Back in August, while I was in Western Kenya at the pastor’s conference, I realized that I was only about an hour away from where Patrick and Violet Nabwera’s rural home near Kakamega. [I’ve written about Patrick and Violet before. They were our next door neighbors last year – and their daughter Joy (Kiara’s best friend last year) was part of our family for a few months. This past week they moved to Mozambique to begin language study.]
When I realized I was this close, I called them and when I was done with my portion of the conference and caught a matatu to Kakamega. There’s something about visiting the place where a friend spent his childhood; suddenly all the family details take on a new concreteness. Here, meet my mother and my brother. These are the two cows he owns.
This is the field of sugar cane that provides a little income, and here is how the sugar company collects it. There is the little primary school school I went to as a kid. Here is the long hill we have to carry our water up. There is the house where my late brother and his wife used to live, we now use their house as the kitchen. Here is the little girl that survived them. She still has AIDS, but is responding very well to the drugs. A five hour walk starting down this path will take you to where my late father’s family lives. As a boy I used to sneak down this path and walk the five hours to come back and see my mother. Here are some of Joy and Abby’s friends. Here is the outdoor, mud-walled latrine. . .
That night, we enjoyed a wonderful special dinner of ugali and chicken with the kind of sauce that I love. The lone flame of a kerosene lantern cast it’s flickering light onto the concrete-like wall surface which hid the fact that the outer walls are made entirely of mud. Lining the walls were all the pictures and wall hangings that I had grown familiar with over the past year when they hung on the walls of the student apartment next door.
Suddenly, distant the screams rent the night air; someone nearby must have died. Patrick stepped outside, but they were too far away to discern where they were from. Still, it was a haunting reminder of one of their past home visits, when four family members died within the space of a couple of weeks. No sooner was one grave covered, when they began digging a fresh one right next to it.
. . . and we talked. They told me of the rough childhoods they had both experienced growing up as children of broken homes. Violet’s story is as close to a true Cinderella story as I’ve ever heard: kicked out of the house repeatedly by her own mother, and mistreated by her much older step-sisters who used her essentially for slave labor. But one day God met her and the church became a refuge for her. She couldn’t get a job, so she devoted her energies to the church, and became well-known for her dynamism and contagious smile.
One day she heard about a job cooking at a hotel. She was told to report the next day. When she arrived, the boss took her back to his office and told her that if she wanted the job, she would have to sleep with him. This man was married to woman she knew from church. She was crushed; she ran home and cried and cried.
Eventually an old Christian businessman from her church took her under his wing and gave her a job selling tea. People were so drawn to her that they just had to have the tea she was selling; she did quite well. This businessman became the father figure she never had and gave her life advice like, “Violet, you are a very beautiful and vivacious girl; lots of men are going to want to marry you. You can’t just marry anything wearing trousers. You are going to need someone who can really love you, someone who can fill your heart with all the love you never got from a father.” It was he that gave her the loan to help her secure her first apartment. How she loved that apartment, smooth painted walls and even light fixtures; it had electricity! She bought a mattress and a mat to go on the floor. It was place of her very own!!
At the end of Violet’s Cinderella story, there isn’t a handsome prince and palace . . . only a passionate missionary with his trade-mark thick wire-rimmed glasses. They met at a leadership conference. His wasn’t the first proposal this bouncy, vivacious woman had received . . . but he was straightforward. “I love you, and I want to marry you. Go home and pray about it.” He has loved her like no father ever could. Eventually, this couple from such broken homes would become the “Best Couple” (model couple) at one of the best seminaries in Africa–a true testimony of God’s love and grace.
Patrick and Violet told me of all the generational curses that had been broken with their marriage. She recalled being home before their wedding and praying–forgiving each of her step sisters in turn. Each time it was like a chain in her heart was broken. Eventually, she came to her mother and felt God telling her that she needed to see her mother in person–it had been a couple of years. Her mother was surprised to see her. As Violet told her mother, “I forgive you for all those things in the past.” Her mother took her hand and said, “I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I did all those things; it’s like the devil made me do it.” [And she didn’t mean this in the Flip Wilson kind of way.] At their wedding, her mother exclaimed, “Now I know that God is alive!” and gave her life over to the Lord. She died five months later.
Patrick told me how hard it is for him to go back to his father’s family. He has twenty-two step brothers from the same father – five wives. (I don’t think anyone has any idea how many sisters he has.) Patrick was one of the bright ones, so the father paid for Patrick’s education in hopes that he would be the one to take care of the rest of the family. When Patrick followed the call to missions after university, he gave up any chance at a lucrative career. His family still doesn’t get it; they think he has simply refused to help. His other brother who went to university in the same agricultural program went on to manage a company. Everyone assumes the same for Patrick. Every time he goes to a family function, relatives he hasn’t seen since they were knee high to a grasshopper crowd around him to share their financial needs. He just listens. It’s hard; so stressful! There’s nothing he can do for them.
For eighteen years, the means of support have been within reach. Eighteen years ago, Patrick inherited a plot of land from his father, and the family agreed that one of his step brother would manage the land while Patrick was gone; they were to share the profits. Each year, this brother has come up with one story or another and has cheated him out of any earnings. Not until this brother cheated other brothers and his own mother, did the rest of the family finally catch on. They had always thought, the brother was using it to take care of the younger siblings. (If they had thought about it, they would have realized that school fees for these siblings would come to about 10% of the sugar cane profits.) Now they’re finally taking steps to rectify the situation.
His extended family can’t fathom how this smart, well-educated man can be so poor, everyone else with those credentials is rolling in the dough. Patrick’s mother gets it. Early in his missions career, she came to terms with the fact that if she wanted to see her illustrious university-educated son, she was going to have send him bus fare. She’d go around to friends and neighbors until she found enough to bring him home. Now she’s even more devoted to the church than he is.
We had lived next door to each other for over a year, and I’ve heard bits and pieces of these stories before, but they have never come out this fully and in this way before. Somehow being on their home turf with no looming exams or term paper deadlines (for them not me) opened the floodgates. We laughed, cried, and prayed together.
. . . and as the lantern light flickered into the night, I realized that this was one of those special moments . . . the kind of moment that lifelong friendships are made of. These are the kinds of life details that are meaningful to only a select few, and I was getting the privilege of being one of those select few . . . and so I savored it!!
I’m sure Patrick and Violet would appreciate your prayers as they adjust to Mozambique and do language study.
Other posts from Patrick: a missionary at a bargain
Why Missionaries Quit: introduction