Fred and I Photo belongs to KSB

Nairobi Moments

Some moments are nearly perfect. Resting with my housemates on our rooftop, seven stories high in Waithaka, watching the orange sun set and taking way too many silhouette selfies with Kamau, is one of them. Being in Nairobi as a whole is incredible.

The sun sets to the right of Ngong Hills, behind some trees and above a collage of sun-faded blue and reddish roofs. Birds fly in and out of sight while Sia plays from the speaker. I blink dust from my eyes as I hop around the roof and settle in a corner next to my friend Leon.

Some moments are so full of freedom. Dancing with fellow musicians on a Sunday evening in Westie while my favorite artist, Tetu Shani, croons over his acoustic guitar is one of them. Being in Nairobi, the sun lighting up the sky every day and warming my skin, does my spirit good.

My housemates and I dance in the kitchen, practicing Kenyan moves. We dance in the beige living room as the pop music continues. We dance on the roof sometimes too. I decided before I came here that I would be free.

Some moments are made of happiness. Blasting “Usipime Mwanaume” by Naiboi and bumping “Earthquake” by Family Force Five while playing a competitive card game with Kairo and Kamau and spontaneously dancing is one of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve laughed more than I have in ages.

That’s true.

Some moments give a person unexpected energy. A day of pillow fighting for two hours at home before hiking off the path in Ngong Hills, eating tomato flavored crisps at the summit of the third hill, and returning in the dusk, is one of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve seen countless stars and heard precious stories from people who make life light.

I’ve grown stronger, thanks to Kamau’s physical training and encouragement. My housemate Fred and I do planks and squats, and then Kamau squats me. Rugby season is coming up, after all.

Some moments are the backdrop of memories. Hearing the frustratingly endless barking from our neighbor’s dog business, squeezing into the back of a matatu on the way to Kawangware, taking in the aroma of onions and masala from Leon and Kamau’s cooking, hanging laundry on our windy roof while Kairo squeezes water on my burning feet because I didn’t wear shoes again, squishing between housemates on the couch to watch YouTube, these are some of them. Being in Nairobi, I’ve been doing a healthy amount of hugging, and I think that’s part of why I love it so much too.

In our house, it’s not surprising to find toe nail clippers everywhere and combs nowhere or to discovering a laptop above the fridge and the salt in my bedroom. But with so many of us here, we don’t have to stress.

This trip is one of those rare moments where life is almost perfect, where one could take a photo of the sunset and still feel the cooling air later because the people and times were so precious.

Just give me sunshine, hugs, good friends, some music to dance to, and a side of chips (fries), and I’ll be fine. Life doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Waithaka sunset PC: KSB

A Waithaka sunset. PC: KSB

 

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Snow in Colorado, PC: Brian Lindell

Do They Know It’s Christmastime?

Every December, people around the US finally allow themselves to listen to Christmas music, joining the few of us who believes in the extension of the beautiful season. Yet with the introduction of this wondrous genre to public radios comes the airing of one particularly degrading song.

Do They Know It’s Christmastime,” a well-meaning song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure and sung by a variety of British artists in 1984 under the name BANDAID, redone several times by contemporary musicians on behalf of different causes, plays consistently on every variety Christmas station. While originally meant to address a famine in Ethiopia, it gives no further thought to the lives or beliefs of Ethiopians.

The song does not consider that maybe this country where Orthodox Christianity has existed for thousands of years, before the Anglophone world had heard the good news, does indeed know and celebrate Christmas. They follow this calendar and celebrate it on 07 January.

Perhaps if Geldof and Ure had taken time to speak with Ethiopians or the other Africans the song “covers” and ask the question in the song’s title, they could have written a better song that did not degrade so many humans while intending to help.

The original lyrics read,

…But say a prayer, pray for the other ones
At Christmas time, it’s hard, but when you’re having fun
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well, tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you

Well, that’s grim. “Dread and fear,” “doom.” Thanks for highlighting the growing African economies in nations such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Libya, and Rwanda. Thanks for praising the countries that had gotten on their feet after colonists like Britain itself finally gave them independence a mere two decades before the release of this song. Thanks for giving a shout out to the music industries that were beginning to take hold in places like Kenya. Thanks so much.

And “thank God it’s them instead of you”? That strikes me as heartless. But let’s continue.

And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

You’re literally lumping what is now 55 different countries into one and saying the geography and situations are all the same. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have a lot of jungle, for example. And lakes. A massive river. An ocean port. Farms and corn and fruit trees. And mountains – with snow (though that’s the only place you’ll find it in DRC, which sits on the equator).

Also, why is snow a necessary indication of the holiday? Christmas originated as a celebration of King Jesus being born in what is now the West Bank, Palestine. Though snow plays a role in many Anglo-phonic songs about the holiday and indeed in my own life as someone originally from northeastern USA, it was not originally part of the picture.

Moreover, “they” do know it’s Christmastime. In Congo, a 95% Christian country, we don’t celebrate in the same commercialized way the US or probably Great Britain does. It is more minimal, in that we don’t tend to give gifts and don’t propagate the Santa story. But we do expect the holiday to come every December. We have our own Christmas songs that church choirs do. We go to church on the holiday to celebrate and hold all-night prayer vigils. So to answer the question once more, yes, “they” know it is Christmas.

In 1984, the songwriters were addressing the Ethiopian drought but then sweeping the rest of the continent under the mat of their ill-spoken words. You can’t do that. There’s too much diversity on the continent and even within the countries that compose it. And to only show the “dread” and “doom” of a place or places is not a healthy way to call people to your cause because it denies the humanity and life within those places.

Not to worry, though. Maybe this was just written…and sung by over 40 artists initially…and redone four times, most recently in 2014… simply because everyone was too cold and grumpy. Check out a solution for this below and consider some better ways to communicate your cause here. Finally, petition your local radio to stop playing versions of the BANDAID song and others like it. Peace.

 

Blackman Bausi in concert, photo from his Facebook and used with permission

The world changers

I scroll through the staff page of another American missions agency and notice, not surprisingly, that the leadership is almost entirely composed of white men. From talking to some of these people and organizations, I know their intentions to share Jesus’ love are good, but the undervaluing of Christians of color in American missions disappoints me.

The commonly held idea that only white Westerners know the “true Gospel” is also heartbreaking, especially since Christianity was birthed in a region of brown people and is exploding in the Global South today. In fact, let me tell you about a few Congolese men I know.

Baraka. PC: KSB

Baraka, PC: KSB

A former English student of mine, my friend Baraka, told me about his passion for missions the very first time we conversed in the yellow painted room after a class. Quiet and earnest, he shared his heart to see Muslims know Christ Jesus. “I love them. I want to show them God’s Word,” he shared.

Baraka is studying theology in his country. Like many Congolese people, he knows over a handful of languages, including a bit of Arabic that he has learned in order to share the Gospel more effectively. He’s looking for missions agencies even as you read this.

Dieum, photo used with permission.

Dieum, photo used with permission.

Then there’s my best friend Dieum, whom I met through our church choir in Goma, eastern Congo. His dream is to be a doctor, pastor, and singer who uses his skills around the world and before the throne in Heaven. He is dedicated to seeing the sick healed and is particularly interested in the nervous system. His devotion to his studies is paired with a knack for making others laugh, and the atmosphere transforms when his fingers meet a keyboard.

My mentor-friend Dedi, who began Love of God Ministries under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and with encouragement his family, is perhaps the strongest example I have to give of a Congolese Christian with global impact. He is known in several countries for his faith and ministry, all through the Holy Spirit’s miraculous connections. Although his situation is humble, he has selflessly poured into me, teaching me about prophecy, the Holy Spirit, and faith. His life is wrapped around his ministry, the call God has placed on him.

Feed.bennett.Christ.18.01.15 Blackman1

Blackman Bausi, photo used with permission.

Of course, people do not have to leave their home country to have an impact in God’s kingdom. Blackman Bausi is another man of God working within his country of Congo. He has not gone out to do missions but is using his rap music to transform the lives of local, underprivileged youth through his foundation. He himself was born of rape, but Jesus redeemed his life and gave him a voice to speak for those without one, particularly women and the youth “heroes” he is now reaching. I am privileged to have collaborated with him and to join him in this work now as an international volunteer.

The meeting point of our five lives is Un Jour Nouveau, or Africa New Day, a Congolese organization that strives “to equip, educate, and empower each man, woman, and child in Congo to bring about cultural change, both individually and as part of a community, to enrich and provide opportunities for growth for future generations.” The goal is for change to come from within Congo, and the organization teaches Biblically-based principles of peace and leadership.

UJN also includes a Gospel-loving church. God’s work through UJN is showing incredible fruit, as the school and church have multiplied in recent years. As evidenced above, my friends from there are passionate about sharing the Gospel in their city, country, and around the globe.

And fun-fact: Although this blog post focuses on men of color, UJN was co-founded by a married couple, so one of the leaders is a woman. The principal of their primary school is a female friend of mine, and I know other incredible women in leadership there as well as men. Most of the Congolese people that I know who are interested in or able to pursue missions outside their country are these men, however.

UJN at night, PC: either Dieum or Daniel

UJN at night, summer 2016. It has expanded since I was last there. PC: either Dieum or Daniel

Some Christians go out, some stay put, and all have the opportunity to contribute to the work of God. Black men like these four gentlemen – Congolese men in their early to mid-twenties, dedicated to peace and Jesus’ Gospel though from a country that is torn apart by endless violence – are some of the leading examples of faith, ministry, and missions in my life. God is using them powerfully to impact other Africans, Asians, and North Americans.

God is using people of color, including those from the Global South, to renew the missions field.

Taken at #WRD2017 at the Denver capitol. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Why you should support refugee resettlement today

Refugee resettlement is a personal issue to me. Not only do I live with and attend church with 150-200 resettled refugees, who became my dear friends once I met them in the United States, but I also have friends who have applied to receive refugee status and are waiting for that to start the process of potential resettlement.

The family fled the Democratic Republic of Congo, where their hearts still lie, in order to protect their physical lives. They lived in a Tanzania for a short bit, but the country did not provide services to help them, so they flew to Madagascar to stay with a friend and “survive better” there. The youngest family member is six and has already traveled from DRC, through Rwanda and Burundi to Tanzania, then through Kenya to the island nation of Madagascar. He has spent time living in a city in DRC, one in Tanzania, and two in Madagascar since 2015.

Praise God that this family received the first document from the UNHCR stating that they are being considered for refugee status. But after that, if they receive status, the chances of them being resettled are still incredibly low.

Less than one percent of the 22.5 million refugees worldwide are resettled. Refugees can spend 8 years in a camp, 13 as one of my friends did, or their whole lives. Some of my church friends were born in a camp. (Many refugees live in cities, too, as these particular friends do.) Because of the diversity of protracted refugee situations, the length may vary by country and situation.

Despite the amount of people waiting to resettle to a safer nation with more opportunities, the United States has cut its numbers in half. (This article by PEW Research shares more numbers regarding the history of refugees in the U.S.) In the 2016 calendar year, we accepted just under 97,000 people, with a goal of 110,000 in the fiscal year due to the Syrian refugee crisis. Under the 2017 Trump administration, we accepted only 50,000, and in about two weeks we will see the results of the decision for 2018.

Not only has this drastic cut resulted in prolonged instability for refugees waiting to be resettled, but it has also hurt the American economy by cutting jobs for Americans who worked in refugee resettlement. As someone who volunteers in this field and desires a job in it, I’ve witnessed this firsthand.

This is our last chance to influence our politicians before Trump’s decision is declared in October. Pick up the phone and make a call. Use resistbot to send a text message that will fax your politicians. Go to Twitter and Facebook too. Refugee Action Colorado Coalition (RACC) has shared these posts for anyone to use and suggested a minimum of three posts per week:

50k #refugees is inexcusable.  Would be the lowest goal EVER.  We want #75k. #COWelcomesRefugees #GreaterAs1

Stop dismantling refugee resettlement.  Stand against #refugee/Muslim ban. #COWelcomesRefugees #Stand4Refugees #GreaterAs1

#Refugees make positive contributions in economics, national security & community strength. Sustain US refugee resettlement program.  

RACC helpfully shared the handles of Colorado politicians, saying, “Let’s tweet @realDonaldTrump @WhiteHouse and our Senators @SenCoryGardner @SenBennetCO and your Representatives.”

The rally at the Denver capitol on World Refugee Day 2017. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

The rally at the Denver capitol on World Refugee Day 2017. PC: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Political action is surprisingly easy with media today. It’s something every American, even minors, can do. Get on your knees and pray and then pick up your cell phone. Together we can make our voice heard this September.

Following the red dirt road

When I was ten-almost-eleven, I visited some missionary friends in Kenya. I still remember the vivid red dirt roads of Machakos; the oil paint that would only come off my MK friend and me with kerosene; the ugali, chicken and chapatis the ladies cooked at the Bible college; and of course the visit to the hills where a local boy noticed my bleeding knee before I did and asked if I was okay.

I’d been interested in the continent of Africa before I visited Kenya, and I’ve wanted to return to East Africa ever since that January 2007.

God has developed this passion particularly in the last two and a half years I’ve been in college. During freshman year, I took advantage of my speech, research and geography classes to study rape in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, globalization (or the lack thereof) in Ethiopia and conflict in Sudan and South Sudan respectively. By doing so, I realized that I was especially drawn to DRC. I couldn’t place any logical reason why, and thus I accredit it to God’s calling.

In summer 2014 I worked as an intern with newly arrived refugees in Denver. I befriended several case managers at that organization, including one who taught me Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. (I haven’t been able to continue those studies, but I love the language and hope to learn it better someday.)

Sophomore year, I knew I was interested in DRC and Rwanda, but I spent all my time studying Rwanda via media (Gospel music on YouTube, movies, independent language studies for a while). According to the CIA world fact book, the Democratic Republic of Congo is geographically the 11th largest country on the globe, contains over 200 tribes and claims five languages commonly spoke throughout the country. I didn’t know where to start, so I decided to study Rwanda instead. I thought some of its culture might carry over the border to Congo. The countries differ, but I know my studies will not be in vain, especially if I work with Rwandan refugees in Congo.

God confirmed my call to DRC at Snow Camp in January 2015. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I am part of an organization called Mu Kappa. Once a year all the Midwest Mu Kappas gather at a winter retreat, so last Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I had the privilege of hanging out with Africans from Cameroon to Kenya.

After one of the speaking sessions at the retreat, I hung out with some friends in the cabin, napped to recuperate from the active weekend and then spent a half hour alone with God in the snow. While on the swings waiting for dinner, I reviewed what the speaker had said. He had pointed out four main identity questions everyone asks, two of which have stuck with me to this day.

Surrounded by a shimmering landscape of white and the chilly caress of the winter breeze, I thought through the questions: “Who am I? A beloved daughter of God. Where do I belong?” Here God filled in the blank, confirming where he had led me up to that point: “In the DRC, where I have called you.”

Those were his exact words to me, and he couldn’t have chosen a better place to make his call known than when I was surrounded by students who understood such a calling and would celebrate it with me!

Since then, God has also made it “click” that I should also be a missionary. He let me know this one June morning when I was preparing for church and praying for Jesus Christ, my God, to draw a dear Muslim friend into His Kingdom.

So what do I want to do after all my schooling? The succinct answer I tell people is that I want to do journalism and work with refugees in Congo (as a missionary).

At this point, I’m looking into opportunities to visit eastern Congo in summer 2016. God said “okay,” and I long to make this happen! My basic goal this summer would be to visit the area in which I hope to spend my life, to get a feel for it. However, I would absolutely love to work with refugees this summer as well, as that is what I hope to do in the future.

I’m thrilled to be going to Congo. If you have any leads on how to make this happen, I’d love to hear from you! I also appreciate your fervent prayers as I follow God. May we all seek His face and proclaim His glory!!

As a final note for those of you who are already thinking it won’t be easy, I know; I’ve heard it before. But God doesn’t call us to lives of comfort or pleasure! He gives joy through His Spirit when we’re in tune with Him, whatever the circumstances. He also created Congo as a beautiful place full of valuable people like you and I, so I hope to break down some negative stereotypes or associations with “Africa” and DRC on my journey there. I’ll share this Pharrell cover from eastern Congo with you as a start. 😉 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsC23izciN4

Merry Christmas, and thanks for your prayers!

The Gospel in its simple beauty (John 3:16, Kinyarwanda translation)

I love the Rwandan translation of the Bible. Kinyarwanda is my favorite language right now, and although I don’t know much of it, I can understand some familiar Scripture passages by comparing phrases to my English Bible and using my two dictionaries. (I have one print Kinyarwanda-English dictionary and one on an app, and I also have friends who speak the language.)

But what is this language and how did I come to know it? Almost exactly a year ago, I began an internship in Denver, where I worked as an intern for the health coordinator in the refugee and asylee department. I also befriended several case managers, one of whom was from Burundi and had long been a refugee in Rwanda before coming to the States and becoming a citizen. This particular case manager friend, Zacharie, speaks six languages including English, Kirundi and Kinyarwanda, and last July he began to teach me Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda.

Although I can read some Kinyarwanda at a painstakingly slow pace, I still know minimal vocab and certainly do not yet know the words nuances since I only had a teacher during summer 2014. Yesterday I tried to make some headway in my vocab, however. I learned that buhoraho means eternal (see John 3:16) and iteka means forever (John 3:18). I had thought they meant the same thing, but Zach informed me that the former is an adjective (ubugingo buhoraho–eternal life) and the latter is an adverb (nzagukunda iteka–I will love you forever).

Uwiteka is a name meaning Lord or Eternal One. (Eternal One– isn’t that beautiful?!) Simply put, according to Zach it means God. Mwami is a name for Jesus meaning King or Eternal. Jesus is Yesu.

Don’t zone out of this language lesson yet–I’m just getting to the point, the Gospel as read in John 3:16. The word that stands out to me the most in this passage presented below is cyane, an adjective meaning “a lot” or “immensely.” The letter C in Kinyarwanda sounds like a ch in English. Try saying the word cyane aloud now. Got it? Okay, I think we’re good with words for now, so let’s dig into the Scripture itself.

In my simplistic understanding of the language, I can read John 3:16 in Kinyarwanda and receive it as a beautiful, deep truth. I’ll show you the various translations below: First ESV, then Kinyarwanda, and my understanding of each.

John 3:16 and 17: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

To someone who has never heard the Gospel like this before, those verses are powerful. But after you have been in church for your entire life and can say this passage while spying nocturnal sheep, it begins to lose its meaning. Personally, I gloss over it because I think I already know what it says.

Another con of knowing the English translation so well has to do with the language itself. In English the words “so loved” seem meaningless and archaic. “So” doesn’t mean anything anymore because everything is super sized in the States today. (Oops, I even used the modifier to describe how well I know English, and I didn’t even realize it! See, it’s practically meaningless now.)

Kinyarwanda is still fresh and thrilling to me, however.

Johana 3:16 and 17: Kuko Imana yakunze abari mu isi cyane, byatumye itanga Umwana wayo w’ikinege kugira ngo umwizera wese atarimbuka, ahubwo ahabwe ubugingo buhoro. Kuko Imana itatumye Umwana wayo mu isi gucira abari mu isi ho iteka, ahubwo yabikoreye kugira ngo abari mu isi bakizwe na we.

I can compare the translations phrase by phrase, clause by clause, and pick out which word means what based off the few I know already. My dictionary is always handy, of course. Kuko means because, Imana is God, yakunze is the third person singular and the distant past of the verb for love (gukunda), mu is a preposition translated in or into, isi means world, and cyane means a LOT: For God loved in the world a LOT, the passage begins. God loved the world a LOT, immensely.

While I want to learn more Kinyarwanda with the goal of communicating well in the language, I am glad that my simplistic understanding allows me to see the Bible in a new light, as if starting over again. Newness is, after all, what Yesu is talking about in the passage above.

African Leadings

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Photo credit: http://www.toonpool.com/user/2442/files/africa_635355.jpg

I have wanted to be a missionary ever since I was a child. God instilled the desire to share the good news of Jesus to all creation from the moment I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and was saved, and I pray that I will act on that conviction through evangelism and future missionary work. I figure that if missionary work is part of my job, I will have to evangelize and will be forced to remember and proclaim the Gospel!

I have loved Africa ever since I was a child as well. I went to Kenya when I was ten-almost-eleven, and that encouraged my love for the continent, but I think I was interested in it even before I visited. I know that I do not love Africa on my own; God has called me there and continues to call me there.

When my focus drifts from God, sometimes He flashes an outline of the continent in my head, and I joyfully remember where He has called me, the greater purpose in my life. God recently gave me another vision or image as well.

The latest image consists of my hand and a black African woman’s hand woven together. We are walking, holding hands, and we are friends. Perhaps I am sharing her burden, as Galatians 6 commands; perhaps she is sharing mine. She is an image reminding me and encouraging me to my future beyond college and the U.S., and I look forward to meeting my African friend.

People ask me where I would like to go in Africa. Some disbelieve my call there, but most people I meet encourage me and are excited. My answer to their location question is unknown. I am interested in central and eastern subSaharan Africa, although I do not fully know why.

I could be more interested in that side of the continent because I visited Kenya seven and a half years ago. I am certainly more interested in the countries with the darkest skinned people, for I have always been attracted to black skin.

I told God that I would go wherever He wants me, even if that means a lighter skinned, Muslim country in northern Africa, however. As I write this, I realize that I did not tell Him the same for western Africa and the southern half of the continent; I shall pray now for Him to open up my heart to those places.

But could my interest in central and eastern Africa — Uganda, Burundi, the DRC, Rwanda, Kenya, and perhaps Tanzania and the CAR, et cetera — be from Him just as He has led me to Africa as a whole? The more I look at a map of Africa and ponder it, the more I am inexplicably drawn to central and eastern Africa.

I am excited to see God narrow my interests a bit. Reflecting on what I studied this past year in my multiple college papers that I chose to write on Africa, I noticed that they all had something to do with refugees. Additionally, I am currently interning at Lutheran Family Services, a refugee and asylee service, and loving it.

After college, I would love to get married and have a family, live in Africa, write print journalism, and do some form of missionary work.

Today my refugee friend told me to go to Rwanda. He was speaking of its beauty, as it is “the land of one thousand hills,” but when he found out my career goals, he admitted that there is much about which I could write and tell the world as a journalist, and he told me about the need for religious classes to be reinstituted in schools there.

My friend was socialized having a religion class from Kindergarten through tenth grade in Burundi, up through 1991. His final two years of secondary school did not include the over-an-hour long classes on Christianity, Catholicism, or religion, and his twelve year old daughter, a newly arrived refugee in the U.S., has had none.

I will continue to study Africa, particularly central and eastern Africa, and pray about God’s future for me. I recognize that I should also begin to learn kiswahili, kinyarwanda, or some other language spoken in Africa despite not knowing specifically where I will go yet. I hope to visit the continent again in the next few years, and I look forward to learning more about refugee and immigrant situations and the cultures represented by my African friends who are now present in the U.S.