A letter from Marta Bennett in Kenya
April 15, 2011
Imagine that you are an international student, arriving in a foreign country to begin a master’s degree program, to be done in a language that is not your mother tongue, and not the second language that you learned, but a third language. You have arrived in the large bustling, chaotic city that is quite a contrast to the rural agrarian culture in which you grew up. As you begin classes, you are hit with the large amount of reading, writing and projects that are part of your coursework, and you find that even the local students are feeling stretched by the demands of this level of study. With limited textbooks and few computers to be shared, you experience the great challenge that is before you, yet you are determined to do well and to gain the knowledge and skills promised. Your dream is to return to your country, to be part of the birth and building of a new nation.
After one or two months, as you are beginning to find your way and are settling into the new routines, you receive word that, out of the blue, three of your countrymen are being sent to you to receive medical care. They have been severely wounded in violent clashes: one is paralyzed by a bullet penetration of his spine; another has a bullet lodged between his shoulder and neck, which the doctors are debating whether they can safely remove without causing further damage; and the third has an ankle that has been shattered and needs to be reconstructed. They are taken to a local city hospital near to your school, where medical care is good, but patient care is left to the families and friends of the patient. Since these three patients have no one else in this country, not only is it your responsibility to find some of the fees to pay for their medical costs, but you also need to provide food and daily care (bathing, changing bed pans, feeding) for all three. Yet you also have papers due and reading to get done. How will you survive?
This is the story of one of our students from Sudan who joined the M.A. in Leadership Studies program at Nairobi International School of Theology (NIST) this past January. John Riek Yior is a warm, committed young pastor from Southern Sudan who has faced many challenges since coming to Nairobi. Yet when he comes to my office, it is to humbly request a few days extension on a paper due or to ask assistance with a request to be able to access a library that is closer to the hospital where the patients are. He does not complain or seek handouts; instead, he is trying to faithfully pursue his studies while carrying the load of care for his wounded countrymen. I so appreciate the several other NIST students who have come alongside John Riek and have joined to help in the rotation of care for the patients.
As I write this I am in Burundi, teaching a three-week course on Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation Processes at International Leadership University (ILU-Burundi). ILU-Burundi is a sister school of NIST (or ILU-Kenya, the name that is about to become the new official name for NIST) and this course is one of the regular core courses within the Masters in Organizational Leadership programs at both schools. In this class of 22 students in Bujumbura (they began the program in August 2010, when ILU-Burundi was opened) sitting before me are the first vice president of the country (of the current opposition party), several former cabinet ministers, peace negotiators, UNESCO staff, pastors, journalists and more. The wonderful challenge is to get through the planned topic each day; the participants are so highly engaged and interactive that yesterday half of the three-hour class was gone before I realized we had only made it through my first PowerPoint slide of the day. They are so purposeful in the process of engagement that among other questions, they asked, “So, what is it that we should walk away with from this course? What are the key objectives?” — a far cry from the more common question of young undergraduates who ask, “Will this be on the final exam?” Most are Burundian, with one Kenyan who works in the Kenyan Embassy here and one from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Whether they are young pastors from rural Sudan or high-level politicians from a capital city, students at both ILU-Kenya and ILU-Burundi on the whole are highly invested in their studies. They regularly face challenging situations, and the courses must give them handles with which to address these events. Theory can never be dry; it is about ways of thinking about imminent realities, and direct application is never far away. I am continually humbled and challenged as I teach and facilitate learning, constantly being stretched and challenged myself to think through the content of each course, evaluating the relevance and application of each topic and learning and growing myself as we proceed.
On the home front, the kids are also learning and growing as well. They are with me in Burundi, since these three weeks coincide with their term break at school. We would appreciate prayers as we plan ahead for the coming year, when we will be in the States for 10 months on interpretation assignment (2011–2012). We will be based in New Haven, Connecticut, at the Overseas Missions Study Center, and from there we look forward to connecting with many churches and friends and to being able to express more personally our heartfelt thanks for the ongoing support that makes all the above even possible. Special prayer requests are for a family to sublet our house in Nairobi while we are away and for a good school placement for Justin and Imani in New Haven, who will be entering 8th and 6th grades.
With gratitude for all your prayers, support and ongoing encouragement—
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 59