Broken:Beautiful series

Pretending to Dance

This is post 5 of 10 in the Broken:Beautiful series. Guest post by James Nardella.

I remember one Friday evening in the village, a night before the Sabbath for the Seventh Day Adventists in Lwala. The members of the church choir walked from homesteads near the hospital compound, to sing, to dance, to praise their God.

As I listened that night, I was taken in, enamored by their otherness. I danced with them, drawn in by the desire to belong. But I did not understand the Dhulou words to their songs and as they were translated I realized that I did not honestly know the sentiment that sings them.

The choir sang of a gospel familiar with exhaustion, sickness, hard labor. Their voices rejoiced that someday those burdens would be lifted, that in the New Creation all will be liberated. Jesus leads the way to a well-deserved place of freedom. Their lyrics confess that they cannot do life alone, and my Kenyan friends mean it.

I do not know this place they sing from, and yet, I see the gospel come to life in their worldview. This is the gift of being among the poor: that I have reaped their view, in as much as such a thing is possible, that the gospel is for those who are desperate, who know that life is going willy nilly and that not much is as it should be. It is by nature, good news to the poor, and it is folly for those of us who think we have it all together, or think we might get it together someday, given enough understanding, or education, or cars in our driveway.

So to be with, to form some semblance of friendship with, people who live on less than a dollar of consumption a day, is a window into the nature of a God who will redeem and restore. Somehow, mysteriously, the poor are blessed and the rich are blessed to be with the poor.

As the choir sang, danced, and prayed, they foolishly lift their chairs in the air professing a crazy vision of renewal and justice like Isaiah. And I, pretender that I am, do my best to join. It is through their eyes that I believe in a new heaven that is coming in a day and time unknown, and is also here and now for us all.


This is post 3 of 10 in the Broken:Beautiful series.                              Guest post by James Nardella

Before we imagine the just world of Isaiah 65, we must first recognize the broken, longing world we work in. Though Kenya is abounding in beauty it is also a place littered with trash that is never removed. A place where children are often damp with urine and dripping with snot and chase you with endless shouts of "how are you?" Their fingers reach to touch your skin to see what it feels like. A place where many young girls have their most precious and sensual parts cut off in a ceremonial welcome to adulthood. Where women are without rights Americans would consider inalienable: rights to full education, land ownership, decisions over child-rearing and marriage. And men have the right to marry more than one wife.

It is a place where funerals for young people are so common, they are casual community events. Where, last year, I watched school children mourn the loss of a young girl I knew, Christabell, who was taken by HIV. Where I have seen 6 babies die at birth. Where my friend Leah is down to one lung, because of TB and HIV, and lives by hope mostly.

In Kenya, roads are often impassable because of rain, and dangerous because of disrepair. It is a place where risky driving took the life of our intern, Brooke, along with two-dozen others. A place where breaking down is so common it goes without mention. Where gas and kerosene are carried carelessly in plastic bags, and 5 children died a few years back in house fires when on one day the fluid meant for cars was accidentally sold for lanterns.

Kenya is a place where latrines are stinking holes in the ground covered in excrement and buzzing with flies, and toilet paper is rarely found. Where hands of welcome are offered everywhere and are universally sticky with God-knows-what, but must be shaken nonetheless.  Those same hands prepare food tainted just enough with Typhoid some days to make you puke till you pass out. Where water itself contains sicknesses that kill more children than anything else and dangerous rivers are hop-scotched by women with babies strapped to their backs and jugs on their heads.

A place where officials are ubiquitously bribed and favors are rarely done without expectations. It is a place where I sometimes feel inexplicably defensive and irritable. Where stories are contrived for my listening white ears. Where everyone who approaches me seems to do so with a hidden hope: a child they want me to sponsor, a job they need, a service they want to overcharge me for. A place where cynicism is a daily sensation. Where it is only honest to admit to at some moments thinking the place is a shit hole. Or worse even: God forsaken. A place that forces the precarious conclusion that all men may be created equal, but all countries are not, all societies are not, and all communities are not. Where anyone might rightly question the promise of Isaiah.

It is in this disillusionment, that I see one truth clearly- all things are not yet right, the world in all its beauty, is scarred by inequality, people are dying unfairly, some are fat while others are scared sick that they will not have food for their children; some have clean running water while others have cholera. The world longs to be a New Jerusalem, cries for a God who will restore and renew all things.