When I was young, I played a hand game called “rock, paper, scissors.” Rock would win over scissors, paper over rock, and scissors over paper. Yet the game was “fixed” because if water had been one of the choices, water would always win.
I use this game to tell you a story about how water wore away centuries of oppression, colonialism, tribal customs and misogyny.
At the end of 2019, I found an online entry from a Kenyan woman, a lesbian mother of two daughters, trying to follow her vocation of writing about womanist theology and postcolonialism. We were friends for months, getting to know about each other’s wildly different worlds, when she asked for money for food for her and her children.
My spouse, Sheryl, and I are not wealthy, but we knew we had to help, never imagining where this would lead us.
Njoki was enrolled in a university near Nairobi. The Kenyan Presbyterian Church had denied her a path to ordination because of her lesbianism, but she kept studying for her baccalaureate and taking care of her daughters.
As our friendship grew and COVID-19, floods, and famine devastated Kenya, it became imperative for us to send her a monthly stipend to cover her housing and food. We also helped with a water tank, a replacement computer after hers was stolen, and more as needs arose.
Soon after our first meeting, she asked to call me “Mum,” and as she shared our growing friendship with her daughters, they began to call me “Cucu” or “grandmother.”
We have come a long way together, as she has continued to grow in grace and confidence. Her mother had trouble accepting all of who she is, which was devastating for her, but she finally found her voice.
In a letter/ in an email/ in a text message, she wrote:
“I called my mother. I told her how her behavior was damaging. She said that she feared what people thought about me, saying that I am always writing on issues affecting women. I told her it was selfish to impress others at the expense of hurting me. I told her that this was my vocation, and I needed her blessings, and I am proud of what I do. She ended up apologizing…. I felt such relief.”
Later in the week, she told me that she confronted her uncle:
“I met my uncle who abused me when I was a young girl. I was speaking at a Thanksgiving event …. I mentioned female genital mutilation and how bad it is. I felt so empowered as he and everyone who helped him to cover up listened. At that moment, I felt all the bitterness evaporate as I named it violence. I closed that door. You have given me courage that I didn’t know I possessed. I look up to you.”
It makes sense then that Njoki’s baccalaureate thesis was titled “Dehumanized Imago Dei of Women in Kenyan Politics: Towards a Feminist Public Theology.” She dreams of coming to the U.S. to teach womanist and gender theology.
Njoki got her baccalaureate last November, was on the dean’s list, and now has a licentiate in theology. She is pursuing a Master’s in theology from St. Paul’s University and specializes in gender theology and philosophy.
She hopes to complete her requirements, including her thesis, before flying to the U.S. with her two daughters, ages 16 and 9. She also hopes to pursue further studies at Brite Seminary and begin the ordination process in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We are committed to making this dream come true as her seedling of faith grows into a strong tree.
As divine irony would have it, Sheryl and I are moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico, this spring. It is only 536 miles to Brite Seminary, my new daughter and grandchildren.
We will purchase a home that can house all of us comfortably, allowing our newly completed family to take vacations and enjoy school breaks.
This story has no ending. The rock is still being broken open, and the tree is supplied with water from a growing community. The end is up to all of us.
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