When I first received my badge, I didn’t think much of the lanyard. That’s a nice detail, I thought. A touch of Africa.
But there’s a story behind these strands of beads. A good one.
Each one of the strands of beads that the 1300 delegates wear this week at GAFCON was handmade by women and girls in the Marsabit Diocese of northern Kenya. Small strands of loving kindness.
They have made these under the guidance of Alice Wangui, a Mother’s Union worker for this area, and Mama Sue, who is married to the bishop of this diocese.
This is a place of Hot and Dry. The deserts have names I had not heard before. My mouth works to pronounce them, the syllables lying like rocks in my mouth:
This is a place of Push and Pull. Where tribes war over those fleeting commodities, water and pasture.
The names of the tribes as new to me as the names of the deserts in which they live:
The Borana and Burlge fight as I write.
Life is Hard and Dry, Alice tells me. It’s a place where rain does not deign to fall. Except every two years. Or three.
Men leave the small communities, the cluster of huts, ‘manyattas’, in order to wander with the cattle. Nomads.
Women mind a hearth with no fire in it. Except every two days, or three.
A girl child can be engaged and married as young as 12 and 13. Her life measured and valued in terms of cattle, her dowry. She rarely meets the letters A, or B, or C, and so she cannot read. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a story.
I learn all this from Alice, who works with these women and girls, encouraging them to work together to provide for one another’s needs. Teaching them how to use their skills with stings and beads to create delicate strands of beauty that they can sell, and earn money for their families. So they can light a fire in the hearth each day.
The gulf created by poverty, illiteracy, the pinch of hunger, the lack of almost all means feels unbridgeable to me.
‘How do you tell them about Jesus?’ I ask Alice.
And Alice tells me this:
‘In Africa, stories are how we pass information from generation to generation. I ask them to tell me their stories. And then, when their story ends, I ask them, “Would you like me to tell you my story?” They say yes, and my story begins.’
‘I tell them stories of Jesus. I tell them that I am saved by the blood of Jesus. And I ask them, “Would you like to know this Jesus?” And they say “yes,” because it is a good story.’
‘I tell them that you don’t have to read and write to pass your faith to your children.
You have to just sit with them, and tell them a story.
But it must be a good story.
So that they’ll listen.
So that they’ll say, “That is a good story”.’
And it is.
And the Lord draws the hearts of these women to himself with cords of love. Delicate strings of loving kindness.
Their story begins. It is a good story.