The year 2009 always holds a special place in my heart. It was the year that I did the NZ Church Army Gap Year program that saw me tinker with intentional community together with Birkdale-Beachhaven Church for 3 months and dive deeply into intentional community in New Orleans for almost 6 months with Communitas NOLA (Mike Brantley & Adam Nevins have really cool blogs). These dear friends of mine helped me to learn so much about my relationship with God, understand more about myself and even the world at large. My experience in 2009 has been the catalyst for me coming to Kenya.
One of my biggest learning points back then, was about the sacredness of simplicity. The search for significance is nothing new, but it seems a little frenetic with my generation (myself included). However, often in our desperate yearning to become history-makers, we can often do two things: we either attach too much importance to our work that it defines who we are as a person; or we dismiss the mundane activities as frivolous and beneath us instead of valuable and character-building. The reality is, is that our sense of value, sense of who we are should not be defined purely by what we do (or don’t do). You and I are no less valuable because we have not started a successful company, written a best-selling book or saved millions from the brink of starvation. When we do define ourselves purely by our job title, we risk losing out on our real selves. We risk losing the joy of living life to the full and being ok our imperfections. We also risk alienating others as we judge them according to how prestigious their job is (or isn’t). It is easier said than done – to be comfortable with just “being”. I know that this is something I wrestle with daily as I try to discern next steps beyond Kenya.
So when I packed my bags and headed to the Mombasa last weekend to visit some friends and have some beach time, I didn’t anticipate that I would be reminded of these vital lessons from 2009. Obviously I needed it – I believe that nothing happens just by chance.
The friends that I stayed with in Mombasa town were Reverend Sisters from the Daughters of Devine Love. Yes, that’s right, they were nuns. I stayed at a convent on my holiday. It was actually ridiculous fun and sometimes I laughed so much, it hurt. Staying with these Sisters and catching a glimpse of their daily lives, I was struck by the simplicity of… everything. The work they did wasn’t necessarily “taking the world by storm”, yet they did it joyfully because they knew who they were. They knew that what they did for work didn’t make them more or less valuable.
Their structured schedule of praying four times a day, might seem arduous and rigid, but it was actually beautiful. They had prioritised time with God throughout the day, acknowledging His presence and provision. I never managed to wake up for the early Morning Prayer (5.30am is immoral), but I joined them once for evening prayer.
We visited Fort Jesus – a fort originally built by the Portuguese in 1500s. It was then taken over by the Omani Arabs a few centuries later and then the British took it over in 1800 and used it as a prison. Nice. We also explored Old Mombasa town, with its beautiful cobbled streets and architecture reminiscent of its Mediterranean and Arab ancestry.
I also managed to catch a local rugby sevens competition. Sr. Cynthia told me she would have come if it was soccer, but she’s not into rugby. Fair enough.
A couple of days later I headed off to Tiwi Beach – 27km south of Mombasa town. I’m from New Zealand – beach time is a necessity for survival. Thou shalt not visit a coastal town without seeing sand and waves! I had a small inclination that I was visiting during the off-season, but I didn’t expect it be SERIOUSLY off-season. I’m talking “Jennie has the WHOLE beach to herself” off-season or “Jennie has the ENTIRE hotel to herself” off-season. Nice, but a touch on the eery side.
Plonking myself on a beach bed and over-looking the waves, I had some serious God time… Or at least I tried.
I journalled. I read my Bible. I sat and stared at the sea. And then I sat some more. I spoke to God out loud. I spoke to God in my head. It was good. Nice to have the quiet space.
I arrived at the beach on the Sunday afternoon and left early afternoon on Monday. I probably would have lingered at the beach for a few more hours, but the “beach operators” or beach-hawkers (guys who try to sell you stuff you don’t need or snorkelling tours etc), were somewhat unnerving.
So have I changed from this brief excursion? Probably not, but I have been re-awakened to the beauty of simplicity. Reminded that I am alive because my Father wanted me to be. I am valuable because I am His. Whether or not I attempt to save the world, or end up simply sweeping floors, as far as my King is concerned – I am valuable. And just as I am valuable because I am – how important it is for our clients that through serving them, we signal to the world that they are valuable because they are. That they deserve justice, peace and dignity just as much as anyone else.