Monday, 17 February 2014

To be a blessing

In the almost 12 years since we first came to Kenya we have met some really interesting people, some we’ve warmed to immediately whilst others have taken us a little longer to appreciate. One such person was a fairly feisty mzee (an elderly gentleman) called Ezekiel. As very new Christians, we had simply come to Kenya to start a home for orphans. Before long we realised that we would also need to provide them with their education. What we had not imagined, however, was that God would use us to plant a new church. We were not trained or equipped for this role but it happened anyway ….. in that first year I think Terry must have preached at least twenty different versions of “Love your neighbour as yourself!” Our own Christian walk had begun back in England in a small, non-denominational, loving and intimate house church where we were immediately encouraged to serve in whatever way God laid on our hearts … just two weeks after being saved, Terry was leading worship. So we too, in our new Kosele church, were keen to encourage others also new and young in their faith to rise up to the challenge of serving and leading. That did not go down well with Ezekiel. Here, it has always been expected and assumed that age commands automatic respect and deference and the thought of a man in his twenties or thirties being in any position to lead men older than himself was (and to some still is)  a total anachronism. Ezekiel and other mzees believed we should form a Church Committee and they had, we thought, a fairly unhealthy obsession with wanting to guarantee all church members the provision of a respectable coffin at the point at which they ‘left’ the church. Truthfully, our lack of experience, wisdom and training has led to some decisions that we have later gone on to regret, resisting the formation of a ‘Church Committee,’   however, has not been one of them.

So it’s been a long time since Ezekiel has been to our church and yet our paths have continued to cross because six years ago he came to ask for a chance for his three nephews, twins David and Dancun and  their older brother Isaac to join our school. Their parents were still alive but, lived a long distance away from Kosele. Following a very vicious physical assault their father was left totally blind and their mother was lame in one leg and it had become impossible for them to provide for their children. The mother of these children is the sister of Ezekiel’s second wife, Pamela (like many men here Ezekiel is a polygamist and, as in many families here, this has created a lot of jealousies, bitterness and tensions within a very poor homestead where a lack of food is always an issue.) 

As many of you know, my own health issues had kept me away from Kosele for over two years so, last December, when I went to visit the boys and their uncle I was very shocked to see how much Ezekiel’s own health and strength had declined. He was never a very big man but he now seemed so very small and so incredibly frail and it took all his strength to get up from his chair to simply greet us. The reason for my visit was a response to a request from Ezekiel to discuss a very important issue with me. Now I've received a lot of interesting and challenging requests over the years but this was a first. It seemed that due to the breakdown in relations with his first wife and with the two sons she had given birth to, Ezekiel was worried about what would happen to Pamela when he was no longer there to protect her. To be fair, it is not unusual for wives who fail to give birth to their own sons to be chased from their homes by the sons of the other wife or wives. So Ezekiel wanted to know if the next time the Children’s Officer brought us an orphaned boy could he, Ezekiel, adopt him so that he could leave his land to this boy who would then take care of Pamela (Pamela is also disabled with a seriously deformed club foot.) For once I was lost for words. Eventually I said I would mention it to the Children’s Officer next time I saw him but that he shouldn't get his hopes up! 

This week, Isaac, the eldest of his nephews, came to me at lunch time to ask if I would go and visit and pray for his uncle again as he had now been sick and in bed for over a week. I’ll be honest and say that I went with some apprehension of what we would find and what they would expect me to do….  people will often ask you to pray hoping that God is also going to use you directly to fix their problem. As usual the house was full of children … David, Dancun and Isaac and their four cousins (Ezekiel’s own grandchildren) with some of the biggest, brightest, best smiles in Kenya – see photo below, (contrary to popular belief, not all children have a ready smile… some of the ‘school photos’ that we have had to take for sponsors have been absolute torture for our resident school photographer Ian McMillan.)  My earlier, personal experiences and the reports I have heard from others over the years would suggest that Ezekiel could be quite a tough, harsh character, certainly not someone you would choose to cross and yet, every time I've been to his home, the children are right beside him and clearly very happy and content to be there.

This time however, just as Isaac had said, Ezekiel was lying on his bed …. He thinks he has dislocated his hip but what is much more likely is that the joint has cracked or broken and effectively left him bed ridden. The only treatment he had was paracetemol and an anti-inflammatory drug for the pain. He was calm and lucid and his only request beyond the serious desire for prayer was to ask for some food assistance, since he was no longer able to go out and look for food, and a Luo Bible for the boys to read to him. Ezekiel knows, as do we, that the limited facilities in the local hospital would not be able to fix his problem. There’s no such thing as a hip replacement for the poor and even if we could find somewhere that would perform the operation for a price it’s pretty unlikely that he would survive the surgery. We had a good chat, I talked about all the things that Jesus had said about the importance of caring for and loving his children and how much Ezekiel had done that would have made God smile as he opened his home to the children of his disabled or absent relatives.  I prayed a prayer that I hoped would encourage him to place his trust in Jesus and to know how much he was loved and then he prayed for me … he prayed a lot of nice things, he prayed that God would ‘add me more years’ and he thanked God for making us neighbours so that we have been here to help one another …. in fact more than once he thanked God for teaching us to ‘Love our neighbours !’ Not for the first time, God stopped me in my tracks … and just as I thought I was going out to be a blessing  God used that someone to totally bless me! 

Please pray for physical,emotional and spiritual healing, and for peace and reconciliation for Ezekiel and his family

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