begins like this: “I said, God, I do not understand this world. Everything is dying and broken. Why do I see nothing but suffering? God, I’m asking could this be your plan? Sin has taken over this whole land. Will you not say anything else to me?” It then quotes from the end of the book of Job (one of the great sufferers in scripture). The body of the song is powerful and poetic and makes me feel small in a good way. It reminds me that I am not God and there are things that I will never know. The song ends, “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me. Although I had no right to ask, my God knelt and answered me.” Indeed God has knelt and comforted my broken heart so many times. My prayers have often been accusatory and combative but God has answered me gently and after two years of living in Africa I am more convinced of God’s goodness and faithfulness than I was before I moved here.
Wanting to “break the rules”
I am a rule follower. On all of my report cards growing up teachers wrote that I was “a delight to have in class.” I love to feel like authority figures are pleased with me. About a year ago, for the first time, what I wanted to do came in serious conflict with God’s wisdom for how to live my life. Up until this point I was happily obedient and fairly unsympathetic to those who struggled with doing things outside of God’s guidelines. He gives us rules for our good and protection. Why would we want to go outside of his best for us and open ourselves up to the heartbreak that stems from that? WELL… suddenly last year this became a much bigger problem because I didn’t want to do what God was asking me to. It felt super costly to follow God’s wisdom. I dug in my heels, fought with God for months, and while I lived in obedience outwardly, I realized the rebellious streak in my rule follower heart. I saw that, yes, I like rules, but I like getting what I want more. I chose the hard path of obedience and living wholly for God but I grumbled the whole time because I felt like God owed me what I wanted. I did not believe Psalm 16 when it says that “the boundary lines have fallen in delightful places.” In fact, I meditated on those words and my heart responded “YEAH RIGHT! Prove it.” Good friends (both those who share my faith and those who don’t) affirmed over and over that I had made the right decision, and I knew that I did, but I didn’t like making it. Furthermore, I didn’t like the consequences of “doing the right thing.” I now have so much more empathy for people who are struggling that I didn’t have before. I am better acquainted with my own shortcomings and more dependent on God than I was before.
Brilliant friends who don’t share my faith
My friends in Nairobi are impressive. Like really… So smart. Very driven. Much wow. Sometimes I get imposter’s syndrome sitting around the dinner table with them. I wonder how I got so lucky to be able to have so many brilliant friends who challenge me and help me grow into a better person. That being said, my friend group also has really diverse faith backgrounds. I have many Muslim, atheist, and agnostic friends as well as a couple of Buddhist and Hindu friends. It can be challenging at times wondering if I got this whole faith thing wrong. Am I crazy or unintelligent for believing the way I do? But I keep on coming back to it, studying more, and ending up more convinced. I deeply respect the fact that every person has varying life experiences that leads them to believe the way they do about God and the world. I am thankful for my friends of various backgrounds that shed light on areas that I might be neglecting or ask questions I haven’t thought of. I have had an opportunity to work through many doubts that have come up since moving here. My faith has gotten stronger in the process, but at times it has been scary. I have learned that the strongest things aren’t the stiffest but those that have room for healthy flexibility. I have had let go of some unhealthy rigid beliefs in order to grow in my faith and be able to serve others well. I am thankful for so many friends that do share my faith that have helped me through this process and taught me about grace. I am also thankful to my friends from different faith backgrounds for not shying away from asking hard questions.
So, that’s it. Those are just some of the ways my faith has grown over the past couple of years. It has been a deeply uncomfortable process, but one worth going through. I relate more clearly to those passages of scripture that refer to faith as a precious metal that has to go through fire to be refined. These years have been that furnace for me. Choosing to live a life of faith and hope under difficult circumstances has been difficult but worth it.