A very special update from Ryan Morris in Africa
Africa can best be described as one big contradiction. An organized disaster. A horrific beauty. You see it everywhere. Sights of great beauty; the “Great Rift Valley,” the plains of Africa, Lake Victoria are lumped into a jumbled mess with sights of starvation, HIV/AIDS, poverty. A tall Masai Warrior bathed in red, a regal statute, staring across the plains. A twelve-year old girl in a slum, selling herself for a bag of flour. Groves of mangoes and bananas swaying in the cool mist. A group of street boys huffing glue to make the hunger go away.
I recently attended the National Service Week in Nairobi. Every organization in Kenya has a booth with brightly colored displays depicting how they serve the Kenyan people. It was a huge event, tents set up row after row covering the large yard in front of the City Council Building. Every government department was there and I will have to say it was impressive. They have turned the solutions to the problems that face Africa down to a science. They can chart the exact time people groups in the arid lands begin to die of starvation. They can measure the exact amount of porridge per day it takes to keep a baby alive. They even predict when prostitutes in the Mombasa area are most likely to transfer HIV/AIDS based on their menstrual cycle. I have no idea who got the lucky assignment for collecting that data, but envy him I do not. But in the arid lands people still starve. In fact in one report, people there are getting desperate for food, so desperate that some have even been killed and eaten. The spread of AIDS shows no slowing as the number infected rises everyday. Somewhere, somewhere between these National Service tents and “out there,” the solutions are lost, I thought. An organized disaster indeed.
The happenings of this past Tuesday and Wednesday wholly sum up my month’s stockpile of experiences. The events in these two days were perfect in their haphazardness. We trekked west across the “Great Rift Valley”, through plains, over mountains and through dense forests to arrive in Siaya. Siaya is roughly 50 or so kilometers east of Uganda and is the home to one of our staff members, George. Many know it for being the home of Barack Obama’s grandmother and clan. We arrived Tuesday evening after a van ride of more than 7 or 8 hours. George was excited to see his family so we went into the countryside to his family’s land to have dinner. A traditional family from the Luo tribe, I was able to meet George’s father, mother, and his “small mom,” his father’s second wife. Sitting in a small thatched-roofed hut, we had a great meal over candlelight. I wondered if the family of chickens that scurried under the dinner table in the darkness knew that someday they would be able to sit on top of it…in a nice little pot. The hut sat on a piece of land, complete with mango trees and a small farm. It was a perfect setting. But this is Africa and its horrific beauty touched even this place. George is from a district that has a 24.3% AIDS infected rate and sadly his family has not been spared. After some quick medical check-ups we headed to a small hotel back in the town of Siaya.
I woke up early that Wednesday morning and didn’t know if it was the anticipation of the coming day or because the mosquitoes were terrible and the bed was two-feet too short. We were to meet with “Mama Sara,” Barack Obama’s grandmother at her country compound. Being able to talk with her about our AIDS awareness campaign and having juice inside her house excited the whole team. Even I, a FOX-news junkie, found the experience pretty darn cool.
After the meeting we began to make the long-trip back home, back across the expansive landscape from which we had come a day earlier. The van tumbled and rumbled across the bumpy roads and I settled in for the long journey feeling good about the day. But the romantic view of Africa burned out quick and the great contradiction appeared once again. Njokie had called. The boy, who she had devoted her life in caring for, was in the hospital. Brian is a 9 year-old relative of Njokie and is infected with AIDS. He is a part of our family and we were all quite concerned to hear that he had a high fever and had to be rushed to the hospital. A great day had suddenly turned dark. We hastened our pace to get back to Nairobi. As we climbed through the mountains, the weather curiously mirrored our mood. Clouds became thicker and thicker, the air cooler. Soon it began to rain, the mood was somber as we all silently prayed for Brian and we all dosed off one by one.
For some reason I suddenly woke and felt the strange sense something was wrong. It was pouring rain and night had fallen. I heard George, who was driving, speaking in Swahili. I could tell by his tone he was worried. Driving through the dark, densely forested mountains, a heavy fog had set in and we could not see more than 10 feet in front us. Everyone else was asleep and I was thankful that they did not see what I was witnessing. I told George to just stay close to the white line and drive slow and we will be fine. Secretly I was thinking, “great, I now know why they call this place the “dark” continent because I can’t see a thing. We are hurrying to get back to the hospital. We are somewhere in the mountains on a dirt highway. I have no seatbelt, no airbag. It’s pitch dark. It’s pouring rain and this is the heaviest fog I have ever see. I am going to die in a heap of wrangled, twisted metal. This is scarier than “Jumanji.” And those are the thoughts that came to me in just the first split second.
Some of the team members awoke to the newest update of Brian. He was not well. His temperature had risen to 41 degrees Celsius. We did a quick conversion, 106 degrees Fahrenheit. With his weakened immune system, the situation did not look good. Prayers were made and some tears shed as the group tried not to think of the worst outcome. After thirty minutes of silence, George’s phone rang. Again he spoke in Swahili, and again I knew something was terribly wrong. When he hung up, I quickly called out and asked what was wrong. “Brian is in God’s hands,” his voice yelled out in stress as he drove through the fog. Brian had gotten worse. He had lost consciousness and began to go into seizures. It looked like he was not going to make it, Njokie had cried.
As George told us the news, and I began to pray, and all the past month’s jumbled, organized mess of contradictions flooded back across my mind. Strangely, I was at peace. Because it was then that I realized that the theme of this past month was not the mess of contradictions that Africa presents but it was much more simple than that. No tug-of-war. No up and downs. No back and forth…
…we were in God’s hands.
Serving Christ in Kenya,