In August of 2010 I packed my life into three suitcases, left my internship with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, and moved to Nairobi, Kenya. During twenty-seven hours of plane travel, my world turned upside down. I traded the groomed cobblestone roads of Cambridge for poorly paved roads wandered by a population ailing from 45% unemployment, where children roam looking for food in the ditches and the endless traffic is a perpetual reminder of the failed Kenyan government.
For the past three years I have made my home in Kenya. Like Jeremiah commands, I have settled down, planted gardens, eaten their food, and grown to love Kenya (Jeremiah 29:5). That love spurred the launching of Tatua, an organization reversing the traditional method of international aid by cultivating the power of the local community. Our work is to build the capacity of local leaders and local organizations to address poverty from the ground up.
Our work is exciting, innovative, yet exhausting. I spend days and nights wondering if we will heal Kenya. Will people have jobs? Will children be fed by parents? Will Kenyans be served by a just government?
These questions trouble me, and like Isaiah, I carry God’s people’s pain heavy on my heart. Though my mind knows I am not responsible for healing Kenya, my human longing to fix everything interferes, and I feel responsible.
This feeling of disproportionate responsibility often clouds out all else, even the presence and power of God. In that place, despite the inherent joy of my work, I can feel tired and small.
Thankfully, my supervisors know this mind-set is likely to occur and they schedule breaks for us to return home to our places of rest. SSJE’s stone walls and quiet chambers are that place of rest for me. It has become a practice of mine to spend at least two weeks out of my home visit living in community with the Brothers of SSJE.
In writing this piece my mind drifts back to the heavy wooden stalls where we sit to pray as the sun rises behind the stained glass. I hear the words of psalms sung by the ancients, feel the presence of the thousands of seekers of Christ who have sat there before, and I am reminded that I am not alone. I see myself walk to the altar, offer my hands to accept the Eucharist, taste the bread in my mouth, the wine on my lips, and I am comforted by the strength of all who walk with me. I am not alone.
More so, I am not responsible, I am just one of many. There is something incredibly comforting about the strength of SSJE – despite me or any individual, the community of SSJE stands strong. In that view I see myself as God sees me, unbelievably precious, yet one among many. Here, the psalmist’s words are in reach: Be still and know that I am God.
As I come back into contact with the almighty hand of God I am reminded that the world hardly depends on me. This humility check is vital if I am to stay grounded in the truth that it is God, not me, who desires to heal Kenya. That it is through God’s grace and power that I am acting, and it is through God that we hope to prevail.
So I will continue to come. I invite you to do the same.
Natalie Finstad, an Episcopal Missionary serving in Kenya as the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Tatua Kenya, shares the role SSJE plays in her life.