Our first day in Kenya, we pulled into camp with Paul, and met Madam Dorcus. She was waiting for us outside of her house, ready to greet us with a smile and welcoming arms. We introduced ourselves, and immediately she made us feel at home. We sat down inside to each lunch, and continued to talk a little bit about ourselves. She asked how our flight was, and whether we were feeling comfortable in Kenya so far or not. Assuring us that she would be there for every possible need, we knew immediately that Madam genuinely cared for us. At some point there was a lull in the conversation, and Madam said “We may live simply, but we love everyone.” The statement was straightforward and easy to understand, yet it has greatly impacted how I view the community at large here in Kimana.
The three of us had just reached our destination after roughly 36 hours of traveling, and we were coming from the United States at that, where nothing seems simple, a reality that you don’t have to leave the country to observe. I know that I have felt the effects of an overly complicated lifestyle for the majority of the last year. At Duke, I always had a task to finish, and many more would be lined up to be completed afterwards. Another deadline was just around the corner, an exam had to be prepared for, and a social event was almost always planned for the weekend. At home, my family would often be so busy with our own plans that we had to sacrifice time that could be spent just being together to complete tasks revolving around work.
This being said, I won’t turn around and say that the people here in Kenya aren’t busy. John is the Eastern African Director of Olive Branch Ministries, he runs Sidai Oleng, and is working to build a hotel and chain of restaurants on the property through the Ministry. He is a farmer, owning a good bit of land that he takes care of and oversees. An ordained Pastor, he preaches each Sunday in both Swahili and English depending upon whether or not he is preacher or translator that week. He is a chairman at Lenkai Christian School, aiding his wife Dorcus as she is both Director of the school, and an outspoken activist against FGM and child marriage. Together, they are creating Hope Beyond Transitional Center (which I will write more about in another post) and of course they are the parents of several boys and girls and they work tirelessly to raise them to be strong men and women of God.
By no means can one say that these two live simple lives. They are always working on the next project, preparing for tomorrow and looking into the future, trusting that God will provide throughout. So I ask myself: What did Madam mean when she said “We may live simply?” Though they live incredibly “complicated” lives, constantly having to balance work and home, there is a stark contrast between the community we are immersed in and the communities I am accustomed to. Hospitality, often an unpracticed idea save for those within my closed circles back home, is a major aspect of John and Dorcus’ lives. One of the first things John told us at home was that their door was always open, and we could walk into the house and be with the family at any time.
John shared another idea with us several weeks ago, around a campfire on the last night of the Just One Africa Team’s stay in Kimana.
“The purpose of this was never to make money. It has always been about service.”
I believe that it is this perspective that allows the phrase “but we love everyone” to hold true in light of the ever busy, “complicated” life that John and Dorcus live. Everything that this family does vocationally is about service. I am not romanticizing their jobs or trying to boast in their name; literally every aspect of their work is for the betterment of others. Lenkai takes care of orphans, providing a home for at risk children and giving all students the chance at a bright future through high quality education. Just One Africa works to give people all over Kenya access to clean water, educating those at the distributions about healthy living, budgeting, and the importance of education. Olive Branch Ministries plants churches throughout Kenya, and runs the newly opened Sidai Oleng, so that this part of God’s beautiful creation may be conserved and appreciated by others.
It is becoming clear to me that yes, the ability to love others fully is partially an effect of the lifestyle that I live, but it is not dependent upon whether or not I am “living simply.” Simplicity doesn’t immediately imply idleness. It doesn’t exclude responsibilities or pressures. Instead, truly living simply is achieved by shifting the focus of work from myself to others, from tasks and responsibilities at hand to the motivations of service that should be behind them. It is the lifestyle of John and Dorcus, which is centered around the ideas of community building and serving others, being a servant leader in all that they do. Living presently, it entails being an active and engaged member of my community.
Perhaps things are different in Nairobi; according to John, the lack of community among neighbors played a part in their decision to move the family back to Kimana. Here at Lenkai, among members of the Just One Africa team and the members Olive Branch churches, there is a common theme of community-centered living that runs throughout. It permeates daily life, so that one feels at home easily and quickly. Due to this hospitality and love that has been shown to us, Lenkai has become a true home for me. John and Dorcus and their children are my family. (Don’t worry mom, this doesn’t negate you guys back home at all. I love you very much! It’s just nice to know that I have family here too.) With three weeks left out of our ten week experience, I already know with certainty that leaving with be painful. However, there is not a doubt in my mind that this community I have been a part of for the last seven weeks will be a community I am a member of for life. I have been abundantly blessed by them, and I desire greatly to be a blessing to them in return. Community is, most certainly, a blessing from God.