S'ambrosia & Ray
www.kansastokenyawithlove.com is up and running. All blogs will be posted there from now on. In fact I just posted a new one today. Check it out and be sure to "follow" the blog via email or Wordpress. Much love!
S'ambrosia & Ray
Quick update: Ray and I have decided to switch from Weebly to Wordpress. We just bought the domain name, so bear with us for a bit while we figure out how to transfer posts and set the new site up. We're excited to see how much this site has picked up (there have been days where we've seen hundreds of visitors here), and we want to use a platform that's better equipped for what we want to do with this.
In the meantime, I posted a new blog for the Spark Mag here:
"Why Every Christian Should Learn to Church Hop... Or At Least Two-Step"
Feel free to check it out. Hopefully by the end of the week the transition will be finalized!
Disappointment. I rarely ever feel it when it comes to the character of my husband, but there was a time before we were married that he temporarily revoked a bit of my admiration.
All for a simple cup of tea
We were on our way from Nairobi to Bungoma, a six hour drive. I was scheduled to be the guest speaker and singer at a conference the next day, so Ray and a friend were enlisted to shuttle me from point A to point B. Amidst our conversation and laughter, Ray spotted a police officer on the side of the road who promptly flagged us to pull over. Ray hadn't broken any speed limits or laws, but the officer had his own reasons for accosting us. Making his rounds, first to Ray to get identification and then throughout the vehicle to ensure everything was copacetic, the officer came up with no reason to accuse us of anything illegal. We knew that and he knew that, but he couldn't let us go without first asking Ray, "Can you just buy me tea?"
This is what the locals call "toa kitu kidogo". It means "give a little something", otherwise known as the bribe.
Now, the officer had asked Ray to step out of the vehicle and asked for the bribe outside of our earshot, but Ray returned shortly after and informed us of what had gone down. He had paid the bribe so that we could continue on our way.
I tried not to let my face show what my heart was feeling.
Ray tried to explain that had he not paid the bribe, the officer would have made up a reason to arrest him and we would have been hauled off to court, which would have delayed us to the point missing the conference.
Nevertheless, my disappointment remained.
The world at your fingertips at a fraction of the cost
One thing I have learned since living here is that bribing is a way of life for pretty much everyone, Christians included. According to my husband, the bribe is even considered a kind gesture, like tipping the person before the job is done or providing an incentive. You see it with police officers, government officials, schools, shopkeepers, people in parking lots who simply show you where to park your car, and so on. It's everywhere... well, at least it was. Recent government rulings are enforcing certain measures to curb corruption. If a policeman attempts to solicit a bribe from you, you can now report him. This is fairly new legislation, so it hasn't caught all of the misdeeds yet, but how can you when bribing is a way of life and people don't even see it as wrong?
The bribe isn't the only form of corruption around here. Almost everything is bootleg. When most Americans were watching Frozen in the theaters, I had already seen it multiple times in the comfort of my own home and had only paid 50ksh (forty-one cents) for it! Bootleg movies are everywhere. In fact, you can find a young kid selling bootleg movies every 20 yards or so. You see, I can pay 50 shillings for a bootleg movie, but to buy it legitimately I'd have to pay 850-1,000ksh ($10-12), double the price I would spend to purchase two sacks full of vegetables in a market haul. Ray and I have discussed discontinuing our consumption of bootlegged blockbusters, but that also means saying goodbye to our once a week movie night. I'm sorry, but no movie is worth two weeks worth of groceries!
Cue conflicting feelings and post-teen angst
As a Christian, I feel like bribing and bootlegging is wrong. It's using covert means to accomplish a task instead of using the proper channels. It's cheating the system. This mentality was definitely the culprit behind my disappointment in Ray almost two years ago. But lately I've begun to believe that this idea about bribery stems mostly from a Western mindset, which makes bribery seem more black and white than it really is.
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly to be able to afford morals?
One reason my thinking has changed stems from one of my favorite plays/books, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Some of you may know this story as the basic plot to the movie My Fair Lady. Eliza's father, Mr. Doolittle makes a number of profound statements regarding the poor and their mentality when it comes to morality and money.
Higgins: Have you no morals, man?
Doolittle: [unabashed] Can't afford them, Governor. Neither could you if you was as poor as me... what is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything. Therefore, I ask you, as two gentlemen, not to play that game on me. I'm playing straight with you. I ain't pretending to be deserving. I'm undeserving; and I mean to go on being undeserving. I like it; and that's the truth.
As Christians, especially Western Christians, it's easy for us to look down on those who bribe or bootleg and swear we'd never participate in such events, but we can afford it. What about those who live in poverty? Ask anyone in the business class here in Kenya if their software is legit, and you will have a hard time finding a single soul that contributed a dime to the mountain of money Bill Gates sits on. Why? No one can afford it. The question my husband posed to me was, "How are people in a third world country supposed to work if the programs cost more than the amount of money they make in a few months?"
Tilling my heart's soil for remnants of legalism
I have been known to have very legalistic tendencies, and though I feel the Lord has pulled the majority of legalism's roots from my heart, a few remnants remain. Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm being legalistic or if my sentiments are justified, so in those moments I have to turn to Scripture; the one resource that has the power to divide between soul and spirit, joint and marrow, legalism and truth. What truth have I found?
Christians should NEVER, under any circumstance, take or ask for a bribe.
Exodus 23:8 "And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right."
Deuteronomy 16:19 "You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous."
Proverbs 10:2 "Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death."
But it is permissible, though not always advisable, for us to give bribes.
Proverbs 21:14 " A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath."
Proverbs 18:16 "A man's gift makes room for him and brings him before the great."
Proverbs 17:8 "A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers."
Bringing it back to you
This is really an issue that most missionaries have to grapple with when they first experience life in third world countries such as Kenya, and they all fall on either side of the fence. Some refuse to bribe whatsoever, instead pursuing legitimate methods regardless of the inconvenience, while others gladly bribe if it means they can smuggle food, water, or Bibles to a people desperately in need. I still find myself trekking with the former group, while my husband sides with the latter, but I really think my feelings are starting to change.
What do you think?
Last Saturday marked six months of marriage for Ray and I. After going to an arcade and spending two hours playing video games, we spent some time reflecting on our challenges and triumphs thus far and decided to share a few of them with you in a co-blog.
If the precedent we've set for our marriage thus far has any bearing on what's to come, we're looking at an upcoming series of faith-shaking events.
A totaled car and a wedding dress
Little did I know, when I gave my heart to Ray Wasike and consented to marry him, my faith would be tested to the max. The only thing we had going for us at the time was a fresh, budding love for one another and the understanding that our dreams somehow seemed to fit together to make a bigger picture. Forget that we were both broke and lived 8,000 miles apart. Even so, we were advised to begin the fiance visa application early on in our engagement because it could take up to a year for the government to determine whether or not we should be allowed to marry in the States. Who knew when it was all said and done, we would have paid Uncle Sam nearly $1,000 for his nod of approval?
But just as it is with God, He worked a way out of no way. While I had been in Kenya just months earlier, someone hit my car and jacked the back up fairly bad. I came home to a check for $1,800. The insurance lady said I could fix the car or do whatever I wanted with the money and keep the car as is. Say what? Option B, please! People may have felt bad for me driving Dorfy around town with a busted backside, but I didn't care. Dorfy helped me pay for my portion of the visa application and a wedding dress, and she helped me keep from starving since I had lost money from being away from work those previous weeks. Call it what you want, but I call it a blessing.
The unanswerable question
For months leading up to the wedding, I got the privilege of fielding a question most brides get to scribble on their calendars and encircle with red hearts and exclamation points early on in the planning process.
"When is the wedding?"
"I don't know."
It is difficult to plan a wedding when you don't know when or if the government will release your husband to attend. Nevertheless, we decided to set a date in faith and hope for the best. Now, some people end up waiting a year, get denied, and then are forced to give up, find other means of getting married, or reapply. With that knowledge looming over our heads, we frequently had to re-evaluate our plan. Was it stupid? I have no doubt some of my friends (outside of my earshot) gossiped about how crazy, desperate, or ridiculous I was, but it didn't matter. We had spent more time praying about it than they did, so we were ready to take that leap of faith.
Lest I go on a rambling spree, I'll cut to the point. With the help of our friend Senator Arpke, and friends who gave pre-wedding gifts, we ended up getting Ray's visa in record time and secured his plane ticket on the same day. We had to push the wedding back one week, but just like the car situation, it was to our benefit. Within two hours of receiving the visa, I had a new location (totally free) and had cut expenses for the wedding drastically. Ray spent that week with me and my family and we just had some much needed time to be still before wedding chaos ensued.
With a little help from my friends
God has blessed us with some great friends. Remember how I told you I was operating on a shoestring, nay, spaghetti string budget? Well for various reasons, the weight of wedding costs fell solely on my shoulders. But in a "look at God" turn of events, I ended up spending less than $700 on the wedding. The date change had a lot to do with it, but there were also three phenomenal women who stepped in to slap me on the hands for being too stubborn to ask for help and took planning the reception and decorating the venue on themselves. Sondra Miller, Jan Mattison, and Cindy Walker: angels in disguise. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Margie McGreevy (Mrs. McGredients according to my niece Brooklyn) as well for helping coordinate the ceremony on one night's notice. God sent these angels to help me bear the pressure of the wedding, and I am so grateful for them because I secretly felt like I was standing in quicksand, and I have claustrophobia issues, so you can imagine my horror. Really, God sent a fleet of angels to rescue me. Thanks to the help of many volunteers and monetary contributions, it all came together.
The beginning of the beginning
So after eight months of waiting and having no control over when the wedding would be or when Ray would arrive, we were finally able to marry and begin a whole new walk of faith together. This was just the beginning, folks, and it's only been six months! I'll have to divide this up into multiple sections because the testing of our faith continues to be the order of the day with us. Very few people know that when we left Salina, we didn't have money for our plane tickets to Kenya. And maybe some of you haven't heard about the providence of God for the album fundraiser. So many stories to tell, but we'll leave it here for now.
In each season of faith in our marriage, God has highlighted a different lesson. The lesson for this season: sometimes negative events we face in life are simply blessings in disguise. A wrecked car sustained me in a season of financial lack, a jilted wedding date allowed for my husband and father bond so there were no reservations at the wedding, and a heavy responsibility to plan a wedding became an opportunity to know that I wasn't alone and that in the absence of my mother, I had many spiritual mothers to stand in her stead.
No matter the situation, God will work it out for our good and His glory. The question is, do we have the faith to believe it?
Having house help in the states is a luxury that not many can afford. Having house help in Kenya is a basic necessity for most families.
She's got high hopes
Before I moved here and had any semblance of a clue of what life is really like for the typical Kenyan wife, I scoffed at the thought of needing a house girl to help me take care of my home. It would just be the two of us, how hard could it be?
My resolution was further solidified during a visit to Maryland (our future home when we return to the States *woot woot*), when my Aunt Kathy passed on some advice from my late grandmother. My grandma used to get up really early with my grandpa to cook him breakfast before he went to work. Her reasoning: "If I don't cook for my husband, Sally down the street will." There's so much truth to that statement here, it's scary.
The problem with house girls
House girls generally come from financially struggling homes with the hopes of making money to help the family or to become less of a burden to their parents. They're generally teens or young adults and lack formal education. Some work at your home during the day and then go home. Others take on the role of the mother, almost entirely in some cases, and live in the home.
When you allow another woman to care for your children, your home, and your husband, lines start to blur. The husband usually begins to take interest in the woman who is always there taking care of him, and the house girl starts to feel like she has a right to talk back to his wife. It's no surprise then that house girls turn up pregnant all the time and house girl bureaus have to advertise that their girls are "honest".
I trust my husband totally, but I don't want any temptation of blurred lines in my home and I don't need to deal with the suspicions of whether or not her intentions are pure. Truth be told, since I'm home all day and Ray doesn't come home until the evening, I could hire someone part-time, but I'm too dang stubborn. I want to prove to my husband that I can do what Kenyan wives do, so I try to do it all on my own. I'm not sure that this will last forever, especially when we have kids, but for now I'll keep working out my housewife muscles.
The life of a Kenyan housewife
So you're probably wondering what is so difficult about being a housewife here that makes people feel the need to outsource. I'll share some of the things that I've either experienced or seen:
There's a lot more, of course, but I'm sure you'll hear me mention them in upcoming blogs and whatnot. Oh, one more thing... I stay at home so I can focus on writing, but other women typically have some kind of job or side business that they tend to on top of these things. Having a house girl is pretty much essential in their cases.
Creating our own cultural expectations
When we lived in the states for a few months, I knew that my days of lying in bed, eating junk food, and letting dishes pile up would soon become a distant memory. Natural expectations of being a wife required that I keep the house clean, cook meals regularly, and spend my free time with my husband. Living in Kenya has tremendously heightened the expectations I face.
To save us from being over-run by disillusionment, one of our mentors gave us this piece of advice: create your own culture within your home. This is probably the best advice anyone has ever given us and it has helped us adjust to one another regardless of the setting. People around us may expect us to act a different way (I feel the pressure to be a "Kenyan" wife all the time), but my husband never puts that yoke on me. In fact, he does what most Kenyan men would never do. He helps me with laundry when it becomes too much for me and he cooks over the weekend so I can have a break. That's become part of our culture. Adjusting here has happened quite fast for me, and it's really because of him. He truly is a blessing. Some day I'll be able to do a full load of laundry without complaining or quitting halfway through, but until then, I'm so thankful for the grace of God and my husband.
First impressions tell you a lot about people, and from the first time Christ introduced me to Patience, I knew we'd be on rocky terms. Patience is like the house guest that never gets your hints that you have other things to do and can't do them until she leaves. She just makes herself right at home, never ceasing to add her two cents to every conundrum I face, always offering the same annoying advice... "I think you should wait." Well I think, no, I know that I have things under control, but she always seems to know better. Pushing her out of my house and slamming the door in her face would give me the sweetest satisfaction, but how can I dare do such a thing when she is always accompanied into my home by Jesus, who insists that I make nice with her? I really wish I could see in her what Jesus does.
Let's try this once more
We all have lessons in life that make us feel like God has put His finger on the repeat button and forgotten to remove it. Frequently I find myself asking Him, "Didn't I already show you that I learned this? Why are we doing this again?"
As a former teacher, I know that when I teach a concept I must first introduce it to the students, reinforce it with supplemental activities, and then allow them to demonstrate mastery through some appropriate means of assessment. Because there are a myriad of concepts to be covered in the school year, students must demonstrate mastery in a short amount of time so that the next concept can follow suit. The students will likely forget what they've mastered within the year, but for the means of testing, it's a viable strategy. Apparently such methods don't exist when the teacher is a deity that exists outside of time and is more concerned with the total transformation of the student than a passed test.
Introducing the concept
Have you ever rushed a potty training toddler off of the toilet only to discover an ominous looking puddle on the carpet a few minutes later? I have. Have you ever sped to reach a particular event on time only to be stopped by a cop with sloth-like tendencies who causes you to lose all the precious time you had gained? I have. Have you ever been in a matatu that is stuck in traffic for an hour and begun hyperventilating because you are certain the hot, clammy steel cage with you and fifteen other people in it will become the source of your demise? No? Well, I have.
The American culture is known for being a culture that has issues with waiting. Some of you may even be familiar with the nickname we have as the microwave culture. Whatever we want, we want it fast and we want it now. If we don't get it when we want it, we'll find something else to suit our needs. In response, the framework of our society has adapted to this perspective. Pizza joints, mail services, and internet providers vie to have the fastest product. When everyone around you is catering to your "I need it now" demand, it's very easy to become complacent in a lifestyle that is counter-cultural to the way of the kingdom.
We know that patience is a virtue and that anyone who houses the Spirit of God should demonstrate its fruit, but what does that actually mean?
Patience is the endurance of difficult or strenuous circumstances without complaint. It's waiting without letting people know how much you're being inconvenienced. That also counts the grumbling and complaining we do in our heads, by the way. I've fooled a lot of people into thinking that I'm patient because of my quietness, but God knows the unmentionable things I scream in my head. He knows that I'm impatient. Patience is more than something we're encouraged to have, it's a character trait that every Christian must demonstrate. It's an identifier to those around us that we come from a breed of people that can remain unperturbed even in the most dire situations.
Reinforcing the concept
Most people wouldn't call a wedding a dire situation, but you couldn't convince me otherwise when we had our African wedding. As much as I hate to admit it, the reason my face doesn't appear in many of the wedding pictures is because it was very rare for me to not have a look of utter frustration on my face in most of the pictures. No one had prepared me for a wedding where waiting is the order of the day. The ceremony was delayed two hours while we waited, fully clothed in wedding garb, for all of the wedding party and family members to arrive; once we arrived at the church, I had to stay hidden in a hot car while the wedding party took thirty minutes to proceed into the church. (I'm not exaggerating either. African processionals have been known to last for an hour or two. Lots and lots of dancing and baby steps.) I could go on and on about how the wedding tested my patience, but I don't want to sound ungrateful. Ray's family put together a beautiful cultural celebration, and I learned so much and had fun in those moments directly following a deep breath. Even so, the wedding was undoubtedly my biggest challenge of patience since I've been here. If it was a test for mastery, I failed miserably, which explains why I've had to go back into reinforcement mode all over again.
I could tell plenty of stories of how this culture has tested my patience, almost all of which other American missionaries I've spoken to here can identify with, but I think you get the point. Patience is not a virtue I possess, and the Lord will continue reinforcing this concept until I can claim otherwise.
Mastering the concept
At this point, there's not much I can say about achieving mastery in this area. One day I'll be able to share some sage advice I've gleaned from my time overseas, but as of now, that is not the case. I can share a bit of hope in the meantime though. Instead of asking God to help me be more patient, I've been asking Him to teach me to love. When people attend weddings here, they are willing to wait for hours upon hours because their love for the couple outweighs their desire to keep their makeup from melting off their face. I'm discovering that if I truly possess the kind of love Christ desires of me, patience will come a lot easier. I talk more about this concept in my "Jesus, Love Through Me" post on The Spark Mag, so I won't get into it here, but it's all a work in progress. The incredibly assuring factor in the slow progress I'm making is the fact that Christ will not stop teaching me until He has completed the good work that He began. One day I'll get there, I've just got to be patient as I wait for that day to arrive.
Just last month the cries of a woman carrying the limp body of a child rang throughout our neighborhood. Rumors flew regarding what could've happened, but no one knew for sure. Malaria? Typhoid? Suffocation? Some three days later we found out that the woman we saw was our direct neighbor's house girl. While she was home alone with the child, the two year old hit her head on a table and experienced severe brain damage. Her mother was forced to sit in a hospital and watch her daughter die for the next three days.
Shrieks in the night
This wasn't the first time that someone's screams have interrupted my solitude. Back in December, when Ray and I were visiting his family in Bungoma, I awoke from a nap to the sound of shrieking children. It was after 10pm, so nothing could be seen from the window, but the sound was sickening. I couldn't go back to sleep. By the time I had gotten to the living room, my husband had already gone down the road with another guy to investigate. They came upon a confused child. His father had come home drunk, and in the midst of a spat with the wife, proceeded to beat her. The mother ran down the street to find refuge with family members while the kids ran the streets screaming because they didn't know whether to go with their mom or their dad. Thankfully, the man knew Ray and thought enough of him to listen to him when he requested that they resolve the issue in the morning when he was sober. I was so proud of my husband in that moment.
Unfortunately, as common as it is to hear the screams of the oppressed in the streets, it's uncommon for people to step in and intervene. About a month ago, in the Central African Republic, two Muslim men were dragged off of buses and publicly beaten and burned by men exacting vengeance on them for previous murders. One man, who had endured great injustice by one of the Muslims (his wife and children were murdered in front of him), even hacked off a piece of his victim's leg and ate it. According to the reports and pictures, there was a huge crowd surrounding the event. Some cried, others vomited, but no one stepped in to intervene. Though I understand why people don't involve themselves in situations like this, something about it doesn't sit well with me.
Promoting the wrong issue
In fact, allow me to use one more example; one from the States this time. Trayvon Martin. The one thing that bothered me about his case was not the color issue, though that's what perpetuated the popularity of the tragedy. Upon listening to some of the recordings of the 911 calls the night of the altercation, you can hear Trayvon calling for help repeatedly before he was shot. The callers on the other end were peeking out of their windows or running upstairs to hide in the closet as they called 911. I give them credit for trying to do something, but as they proclaimed to the dispatcher "I'm not going out there," a young man was dying. I have almost no doubt in my mind that had someone stepped outside when the verbal argument began, the situation could have been resolved. In many instances like this, just waiting for someone else to take care of the problem only serves to make things worse.
Self-preservation vs. a greater love
Now I know people will argue with me and say that "You're no good to anyone if you get yourself killed," but I would venture to claim that "If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for [Christ], you will find it" (Mt. 10:39, NLT). Sometimes I get the feeling that as Christians we feel like the life we live here on earth is of greater value than the eternal one Jesus offers upon salvation. Let me explain...
Hebrews 11 illustrates the incredible things some of the greats in the Bible were able to accomplish by faith. On the other hand, in verses 32-38, the author lists some of the horrible things the same people had to face in order to obtain that level of faith. There is one perspective that sustained them all on their faith journeys:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (13-16)
Mastering the vertical perspective
As difficult as it is to say, these people knew that they couldn’t hold tightly to anything on this earth, including family. They understood that this life is temporary, and all that they did here determined their status later, when life really began. They had mastered the vertical perspective.
This perspective may sound radical and very difficult to swallow, but in all honesty, I believe it's just one manifestation of the love the world should know Christians by. Actually, it's the greatest manifestation: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn. 15:13). Many of us would lay our lives down for a family member or loved one, but what about the bum on the street who is being accosted by thugs? Would you step in if you saw a man strangling his wife (maybe not a common occurrence in America, but I just heard of it happening down the street from us the other day)? What an awesome testimony we would have as Christians if instead of stoning the sinners, we laid our lives down for them.
A word of caution
As I close, let me clarify that I don’t mean to say that wisdom and discernment should be discarded in life-threatening situations or that familial ties are meaningless. I’m just encouraging us all to reconsider our value for this life and to weigh whether or not we would place more value on our lives than someone else’s. Some tough thoughts I’m grappling with these days.
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. ― Mark Twain
If clothes truly make the man, it feels like I'm undergoing a serious makeover. As a teen, my favorite episodes of any talk show would be the makeover specials. Watching ordinary women turn into super models fascinated me... probably because I was strictly forbidden from wearing makeup and the majority of my clothes were secondhand. Living vicariously through the lucky makeover recipients was the next best thing as far as I was concerned, but I couldn't wait until the day that I could be my own boss and give myself a total makeover.
A dream unrealized
Following the stereotypical course of most college students, I left my parents and set off to find myself. Several piercings, tattoos, hair color and wardrobe changes later, I came to the conclusion that makeovers are fun until you're broke. Eventually I went back to what I was used to. Little to no makeup and secondhand clothes. Plain Jane all the way, baby.
Years of maintaining a wardrobe of sweatpants, shorts, short (but not too short) dresses, and cut up t-shirts became the norm for me, and I was fairly comfortable with the self that I had found. I was never on trend, but I was modest and comfortable. That's all I really cared about.
Once again, place me in a culture that runs perpendicular to mine, and I find that I'm not what I thought I was, at least not by their standards. Apparently most of the clothing I brought with me isn't very modest. From my first week of arrival until today, this has been a point of contention for Ray and me. Yes, you did read that right. Ray and I fight about clothes... a lot. Mark Twain wasn't kidding. Clothes make the man, and you don't realize how much your identity is wrapped up in your clothing until you are forced to change.
Here capris are considered shorts, actual shorts are out of the question, my knee-length dresses are too short, and no one wears sweatpants in public (I am most heartbroken about that). Now don't get me wrong. It's not just Ray that questions my wardrobe. Sometimes it's other people that mention it to him and then he has to be the one to deal with my resulting tantrum and pleas of, "I don't care! Just let me be myself! I'm an American, not a Kenyan!" (If I believed in using more than one exclamation point at a time, I would put three on that last statement.)
Matters of conscience
I'm sure some of you would probably agree with my response, and I would still be on the bandwagon with you, if it wasn't for a recent conviction I got from some Scriptures Ray and I read together a few weeks ago.
1 Corinthians 8 describes Paul's stance on matters of conscience. He poses the example of eating animals that had been sacrificed for the purposes of idol worship. Because idols were nothing but pieces of stone, not real deities of any sort, Paul knew that there was no spiritual or supernatural issue with eating meat meant for the blocks of rock. Even so, there were others that just couldn't get over the principle of the matter. If food had been sacrificed in the name of an idol, it was defiled. No question. Shut the book; don't open it again. Regardless of what Paul knew to be true, he refused to do what he knew was okay if it came at the expense of someone else's conscience. He also exhorted the Corinthians/us to do the same:
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. (vs. 9)
A stumbling block to the weak
As Ray and I read this, I realized that yes, as an American, I have the right to wear whatever I want, but within the bounds of this culture I'm sending a very different message. Just a few chapters after the one that made me eat my foot, Paul makes what has become a controversial command in our modern world. He tells women to keep their heads covered when they pray or prophesy in the church. Maybe that's a bit weird in our culture, but in that particular culture, women who were considered loose or promiscuous went around with their heads uncovered. Paul was just trying to keep the women from giving off the wrong cultural message. Likewise, my husband is simply trying to keep me from becoming a stumbling block to some of the men around here.
Searching for some answers
So this is where you lovely people come in. Even though I know that I need to adjust to cultural expectations so that I keep others from stumbling and whatnot, I feel like I can't dress like myself. How would you suggest we go about this issue as a couple? How can I honor my husband and his culture, yet maintain my identity?
Have any of you mothers ever gone to a parent-teacher conference expecting to get praised on your superb parenting skills only to hear that little Billy doesn't play well with the other children?
"Billy has trouble sharing, Mrs. Doe. He hoards toys, hits the other children when they try to play with 'his' cars, and it appears that I am unable to increase his vocabulary beyond 'No' and 'Mine.'"
"Oh my! He's not like that at home... I don't know what could have gotten into him."
Not like this at home
Since I've been in Kenya, I've had a few conferences with the Lord with similar results...
As far as I was concerned, I was fairly generous in my pre-Kenya days. Whenever I had money or opportunity, I did what I could to help anyone whether I knew them or not. Of course I was sometimes accused of being stingy with my time - I often preferred solace over social gatherings - and I've held a grudge or two over people eating food I had set aside for myself, but I don't think the typical person would have used the word selfish when describing me... at least it wouldn't have been the first word that came to mind. Like most mothers would say of their children, in my home turf, I was a good kid.
Enter communal living
Ray and I have been married for three months and living in Kenya for about two months now, and cultural issues are brought up on the daily. Being careful not to blame everything on culture, we have learned to take whatever we're arguing about and put it through the "culture lens" before we start blaming problems on each others' character. As I've mentioned in a previous post, you don't really notice how much culture drives the way you live and the choices you make until you're in the middle of a culture that operates in a different manner.
Up until this point, Ray and I have been staying with various family members in Bungoma and Nairobi. Culturally, Kenyans are extremely accommodating. I don't use the adverb extremely lightly either. If a relative comes to your home and needs to stay for a undetermined amount of time, you feed them and give them shelter until the day they decide to leave. What's yours is theirs, no question. Of course as the guest you pitch in where you can and do your best to help the family cover your living expenses and upkeep, but it is generally the family's honor to serve you in their home. Being on the receiving end of such generosity has done wonders in transforming my perspective on hospitality, but it has also revealed how differently my culture has taught me to treat people.
Material czar in a material world
From day one of my arrival in Kenya, I've been quite protective of my things. If anyone wanted to touch my iPhone, I watched them like a hawk until their five minute time limit was up, including my husband. If anyone wanted to play with my guitar, I practically got ulcers worrying about what I would do if they broke it and I even put a sign on it asking people not to touch it unless I was around. If Ray and I bought laundry soap, I wanted to keep it in our room so no one else used it. And those are just a few examples. I have plenty more, but my husband has requested that I keep the self-criticisms to a minimum. (Good edit, babe.)
Anyway, there have been times in the past few months when I've realized how selfish I've been and felt the need to apologize. Do you know what response I hear the most? "It's okay, you're American. Most Americans are like that when they're here." As much as hearing that makes me feel better about myself and the fact that I'm not that screwed up, it makes me feel bad that such behavior is the norm back at home.
Eliminating "mine" from my vocabulary
Though culture plays a big role in my selfish behavior, there is an even bigger factor at play. I never really got it until today when I was reading through my Call to Die devotional by David Nasser. I've done this book about three times in my life, and every time I go through it, God highlights something new in my life that needs to die. Let me share a few quotes, first from David Nasser:
"When we realize all our possessions are a gift from God, we are much more openhanded and generous with them."
"The modern preoccupation with my this and my that has no place in the life of a person who has been redeemed by the blood of the Savior."
And another from missionary Jim Elliot:
"Father, let me be weak that I might loose my clutch on everything temporal. My life, my reputation, my possessions, Lord, let me loose the tension of the grasping hand. Even, Father, would I lose the love of fondling. How often I have released a grasp only to retain what I prized by 'harmless' longing, the fondling touch. Rather, open my hand to receive the nail of Calvary, as Christ's was opened - that I, releasing all, might be released, unleashed from all that binds me now."
Adopting a heavenly culture
Though I feel the struggle to change from one nation's culture to another, I need to remember that I'm actually not of this world, therefore my transition should be more vertical than horizontal. As my spiritual forefathers acknowledged themselves, I am an alien and stranger on this earth representing a kingdom that's not of this world. Because of this truth, the issue I'm facing is not "when in Rome, do as the Romans do", but it's a matter of demonstrating the character and nature of Christ in all that I do. It's a matter of submitting not just my life to God, but everything I own, with the knowledge that none of the things I believe are mine actually belong to me. It's a matter of truly loving my neighbor more than I love myself.
This is not going to be an easy transition, especially since it's a lifestyle I've been trained to live from childhood, but it's good to know that as I daily submit all that I am and have to Christ's lordship, He will take my feeble offering and transform it into something beautiful.