There are certainly challenges of living far from the country of my birth.
I miss family and friends. I miss blending in and being anonymous. I miss people following traffic rules. I miss easily understanding language and culture. I miss Target and Chick-Fil-A and Ben & Jerry’s.
But, I will say, living in Kenya has some perks. For example, when my friend Stephanie wants to hang out and in only a few hours, we can be in the middle of a wildlife conservancy full of lions, leopards, elephants, and giraffes. Sometimes, I still have a hard time believing this is a normal way to spend a weekend.
Last weekend, Stephanie and I headed out to Laikipia. We stayed in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, which also has a sanctuary for chimps and hosts the only three living Northern White Rhinos that are left in the world.
When visiting conservancies, one of the main things you do is drive around, looking for animals. And, you’re not generally looking for small things. You are looking for rhinos, elephants, and lions. None of these animals are inconspicuous. But strangely, they are often really hard to see.
During our drives, I would say things like, “Is that an elephant? Oh, never mind, it’s just an ant mound.”
Or, “Is that a giraffe? Nope, just a tree.”
Strange how living, lovely creatures that are 10 times my size can be hidden in plain sight.
Because it can be difficult to see the animals, we took a guide with us on our drives, and he was never wrong. He knew the terrain, knew the creatures, knew where to look.
Generally, he would say something like, “Look, there are five giraffe.”
And Steph and I would say, “Where?”
And he’d say, “Just there,” and we’d say, “Where?!?”
And he’d say, “There, in the far distance.”
We learned that “the far distance,” meant on the edge of being able to be seen.
Usually, we’d finally spot whatever he was pointing out, and drive towards it to get a closer view, but it was humorous how things we were blind to were so obvious to the guide.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we see things.
It is no secret that my heart has been grieved for all happening in this part of the world, particularly in South Sudan and here in Kenya. The Kenyan doctor’s strike has concluded, but famine has increased in South Sudan. And even with the doctor’s strike being over, there are still significant challenges throughout the East African healthcare system.
It can often be hard to see the good that is coming out of all of the difficulties.
I can feel similarly about counseling people, particularly as I come to the end of a challenging term of school. At times, I can be blinded to hopeful changes in the lives of the students I work with. All I can spot are rocks and ant hills that clutter the horizon, without seeing the life and movement and change that is also happening.
So, it seems particularly important during the Lenten season, to not depend on my own sight.
Just like driving around the Ol Pejeta conservancy, my life of faith requires guidance. It is always easy to see the dirt and the stones and the animal bones left in the sun. But, on my own, I miss the giant, creative, active life that God is always bringing into view.
Isaiah 58:11 says,
“And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”
This is what I need: continual guidance; someone with clearer vision directing my eyes to see what is already happening in front of me; satisfaction and strength, even in scorched places.
It is a little embarrassing, after nearly 15 years of African safaris, to still be so bad at spotting animals. Perhaps it’s even more humbling to still struggle to see God’s goodness in the rocky and wild places I’ve landed.
But here’s what I’m learning, God will continually guide us because we will ALWAYS be in need of guidance. We walk by trusting our Guide (in other words, by faith), not by sight.
On my own, I really can’t see clearly.
But with Jesus guiding me, things can become unexpectedly clear, and I can start to see what has been bursting forth from the landscape all along.
And, He is always guiding us into new places. We may easily see what He is doing in one context, but each new situation requires new guidance.
As we journey on towards Easter, reflecting on the mystery of the cross and of resurrection, perhaps now is a good time to pray for eyes of faith, for hearts attuned to our Guide, and for lives that continue to tenaciously look for life and resurrection against the rough and rocky landscapes of our days.