SURVIVED WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN GRAVELY TRAGIC
It was bad enough; it could have been better, but because it could have been the worst that could ever happen, I can only sigh in relief that there was a divine intervention.
At the Hands of My Brother Lucas
One of my early encounters with pain of which I remember very well was when one day my brother Lucas accidentally poured boiling milk on me. There was milk that was boiling on the charcoal stove. He noticed just when the milk was at the verge of pouring off. He impulsively picked the hot saucepan off the stove. With bear hands, he couldn’t withstand the heat. If he couldn’t put the hot saucepan on the nearby table in the next one second, he would certainly drop it down. He turned with speed towards the table. I happened to be just behind him. He knocked the saucepan on my head and the whole content was all over my body. What a painful hot milky shower in the morning! It could have been another story if it was water or oil.
On another occasion we were playing on the floor. The concrete floor was hard enough to split a child’s head. We used to sit on cartons, small benches and the likes and be pulled around. We thought this could apply to a rope as well. Lucas happened to have a rope in his hand. I told him that I could stand on the rope so that he could pull me around. He accepted. I stood on the rope and when he tried pulling, it was not working. It felt like I was too heavy—but was I? We could have learnt that a rope wasn’t meant for this kind of thing. He tried again and failed. He gathered his breath and jerkingly pulled the rope with all his strength. I fell like a tree. The thud with which my head hit the floor was so thunderous the neighbours wondered what was happening in our house. They came to find me unconscious. We had been home alone. That I survived was a miracle.
One day, we were swinging from a rope tied on a branch of a tree in front of our house. It was Lucas who sat on the rope as I sat on his laps. He would kick on the ground as he accelerated the pace of our swinging. Soon it was much more than I could cope with. I started shouting for him to stop. The swinging loop was too high and deep I felt like my heart would drop. Instead of my shouting and crying slowing my brother down, it only stirred him up.
As he enjoyed himself at my expense little did we know that the friction between the rope and the branch was taking toll on the rope—it would soon give way. When it finally cut, it was at the wrong time. We were at the highest point it could swing to. It is a terrifying thing finding oneself airborne without flying gadgets, freely floating in the space.
I was a little boy; failed to calculate that the next swap of the iron box would land it on my head.
I don’t know how my brother felt the impact on landing but on my part, it was another miracle that I never felt the impact. There was however an excruciating pain in my pinky toe (the little toe) on my left foot. When I checked, I found that the nail thereof had been peeled off. The pain resulting from a ripped off nail is one that no one can describe enough to make you perceive how it feels. It was interesting that my brother had also lost a nail on the same foot and toe. That we never broke any bone was a miracle.
Almost Lost an Eye
Another accident I remember was when someone was in a store where he had kept some fire wood. He was throwing the firewood out of the store. I happened to be passing near the door. The firewood hit me on my left eyebrow, missing my eye with a whisker. Years later, in Mbita, Wadeya, a neighbour, hit the very spot with what we locally call ogaka. The latter the spiny-margined leaf of an aloe. We were playing, warring by missiling the thorny thick leave of aloe against one another. I never saw him release his “missile”, otherwise I would have ducked. As I bowed to pluck my next missile, his hit my left eyebrow. Bleeding and the fluid from the succulent leaf unbearably irritating my eye, I had to be supported on my way home.
There was also the case of an iron box. A man was swinging a charcoal iron box in front of his house when I happened to be passing by. The type of iron boxes people used those days were made in a way that after putting charcoal in them , they would be swung in the air so that the charcoal could catch fire. I was a little boy and never calculated that the next swap of the iron box would land it on my head. The man didn’t se me come.
It was another miracle that the iron box missed my head. It instead caught my left arm, and I got a good burn just next to a wound from a recent vaccination that was yet to heal. I still have the scar.
Fell From a Tree
Except for the case of warring with the aloe’s leaves, all the above accidents happened in Macalder. After we went back to our rural home, there were other rounds of accidents. At one time, I was guarding the garden near the lake. Monkeys used to destroy maize if no one stood guard, especially at the time when the cobs had not hardened.
For me to have a good view of the whole garden, I used to climb a tree. The monkeys were not as afraid of children as they were the adults. This meant that sometimes a male adult monkey would tantalize us, almost posing as if spoiling for a fight.
I was facing one direction when a big monkey approached from a tree behind me. When he hooted and twittered, it was so abrupt that I was sent tumbling from the tree. I was not expecting that a monkey was approaching from behind me. When he hooted, it caught me unawares. I quivered and panicked. That is how I lost grip and found myself freely falling from the tree. At the foot were these swollen roots that ran on the surface before running underground. It would have been preferable falling on the soil than on the swollen roots.
I thought I had broken by ribs. The pain was excruciating. Though I was conscious and knew what had happened, I was unable to raise myself. I lied there for a while writhing in pain. After a while the pain subsided and strength returned. That I didn’t break any bone despite falling from such a tall tree, was another miracle.
When we took the chance with this unpredictable wind, little did we know that we had taken a chance of our life.
Sometime later, I must have been in 6th class. We were at the school’s field. There was athletics tournament in a week’s time. Athletes were practising. I happened to be crossing the field from one end to another when I heard shouts that were not passing any message but sighing at an imminent disaster. Little did I know that I was the one who had walked in the way of an approaching javelin.
Opollo was short but stout. He was definitely past primary school age, thanks to being a late-starter. Nobody knew that he could throw the javelin almost across the field. Where I was crossing from looked beyond the reach of the javelin. But this afternoon Opollo must have had a good meal of nyoyo and was full of energy (nyoyo is a local staple made from maize and beans boiled together. It is believed to imbue lots of energy into the eater).
I was lucky—or wasn’t I? On this day the real javelin had broken and they improvised by a rod. It was still dangerous enough since it was heavy and sharpened at the tip. I turned to look round why people were unleashing shouts of anguish. By so doing, I gave my back to the ‘javelin’. It hit me on the back. A paralyzing pain penetrated my whole body as I went tumbling down. For what looked like eternity I struggled to breathe but only groaning sound came out. It could have been a different story if it was the real javelin.
I read a story about a man who was knocked by a bicycle. He was the one who got in the way of the bicycle. He however started complaining bitterly to the cyclist. The latter told him that he should be grateful for he was one very lucky person. This was paradoxical and made the knocked person even madder but the cyclist explained: “I usually drive a truck around here at this time. You were lucky it was a bicycle, it could have been a truck!”
Storm at the Lake
Our cousin Charles Okech had sent us to go to Mirunda to his maternal uncle’s place to get a plough (plow). Though we were young teenagers, my brother Lucas and I were familiar with the lake. On several occasions Charles had sent us to the lake alone for fishing expeditions, going as far into the lake as any adult could go. Things had gone wrong a number of times but that was part of life in this part of the world—we thank God that we had survived all along. I may not describe all of the near tragedies we went through.
It was not something out of the extraordinary therefore for Charles to send us alone in the lake to for a journey that would take about 2 hours 30 minutes, depending on the strength of the wind.
On Lake Victoria, unless under some isolated cases, yandha—westerly and tarai—easterly winds were always alternating predictably—tarai in the mornings and yandha in the afternoons. For those who may not know, winds are named after where they are blowing from not where they are blowing towards.
We set sail around 1 pm. in the small boat and managed to sail without any incident. The idea was that we would evaluate the situation—if yandha continued into the late afternoon, we would spend in Mirunda and sail back home the following day when tarai would be on our favour. There was, nevertheless, always a chance that nya’ondo—a south-easterly wind could blow in the late afternoons. This wind was associated with rains although it didn’t necessarily rain whenever it blew. Sometimes it would be but a hint that there could be rain soon—and ‘soon’ here could range from next few minutes to next few months, depending on the appearance and movements of the clouds. This wind, just like the tarai, could help us sail back home.
Around 5 pm, nya’ondo started blowing very gently. We were lucky—or so we thought. We could sail back home. The plough was quickly loaded into the canoe for us and we were on our way. If it blew consistently we would be home by 7:30. This would be just before the hippos come out of water to graze. Arriving later than this time would put us on the danger of crossing paths with hippos.
When we took the chance with this unpredictable wind, little did we know that we had taken a chance of our life. After sailing for about 45 minutes, the wind just died down. We thought of going back but there was no wind. Hoisting the sail was therefore not an option. This meant that if we were to go back we would have to paddle. I am not sure about our exact age at the time but I would put my brother’s age at 15 or thereabout and mine at 13 or thereabout. Two teenagers, paddling back would take us not less than two hours. The biggest problem was that where we wanted to go back to was notorious with hippos—to say that it was hippos’ haven is not an exaggeration. By the time we would dock, the hippos would be all over the place. We ruled out going back to Mirunda.
We had two more options but none of which was better in any way. We could paddle home but this would take us so many hours, we would be exhausted. We might not even have the energy to accomplish it. Although our docking place at home was not as infested with hippos as Mirunda, there were still enough chances that we might cross paths with a hippo or two. Again did it matter whether they were many or one? Just meeting one hippo was enough to spell doom.
The other option was to just chill in the canoe overnight and wait for the daybreak. We opted for this.
We didn’t have any watch and my guesses on time could as well be wrong but I would guess that it must have been ten or eleven in the night when the wind began again. This time, however, it was not the gentle wind that had got us into the interior of the lake before dying down. It was a storm—a tempest at that. Black cloud had formed so much so that the lake that was usually not so dark at night the way it would be on the land, was pitch-dark. It seemed like it would rain but it didn’t. Instead, the weather spurted furious wind over the lake. Soon there were waves that threatened to swallow our small boat.
It was so dark we couldn’t see each other though we were in the same boat. We did what people would call courageous but for us, there must have been Someone doing things for us. We hoisted the sail dangerous as it was. The wind picked the sail resulting into a terrifying speed. Considering the pace at which the boat was moving, if we didn’t capsize, the distance that would normally take two hours would take even less than fifty minutes.
It was better hoisting the sail and moving almost at the same pace with and in the direction of the waves than allow the waves pound on the boat. Hoisting the sail brought with it two dangers. The first danger was that the whirlwind that accompanied the storm could easily twirl the sail into wrong position ending up capsizing the boat. The second danger was that because we couldn’t see anything, it was difficult knowing where we were. In fact, it was also not possible maintaining the right course. There was a chance that we could sail wild. The imminent danger, that which we felt could happen the next second, was wrecking on the rocks at Chamaunga—a small bushy, rock-strewn, snake infested uninhabited island.
After sailing at a terrific speed for what could have been thirty minutes, we felt that we had covered the distance that should place us somewhere around home. It was time to change our sailing direction. We had been sailing westwards. For us to head the direction of home we had to turn the sail on the right side of the sail-mast. If we managed to do this, we would sail southward.
We reached a point where we agreed unanimously that we had to start sailing southwards or else risk boat-wrecking at the Chamaunga rocks. When we finally docked it was at thick reeds. Where were we? One advantage at this point was that the place was relatively shielded from open lake. The waves were therefore not as violent as they were out in the open lake. We still needed to know where we were and if it would be manageable to moor the boat at some point. A lightning flashed for the first time. It provided enough light to help us see where we were.
The imminent danger, that which we felt could happen the next second, was wrecking on the rocks at Chamaunga—a small bushy, rock-strewn, snake infested uninhabited island.
This may sound like a film where everything is stage-managed to bring the expected result, but believe you me, what unbelievable surprise! The place was familiar. We had docked at a point hardly ten metres from our beach.
The next challenge: how do we moor the boat? If we reached in good time, when there would still be people around there, we would ask them to help us drag the boat over land to a place where the waves may not reach it to drag it back to the water.
What we never realised was that we were experiencing streams of miracles. We had just to attempt to drag the boat over land—a fete that was unthinkable to be unattainable for two youngsters. But it worked! We managed to drag the boat well away from the water.
The next challenge: what about the hippos? Well, we had just to get away from the lake as soon and as fast as possible. We groped our way home. We never crossed ways with hippos.
If I wasn’t conscious then about miracles, I am now in retrospect. It was God! I repeat, chance and luck couldn’t have been so friendly to place everything to our favour. Out of all the odds, it needed only one thing to go wrong for us to be past tense. It was God!
MY FIRST ENCOUNTER WITH AN ANGEL—OR WAS IT WILSON?
I am always with me; if God can protect me from me, that is, danger from within myself, how much more can He protect me from an external danger?
At the Verge of Taking My Own Life
As my cousin Okomo was leaving for his peripatetic routines, he asked me to sweep his house. This was not a problem. I had always swept his house and it was going to be just another routine. I gladly accepted to do it—in fact, the idea of not doing it was not in the picture. What I didn’t know was that this assignment which I thought I was experienced in was going to set off events that would convince me that life was not worth living.
I swept the floor and thought I did my best as usual. There was however a used matchstick that had got stuck at the foot of the bed. The broom didn’t remove it and I didn’t see it either, otherwise, I would have pulled it by my fingers.
When my cousin came home, he saw the matchstick by chance. He called me and asked me if I swept the house the way he told me. He could of course see that the floor was swept. When I answered that I indeed swept the floor as he could see, he called me to come closer and have a look. He pointed at the foot of the bed and asked, “If you swept the floor, what is this?”
With that I qualified for another round of violence. Another round because this was not the first time I was being punished. If one could get used to being beaten I would have gotten used to it. I had no “problem” with being punished because at home and in school corporal punishment was normal, everybody else was being punished once in a while for one reason or another. The problems I had with the punishments my cousin meted against me were: their causes; their intensity and their frequency.
On this day he flogged me so badly. When the cane broke after repeated floggings, he went and picked a new one, and continued brutally whipping me.
At the end of it, my body was bleeding. Even the tattered shirt that I had on could not stay on my back. It was painfully rubbing against the wounds. I removed it.
I felt I had had enough.
If it was punishable offence for me not to have seen the one matchstick at the foot of the bed, a mild punishment could have been enough, but the way I was beaten was way too much for the offence. I couldn’t take it anymore. Life was not worth living—I decided to end my life.
There were two reasons for doing this: one was to escape the senseless beatings I was routinely subjected to and the other was to punish my cousin. It was going to be a haunting stigma upon him that he made me die.
As I went to graze the cattle, I made myself a rope. In the countryside where we had lots of sisal, making a rope was a simple assignment. That afternoon when I took the cattle to the lake to drink, I went to a tree near the place where the cattle had been drinking the water. I fastened the rope on one of its branches. The tree was not one that could be climbed, so I rolled a stone to get it to a position where I could climb on it to get my neck into the noose.
Just when I was stretching my head to get my neck into the noose, Wilson Ochien’g Onyonyi appeared from nowhere.
“Hey! What do you think you are doing?” He interrupted.
When I turned to check, he had already reached me. Without saying any more or trying to find out why I had wanted to kill myself, he confiscated the rope and walked away. He disappeared as fast as he appeared.
Just before I started moving my head into the rope, I had looked and saw that there was nobody around to interrupt my operation. Where did Ochien’g come from? How did he get to me so fast? And the way he disappeared after taking my rope!!
Ready to Die but Not in the Jaws of a Crocodile
Ochien’g was about three years older than me. I knew that he would tell my people what I had attempted to do. I didn’t know how this was going to be received. Perhaps it was going to earn me another round of brutality. I decided that I had to go ahead with my suicidal plans.
After he had left with the rope, I turned my attention to the lake. I said to myself:
He has taken the rope but what about the water? There are many ways to die in; I am going to drown myself.
With that I went into the water and started wading into the depths of the lake. I finally came to the depth that if I didn’t do anything I would drown. But instead of letting go so that I could gulp water and inhale a chocking blow, I naturally found myself controlling my breathing mechanism when under the water. I failed to inhale water. I ended up swimming. An idea came to me. I could swim away into the deepest part of the lake where I’d get tired and drown naturally. And that was what I started doing.
I never went far with this new strategy, nevertheless.
Just when I was busy draining my strength to facilitate my drowning in the deeper parts of the water, a still voice interrupted me, asking:
Have you forgotten that there are crocodiles in this water? Unless you get out of this water real fast, you know the risk.
My understanding at this point was not the risk of dying—that was what I went into the water for. My understanding of the risk was the likelihood of ending up in the jaws of a crocodile.
Fear gripped me. I thought: ‘those ferocious, ever-hungry reptiles will get me before I drown’. I imagined being torn into pieces; my bones splitting and cracking under the powerful jigsaw teeth of a crocodile. I visualized crocodile’s teeth digging deep into my flesh; blood spilling all over the place; the pain excruciating—what a terrifying way to die! These images must have crisscrossed in my mind in a matter of seconds. I couldn’t cope with these images. I started swimming out of the water faster than I went in. I literally ran out of the water, terrified as if a crocodile was already chasing me.
The problems I had with the punishments my cousin meted against me were: their causes; their intensity and their frequency.
We used to swim in this water (against advice) but we could do so when we were many, but when we encountered a crocodile one day, face-to-face, we knew it was a dangerous place. This is another narrow escape story which I would have told here but because I am already writing a book called, “Swimming With Crocodiles”, I may not pre-empt the story here.
I had wanted to die but never considered being a meal for the crocodiles as one of the options. In fact when Ochien’g took my rope, he kind of took the wind out of my suicidal sail. I hadn’t thought upfront for plan B. That is why when the thought of crocodiles mauling me hit my mind, I hadn’t prepared to deal with that kind of thought. I had to just run out of the water.
That closed the suicide attempt chapter in my life. I have lived to appreciate life so much, including the life of an insect.
About a year ago, a thought slowly sneaked into my mind. It asked: Did you know that the person who confiscated the rope was not Ochien’g but an angel? That made some sense.
Why do I think it was an angel that confiscated the rope?
If it was Wilson it was obvious that he could have reported the case to my people, but he didn’t. That was strange. Even though he was from an immediate neighbouring home and we continued interacting when we were grazing the animals and playing football, he never once asked me or mentioned anything about the attempted suicide.
The way he appeared and disappeared was quite strange, to say the least. He appeared too fast so did his disappearance.
But even if it was actually Ochien’g the timing of his arrival was divinely coordinated. If he appeared one minute later, I wouldn’t have been alive today.
What is Wrong Fearing Hell?
Fear has been summarily demonised, and rightly so. There are many things that go wrong when people are fearful. (1) Nevertheless, fear, being natural, ought to be managed in a way that would help utilize its positive aspects as we neutralise its downsides.
First, fear is positive if it makes us know that we are not the ultimate masters of our destiny. This kind of fear would make us know our vulnerability. This in turn makes us call upon the One who can protect us. The certainty of eternity is something to make us do everything to get it just right. To put it bluntly: Fear that makes us run to God is a good fear.
Second, fear that makes us get out of the way of danger is a good fear. From the story I shared above about running out of the water for fear of being mauled by crocodiles, we can’t adjudge this kind of fear as negative. To put it frankly: Fear that makes us not give away our life to the “crocodiles” of this life is a good fear.
Third, fear that makes us not take foolish chances with our eternal destiny is a noble fear. Take for example the fear of hell that many people ridicule. People who preach about hell and tell the unsaved that they are risking going to hell if they reject God’s offer for salvation are usually jeered at. Some people would ask: Are you scaring us into heaven? If I was preaching about hell and you asked me this question, I would answer, Yes! If scaring somebody with hell would truly make him avoid that eternal damnation, I wouldn’t shy from doing it. I don’t subscribe to a wholesome the end justifies the means, but in this sense, I don’t see anything hideously unbecoming in the means. But I have come to realise that the agony of hell is hidden to virtually everybody so that the fear that this agony ought to arouse is not significant enough to make people get saved in order to avoid the said hell. To be blatant: Fear that makes us not take chances with matters of eternity is a good fear.
I started swimming out of the water faster than I went in. I literally ran out of the water, terrified as if a crocodile was already chasing me.
Look at it this way: If God didn’t directly prompt me to think about the crocodiles in the water, and instead chose to send somebody—a human being—who then came and shouted at me saying: Hey you! Unless you get out of that water, there are crocodiles that would maul you! Would it make sense if I turned and protested saying, Are you scaring me with crocodiles so that I may live?
If the mention of hell arouses fear, it is a fear that is meant to help us live instead of die. While it is reasonable to live because of the beauty and purpose of life, we are prone to act foolishly; make mistakes or overreact in ways that can make us throw away our life. Some of us are living today because of the fear of pain that accompanies death. In the same way, we should want to be with the Lord in heaven for its naturalness and the beauty of it, but we are prone to be put out of sane relationship with God because of the brutalising circumstances around us, or sometimes because of the thrills of life that make us forget God.
Although it may sound both offensive and repulsive, and of course it depends on how one puts it, telling people about hell is generally to remind and warn them of the risk of being damned forever. It isn’t supposed to be viewed as a threat but as a warning.
Certainly hell must be a fearful place. The Lord Jesus Himself said that it is a terrible place. What soul can pretend not to shudder at the prospect of hell? It is only those that have convinced themselves that hell doesn’t exist that make fun of it.
According to me, fearing hell enough to avoid it is just as positive as fearing crocodiles enough not to give ourselves away into their jaws. To me, protesting against the mention of hell is an equivalent of protesting against someone warning us that we stand a risk of being eaten by crocodiles if we insist to stray into and stay in their territory.
Fourth, fear that makes us behave respectfully is a good fear. The fear I am talking about here is exemplified by a child fearing punishment and therefore avoiding to disobey the parent.
In our natural relationships, our kids may help us put the respectful fear into perspective. They may be "forced" to do the right thing because of the fear of facing the father with a mischief. I remember one time when my son filled the bathroom sink with sand. When the boy saw me come, I could read that he was 'terrified'. This was not necessarily because he anticipated being brutalised in any way but because mischief tends to take away confidence and innocence in the presence of authority. Whether you will be beaten or not, you can’t just sit pretty; comfortable and happy in the presence of your father after doing something wrong. Guilt and conscience will make sure that you don’t enjoy such privileges. Guilt sometimes expresses itself in the form of fear. To put it candidly: Fear that helps us behave ourselves is a good fear.
One may disagree with me, saying: But if we really love God, shouldn’t our good behaviour be prompted by our love for rather than fear of Him? I agree! Our love for God should be the compelling force behind our good behaviour. Nevertheless, reality shows that our fallen nature doesn’t take a break even after we get saved. The apostle Paul describes this struggle in Romans 7:21-25. Moses told the Israelites that the fear of God would keep them from sinning (Ex. 20:20, see also Prov. 16:6). There are cases, for example, of some people succumbing to adulterous relationships not because they don’t love their spouses but because of the craving nature of the flesh. Ironically, the fear of repercussions may tame some manner of cravings. I believe that a blend of love and fear is healthy to keep us on the right track.
MY SECOND ENCOUNTER WITH AN ANGEL—OR WAS IT AN OLD MAN?
Do angels have to appear with halo round their head to get our attention? If God sends an angel to pass a message will we heed it more than when He sends a man to deliver the same message?
A Stranger Asking for Water
One hot afternoon, a man, an old short man, came knocking at our door. In the countryside where we lived doors were always open during the day, especially when there was at least somebody in the homestead. The old-man’s knocking was therefore not soliciting the opening of the door. In fact, though we call it “knocking”, usually during the day somebody would just shout: Hodi dalani. I am not sure how hodi could be translated but it must be the onomatopoetic sound that comes when one knocks at a door. The closest I would come with the meaning of hodi dalani is, “hallo this home”. The expression was used for any or all of the following reasons: announcing one’s arrival in a homestead; a way of starting a conversation; a way of asking if there was someone at the home.
Only three of us were home, that is Mama Nora, Okoth and I. Okoth was Mama Nora’s grandson from her only daughter, Damaris. Okoth was one year older than me.
Mama Nora shouted back, “Machiegni!” (Welcome!). The old man was reluctant to enter. Instead, he asked for water as he stood outside the door. Mama Nora insisted that he gets in. He complied. We offered him a chair and he sat himself with a heavy sigh of relief. Though he had attempted to decline coming into the house, it looked like he really needed a rest from the scorching sun. Looking exhausted and sweaty he apparently deserved to sit and cool his heels.
After greeting the stranger, Mama Nora disappeared into the kitchen. I don’t know why but it was by default, to borrow computer language, that I was the one running errands in this home, big and small alike. So, when Mama Nora called out for somebody to go to her, I was there in no minute. She gave me a calabashful of porridge to offer to the old man.
When I gave him the porridge, he set it beside him and asked me to get him water first. He would drink the water then the porridge. I brought him cold water “refrigerated” in a pot. I brought the water in a big calabash, enough to tame whatever thirst he had. I stood by, waiting for him to finish drinking so that I could take back the calabash. As he gave it back to me, our eyes caught and he gave me what I can only describe as a “therapeutic smile”. I could feel a surge of ticklish elements run through my body. I became aware of the good that the water had done him. He thanked me as I reached out to take back the calabash, returning my version of a smile.
Another Story-Telling Old Man
Mama Nora came and joined us. She sat at the other end of the room. Because the house was not big, talking at normal volume everybody in the house would get what was being said. The old man started telling stories. For me, this was typical of old men. My uncle, Andrea Migoma, Mama Nora’s husband, was another one. He could tell stories ranging from hunting expeditions they used to have, with every detail of who killed what over forty years ago, to his experiences as he fought in the First World War.
From my experience with my uncle, most of the stories were boringly long and remotely distant. So when the old man started telling stories, I kind of tuned him off. My attitude was: ‘There goes another story-telling old man’. We used to enjoy the tales told by Mama Nora. Her stories were fables and tales plotted mostly in the animal kingdom with personified animal characters. These were interesting and humorous.
But the old man was not just telling stories. There was something strange about him. I overheard him saying that he was a messenger travelling the country-over to consecrate some specific children for an assignment. This didn’t mean much to me at the time but I kind of found myself lending my ear, albeit briefly. The next thing he said was that years ago, when Tom Mboya was a young lad, he met him and consecrated him for an assignment. He bemoaned Mboya’s demise on the grounds that he had become proud in his heart thereby facilitating his downfall. Whether Mboya acted this pride or it was hidden in his heart, I don’t know. But that is what I heard the old man say.
Politics is not a dirty game; it is the politicians who play dirty.
When he mentioned Mboya, then he got my full attention—but it was late, he had already said so much. I wished I listened to all his stories. I am not sure what he said before he came to this. Mboya’s case came towards the end of his story-telling. Though we were still young, we were aware of the tragedy that befell Tom Mboya when he was brutally assassinated. He was a brilliant trade unionist cum politician. His political star was rising and shining brighter by the day and his charisma unrivalled among the political elites. He was minister for Planning at the time but it was apparent that he would be a deserving choice for Kenyan presidency after Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Mboya was gunned down in May, 1969. His assassination shook the country so much that even kids like us knew about it.
My attention was still with the old man when he said in conclusion. One of these two children is consecrated for an assignment. He never said what this assignment was. For a moment or two I got excited that there might be a “Mboya” amongst us. However, I had completely no reason to make a claim over what the old man had just said.
Sooner rather than later, I forgot about what the man had said. We didn’t even discuss it with Okoth. In fact, I can’t remember finding out with him if he also heard what the man was saying.
Without retaining what the old man had said or allowing it to influence my ambitions, I found myself getting interested in politics. That interest stayed with me until I got saved in 1989. Since I got saved, I have been willing to sacrifice anything—including my life—so as to make my call and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). I therefore judged that politics is such a dirty game that it would be spiritually suicidal to get involved in it and still remain upright. I wouldn’t trade my relationship with Christ for ANYTHING.
In 1997, however, I realised that politics is not a dirty game; it is the politicians who play dirty. Yes! One can represent Christ as a political participant and clean up the dirt; Yes! One can offer prophetic voice from within the political circles and use the very seat of the country’s governance as a platform to transform the country, delivering God’s direction directly to the leaders before it trickles down to the people. If leaders are wayward which direction do you think their followers will take?
The general practice has been that the “dirty players” in politics would not allow the religious leaders speak against ills in political circles. They tell them to keep to the pulpit and leave politics for politicians. What a lie! If this is the case, then it is alright for a servant of God to become a politician so that he wouldn’t be dismissed from political participation because he is a spiritual leader. So far, the few servants of God that have ventured into politics have been disgraceful. They seem to pursue other things more than representing God and his people in politics.
It was when my political interests were revived that calamity struck as I will share in detail in chapter 21. Meanwhile, let me note here that even if I don’t go into politics, I would encourage an uncompromising servant of God to be engaged in pure politics and show that politics can be a clean game. I would also like to mention here that the assignment that the old man talked about doesn’t have to be political. For me the assignment would even be nobler if the way I have led my life is enough to GIVE GOD THE GLORY. If there is a life that I have impacted in a positive way, that would be a mission accomplished. I have come to learn that to God operating in the limelight or in the background are the same. It is not the magnitude of our assignment that is important, it is rather, the attitude we have about what we are doing for God. In fact, it is easier to manage an assignment in the background than that in the “front ground”.
Why Do I Think the Old Man Was an Angel?
Well, maybe he wasn’t! But there were things that could suggest that he was.
If the man was on a journey as he said, while telling his stories he could have told us where he was from and where he was headed. In our community, the old people had their relatives or friends scattered almost everywhere in Luoland. They would ask around until they get somebody who is both known to the stranger and them (the hosts).
The old man got away with not telling where he came from or where he was going. Another thing is that if he was going some far place as he said, he could have walked along the road. There were many homes that were closer to the road than our home. He could have branched into such homes and ask for water.
Thirdly, the way he was talking and the story he was telling were rather special. How could he be on a mission of consecrating youngsters across generations for an assignment over the whole country if he was a mere man?
And those eyes and the smile!
The Bible is awash with men who were actually not men but angels. The writer of Hebrews tells us that by welcoming strangers, some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Heb. 13:2). Jacob wrestled with someone he initially perceived as a man but who turned out to have been an angel (Gen. 32:24-30). In this story, we also see that sometimes angles are not quick to identify who they are (verse 29). In Judges 13:3, we have the foretelling of the birth of Samson by an angel that appeared to Manoah’s wife. Her first impression of the stranger was that he was a man (v. 6). Here again, like in the case of Jacob’s story we have referred to above, the angel was not keen on revealing who he was (v. 6).
In most cases, one sees a man first but later, on reflection, one may realise some strange things about the “man”.
I wonder what impression Mama Nora had about the man. She never talked about him or mentioned him to my uncle. Or if she did, it never aroused any discussion.
Blessed by My Uncle, Andrea
I must confess that I can’t remember which came first—the old man’s visitation or my uncle’s bestowing blessings upon me.
One day, there was nobody home except my uncle and I. “John Bull!” That is what he used to call me whenever he was in good moods or when I did something good. When I went to him he told me that he had that far not blessed anybody including his own children. He told me that he had decided to give me his blessings.
He called me to come closer in front of him. He gave me his shoes to put on. My feet floated in the shoes. They were way bigger for me. With that, he uttered words of blessings on me. I can’t remember exactly the words he said. He was another cruel but loving man. On this day he spoke tenderly to me and imbued me with confidence. He told me I was things I didn’t believe I was. I wish it was possible to take down what he was saying while he was saying them. I didn’t know at the time how important what he was doing to me was.
Yes! One can offer prophetic voice from within the political circles and use the very seat of the country’s governance as a platform to transform the country, delivering God’s direction directly to the leaders before it trickles down to the people
The blessings didn’t just come “freely”. He also spoke responsibility in my life. Those things never meant much to me at the time. I thought it was just another ‘normal’ uncle-nephew moment. I was still too young to understand the gravity of what he was telling me.
The idea was that I was given responsibility bigger than I was. This was what my feet floating in his shoes signified. I was however going to grow to fit into the responsibility he had given me. The blessing was therefore more of stepping into responsibility than giving me privileges and lordship over the others.
He never told me not to tell anybody about him blessing me, but somehow, young as I was, I understood that if the others, especially his two sons knew that instead of their father blessing them he had blessed me, they would have wasted me. Both of them have since passed on but they never knew about this.
Proceed to Chapters 7-8