Know Our Neighbors

So today I want to tell you all a little bit about one of my new friends I met while in Kenya! While on my trip I had the pleasure to visit an IDP camp close to the orphanage where we were staying. IDP stands for Internally Displaced People, which basically means the camp serves as a refugee camp for people whose homes and lives have been destroyed by violence within their own country. To give you a brief history, elections within Kenya tend to bring about considerable violence among the 40+ tribes of the country. The nation is still very tribal in nature. Obviously I do not mean tribal in a backwards or socially behind nature, but rather the people hold very strongly to ethnic ties, the way we would associate with our particular political party or community here in the United States. In this case however, the ties are even stronger but definitely have a political aspect to them. Back in 2007 the elections turned extremely violent with many of the tribes engaging in the ethnic cleansing of the largest of Kenya’s tribes, the Kikuyu. Perhaps the most horrific act of violence occurred when over 30 people were locked in a church and burned alive.

The inhabitants of the IDP camp are Kikuyus displaced during the violence several years ago. The leader among the camp of over 200 families is a man whose story has radically changed my perspective and life. Joseph Njuguna serves as one of the elders of the community and graciously shared his entire story to us in his home. Not only did he tell us his story and many of the things he learned, but he showed us around the camp, and enlightened us to many of the ways the Lord has blessed the camp despite the horrific things many of the people have lived through. I will not go deep into his story in this post as I will be writing a summary of it in the future and also will be uploading two different videos of the interview we had with him!

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During the interview Joseph shared with us probably one of the most startling, convicting and beautiful things I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Interaction with believers around the globe often brings inspiration and sheer amazement as very real and radical faith is clear in the everyday lives of people wholeheartedly dependent on Christ. Joseph is one of these individuals.

Joseph saw and experienced horrible things. He and his people witnessed murder and rape, lost everything as their homes were burned to the ground or stolen, lived for  several months in ragged tents on the plains of Africa in which wild animals and snakes would invade the sanctity of their living quarters, and felt the sheer wrath and hatred of people jealous of their financial and political prosperity. Yet Joseph looked my friend Michael and myself in the eye, and with a smile continued to explain how he was thankful for all the Lord had done.

Joseph told us that the believers within the camp are thankful for the things they endured because the Lord blessed them through the horror and tragedy. Joseph said to our bewildered faces, “Looking back we realize what a blessing all of this is, because before we did not know our neighbors.” Go ahead and try and pull your jaw up from off the floor because to this day I am still trying. How on earth can an individual survive and witness the destruction of his entire life, of all that he had ever known, of the people he loved, and believe it to be a blessing because such an experience forced him to get to know the other people who shared his horror?

Before the violence Joseph and many of the other successful businessmen of the Kikuyu tribe lived in comfort. They lived similarly to the way we live here in the Western World. Like many of our families, they drove several different cars, owned good sized houses and lived within the fences of their property, benefitting from years of hard work. Sound familiar? But Joseph now claims this life had a serious flaw. They did not know their neighbors. Because of the security of their lifestyle, they often did not get to know the people living around them on a deeper level. When people in their area struggled they were often ignored the way we ignore many of the hopeless on the street, desperate for love, a meal or a friend. All changed when everything they had known was destroyed as they helplessly watched.

Now they live in the IDP camp. Over the last few years these 200+ families have learned to depend completely on each other and on the Lord because they have nothing else. Their is very little to no government assistance. Their are no relief funds, no thanksgiving food drives, no Christmas offerings. All these people have are each other, the Lord and fellow believers abroad and in the local community attempting to assist in any way they can. Because of this they now “Know” their neighbors. Within the camp the people hold each other accountable. If a child is not in school, they ask the parents why. Violence is not tolerated and a council of elders confront any individual who steps out of line with a theme of redemption and grace. Amazingly in almost 5 years they have had no serious incidents.

The people within the camp live very simply yet share to meet each others needs. They now have a poultry project by which they work together to provide meat and eggs for the people in the camp. Through some international assistance the camp has a greenhouse in which the camp grows tomatoes and onions to sell to the surrounding community. Each family has a garden where most of the community’s food is grown. Women in the camp now make jewelry and bracelets that are brought back to the U.S. and sold. The income from such projects goes directly to the women and the community to be invested in future projects. These people live simple lives, far different from their former lives as doctors, farmers and businessmen and yet they possess far more joy than most of us here in the land of affluence, comfort and the market.

Greenhouse Project

Greenhouse Project

The elderly in the community who have no family are served. The sick are comforted. The children are loved. With thankful hearts and real, radical, visible love the community serves each other.

I wrote above that this interview convicted my spirit. I reflected upon what we tend to think of as community among the church in the U.S. Here in Clemson we have a very strong “community” of believers, in which a large number of students passionately following Christ live together and share life. But this is still different from the type of community I described above. If I compared the typical lifestyle of church members in the U.S. to the IDP camp the contrast would be even more stark. I wonder if the camp is on to something?

Have you ever wondered if we were created to live differently? Have you ever wondered if we were called into far greater intimacy, care and dependency on each other as the various parts of the body of Christ? I believe it is wise to reflect upon the lives and structure of the early church, of the individuals who walked and followed Christ during his ministry here on earth.

The verses below are controversial, and are often skimmed over in order to excuse our cultural comfort and lifestyle.

Acts 2:42-45, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship  to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and may wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and good, they gave to anyone as he had need.”

Ever wander if we are missing a bit of the awe and many wonders for a reason? I wonder what our lives would be like, how our spirits would be renewed, our faith grown, and power in the Lord magnified if we lived in closer harmony with one another. But this is so difficult for us because we tend to be so consumed with ourselves. We do not wish to open up, to surrender to dependency on others and on the Lord. But without this surrender we will not be able to access the full life the Lord wishes for us to experience. We will be stuck in the normalcy of our culture and surroundings rather than basking in a life of awe and wonder as we lay all at the feet of our Creator.

How then does this apply to our lives? We must get to know “Our Neighbors”. The verse above is often used by people with certain political views to support socialism or government orchestrated redistribution of wealth. It is of my opinion that such ideas are unwise for many economic reasons. However, if we do not assign the government the role of  meeting the needs of struggling members in our community, it is our duty to fill the gap. This means that as a church, as the body of Christ and as individuals we have to strive to meet the needs of those within our community, to fill the gap of economic inequality and to relinquish our hold on “our” property, time and money.

Earlier today Singer/Songwriter Allen Levi spoke to the Young Life leaders within the Clemson and Athens, GA areas and challenged us with something that I think is the perfect first step to building true community and “Getting to know our neighbors”. Mr. Levi asked us to place people in our lives that are not like us, to have an “Old” friend, to have a friend of a different ethnicity or a “Poor” friend. Only when we begin to take steps out of our comfort zone to meet others within our community will be see the struggles of those around us and begin to live a much fuller and satisfying life of love and grace.

Lets go meet our neighbors.

Drayton Wade (Team Member, Dec 2012-Jan 2013)

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