I live in Kenya. Quiet, peaceful, Kenya which has suddenly descended into violence and unrest in the last few weeks and which is regularly making international headlines. The world watches as angry men burn things and kill each other. These images are real and don’t begin to capture all the suffering in this country right now. But they also don’t represent the entire picture, of course, as the people in my Nairobi neighborhood are working, shopping, going to movies, and, like me in just a few hours, sitting by the pool. I realize that sounds rather bourgeois and uncaring considering what’s going on around us. I can imagine that if I were sitting in North America watching the horrors in Kenya I’d be saddened and concerned, but pretty detached, knowing there was nothing I could do. Now if I lived in Kenya, I’d muse, well then of course I could help the suffering people.
Well, I do live here. Right here in Nairobi, and although there’s a part of me that would love desperately to help, there’s also a part of me that would like to pack my bags and hop on the next plane to rural Manitoba. And there’s another part of me that just wants to go to the pool and then take a nap. And there’s a very big part of me that first and foremost wants to protect and care for my family, and to heck with everyone else- there are other people to care for them. Because I have a little 16 month old daughter with big blue eyes and pigtails and a perpetually scraped face because she can’t contain her exuberance when running around outside. And I’m also 6 months pregnant with a tiny baby in my belly who already promises to be hyperactive considering the non-stop gymnastics going on in there. And right now every instinct in every cell of my body just wants to focus on these two little lives, which is why I don’t feel like going to the church down the road and serving food to the hundreds of displaced people sleeping there; it’s much easier to just send some cash with a friend and be done with it. And it’s why I’ve already packed my money belt and made my evacuation list and would leave in a heartbeat if I felt my family might be in danger.
But then I keep hearing these other voices. Like my friend who gave a homily at church about loving people by being in solidarity with them. And the missionaries I talked to who wouldn’t even think of leaving when this is the country they’ve come to call home. And my husband’s students who have seen way more violence already than I probably ever will and are desperate to help out in refugee camps as soon as possible. And then of course there’s Jesus and his teaching about who we should be loving and who our families really are and how we may need to leave our families for His work. Truthfully I don’t know what he meant by that. Should I be caring more for the grieving and scared people in Nairobi’s slums than I do for my own daughter? Somehow I don’t think those should have to be exclusive. But then whom should I love more in this moment, this crisis? Because right now it feels like I have to choose, and I want so badly to be following the teaching of Jesus, but I don’t know how to do that in real life. I suppose this is always the dilemma when it comes to following Jesus. It’s just that it’s so much harder when it hits so close to home.