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A Trip to Knuckles

In this series, thoseinvolved with CLC foreign missions profile one aspect of our overseas endeavors.

My first full day in Nairobi, in May of this year, was supposed to be rather simple and uneventful. It started out that way. To change money, get malaria meds, and buy local sim cards for phone and modem were all normal things. Next on the list was the purchase of catechisms. This entailed a trip to Ngong (a Maasai word meaning “knuckles”) nature preserve where the new campus of Lutherans in Africa is located. They were previously known as The Lutheran Heritage Foundation and were located in Karen. They are an independent Lutheran group that translates catechisms and various other Lutheran materials for many different parts of Africa—including translations in the many local languages of Kenya. A new facet of their work has been the training of men from different parts of East Africa for the pastoral ministry. Rather than continuing to pay rent in Karen, they bought some land in Ngong and are in the process of building classrooms, dormitories, a library, dining hall, kitchen—the whole works.
On the way to finding this place, we came upon a protest involving the majority of a primary school’s student body. Small children in school uniforms had blocked the road with stones, thorn bushes, and even their own little bodies. We didn’t get a definitive answer as to why they were doing this, but the story told was that the road in front of their school was dangerous and more than a few people had lost their lives in vehicle crashes there. They wanted to get the attention of the local government, and the teacher of this school thought that this was the best way. So we waited—and waited. Two hours passed. Suddenly, Kenyan men in fatigues and wielding military rifles were filing past our car. A few orders barked from the man in charge forced bodies into motion and the stones were cleared away in minimal time.
Unbeknownst to me, our issues were not totally resolved. Lutherans in Africa doesn’t have an address, only a Google map point. There is no signboard on the side of the road, either. We wandered a bit to no avail. Google Maps on my Kenyan phone does not work very well. We asked for directions from some locals and ended up unofficially hiring a Maasai to guide us to our destination. We went down dirt roads, gravel roads, holey roads, and roads that should not be classified as roads. An added bonus was that we wandered through a giraffe sanctuary which had a very Jurassic Park feel to it.
After only two more hours were added on to this routine trip, we found the place. Upon asking a roadside dweller if he knew where the Lutheran place was his eyes immediately lit up and he flashed an enormous smile. It turned out that he worked on the construction project there. Several people were milling around, and students were on their lunch break. I made a beeline for their book storage to get what I needed and head back, hoping for a much shorter return route. While there, I met with their chief translator (the resident pastor, with whom I’m familiar, was in the U.S. at the time.) A visiting pastor from America who was filling in to teach that week was having a hard time rounding up the students after their lunch break. The process was taking a long time (I’ve been there. I felt his pain.) I gathered up a bunch of Kisii-language Catechisms, Swahili Large Catechisms, and Swahili translations of the Book of Concord. A two-hour mission accomplished in just under five! That’s why you should plan to accomplish only one thing each day here. Getting two things done is a real achievement!
Michael Gurath is pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and a visiting missionary to Africa.