Thursday, August 20, 2009

(marie) day 2 in maseno

(Sent by Marie Harkey to The Crossing community)

Hello all,
Here's today's brief update. There will be pictures when I return (or when I'm paying for my own internet connection and not borrowing). The family let me sleep this morning and sleep I did, until almost 9 am. Then I took a few minutes to pray and journal, so it was almost 10 when I went down to have some breakfast. It was really good - sweet potatoes, bread and butter, bananas grown in the backyard. And although I despise instant coffee in the States, Africafe, the instant coffee here, is a whole different kind of stuff. It was excellent and so I got to start my day with coffee, just like home.
Then Elphas and I set off for Karen, a town very near Nairobi. We walked down Bakala's road, and then down another longish road to get to the main road where we would catch a matatu - a van that runs a certain route. They are usually 12 to 15 passenger vans, but the driver stuffs as many people as possible inside. Bakala lives in Ngong Hills and the first matatu took us to Ngong, a small city. There we took another to get to Karen, just on the outskirts of Nairobi. We walked to a mall to wait for the reporter that was going to interview Elphas. James, the reporter, actually works for a PR firm, but submits education stories to the Kenya times. We had an enjoyable time with him.
There have been some surprises for me. For example, in the matatus people are very quiet. There's not a lot of chatting and talking, and the driver plays music pretty loudly. Secondly, even though Karen didn't seem as intimidating to me as Nairobi, I'm looking forward to being in a more rural area. Never thought this city girl would be longing for the rural life! The city seems very chaotic to me, and I'm surprised by own timidity and by how it feels to be a stanger in a strange land. Imagine the kinds of scenes from movies, with matutu drivers yelling to try to get you to take their van, vendors selling things and trying to interest you, and all sorts of different smells. Everywhere, it seems, there is the smell of something burning. There were lots of wazungu (white people) in Karen, but not in Ngong, so on the road, everyone looked at me. It wasn't unkind, just interested, I think. Third, I notice a very different sort of emotion in myself than the first times I traveled to foreign countries. I'm very conscious of how much I love my "creature comforts" and how uneasy I am without them. I find that I'm a little disappointed in myself, while I acknowledge that it's human nature to be comfortable with what one knows.
We bought some beaded bracelets from Masai women in Karen. They were so anxious to sell to me, and Elphas helped me do the bargaining. He also paid when we took the matatus. He said if I had paid they would have charged me 100Ksh (about $1.50) but for him it was only 20 (about 25 cents). I don't think I would mind paying the difference to help these drivers earn their money, though. Elphas says that they have to pay bribes to the police to stay in business. They also have to have insurance and some kind of business license.
For all the differences, this place is beautiful. We saw one large group and several smaller groups of runners training in these hills. (The same ones that gave me such trouble climbing back up when we returned to Bakala's house.) It is certain that I will be rooting for the Kenyan runners in the Olympics the next time I watch. It is amazing to see how easily they run here. And I have some wonderful pictures from around Bakala's house.
Tonight after supper (yummy, including bananas cooked with tomatoes and onions. They were almost like potatoes.) we watched some of Elphas' welcome home video. Then we each talked about what we are thankful for in this visit, we sang (Gillian, a niece who is staying here, loves to sing). Then as we were standing in a circle holding hands, I prayed. These were truly the most blessed moments of the day.
Love to all,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

life after death (plus summer news)

Last week, Elba Cleland, a beautiful woman and dear friend to The Crossing community, died of cancer. Many of you might not have known her -- that's a shame. Elba had a heart almost the size of God's heart, and she was passionate about building community and bridges everywhere: with her Costa Rican family and neighbors, within the Cathedral congregation, between the church and young people in Boston. She served as the head of The Cathedral Council (the lay leadership team here at St. Paul's). She also taught and directed programs at Simmons College, where she took special care to mentor students of color and international students finding their place in the world. Hundreds of young people knew her as a second mama.

Elba loved The Crossing. She rapped at our second Soulful Easter Vigil, and in our early days, she would race from Simmons to The Cathedral to join us for worship, strolling down the center aisle in one of her colorful caftans and sparkling shoes, nodding to the music and celebrating the hope of God. She was always asking how the wisdom of our community could make a difference for the wider church AND how The Crossing could head into the city to carry out the riskier mission a more traditional church might not be equipped to take on. And she prayed for us constantly.

In the year ahead, The Crossing's leaders have said we want to passionately engage our city, crossing boundaries and building relationships with new people and extending God's love in concrete, powerful ways. As we do it, we're following in the Way of Jesus. But we're also following in the footsteps of our daring, generous and faithful mentor and friend, Elba. She's given us some big, sparkling shoes to fill. With God's grace and Elba's prayers, we will.

what's happening @ the crossing?
THURSDAYS @ 6-6:45pm in AUGUST / Crossing Community Prayer Gathering on Boston Common
A simple gathering for prayer, scripture reflection and a song or two, keeping connections alive during our hiatus. LOCATION: Meet on the Cathedral steps at 6pm; the group will head onto Boston Common near the State House and get started at 6:15pm. CONTACT Kieran Conroy: or 845.781.3706.

Two members of The Crossing community -- Chris Ashley and Marie Harkey -- are traveling to forge relationships with our brothers and sisters in Maseno, Kenya. (FYI: Chris arrived this week, Marie heads out next week -- info forthcoming re: where you can read their experiences!). We still need to raise $800 to cover the last of the plane ticket expense. CONTACT: Chris at for info. Contact Rev. Steph (info below) if you plan to make a donation (checks made out to St. Paul's Cathedral, with "Crossing Priest Discretionary-Kenya" in the memo area -- mail to 138 Tremont St., Boston MA 02111). LEARN MORE:

THIS SATURDAY @ 10am-3pm / Work Day at the DioMass Intern House
Help our friends in the DioMass Intern Program with preparing a house for interns moving to the area later this month. Good food, good people and good work abound! TIME: Work a shift 10-12, 1-3 or go ahead and stay 10-3. St. LOCATION: Luke's-St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Allston (5 Saint Lukes Rd; 66 bus or B Line to Packard's Corner). CONTACT: Jason Learn more about the program at

TUESDAYS @ 6:30-8pm in AUGUST / Centering Prayer Group
Join this open group and share the practice of centering prayer (think of it as Christian meditation). If it's your first time or you're a pro, the group will be a refreshing way into deeper life with God. LOCATION: Due to construction in the Cathedral community spaces this summer, the group will meet at The Paulist Center -- a Catholic church across from Park St. T, about half-way up Park St (toward the State House; see the bright red door). NOTE: On 8/25, meet at St. John the Evangelist Church on Bowdoin Street, other side of the State House. CONTACT: Keith Nelson, or 205.807.9037.

community notes
Giving @ The Crossing -- An Update
We're at the halfway point in our annual giving goal of $20,000 in 2009. Please prayerfully consider making a one-time gift or start pledging (setting out an amount you'd like to give over the course of a year, and filling out a pledge card so we know we can count on your contribution). Give however you're able: cash, check or credit cards. CONTACT: Chris Ashley at

You got stuff to share (a job, a couch, a theater gig you want people to attend …)? You need stuff (lost scarf, dog-sitter, a summer sublet …)? Log onto our new online forum to connect and share information about random community announcements -- including upcoming events, apartment sublets, job opportunities, lost-and-found, furniture exchange, help requests, etc.

ongoing justice and healing ministries
We're serious about joining ministries that serve our homeless and hungry brothers and sisters. Please join us any day of the week!

** Monday Lunch Program: Cathedral every Monday, 10am to help with set-up, or 11:30am-12:45pm to help serve & build community with our neighbors. Contact Rev. Steph at

** St. Francis House: Volunteers needed every day to help serve meals and provide care. Boylston St, near Chinatown. Lynn Campbell, our link to St. Francis House, is on her way to seminary. But if you'd like to help out, call (617) 542-4211 or go to

AND join Boston Faith and Justice Network to build awareness, relationships and action around fair trade and justice issues locally and globally. Go to for more info.

getting connected @ the crossing
If you'd like to be in touch, we'd love to connect with YOU! Look at the list and then reach out:
** Stephanie Spellers: / 617.482.4826, x318
(priest, communications, pastoral care)
** Jason Long: / 617.482.4826, x311 (small groups & formation, newcomers)
** Chris Ashley: (budget, hospitality)
** Kieran Conroy: (emerging church connections)
** Jamie Urquhart: (music ministry)
** Keith Nelson: (worship arts)
** Jenna Tucker: (general admin)

Blessings, rest and joy in the name of Christ -- Alleluia!
Rev. Steph

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(marie) arrived in nairobi

(from marie harkey)

Hello all,

I've arrived safely in Nairobi where Elphas and his brother Bakala were waiting for me. (Waiting and waiting and waiting because my bag took a while to appear.) Their smiling faces were a most welcome sight to this nervous traveler. I realized that I've never travelled anywhere that I don't speak the language much less someplace where the culture is so completely foreign to me.

The ride to Bakala's house in the suburbs of Nairobi was fascinating. The contrasts were stark. All along the roads were lots and lots of people walking. It seemed so alive. There were also small herds of animals being led by people and plenty of people selling things along the roadside: fruit, toys, nuts, electronics, you name it. As we drove, I did indeed notice the drought as Chris mentioned and as Bakala and Elphas pointed out. I also noticed the apartment buildings, some newer and more modern looking and others more run down, which lined the streets. They all seemed to have shops on the bottom and apartments on the top. The shops extend out to the right and the left of the actual building, giving it the appearance of an inverted T. Almost every apartment balcony had a line of colorful laundry hanging across it, although I wondered if the laundry doesn't get dusty. The dust (like the red mud of my childhood) is everywhere because of the lack of rain. In the paper here at Bakala's house, I read about people in more remote areas resorting to making their chapatis (thicker than tortilla grilled bread, rolled up and eaten with supper) with pig feed. It makes the kids sick, but at least it fills their bellies.

Supper was amazing. There was beef (ground here and cooked with spices), green grams (kind of like a lentil stew), kale, chapati (the bread) and ugali (a sort of mashed potato-looking stuff made with cornmeal, but white). The ugali and chapati are used to scoop up the other foods and it's all eaten with your hands, with the help of a fork when necessary.

Bakala's home is beautiful up here in the mountains and I look forward to exploring the area further tomorrow. It seems that I'll be up early, as the family keeps teasing me about the roosters that will wake me up before 4 a.m. I am safe and happy.

Love to everyone,

Monday, August 17, 2009

Three days on the ground

Dear friends,

These last three days in Maseno, I have been to three different sites: the Mothers’ Union feeding program for AIDS orphans, the Maseno Mission Hospital, and St Philip’s Theological College. I’ve been hearing about these places for the last three years, ever since my involvement with the broader Episcopal Church in Massachusetts started in earnest. The stories I’d heard both prepared me and didn’t.

Gladys, the saintly (and gorgeous) grandmother who runs the feeding program, told us right off that they don’t think of themselves as working with orphans. They work with children, period—God’s children, who happen to need a decent meal. More than anything, our Saturday with the children reminded me of the Vacation Bible Schools I attended as a child and worked at as a youth. You had a group of about 120 kids, from five years up through twelve, that you had to keep organized and engaged. They were gorgeous children, every last one, even in the midst of their often obvious diseases and hunger. Simply blowing bubbles for them was sheer joy, helped along by the incredibly sugary Kenyan tea they’d been plied with. We shared their meal of beans and corn, which was a little dull but very filling. This paragraph feels far too short to describe all I felt and saw that day, so ask me more when I’m back in Boston.

I was first struck, on visiting the hospital, that the grounds were outdoors. You don’t go through corridors to reach a different ward. You walk outside. The weather allows that, of course, but let that stand in for the many differences between a rural Kenyan hospital and the ones I’m used to stateside. Three people there remain especially in my prayers, besides the saintly staff. An eight-year-old girl named Sophie showed us her coloring, which was exquisite. She has both AIDS and tuberculosis, and it’s not at all clear how long she has to live—but she’s perhaps the happiest child I’ve seen in Kenya, and they are a happy bunch. I also happened to walk into the maternity ward right as a woman, who couldn’t have been more than thirty-five, was about to give birth to her fifth child. It was the first birth I’d ever seen, and the easiest that my midwife-in-training teammate from Church of the Advent, Megan Sloat, had ever seen. (The baby crowned and was out in a single push, if you can believe it.) He was a very chill baby, and his mom was a champion. I didn’t get to learn either of their names, but I don’t think I’ll forget them soon.

This afternoon, I got to sit in on a set of lectures by a professor at St Philip’s. All this week, lay leaders from throughout western Kenya are being trained for ministry in an intense week of study—half a day for pastoral care, half a day for evangelism, half a day for stewardship, and so on. I heard the half day for Biblical theology, which was a fascinating glimpse into the prayer and thought life of a church both like and unlike those I’ve been part of all my life. These leaders are, in most cases, going to be the main people in charge of their congregations: A single priest may be in charge of eleven different sites, so lay people have to take on responsibility for preaching, administration, and everything else. I hope to hear more of these sessions, because I believe we in the States could learn a great deal about lay leadership from our sisters and brothers (mostly sisters, to judge from the room today) who have taken on this challenge from simple scarcity.

It has rained every night in Maseno since I got here, so your prayers are working. Keep them up!

Peace love & backyard bananas,