25 years ago…….Network was in its infancy when the idea of British and Kenyan women visiting each became a reality, known and remembered as the Kenya Exchange. Whilst the idea was developed at Network Connexional level with support from the World Church Office, it was a venture in which individual Districts became very involved, nominating women to be considered for the team and raising the money to finance them. Many around the Connexion still have very special memories of the Kenyan women’s visit to Districts in 1988 on the first stage of the Exchange. A year later 26 British women including one from Ireland went to Kenya for what, in the words of the women who met together to remember the people and experiences of 25 years ago, was ‘life changing’.
During the last weekend in July, almost 25 years to the date when we travelled overnight by train from Nairobi to Mombasa 12 of the team were together at Abbot Hall for a time of recalling and retelling stories. Would we recognise each other ……some of us had not seen each other for many years……would we still feel part of the team? Recognition was instant as was the team spirit and the reminiscing began and continued almost nonstop throughout the weekend. Memories of people and places flooded back as did some of the emotions we had experienced. It was as if they had happened yesterday! In remembering we gave thanks for the Kenyan women: for their welcome and generosity of love and hospitality.
There was much talking and laughter and emotions surfaced as we shared our stories of staying in homes and being welcomed by families and sometimes whole villages. The sight of ‘an army’ of Kenyan women dancing towards us in welcome and of being carried along with them to an open air Rally was one of our most vivid memories. Special were memories of meeting with children and students in schools and colleges; patients and staff in hospitals and clinics; leaders and workers in different kinds of projects; the joy and exuberance of people everywhere. Sharing in worship and being able to respond to whatever was asked of us even now is humbling as well as amazing.
We were delighted that on our last day together at Abbot Hall we were joined by the Revd. Charles Makonde and his wife Joyce. They along with some of our Kenyan hostesses had been at the station to greet us when we arrived in Mombasa 25years ago. As well as sharing in some of our stories and memories they brought us up to date with news of some of our friends and the Methodist Church in Kenya , which in spite of many problems and challenges in the country, is still the vibrant Church of which we have so many wonderful memories.
Meeting after 25years brought back lots of memories of those with whom we had shared the journey and with those who opened their home and hearts to us. We still feel it was a privilege to have been chosen to be members of the team and value the preparation that was given in the months leading up to the Exchange, even though we were soon to realise that actual experiences can be very different. We were often surprised by what we were able to cope with and respond to.
The following are some personal reflections some of which echo those of other team members:
‘I remember as I stepped off the plane in Nairobi, to the sound of Kenyan women singing , I prayed that God would be in my suitcase. I was soon to discover that He was already there in the lives of
the people and the church communities I met with’
‘The reunion has made me realise what a privilege it was to be a member of the Kenya Exchange and how it helped my spiritual growth and gave me a deeper insight into the lives of Christians in another part of the world’ It will always be one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.’
‘The journey to Kenya was a transforming experience, many lessons were learnt. We, who were used to seeing ourselves as the givers, learnt the value of being receivers.’
The visit became part of a personal pilgrimage, a journey of discovery, somewhat humbling, and revealing God in unexpected ways.’
‘What I had known in my head I now know in my heart……we are all God’s children and part of his worldwide family.’
‘My time in Kenya became a spiritual journey that was to transform my life and I returned home with stories and experiences to share and a belief that God was calling me to full time service in His church.’
The spiritual journey that was to transform our lives and the opportunities we had to share our experiences, around our Districts, gave some of us a new understanding of ourselves, our faith and the ways in which God called and still calls us to share the gospel. We came together; we went our separate ways, knowing that what we shared 25 years ago is still very much part of who we are today.
We will be ever thankful to God and the Methodist women in Britain and Kenya for what to us, 25 years later, is still an amazing experience, which changed us, gave us a personal understanding of what it means to be part of the World Church and continues to inspire and challenge us.