asante, africa

we’re back!  any of you reading who have been to africa before know that words on paper can’t accurately describe the experience of being there.  we were gone for 12 days with one week in kenya (the uganda piece of our trip didn’t work out because all of the standby flights were full).  when we got on our plane in nairobi to come back to the US i knew that our experience will be close in our hearts forever.  over the years both jose and i have traveled a lot of places, but neither of us have ever seen up-close-and-personal what we experienced in africa.  the poverty. the lack of infrastructure.  the corruption nuttiness.  the joy of Jesus.  the laughter.  the hope.  the beauty.  all mixed into one. we were blessed beyond measure by our amazing hosts and their love for God, our family.  they took awesome care of us; i think we were able to experience an even deeper connection beyond just working on a mission project together because we also just spent a lot of time hanging out, eating, sharing, laughing, listening, traveling, learning.

i am too fried in this moment to even consider all the different parts of our trip that i’d love to flesh out here at the carnival. i am just planning on letting what-may-come emerge over the upcoming months.  but as i sit here on the plane on the long flight home writing with pen and paper (i’ve been 2 weeks without a cell phone or my laptop, an excellent spiritual discipline for me, ha!) i do want to share what’s on the top of my head before it slips away.  these are fairly random thoughts, some related to “church” and community, other just general reflections of our experience.  i know one thing:  i will not be able to give our experience justice.  too much needs to be felt, experienced, touched and tasted. but i will do what i can to capture what i can.

Jesus is alive and well in africa.  whoa!  what an experience to be part of worship in a radically different culture.  that is some serious joy and passion-filled worship!  we were all a little lost as all the music was in swahili, but just listening & soaking & clapping was enough for me.  God’s spirit wasn’t just reflected in the worship, either; all over the place, in most all of the people we met, we experienced an overflowing of God’s love and light.  it just oozed out of them. they are poor in every sense of the material world, but so rich in joy, love, laughter, and hope.  it’s seriously contagious.

africa time is s-l-o-w. this is the perfect culture for me on one level because being fashionably late is completely normal.  however, my friends here who get tired of waiting for me when i’m late will be glad to know that even i was irritated!  and when you’re trying to feed your hungry and tired kids, speed is helpful!

the fund-y missionaries have greatly influenced christian culture there. that part was the hardest for me, because the “word of God” is elevated to a scary high place, so much like it can be in the super-conservative streams in the US where any thought or doubt or weakness or struggle must be combatted with scripture and robotic sayings about God’s faithfulness.  we drove a lot through many villages and towns, and the presence of extreme pentecostal & conservative mission there is so obvious in all of the wording. taglines like “dedicated to preserving holiness and the fear of God in all people” are really common.  and while i of course know that the messages that have been carried to africa have done great good in so many ways, i couldn’t help but wonder just a little bit how much damage has been done in the name of Christ with the focus on eternal salvation and personal holiness and scripture quoting shaping “what being a christian means.”

we had fun bringing a little “refuge-style” teaching with us. jose and i didn’t really know what we were getting into when it came to communicating.  we knew we were teaching at a pastor’s/leader’s conference and probably at the church that is part of the mission center.  in praying and preparing to go, the only thing i knew was that the one passage i wanted to flesh out was the parable of the lost sheep in matthew 18 & the contrast between the church of the 99 and the church of the 1 (this will be my next blog post for sure).  i had no idea it would strike such a chord, but it definitely became a fun theme for the week.  at the pastors conference it was obvious that they were just planning on us “preaching” but jose and i decided to give refuge-style facilitation a try instead since we believe passionately in dialogue and challenging conversation instead of just talking.  it took a while to break the ice but after a bit we got there.  we were totally unprepared but it didn’t really matter; we focused on 3 movements through micah 6:8 of doing justice, loving mercy & walking humbly & it was really fun.  we did some interactive stuff & broke into small discussion groups, and jose did an amazing job of really challenging them on oh-so-typical-christian responses related to issues of God’s justice in the bible.  i admit, i got a little panicked when he opened up a theological can of worms that they are not used to considering (i confess, i even poked him in the arm and shot him a few “what the $*!&!^@(  are you doing?” looks that we’ve been laughing about ever since) but he is the master at pulling it all together in the end!  we had some great swahili interpreters, too, and i think their presence forced us to slow down our pace & not ramble on like we are used to. i am glad we tried some new stuff, and i have a feeling when we go back next january (yes, we are hoping to take a refuge team there mid january 2011, let me know if you want to join us!) the interaction and dialogue-y format will be easier for everyone.

life without power and water is brutal. the mission center we stayed at is on a great piece of property, but it is outside a small village that just recently got power.  there is still has no running water or electricity.  about 100 kids live there, with double that coming to primary school there each day. it is clearly a hub for many in the surrounding areas, a true gathering spot & place of refuge (and one my dreams for some dark places in our community, too).  oh, but life without power and water is hard.  they walk 1/2 a mile down a steep hill to bathe once a week (all the little ones, too) & pay some village women a small amount to sherpa water from the source at the bottom.  the bathrooms are 2 huts with holes in the ground.  at night, it is dark, with only a few small lanterns available.  we visited another orphanage closer to nairobi on our last day that has some seriously solid financial support & it was utterly unbelievable to see the contrast between the two and what power, water, and a steady stream of support from america could actually do in a tangible way. the difference between these 2 orphanages kind of felt like the difference between the refuge & a megachurch!

“reality is that the poor are the ones who really actually help the poor.” oh this is so true!  we also had the privilege of going to one of the pastors’ homes outside of nairobi & i can say that is the one moment i will never forget.  they have rolling blackouts where sometimes the power will be off for up to 6 hours.  he led us in the dark up a crazy amount of stairs to enter his small apartment where he lives with his wife, 3 sons, and the 3 adopted sons that he has taken in because their parents are dead.  yeah, they don’t have any money themselves but they are the first to help.  i will always remember what my kenyan friend said on this trip:  “reality is that the poor are the ones who really actually help the poor” i can attest to that here in the US as well. power begets power.  money begets money.  no one likes to give to the losing team. and those in the trenches, leaving the 99 to find the 1, are usually the ones with no money or power.  that’s a whole other story, but i will say that being in that sweet family’s home, one teeny weeny candle lighting the room, and being greeted with such love & light got under my skin like none other.

“people come but no one wants to live like us.” we had no idea going in, but it turns out we were the only american mission team who has ever stayed at the orphanage.  typically those that come stay in a nice hotel about an hour from the village and drive in each day.  one of the teachers told me how much our stay meant to them.  she said “people come to help, but they don’t really want to be with us and live our life with us.” oh, there so many applications to this thought for us as “the church” and the whole to, for, and with thought i’ve often shared at the carnival comes to mind.   the scarcity of food & water, the heat, no beds, and the lack of running water and power is so taxing.  and even though we had our “experience” let’s face it, we were there for 3 days, big whoop.  these lovely and dear people live with this every day of their lives.  we all slept on mats that we bought at the market in one room at the orphanage with mosquito nets rigged with jumpropes that we brought & our sweatshirts as pillows.  and while it would be easy to say how cool we were for staying, the truth is that we still had the luxury of our handy dandy headlamps & bottled water & access to cold sodas now & then & the ability to leave in a car with a driver to go into town if we wanted.  yes, this is a powerful metaphor to continue to meditate on.  my kids were completely blown away by the whole thing, promising to “never complain about anything ever again, mommy.” over and over again i think we were all struck by the incredible privilege we have living in this country.  the most pervasive thought for all of us was “what can we really do to love our friends well from afar beyond this moment?”  seeing the contrast in the orphanages really helped them capture the vision of what is possible with a lot of love and specific intentional support, yet we were also painfully aware of our knee-jerk tendency to want to use our power in a way that ultimately diminishes theirs.  since that is everything i am against i know that won’t work. my kids also each said, “everybody should come here at least once in their lifetime.” my head is spinning with what could be, and i am also painfully aware of my/our limitations and my potential to want-to-save-the-world. i know everyone who goes on these kinds of trips get their world rocked.  for now, i just want to hold onto this dear teacher’s words & really reflect on what that means on all kinds of levels:  “everyone likes to come help us but no one wants to live like and with us.” yeah, leaving the 99 to find the 1 is easier said than done.

we did all kinds of off-the-beaten-tourist-path things that we love to do. sure, we did the 1 day safari and got to see all kinds of animals (a lion, literally, 3 feet from our van, hard to top that).  other than the safari we only saw a handful of white people on our entire trip.  but we always like to go where tourists don’t go.  we ate all kinds of authentic african food with our friends, no utensils & thankfully no tummy issues either.  we went to the grocery store. we even went to the movies at one of the megamalls in kisumu & saw sherlock holmes.   it was really a blast, but i will be the first to say that i love toilet seats, running water, paved roads, and good brewed coffee in the morning.  those are the things i missed the most.

thanks for being part from afar.  we also extend a big asante (thank you in swahili, my kids had that one down) to everyone who prayed for us & sent love.   we are working on a fun video that captures some of our experiences and if we can get it together i will post it here, too. most of all,  asante, africa, for opening up our eyes to your love & beauty. it was a lovely gift.

here are just a few pix:

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Kathy,

    Wow, this so touched my heart. For the past couple of years the scripture that has been so close to my heart is, “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” John 1:14. Jesus left every thing and came to live among us! So often, as the Church, we have not “lived among them”, but rather separated ourselves from the rest of the world.

    When the woman said to you, “everyone likes to come help us but no one wants to live like and with us”, it reminded me of this scripture. I understand why it meant so much to her that you came and stayed with them because that’s exactly how I feel about Christ coming to dwell with us. God became one of us, ate with us, worked with us, suffered with us, and celebrated with us and because He did that, I know that He understands me, He can relate to me, He knows my pain and my suffering, and I know that He truly loves and cares about me.

    When we separate ourselves, as Christians, from the rest of humanity, we alienate the very people we are trying to reach. Just like the missionaries that stay in the hotel, we stay in our comfort zones as well. It’s so easy to say a prayer and then be on our way. It’s so easy to say “God bless you” and then just go about our daily lives. It’s much more difficult to do what Jesus did, He came and He dwelt and lived, among us.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I look forward to the coming months ahead, as you process all that God showed you on this trip. We missed you and we’re glad you’re home!

  • Hey Kathy – If these are just thoughts from the “top of your head” I definitely will look forward to future thoughts 🙂

    Loved the picture of you(?) with the little kids in a circle – absolute joy. I am always amazed and humbled when I experience or see the joy of those who seem to “have so little”.

  • Kathy,

    a friend who recently came down with a serious illness said, “how have you done all this medical stuff all alone?” and I realized, she had stepped into my life in a way an “outsider” couldn’t. given a choice, she wouldn’t have stepped into my shoes.

    so the question lingers, what is it that encourages each of us to step in with Christ’s feet into the lives of those around us, even if those feet are only taking baby steps? You certainly seemed to have done that with your staying at the orphanage.

    “people come but no one wants to live like us.” thank you for sharing how you stepped into the shoes – or the lack thereof – of those your visited. beautiful experience shared through your words.


  • Wow, yes, certainly too big of an experience for words.
    It takes my mind to the words in the Bible where Jesus is preparing to wash the disciples feet. These words “He laid aside his garment” are a very powerful picture.
    The garment representing everything He laid aside to enter into a human body and love us where we live.
    I am thinking about my own “garment”, what parts that it represents that I really don’t want to lay aside to love people where they live every day.

    I WANT my garment to stay intact! Most days I WANT to stay in a nice hotel and visit the poor and then return to the comfort, to write checks to the poor from the comfort of my couch.

    When Peter resisted Jesus washing his feet I thought about that and realized that my attitude toward Jesus washing my feet is “isn’t that His job description”? No resistance here!
    So today as I ask God how I can wash his feet, I think, no I know, it is by laying aside my garment, somewhere somehow and washing the feet of the poor. Somehow living amongst them as one of them. I don’t know what that means exactly for me.

  • absolutely beautiful. tears in my eyes reading and seeing your smiling white faces amongst the dark ones. can’t wait to hear more.

  • I love you my darling daughter and loved your blog and your photos, although they both touched and hurt my heart. You are a true treasure and I hope I can go with you to Africa next year.

  • shelby – oh thanks for your thoughts & all the connections to that bigger story of what it really means to be with our neighbor in more than just words. hope to see you soon!

    esther – yes, so much joy with so little. it was really fun making up silly games with the kids, i need to have a better repertoire next time, though, i am out of little kid-practice.

    bill – on the books already (thanks to united flight benefits) next january 🙂

    skylark – thanks. it feels good to be home.

    sarah – thanks for sharing. it made me think of one my all-time favorite songs by everclear – “then you might really know what it’s like.” it’s a rough song but so true. and i’ll be honest, i don’t really want to all the way, there’s no question that even though we stayed there we didn’t even come remotely close to fully experiencing a few days-in-their-life and still had many privileges that they’ll never have. but it was a little sip & it was very profound. hope to see you around soon. come share at voca femina!

    mary – oh such profound words. i am with you. i want the same comfort & no question, i definitely want my terms. i also think that the question i keep wrestling with that doesn’t have anything to do with africa, really, is really what you are getting at–am i willing to humble myself in ways that i really, really, really don’t want to to experience the kingdom or do i want the comforts of my couch & protected pride/controlled experience? i’m so glad you got to see the pix. wanna come next january?

    glenn – loved the thoughts you shared on your blog.

    jonathan – thanks for the link & for reading

    stephanie – you’re meant to go.

    – love you & am so hoping it works for you to come next time, too. you are the coolest traveling grandma ever. thanks for loving us.

  • Love this. Love you. WELCOME back safely home to you and your family and team.

    I blogged about you.

    church of the One.

    You have no idea how timely this concept is for me. I can’t wait to read your message about it. I’ll springboard off of it!


  • “…they don’t really want to be with us”–Thank you for your honesty about this issue. As a full-time missionary to Western Europe, I can say that the same could be applied to our mission field here. Though we have First World infrastructure (I love my toilet seat, too!) and even speak English in this country, the little cultural differences are enough to be out of people’s comfort zones, so they do ministry at arm’s distance. Most long-term missionaries in our field leave just a few months into a years-long commitment.

    And thank you for recognising that our power can’t diminish those that we help. Our nationals feel very demeaned when well-meaning short-termers try to “help” in inappropriate ways. God bless your work in Africa!

  • So glad that the Escobar fam got to go on this adventure in 2010, and I am pretttty sure most of the kiddos will have a memory from Africa on the Christmas card this year. 😉
    I have been really thinking, especially since your presentation at House of Refuge, about 2011.. About how *actual* presence and encouragement in the flesh could mean so much to them.. I went out two international mission trips in college, and they were great, don’t get me wrong.. But the lingering feeling when we left the “field” was that the “impact” would soon be forgetten-on both ends. I am intrigued about the possibilities of loving on those people, and leaving love pockets for those kiddos. 🙂 (Oh, and the books?!?!)

    Btw, thank you Kath, for being so *bleep* real and accessible. Doing life with you helps me to also truly embrace my humanity, and dive into the process of *becoming*. Way to keep sharing your heart and life with us, your face-to-face community and beyond. It is making a way bigger difference than what even we even think to imagine. SO proud. xoxo


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