Walking in Memphis….. Uh I mean Africa. (A day in the life of a novice missionary.)

13 11 2013


Walking in Memphis….Uh I mean Africa

What’s a day in Nairobi like for Glenn the novice missionary?  Well welcome aboard here we go. This is pretty much the way a day goes down in Nairobi.


Up at 6:30, I have no idea why, I was up late and don’t have much of a need to arise early, but I do.  Read 1 John, again, make some notes, pray for the day and some brothers and sisters in need and check in on FB and my hometown newspaper.  Breakfast, coffee of course.   Out the door at nine.

I leave the compound I live at.  Normally I try to live among the locals but my brother Imam who just passed, was living in a safe house in a very nice neighborhood.  I have been enjoying the mzungu life of running water and reliable electricity.  Even hot showers!  I leave this environment and head into real Africa.  I wave down a matatu.  A Toyota passenger van that hauls folks to downtown for about 40 bob.  That’s about 45 cents.  We circle the neighborhood several times before we are full.  No bus heads out of the neighborhood till it is full.  Today it took only 20 minutes to fill the bus.  That’s a good day.  The drive to Nairobi is only about another 20 minutes today.  That is very quick.  I visit quickly with the driver in Swahili and then get out my Swahili book and study for the 30 plus minutes I am riding.

 I call my favorite motorbike taxi but find out he was arrested for driving after dark and now has no bike.  The local police swept the city enforcing a law they never enforce just to raise some revenue.   So I decide to walk to the next bus stop that will take me to the Mathare slums.   I decide on a promising short cut only to find out I am quickly lost.  Normally I walk this direction till I see the top of the huge mosque and then right behind it is my bus stop.  I walk for about 30 more minutes and then decide I better get another boda boda.  A motorbike taxi.  I see an Apache motor bike.  It is a new Indian made bike that I have never ridden so I ask the driver if he will take me.  He turns and has very bloodshot eyes.  Normally that’s a problem and has led to me having to get off due to drunken recklessness.  But I think this guys has allergies.  He seems fine.

The bike rides amazingly smooth and he is a very capable driver named Robert.  He is stunned I want to go to the slums, he tells me he won’t even go there normally.  I get that quite a bit here, so I get to tell him about being a missionary and serving the lost and poor.  He drops me off and I get his phone number to get a ride later.  He is polite and pleased.  I meet with the brothers, Pastor Wilson and Fred for a bit.  Then I speak in a classroom situation about baptism to a class of new believers.  It is a subject that takes some finesse here due to cultural and tribal ceremonies.  They circumcise as a part of coming of age here for boys followed by baptism when healed.  The girls have a blessing ceremony then they are baptized.  Now they have Christianized this time of life meaning there are of course some folks that really do surrender to Jesus at this time of life making their baptism valid on some level.  However, I am pretty tough on anyone that has a testimony of a ceremonial baptism.  Mostly the whole Christianizing thing just muddles the whole experience.   Some inform me that they just had their foreheads crossed with water or in fact did not really understand what was going on.  They did not repent and did not surrender to the Lord.  Many questions follow, some quite surprising.  I would love to just lead people to repentance and faith in Christ and baptize them.  But I run into this confusion over the ceremonies so often  I decided to address it with new believers and house church leaders in a big meeting so they could address it personally when the questions arose.  We lead a dozen or so people to the lord in Mathere sometimes and I can’t interview each candidate for baptism.  So this training is great.

After the meeting we head out to look at a sisters business site.  She shows us her little stall and expresses some challenges.  I am making mental notes as to address them as noting opportunities to improve her business that she is blind to.  She is a firm lady that although she is about 70 she is spry and newly saved.  Firm handshake, strictly business.  I like her already.  I served cokes at the baptism meeting and she drank three.  When she realized that I would not deny her, she could not stop herself.  I believe she would have drunk ten if we had them extra.  Growing up so poor made this little drink very special to her.  Let her overdo it.  No harm.

All along the slums we walk.  The streets are black and soaked this morning.  Rained last night here.  I can’t describe the slums to you adequately.  Tin walls that make homes burning hot when we enter in the day.  The streets have human waste in them and children play in the mud holes.  HIV, TB, meningitis, malaria and typhoid are everywhere.  I am told that TB is so prevalent  that everyone, including me, test positive for about two weeks after we visit.  Since I come every month you know what that means.  It is an airborne disease and it is breathed by all.  If that scares you then my advice is don’t come here.  That is just life in the slums.  The murder rate is high but the police could care less.  It’s the slums.  No one even knows how many people live here.  They technically say 3.3 million people live in Nairobi.  But I am told that with the slums it could be 5-7 million.  Some say we are 60% slums either way.


I love it here.  I have an opportunity to live here or in East Leigh very soon.  East Leigh is actually safer from a building security issue, but I will be living around Muslims and some are radicals.  The Lord will lead.  I will follow.

After several visits and some picture taking I call Robert my new driver for the day.  He arrives promptly and off I go to do some computer work after picking up some printing and other errands.  We weave through traffic in ways that would horrify a Westerner.  But I am told African drivers are totally bland compared to drivers in India.  I find that hard to believe.  But even the Africans say the same thing.

I get dropped off about 200 yards from my destination.   I immediately see a horrified young white couple pushing  two strollers while a street boy, covered in filth and scares,  is walking with them and their children,  begging for food.  I am sure they are terrified that this child will infect their children with something.  They don’t want to be rude, but the look on their face is clearly terror.  I call to him as I approach and hold up a ten bob.  He comes over and I put my arm around him, leading him away from them and give him the coin.  I ask his name.  Isa he says.  AHHHH, I say.  Do you know about Isa Al Mashi?  He looks up at me.  He is not that dirty.  Not by African standards. Not by my standards.  He shakes his head.  I tell him that the Jesus of the bible is the Isa of the Quran.  I assume his parents were Muslim, with that name.  He then nods, telling me he has heard that.  We talk a minute about Jesus but he is only about six.  We switch from English to Swahili and talk about his family.  His mother is at home but he lives with his aunt.  His dad lives in the village back home.  After I get near the internet shop I slip him another 10 bob.  I tell him I would like to walk home with him sometime so he can show me where he lives.  He says he will like that.  He lives in Kibera.  Once it was the largest slum in the world.  I have never gone there.  Maybe I will go with Isa.  Sounds like just the guy to show me around.  I like that.  I will go with Isa.

I post some pictures online and eat supper. I use the free internet to surf the web a bit.  I am tired.  I call Charles my other boda boda driver and he has now gotten out of jail and can come pick me up.  Remember,  I told you they rounded them all up the day before.  He rides me home on his motor bike and it is raining on us.  Hakunashida.  No worries.  We catch up on the ride home in the rain.  I get off the bike at home and give him some extra fare for the ride.  He had to pay 20,000 to get his bike out. Of impound. Over 215 dollars.  He sold the furniture in his living space to get his bike back.

I head in to go to bed.  The power is out.  Great.  I cover my bed in mosquito net and crawl under and light a lamp to read by.  Going through Imam’s things I find two great studies on sharing Jesus with Muslims.  I also, found a book with world view comments on the scripture from an African perspective.  They deal with very different cultural issues here than we do.  I won’t go into them now but everything from money, family to friendships are very different than in the West.  So verses have very different implications.  Things you and I just take for granted are very big issues.  Issues that impact cultural norms in a very important way if taught and understood.  They have blind spots, just like we do in the West.  These books help me understand.  Both tribal Africa, Westernized Africa and of course Islamic Africa.  I am engrossed in learning how to impact this culture for the Kingdom.  Like Paul walking around looking at the idols in Greece, I study and read about the cultures I am in, looking for ways to extend the Kingdom.  What can I use to connect with them?  What must I reject and what can be transformed from darkness to light.  Pray for me that the Lord would lead me and guide me.  Pray that I learn to connect with a culturally diverse community of both Christian, Muslims and Animist.  I am reminded of a quote by C.T. Studd.   I think he is calling me a turnip head in this quote.

“The difficulty is to believe that He can deign to use such scallywags as us, but of course He wants Faith and Fools rather than talents and culture. All God wants is a heart, any old turnip will do for a head; so long as we are empty, all is well, for then He fills with the Holy Ghost. The fiery baptism of the Holy Ghost will change soft, sleek Christians into hot, lively heroes for Christ, who will advance and fight and die, but not mark time.”

I was definitely a called scallywag.  I am a bit like my favorite missionary hero in my calling

 “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China…I don’t know who it was…It must have been a man…a well-educated man. I don’t know what  happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing…and God looked down…and saw Gladys Aylward…And God said – “Well, she’s willing.”
– Gladys Aylward

I am sure there are better prepared, better equipped, smarter and more talented people called to serve.  Sometimes they come. Sometimes they don’t.  When they don’t you get someone like me.  Pray for me.   It’s 11:20 time for sleep.




3 responses

19 11 2013
Elizabeth McEwen

What a beautiful message! I love the reference to ‘bob.’ When I grew up in England, ‘bob’ was the slang for ‘shilling.’ I frequently heard and used the term ‘ten bob,’ meaning ten shillings. Of course, they don’t have shillings any more after decimalization in the early 70’s.

Your wonderful e-mails are so inspiring to my Issy (as well as to me!). She would drop everything and join you there in a heartbeat if she thought God was telling her to go.

Praying for you as you continue to minister our Lord to those precious people God has placed you with.

Liz McEwen

28 11 2013

Hey Scallywag,
Thanks for another amazing share.
Just remember your Jesus’ scallywag, the perfect scallywag for the job!
Love you Brother,

28 12 2013
Brett Hancock

Reading really became real at times, having been there. Loved it brother Scallywag.
Much love

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