BY CASSI MEELHUYSEN
Mud, the new accessory.
Glop, glop. I step out of the car; now I’m stuck. The grimy mud attempts to invade my stubborn boots. Luckily, I’m prepared. My feet are dry, I escape, and best of all, they’re kissing Kenyan soil. Pinch me: this has to be a dream.
We made a three-hour journey from Nairobi, Kenya, to get here, a small village near the Aberdare Mountains.
People sit on benches by little buildings while the pastor speaks at the rickety pulpit he must’ve built for the occasion: a two-week evangelistic series.
My friend leads me to an empty bench, and I sit for a moment, wondering what to do next. God, I’m ready for Your mission. Surprise me!GOOD ENOUGH: After understanding that God’s love is for the unworthy, Karanja is baptized." class="img-right" style="float: right;">
“Jambo, our dear sister; I’m glad you came,” Moses greets me. “During our revivals in Kenya, we feel a great need to greet the wonderful people who attend our meetings. The sermon may be the lungs, but relationships are the heart. Get to know their names, their stories. Follow my lead; come with me, sister.” Nervously I follow.
“Jambo,” I greet and shake the hand of a young woman wearing a floral-patterned head scarf. It’s customary for women to cover their hair, but while they may be concealed outwardly, their spirits are warm and open. I feel welcome right away.
Jambo, shake hands, shuffle, repeat as needed.
I make my way down the row of people. Halfway through, I see a man standing in the doorway between two shacks. He appears to be in his 40s.
“Jambo,” I announce excitedly.
“Hello,” he answers.
Wow, he speaks English. I can have a real conversation! “What’s your name?”
“Karanja,” he replies, fidgeting with his clothes. I sense he feels vulnerable to be seen at the sermon. He wears a red T-shirt; well, it used to be red, but now it borders a salmon-pink color. He also sports “holey” jeans. Behind his hardworking persona, I sense something intriguing.
“My name’s Cassi. Are you enjoying this week’s talks?”
“I live right there.” He points to a small door behind the shack. “I hear it sometimes, and I come out.” He avoids the specific question.
“That’s good. I hope you keep coming. It’s nice to meet you!” I shake his hand again.
A couple days later I’m walking down the road with my Bible partner, Peter. We’ve had visits all morning, and on our way to the next house we run into Karanja. We approach each other and excitedly exchange hellos. No interpreter is needed.
“Friends, hello! Jambo!” He greets us with enthusiastic handshakes.
“Jambo,” we echo.
“We’re visiting people in the village,” says Peter. “Have you thought about our message?”
I’m taken aback; this is brave and straight to the point! I guess evangelism here is more direct than in America. I want that type of courage.
“Brother, I’m not sure I understand all you teach. I believe the Sabbath is truth, but it’s hard to believe I can be saved. You say wide is the gate that leads to destruction and narrow is the path to righteousness. I don’t know if there’s hope for me, my brother.”
God gives me a glimpse into Karanja’s heart. I can tell he wants to accept the message, but there’s hesitancy. On top of his confusion is my own. I feel unqualified. Everyone here seems to know the Bible from cover to cover. All I can do is empathize with people and encourage them with my story of being lost, then found in Christ. Will I fail God because I don’t know enough?
After sharing what I have to offer—my story—Karanja tells me about his struggles. “I came here because I lost the woman I loved. I didn’t have enough money to take her as my wife and provide for her. She’d been promised to another man with more to offer.” The hurt in his eyes is painful to my soul; abandonment and betrayal are familiar to many of us.
“That’s horrible,” I respond softly.
“It’s painful to lose the one you love,” Karanja quietly replies, staring toward the horizon.
“We’d love to come over on Friday to see if you want to get baptized,” Peter offers. “We can pray with you before we leave.”
“Yes, brother,” Karanja agrees. He removes his gray knit hat.
“Dear heavenly Father of mercy,” Peter prays, “we pray for our brother Karanja. Let Your Holy Spirit guide him, and let his heart be convicted of Your truth. Amen.”THREE MONTHS ALONG: The author returns to visit Karanja, and the new congregation that was established in his community." class="img-left" style="float: left;">
For the rest of the day I can think only about Karanja’s future with God. His life may change forever this weekend. I hope it does.
Friday morning comes too fast. Waking up at 5:00 a.m. in the United States to worship? I’m not a morning person, but for some odd reason I enjoy it here. It’s like the earth is snoozing and you have the world to yourself, a place that’s organic and full of hidden treasures.
My hosts, Mary and her daughters, start a fire so that I can have hot water for my bath, a luxury where there’s no electricity or bathrooms.
I make my way to the little house filled with university students and pastors. We sing songs in Swahili. I can’t understand the words, but I feel the power behind them.
Next we list the people who have decided to get baptized and the ones who are still on the fence. I mention Karanja, and say that I’m going to ask for his final answer today. I can see hesitancy in the pastor’s face. I’m not sure if it’s because my mission seems impossible or because they haven’t talked to Karanja as much. All I know is the passion in my heart.
We pray for a long time, joining hands, and sing more songs.
Peter and I walk toward Karanja’s shack. To our dismay, he’s not home. Back on the street, about to give up, we see him bicycling down the road our way. Thank You, God!
“Jambo, jambo. Sorry I’m late.”
“That’s OK, brother,” Peter encourages. “We’ve come, as you know, to see what you think about our offer to be baptized and join our family in Christ.”
“I don’t know if I can,” says Karanja. “I don’t know what to do. Last night I had a dream, and I haven’t been able to rest since then. The dream goes like this:
“I’m working in the shamba, the field, and I see many people in flowing white robes walk to the water for baptism. They smile and are full of joy. They invite me to come, but I look down at my torn, dirty clothes and feel that I can’t go. I don’t have a clean robe like everyone else. This dream won’t stop bothering me!” He gives a frustrated sigh.
“I understand, my friend, but God accepts us no matter what,” Peter comforts him gently. “He will give you that white robe and make you clean. I understand the feeling of being stuck. God will bring you through. God wants your heart; that’s all that matters.”
“I don’t know if I can stop some of my habits,” Karanja counters. “I don’t know if I can be good enough. I’m not sure what others will think. This is a small place, and people talk.”
Tears well up in my eyes. I feel the tug of the Holy Spirit. I’m not sur
e if it’s appropriate to cry in public. I try to hold back the tears, but they start to flow as two rivers down my face and chin. I can’t stop. This man feels as though he can’t be saved because he’s not good enough. I understand that feeling.
Before I got baptized, I doubted myself. Even now I struggle because I’m so slow to learn the Bible. But God is our strength. All He wants is our life, our friendship, our heart.
His eyes filling with tears, Karanja looks at me. “I’ll be OK.”
“Sorry for crying. I can’t help it,” I stutter between sniffles.
He takes my hand and comforts me. He’s shaking and trembling; tears pour down his weathered face, a face that is now relaxed with peace.
“Your tears have shown me the love of God,” he says. “That He would send someone from across the world so I could know Him and be in heaven—I want to do it; I want to be baptized. Thank you for your tears of healing.”
Peter comforts him, and we join in prayer. “Father, heal Karanja’s heart; break him from the habits that lay hold of his life. We ask that nothing will keep him from that glorious moment when his life takes a new direction.”
I open my eyes to see the hope on Karanja’s face, that God loves him and accepts him as he is.
Cassi Meelhuysen is a student at Union College, working on a second bachelor’s degree.