Monday, July 24, 2017


My half-price ticket requires me to stay a couple of days longer than the rest of the team. I head down to Mombasa on a cheap flight. This may well be my final visit to Kenya and last chance to scope out this place I romanticized when a child. As a girl, my mum’s family used to holiday down here on the coast, courtesy of a kind businessman who had a soft spot for penniless missionaries. She spoke of those holidays regularly and with great fondness.

According to my uncle’s memoirs, they stayed at Bamburi Beach, about 20 miles north of Mombasa town. There are resorts all up and down the coast, but they are pricey and beyond me. Anyway, I tell myself, I want to get a feel for Mombasa proper. I will be staying on the island, which sounds exotic but then someone also once named their daughter Chlamydia because they thought it sounded so pretty.

Shuttle driver John is waiting for me at the airport holding a sign with my name on it. It is even spelt correctly, which is most gratifying since the last thing with my name on it was my cubicle/bed in Turkana: Graham Billikie. To be fair, that is kind of how Kenyans pronounce my last name so I guess they just spelt it out half way phonetically. 

We head into town at breakneck speed until we hit major road construction, but the pot holes and pedestrians, roundabouts and tuk tuks (three-wheeled motorcycle “cars”) do little to dampen John’s enthusiasm at being behind the wheel. My guess is he calculates his tip on how many pedestrians he almost hits but doesn’t put in hospital. But I just smile and we continue our conversation about Mombasa. On my three trips to Kenya, I’ve learned that Kenyans have their own rules of the road, which they all seem to understand amidst the chaos. And if they don’t, a honk on the horn reminds them and they move out of the way at the last minute.

My hotel is smack in the center of things. It is very plain and the shower is cold and the air conditioning hot. But it is mainly clean, has very friendly staff (including a couple of security guards who wand everyone who comes in), and the big selling point is it has a free breakfast. There’s nothing much on the small TV except static and very melodramatic Indian soap operas with the same theme (Indian man trying to convince Indian woman to marry him. Variation on theme: Indian parents trying to convince daughter this arranged marriage is a good thing). So, after a cold shower in the morning, I head down for beef sausages, scrambled eggs and baked beans—the breakfast of champions, or diabetics at least.

Back in my room, I am quickly sweating. Mombasa is very humid. I think about being the loud American (now that I am a proud dual passport holder) and politely asking for another room, but I decide not to sweat it by, um, sweating it. I put a few things in my sling and head out to experience Mombasa. Though I am the only white guy for miles (I only saw one other white guy at a distance in two days—two white guys if you include the albino Kenyan who walked past me), people are very friendly and many of them greet me. Later, on the way to the airport, my driver Paul (a Jehovah’s Witness, but that didn’t affect his driving) will tell me that foreigners are slowly coming back. They stayed away after a terrorist attack or three gave parts of Kenya a bad name.

After scores of Tuk Tuk drivers have honked at the white guy with no tan to see if I want a ride with them, I arrive half an hour later at Fort Jesus. This is a 400-year-old Portuguese fort built in the shape of Jesus on the cross, and just loaded with history. As I get close to the entrance, an elderly gentleman with tobacco-stained teeth sidles up to me and asks where I’m from. I don’t do a good Russian accent, so I tell him New Zealand, but living in America. “Ah, Auckland, New Zealand,” he says. “You are a kiwi.” This guy is good. I read about him, or his cousins, in a few guidebooks. His name is Omar, a Moslem. Long story short, he guides me through the Fort and Old Mombasa for the next 3 hours. It is a pleasure to be supporting the local economy, and he certainly earns the 1200 shillings ($12) I finally part with (many here make 1000 shillings [$10] in a whole day).

Old Mombasa is a fascinating place, predominantly Moslem. We walk past the high-pitched voices of boys reciting the Koran in a madrassah (Islamic school). Women in black burkas and hijabs ignore or furtively glance at me from narrow slits. Some have elaborate tatoos on their hands, the only flesh that can be seen. “Don’t come here on your own,” Omar tells me. “Bag snatchers.” Around the fish market, men are lounging—perhaps waiting for work. Or me. Or just lounging. Though I am clearly “other,” I don’t feel unsafe. Even here, a number of people welcome me: “Jambo!” (“hello!”). “Karibu!” (“welcome!”).

After my tour, I head back to the fort and wander along the rocks at its base. One guy who has been swimming and who is sunning himself smiles at me and makes swimming motions, as if giving a friendly dare for me to go in. I smile back and shake my head. My Columbia pants would dry soon enough, but I’m a bit nervous about my passport, wallet and camera. And then there’s my hat which prompted one person to greet me, “Hello Texas Ranger.” It is an “Aussie” branded hat, but made in New Zealand. Perhaps this one wonder is a portent that world peace is possible after all.

Sadly, there are a lot of plastic bottles that have washed up or been discarded in this otherwise picturesque spot. But I find a small patch of clear sand in the shade of a half-cave, and sit and admire the view of the water. After a while, a guy wanders down the rocks to the shallows, takes everything off (I mean everything), sits down, and proceeds to wash himself and his clothes in the briny water. As I have done so often on this trip, I thank God for how blessed I am to have not just clean water, but a washing machine, and I marvel at how resourceful so many are who have so little.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


It's hard to capture an experience like Turkana adequately in pictures, let alone words. Impressions are so many and so varied--one can only list them and hope they form some kind of kaleidoscope.

  •  The soak and stink of sweat after a 6-mile walk past huts and goat corrals lining the sandy "streets" of Lodwar
  • The beaming smiles of school children mobbing us as we walk, and as they practice their only English: "How arrrrr you? How arrrrr you?"
  • The smell of African spices from the kitchen in the evening, and the wiry texture of a chicken that has probably run the length and breadth of Turkana looking for food and water
  • The rapid-fire translation and gesticulations of our interpreter as we teach and talk, rhythmic phrase by rhythmic phrase
  • The utter barrenness of the terrain in which the Turkana somehow eke out an existence against all odds
  • The theological discussions with mzungu (white) pastors and Turkana pastors and missionaries about polygamy (one villager yesterday had 9 wives--one in each of the various regions he grazes his goats so they can assist him, and "comfort" him)
  • The cacophony of sound as 100 Turkana pastors pray passionately to their Lord--out loud
  • The large scorpion found in a shallow "pool" being used for baptisms in the village where the team overnighted
  • The sound of the water truck arriving early in the morning after the tank has run dry--so we can shower, and flush
  • The hope, and joy, on sun-wrinkled foreheads as Turkana men place their faith in the One who gave His life for them
  • The sudden darkness in a Q&A forum with pastors as the power-grid temporarily fails, and the gleam of cell phones
  • The awareness--when one of them tells me that another tribe has killed some of his family members and friends, and tried to torch his house--that these guys REALLY live their faith in a manner that shames me
  • The French accent of our team mate from Birundi in the morning, "Eet eez zee best coffeeeeeeeee!"
  • The intense twinkle of the southern cross in the desert
  • The dawning of realization that Habakkuk really is a message they understand and live so much better than I: "Though there is no fruit on the vine, or sheep in the pen, or cattle in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in God my Savior"

Saturday, July 15, 2017


At 2am a few days ago we woke to thunder and lightning. Then it poured for about 10 hours. Turkana is in a five-year drought with virtually no rain in the last year. The rain is an incredible blessing, say the Turkana, though it is tinged with sadness; two boys were swept away in the resulting floods as they tried to rescue someone else.

The team was unable to cross in their four-wheel-drives, so had to cancel village outreach for the day. The next day, they waited two hours at a flooded bridge as a truck, on the verge of being swept away, was salvaged. They made it out to the village after a 6-hour trip and overnighted there in tents. In the early morning, they were greeted by a foot-long millipede and large scorpion.

During the two days of ministry there, over 100 placed their faith in Christ and were baptized in a safe tributary of the "river."

Wi-fi/internet is spotty and heavily competed for by the team, hence the brevity of this post.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Turkana Men & Their Stools

Sopel Village

Turkana girls dancing
Today is Gary and my day to leave the classroom and join the team in the village. I'm feeling just a little queasy from too much goat or something over the last couple of days, so take a pepto tablet, offer a prayer, and don't each too much for breakfast.

We bounce over gravel, dirt and sand "roads" in five four-wheel-drives as we head to the village of Sopel, an hour away. Though they have no building, there is an active church here. That has not always been the case. Later, a Turkana missionary will share with us that twenty years ago when he tried to preach the gospel here, the men of the village built a "prison" for him and locked him up for some time.

Oldest remaining man due to drought
But we are warmly welcomed by the pastor and many church members. Children from the church and village greet us and do a traditional dance and song. Then we split up into age and gender groups as is customary in Turkana culture: children; young girls; young men; married women; married men.

The married men, from young to very old, start to arrive. We hear from some of the elders through our interpreters. One of them says that he is the oldest; a number of the other old men have died as a result of the drought. When 20 of them are there, we begin.

Just before we left for the village, Director Sammy asked Gary and me to talk for about 15 minutes each on "Who is God?" and "Who is man?" respectively. Since we've been teaching Bible Pathways, we have not been part of the village men's curriculum planning, so we have to wing it. This is ministry on the fly. On the drive there--between bounces and bumps--I decide to do a "goat" theme: goats are their life. "All we like sheep/goats have gone astray." (I wander off in exaggerated pantomime.) "I am the Good Shepherd; I lay down my life for the sheep/goats." "My sheep/goats know my voice, and I give them eternal life."

A couple of others from the team follow Gary and me, and Sammy concludes. While everyone is teaching, I set my small camera on my knee and am able to unobtrusively take photos with its great zoom. They've sat on their tiny wooden stools, listening in rapt attention for a couple of hours with just two interludes of jumping and stomping to get the blood flowing again. It is incredible to see these wizened old men squat down just inches from the ground and deftly position their stools underneath them. There is no running water in the village, no toilet facilities. Occasionally men get up and wander off to a tree. One returns, adjusting his wide open robe slowly on the walk back, without any embarrassment whatsoever.

As Sammy wraps everything up with an invitation for personal response to the Savior who gave His life for the Turkana people, they are fully engaged. These men, who once imprisoned a missionary, are hungry for God and His Word. Some 30 or so of them put up their hand to indicate their faith. To make sure, he changes the response: they are now to stand if they want to trust Christ. They stand. A third time, Sammy gives them a step to take to express genuine intent: they are to step up to a line he draws in the sand. All the same men do--almost half of the men there. After prayer with them and the pastor, and noting their names so they can be followed up, another man steps forward. He is a Christian who used to walk into Lodwar to get to church (an hour trip for us in 4-wheelers!) He says he has since wandered from God and wants to get right with Him again. We pray with Him.
2 1/2 hours & hungry for more

Sociologists of religion and church growth experts talk about the move of God to the global south, and this response is indicative of the hungry hearts all over Turkana and, I am told, most of Africa. I have to hold back tears at the privilege of witnessing this most marvelous of all miracles.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Send Center/Share International, Turkana

We fly to Lodwar via a brief stop in Eldoret. A small version of Rio’s Jesus is looking down at us from the big hill overlooking Lodwar “International” Airport, so named because small planes might someday come here from countries bordering Turkana, such as Ethiopia and Uganda. It is hot. Desert hot. There has been a severe drought here, one of the Share International staff tell us, for the last five years. There has been only occasional rain and in minute quantities.

The Send Center is an oasis in this harsh place—physically as well as spiritually; through careful planting of hundreds of small trees and recycling of water, the green is wonderfully inviting. The trees have taken off even in the two years since I first came.

After a quick orientation, dinner and assignment to rooms, we head off to bed to sweat under mosquito nets and fans.

Monday morning we rise early for shared devotions at 7am, breakfast and the teams’ departure to the villages. My co-teacher, Gary, and I set up the room for our pastor/leader/missionary students who are excited to be preaching to us from the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. So much packed into 3 short chapters. We are excited to be exploring it with them. This is their 8th of 9 modules in Bible Pathways over the last 3 years. In the other auditorium, another group of pastors is receiving other training on evangelism and discipleship by Big Life, and on Principles of Shepherding. This will be 8 days choc full of spiritual and practical goodies. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Kenya STORM 2017 Begins


The flights go smoothly, though I don’t sleep a wink and have to stay sanctified and stifle an impulse to slap the guy in the row in front of me who is snoring very loudly. From Frankfurt to Nairobi, I have a profitable conversation with my seat mate, a Catholic, about theology. When we arrive in Nairobi, we finally get through customs after an hour-and-a-half, and I get to use my U.S. passport for the first time. Excited to be back in Kenya, land of my fathers!

Uncle Griff

After a good sleep and breakfast, my driver and friend, Isaac, picks me up in an old vehicle. He explains that he hired out his van to a friend who drove it up a hill to or from Nakuru without checking the water and after the gauge indicated the engine was frying. So this car is one he has hired from another friend. We head through Nairobi’s atrocious traffic and arrive at my 97-year-old Uncle’s place. He is my mother’s brother, and I have been reading 177 pages in Part I of his memoirs which go from my grandparents’ arrival in Kenya 100 years ago (real pioneer days) to the end of World War II in which he served in the Camel Corps in British Somaliland. It is such a treat to catch up again with him and his wonderful wife, Yvonne.

On the way back to the hotel, Isaac and I stop at a Forex at the Galleria Mall to change money. Back in the car, it won’t start. A quick prayer later, and it still won’t start. It’s an amusing picture in Kenya: the white mzungu pushing the car with all his might, African Isaac at the wheel. Our “crash start” is successful. Ten minutes later, the car dies on the freeway. Trucks and cars whizz by, inches away. As Isaac starts to dial his friendly mechanic, I exit the car in case it is hit. I convince Isaac, who thinks it’s safer in the car, to move it a little further off the road, though there is a sharp drop off. While we’re waiting for his mechanic, someone stops a hundred yards ahead and starts to back up towards us. He is terrible at reversing, and weaves in and out of the lane as trucks honk angrily. He offers me a ride, which Isaac recommends I take for 1200 Kenya Shillings ($12.00). I figure so long as he drives forwards and not backwards, my odds are pretty good. I’m glad I have taken the ride when I hear from Isaac four hours later that he is still waiting for a tow.

Sports and Sleep
He messages me on WhatsApp in the morning saying he has not been able to get another vehicle, so I cancel my plans to see another Kenyan friend and visit the national museum, catch up on some sleep and watch the 3rd rugby test match between the British Lions and the New Zealand All Blacks. They’ve won a game each, so this is the decider. It is a vigorous game, a cliff hanger. In the last 5 minutes the TV signal dies completely. Karibu Kenya, I think: Welcome to Kenya. I have to google the final result.

That night, I have dinner with Sammy, the director of Share International, the ministry I’ll be serving with in Turkana, and Lee Woody Wood, a presenter from another ministry, Big Life, who will be doing some teaching with the pastors at our training conference. The team comes in later that night.

We have introductions over breakfast. Most are from a church in Naples, Florida. At noon, we pile into vans and head to the airport, just 5 miles from the hotel. Five minutes later, repeated bumps indicate we have a flat, so we all pile out of the van as the driver changes the tire. Fortunately, it has air in it and we are on our way again in 15 minutes.

Soon we are on Flight 540 Air to Lodwar, the seat of Turkana County, an hour-and-a-half flight When we all arrive from our various points of origin, there will be about 25 of us altogether, including 5 from Nairobi. The real adventure and mission is about to begin.