African Funeral

I’m trying not to see this past week as wasted time. Last weekend, our greenhouse manager lost his wife during childbirth and understandably, couldn’t show up for work. Using my nonexistent construction skills to attempt getting something accomplished, I realized that although I’ve known him for a short time, I’ve already come to depend on Kennedy. Since I was planning a retreat to Naro Moru over the weekend anyway, I decided to go during the week instead. The retreat was restful and reflective, although I had a relentless allergy attack. I sat in the forest next to the stream all day, read an entire book and sneezed a lot.

The funeral took place on Saturday. Thinking Josephine (our Kenyan partner) and I would go alone (since we are the only ones who work with Kennedy) I woke up Saturday morning to the news that 7 people from the church would attend, including the pastor, the principle of the school and the maintenance guy. That’s one of the things I love about Africans. An event may take the entire day, but they appreciate relationships enough to make time for people. If I had been in their position, I probably would have made some excuse about why I couldn’t attend and then spent the day however I wanted.

The funeral itself was good, although I can’t say it was inspirational or life changing, the main reason being the entire funeral service was held in Kikuyu (a tribal language) so I understood even less than if the service had been held in Swahili. Instead of blasting speakers like evangelical churches, however, a choir sang acapella in Swahili at this Catholic mass. Since I didn’t understand anything, I could only enjoy the music, reflect and pray for Kennedy. One thing I did notice, however, was how unemotional the entire event seemed: I didn’t see a tear shed. Like many cultures, Kenyans have an idea that crying equals weakness. I disagree, but perhaps a lack of emotion is seen as a positive way to deal with tragedies that happen more often. After the service, the congregation walked to Kennedy’s family home and buried the coffin in the ground. Though sad, I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful place to be buried. To reach the burial spot, we waded through waist-high tea bushes and tall swaying grass before arriving on a hillside overlooking a beautiful green valley. I love the Kenyan countryside.

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After they buried the body and we took some pictures with Kennedy (which I felt awkward about) we saw his home, where older African mamas served us lunch. We got to meet Kennedy’s extended family and I finally met his daughters, who had been waiting to meet me. Our entire delegation were, of course, guests of honor but I secretly felt pleased because I had someone to share the burden with. I was no longer a guest of honor because I was white, but because I came with the church. A subtly, but it made a difference in my mind nonetheless.

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Overall, it was a good day, I thought it honored Kennedy and Rose (his wife’s) memory well. Like I predicted, the event took the entire day but I’m learning to accept that relationships are more important than time and simply go with the flow, whatever that might entail.


Life and Death on Uzima Farm

We’re calling our aquaponics project Uzima Farm, meaning “Life” in Swahili. Starting with a pile of garbage next to a polluted Nairobi slum, we are creating something alive and green and beautiful where those things were lost long ago. Moreover, our partner on the ground, 1010 Kenya takes its inspiration from John 10:10, “The thief comes to kill and destroy. I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” As a result of creating abundant physical life, we want people’s attention to turn to the giver of that abundant life.


Despite setbacks and challenges, last week was so encouraging and productive. I have learned that I would much prefer running around like a chicken with its head cut off to being bored. We finished building our greenhouse two full days ahead of schedule. We bought fish to start learning how to take care of them. Kennedy, our farm manager was doing great.

And then at 12:30 Am on Sunday I received a message that changed everything: “Daniel, my wife has passed away while giving birth. I am at Kenyatta National Hospital.” Stunned, I didn’t know how to respond, especially over text message. I tried calling, but Kennedy understandably didn’t pick up. “Kennedy, I am so sorry. I am praying for you and your family” was all I could muster.

My thoughts turned in all directions at once. I felt grief for Kennedy’s loss. “I can’t imagine what that feels like. How is he going to take care of two daughters and a new-born baby without a mom?” I felt guilty for not even knowing his wife’s name or that she was pregnant. “Why didn’t I ask him more about his family? I should have tried to meet them.” I felt anger at the fact that this even happened – this was probably a preventable death with better medical care. And selfishly, I worried about what this meant for our project. “I am only here for another month, how are we going to finish everything? Can Kennedy continue working or will I have to find someone else?” All these thoughts rushed through my head as I tossed and turned and wrestled through prayer all night.

Believing that things happen for a reason sometimes makes it worse. If this were pure chance, a normal occurrence in a universe where humans are meaningless specks of dust, I might brush it off as purely accident. But I believe there is meaning to life and things happen for a reason. I don’t believe God orchestrates tragic events, but I certainly believe He is in control and allows them to happen. And if He allows them to happen, there must be a reason. Unable to see that reason, I feel like a person playing one of those riddle games trying to figure out who is it. Ultimately, I have to be told the solution or give up, acknowledging that there probably is a logical explanation but not smart enough or able to think creatively enough to identify it on my own.

At church the next day, the pastor happened to talk about restoring relationships. “The simple act of being present” he said, “is more powerful than anything you could say or do.” Even faith, I have realized, is not knowing but showing up anyway, believing that God is bigger than my fears or doubts. This week is turning out differently than I expected. Instead of planting seeds at Uzima Farm, I will attend a funeral. No matter what I say, Kennedy’s loss will be searing and real. But being present through trying times is the only thing I can do. I don’t know why there has been death instead of life, but I have to trust that there is a reason beyond the immediate pain and grief I see at the moment.

If you are reading this, I would appreciate your thoughts and prayers for Kennedy, his family, and our project. Kennedy is the one in the purple shirt, the day before this happened.