As I look back at the blessed time we were privileged to spend with the Kenyan youth at the convention in Lake Nakuru, I realize that while I went with the intention to serve – it is I who was served.
Lake Nakuru was our first stop in our 1-week mission trip. The intent was to spend time with the Kenyan youth bringing them a message of hope and unconditional love – that they are special, that they are loved and most importantly that they are forgiven. These youth grow up in a vicious cycle of poverty and broken homes. They are exposed to and involved in theft, drugs, sex – you name it – from a very young age. Some are caring for their own babies when they themselves are not yet adults. As we sat huddled out in the field – an intimate group of 6 girls (15-18 yr olds) sharing a couple of blankets against the chilly wind, the girls would talk of their troubles. Their sense of shame so thick you could touch it as they hid their eyes under the blankets while they told their stories – how could God forgive them they wonder – let alone - love them? These girls knew of God – knew A LOT actually – their bibles were well-used and they were familiar with its contents but they didn’t really know God – they hadn’t experienced Him, His abundant mercy and unconditional love.
When preparing for the convention – the plan was to support the already set agenda by hosting lectures and workshops illustrating the messages they would hear. We prepared in the traditional way: talking points, stories, activities and prayer. But in reality we didn’t really need any of these because our service was entirely in our presence. By dedicating time to go to Kenya and sit with the youth we had already made a strong statement that they matter. By taking the time to play basketball with them, to hear their stories, to reassure them and to reaffirm God’s love for them was already plenty for Our Lord to work with.
I learned many lessons at Lake Nakuru, the most important of which is to be present in the moment – to gift those around me the gift of time. It was a much needed lesson for me, personally – I live in a perpetual state of planning: exhaustive to do lists and plans - weeks and months in advance – most of which is executed with my face in my phone - leaving no meaningful room for God to work in my life. Its not that I didn’t have the desire for God to work in my life – on the contrary, I prayed and begged for His intervention every day… but I simply didn’t understand that I had to let go for Him to take over and it is only in that leap of faith that God’s presence can be enjoyed. I learned that deliberately not planning everything to the ‘T’ allows us to be spontaneous enough to hear and act on the voice of God. Only God’s spirit can equip me with the spontaneity to answer the girls’ question in the moment – How could God forgive them or love them? A question which was not part of the ‘set agenda’ and yet probably the question that mattered most. And despite the humble surroundings – the bare church, the tattered congregation – there is so much joy to be had in being present with them in their fervent prayers and praise – a joy that cannot really be described but only experienced. A joy that is brought about by serving a purpose bigger than myself and my self-centered timed plans.
The more I learned to submit my time to the Lord the more he increased my capacity to serve by truly relying on him and not on myself. On the Sunday we were leaving Lake Nakuru, I was asked to ‘share’ some reflections on the Gospel during mass. Up until that moment my preparation (typically done days in advance) for any lecture or ‘sharing’ was my crutch. I relied entirely on my research, logical structure and strong presentation skills to deliver any message – topped with a little prayer ahead of delivery, which was my way of asking God to tag along and bless MY work. But here I was, being asked to ‘share’ based on nothing but the whim of the spirit in the moment… and share I did. While it may not have been as fancy as something I would have prepared in advance – it was probably more effective and a source of blessing to me as I let the Lord lead the way – for a change.
As we sat with Sayedna (Bishop Paul) he reconfirmed the message I seemed to be hearing from the Lord throughout the trip - to give Him the reigns of my life. Sayedna gave us a couple of examples illustrating how we should live life trusting in the Lord’s resources and not our own. He first told us that he wanted to build a retreat center in Lake Nakuru to support an annual youth convention (the convention we attended was the first of its kind and was held at a local church where the youth slept on the floor and even out in the field). When one of the group members asked how much that would cost so that we could contribute and they can start the project, Sayedna’s response was ‘Who told you I am waiting to secure the funds to start the project? The project is already underway – the Lord will provide.’ He then followed this up saying: ‘When you go out to buy a house don’t set a budget and go looking for a house to fit your budget. Go without a budget in mind and choose the house that makes sense and often it’ll be more than your budget- even double and the Lord provides.’ … And that is a biblical promise- Genesis 22:14
I will always treasure the time I spent with those 6 girls huddled in the chilly field, against a backdrop of green hills and Lake Victoria. The mutual gift of time that I experienced at Lake Nakuru that will hopefully inspire a lifetime of time generosity on my part – though I cant say it will be easy as old habits die hard
With that, I leave you with a snippet from Letter #21 (Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis)
My dear Wormwood,
Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury.... Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him.
It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tête-a -tête with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own’. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.
You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defence. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels....
When I speak of preserving this assumption in his mind, therefore, the last thing I mean you to do is to furnish him with arguments in its defence. There aren’t any. Your task is purely negative. Don’t let his thoughts come anywhere near it. Wrap a darkness about it, and in the centre of that darkness let his sense of ownership-in-Time lie silent, uninspected, and operative.
Your affectionate uncle,
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (originally 1942; this edition: Harper Collins, 1996) 111-113.
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