“Patience is a virtue.” This expression has reportedly been in use since the fourteenth century. It seems that the only time a person is reminded of this is in one of his least virtuous moments. One of the best ways for a person’s patience to be taxed, tested, and tried is to transition from the “time is money” American culture to rural East Africa. The pace of life there is markedly different. The Kenyans have even coined a different expression, “Westerners have watches, but Africans have time.” When was the last time you walked to the store for bread, stopped to greet and converse with nearly everyone along the way, and made it back home in three and a half hours? Have you ever been invited over for dinner and had it turn into a six hour, neighborhood-wide social gathering? Do you remember showing up for church fifteen minutes late only to discover that you were one of the first members of the congregation to arrive? Would you run short on patience if it took you five hours to cover one hundred miles?
All this and more is everyday life in in places like Iganga, Moi’s Bridge, Busia, and Etago. It’s enough to drive an American mad. We like our high-speed internet, fast food, stand-up meetings, sermons of less than twenty minutes, and days scheduled to maximize every fifteen-minute increment. Don’t get me wrong, there’s something to be said for making the most of the time that you have. When it comes to digging a well, no one wants to wait too long, since the welfare of a community may depend on the effort. Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). The Apostle Paul reminds us that we should walk “not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
What our brothers and sisters can teach us, though, is of great importance. By their example we can learn the truth of such passages as “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), and “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31). These times of waiting, though they may be forced upon us, offer the opportunity to sit down with one another, conversing and sharing, all the while strengthening the “tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.” While waiting in the line at the bank for three hours, one has ample time to reflect, and to remind himself to “Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).
Anna Sagala comes from the small village of Kona Mbaya, meaning “bad corner” due to the sharp bend in the road. You may know her as being from Moi’s Bridge. Anna was raised in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya and was confirmed at a young age. Upon getting married, she moved away to a place where there was no Lutheran church within a two hundred kilometer radius. She attended a Quaker—or “Friends”—church, as it was called. She patiently waited for the time when she could return to her Lutheran roots, a wait that lasted over fifty years! Anna’s first visit to the U.S. to see her son and his family proved to be the first step in her homecoming journey back to the church of her youth.
A few months of attending a quiet little church on the side of a mountain in Phoenix transported her back to her earlier days of worshiping in a Lutheran church. This is what she had waited for! She hadn’t realized she had missed it so badly. You never know what you might find when you travel to the other side of the world, and you also never know who may be walking into your church on any given Sunday!
Anna’s visit to Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Phoenix eventually led to the foundation of a church and school back in Milimani, Kenya, on a piece of land that she herself donated. The waiting had been long, but the final result was a partnership that has lasted for seven years and counting. An entire congregation completed adult instruction over the course of a year and a half; they were confirmed together, and celebrated the Lord’s Supper together in their very own Lutheran congregation! Those who had waited to have their children baptized because they couldn’t afford it in other churches didn’t have to wait any longer.
As she saw her years on earth begin to dwindle, Anna Sagala wanted to leave something behind. But she had no desire that people should remember her. Rather, her prayer was that the many men, women, and children of this village in Kenya might know and remember their Savior!
Michael Gurath is pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and a visiting missionary to Africa.