James and Chao Wanje
Imagine yourself establishing your home—building it with not only bricks and stones, but also with children and grandchildren. Then one day, 30 years later, you find yourself running from that very home with no time to carry even a single possession. That’s exactly what happened to many people in Kenya when chaos broke out after the December 2007 election. Homes were shattered and hundreds of innocent people were killed.
When we left the United States in 2005 to build a ministry to families in Kenya, we never envisioned such violence … such suffering. Although we knew that God had called us to work with African families, we had no idea of the difficulties that lay ahead for our native land, our family, our ministry.
We heard many stories: How do people find words to describe the day when neighbors turned against each other after living together for more than 30 years? Or a best friend’s father, a mentor and teacher throughout high school, hunting them down with a machete? Which dictionary can give a definition of the brutality of neighbors who torched a house knowing that a family with children was still in it?
The day the skirmishes started, James was in a town called Mombasa with his cousin. They were caught in traffic and mobs were burning vehicles. A group of youths carrying twigs, machetes, and firebombs intercepted their car. They demanded that James and his cousin leave the car if they wanted their safety. James begged them to let them go. Eventually they let them pass, but only after learning that they supported the same political party.
Chao’s uncle lost his wife and their two children in a fire. The threesome were watching the situation unveil on television when a mob threw a firebomb into their rented home. Their crime? The home was owned by the rival tribe. Chao’s aunt and the two children were burned beyond recognition. Family and friends couldn’t even comfort Chao’s uncle that day because the roads were closed.
In one of our HomeBuilders Couples Series® groups, we were going through Improving Communication in Your Marriage. That helped us to openly communicate our feelings. Chao shared how she was afraid James would fall victim to the skirmishes because he looks like one from the opposition party tribe. She feared that they would mistake him to be one of “them” and kill him.
There were many nights when we just couldn’t sleep. We stayed awake for hours praying and also strategizing about how we could escape, if that became necessary. It was very draining to think about action plans while determining if our neighbor was for or against us. There were days when we left our home to go to our office, only to turn around because of violence.
Despite the very trying times, we were very aware that our friends and ministry partners were praying on our behalf. That gave us great comfort. Sometimes James would wake up at 3 a.m. saying that he was afraid for the family. Then we would remember the e-mails that we had received earlier in the day from dear friends. They said that they were praying for us. As we recalled how others were interceding on our behalf, we reminded each other that the Lord truly hears and answers prayers.
Why we stay in Kenya
Some have asked why we are continuing to stay in Kenya during such a turbulent time. The answer is simple: Kenya is our home and we love our people. There is nothing as satisfying as knowing that we are making a difference there. We know that it is the Lord who determines where we should be born and where we should live at specific times. We heard the Lord very clearly when we packed our bags and children three years ago and returned home.
And we’ve seen what a difference there can be in God’s Kingdom when we choose to be about His business. How do we begin leaving when the need to build and rebuild the institution of marriage is so vast? There is so much need for discipleship. Working with marriages is a powerful avenue for discipleship. How do we even start leaving when the work has just begun? The few couples we have reached need to be trained and challenged to reach more homes. We have the privilege and the Lord’s favor to do this. How would we even begin to move on?
We’ve never stopped dreaming and planning together. The Lord reminds us of the times of the prophet Jeremiah. In all the chaos experienced by the children of Israel, He told them to buy fields and build their families. We continue to dream and plan with a great conviction that tomorrow will be better than yesterday. This keeps our hope alive and pushes us to work harder to see our dreams and plans come to fruition.
Work with Kenyan families continues
Much of the post-election violence has ended, but there are still far-reaching effects. When Chao offered counseling services to the displaced, she was reminded of the tribal conflicts’ dreadful effects on marriages. One woman, who had been married for 10 years, shared how she and her husband were from different tribes. During the violence, it became apparent that their two tribes were the main parties that were hacking each other to death and torching each other’s homes. The husband could not take it anymore. “After all,” he said, “it was her fault” that she was from the other tribe. He told her he wanted to go back to his ancestral home with their only child (according to his traditions, the child belonged to him). He didn’t want her to come with him in case she compromised his security.
She begged him to stay with her and to trust the Lord that the violence would soon become a thing of the past. She asked him to consider the many years they had built their home together. He refused. She asked if at least he would leave with the agreement that once things were calm, he would come back for her. His answer was no!
We talked with the couple about God’s equation for marriage—that “one plus one comes to one.” Even when they are from two different backgrounds/tribes, once they said “I do,” they became one. We encouraged them to go back to Scripture and notice how Adam responded when God “brought” Eve to him. Just as Adam received Eve as a gift from God, not knowing what lay ahead of them but being confident that God knew what would happen and that He also had answers to all their issues, they needed to receive each other in the same way. We reminded them that this was the perfect time for them to lean on each other and to not allow their apparent “differences” to put them asunder. We respected the husband’s fears and empathized with him. Yet we challenged him not to walk away from the gift (his wife) that God had freely given him.
We’re still waiting to hear what happened with this couple.
That’s just one story about why families need God’s Word in Kenya. Whether it is premarital counseling, the HomeBuilders series, counseling with married couples, or standing with that one person, we see God continuing to move and transform His people. We continue to minister with His boldness, by the power of His Holy Spirit. And we leave the results to Him.
After getting involved with FamilyLife while living in Arkansas, James and Chao Wanje joined Campus Crusade for Christ, wanting to return to their native Kenya to work with African families. The Wanjes now lead FamilyLife in Kenya.
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