"Peace In a Village"
I had just landed at the Nairobi airport. The air was thick and hot. From my delirious state of tiredness, I remember feeling slightly panicked. I was far away from home with none of my family members with me; all I heard were foreign languages; all I saw were shops and brands that were like nothing I had ever witnessed; and walking down the hallway, I realized eyes were watching me. It felt a lot like those moments when you feel someone’s presence behind you and when you look, no one is there. As our group from Presbyterian College ventured out into Nairobi, the staring continued. Every single person we drove by took a moment out of his or her day to look at us … the Africans we came in contact with were enamored with our skin color and hair. The children at the orphanages we visited couldn’t help coming up, stroking our arms and running their fingers through our hair. We were spectacles. I was, especially, being the only one in my group with blonde hair.
The panicked feeling that first met me in the airport settled in and became a dull constant. I had never been the spectacle. I had never been the odd one out. Being in a place where there were constantly people watching me, asking me questions, touching my skin and my hair, was at first confusing and uncomfortable. However, as the days passed, I became accustomed to it. I began not to notice the watching eyes and became deeply enamored with the precious children touching my hair. Even though I became used to it, the dull feeling of panic still remained. It wasn’t until a very specific event that I felt at peace and the feeling of panic left.
Our group was at a church in the middle-of-nowhere Africa. We had just completed building the church structure so the people of the community could worship indoors, away from the sometimes-harsh elements. It was the day of the church’s dedication, and we, along with the lovely people of the village, were in the church about to begin a worship service. A man stood up and began to sing in Swahili (a language used by a large number of people in Kenya). It was much like a chant … when he sang a verse, the congregation would chant a response. Our group stood watching and listening in amazement at the beauty of the singing. Once the congregation became fully engaged and enthralled in the chanting, the ministers processed in. As the five ministers came in, they too were singing the song and dancing their way down the aisle. In that full moment, a rush of peace washed over me. As the tears streamed down my face, I was overcome with the beauty of God’s presence in this place and the peace God brings to those who need it. Until that moment, I had not allowed myself to be present and a real part of Kenya. I was simply “just visiting.” The ministers’ singing and dancing changed that for me. Leaving the service that day, I felt and saw God’s peace and presence throughout the people of that tiny village and in the coming days.
Today, when I think of Kenya, the weeks I spent there, and the amazing people who are in my heart, and I feel pulled to go back and see, I think of peace and the ministers who allowed me to realize God’s presence is with us everywhere. Even in a tiny mountain village in Kenya, Africa.