I am extremely grateful that the chaplain department has let me jump in with both feet. Instead of shadowing and being bored while I struggle to understand Swahili, the Kenyan chaplains I have worked with have encouraged and included me in every level of patient and staff care. At the same time, they have challenged my preconceived notions about the efficacy of more conservative theology in pastoral care, and I am continually reminded that the most important thing is context, context, context. The chaplains here are smart, immensely faithful, and very sophisticated in their spiritual care and leadership of Kijabe Hospital. The mere idea that I thought they might be anything but points out my own sin and bias. It might not be how I’m accustomed to doing things in America, but I have so much respect for the work they are doing here.
Words that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a Standards of Care Manual & Procedures for chaplaincy in the US: Holy Spirit and evangelism.
Every day is a surprise and a challenge. On Monday morning, we walked over to a doctor’s house as a chaplaincy staff to comfort him and his family after the death of his mother the previous night. We sang and prayed and read scripture and offered words of comfort and encouragement. It was a very holy moment.
So this afternoon, when I learned we would be traveling by car up the road to a town about halfway between Kijabe and the highway to visit another family, I was not surprised. From what I could gather, the wife of a former nurse had fractured her arm and had been discharged home. When we arrived, she didn’t even let us take off our shoes at the door before she was pulling us into the house, a very nice one by Kenyan standards. We sang “How Great Thou Art,” prayed together, read Scripture, sang, and prayed some more. The woman, Hannah, spoke of her faith throughout the trying circumstances, of overcoming doubt, of feeling Jesus’ presence with her in the immediate aftermath of her injury. Her faith, her trust in God was nearly palpable. I closed our time in prayer for the family who, fortunately, spoke English. As I was mentally preparing to go, the family insisted that we all take tea together.
First, Hannah’s husband came around to each of us with a pitcher of warm water and a bowl to wash our hands, not unlike how I prepare before celebrating the Eucharist. Out came the carafes of piping hot chai tea and the mugs placed in front of each of us. Additionally, plates piled high with mandazi, a kind of fried bread not unlike a beignet without the powdered sugar, appeared from the kitchen. I was trying hard to keep my emotions in check because I was so touched by the family’s generosity and hospitality. Mandazi and chai tea became bread and wine, the sharing of sacrament together, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where Kenyan and American, strangers and old friends, are all welcomed at the table.