A letter from Brenda Harcourt in Kenya
May 30, 2010
My three years in Kenya are just about to mark the mid-point. It is hard to believe that I have been here that long. I thought it might be fun to reflect on what this last year and a half have been like.
Our journeys as new mission workers started with training in Canada and then in Louisville. There were lots of us that were preparing to go to different places and so each of us had our stories of where we had been and where God was now calling us to. It was exciting and scary at the same time, and there were lots of questions and lots of answers to questions we didn’t even know we should be asking.
The call that I had was one that was semifamiliar to me. I had been doing much of the work over the years for our presbytery partnership and so I was moving into familiar territory with folks I was used to working with. Part of my responsibility would be to work with many presbyteries but doing much of the same work: training of pastors, evangelists, elders, deacons, Sunday school teachers and any other groups that wanted training events.
The first year consisted of getting settled and the hardest and most challenging task was trying to get a work permit. You are not allowed to work or do just about anything without a work permit, and so I spent lots of time writing and delivering sermons, preparing lectures, designing workshops and making contacts. And then I found out that immigration officials even considered that work and so had to be very careful about crossing the line.
Finally, after almost 11 months, I was granted a work permit and given permission to begin the work that I was called to do.
I continually feel blessed that God has called me to Kenya. The experiences I have had here are so life-changing and bring a sense of “making a difference” in people’s lives. It happens in other places but it is so evident here. Each challenge that is placed before me becomes an achievement or a growth experience.
We have designed and carried out a “Youth Rally” which included our Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) who are here for the year in Kenya. We brought them to the youth of Imenti North Presbytery, and they stayed for the weekend and interacted with each other to answer questions and to see that we really have much in common but also have lots to share with each other. It was so well received and was evaluated as one of the highlights of the YAV orientation and an experience that the Kenyans want to repeat every year. I think it will be difficult for them when we take it to a different location next year because Imenti North wants to host it again.
I helped to coordinate and lead a pastor/spouse retreat on keeping a Sabbath and celebrating relationships. This retreat took almost nine months to plan and then to implement. Reading and doing research and planning and coordinating with some leadership in the States that would come to help teach the different segments became a real challenge but it was well worth every minute we put into it. Sometimes we forget how much planning and preparation goes into putting things together in such a way that the experience is worthwhile and educational. The retreat lasted five days and included Bible study, case studies, group discussions, one-on-one prayer and discernment walks, relaxation and soul searching. Two trainers were brought from the United States, and a presbytery there that is in partnership with three presbyteries paid for most of the expenses for them to come and the costs involved in the retreat. The evaluations were overwhelmingly positive and suggested that we do it on a regional basis. That is being discussed and we are looking at locations and possible ways to fund and have that happen.
I spent many hours renting a vehicle and traveling around to sites looking at possible locations for training events in the future; expenses are always a challenge. I try to conduct as much as we can in local churches to keep the costs down, but when folks are so close to home it is a challenge; they are pulled away for many things and so continuity is difficult to maintain.
The biggest challenge is finding resources to use for workshops. Books continue to be very expensive and not readily available and internet is difficult at times to be able to download information. There are a lot of people with skills that are very helpful, and so I spend time connecting people with situations. In fact, many of the upcoming events are ones in which I am doing some of the teaching but I do lots more coordinating and finding individuals that have the skills to do the workshops that churches and presbyteries would like to have.
A women’s retreat which I held in my home to help keep costs down was such an incredible experience. It was a time of sharing both tears and laughter. They shared their stories, and we talked about women and being empowered and what that meant for them. We talked about our commonness and our differences. We talked about traditional roles and trying to break the molds that have been in place for hundreds of years. Each time I meet one of the women who participated they want to know when we will do one again.
I enjoy being in Meru which is about a four-hour drive from Nairobi, but being four hours away from the capital and where lots of things are more readily available is also a challenge. Folks in Nairobi sometimes don’t understand that it takes a day to get something accomplished that can get taken care of in a matter of hours in Nairobi. Patience is a gift I am slowly trying to learn. Electricity and internet sometimes are down for many hours every day, and so it is difficult to get information out. Many times I have to go to a cyber café to try to send information. Without a vehicle that involves extra expenses for hiring a taxi to pick me up and get to where I need to go.
I am currently in the process of writing church school curricula for a few churches that have asked for studies for their youth and children’s ministries. There are not many good curricula around and local libraries don’t carry religious materials to help. I am thankful that I brought some resources with me and also for the training I have received in the past which is coming back to help me to write these classes for them.
Exposure is so important. Many folks still are not sure how to completely use me to their benefit. When I attend presbytery meetings or meet at churches or with folksm I have to assure them that their only costs will be to provide transportation for me to come to do their workshops. The expenses are so minimal but with very low income and not much cash available for training, it is always a challenge. I am asked almost every week if I can’t find money from the United States. to help them with expenses.
I continue to work with presbyteries that have partnerships to assist them in any way that I can to help their partnerships grow and be more active. Sometimes it means helping to plan retreats or give ideas or just physically travel to sites to check on situations.
The regional youth coordinator and I are meeting to begin the process of doing another youth event in the fall with the new YAVs when they arrive.
Several presbyteries are in process of working with me to coordinate and implement leadership development training for church leaders in their local area. We are still trying to determine who will be the target audiences and what types of training they feel would be helpful. I am writing lot of modules for them to pick from.
Three presbyteries are about to begin their process of writing a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) and I am working with them to evaluate their current MOUs and start the process of developing a new one.
There is a women’s retreat being talked about but we have not put time nor plans together for that.
I am starting a Bible study in my home that will bring together a few folks on an informal basis to discuss and pray together.
Eight presbyteries are now assigned to me as my area for training. The deputy secretary general of PCEA reminded me that it was OK to reach beyond that area to do training if I am asked. His description is one that I really liked: “A bird has a nest. It may fly to other areas to gather food or spend its time but it returns to its nest for rest.”
Leadership development still remains the main focus of my time and energy. It takes on many different looks but comes down to the basics each time. My hope and prayer is that as we do ministry together people here are empowered with information and encouraged to use the information to help build their personal faith journeys and the faith journeys of those with whom they minister. I know that my work is but a small drop of water in the ocean of need, but if someone takes with them something that makes their life in Christ more meaningful and enriched, then God has placed me where I need to be.
Recently I was on a weekend getaway at a local game reserve and as I was preparing to eat lunch in the dining room I was having grace. The manager who is a personal friend came by the table to greet me and stood next to me until I finished praying. He then said “of all the people who come here you are the only one who prays in our dining room.” Setting an example and knowing that people watch how you live your life is something we should take very seriously.
Kenya is preparing for an election and after the postelection violence from the last election we are praying that we will not have the same experience again. Please pray for my work here and the people of Kenya. Your support and prayers are what make a difference in the lives of the people with whom I live and work.
These are the highlights of my experiences. The day to day experiences are too numerous to list.; I try to include some of each in my blogs; please be sure to check it: Church Mouse Mmusings. Of course you can reach me at my email if you have further questions or would like to ask me questions about my work. My email address is Brenda_harcourt@yahoo.com.
You can contribute to my sending and support costs online [You can always give online, too, from the Give box in the left column of every page. —Ed.] or by sending a gift to:
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
Write “E200441 – Brenda Harcourt” on the memo line.
Churches and presbyteries can also designate part of their Basic Mission Support by designating an amount to “D507511 – Brenda Harcourt”. Donations may be sent through your normal receiving site or through the address above.
In Christ’s service,
Your sister in Christ
Brenda S. Lindsey Harcourt
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 52