A letter from Brenda Harcourt in Kenya
In addition to my regular positions of leadership training and teaching theology at the Presbyterian University of East Africa (PUEA) I take a few hours on Saturdays to meet with women in a gathering we call “Sewing Our Stories" or "Sharing Our Stories.” The women come to learn how to do different types of needlework, cooking and baking, quilting, whatever they want to learn. I have found these times to be so healthy for them and me. We talk about issues they are facing and how just being able to have a place to come and talk about them is so helpful. We have discussed so many topics over the years, from female genital mutilation to unfaithful marriages to finding identity in a male-dominated society. Last year we took a break from it and some of the women have developed ties to each other and continue on their own, and so we just started again this year. The gathering was based around learning to sew plastic canvas to produce boxes and craft items they can sell. I was blessed that several folks who came to the Kenya International Network meeting brought yarn from the U.S.A. in variegated colors and plastic canvas to add to what we can find in this country. Keeping the hands busy allows them to feel freer to open up and share those issues that are deep inside.
We met only one time this year so far and the group is made of different women from those who came in the past. Also an added dynamic is adding a male, with a second male wanting to join. It will add a very different dimension to the times together and also to the conversations. It should prove to be a challenge to still feel free to be in open dialogue. The interesting thing is that the lone man was helping to teach and the women liked having him help them. He happens to be employed by me as my cook and domestic help, and so when the women found out that he had had catering training they were anxious to ask if next Saturday we could do cooking together and have him teach how to prepare different types of food. Our original plan is to meet once a month but these women want to meet weekly.
I am including some pictures of us as we were busy learning a new thing. When I asked the women to gather around the table for a picture they didn’t want to put their projects down but kept on sewing while we took pictures. It turns out that the women in these sessions are from the staff of the University, so we work together every day and now will spend Saturday mornings together to learn new and creative ideas and continue to “Sew and Share Our Stories.”
I never thought that the gift I have of creating things would ever be helpful in my ministry here in Kenya. I do most of the things as relaxation for me, but when women come to my place and see the things I have created they want to learn how to do it themselves. I guess God uses the gifts we are given for the good of his people. I will leave a legacy here not only with my students in theology but also in this women’s (and now men’s) program, which is something I do not as a part of my job description but as a joy of seeing others be able to produce a new thing that they have learned.
The students in the Theology Department are nearing the end of another term. For some of them this will be their last term. I arrived with the students who will be graduating this year. Watching them grow as professionals and learning to be faithful to their call to ministry has been a great joy. The timing of my stay in Kenya will allow me to see most of those graduating become ordained and start serving their first parishes. May God continue to use me and his gifts in ways that reach out to his people.
On a darker note we continue to have issues here in Kenya with security issues and threats of terrorism. One needs to be diligent about where and when you find yourself in situations that may not be the best. We continue to pray that God will protect each of us and the country of Kenya. Please pray for the people of Kenya and the security issues, for my Theology students, and for me as one of their lecturers and all the staff at PUEA. Also for the women and men in the “Sew and Share Our Stories” group.
I invite you to consider how you might join in this ministry more deeply through your committed prayers, correspondence and financial gifts as we assist our global partners in East Africa in raising up local leaders for community transformation. I thank you for your continued support and prayers as I serve in Christ’s vineyard known as Kenya.
Rev. Brenda S. Lindsey Harcourt