Early this morning, I set out for a village about halfway up the slopes of Mt. Elgon, Kenya's second highest mountain. I thought I was just going with Philip and Navy Rono, but Philip wanted the current attendees from the alcohol rehab program to do an outreach in a somewhat-though-not-really-nearby village, so 10 grown men were filing into my Land Rover, strapping mattresses onto the roof rack. (Add to that Laura and I, and you have 12 adults in a 9-seater vehicle!)
We dropped them at their destination, and Laura (intern), Philip, Navy and I continued another 2 hours further to the village where Nellie lives. Nellie is about 24 and is a radical follower of Jesus Christ! Here's a bit of her story, as she told it to me on the slopes of Mt Elgon...
When Nellie was 17, her family wanted her to undergo FGM (female genital mutilation/circumcision), but she had searched the scriptures and found no foundation for this practice. So she fled. She hid at her pastor's house for a number of days until the annual circumcision ceremony will have been through. However, when she returned home, they had waited for her! The ceremony was to be held the next day.
That night, Nellie ran away once more. When she returned days later, her mother wanted nothing to do with her. Her father finally welcomed her home saying that she can be circumcised during the following year's ceremony... (She left for college before the next year's event.)
FGM is still seen as an important rite of passage in many Kenyan villages. Nellie explained that because she had refused to undergo circumcision, people would literally scoff at her, saying things like "You're not worthy to be married!" Or they would stop in their tracks and walk away whenever she approached anyone.
"For four years I had no friends except Jesus," she told me. "Only in church did I have freedom to interact with people, to sing, to be! ... But God had blessed me with a poor memory, so that even now as I'm telling you these stories, it doesn't feel like it happened to me..." However, moments later, when she talked about now being mother to 5 toddlers (all inherited from her older 3 siblings who had died of AIDS), tears welled up in her eyes. "There is so much pressure. I have to feed these 5 children, and I have to take care of my parents and my uncle..."
Her parents aren't that old at all. They might be in their early 60s. But they are total alcoholics, like many others in their village. Both were thoroughly drunk when we arrived. So was the village elder who was sent by the village chief to welcome us. Imagine sitting in a meeting with three people who are far from sober, all trying to have a decent conversation with us! Right in the middle of a conversation, the elder said, "Wait! Let us pray! We have not yet prayed..." Or the mom would come and meet us over and over, introducing herself to us. The dad had to excuse himself a few times from the meeting to either drink more or be sick!
That's Nellie's world. She's sober. She's the one everyone depends on. Yet she's the one they scoffed for years. As I sat observing the party, I was blown away by the love that I saw in her eyes for her people!
Nellie took us on a walk to meet their closest neighbors, where we were asked to pray with them. The second house belonged to Elizabeth, a woman who has been sober for a year now. Her husband is still drinking, though. He comes home every so often to conceive another child. (That's how it seems, at least.) They had lost 3 children to starvation. But they still have 12 others, with a 13th one on its way! And now the oldest daughter is expecting her first baby, too. Elizabeth has very little in her house. Though they live in a mud hut at an elevation of at least 9,000 feet, she doesn't even have a blanket to sleep under!
As we returned to her home for chai, another neighbor showed up. Emily. When Pastor Rono greeted Emily, he told me her husband has been sober for two years since he joined one of ELI's AA groups. "Yes, my husband is free!" Emily said with a big grin. "But I am still in chains!" As our conversation continued and we were asked to share some thoughts with the group, I turned to Emily and shared that in Christ, she can have freedom. I shared that if we try to break addictions in our own strength, it's like a giant rubber band. Our arms get tired and soon we're trapped by it again. But when we allow God to help us, he cuts the ties completely! I prayed for Emily and for their community to be set free. It was one of those moments when you so know that God is speaking through you! Please join me in praying that God will break the stronghold of alcohol in Emily's life!
I want to go back to share more with them, and am praying that God will show us the right timing. Navy Rono wants to go and teach about family planning and nutrition. Philip Rono wants to take a team of men from ELI's AA ministry to go and minister to that community.
Nellie has applied for the 5 kids she's taking care of to be taken to our Kipkaren Children's Home. I am praying that they'll soon be able to move to their new home, to a place where they won't have to be surrounded by drunkards all day, to a place where an entire community--not only their aunt Nellie--will show them how much Jesus cares about them!