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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Beauty from Ashes

The lesson I learned today in Swahili class was priceless. No, I didn’t learn how to bargain prices on earrings or how to tell off a matatu conductor for charging too much. I learned a lesson of pain, redemption, strength, and faith.

My teacher, Ireri, and I sat ourselves down in an open classroom. Apparently the room had been used earlier in the day to teach English to Kenyans. Most of the words had been erased but the ones that remained were: Fasting, prayer, resurrection, and Jesus. I have never discussed religion with Ireri mostly because I assumed he was a Christian since he taught at the school but also because he rarely left room in our lessons to be personal. This morning, however, he exploded that opportunity to get personal. The only thing he said as he walked in was “do you fast?” Obviously he noticed the board. I started to answer in English eager for the conversation but he would have none of it. I figured that this was going to be a difficult conversation since I didn’t even know how to say, “fasting” in Swahili. As I continued as far as I could with the conversation in Swahili, he finally allowed us to speak in English. “What do you do when you fast?” he asked. “ Well, I normally don’t eat!” I couldn’t help my smart remark but then continued further. “I take the time as I fast throughout the day to pray.” Ireri shook his head at me. With disbelief he asked “you pray THROUGHOUT the day?” “Ummm, yes I do! When do you pray?” “Only at night and in the morning” he said and then asked me how I can pray throughout the day. Trying to give him a good example I smiled and said “Well, whenever I’m afraid on a matatu I just say in my head, “God, you got this one…Please keep me safe!” He laughed at the thought that I would just pray right then and there. I wasn’t quite laughing but my curiosity was struck. “Ireri, why don’t you pray but just at night and the morning?” His answer was short and to the point. “I don’t have time to pray other than those time.” “God has time to listen though, Ireri.” He agreed with me but I knew there was more to this conversation.

A week ago Ireri inquired to my friends and I if we could guess the ages of his children. He finally told us “Last year, my youngest was 7, now my youngest is 10.” I figured this sounded more like an African proverb than a huge reality of life. “Ireri, how is that possible? You can’t age 3 years in one year!” I said smartly with a little chuckle. My laughter soon died when I understood what he was saying. Last year had he lost his youngest child. He didn’t go into much detail and I didn’t push for more…until today.

Our conversation continued. “Ireri, how do you think loosing your child effected your faith?” I asked. “Ohhh, it strengthened it. You see, last year my child was diagnosed with cancer. We tried to get treatment but the cancer was too strong. Within three months time he passed away at the age of 7.” *gulp….I don’t know how I got through all this with just a few tears surfacing.* Ireri went on to tell me how this effected his entire life. He said that he was angry, confused, and sad but that he had to be strong for the rest of his family. His wife hadn’t handled it well, in fact she blamed everything for the cause of it…their marriage, the house, spirits. At one point she begged for a divorce so that another one of their children would not suffer. Ireri told me how he had to be so strong for both of their faiths. He had to constantly reassure her that God was in this and that it was not the work of evil. He told me how he had to walk her through each of her doubts about the cause of the death. He told me how he spent so much time searching and strengthening his faith as a result, “You see, I am not happy that my child died, but I can see now how God has turned his death into something good. I would not have the faith that I have today. My wife wouldn’t either. We miss our child but I am not angry about it.”

WOW. Seriously? How devastating that is to loose a child but be able to rejoice in the Lord because of it? Incredible, powerful….awesome. We once again rounded the conversation back to prayer. “Ireri, your faith and your testimony is powerful. It encouraged me, Asante Sana (thank you very much)! Just as God hears you during that hard times, he never leaves your side during the day either. He is with you not just at the morning and at night.” Smiling and laughing at the “silly” idea of praying throughout the day, he said “Yes, maybe I will try it sometime. Something like OH GOD!” “Haha, yeah, something like that, Ireri.”
I kept thinking about Ireri’s story after I left. I got home from class and laid down, closed my eyes and listened to my ipod. One of my favorite songs started playing. “Beloved” by Tenth Avenue North (If anyone is interested, its great!). The song is essentially a love song from Christ to us. It talks about Christ’s pursuit of us and how He loves us to the point of laying down his life so that we may live with him forever.

“Love of my life, look deep in my eyes. There you will find what you need. Give me your life, lust and the lies…the past you’re afraid I might see. You’ve been running away from me. You’re my beloved, lover I’m yours. Death shall not part us, It’s you I died for. For better or worse, forever we’ll be. Our Love it unites us, it binds you to me. It’s a mystery.”

Christ is always pursuing us. Even in the hard times where we don’t “feel” Him, He is right there. Christ wants us close to him in all aspects of our faith. He wants to hurt with us, He wants to rejoice with us. Ireri could easily have thrown his faith out the door when faced with the death of his child, but he held strong and allowed the Lord to pursue him and comfort him. Ireri’s story reminded me of the strength the Lord offers us. What a love that is for a Savior who’s throne is in heaven to come down to earth and sacrifice Himself so that we have the opportunity to live eternally with Him. The Lord has been teaching me TONS about rejoicing in Him. It’s a refining lesson and not always easy…but I’m learning! Submission to rejoice in ALL circumstances has been Christ’s theme for me these past few weeks. Even yesterday I laughed when I opened my devotional book finding the topic to be “Rejoicing Always.” Its becoming a habit to send a little wink up towards heaven when moments like that occur knowing how directly God is intertwined in every facet of my life. I love it when He shows himself through conversations, scripture, or words from a friend.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Philippians 4:4


Courtney said...

wow...chills. thanks for sharing that!

Kate. said...

hands down my favorite post you've written. so very powerful! i can't wait to hear more of these stories and hopefully even experience more of these myself. what a blessing and encouragement, sister :)

Anonymous said...

Wow Kate. You truly are in His blessings with all the incredible things our Lord is teaching you over there...and we're reaping the benefits as well when you share them with us! Thank you for sharing with us so we can be praying for Ireri and his family as well!

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