Help I’ve Fallen, Jogging in Africa

17 12 2012

Help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up

Jogging in Africa

There was a time when if you called me a jogger I would have been offended and quickly told you I was a runner.  I have run upwards of a hundred miles a week  training for a marathon.  But then that is when I was in my 20’s.  I am now 56.  I no longer run on smooth surfaces ideal for quick paces and tracks for speed work.  I run in Africa.  Now it is all rural dirt roads, uneven and strewn with rocks.  And that is a good day.  When in Dar es Salaam I share the road with push carts, motor bikes, cars, trucks and other pedestrians.  But no runners.  I am the odd muzungu out running for apparently no reason.


Before I tell you about my running I must tell you about the effect my running has on those around me.  My host family in Dar es Salaam told me I would be robbed or worse if I went running in Mbezi, Louis, the area they live.  I would also, according to them, likely be killed.  I have had boda boda, (motorcycle taxis) pull over and scold me for not letting them take me to where ever I was trying to go.  Many shout out to me asking where I am going because I seem to be lost.  You see no muzungu could possibly run if he had another option, according to them, since only the poor walk and if late run to their destination.  It turns out I had nothing to fear from the populace.  In fact they feared for my safety and expressed it everywhere.

And of course on these imperfect roads, goat trails and paths I also fall down.  No, I am not so old and tottering that I can no longer run upright.  I typically run for a little over an hour.  The terrain is hilly and rocky and here on Mt. Meru, I dodge, cows, goats, motorcycles, pedestrians and chickens.  And of course that also means, a lot of pooh.  Fine with me as long as I avoid the baboons.  They live to the East of me and I don’t jog there anymore.  I hate being surprised.  But in spite of my best efforts I do fall down.  I have fallen in Kiminimi, Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya, Dar es Salaam and as of today twice on Mt. Meru.  I am the master of the tuck and roll.  Now this is not a new phase in my life.  I have also fallen all over Downtown and Midtown Memphis.  If you run enough you will fall.  Fall enough and you will either quit, learn the aforementioned tuck and roll or you will stay skinned up.  I usually just roll jump up and keep on trucking.  Sometimes a bit embarrassed, especially if I have a large audience.  And yes that has happened.

Today I was running along enjoying the solitude.  I rounded the first corner and there were my morning cheering section of small children waiting on me to come by  at a blazing 11 minute a mile pace, I did say I was a jogger now didn’t I? They line up or rush at me hoping for a high five.  I oblige them most mornings if they are close enough.  The shy ones just watch.  Today, however, they were so thrilled that they began to run with me.  Now this has happened many times.  But today the crowd was large and they pressed in close laughing and having a ball yelling muzungu.  I was forced to run in the middle of the road instead of the smooth tracks worn by the years of various types of traffic.  And of course the middle is crowned and has grass on it and in that grass the rocks hide.  I tripped.  No graceful tuck and roll.  Just a hard and resounding plop.  The children stopped laughing and were obviously convinced I would not survive such a fall.  Or perhaps they had never seen a muzungu “fail”.  Whether I failed or fell the results where the same.  I stood and realized quickly that I had to reassure them as some seemed on the verge of tears.  I told them I was fine.  And limped as I began my run again.  Looking down I had skinned my knee pretty good.  It was bleeding but the volcanic dirt from Mt. Meru, truly amazing stuff, quickly, somehow worked as a coagulant and stopped the bleeding.  The children, however, were having no more of my run.  I do this two laps a morning and they were nowhere to be found on the second round.  I am afraid I have somehow altered their childhood.

Now you may be saying about now, dude, why are you writing about running, and not about something spiritual or perhaps some baptisms and salvations?  Well funny you mentioned that.  I often think of what I would tell my readers about on these morning runs.  They are mostly only interesting if you are there.  But there has been an development.  Since my Swahili is slowly, (poly poly) improving I began a new phase in my running.  Each morning I run by little farms of about 4 acres called shambas.  Typically they have one to four buildings on them, some goats, a cow, chickens and some maze or potatoes planted.  Workers are almost always in the fields and children are everywhere.  I now greet everyone I can.  When they see me several days in a row I try one of my more extended greetings.  Greetings are of paramount importance in Tanzania.  I have learned DO NOT LET THEM start the greeting process.  In my Swahili course they teach you a few common greetings.  The only problem is that Tanzanians use dozens if not hundreds and they are always working on new ones.  Especially the young coming up with cool slang greetings, like mombo vipi, poa, freshy, etc.  Seem like there is a new one every month.  So if I let them start I am going to get a greeting I have no idea of the meaning.  BUT, if I start things off I am in the driver’s seat.  So I rattle of a few quick ones, Hujambo Mama, Habari za asubuhi, Umaa mkagi.  Now that last one is only used by the aged and if you search in your English to Swahili books or online service you will not find it so I am not sure of the spelling.  It means, “how was your waking up”.  When you use it people stop in their tracks, as it is not a tourist phrase.  I use the above sequence and then when I have them stumped I quickly add that I speak only “kidogo” Kiswahili, meaning little.  I vow to return later in the day to visit and then with my translator, they say, “karibu”, welcome.  I have just gotten invited to stop by later in the day or sometimes the next.  I show up with my translator and I share the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  In Tanzania they love visitors so much they cannot refuse your request to share.  Whether they are Muslim, animist or Christian they will listen.  I have only been turned down once and they guy admitted he was basically drunk.  He is on my list for a return visit.


I run slowly, under the beauty of African skies.  I cannot run at night as there is absolutely NO light where I live.  It would be like running in a closet with the lights out as far as vision goes and even with a full moon the canopy of trees would reduce vision to zero.  Did I mention baboons?  But I do go out at night and look at the Milky Way.  I run mostly under Mt. Meru the second highest mountain in Africa.  But I have had occasion to run under Mt. Kilimanjaro as well.  It is dangerous for me to run there, as I can’t take my eyes off of the beautiful glacier at the top.  I fall a lot there.  It is the only glacier in the world at the equator.  Even Mt. Meru has a little snow from time to time.  It is like paradise.  In my heyday of running, Toto, a rock group had a song called Africa.  I always fantasized about running on Mt. Kilimanjaro when listening to it..  Since I was in my 20’s then the vision of myself was me speeding along, effortlessly, tanned and handsome climbing higher and higher towards the summit.   Well I am 56, you can’t run up this mountain, it take a week to hike it in heavy foliage.  But if you listen to the song you might get a glimpse of my fantasy.  I no longer have that fantasy but I have a vision.  You will have to read more of my blog to catch it.

I know that when I go to heaven I will fall there also.  There was an evangelist when I was a young man or perhaps just a television preacher named Jimmy Swaggart.  He got caught in a terrible scandal and is no longer on TV.  I share little theologically with Jimmy but he had an amazing song about a supposed dream he had once where he was in heaven.  The angles in the dream were taking him around showing him the streets of gold, and the beautiful city of God and the gates.  But he told them he only wanted to see one thing.  That asked him what was that?  He said he wanted to see Jesus.  And then when he saw Him, he fell and cried Holy.  I too will fall one day, in heaven.  And I will cry Holy.  Google that song.  It is better than my running fantasy.  It is a reality of the redeemed before their Redeemer.


Monday is Sunday

3 12 2012

Monday is Sunday

As I was striding along the street in Nairobi with my brother Ibrahim I felt a hand on my shoulder and someone say, “hey boss”,  I ignore it as I am frequently called to as “rafiki” friend or Papa or kaka, from people that want to introduce themselves and eventually ask, me for money.  But this hand persisted and then I saw Ibrahim stop and begin to engage another person.   The hand on my shoulder became firm, I turned to see some sort of Kenyan identification from the government but just like in America it was flashed so fast I could not read it.  This is a sure sign they don’t care if you can read it or not, but if they are asked in court after an altercation if they identified themselves they can say yes.  It is not for me, it is for them.

I am asked who I am where I am going and what I am doing.  My passport is demanded and it just occurred to me I never asked Ibrahim what to do in this circumstance.  I don’t even know if I have any rights to refuse to answer or question their authority in stopping me.  I glance over at my brother Ibrahim and see him answering questions directly and with great confidence.  He seems to almost be leaning into the officer questioning him, and announces he is a Christian.  Then it occurs to me it is most likely that they really want to know what I am doing with an Ethiopian or Somali.  We are near the area that was bombed just last month by radicals.  And Ibrahim fits the profile.  I am merely a curiosity.  He may be a suspect.

This is normal for Ibrahim, he has been arrested and his house taken in his home country.  He was beaten after a meeting where he preached in a crusade and many Muslims came to Christ.  He was in the hospital for a week afterwards.  So why is he leaning into the officer and proclaiming his Christianity?  They are looking for terrorist and he must ascertain he is a Christian or he could very well be taken in for lengthy questioning.  Being with me helps.  I say I am a missionary and that really helps.  After a while they are satisfied.  They are not the threat.  It is still yet to come.

It is Tuesday.  That is normally evangelism day.  But I have thrown the schedule off.  The week usually goes something like this.

Sunday, lay low and relax.  Stay in, as that is the day “normal” Christians go to church.   Monday is Sunday here.  Known and trusted believers meet for “church”.  No one carries a bible.  They are all refugees from persecution.  They are all targets for radicals.  And they are all radically committed to Jesus, and reaching the Muslim world for His glory.   They meet in a rented apartment.  They sing quietly.  Ibrahim has scripture written on a scrap of paper and will share his teachings and sermons from memory.  They will linger in fellowship.  They will stagger their leaving just like they staggered their arrival.  Not everyone could make it.  Some may have been followed so they simply go to market or stay on the bus till the next stop and then return home.    Tuesday is evangelism day.  All believers take this day to go and witness to Muslims.  Almost always one on one as Muslims are afraid to talk about Jesus in front of other Muslim as they might be informed on.  Ibrahim targets Imams and intellectuals.  You see he was an Imam.  He persecuted Christians and terrorized believers.  His turning point came as he beat a Christian who kept telling him that Jesus loved him and that he loved Ibrahim.  He hated himself for what he did, but continued on.  Later a student in the mosque of his became a Christian and came and told him of Jesus and that he knew he was going to heaven.  This stunned Ibrahim.  There is no assurance in Islam.  Only when someone dies in Jihad is salvation guaranteed, only one woman in a thousand will go to heaven and this bothered Ibrahim as he loved his mother and could not understand why Allah would most likely reject her.  So he asked this student how he could gain this salvation, and this new believer took him to the ones that lead him to Christ and Ibrahim surrendered to Jesus.

On Wednesdays all believers meet again for two hours of bible study.  This time they have their bibles and meet mostly in small groups.  Thursday is a day of inviting those seekers and new believers to fellowship.  This is when things are dangerous.  If a Muslim radical is pretending and the brothers and sisters don’t discern it there will be a price to be paid.  Ibrahim tells me if he dies he dies.  They all understand this is a risk and nothing can be done about it.  Not all can handle this pressure.  Ibrahim’s own wife was kidnapped and threatened and fled from Ibrahim leaving him with three children.  I am afraid that I can’t tell you anymore about that without endangering my brother.  Friday is just like Tuesday.  Saturday is a day of rest.

We arrive at a restaurant after traveling though horrible slums and putrid smells from the wet black streets.  We sit with our backs to a wall in the corner and Ibrahim surveys the room.  It is dim but clean.  He points out two men that appear to him to be Afghans and he does not like their looks.  We wait.  He will not give the signal for the others till he is comfortable with this location.  If he is not we will move.  We all remain flexible.  After about 15 minutes they each order a beer and take a drink.  Ibrahim relaxes.  Radicals here would never take a drink in public.  He sends a text or two and then makes a call.  Almost instantly one person enters and later another.  There were to be yet another but they caught the next bus and went home.  Something did not feel right to them.

One young lady sits down with us.  I am there to give them the news that the money that was given last month and earmarked for them is here with me.  They can barely contain their joy.  Many Somalis and Ethiopians that come to Christ have their homes taken immediately and can be killed.  They leave their homes with nothing and come to other countries but the radicals try to find them or alert others to look for them.  These believers had no place to live until you gave to provide them housing.  The local Christian community of refugees will supply the food.  Since they are refugees others won’t hire them but they can start a business. We will try to get brothers to make micro loans.  The goal is to get them self sufficient in four to six months.  Hard to do with many children.  I share the names of those who gave and they tell me to tell those that gave, that they love them.  I am certain that these believers will be praying for their supporting brothers and sisters faithfully.

The young lady tells of a story she witnessed in her village.  A Christian man was being beaten badly and the intention was to kill him.  Finally the attackers pinned him to the ground and poured gasoline on the man.  Another woman burst through the crowd before the radicals could produce a match and with her baby  strapped to her back she laid down on the man and shouted that if they were going to burn him they would have to burn her alive with her baby too.  She could not be moved.  Finally, they relented and left the man and woman alone.

We left an hour later together and were going to get a cup of coffee.  However, things did not seem right again to the believers.  As we walked the women would duck into alleys and change their head covering, first to the style of the Roma tribe of the Ethiopians when in their area and then in the Muslim style when we entered the Arab area.  Then back again.  Finally, the women announced they could not continue with us and as we pretended to go into a restaurant they snuck out a back door and we exited the front.  We did have our coffee and then walked a brother home.  They got onto me for eating some food from a street vender.  Hey, I love fresh pineapple.  They reminded me that in this refugee area over 40% of the people KNEW they had aids and there was no telling the real number.  Besides they said we are walking in open sewage.  I still wolfed it down and man it was good.

I could tell you stories like this all day.  Instead I will tell you thank you.  Thank you for allowing me to represent you and your determination to stand by your brothers and sisters in Christ.  I am you.  When I go to love the least of these, you are there.  When I hand them money for food and shelter, you are handing the money with me.  On judgment day Jesus will say, “when I was hungry you fed me, when I was in prison you visited me, when I was naked you clothed me.  Enter in to the joy of the Lord, my good and faithful servant.”  And he will be speaking to you.