Gleams of light creep through woven sisal mattes, hides, and spare clothe - their rays muttering hushed details in the den of dust and dark. Eight of us turn the small shelter, called a “min”, into a crowded gathering, as the outside winds strain against the tree-branch frame. I watch the pools of color play upon the mysterious face, the glow in her eyes all the brighter amidst the darkness. I can’t help from wandering back to my childhood.
Page after page, my heart would pour over the pictures and stories of the famous National Geographic publications. More than a mother’s milk to a child’s bones, the spirit of adventure nursed my adolescent affections, the images beckoning my deepest desires.
Little did I know the faces that haunted my juvenile daydreams were but seeds planted in my heart, nurtured by the tensions of hope deferred. I don’t know what most kids dream of in the seasons when life’s greatest concerns never reached further than next weekend’s escapades; but I dreamt of distant tribes, exploring the unknown, and giving my life to a greater cause. How could I ever imagine that such lofty longings would ever find room to bear fruit in a simple life like mine? What makes one special, but the dreams on his/her heart? And what makes one worthy to receive these dreams, but by trusting the Lord and seeking His kingdom first? He is such a faithful steward of our every passion and desire.
Here, in northern Kenya, I wipe the weight of these memories from my damp cheeks, and account the scene before me. Naryo is a Rendille woman, adorned with colored beads from her shoulders up her neck. The light in her eyes is not fixed and framed. They do not rest on the lens of a photojournalist. They do not stare from a still page of a magazine. They are full of life, more vibrant than her cultural garments. They have seen death and drought. They have seen the wealth of rain and newborn camels. They have seen tribal warfare and tribal redemption. And they look at me. It’s my soul into which they peer. Just a boy with a dream in his heart, and a hunger in his bones. How can it be? How am I so deserving?
And she speaks to us. To me. Not just with her mouth, but her entire stature alights with every jubilant expression. She speaks strongly, a voice full of vigor and life. For Rendille women are strong women, the mothers of warriors, and Naryo is no exception. If it were not for the translation, upon which she waits with a peaceful smile, one might think she was almost cross with us when she speaks. With every emphasis, she leans towards us, eyes wide and voice raised, as if she wanted to share with us the warmth from the fire in her heart. I’m captivated. Who am I to hear this heart? To feel it’s heat?
And now I listen. Though her song-like cadence and expressive exuberance are as attractively foreign to me as her attire, I begin to recognize the encounter which she is describing. What could I have in common with this strange and gorgeous woman, other than the space we share in her tiny hut? She describes the challenges and hardships that have plagued her life, as well as the Rendille. But she has found an uncompromising life in the midst of death, and it has consumed her every affection. The name and praise of Jesus has never sounded so sweet and sincere as on her tongue. “In Him,” she says, ” I have found joy and life.” And her presence sings of her sincerity more than any translation could. Through the aid of a local literacy program Naryo, even as a widow, had learned to read and soon discovered in the scriptures the God who calls her by name.
The God she describes is the one who defends the plight of orphans and widows, who brings abundant life and light into the darkest places, and instills peace and joy in the midst of the fiercest storms…..I know this God. And I know Him to be just as true in my life. I knew He was faithful, not only forever to me, but in the life of any who would receive him. But to sit before this visage of my lifelong dreams, so foreign and yet familiar in its haunting, and to let her testimony of His authentic love breaking every chain fall upon my ears, how can I be anything but overwhelmed? For how, when longing over each Nat Geo photo set, could I have imagined that WHEN I had the honor of sitting in that place, that I would be sitting in the presence of family. Upon exiting her min, her profuse and lavishing kisses on my hands and cheek only confirmed the love that united us; a love stronger than any geographical distance this world can offer; stronger than any cultural differences that threatens the human heart; stronger than death itself.
It was my eyes she looked into. It was my cheek that she kissed. And it was His love that we shared.