It’s 5 am in Nairobi and I can’t sleep again. Amelia woke up with her obligatory “bad dreams” and is camping out at my side, asleep again under the protective watch of her father. I spent an hour with tears slowly soaking my pillow. Reached for my daughter and rubbed her back. Reached for my wife and held her hand. I can barely remember this past week, or what I did on any given day of it. I’m not even certain what day it is. There are instances, however, that have been set in my memory for good.
I remember the black smoke billowing above our housetops, just outside our compound here in the city, and the uneasy feeling which came over me that bad things would follow.
I remember the phone call with my brother in New Jersey telling me that our dad was just diagnosed with an incurable cancer.
I remember being called in to fly late one afternoon – meeting the plane at customs as it rolled in from a medi-vac flight from Mombassa, and all of us in a hurry to get it turned around for my urgent flight to western Kenya.
I recall the phone call I got, cramming the cellphone under my ear as I helped unload two teenagers on respirators from the airplane, their mother now dead from the car crash that left them unconscious. Peter, a Kenyan friend who works for Tear Fund was on the line. He had details for my flight. I didn’t know what was going on. “You’re going to save my family, Mike”, he told me – a distant voice braking through the wind and chaos and jet fumes around me.
I remember blasting off that afternoon, one of my most flustered takeoffs ever.
The week is all mixed together in my head. There were days and portions of days that I helped fly some of the evacuations AIM AIR did from western Kenya. Days I helped with the logistics. Days we spent locked down on our compound. There were sounds of tear-gas canisters bursting open onto swelling crowds just a block away. Sounds of automatic weapons. Sounds of my mom crying and laughing with me over a phone conversation that spanned two worlds, and two wounds. Sounds of silence where life should have been.
I encountered some scary words this week – words that don’t usually get much attention in our lives. Evacuation. Genocide. Chemotherapy. Helplessness.
One night at midnight, a Kenyan friend of ours called our neighbor in a panic. He and his young family were being attacked. He was fleeing his slum home for the forest. The phone went dead. Myself and two other missionary men racked our brains on how we could help him. There was nothing we could do that would not have been an exercise in futility. So we prayed for Steven, and his wife, and their baby. I went to bed with a deep sense of helplessness that night. It was the theme of my week.
I have met many people this week who shared this point of view. Perhaps the refugees all over Kenya knew more of this feeling than I could ever understand. Most certainly my dad does.
I found it interesting that as I was helpless to be there for my mom and dad this week, there were people who took great joy in being there for them. And as Peter was helpless to save his family from danger here in Kenya’s turmoil, I was able to stand in the gap – to swoop down and rescue his brother and sister and nieces and nephews.
I remember that dark night, as we pushed the plane back into AIM AIR’s hangar, and Peter’s family spilled out to greet him. He came to me and hugged me, and thanked me a dozen times. And it gave me great joy.
Being helpless is not entirely a bad thing I realized. It opens the door for others to step in and save the day. It allows us to be the community God intended us to be. Help can come in many forms. An Airplane. A gifted doctor. A neighbor or friend. A church family. A stranger even. We would do well not to be so independent sometimes.
In all our trouble this week, in the course of helping others and being helped, I never remember feeling hopeless. And for that, I can only thank God. Hope does not come in the same form as help does. We cannot really give it to other people. We merely point them to the hope that we have. Sometimes that’s easiest when we are in the greatest need for help. Perhaps that’s why we are here in all of this. Perhaps that’s why dad is in that cancer ward.
Update on Kenya : Our country has calmed down some. We are no longer “locked down” but this crisis in Kenya is not over. If they can finally get the government sorted out, some say this past week will take months, if not years to recover from. I flew through Kisumu yesterday, the town hardest hit by the post-election violence. Many of the people I spoke with there were truly feeling hopeless. AIM AIR evacuated five hundred people from various locations in western Kenya this week. Peter from Tear Fund organized many of those flights. Our friend Steven turned out to be OK. His neighbors were murdered that night.
I have read many reports and articles trying to understand what happened here and why. One of the best comes from NRO online in this article – Democracy Endangered