By Melody Harrell
One of the gifts of life are those moments that call our hearts into a special awakening ….. that make us feel a raw depth of being, something beyond ourselves. I hear gasping for air in the foam as you’re rafting down the Nile does it …… as does being present at the birth of a newborn baby.
Our mission was to deliver much needed supplies to the isolated children’s center on the other side of the river. The mid-morning light cast the most surreal blue grey shadows over the rolling hills in the near distance as we drove down a breathtaking escarpment road towards our destination. Later on that day, the same hills took on a totally different hue, in complete obedience to the shift of the sun. As we drove, and the temperature rose, I began to sense we were most definitely moving further and further away from any hope of ice or a cold drink as the day progressed.
As we pulled into Nakuijit, I felt torn between taking in the slightly eerie surroundings and trying not to appear too shocked or novice. My traveling companions, having been here before, acted like nothing in this place was unusual. But my eyes saw a village with only two rows of domed mud houses along the main stretch of habitation with the look and feel of desertion.
Doors were closed and there was very little activity, even though the day was well on its way. A few scattered chickens hinted that chances were people were here. The question was where?
I could only surmise that people stayed burrowed in the cool of their homes in such a place until the need for food or water forced entry into the dusty hot day. Still, we were met most enthusiastically by a handful of men from the center who were expecting us. As I rolled up my trousers to walk across the river, I watched as they quickly unloaded our trailer and threw the heavy bags of dry porridge and boxes of school supplies on shoulders and backs, showing no hesitation or resistance as they started out on foot, completely in sync with the knowledge that there was no other way to get the items where they needed to go.
We began our trek across the ankle deep river, across the next sandy river bed and up the hill towards the children’s center on the rise. It was hot. The kind of hot where you keep walking, knowing you hold water bottles but resisting the drink because the liquid is already of a temperature that provides hydration but very little pleasure. As we approached the kindergarten, we were met by children with bright smiles and outstretched hands, surely one of the best ways ever to enter a place.
Quickly, we settled around wooden tables in the small office space along with several Pokot people; teachers, parents, committee members, and other local leaders. The conversations and reports of the progress of the school began, the atmosphere dripping with politeness and protocol. As the conversation ebbed and flowed, I felt self-conscious and silly that I alone seemed to grapple with the occasional gaps of silence around the table that no one else seemed to worry over. There seemed such trust that the conversation would unfold appropriately, people would speak in turn, and that now that we had gathered, getting to the end of the meeting was the last thing on everyone’s mind.
It came time for the committee coordinator, John Aperetum to share.
He began with words of gratitude for what Africa Exchange and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship had made possible in this community. He spoke of the kindergarten compound and of the development initiatives (solar-powered water pump and tanks, bee hives, etc) that were benefiting the whole community.
And then came the gifted moment.
He said, “You know, education in our area has been very limited. For the first time ever, just last week, this community graduated an 8th grade class. Since the beginning of Creation, this has never been done before in our community.”
In that millisecond, my first thought was, “Oh that’s being a little dramatic.”
And then my heart stopped in its tracks. He meant it ……“Since the beginning of Creation ….. since God called light into being ……since God separated the sea from the dry ground …. this community ….. on this spot on the planet …..has never before seen a group of children finish the 8th grade”. And now they have. Just this week. For the first time ……. ever! And this kindergarten facility means more children will graduate from 8th grade.
No wonder Aperetum spoke proudly … and continued to celebrate the linkages between the Child Development Center and the progress of the community. He can look into the faces of these 80 4-6 year olds at this kindergarten and see the promise of 8th grade, 9th grade, and maybe even the completion of high school. He believes the God of creation has turned His eye to Nakuijit and they have not been forgotten.
As we said our goodbyes at the end of the day …. and walked back down the hill …. and back across the river …. back through a village now buzzing with the activity of beautifully dark skinned people… and loaded back up into our car ….. and drove the 4 hours back into “civilization”, I felt at peace.
Since the beginning of Creation, God has loved the people of Nakuijit …. and hopes for their good ….. and affirms that as they engage one another and their own community, the narrative of their lives is significant and is part of the whole creation story.
Melody and her husband, Sam, are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving in Nairobi, Kenya. Read more about their ministry in the January issue of fellowship! magazine here.