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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

On Spiritual Battles, Physical Rocks, and Rotten Figs

(photos above from Daily Nation) . . the rest are mine, execept the really good one from the end which is Scott's).

Friday the opposition leader in Kenya, disputed loser in both the original presidential election in August and the re-do which he boycotted in October, flew back from garnering support abroad.  He commands the loyalty of about half the country, mostly along cultural/language/tribal lines that fall to the western border with Uganda and the eastern coast on the sea, but include large numbers of people from those areas who have migrated to the central highland cities for jobs.  Those internal migrants tend to congregate in informal housing estates, crowded, poorly equipped, the kind of bleak city environments which are left to the poor.  Their hope to share in Kenya's economic growth has not always been realized.  When a charismatic and respected leader calls upon them to march, to boycott, to not cooperate, to rally . . . the anger and bitterness of feeling disenfranchised easily escalates into violence.  So, when he called for a million people to march on the airport on Friday to receive him, we knew picking Jack up from his semester abroad in New Zealand that same day was not going to be easy.

The trouble started on Thursday as his on-the-ground mobilizers began to gather, and the police responded with restrictions and arrests.  By Friday morning as we headed early into town to get our required 3-yearly work permits put into our passports (something we've been working on since July and past-due since late September; it's been a difficult year to make progress on anything administrative in the Kenyan government) we could see riot police mounted on horses preparing to resist the resistance at the city-center.  As we continued through a scheduled meeting with Sergers we supervise, Mr. Odinga landed and the warning texts were flowing in, from the US Embassy and from Kenyan friends.  Riots here.  Road closed there.  Danger.  Tear gas.  Stones thrown.  Live ammunition being used.  Mobs.  Avoid the airport.  Avoid the city. 

If there was any other reason to head to the airport, this would have been the time to turn around.  But when it's your youngest landing, there's a pretty huge heart motivation to find a way through.  We chose the route through the city about which we'd heard the least reports of trouble, hoping that in the two hours or so since Mr. Odinga arrived the frenzy might have calmed.  While he and his supporters were battling police nearer the city, we hoped to skirt around and reach the airport.

And so we drove on.  We encountered some snarled traffic at first, which is pretty normal for Nairobi, but you find yourself wondering if everyone knows something you don't.  Then the four-lane divided highway Outer Ring road (which is not very outer, it passes right through some inner city neighborhoods and trouble spots) opened up and we found ourselves driving easily, only a few other cars.  I think the ambulance with sirens heading the other direction was a bit unnerving, but I didn't really worry until we started meeting cars driving at us the wrong way on our side of the divided highway.  Soon we could see rocks in the road, melon-sized stones that had been aimed at cars before us.  Then the rising smoke from burning tires.  Then we were swerving around the smoldering heaps of rubber ourselves, windows up against the noxious fumes, flickering flames in the dark twists of cables and rubber, people crossing the road with handkerchiefs over their mouths, riot police in full gear and helmets waving us to proceed.  There were still crowds lining the roadway, but no one was actively hostile now.  All the time Scott was trying to avoid rocks on the road, to drive fast enough to not be a likely target but slow enough to not hit obstructions, dry-mounted, super-alert, wondering if we had made a really bad decision.  I was scanning news, texts, looking at the map for alternatives. 

And so we went, all the way into the airport.  By the time we made it through security, the violence had moved west into the city.  We were thankful to get Jack (!!), thankful for Kenyan friends who kept advising us on routes and even offered to have their friends who work at the airport shelter him if necessary.  Thankful for real-time prayers.  Thankful that yesterday, after a brief weekend respite with us, Jack made it back to the airport on another day where staged protests turned to death as the Supreme Court announced that they would not invalidate the election results, and the incumbent president would be sworn in for a second term.   Last night on the American news, it was reported that 31 people had been killed in clashes this weekend.  When that happens, no one wins.

Stay with me a moment, because there is a connection here with American news.  All week it's been about the Alabama senate candidate who is accused of, many years ago, approaching young teen girls (13 and 14 year olds, children) for sexual relationships when he was in his 30's.  We listened to him on TV speaking IN A CHURCH about the allegations, and he used the words "spiritual battle."  As in, if you're listening to these women and to the newspapers about me, then you're on the devil's side, because I'm God's man.  A lot goes down in America these days, but hearing someone running for public office dismissing criminal allegations involving sexuality with minors, one of the few lines still held as a reasonable limitation to indulging any appetite, as a spiritual battle AGAINST him, gave me pause.  Partly because I'm quick to attribute my problems to the spiritual battle myself.

So, are Kenyan and American stories being played out along spiritual battle lines?  Is it possible to look at the rock-wielding youths, or the tear-gas-lobbing police, and know that one is on God's side and the other not?  Is it possible to draw a line that puts one political party in the right and the other in the wrong in Kenya, or in America?  Does the endorsement of a candidate by the vocal self-proclaimed spokes-people of the evangelical movement indicate God's choice?  Does the investigative journalism of a newspaper syndicate equilibrate to religious persecution?

Interestingly, this is a question that people who love God have wrestled with for millennia.  A couple weeks ago in church as we move through the book of Jeremiah, we came to chapter 24. I'm sure I must have read it a few times, but this time the preacher drew our attention to the contrast.  In the waning days of the kingdom, it was assumed that the people captured and exiled, pillaged and enslaved, were those God wanted to punish.  The people left to rule were those God supported.  But Jeremiah has a vision of two baskets of figs, one lovely and perfect for eating, the other rotten refuse.  Surprise!  The good figs were the ones in exile, the stinky putrid figs were the ones in power.  God's purposes were bigger than political victory.  God was purifying, preserving, stripping away distractions, offering relationship.  The good/evil line was not where everyone thought. 

In 2017, in Kenya and in America, we should hesitate to claim that God is on our side and those against us are not God's people.  Yes, there is a spiritual battle, an intense one.  Read Ephesians 6.  We can't assign particular humans or groups to one side or the other, because the battle is not against flesh and blood.  There are powers, wicked ones, that induce young men to rape and rob, and police to shoot protestors, and missionaries to despise colleagues, and preachers to sanctimoniously decry sin in others, and candidates to use fear and division for votes, and average people to cheat for greedy gain, and parents to strike their kids in anger, and friends to gossip.  But when we're driving across a troubled city to get our son, we're not necessarily God's agents of goodness pitched against the Devil's evil looters.  We're humans, more frustrated with obstruction to our desire to see our kid, than empathetic with the daily lives of poverty that make people vulnerable to political manipulation, or the impossible situation of being asked to wear a uniform against fellow citizens, or the responsibility of maintaining order in a country deeply divided.  Our situation feels dramatic, but we're only a drop in the ocean of people whose lives were disrupted this weekend.  We're all dabbling in evil.  And the redeeming truth is that through even foreign invasions and coups and shady elections and daily sorrow, God still refines the underlying gold in hearts from every tribe and tongue and nation.

If you read this far, here's a bonus:  We had a fun, good-fig weekend with Jack.  Pure gratefulness for God's GRACE!

Greeting Chardonnay our old dog, at our old house at Kijabe

Hanging out with Gaby and Liana

Photography buddies

Bird and animal watching buddies

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a resident of Alabama (and former PCV in Kenya), I find special significance in your words. Keep sharing your insights. And I am glad you had a joyous reunion with your son.