By ROY HARRIS
When you hear the word Africa, what comes to mind? No doubt things like lions, leopards, elephants and perhaps giraffes. Maybe the book by Karen von Blixen called Out of Africa which inspired the movie by the same name.
All of those things come to mind for me and so much more. I am honored and very blessed to have opportunities to speak in most of our states here in America and also a number of countries around the globe. I had the unique opportunity a couple of months ago to travel to East Africa to the country of Kenya. I was the keynote speaker at a pastors’ conference for 350 church leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda. What a wonderful experience it was and one I will never forget.
My 24-hour flight from Nashville featured stops in Detroit, Amsterdam and finally arriving in Nairobi the capital of Kenya, the largest city in East Africa. A smaller plane then delivered me safely to the city of Eldoret, 200 miles northwest of the Ugandan border.
Not knowing what to expect, I exited the baggage claim area and walked into the main terminal. Three well-dressed tall African men greeted me with the traditional African greeting of three embraces each. Two elementary age girls, dressed in bright red dresses and hair filled with braids and beads, formally welcomed me to Kenya, presenting me with a small Kenyan flag and my Official Speaker’s Badge for the week. We loaded up and headed for my hotel. The headlights on our van illuminated the surrounding countryside and this Tennessee boy knew he was not in Tennessee anymore. This began a week I will never forget.
There is an eight-hour time difference between Tennessee and Kenya but I came to realize there is also U.S. Time & African Time in a different sense. Nine-oclock in the morning U.S. Time could mean 9:15, 9:30 or 9:45 African time. When I arrived for the first session of the conference, I also soon realized that running water and electricity were not the norm for most people attending this conference. Only one person owned a car and most had walked, rode bicycles or traveled up to two days by bus to get to the conference. The conference was held in a huge tent in a fenced field complete with sheep, goats and chickens moving freely outside the tent. A portable generator supplied power to operate the sound system.
The African people were a joy to be with. I was impressed immediately with their smiling faces and friendly dispositions. They were neatly dressed. The ladies wore bright colored clothing and many of the men wore coats and ties. Many of ladies made their multi-colored clothing for themselves and their children. I was also impressed with how gifted and talented they were. Most of them were tri-lingual speaking English, their individual Tribal languages and Swahili, the most common language of Africa. They played a variety of instruments and had beautiful voices. They loved to sing and incorporated native African dance into each song.
The Conference began on Monday morning and ended on Thursday afternoon with a presentation of certificates to those who had attended all four days.
My wife Amy and her mother Diane were able to join me earlier in the week and Friday began a new chapter in our Kenyan experience. We left Eldoret early on Friday morning to visit some very special people about 50 miles away near Katali, Kenya. We had the privilege of visiting threeorphanages and a Bible Institute which trains bi-vocational pastors.
Our first stop introduced us to an orphanage school which cared for and taught about 100 children. We were amazed at how well behaved the children were and how much the teachers were able to do with very limited resources. They taught the basics using poster board taped to the walls. We asked the children if there was anything they wished they had for school. One little boy said: “our soccer was destroyed by a storm; could we get a new one?” The school could not afford a new one (we made sure they got a new one). This was typical of what we found in all three of the orphanage schools.
I was involved with Christian Education for almost 25 years so having the opportunity to visit and speak in educational settings to children and young adults is near to my heart. The Bible Institute semester had ended a couple of weeks earlier but several students made a special trip back to campus to hear me speak.