What?  How can you be out of pilau? 

Vincent is working with us this month while Joyce is on leave.  It is not unusual that we send him to get some lunch from next door for us.  I asked for pilau this afternoon.  Pilau is sometimes called pilaf, although it is nothing like the pilaf that I know from home.  It’s a simple spiced rice dish, sometimes with beef.  It usually comes with a side of red beans and greens.  I love it.  It’s simple and inexpensive.  I can eat and be satisfied, sometimes even having leftovers for about $1.50.

I’m bummed that ‘they’re out.’  I’m confused as to how they could be out of such a staple.  And yet, here I sit in a great job that pays me enough to live quite comfortably, a nice place to live, a computer with good internet, clothing, health and food to eat.

I may not have my pilau today but there are those who have nothing.  Something that we see a lot of as we travel to our partners and visit villages and communities is injustice and disempowerment.  It is hard to watch families live in what at home we would call a shack.  It is harder still to hear of children not attending school because they have to spend so much time walking to fetch dirty water for the family’s needs because that is the closest water.  It is hard to hear of women being abused by family as soon their husbands die.  It is hard to hear of women and girls of all ages feeling as if there is no choice but to sell their bodies to feed their families.  It is hard to watch a man beaten to death for allegedly stealing bananas because the people do not believe that the legal process is fair and instead take things into their own hands in their own ‘justice,’ never providing an opportunity for the legalities to prove them wrong. 

These people feel out of control.  They feel that there are no other options.  They see no justice coming their way.

I have seen many instances of this disempowerment as I’m sure you have.  Perhaps you followed some of the post-election violence that occured this winter (it was Kenya’s summer).  As mentioned above I have witnessed those events or talked with people who have lived them.  I will share a story of transformation with you soon, but now is a time for a different story.

People in the places that I have visited in Africa are often hawking their wares in kiosks on the side of the road or just walking up and down the busy streets trying to sell you something: maps, newspapers, phone credit, roasted nuts, fruit or maybe even a cabbage shredder.  Kiosks are often made of wood and sheet metal.  They are tidy inside and out and people are proud of what they are selling and the skills that they are able to highlight and use to help provide for their family (which is often quite large).  These kiosks and hawkers are not always legally in place and sometimes they find their work hampered by police doing surprise inspections.  People are often notified, either legally or by word-of-mouth, that the police are coming and they have time to clear out if needed.

That is apparently not the situation that we came upon a few weeks ago while we were visiting partner work upcountry.  I had a visitor from our Canadian office and a volunteer with me and we were on our way to the airport after two and a half days of good partner project visits.

Riding into town that morning I could see dark smoke in the distance and assumed that it was some sort of factory.  However, as we neared the town center we saw people cutting across the median in their vehicles, all rushing to go the other direction.  It wasn’t until the matatu (minibus – common public transport) in front of us took that same path that we saw the flaming tires in the road about 30-40 feet in front of our vehicle.  Flames were 4-5 feet high and the cause of all of that dark smoke.  As we made our turn people were running from the scene, some to safety and others in anger.  I looked out my left-side passenger window to see a man running at our truck.  I looked him in the eye and he threw a rock a bit bigger than a softball directly at us.  Our driver was calm and quick.  The stone hit the window frame behind me, right where one of my collegues was seated.  I immediately ducked and covered my head.  The window stayed intact.

As we drove off, our driver never having flinched and guiding us smoothly from the conflict, I could see people fleeing on both sides of the road. 

After we were a safe distance away, the driver, Dedan, stopped the truck to make sure that we were all ok.  While we were physically ok and the damage to the truck appeared to be minimal, we were all shaken.  We arrived safely at the airport and got checked in.  Then the three of us sat in the small terminal that was beginning to fill and we prayed.  We praised God for his protection.  We pleaded for the safety of others.  We prayed for healing in the hearts of people.  We prayed for an end to whatever was causing people to feel so disempowered that they felt they had no other choice for reaction than violence.

Later we heard on the news that the riot had been caused by the city council demolishing several businesses without notice.

Empowering people is important so that they see hope and a future.  Life is about so much more than what I will have for lunch and whether or not one of my favorites will be on the menu.  Christ gives us freedom.  Freedom from bondage.  The freedom from fear.  When we go to Christ he gives us the power that we need and we will never hear, ‘I’m out.’