A culture of dying and the hope of living

I met Korie James in 2009 when I did my internship with BTL in Kenya during which time I wrote an article on him and his work with Bible translation.

I was young, 20 to be exact. I still understand little of Kenya but my thoughts were far less developed then; though perhaps my heart was more open and willing to see.

2009 was a horrible famine year. Still the worst of the last five. As I interviewed James I heard his passion for his people. A sadness mixed with resiliency coated his words. He had hope but it was a tired hope. One of long-suffering.

A few weeks later, when I was home in the U.S. preparing to celebrate my much awaited 21st birthday, Korie sent me an email. He had made it back to his family with a truckload of food but he was too late. He had a few hours left with his mother before she died of starvation.

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In a song by Bon Iver he says, “At once I knew I was not magnificent.” This phrase has been on repeat for months now as I have fallen apart many times over. Under the grief that death brings. I have lost my mind through many world rotations. I have believed the worst of man. Of myself. I have doubted the power of light. Of truth. If truth even ever existed.

Those who have walked through it with me have been braver than myself to sit in the rippled silence surrounded by daunting unanswered questions. There have been only a few words. And when they do come they are covered in a shroud of unexplainable weightiness.

As the cloak has slowly cascaded around me, and I begin to see the world more clearly again, I recognize a renewed sense that I am not here to save. Which is by far the most relieving thing that has come to mind in ages.

I am here to love and be loved. And it is in loving that we also share in the suffering of others.

“The only life we know now is suffering,” a Daasanach village elder told me in late 2013 while sitting inside his dome-shaped hut near Illeret, Kenya. “Twelve to 15 years ago things started changing, especially the climate. Things are upside down now. Every year is worse than last year and it makes me scared for the future,” he said.

Traditionally the Daasanach are a nomadic community on the border of Kenya and Ethiopia, but in recent years they have put an emphasis on fishing and have adopted a more sedentary lifestyle. They are a tribe of between 60,000 and 80,000 people and are a marginalized people group with little political power, remotely isolated, exploited, and vulnerable to famine and disease. Because of their mobility, they are given little attention by either nation’s government. Their geographical isolation leads to further neglect. By road, it takes three full days of driving from Nairobi to reach a decent-sized town, with scarcely a fellow vehicle to be seen along the way.

Over these last five years I have seen the Daasanach as having a culture of dying. They live on the brink. Death comes often. Indiscriminate of age or gender. It comes with a vengeance.

“Our cows and goats are so skinny they often don’t produce milk,” a tribal elder said. “We work hard to tend to these animals just for them to die? It’s just like we, ourselves, are being slaughtered. Now we are just waiting for people to die. It won’t be a surprise to hear of someone’s passing.”

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Death has never been more real to me than it is now and in this grieving I am also realizing that they have a pretty accurate handle on life, based on this understanding of death.

Because when you live your life knowing that it could all be over soon, you’re willing to do extraordinary things. Fear is something to be tamed and harnessed and driven into the sunset.

We are all fools locked into our own hopes that maybe we will do something that matters. We are all searching for a way to save ourselves. All the ways we plaster over the wounds. Ours and theirs. But it’s becoming the most liberating thing not to save, but to share. To share deeply my wounds and the wounds of others.

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I share their story because they trusted it to me. I share their story because I believe they will find a way to change their lives.

I get it. Because I don’t want to be reminded either. That there are race riots and terrorist attacks. That there are orphaned children in Syria or tsunami victims in the Philippines that still haven’t been able to rebuild their lives. Because the world is just too big and how can any of us really make a difference.

I share this with you because the brokenness in me sees hope in them. And that’s a message I want to share with the world. Take a moment to watch this video and see if the same message comes true for you. If it does, think of doing something about it.

Want to see more images from the community? Check them out on my webiste, here.

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A culture of dying and the hope of living

2 thoughts on “A culture of dying and the hope of living

  1. Di says:

    You are magnificent. I hope you know it 🙂 I follow your blog but tonight I’m sitting here reading through your posts. And I’m thinking ‘magnificent’, in terms of your courage and your sharing. There are so many of your words I’m wanting to share, on facebook, on any place. I’ll pace myself but thank you.

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