Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Most Important Thing

I may be a new ‘Senior Lecturer’ with my own office, but I relearned an important lesson today – it all comes down to relationships.  My new desk has drawers that have a lock on them (normal for this part of the world).  Only my lock was stuck in locked position, rendering my desk drawers useless and me with no place to put my stuff.  I prevailed upon our facilities manager and out of thin air the maintenance guy appeared then and there and was happy to accompany me to my office.  Turns out his name is Naboth, as in Jezebel and Ahab.  And he’s not from these parts, but from around Lake Victoria north of Kisumu.  And while he tinkered with my lock and finally managed to open the offending drawer, we had one of those wonderful this-part-of-the-world conversations ranging from where are you from to how many children do you have and what are they all doing and then the difference between Ethiopia (where we used to live) and Kenya (Kenyans are always delighted to hear that Ethiopia is about 30 years behind Kenya in terms of development) and on to life in the US and why some acquaintances of his who went to the US for various reasons disappeared and never came back, and then on to how hard and expensive it is to find fish to eat up in the Highlands with all these Kikuyu people, etc., etc.  During the course of this friendly back and forth over 25 minutes, he managed to fix my drawer.  It might have taken  another handyman operating alone 10 minutes.  But life here isn’t about work, or efficiency; it’s about relationships.  The task was accomplished, my need was met, but most important of all, I now have a friend named Naboth.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

American Christendom Dies Hard

Another shooting happened this past week.  Mass killings are happening with such frequency that it is difficult to keep track of the whos, whats, wheres and whys.  But this one was different.  It occurred outside the Washington, DC offices of the Family Research Council, a social conservative advocacy group.  A security guard was wounded in the attack.  Condemnation of the attack has poured in from all sides in the culture wars.  However for social conservatives, this physical, violent attack on a major conservative values advocacy group has underlined just how much has been lost in recent decades when it comes to traditional, predominantly Christian values.  A Time Magazine article on the consequences of the shooting states:

The aftermath has highlighted the feeling of besiegement from opponents of gay marriage, who feel their values are being increasingly marginalized across the U.S. As more and more Americans support gay marriage, they say, the national public has exhibited hostility toward groups that do not support gay rights.

Read more:

Gay marriage has become the latest flash point in the struggle for the American soul.  In the past, there was something of a consensus as to what was right and what was wrong, or perhaps what was acceptable and what was unacceptable.  That being said, there were always vigorous subsets in American culture who played by a different sets of rules.  Not to mention the large numbers of individuals in the majority who gave lip service to majority values but who made hypocrisy into an art form.

Particularly when it comes to sex, American values have changed drastically since I was a boy.  There is still a substantial number of people, perhaps even half of the population, who still cling to ‘traditional’ values and anchor them in some sort of meaningful religious beliefs.  But the number of the faithful and the righteous has been eroding.  And those professing Christian faith will not be in the majority much longer.

Outrage over the determined and politically savvy advance of a gay rights agenda has been a fixture among conservative Americans for many years.  But that fight is over.  Conservative Christians have been outflanked and have suddenly discovered that the high ground in this debate no longer belongs to them but to LGBT people, who have discovered that it is much more politically appealing in our post-modern culture to say ‘yes’ than it is to say ‘no’.  This is why the Family Research Council, as well as other conservative groups and churches are being labeled as hate mongers and bigots.  Those of us who are conservative in our values have very suddenly found ourselves on the sharp end of this debate, and it is not a very happy or comfortable place to be.

For this and many other reasons, I believe we are witnessing the death throes of American Christendom.  For its entire history, the majority of people in the US have been professing Christians, and their values have been the context in which the nation’s laws and culture and public discourse have emerged.  Christian hegemony was never really debated, it was assumed.  And the sense of American exceptionalism was nurtured from Christian assumptions, as well as an unfortunate conflation of Old Testament Israel with contemporary Christian America.

The great challenge is that there are less and less people who take any of that stuff seriously.  Christianity, and Christians are becoming increasingly marginalized, especially in the places where the cutting edge ideas that move our society are generated – the universities.  Christians are having less and less impact in the political scene, the intellectual scene, the arts scene, the media scene.  And whatever voice we might have had has been taken over by people and agendas that are often very different from us and ours.

The trajectory is, unfortunately, clear.  Christians and Christianity are losing our place in our world.  We are no longer a majority defining the culture, but increasingly a minority standing against the prevailing culture.  What is notable is that Christians today are still behaving as if we have the right to cultural hegemony and national prominence and universal respect, and the sense of outrage and alarm (along with the incessant whinging) when it begins to dawn on us that it simply is not so is very telling.

Truth be told, we Christians have had our time in America, and I’m not so sure we have been effective stewards of the opportunity.  But taking a wider perspective, Christians in any nation or culture who have achieved majority status and then used that status to impose their values and agendas on everyone have almost always not been a credit to their faith.  Here we are today wringing our hands about the morality of people who are different from us and who are trying to impose their perspectives on us (irony, here, is thick), when we should rather be figuring out ways to engage the people around us with Christian love and how to be effective witnesses to those with whom we disagree.  Christians throughout the world and throughout history have often found themselves as a minority in a hostile culture, often facing persecution, from the petty to the ultimate.  This is, in fact, the norm for Christians seeking to follow Christ.  Our witness comes not from our ability to control, shape or even influence culture.  Rather our witness comes from the quality of our lives and relationships in the midst of a hostile culture.  Like so many Christian hegemonies that have gone before our American one, we seem to have substituted institutional identity, personal fulfillment and political engagement for transformed lives and relationships.  All Christendoms have eventually discovered their moral and spiritual bankruptcy and crumbled (Think of Western Europe, think of Byzantium, think of the UK).

The day may come when our fine and colossal worship palaces and mega churches, the ‘campuses’ in which congregations have invested so many millions of dollars, the big steeple churches that were such a draw for our parents’ generation, that all of these will have been turned over to some other organizations for some other uses, and that Christians in America will be vastly reduced in number meeting quietly in homes.  This isn’t the first time that another world view has looked upon Christians as being dangerous and haters of humankind.  If I may be so bold, we American Christians have had it easy, in that it has been easy to be a Christian in the US.  This state of affairs looks to be changing.  We may be entering a time when it is not so easy a thing to identify with Christ and His Church and become a Christian, especially if that means ostracization, loss of educational opportunities, loss of employment opportunities, etc.  Especially if that means outright persecution.  Right now, still, in many places, it is difficult to tell a Christian from the rest of the world around him or her.  The time is coming when it will be increasingly easy to tell those who are genuinely followers of Christ apart from the rest of the population.  And despite the difficulties which that may bring, it can only be a good thing for American Christians and American Churches.

American Christendom has existed for several hundred years and defined our context as Americans at every level.  This is coming to an end, as American culture continues its rapid change, as the earlier consensus on morality erodes, as Christians find themselves increasingly on the defensive at every level of discourse.  American Christianity has been resilient and for a number of reasons to this point.  And American Christians and Christian institutions are putting up a brave fight.  But the trajectory is rather clear and the prognosis is not good.  American Christendom is on life support.  And it’s only a matter of time before somebody, against our will, pulls the plug.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Getting Home from Work

I teach at St. Paul’s University near the town of Limuru, which is up into the highlands of Kenya about 30 kms (20 miles) from my home in Karen.  When I have access to a car, I can make the trip in about 35 minutes.  We live on the ‘happy side’ of Nairobi, which means we live on the western edge of the city and, going northwest to Limuru, miss all the rush hour big city traffic. 

However all this week I have not had access to a vehicle.  So I’ve had to rely on local transportation. Which is a very nice way of saying I’ve had to ride matatus.

This is what my ride home was like today.  I left campus at about 11 AM.  I found a matatu that was going past the Ndenderu road where I hoped to hope another matatu. I climbed in.  It was almost empty.  At this point I must explain that a matatu is an old falling apart version of a m passenger van.  The seats have been taken out and replaced by less comfortable versions whose only advantage is they can hold more people.  Legally, matatus can hold 14 passengers.  Presently these appear to be merely words that have no recognizable meaning.

As soon as I got into the matatu, the driver turned it around and headed back towards and then past the university, picking up occasional passengers and looking for more.  When we had gone far enough to make me concerned that I was on the wrong matatu, we turned back around and weaved and swerved back to our original place.  A small crowd of people had by this time gathered and flooded in as soon as the side door slid open.  I had mothers with children on either side of me and two more behind me.  Someone else had a large bag of something that reached to the ceiling. We had 18 people, we were ready to go.

The early morning fog had cleared and as we rounded the bend there was the spectacular view of Nairobi stretching out for miles below on the high savannah that slopes from the base of the highlands all the way to the Indian Ocean hundreds of miles away.  Meanwhile the driver is swerving around potholes, passing slow moving trucks somehow managing to avoid head on collisions with on rushing cars.  The conductor asks for my money and I give him my 40 shillings for the 10 km downhill ride to Ndenderu. 

The door slid open and I didn’t quite ‘alight’ but rather slid, scooched and finally flung myself and my computer bag out the door.  Now I had to find a Matatu that would hopefully take me to the town of Kikuyu.  There were three on the side of the road waiting for passengers.  I learned from a helpful conductor that none of them were going to Kikuyu, but that this one was going to the even smaller town of Wangige and that I could find one to Kikuyu there.  So by faith I climbed aboard.

When we were full, about 10 minutes later, we took off.  We went about 100 meters and picked up another passenger.  Half a kilometer later we pulled over, another two were pulled aboard.  Down a steep hill and up to the top and, another passenger somehow gets on our full to my eyes matatu.  Again we stop.  Two more.  Down a steep hill, and more people, this time four.  I was not sure I wanted to look back and see how they were doing this.  And we actually stopped again and somehow another two ‘traditionally built’ Kikuyu ladies hoisted themselves somehow on board.

Somehow we arrived at Wangige without bursting.  I found a matatu that seemed to be going to Dagoretti, which was on the other side of Kikuyu.  Same process.  Wait as passengers one by one fill the matatu up.  Again it took about ten minutes and with the usual results in that my knees were squashed under my chin and I had elbows on either side of me pinning me in place.  Once ‘full’ we started out.  The driver found several people alongside the road to add to our number, and after several kilometers another several indicated they wanted to get off, necessitating a harrowing exit off the tarmac and onto a unusually heavily eroded shoulder.  However as we were approaching Kikuyu the driver turned off to take the major highway into Nairobi.  He would eventually get to Dagoretti, but only after going halfway around the world to to do so the back way.  So I got off and waited for yet another matatu to take me the final 3 kms to Kikuyu.  After 12 minutes of waiting, one came, and this time it was me trying to squash into the already existing passengerage.   This one also had a barrier built across the back of the front driver’s bench, meaning one could not look ahead.  Since I am prone to motion sickness this is not my favorite way to ride.  But fortunately, it was just a few minutes into Kikuyu and then off into the regrettably rutted matatu parking area.  So I sprung out and went looking for my next matatu.

I saw one almost full wanting to leave for Dagoretti Market, so I quickly made for it and plunged in.  It was  the usual combination of women with heavy baskets and some men dressed in work clothes with bags of tools and others dressed immaculately in suits with brief cases.  And the lady sitting in front of me had four stacked cartons (lap to ceiling) of fluffy yellow chicks, who were evidently not very happy to be on this ride.  The door slams shut and off we go.  Except the battery is dead.  So a bunch of matatu colleagues push us off and we trundle our way bouncing across the rutted parking lot.  The chicks are now very unhappy and letting us know it.  We emerge onto the main road and now must cross a series of severe speed bumps.  The chicks are now most unhappy as we are flung up and down.  And as we clear the bumps and gain speed, we suddenly are slammed and swerved to a stop to pick up another passenger.  This happens three more times.  The chicks should have been catatonic by now, or maybe I am projecting.  At any rate, four big boxes of chicks right in front of me make a remarkable amount of noise.

The chicks and I and the rest of our passengers make it into the slum of Dagoretti Market.  I get out and now must walk the next 100 meters to where the matatus to Karen (and thus to the University where I live) are loading passengers.  I notice an Asian (Chinese?  Korean?) lady walking parallel to me on the other side of the road, wearing a nicely designed face mask.  I decide that there are some things I just do not need to know about.  Anyway, the lady in the facemask and I get on the same matatu.  More traditionally built ladies, more workmen, more professionally-dressed young women with nice shoes, someone loads a ginormous bag of cabbages on top.  So we are loaded and ready.  The door slams and we’re off.  Until we’re not.  We pull off immediately though a lake of rubbish because someone else really wants to ride with us.  It’s only 3 kms from Dagoretti Market to our AIU compound, but we make 5 stops before we finally bump over the speed bumps that announce our campus.  Grateful to have survived, I emerge and pass through our gates, two hours and six matatus after I left St. Paul’s, but just in time to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.

I have to keep reminding myself that most of the people who live around me are without a vehicle, and this is their only way of getting around.  I was thinking about this last night, when I had to take matatus and buses through Nairobi to get home.  It took me three hours from when I left school to when I arrived at home in the dark.  Two ladies who accompanied me from school on the first leg of that trip make that journey twice a day, and both times during Nairobi’s maddening rush hour.

 Welcome to my world!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Funerals in the Key of Orthodoxy

I went to my first funeral as an Orthodox Christian this morning.  I didn’t know the deceased.  I went in my capacity as a Reader.  My job was to help with the chanting, as the service is almost entirely a liturgy, and in the Orthodox Church, just about everything is sung or chanted. 

I am new at this.  I was ‘tonsured’ as a Reader by the Archbishop back in March.  It has been a steep learning curve.  New (to me) melodies + a paragraph of text and you’re off!  There are eight families of melodies or ‘tones’ with further ways to do each one which still remain mysterious to me.  I’m starting to recognize some of the tones, but I could not for the life of me generate one out of thin air (as in ‘sing this to tone 4 now!).  Mostly, I try to follow Daniel who is another Reader and a school teacher, and a really good chanter, and who out of sheer goodness has taken me on as his project.  So I listen to how he sings it and then try to reproduce it when it is my turn.  Sometimes, oftimes I forget where it’s going halfway through and end up making up the rest.  Chanting is, in my experience, a wonderful disincentive to pride.

Back to the funeral.  I have presided over many funerals in my previous career as an ordained Presbyterian minister.  And to be honest, funerals were my favorite service to officiate (with weddings the least).  The reason being is that at a funeral, we are finally confronted with ultimate reality for us as human beings.  After spending our entire lives in denial, we are suddenly confronted with our terrible mortality.  Every pretense is stripped away, every boast is proven empty.  And we are confronted with the irrefutable evidence lying there in the casket that we sons of Adam and daughters of Eve are in a terrible bind.  It is the one obvious time where the remedies and lies of the world are proven ridiculous.  Christians, of all the religions in the world, can look death in the face with real hope.  We understand why we die.  We understand what God the Holy Trinity has done to rescue us from death, and we have a Savior the Lord Jesus who died like us and then broke its bonds and rose again from the dead, making it possible for us too to rise again on the last day.

As a Christian minister, I knew I could go in and sit and pray with a dying soul with the one thing, the only thing that could bring real hope and comfort.  And I knew I could spend time with grieving family and friends and have the one thing that could bring them real hope and real comfort.  And at a service, as I looked over congregations that were sometimes vast and sometimes tiny and sometimes in between, I knew I could pray and preach with gospel power, having been given a message, in fact the only message that could bring real hope and comfort in the midst of grief and loss, and real meaning when confronting the realities of the rest of one’s life in the face of one’s own impending death.

I felt these very same things this morning as I stood in my cassock with Daniel and the other Readers.  The Liturgy we use is powerful.  And whether in my own private prayers or as I follow or participate in the various liturgies of the Church, I’m constantly aware of my tendency to run on top of the words rather than let them become a part of me.  Here is part of what we chanted today, a part of our funeral liturgy that is attributed to St. John of Damascus who was living in the 7th century.

The priest sings: 
‘With the Saints give rest, O Christ, to the soul of your servant - , where there is no toil, nor grief, nor sighing, but everlasting life.’

Then one Reader chants after the other:
[Tone 1]
What pleasure in life remains without its share of sorrow? What glory stands on earth unchanged?  All things are feebler than a shadow, all things are more deceptive than dreams; one instant, and death supplants them all.  But, O Christ, give rest to him You have chosen in the light of your countenance and the sweetness of your beauty, as You love mankind.
[Tone 2]
As a flower withers and as a dream passes, so every human being is dissolved.  But once again, at the sound of the trumpet, all the dead will arise as by an earthquake to meet you, Christ God.  Then, Christ our Master, establish in the tents of your Saints the spirit of your servant whom you have taken over from us.
Alas, what an ordeal the soul endures once separated from the body!  Alas, what tears then, and there is none to pity her!  She turns towards the Angels, her entreaty is without effect; she stretch out her hands to men, she has none to help.  Therefore  my dear brethren, thinking on the shortness of our life, let us ask of Christ rest for him who has passed over, and for ourselves his great mercy.
[Tone 3]
Everything human which does not survive death is vanity; wealth does not last, glory does not travel with us; for at death’s approach all of them disappear; and so let  us cry out to Christ the Immortal One: Give rest to him who has passed from us, in the dwelling of all those who rejoice.

[Tone 4]
Truly most fearful is the mystery of death, how the soul is forcibly parted from the body, from its frame, and how that most natural bond of union is cut off by the will of God.  Therefore we entreat you: Give rest in the tents of your just ones, him who has passed over, O Giver of Life, Lover of mankind.
Where is the attraction of the world?  Where the delusion of the temporary?  Where is gold, where silver?  Where the throng and hubbub of servants?  All dust, all ashes, all shadow.  But come, let us cry out to the immortal King: O Lord, grant your eternal good things to him who has passed from us, giving him rest in the happiness which does not age. 

[Tone 5]
I remembered how the Prophet cried out: I am earth and ashes; and I looked again into the tombs and saw the naked bones, and I said: Who then is a king or a soldier, a rich man or a beggar, a just man or a sinner?  But give rest, O Lord, with the just to your servant. 

[Tone 6]
Your command which fashioned me was my beginning and my substance; for wishing to compose me as a living creature from visible and invisible nature, you molded my body from the earth, but gave me a soul by your divine and life-giving breath.  Therefore, O Christ, give rest to your servant in the land of the living, in the tents of the just. 
[Tone 7]
Give rest, our Saviour, to our brother whom you have taken over from transient things, as he cries, ‘Glory to You!’ 
Having fashioned man in the beginning in your image and likeness, you placed in in Paradise to govern your creatures; but led astray by the envy of the devil he tasted the food and became a transgressor of your commandments; and so you condemned him , O Lord, to return again to the earth from which he had been taken, and to beg for rest. 

[Tone 8]
I grieve and lament when I contemplate death and see the beauty fashioned for us in God’s image lying in the graves, without form, without glory, without shape.  O the wonder!  What is this mystery, which has happened to us?  How have we been handed over to corruption, and yoked with death?  Truly it is at God’s command, as it is written, God who grants rest to him who has passed over.

This is but a part of the service I helped with this morning.  It goes on from here to include more prayers and songs, a time of testimonials from ones who may have prepared something to say, a homily from the priest or, in our case, the Archbishop. Benedictions and an opportunity to greet the family around the casket.

My take away from my morning at the cathedral?  How I so often just run over top the words and then plunge back into the world as if nothing has happened.  As we say (a lot): Kyrie eleison!  

Monday, August 6, 2012

My Day in a Kenyan Jail

It was last Friday evening.  I had just finished a vespers service as part of the way our Church observes the Dormition of the Theotokos Fast (The Falling Asleep/Death of the Virgin Mary).  I was taking friends home.  Traffic was terrible.  I went to a road that I believed would not be as clogged as the one we tried first.  I turned right, wending my way through stalled traffic coming the other way (remember Kenyan traffic flows like British traffic and not like American or Ethiopian traffic), unfortunately straight by a policeman who promptly flagged me down.  Actually I wasn’t moving anywhere anyway.

A long conversation ensued with me inching along in traffic and the policeman walking beside my window, checking my license and telling me again and again that I had broken the law by turning right when a right turn was forbidden by a sign.  And I kept saying, ‘I’m sure you are right and if there was a sign back there saying don’t turn right and I turned right, then I did wrong.  I’m sorry.  I must have said that four times.  Evidently I was not giving him the correct answer so he ordered me to take him to the Kilimani police station.  Had I remembered my rights, I would have refused and told him that he could get himself there, as under Kenyan law no policeman may commandeer a car in a situation like this.  But I forgot and took him there.  I offered to drop my friends off at the bus stop, but they insisted on coming.  I think they were concerned at what might happen.  Anyway I was very glad they came.

At the police station, a very large hue and cry was made by my arresting officer about how I had broken the law and that now I would have to ‘go to court’.  I answered, You are absolutely correct, I have broken the law.  Go ahead and do what you must.  Write the ticket.  I will pay whatever penalty I must because I respect the laws of this land. Again, this went back and forth a couple of times.  Evidently I was giving the wrong answer.

One of his police colleagues who had been watching all this came up to me and said, So you are not arguing with him?  And I said, Why should I?  There was a long pause.  Finally the supervisor came in and took me and a friend outside and said, You know you could clear this up right now and be on your way.  To which I said, Look, I broke your law, I respect your law, I just want to do the right thing and the legal thing here.  Evidently I was giving wrong answers right and left.

Back in the police office, I stood before my arresting officer who had finished writing my ticket.  He ordered me to appear at the Kibera Law Courts on Monday at 8 AM.  Then he said I could either post 5000 KSH (about $60 US) cash bail or leave my car in their custody.  I had only 2000 KSH on my person, but couldn’t leave the car with them over the weekend because Stephanie was traveling upcountry on Sunday.  Fortunately one of my friends had 3000 KSH, so together we paid bail.  We were then free to go.  After stopping by an ATM to repay my debt, a grateful me took my friends home and made it back to our house in time for a quick bite and coffee with our dinner guest.   This was Friday night.

Kibera Law Courts
Today, Monday, I went with a Kenyan friend by taxi to the Kibera Law Courts.  Traffic was not horrific, only terrible, and we arrived at 7:45 AM with some time to spare.  So I took my friend and the taxi driver with me to a Kibera dive for chai and mandazi.  Things at the court did not start happening until 9 when they opened the doors and allowed us in.  There were 5 or 6 different court rooms, but through all this no one ever told me which court room my case was to be dealt with.  Eventually, a nice security woman directed me to Courtroom 1, and there we sat and waited for all of the players to assemble.  Finally the judge, a woman, entered and we proceeded to hear a rapid series of criminal cases that were apparently dealing with motions previously filed and which were adjudicated very quickly.  This went on for two hours.  Then they started calling for the traffic cases.  There were about 16 called, all of them dealt with summarily.  The six of them who were called but were not present were ordered by the judge to be arrested.  Then my name was called.  I went, I stood in the dock, I was charged with ‘obstruction,’ I admitted the charge.  The judged fined me 10,000 KSH or 3 months in prison (all this for turning right in a don’t turn right intersection!), and then I was led out of the courtroom and into a holding cell with all of the other criminals and traffic offenders, about thirty of us.

At this point, things had gone as I had anticipated.  I had brought plenty of money so that I could pay the fine.  But while I was standing in the holding cell (fortunately, as an Orthodox Christian, I have a lot of experience standing for long periods of time!), disturbing information began to come my way.  First I learned that I could not pay my fine, someone on the outside had to pay my fine.  Then I had to think about how to get my money to my friend Nicholas – not as easy a proposition when I am in jail and he is on the outside somewhere.  Then I learned that someone with a large fine like mine could not have it paid at the court.  So even if I gave Nicholas my money, they wouldn’t accept it at the Court.  Finally I learned that the only option was to pay the fine at a specific bank into a specific account at a particular shopping center (Prestige) which was several kilometers away.  And of course Nicholas, as a poor college student, does not have my money nor has he money of his own to afford this.  What to do?

During this time, I got to talking to a total stranger who turns out was stopped at the very same intersection for the very same offence.  Turns out he had been on the church staff of a well-known church, and we know many of the same people.  He was very interested in Orthodoxy and we had plenty of time to talk about it.  He and his wife serve as marriage counselor at their present church, so he was very interested in what  happens in a multi-denominational marriage.  We covered a lot of ground.  And he actually had a friend who was coming to help him by paying at the above mentioned bank.  And when he realized that my situation was challenging and I was about to be taken away to the remand prison because I didn’t have anyone to pay my fine, he asked his friend if he would take my money as well, and he agreed.  It turns out that his friend lives on the same university campus where I live, and that I was known to him.  Somehow, the friend got to the back door where all the policemen were guarding our cell and managed to persuade them to allow us to give him our money.  In faith I parted with  my 10,000 KSH. 

They then moved us to a larger concrete floor cinderblock wall cell with impressive bars on the windows.  Here we sat for several more hours.  There were no well-dressed businessmen.  Mostly young  men who looked like they had lived on the street.  Several had obviously lost their mind.  There was an Asian man, and then myself, as the only non-Black Kenyans.  An officer entered and started shouting out a list of names for people to line up.  More than twenty were called and then they were led out.  I later learned that these were the people who did not have the means to pay.  They were being taken to the remand prison.

Our friend finally came.  He gave the receipt to the policeperson in charge.  Our names were called.  After being processed, one officer accompanied me out and wanted me to know how much he had done to help me and would I give him ‘some lunch’.  You are now a free man, he said.  To which I said, If you want me to give you ‘lunch,’ then you must first listen to me preach.  So I told him that yes, I was grateful that I was being set free, but that I had good news for him that would set him free from the consequences of his broken relationship with God and with people.  And I asked him if he wanted to hear about what Jesus had done for sinners like me and like him.  He was very quickly not interested and left me to walk through the gate a free man alone.

So what have I learned from my experience of Kenyan law enforcement and Kenyan justice?  First, I’ve learned that God provides.  I needed help at every step of the way, and God provided.  Help with bail, a friend to share with in the cell, a man willing to do a good deed for someone he’d never met.  God provides.  But secondly, I have learned the wrong lesson as well.  I have learned that, when one is in this kind of situation, it pays to bribe.  There was a reason that there were no well-dressed businessmen or businesswomen there.  I also saw not a single matatu driver or bus driver there.  They did what I ‘should have done’ at the police station.  They paid the bribe to have the police officer tear up the ticket.  Most of these offences never make it to Kibera Law Courts, because the offenders were willing to pay the bribe.  And the sad thing is, everything about the Kenya Justice system, or at least my experience of it, makes paying bribes the most sensible thing.  Had I paid a bribe to Officer A--, it would have cost me perhaps 2000 KSH and some inconvenience.  Instead I refused to pay a bribe, and I end up getting fined 10,000 KSH and tossed into a crowded jail cell for a day.

So in the future, if I am ever in a similar situation, what will I do?  I will once again make the completely counter-intuitive choice and refuse to bribe and take instead whatever knocks the law demands.  And the reason is not because I don’t want to save money – God knows we don’t have 10,000 KSH lying around to play these sorts of games.  The reason is that bribery corrupts.  It corrupts the receiver.  It corrupts the giver.  And it corrupts the system.  Right now, the Kenya Justice System appears to be so compromised by bribery that one cannot trust that justice will be done in any given case.  And if the members of the public lose confidence that the government cannot guarantee justice, then people increasingly take justice into their own hands.  And when people start taking justice into their own hands, even worse things happen and there is no longer any recourse.  Instead might makes right, and justice flees.

So I didn’t see the sign.  I turned right.  I was charged.  I was convicted.  I was sentenced.  I paid the fine.  Has justice been served?  In the case of most people with whom I’ve had to deal with throughout my little experience, this, sadly, does not seem to have been their primary concern.