I feel terribly conflicted. I am sitting in the breakfast room at the modest hotel where we are staying, a bed and breakfast put up by the Presbyterian Church. In the background a TV preacher from the U.S. is explaining his version of the prosperity gospel. He is one of those guys who sounds like he is speaking truth, but something is missing. “Following the principles of Jesus is meant to give you more cash” something like that. I wonder if he understands that while this may prosper us spiritually, we may become impoverished financially, yet we are not poor. “Sell all you have and give to the poor, then come and follow me.” I think it was Jesus who spoke those words.
So we give of our resources for the chance to create peace, to bless others in another part of the world, as well as in our own backyard. We are impoverished, and we are made richer. We make no apologies for such a life.
The TV preacher is annoying, but the truth is, there is something else that is bothering me. I miss those kids in Kapedo. I remember them, five boys, big wide grins across their faces, holding onto a soccer ball that we gave them. Girls in school uniforms, orphans who have a future, and hope, because we work on peace in Kapedo.
But I didn’t have a chance to see them, to greet them on this trip. They are on an island of flooded rivers and I am on the other side. In my mind I see them, waving to me as I drive by in my limousine, hoping a few crumbs will fall to them. But the gulf between us is too wide, and I can only hear their voices just above the roaring waters, still full of hope, trusting that somehow we will find a way.
I can’t explain why they matter to me. I can only say that they do. The truth is, I miss them.
It may sound like we have some kind of a Savior complex, and I can understand that. I have heard that critique of people who do what we do in various forms for decades- criticism of people who choose to live their lives differently, to make of their lives about more than just themselves and their own comforts. In residency, my advisors suggested that my desire to work in another part of the world was driven by guilt, sort of their psychoanalysis of my motives. People make a living by accusing good people of being flawed. Of course we are. Can we move on now?
What motivates us is something far deeper. It was never about ourselves, patting ourselves on the backs, medals, trophies or recognition. People who are self-centered and egotistical get recognition, publicity, position and power. Look at Donald Trump.
It is the joy of walking with other humans for whom injustice has overwhelmed them. They have no clout, they have no voice, they have no resources. To come alongside them, to open a door for them and to give them hope and a future. That is a life worth living. I love that life. If no one else notices or comes along, so be it, it doesn’t matter, because it was never about other people and what they thought. The truth is, we are not alone- there are others who are also moved by the suffering of people. They are quietly going about in the world discovering the good they were meant to do in it. These are the righteous.
Samuel arrives and we talk about future plans, getting the supplies to Kapedo when the rain allows, working with some of the other partners in that area for peace. We talk about budgets, last minute details, getting him a little more money to finish out the year. He prays with us, he thanks us, he blesses us. He wants us to know how dear we are to him. He is changed, and the people in the conflict areas are changed because we don’t give up on them, even when we might have, we keep believing that peace will prevail. “A light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.
We become curious about his family. I know only that his mother is still living, last I knew in the wild Akoret area beyond Kapedo. She is Turkana, but since her deceased husband, Samuel’s father, was Pokot, these are her ancestral lands in that remote Pokot area. We ask if he has children. Yes, there are three. The oldest is named Barry, the second is named Precious, and the youngest is named Shelley. My wife wakes up as if from a sleep. “Did you name them after us?” she asks, surprised. I smile. It is the custom of African cultures to name their children after people they wish to honor, to remember, people they wish to tell their children about, to live up to. “Of course,” answers Samuel. “Because you have changed my life, I want to remember you each and every time I say my children’s names.” He promises to introduce his family to us next visit.
We smile, say goodbye, give hugs, last minute instructions, and we are off down the road. I reflect on what Samuel is telling us in naming his children as he has. I think he has said in so doing what I am feeling. He has made us his people. We are united through a bond that is as profound as our biology. We are his family. And so is he to us. The children in Kapedo, I cannot lay down their memory because I have made them my people. If they succeed, I will cheer for them. If they fail, I will sorrow for them. If they suffer, I will suffer with them. That has made the difference.
The children are waiting on the other side of the river. I can hear them calling out to us as we leave this place. They are waving goodbye. They are asking us to remember them. We turn to board the plane, hot, sweaty, beat up, jostled by a thousand potholes, frazzled by a thousand donkey carts, matatus, pedestrians, cows, goats and motorcycles with bedframes strapped on the back. How can we forget them? We will come again.