Persecuted, persevering, praising

This post, on Christianity in the Middle East, is a few months late. Hopefully, the content here shall still be relevant and fuel for prayer:

The Lost History of Global Christianity – A 37-minute address on the historical expansion of Christianity eastwards. Foe example, did you know that there was a bishop in Tibet before there ever was one in central Germany?

Religious freedom for Mideast Christians: Yesterday and today



The Persecuted Church: How to see and how to pray – A 1-hour talk by a journalist who’s worshipped with the persecuted, yet praising, saints.

Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily.
Hebrews 13:3

O God our help in ages past

This hymn, written by Isaac Watts and based on Psalm 90 and a lot of other scripture passages, makes a beautiful end-year prayer.

(We used to sing it to a much snappier tune in high school, though :))

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home:

Beneath the shadow of thy throne
thy saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting thou art God,
to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in thy sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all our years away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

Our God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
be thou our guard while life shall last,
and our eternal home.

For the Swahili speakers:

Mungu msaada wetu
Tangu miaka yote,
Ndiwe tumaini yetu
Ya zamani zote.

Kivuli cha kiti chako
Ndiyo ngome yetu,
Watosha mkono wako
Ni ulinzi wetu.

Kwanza havijakuwako
Nchi na milima,
Ndiwe Mungu; chini yako
Twakaa salama.

Na miaka elfu ni kama
Siku moja kwako;
Utatulinda daima
Tu wenyeji wako.

Binadamu huondoka,
Mwisho hana kitu;
Kama ndoto hutoweka
Ndiyo hali yetu.

Ila wewe Mungu wetu,
Ndiwe wa kudumu;
Ndiwe bora, ngome yetu
Twakaa dawamu.

All who could understand

Neither foreigners nor children were excused from extended law-reading sessions:

There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read before the entire assembly of Israel, including the women, the little children, and the foreigners who were with them (Joshua 8:35)

On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding. While he was facing the square in front of the Water Gate, he read out of it from daybreak until noon before the men, the women, and those who could understand. All the people listened attentively to the book of the law. (Nehemiah 8:2-3)

What could this mean for God’s covenant community today?

A simple timeline of the patriarchs

When I saw the tables in this post, I knew I wanted to see a graphical representation of that information. Being a procrastinating overachiever, it took me 3 months to come up with and execute my own concept (which, I admit, isn’t revolutionary):

Timelines of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Joseph
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Joseph

Here are some things that leaped out to me:
• Jacob and Esau would have known their grandpa Abraham. Most certainly he told the boys about Yahweh’s promises, which to my mind makes Esau’s despising his birth right the more egregious.
• Isaac would have known of grandson Joseph’s “death”. (Isaac also vastly miscalculated the time of his death by about 40 years.)
• There are big blanks in the lives of Abra(ha)m, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph where seemingly nothing important happened. (The operative word being ‘seemingly’.)
Over to you, dear reader: Anything you’re seeing for the first time, or in a new light?

There are no uninteresting Bible passages

I recently completed reading the book of Numbers, which contains such edge-of-your-seat, can’t-wait-to see-what-happens-next sections such as 1:5-46 (the first census), 7:1-89 (offerings at the dedication of the temple), and 33:1-49 (the stages in Israel’s journey).

If you consider these passages a potent sleeping potion, this post may be helpful.

First, we all have spheres in our lives where we’re obsessed with names and numbers. We bloggers can have an unhealthy preoccupation with our site analytics. Maybe you’re a sports fan and can’t imagine life without post-game stats. Or perhaps the stock market is your thing: following the performance of certain stocks is a daily ritual. Car lovers know a lot about engine horsepower. Techies can wax poetic about RAM and processor speeds. Fans of fiction (whether it be on TV, at the movies or in a book) can tell you all about the life of their favourite character(s). And to indict myself, we ladies have a tendency to want to know all the stats about a newborn baby (Name? Gender? Weight? Length? Natural or CS? How long was labour? When can I see him/her?)

So the problem isn’t that these passages are lists of irrelevant names and numbers. The problem is that we’re clueless as to why they are important. In order to appreciate them, we need to understand why they were placed in the sacred scriptures.

Second, though you may find these lists tedious, be assured God doesn’t. Who is responsible for the three sections I mentioned above? (Answers in Numbers 1:1-3, 7:11 and 33:2) Yahweh is responsible for us having to read all that stuff. You and I may not care how many male goats Abidan and Ahira presented at the tabernacle 3,500 years ago, but God does. He delights in the service and obedience of His people: none of it is trivial to Him.

(First point above by Iain Duguid [what a vowelicious name!] in a sermon titled “Stand up and be counted” on Numbers 1:5-64. Second point by Dale Ralph Davis in a seminar on Numbers 7-9 titled  “Everything you need for a trip ”.)

The book-ends of the Bible

The beginning of the book of Genesis and the ending of the book of Revelation give us a glimpse of the world as the all-good all-powerful Creator God has planned it.
What do both pictures have in common? For starters, humankind has unrestricted access to the holy God. From elsewhere in the Bible, we know that there’s no sin and consequently, none of its pernicious effects. And that’s where I’d normally stop. But here are a few overlooked aspects:

  •  A wedding (Genesis 2:22-25, Revelation 19:7-9)
  • A well-watered garden (Genesis 2:8, 10-14; Revelation 22:1-2)
  • Trees for food (Genesis 2:16, Revelation 22:2)


In other words, life in the new heavens and the new earth is not just going to be limited to the spiritual plane, but shall be an experience for all the senses!

[PS. Just had to break my lengthy hiatus to celebrate the 6th anniversary of this blog today!]

Gospel-sharing strangers

When I was in  high school, I spent not a few Sunday afternoons on what we called ‘hospital visit’. 20-30 of us from our girls-only boarding school (founded by Scottish Presbyterian missionaries) would make the 20-30 minute walk to the nearby hospital (founded by the same missionaries) where we’d sing for patients before sharing the gospel with them one-on-one. In the years since, I’ve wondered how effective that approach was, but I trust the Lord used our imperfect efforts to save some.

Which brings me to a couple of articles I read months ago (I am really good at procrastinating)  that both touched on the fruit borne from evangelistic encounters with strangers. Be encouraged by the greatness of God:

What I learned in Rome

A year ago today, I returned to Nairobi on a one-way ticket after (too) many years spent in and around the Eternal City. The time I spent in Rome amounts to about 90% of my adult life so far, and it has shaped me in ways that I’ll probably still be unravelling years from now.

To be sure, I didn’t have to move to another continent to learn what I record below. What happened was that I was exposed to a mix of circumstances, people and situations that would have been nigh impossible to recreate here in Kenya. And because my life now is very different from back then, I have to make an effort not to forget these lessons (at least the more serious ones).

1. When walking, always keep your eyes to the ground

Or else you might plant your foot in a pile of dog poo. In Nairobi, this skill has served to spare the lives of not a few slugs and caterpillars, in addition to avoiding the comparatively rare dog poo.

2. Treat everyone with dignity

I had a number of friends who were domestic workers, and while some were treated as part of the family, others had a less pleasant time. Many were constantly shouted at and called names. One had to count and record the number of carrots, tomatoes, etc. every night to ensure that she hadn’t eaten any. Another had to pick up the soiled underwear her female employer left lying around the house.

I also had my share of of having my dignity trampled upon. There were all the professors who thought I had an inferior intellect (at least I had a semester to prove them wrong!). Once, a cashier at a supermarket practically tossed my purchases after scanning them. Then there was the other shop where the cashier pointedly look past me to the lady behind me before confidently announcing, ”Next!” There were the countless shops where I didn’t get service at all, or where the note I handed over was minutely scrutinised before being accepted. There were the men of all ages who at all times of day and night offered to take me for coffee (hint: they were more interested in what they thought they could get from me, an African woman). There was the young man who imperiled his driving by hanging out the window to shout obscenities as I walked along minding my own business.

Being on the wrong end of prejudice has made me not want to make others feel what I felt back then. As a Christian, I believe that all human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), that I should treat others as I would like to be treated (Matthew 7:12) and that the main reason I’m not, say, a domestic worker is the grace of God that had me born into the family I’m a part of (Psalm 139:16). All those are good reasons not to forget this lesson.

3. My way isn’t the only way

Growing up, I was taught the traditional method of boiling rice: first you put in oil, then the rice and finally the water. One day early in my Roman stay, a group of us from church had gone visiting and a Filipino lady was cooking rice. She first put in the water, then the oil and finally the rice. She was also old enough to be my mother, and so I held my tongue (I’m a stickler for rules). The rice turned out fine, and I chalked it up to a Filipino thing. Some years later, I was with a Kenyan friend in her kitchen in Rome and she used the same method. By then I’d eaten so much familiar food prepared in unfamiliar ways that it didn’t bother me. Sure, I have my preferred techniques but I’m flexible.

4. A lot about a few foods

Before landing in Italy, I’d eaten probably only two formats of pasta. I was soon to learn that there are dozens of formats, each with its own special rules about what sauce goes with it. (I usually just made my own sauce from fresh veggies and the cooking quartet of aglio, olio, sale e pepe—garlic, oil, salt and pepper.)

I also didn’t know much about cheese—not only did I get to try various Italian varieties, I also sunk my teeth into Swiss and French products.

In my first few months in Rome, I wondered what they had against milk chocolate. In my first few months back in Nairobi, I wondered what they have against dark chocolate. I’m still yet to find affordable dark chocolate in Nairobi, and I really could use some right now.

Speaking of chocolate, oh how I miss Nutella!

5. I am more than what I do

After I graduated, I spent a long time in search of a job. I was no longer a student, which had been my identity all my life.  I did a few jobs here and there, mostly unpaid. I had no answer to the question, “What do you do?” Nothing. I just sit around all day sending out job applications and pampering the cat. I felt useless. I wasn’t contributing to society in any way.

I had to re-evaluate my view of myself. I may not have been contributing to the GDP of any country, but I was still valued by my parents, brothers, friends, and especially by the cat! More than all that, I was valued as a child of the Almighty God, and that’s the identity that will outlast all the rest.

6. A new way of pronouncing my name

My first (English) name has an r nestled among some vowels. As a good African, I’d roll my r‘s, which caused people to hear that r in my name as a d. Makes for a funny-sounding name. I imagine people thought, “It must be a tribal name.” So I stopped rolling that r and introducing myself became less of a pain for all involved.

While on the topic of language, I also learned to speak of pitchers, trunks and cookies when all my life I’d talked of jugs, boots and biscuits. Little sacrifices I made for the sake of the weaker American brethren 🙂

As an aside, I once attended a meeting with some volunteers from church. Three of us—An American, a Filipino and myself—were suggesting the kind of paper we though would be most suitable for a certain craft. Seeing as we were getting nowhere, the Filipina went in search of a sample of what she was describing. When we saw it, we were all like, “That’s exactly what I was talking about!” We’d been describing the same thing using three different names! 😉

7. How it feels to lose a loved one

So the loved one in question was a cat, but I don’t think that diminishes my observations. You, reader, are entitled to your own opinion…

First, the grief was horrible. Second, the regrets were endless. On the day before Bolla was put down, I had a conversation with the vet during which so many things became clear. Unusual behaviour that we’d observed months, even years, before was an indication of something more serious. If only we had understood. If only we’d done this or that sooner. If only, if only… Third, which surprised me, was how much I wanted to talk about Bolla in those first weeks. I had always imagined that a bereaved person would not like to be reminded of the loss, but if you gave me the chance I would have recounted silly stories about that cat from sunup to sundown. (Everyone processes grief differently so this may not always be the case.)

8. How to love the 24-hour clock system

“Let’s meet at 8.“

“Morning or evening?”

The 24-hour clock system eliminates the need for such clarification. Sure, it involves arithmetic, but some mental calculations never hurt anyone!

While on the topic  of numbers, Italy changed the way I write some of them…

Writing numbers
Writing numbers

… and the way I count on my fingers. I used to start counting one with my forefinger, but now I start with my thumb.

9. Re-entry can be brutal

(OK, so I didn’t learn this in Rome but as a direct result of having been there.)

I thought that settling back would be easy-peasy: I knew the language and was familiar with the culture, that kind of thing. Wrong. I failed to take into account two things (maybe more):

One, how much my way of thinking had changed. I’ve had exposure that many of my fellow middles-class Kenyans haven’t (see no. 1 above). That changes you, subtly and less so. Now the challenge for me is not to consider my compatriots  to be benighted since they have not been enlightened as I have, and that’s something i have to work through each day.

Two, though I was right on the generalities, I overlooked the specificities. In every culture in every nation, there will always be people who need some extra effort in order to understand what makes them tick. Failure to recognise that makes all interested parties miserable, as I was.

10. The Lord’s preserving power

I accomplished what I went to Italy to do: get a university degree.

I didn’t fall into degrading sin. The opportunities were many, and I could have gone looking for more. But it just wasn’t attractive.

I didn’t fall away from the faith. There was a years-long period when I was just going through the motions, and constantly wondered when I would be unmasked as a fraud. But I couldn’t get myself to walk away completely.

And on this note I’ll end this long post: I can’t take the credit for any of what I’ve written here. Yahweh alone deserves the glory for that!