Field Notes

Tuesday is market day in Kitale. Walk, drive, or ride through the center of town and you will see hundreds of sellers hawking for the business of passersby. Everything anyone would need from second-hand clothing to fruits and vegetables to Internet and phone scratch cards. Through the somehow organized madness, I travel with my partner for the day, Pastor Ashivaga from Friends Church in Kitale.

I met Ashivaga, whose first name is Leonard but goes by his second name, in a class at the African Theological Seminary. He sat in the back of the classroom but was easily the most engaged student in the room. He was always instigating passionate discussions in the class. Later he admitted to me that this was the way he learned best. Ashivaga is a natural leader and acted as the class representative by fundraising for money for a classmate who was soon graduating from seminary and even advocated on behalf of the class to have an open conversation about Islam and how the class material could be presented to Muslims. One thing is clear, Ashivaga was created to be a pastor.

Indeed Ashivaga is a pastor as well as a husband, a father, and a farmer. Nothing though seems to come between him and the needs of his congregation. One morning of class he was due to share a devotional. Before starting he brought the class up to speed on what he had been doing for the past 12 hours. After taking his dinner the previous evening a woman from his church called him. Her lorry had broken down and she wanted him to come help her. So he went to go help her, which really was just keeping her company while she waited for a tow truck. Ashivaga finally returned home at 2:00am and still had to prepare for class the following day. He never slept that night.

Ashivaga’s church, Friends Church in Kitale, is also the location for one of the three pilot projects I am evaluating. The first step of this evaluation is for me to visit each of the business owners who attended the Business as Mission class at the church and administer a survey.

As Ashivaga drives me around the small yet bustling agricultural town of Kitale, our bond becomes stronger. We share about cultural differences. For example when I write the date shorthand, I write the number of the month/ the number of the day/ the year. In Kenya everybody writes the number of the day/ the number of the month/ the year. A seemingly meaningless cultural difference between us, but nevertheless a meaningful interaction.

Riding in a car with Ashivaga driving is an adventure by itself. He has just recently received his driver’s license and often recites clever alliterations and rhymes for safe driving. The roads in Kitale are also very difficult to drive on. Many are not paved and if a road is paved there are either speed bumps or potholes to slow any vehicle. Add in the hundreds of motorbikes that are so practical in Kitale yet seem to be able to ignore every rule of the road. Ashivaga also owns a motorbike, which is ironic because when he drives in the car he is always making sarcastic remarks about the driving habits of motorbike drivers.

Ashivaga’s life seems chaotic. It is currently harvest time so he is attempting to harvest his crops, pastor a church, father four beautiful children, be present for his wife, and assist me in my work. After spending the last three days with Ashivaga it is clear that, to him, his life isn’t hectic at all. In fact there is a reason for everything he does, a purpose that transcends anything on this earth.

As we weave past motorbikes through the center of Kitale on market day, the organized chaos of Ashivaga’s life organizes the perceived chaos of the outdoor shops. Sellers trying to make money by desperately selling their goods to customers who must decide whether to part with their own money for these goods, from a distance this all looks like chaotic unbridled selfish behavior. Perhaps it is, but at a closer look this is where the money that feeds families, builds churches, sends children to school, and supports a government—however corrupt it may be—is created. This is where people work, create, innovate, and keep themselves busy.

Just as everyone who is busy doesn’t handle important tasks and responsibilities like my friend Ashivaga, everyone who contributes to the market doesn’t handle the temptations and incentives well. The link between my pastor friend and the market worldwide is that it can be organized by a desire for something other than oneself. A desire to serve others and love God. A desire to care for the poor and vulnerable. A desire to sustain and preserve the environment. And a desire to succeed to make all these things possible.

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