This was the theme of one of Sandra’s sermons that led to intense soul searching and thought. It raises more questions than it gives answers. What do we seek first in our lives and how do we prioritize the rest?
We left off the last newsletter about to fly to Kenya to visit the Diocese of Kajiado. Kajiado is a large diocese immediately south of Nairobi and extending to the border with Tanzania. It is largely populated by the Maasai tribe. Maasai are well-known as the picture people of Africa for their colorful dress and their nomadic life style centered around grazing of cattle. (#1 and #2)
The purpose of the visit was to see several past graduates of Msalato with whom we are friends and to see the Diocese. Kajiado’s Bishop Jeremiah Taama had been the honored speaker at Msalato’s graduation in 2006, and we were very inspired by his message and his manner. So on July 16th we flew by small plane from Dodoma to Nairobi. The views were spectacular. One stop was at Kilimanjaro International Airport and the next stage was to fly between Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru and on into Kenya. Landing in Nairobi we saw giraffes in the Nairobi National Park near the city. From high in the air they look more like battleships than tall animals. We were met by David Saitoti Rapasi, a recent graduate who is awaiting ordination in December.
David’s deceased father, the Rev. Christopher K. Rapasi, a very famous and beloved Presbyterian minister, was the first Maasai ordained to the priesthood. Bishop Taama said that before he would allow David to become an Anglican priest, he went to speak with David’s mother to be sure that this famous Presbyterian family gave their approval. It is of utmost importance in African culture that the family bonds not be damaged, so in his wisdom Bishop Taama sat with the elders of David’s family to ensure that they supported David in this move. It was obvious to us, as David’s mother caught two of her fattest hens to give to the Bishop when he dropped us at her house, that all was well in the relationship.
On the way to David’s home in the Ngong Hills, he took us to the grave of Denys Finch Hatton. We didn’t quite get the significance of the site until the next day. Be that as it may, it was a lovely vista in the Ngong Hills. Later that day we had a large dinner put on by David’s wife, Elizabeth, and mother and others. David has 15 brother and sisters, and we met many of them as well as a gang of nieces and nephews. David has two children, Silvia and Christopher, and we had hoped to take them to a game park but the driver was late, so we decided to go to a crocodile zoo and The Karen Blitzen House instead. Karen Blitzen was a rich Dane who came to the Ngong Hills to build a coffee plantation. Her book, Out of Africa, is well known, at least to most of us as a movie. After her husband left her, her long time relationship was with Denys Hatton, a pilot and safari guide for the rich. He and Karen had many picnics in the Ngong Hills. He unfortunately died in a crash in the Tsavo Region of Kenya in 1935. Karen dedicated the monument to him at their favorite picnic spot. Thus we found the completed circle of the monument and the Blitzen House. Most people note that the picture of Denys Hatton (sadly notes Sandra) doesn’t look the least bit like Robert Redford.
Next day the driver comes from Kajiado and takes us to the center of the diocese. Kajiado is relatively dry and rural. We go to the Rural Training Center, which serves to train local people in cattle breeding, agriculture/horticulture, tanning, tailoring, and craft-making. The next morning we have a chat with Bishop Taama. He is gracious and amiable. He explained that the Episcopal Church went too fast for the Maasai who do not even have a word in their vocabulary for homosexuals. From Bishop Taama’s students we learned that he is a man of integrity and a great evangelist and considered very conservative. We ended our conversation with him, not knowing exactly what he felt about the problems in the Anglican Communion, but he listened to us intently and thoughtfully.
On another topic Bishop Taama told us that the main problem in his diocese is the lack of water. This is brought on by commercial farmers, flower factories (Kenya sends plane loads of flowers to Europe each day), chicken farms, and tree farms. Each of these use a lot of water drawn from deep wells which dry up water for cattle. Also the government has given small plots of land to farmers, thus interfering with the grazing of cattle. It sounds like the scenario of our American West after the invention of barbed wire. The next day the Bishop’s brother took us to see a Masaai dwelling and a water project for cattle. He had been the Chairman for this project and was obviously proud of the thousands of cattle that were watering there.
While in Kajiado Town we met with Samweli Pere and Anthony Ngure who were graduates of Msalato two years ago. Samweli is recently married and very happy. He said his wife, who is from the Msalato area, thinks that moving to Kenya is like going to Hollywood! Samweli and one other pastor have 13 small churches in their parish. Anthony is also doing well, but struggling a bit in the bush with many small churches. It is difficult to not have electricity or access to books or to the internet after having been used to them for the past three years. Also, Anthony is single and is being watched closely every single momentno pun intended. Apparently the last priest assigned to Anthony’s parish was also single but succumbed to the flesh and was sent packing by Bishop Taama!
Sunday, July 22, we went with the Bishop and his wife to St. James Church on the southern most ridge of the Ngong Hills. He did confirmations in three languages: Kimasaai, Kiswahili, Kiingereza (English.) He was very moving in his delivery and made us feel included. At one point in his sermon he turned to us and asked if we had a Bible. He took a parallel edition (Kiswahili-English) from our hands and held it up. What we think he said in Kiswahili was that we are one body because we share the same Word. Although Sandra was in the congregation and not robed, at the time of communion the bishop came to her and personally welcomed her to come to the table to distribute the bread. We felt that at that moment Bishop Tamaa showed us (and his congregation) how he felt about the Anglican Communion. We were deeply touched by these gestures. After a post-confirmation feast of beef ribs the Taama’s dropped us at David’s house and we flew back to Dodoma the next day.
On July 31st, we met Meghan Sweet and Lacy Nolan at the Dar es Salaam Airport. They are childhood friends from the Diocese of Atlanta having met at Camp Mikell, although Lacy’s family now resides in Charlottesville. Recent graduates of the University of Alabama, they thought they would like a stint in a different capacity in Africa. The Rev. Ken Struble of Mikell Camp and Conference Center referred them to us, and the rest, as they say, is history. They both had four years of computer in college and have been a great help in the library helping to get books on line. They have also done PowerPoint presentations for Bishop Mhogolo and other staff and have helped in the preparation of a Student Handbook. They will be leaving at the end of this month and will surely be missed by students and staff, especially us as we liked having daughters around again.
In August the Rev. Dr. Paul Elliott of St. Michaels and All Angels in Stone Mountain, GA, returned to attend the ordination of his friend, Darius Sudayi, and to do another well-received stint of teaching Psychology for Ministry and Theological Reflection in Ministry. He has also graciously offered to do a website for Msalato Theological College which is well underway.
On August 21th we went out to the village of Mvumi Makulu to dedicate a water project that Dr. Tom Wade had financed. Tom, wife Sherry, and friend Ann Burr from St. Thomas in Columbus had visited the parish church, St. Paul’s, while here last June. Basically the project involved taking water from a town source and delivering it by a pipe to the church, a primary school, a Compassion International project, and to the pastor’s house. Sandra preached and was given a special gifta pregnant goat named Rain. The pastor, Daniel Mazengo, who with a diligent committee made the project a success, was bubbling with enthusiasm. The dedication was to Tom’s parents and the whole affair was carried off nicely. Martin stumbled with his Kiswahili but tried to convey gratitude to Daniel and the workers involved.
Towards the end of August, the Rev. Moses and Ruth Matonya returned from a year at St. Thomas Church and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. They were delighted to rejoin with their four children. He and Ruth were extremely grateful for the hospitality extended from the people at St. Thomas. Moses is again teaching at Msalato Theological College. The Rev. Dr. Dickson Chilongoni, Principal of Msalato, has been appointed Vicar General of the Diocese, and Moses is now Acting Principal of the college when Dickson is away on diocesan activities.
In August a new school year began bringing the return of students and new lectures to prepare. On October 7, Stephen Day, a Young Adult Service Corp (YASC) volunteer from W.VA and recent graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, arrived to be the administrator for our computer laboratories. He is a most welcome addition to the staff. Now well into October, we look forward to the return of Buck Blanchard (World Missioner for the Diocese of VA) with another mission group. A former classmate of Sandra’s, the Rev. Beth Palmer from St. John’s in West Point, VA, will be among the Virginia pilgrims. She will stay with us. We have planned a very busy schedule for Beth as we want her to see as much of African life as possible in one week. Sandra will return with Beth to the states at the end of the month. Martin will follow November 19th to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with daughters and family in Boston.
As I (Sandra) read over what Martin has written I am again aware of just how much support we have from the Christians in the US as we seek to do God’s will in our mission herealways imperfectly and not without mistakes, but continually seeking and learning. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. I hope to connect with many of you at Atlanta Diocesan Council and in your parishes during our time back in the states. Please visit our website at www.mccannmission.org to see the pictures that accompany this letter and leave us a note.
With love and joy and much gratitude,
Sandy and Martin