Nairobi, Kenya – For the last seven days, the LIA senior management team, later joined by our country directors, planned and prepared for 2010.
When you are with the same people for such an extended period of time, even in the best circumstances, confrontation seems to be inevitable. Yet, this week we didn’t have a single moment of increased tension, let alone confrontation.
After some time of reflection (conveniently provided by the ‘inoperable airport’ in Nairobi), I’m convinced that we got along so well as a group because we understood that our individual stories weren’t as important as our collective story.
Our story is better.
Before we began planning, strategizing, budgeting and all of the dirty work that comes with preparing for a new year, we took half a day to share our stories with one another. On the surface it might sound cliché, but in reality it was tremendously eye-opening and humbling, especially from my perspective.
Take John (not his real name – in order to protect his identity). John is an LIA country director that we don’t publicly talk about. I hadn’t met John before our meetings, but when I heard his story for the first time I was literally taken back. John lives in what is referred to as a closed country. In his country, it is illegal to be a practicing Christian in public. He operates ‘underground’, hosting church services in his home. He organizes and implements a community service that meets the needs of the local refugee community as a way to bring the Kingdom to earth, right where he lives. Most of his friends are in jail because they converted from Islam.
Then there is Elijah. Elijah is from South Sudan and has two scars on his body from being wounded while fighting as a soldier in the civil war years earlier. He has seven children and a wife, they all live in Kenya while he serves as the Director of LIA South Sudan.
I can’t forget Tim (not his real name). Tim also works in a closed country and has to be very sensitive about the emails he sends because they are all monitored by the local government. Tensions in his community are high. While we were meeting a riot broke out in the city where he and his family live. A call home to his wife ensured that they were safe, for now.
Then there is me and my story of fighting in a civil war, or protecting my identity to avoid imprisonment or having to be sure that my service to the community is not too ‘christian’ as to not raise too much attention…
Wait, that isn’t my story. I grew up in Gilbert, Arizona and attended Islands Elementary school, just as peaceful and uneventful as it sounds. I played golf in college and have a wife and two children, none of which are in imminent danger from riots in the streets, other than when our neighbor gets mad at me for leaving the recycling bin out a day longer than allowed by our HOA. The only oppression I face comes from the heat when I can’t find a pool to relax in during the summer.
Even so, when we all came together and shared our stories and our dreams for what will happen in the communities we serve throughout Africa, it became obvious that OUR story is better than any one of the individual stories.
Our story is moving ahead to restore the dignity of the poor, marginalized, and oppressed.
Our story pushes against political oppression by training, equipping and empowering local churches to be the transformative change their communities are so desperately in need of.
Our story takes place in the secret places where refugees have no rights to basic human services, or among street children who aren’t offered an identity by their very own government. We rely on God to be the author of our story because we quickly realize that the stories guided by His spirit are made perfect.
Separately, we are Kenyan, Sudanese, Ethiopian, French, and American. Professionally, we are doctors, social workers, business people, public health professionals, and pastors. Yet, when our stories intersect, we realize that our story is better than anything that we could have come up with on our own.