What it means to be a family living in Kenya

What it means to be a family over the pass 15 years living in Kenya has taken on a new meaning for me. I remember sitting in a meeting at 475 Riverside Dr. and telling the mission board that I will commit to serve for three years and that is it, because I must return home to my family. Ha, Ha, Ha. 12 years later I am still in Kenya and my family has become so colorful and expansive.

What it means to be a family over the pass 15 years living in Kenya has taken on a new meaning for me. I remember sitting in a meeting at 475 Riverside Dr. and telling the mission board that I will commit to serve for three years and that is it, because I must return home to my family. Ha, Ha, Ha. 12 years later I am still in Kenya and my family has become so colorful and expansive.

I am ashamed to say that this is my first official newsletter since I have been a mission co- worker. It is not because I did not have anything to say but perhaps I did not know how to put words to what I have experienced. I still do not know how to do this, but I endeavor to find the words that will paint a picture so you can get a glimpse of the beauty, challenges, and spiritual richness of my service here with the people of Kenya.

This letter is simply a thank you letter to my family. Who are my family members? Atieno our five year old said to me one day "why is it that you have so many mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. It's not fair, why do I not have as many as you"?

Atieno was referring to one of my fathers who is a Bishop in Swaziland. He walked me down the aisle when I got married eight years ago. He gave me a new name "Lungelo" which means, "right." Fifteen years ago when I started working for the All Africa Conference of Churches, I attended a meeting in Lesotho and Bishop Amos Dlamini also attended this meeting. It was at this meeting he proclaimed I was his long lost daughter who had a right to come back home, thus my name was Lungelo.

Atieno was referring to another father, Robert Gachecheh, who is a businessman living in Kenya. My husband had to ask Father Gachecheh, Bishop Dlamini and several elders (uncles) for my hand in marriage. The service is called "ngurario" and is a traditional service of the Kikuyu tradition. It was a service that brought two families together and declared my union with my husband was not just the two of us getting married, it was the coming together, or a marriage of families, that were once strangers and now are one.

Among my numerous brothers and sisters are the members of First Presbyterian Church in Morris Town, New Jersey. First Presbyterian was only known to me in name. When we saw on the news of the attack of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 I had a nephew who worked in the building. He was the son of Professor Verstine Mbaya. We met as a family in the subsequent days to support each other, as well as Verstine. When word came that my nephew's body was found we started preparing for the funeral. I began to look for a venue for the funeral service and sent an email to First Presbyterian and told them of the situation. First Presbyterian said they would take care of everything. The love they shared and the way they comforted the family can never be captured in words. I can only say that I am privilege to be apart of such a wonderful family.

Lynn is another part of my family. I met her through a colleague who is serving in Kenya with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I asked him if he knew someone in Namibia who could help my oldest daughter, Hawa, as she arrived to begin at the University. I contacted Lynn and introduced myself. I asked her to assist me with collecting my daughter and finding housing, because the school did not have housing available on campus. I did not know that I would have to rely on Lynn for so much more than this. Hawa was turned back from Namibia due to visa problems. She had to spend several days at the airport in South Africa. Lynn took over and worked through all the governmental red tape until my daughter was allowed to enter the country to begin medical school. I am blessed to have a sister I have never met in person named Lynn.

I have only named a few of my family members in this letter. It is all of you – the churches that support me, the churches that send letters during the holidays, and the ones that send me notes letting me know you are praying for me. It is also the church that had a mission conference and arranged a phone interview with me to learn more about my work in Kenya. Thank you to those who set aside time in their prayer calendar to remember me and my family. As we go through this holy season, I am reminded of the Good Friday agreement signed over two thousand years ago. This agreement called for a reconfiguration of the family; it called for us to be one and to live out our oneness as a family of God.

Please pray for the Students at St. Paul's Theological College where I am now teaching the young adult volunteers who are serving in Kenya for a year where I serve as coordinator through the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, and my work with St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.

Thank you Family for your support as I serve here in Kenya.

Phyllis Byrd

Phyllis Byrd is a missionary with the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. This is a joint appointment with the Presbyterian Church, USA and the Common Global Ministries Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. She served as a theological educator in Nairobi, Kenya.