Black Americans and Africa

Disclaimer: this is a bit of a departure from what I normally write, but I wasn’t sure what other platform to use to pose this question, so here you go.

When most Kenyans find out I’m a mzungu, which typically refers to a white person but in my case means an American, a lot of whispering and pointing usually ensues. Why? Because it’s very rare for them to encounter what they call Black Americans. In fact, we’ve been places where people have never personally met a Black American before. I find it funny when I hear missionaries say that they’re going places where the people have never seen a white face before, because it’s actually even more rare that they would see a face like mine, that of a Black American.

I’ve only been in three African countries so far, but in my experience, the African people are exceedingly willing to embrace us. In Kenya, once people get over their amusement at having met a Black person they thought was Kenyan but speaks like a mzungu, they generally welcome me to Kenya, claim it is my new home, invite me into their home, and call me their sister.

Kenyans love Black culture and they know loads more about it than I do. Take any matatu (bus) in Nairobi and the last sound you’ll hear before you go deaf from the loudspeakers will be that of some Black American rap, hip hop, gospel, or R&B artist. Even the decor in the bus, if not football (soccer) themed, will include images of Tupac, Biggie, and Bob Marley (I know he’s Jamaican, but they love them some island folk too). They like to copy the language they hear in our music and movies, and they love playing with my hair (I’m a 4a and that’s not as common here as 4c).

My question is, why as a Black culture don’t we embrace our African counterparts as readily? Why don’t we know very much about their cultures? Why don’t Black people vacation here? I know that as a people we’re not known for traveling overseas with our families for vacation and whatnot, but still, I don’t see traveling to Africa on any Black Americans’ bucket lists.

Why is it when people sign up for mission trips to African countries the majority of the people are any shade of color but brown? I went to South Africa in 2006 with a large team of nearly 50, and there were only about five people of color excluding myself. That’s it. I love being able to partner with all people of every race and serve the Lord, but I’m confounded as to why my people aren’t more involved in missions.

To me, especially when it concerns missions, it would seem like we are an ideal people group to connect with Africans. The simple fact that they generally have a keen interest in our culture, we share a skin color with them and could possibly have common ancestors (a number of people I meet joke that I could possibly be from their tribe, though the consensus is that I’m pretty much a Luhya – that’s Ray’s tribe – because I have the calves and the bone structure of a Luhya 😉 ). I know that part of my family history on my dad’s side goes back to Madagascar, but there could be a number of connections anywhere! That’s incredibly exciting to me.

Now, some Kenyans and even white missionaries who have been here for many years have also asked me “Why don’t more of you guys come over here?” Some have suggested that Black people might be embarrassed to associate with Africans because of the stereotypically well advertised poverty situation that plagues the continent. They feel that Black Americans have established their lives elsewhere, so they don’t want to be reminded of where they come from. Maybe they just want to move on and forget the continent that birthed their ancestors, but they fail to see the beauty the lies in the people, landscape, food, and culture of this place. Africa is so much more than media portrays. So much more.

Personally I believe the socioeconomic status of the Black population in America has a lot to do with it and that, as I mentioned before, we’re not a traveling race because we can’t usually afford to travel. Even so, savings accounts are great when it comes to saving up for vacations and most mission trips involve fund raising opportunities, so the financial burden isn’t as great as it may seem. If you eliminate the financial factor, I believe a great number of Black Americans would be more willing to come, but there is still a large sub-population that could care less. I just want to know why.

Let me just put one more thing out there. Black Americans have a really great advantage when it comes to engaging in cultural activities and the like around here. People don’t know you’re not Kenyan unless you speak. Game reserves, hotels, and most businesses like to charge “special” prices for wazungus (the plural form of mzungu). They see the skin color, and the price can automatically be raised to double or even quadruple the actual cost. Because my husband’s Kenyan, I usually just walk alongside him, speak the little Swahili I know, and people naturally assume I’m Kenyan and charge me the Kenyan price. It’s pretty nice.

I think I could go on and on with reasons why I believe Black people should come to Africa, but maybe you can save me some time and help me out.

What do you think?

The winds of change are coming

We thought we knew what we were getting into, but we had no idea.

Before Ray and I got together, he had an organization called True Heroes Under God (T.H.U.G.) which purposed to represent talented, vulnerable youth in the music industry. I was a middle school teacher with love for music and dance and a heart for orphans. In our preliminary jabber sessions about what our future would look like, we talked about family-style children’s homes and a compound with a studio, but we really didn’t have a clue about how to turn our ideas into a cohesive unit.

In April we finally got a clear vision and we began writing it down… on our bedroom wall.

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There are many existing children’s homes that would love to provide extracurricular activities for their kids, but only have the resources to cover the basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, and education. That’s where The Joshua Blueprint comes in. We want to come alongside existing children’s homes and schools for orphans and provide access to art and music education.

Our ultimate goal is to provide a facility where the kids from all participating organizations can come and be trained in music, art, dance, film/photography, and acting. There are so many talented kids out here, you’d be amazed. They just need the opportunity. Therefore, our aim is to help these kids develop their God-given talents unto the glory of the Lamb. We want to teach them how the use of their gifts is worship unto the Lord, provide a platform to use their talents to minister to others, start a house of prayer where worship, dance, and art can all be incorporated, and transform the Kenyan music and arts industries for the kingdom of God.

The facility is a long-term goal, but in the meantime we decided to go to a city in the western province of Kenya called Kitale, where there are a large number of organizations that cater to vulnerable children. Rick Strickland, a great friend of ours who works with the Pokot tribe, referred us to three amazing people:

Bill and Patricia Cornell, Vision for Africa

Jeff and Carla Piccici, Rehema, In Step Foundation Children’s Home

Bud and Kimberly Huffman, Mattaw Children’s Village

Our visit began and ended with Bill and Patricia. Of all the new friends and contacts we made in Kitale, they were the most significant. I’ll tell you why in a later post, but without a doubt, they encouraged us personally and spiritually in a way that left a great impact on our hearts.

A glimpse into the beauty of servitude

Under the leadership of the Cornells and the demonstration of Bill’s terrific ability to use four-wheel drive, we arrived at our first destination deep in the interior of western Kenya, Kiminini. Pastor Victor, the founder of Shalom Academy for Orphans, was not available for us to speak with, but we were able to visit the sites of the schools and dialogue with the teachers.

With the help of some generous benefactors, Pastor Victor has been able to take in 472 kids and give them access to education and food they otherwise would not have been able to afford.

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The mud building pictured below is where they started out, but new schools have been built and they are migrating all of the students into the new buildings.

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In the following year, we hope to help Pastor Victor incorporate arts into the students’ curriculum. They also have a desire to compete in music festivals, and they hope that we can help them achieve that goal.

Meeting with like minds

Following our visit to the school, we met with Jeff and Carla in town. Unfortunately, time did not allow for us to get to visit their ministry base, but we had a great time talking with the couple about their vision for the kids that they care for and how we can help them. Their ministry is located in Cherengani, Kitale and currently caters to 153 kids, mostly babies. Although they primarily focus on caring for the basic needs of the children, they also desire to build a medical center and school. In the meantime we would help out with the older kids and get them engaged in some extracurricular activities.

The ones that move His heart

Our final visit was to the Mattaw Children’s Village. Bud and Kimberly Huffman are some of the smartest people we know when it comes to organizing the structure of an overseas ministry. We learned so much from Bud (Kimberly was in Congo pursuing the onset of a dream the Lord put in her heart a long time ago) about how to begin as a fledgling organization, and he answered many of the questions we had been praying about the past few months.

On a tour of the village we got to see the five houses where they have married parents caring for 12 kids (six girls, six boys), a farm where the children are learning to grow their own produce and livestock, a large open play area, and a church where they are currently hosting 24/7 prayer for Kimberly’s safe return from Congo.

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In the future we hope to not only work with training the little ones in music and art, but to teach the kids how to use instruments to engage in the flow of the Holy Spirit in a worship setting. The Mattaw family already has dynamic times of worship together when they meet for church, but in areas such as playing the keyboard, there is a need for something more than the same melody that runs through most songs you hear in Kenyan worship. By simply teaching scales, how to arpeggiate chords, and the circle of fifths, we can unlock keys for these young worshipers to really set an atmosphere for the presence of God.

Gearing up for change

We are still keeping to our commitment as a couple to not get involved in ministry until after a year of marriage has passed, but we will spend the next five months researching, networking, and planning. As we pursue the implementation of this vision, we would love your prayers. Please check out our new Prayer Requests page and let us know you’re standing with us.

Also, feel free to check out the links of the organizations we mentioned and to “like” our Joshua Blueprint Facebook page. You can find tons of pictures of the kiddos there as well as get updates about how the ministry is developing.

We appreciate your love and support through this season of change. God bless.

Wedding cake & a great big slice of humble pie

One of my favorite quotes from my teenage years comes courtesy of my mother. She had come into the dining room just as I was ending a phone conversation with a friend. As I placed the phone back on the receiver (this was back when everyone had a land line, and cordless phones were on trend), I proceeded to inform my mother that I was getting bored with my friend and that I planned to stop hanging out with her soon. My mom gave one of those long exasperated exhales and shook her head before saying, “I just don’t know how you manage to keep any friends.” Maybe I wasn’t supposed to laugh at that since she was expressing disbelief in the fact that she had raised such a rude daughter, but it was and has always been funny to me. According to my mom, the fact that I have friends is a miracle.

I wish she could see me now.

I am married and amazingly enough, the clerks at the nearby hotel don’t have a secret room permanently reserved for me. Nothing short of a miracle.

A growing distaste for my favorite word

In recent years, one of my favorite words to throw around in any conversation was “introvert”.

“Hey, Sam. You want to come over for dinner tonight?”

“No. I’m an introvert. I’d rather eat alone.”

—–

“Look! There’s a warthog over there!”

“No thanks, I’m an introvert. I don’t follow the crowd.”

—–

God: “Go witness to that person over there.”

“Is it going to start with small talk? I’m an introvert, remember? You know I hate small talk.”

—–

When I first came to understand what the word introvert meant, I felt totally liberated. There was finally scientific evidence to explain why my brain would literally cease to function properly after a few hours of social stimulation, and apparently it was normal. It wasn’t a malfunction! In my excitement, I threw that word around as often as possible. Everyone needed to know, or else they couldn’t be my friend. How else would they understand when I rejected their invitations for large gatherings? Nowadays I can’t help but groan inwardly whenever I hear the word “introvert” leave my lips. Yes, it defines me to a T and has really helped me understand myself and my brain better, but it also has become an excuse for me to refrain from engaging properly in relationships.

Traditionally speaking

Since I’ve been in Kenya, I’ve called home less than ten times. I’ve been away for nearly five months, and look Ma, I’m still homesick free! Yes, I love my family, but I really can go months without talking to them and be just fine. I can’t say the problem is that we’re all introverts, though some of us are, as much as it’s just that we simply lost the ability to communicate properly when we lost mom. You can imagine then how much of a struggle I’m having being in a culture where family ties are very important.

Our African wedding was my first hint of this reality, when after we cut our wedding cake I was instructed to take some to Ray’s grandparents and mom and feed it to them (literally put the cake in their mouth) to symbolize the fact that I’ll take care of Ray and that I’ll look after them as well. We also attended a birthday party for a five year old last week and the same ritual occurs there. The child helps cut the cake and then feeds her parents. From a young age kids are taught to value family ties, and various traditions serve to reiterate that point throughout their lifetime.

Difficulties with ‘leaving and cleaving’

This is definitely something I admire about the culture, as I hope to raise our children in an environment that fosters togetherness, but as someone who would typically choose to spend a Friday night sitting on a warm vent in her apartment watching “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” for the twentieth time instead of going out with friends, this has been incredibly hard. As newlyweds, Ray and I decided to take this first year of marriage to focus on adjusting to one another. During this year we aim to stay out of ministry, treat the weekends as sacred time for ourselves, and not have any kiddos. By doing this we hope to establish a good foundation to our marriage before building a ministry or family.

For the most part we’ve done well in this area, and we feel that our relationship is stronger for it, but it’s kind of unfathomable for his family to see how we can be so “distant” when we’re so close. We hear remarks often about how it’s like we live in the States because they never see us, and how we’ve become strangers and so on and so forth.  Growing up a PK, I’m used to having people gossip about me, so the comments themselves don’t really bother me. What’s most bothersome to me is that in America I could tell people, “Hey, listen. I’m an introvert,” and they would back off and give me some space. They might even apologize for being so intrusive. But Kenyan culture is like my introvert kryptonite. I’ve yet to meet a Kenyan that isn’t impervious to my introverted powers.

Will this be the end of our not-so-super heroine?

There are days, especially when Ray catches wind of some of the gossip that circulates about us, that I feel like detaching completely. I mean, that always worked back in the States. Whenever people got on my nerves, I would just slowly back into my cave and hibernate for months. I can’t do that here. People would either complain until you were guilted into spending time with them or just show up at your house. Like I said, completely impervious.

For a long time I thought the problem lied with the people who didn’t know how to take no for an answer, but if marriage, leave alone culture, has taught me anything about myself, it’s that the problem lies with me. My introverted “powers” are actually a weakness. They indicate a deficiency in my ability to engage in healthy ongoing relationships with people. I don’t know how to work through issues with people, because I always shut them out when the relationship becomes too cumbersome.

That conclusion is pretty easy to come by when you move into a home with your brand spanking new husband, and then after a doozy of an argument, you realize the place didn’t come equipped with a secret hiding place behind a bookcase. There’s no running away in this relationship. I can’t shut him out and pretend that he doesn’t exist when he’s lying next to me in bed snoring to the tune of a steam engine.  I have to choose reconciliation… especially if I plan on sleeping next to him for the rest of my life. I have to choose to pop the bubble I frequently don as my outfit of the day, and let him in so he can become part of my processing routine.

Something I should have done a long time ago

This transition hasn’t come easy. I’ve tried to storm out of the house a number of times, only to walk a few feet out of the gate, hear/spot wild dogs, and run back to the complex to find a safer place to “be alone”. It didn’t take me long to realize that my disappearing act didn’t accomplish much. I was only doing it to punish him, which usually ended up making communication even harder when I would finally return. I’m still allowed time to process, and Ray is really good about giving me space to do that if I absolutely need to work some stuff out internally, but I’m no longer allowed to run away. I mentioned in our co-blog last month that we stress verbalizing issues with each other. Ever so slowly I’m learning how to process outside of myself with my husband instead of shutting him out so that I can sort out the hurricane of thoughts and emotions on my own. Even when it comes to processing, two are better than one.

Throughout my lifetime I’ve offended my fair share of people, and as I reflect today, I realize that I need to apologize. If you’re reading this blog and I’ve used the “introvert” excuse on you, this is for you. First, I want to apologize for using a personality trait as an excuse to put my wants/needs before yours. Secondly, I want apologize for lying, because in order to avoid hanging out, I most likely lied to you. And finally, I want to thank you for still being my friend (I’m assuming if you’re reading this blog we’re still friends) even though I wasn’t a very good one myself. Hopefully by the time we head back to the States I will be in a position to call you just to hang out.

To quote J.P. in reference to the miracle of seeing angels in the outfield: “Hey, it could happen.”