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A letter from Marta Bennett in Kenya

November 20, 2011

Dear family and friends,

Kenyan cloth with map of Kenya in Africa, with proverb: "Karibuni Mgeni" (Welcome Visitor.)

The kids and I have been in the States for almost four months now, arriving here in August.  Based in New Haven, Conn., at the Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC), we have found a wonderful community of international colleagues here, and this is proving to be a good home base for this school year that we are spending in the U.S.  The purpose of this year is to be able to speak and share about what God is doing through God’s people in Kenya, to have a bit of time to step back and reflect on the ministry, and to allow Justin and Imani to have one full school year in an American school.  We are here until the end of June 2012, at which point we will return to Nairobi.

As I have spoken at various churches I have shared about the ministry, about living and teaching in East Africa, and about ongoing needs and lessons learned.  One important aspect that I enjoy highlighting is that Kenya is a very welcoming country—visitors are warmly welcomed in. In visiting a home, one will be welcomed with at least a cup of chai (tea boiled with milk), and churches make a point of honoring any guests. 

OMSC worship November 2011

When I reflect on these past 17 years in Kenya so far, I have found that I have been welcomed in and embraced by Kenya—and have been more and more absorbed into the people and life of Kenya and beyond.  I have taken up the phrases, mannerisms, ways of doing things, even patterns of thinking—to the extent that when a visitor comes (for instance to NIST—Nairobi International School of Theology—or at church) and we are being introduced around, outsiders will ask where I am from, and my African colleagues and friends will often jump in and say, “She’s a Kenyan.”  I am still very much me, including my American heritage, but that me has been deepened, altered, shaped by living and breathing Kenya and beyond.  We are part of our neighborhood community, our church, our ever-expanding network of former students and friends, and we are richly blessed by many visitors coming and going.

As I think about this process, I have thought about our relationship with Christ.  We sometimes use the language “invite Christ into your life.”   Invite him in, offer a cup of chai, include him in our daily comings and goings if he’d like to come along. We are doing the welcoming; Christ is the stranger we are hosting.  But perhaps we have it backwards:  It is actually God who is doing the inviting.  We are coming into God’s realm; God is inviting us into what he is doing.  As we spend time with God, we find his thoughts and ways of looking at things creeping into our identities—and we are transformed.

Justin (top) and Sara Imani enjoy their first snow.

Christ welcomes us: “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).  Jesus says, “Come to me!” And as we come, he says: “Go! —but I will be with you—I will go with you.  Let’s walk together.  It may be new territory for you, but don’t worry, I know the way.  This all belongs to me, so welcome!  Let’s go!” And we are transformed in the coming in and the going out.  We change not merely because we are thinking new thoughts, gaining knowledge, but because we are living, breathing, interacting with God and God’s world.

On a personal note, since we have been here in New Haven we have very much been welcomed into the community here.  It has been quite fun to watch the kids experience their first pumpkin carving, the first apple picking, the first snow (several inches!), the first Halloween trick-or-treating, and the first brilliant reds and translucent yellows of the autumn foliage—in that order! 

Marta giving the children's message, with the help of Justin and Sara Imani, t First Presbyterian Church, New Hartford, New York.

Our friends and colleagues at OMSC include individuals and families from all over the world.  Right now, besides us, we have residents from Korea, Myanmar (Burma), India, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Austria, The Gambia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and China.  There are eight children who all attend the local elementary/middle school nearby, in grades 3 to 8, plus one in high school.  As residents, we enjoy weekly worship together, seminars, monthly community dinners, and special lectures.  Being close to Yale Divinity School, I also have access to the library there, and I’m trying to make sure there is time to read, study, and write along with daily life and regular speaking.

As we spend this academic year here, we have a number of prayer requests:

  • For the ongoing work at Nairobi International School of Theology/International Leadership University, especially for my students who are working to graduate in June 2012, for ability to pay their fees, do their master's research, and finish writing their M.A. theses
  • For ongoing recruitment of qualified faculty members, who are also committed to mentor students and model the way
  • For the ongoing process of receiving accreditation through the Kenyan government
  • For opportunities to speak in churches and groups while we are here in the States this year—and for helpful, encouraging, enlightening and challenging messages in each place
  • For Justin (13) and Sara Imani (12) as they pursue their schooling here in the U.S., in a system that is quite different from their school in Nairobi.  For friends, and for not getting too far behind in some subjects for when they return to Nairobi next year; and for Steven (24), who has remained in Nairobi this year pursuing computer studies
  • For health, relationships, traveling and ministry here in the U.S. all throughout the year.

Thank you so much for your ongoing encouragement and support.

Joy to you, with gratitude,

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 59
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 99

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