God’s Old Testament laws for the well-being of His people embed a deep command to generosity. Don’t glean to the edge of your field (Deut. 24:19); if your brother lacks the offering for the Holy Day, share with him (Deut. 15:7); use the gifts you have to serve the Lord and the Community (Exodus 35:10).
In general, Kenyans seem to identify deeply with Old Testament culture. Especially this sense of loyalty and generosity for the well-being of the tribe. This manifests in some obvious ways — crime is low among the Maasai, tribes & family groups share cattle and other resources. But one way I’ve noticed that was new to me, was education.
Literacy rates in rural Kenya are dismally low. Very few people have the opportunity to study beyond primary (elementary) school, much less attend college or get an advanced degree. But those who have had this opportunity make the most of it and share their skills in loving and generous ways.
For example, in legal matters the Maasai have little representation. Few have gone to law school, and few outsiders are interested in defending their interests in the legal system. Lacking essential knowledge, they often sell rights or property for much less than they’re worth or have land stolen out from under them. Now imagine if a Maasai man or woman was trained in the law. He or she speaks the language of both the Maasai and the legal system, knows both cultures, and can well represent each side to the other. This is paradigm-shifting, community-changing. And that’s exactly what Robert is doing. Through his RCA-supported legal education, he is creating change and well-being among the Maasai. I find myself lacking a photo of Robert right now… I’ll post one as soon as I have it :)
We had the opportunity to interview several other scholarship recipients this week. Miriam is studying education at St. Paul’s University. As a young girl, she grew up literally in the shadow of St. Paul’s campus and her dad worked as a messenger there. But both of her parents died when she was in high school, and she essentially had to give up on her dream of attending university. However, she received a scholarship through the RCA and is now studying education. She dreams of supporting and educating special needs children and their families in Kenya.
Likewise, George and James are both business majors at St. Paul’s. Each faced extraordinary difficulties in getting to the university. George admitted that if he wasn’t at school with the support of the scholarship program, he’d likely be hustling on the streets. James said he’d be working on the family farm. But at St. Paul’s they have the vision of a future in which they’ll own businesses, employing and training members of their community and giving back to their families.
I asked each of these young people — “why not just take your degree and run? With this training, you could work anywhere in Kenya or Africa… why not just make as much money as possible and never look back?”
Each one looked at me like I was crazy. They all said that to do such a thing was beyond foolish. They recognize what we in our selfish, western cultures often fail to… That because they’ve been supported through the RCA and others, they can now use that gift to support and begin transforming their families and culture. Each said that because they see the generosity of Christ in those who supported them, they now desire to be Christ as they go back to serve.
I can’t tell you how many presentations I’ve sat through in Iowa City extolling the benefits of education. “Build schools in the developing world! People can do anything if they only get a degree!” And this is true to some extent… But can you see how this is a shallow, short-term view of the matter? Education in and of itself will not save a person or a community. Only Jesus can do that. What’s really important is to see what a community needs for transformation and to equip people to meet those needs. When a young person feels a genuine connection to his or her community or tribe as so many of those do, he or she will give back in dynamic and powerful ways — changing a community for Christ, and for good.