Lent 2023 newsletter
Francis Wayne, Kenya
At the end of January this year, I went to Mombasa to get a letter from the archbishop’s office, which will introduce me to the prison system here in Kenya. I am hoping to expand my ministry responsibilities to volunteering at the prison.
The secretary was not around, so I left the office and walked down Moi Ave looking for the Moi University Bookstore. Along the way I passed a park which has been there for ages, where many destitute people spend their days and nights. A thin man, who was about my height, had shaggy hair and an unshaven face and was wearing blue jeans cutoffs, approached me.
It is not unusual to be greeted by a stranger here in Kenya. When he spoke to me, I could see that his mouth was full of rotten teeth. He said, “I am a transvestite. Are you looking for something?” I have to admit, I was a bit repulsed because he/she had crossed my personal safety space and had put his hand on my shoulder. My mind became cluttered with thoughts of bugs and bacteria, and I had to resist the urge to step away.
But something calmed my mind, and I stayed present to his/her attention. I said “I am looking for a bookstore, and no I don’t want anything else.” He/she then warned me of the dangers lurking in the park, and as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.
I thought about how my mind had calmed and the transition from fear to courage had just happened. I continued on in search of the bookstore, thinking of God as my trainer in this new life as a missioner. I hoped that this brief encounter was as good for him as it was for me, because there was a moment of connection accentuated with smiles.
After buying my book and returning to the archbishop’s office, I received my letter of introduction and then traveled to the north coast of Mombasa to Mtwapa to meet with my contact person, Father Josephat.
Our first stop was at a rescue center for children of inmates near the prison. When we neared the center, we came upon a commotion in the street. A few people were struggling to move a young woman, who was in a drunken stupor, to the side of the road. She was covered in white dust, and blood had curdled around cuts from falling on the jagged, rocky street. She was wearing only a T-shirt and underwear.
I asked the oldest adult if he knew her, and he said he had a child with her. The priest and the adult talked about what to do, and they decided to take her to a nearby apartment. They tried to stand her up, but that was impossible so they struggled to pull her towards the “boot” (trunk) of the small hatchback car.
I didn’t know how to help. I was wearing a nice, clean, white shirt and didn’t want to get it dirty, and I didn’t know how to pick her up since she was half naked. My mind was cluttered again with thinking, “We need a blanket, and how undignified is this putting her in the boot of the car.”
Then I just stopped thinking and went to her, put my arms under her, lifted her and sat her down gently in the boot of the car. Her male friend sat in the back seat, and we went on to drop them off at their destination. Again, I was aware of the transition from fear to courage — or might I call it caring?
I still had worries, but the fear had changed to critical doubt, thinking, “Should we have done more?” Next time I intend to do more.
The day neared evening, and as a rule I want to be home by dark, so I went toward Mombasa and the ferry. But the day wasn’t over yet for encounters and potential mission lessons.
Near the ferry, I was standing close to the curb when a tuk tuk, a three-wheeled mini taxi, pulled up in front of me. An old woman stepped down from the vehicle. She was wanting to cross the curb to the sidewalk, but the gutter was wide. I reached my hand out to her to help her, and she held my hand as I pulled her to the sidewalk.
Ah, it was comforting to hold her hand and look at her face. There was no worry! After she made the big step, she looked up at me and said “Can you help me?” I reached in my pocket and pulled out 50 shillings and gave it to her, and we smiled big at each other. When she went on, I just laughed. That was a good way to end my mission lesson for the day.
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