By Melody Harrell
We had a dinner guest this week. As we were sitting at our table, the conversation inevitably led to how we are all coping with life as we now know it … our politics and the issues of the day so prevalent, it’s sometimes hard to experience any other realities. In the course of conversation, she said, “Well, one thing is clear. I know I am to be light and love in the world. That is a place I can land every day.”
Light and love. That is what I encountered on my recent trip to Kenya with Kutana Kenya. Interestingly, a focus on the environment is what brought that about. Funny how being in the world … in the earth, sea, and sky world can settle us.
Kutana Kenya, an initiative of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) in partnership with Africa Exchange, launched in 2017, and continues to offer participants an opportunity to visit several diverse eco-systems in Kenya, taking in its mystery and beauty, all the while, learning about the broader themes of the significance of the environment and of our inter-connectedness.
While staying 3 days at the Marich Field Pass Studies Center in West Pokot, our group of 13 talked with our host, Dr. Paul Roden, who shared that in his recent research, he had asked the people of West Pokot for a working definition of the environment. “It is the created world with me in it,” one man replied.
The separating of ourselves from the world has happened so subtly in our lifetimes, it takes a concerted effort to re-think what we know as children to be true: That we are one with all that God has made; that the closer we are to it and the more we care for it, the healthier we become; that the Acacia tree and the Dung Beetle, the Lilac Breasted Roller and the elephant are manifestations of God’s life and love. Their life cycles are our life cycles and something we share with peoples of the earth: birth, growth, dealing with challenges, death, and returning to the soil.
As we traveled from the highlands of Limuru to the Lake Baringo Basin; from local homestays in Eldoret to working with a community in West Pokot; from the Kakamega Rain Forest to the savannah of the Masai Mara; and back to the urban sprawl of Nairobi, our guides were Kenyan people on the ground, the earth and communities all around us.
We had discussions in the evenings from Pope Francis’s Encyclical on the Environment, “On Care for Our Common Home.” We shared from other relevant readings and articles and through them, were reminded of the sobering reality that this resource we call earth is limited. The invitation to be light and love seems clearly to be pointing to the fact that conserving is the way forward. Consuming less. Being aware of how long my shower is. Re-using. Re-cycling. Not buying what I don’t need. Being aware that the people of West Pokot live with less because they have to.
And because we are connected, I too am responsible for how I use resources in the world. I can’t afford to live as if I live alone.
Ultimately, when we have lost our way, or fallen asleep, distracted by having too much and losing sight of the whole, a conversion is what’s needed; a way of seeing things differently, so impactful that our only response is to stop, take stock, and walk in another direction. Kutana Kenya 2018 provided that for me in how I see the created world and my place in it. It feels hopeful. New choices about how to live are lending freedom. It feels like one way to be love and light in the world.
Melody Harrell is a former CBF field personnel serving in Kenya. She now serves as a spiritual director in Decatur, Ga.