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A Pastor's Blessing

He never expected to find such generosity amid such poverty, but a Kenyan pastor and his congregants welcomed him with open hearts.

By Rick Hamlin, New York, New York

As appeared in

At one point Carol nudged me. “We should sing for them.” So we stood and sang “Amazing Grace.” The genial Pastor Cornelious then sang it back to everybody in Swahili.

Yes, of course, this congregation had less–a lot less–than we did back in the States, but its spirit was infectious. Pastor Cornelious gave a lively sermon in Swahili, translated by his copastor into English. Worldwide indeed.

He must have been told that Americans were impatient, as he kept consulting his watch. Evidently he had promised the people at the lodge that he would have these busy tourists in and out in an hour.

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I craned my head around to look back at the congregation, trying to figure out how everyone managed to keep their clothes clean in a place with few paved roads and no Laundromats. It seemed a minor miracle. Of course, they had Lake Naivasha.

Richard was asked to address the congregation. He thanked them for their welcome and explained that we were here not only to admire the beauties of their country but also because we had raised money to build a well in another part of Kenya “that is not blessed as you are with this beautiful lake next to your town and such living waters.”

An offering was taken up. A woman brought around a large purse to collect it. I took out a twenty. “Let’s do more,” Carol whispered. I found some more bills and dropped them in. We all did. The place could use the money.

Pastor Cornelious, consulting his watch again, led us in prayer. We sang another song and then went outside to chat in the warm sun–like an American coffee hour without the doughnuts or coffee.

“Thank you, thank you,” we said many times. We took photos on our cell phones, exchanged e-mail addresses, then jumped into our dusty jeep.

Just as we were driving off, Pastor Cornelious raced out of the church with an envelope. “We wanted you to have this as a gift,” he said in his careful English. He thrust it into Richard’s hand. “It is for the well you’re digging in that part of Kenya that isn’t blessed like ours with such living waters.”

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“Thank you,” we said. A little later, when we stopped for lunch, Richard opened the envelope and stared for a moment at its thick wad of bills. All those tens and twenties we’d given them, they’d given right back to us, along with their own hard-earned shillings.

“They gave us the entire offering,” Richard said. “Everything we gave them and their own money too.”

The widow’s mite didn’t seem like just a parable anymore. I had been so hesitant about meeting poverty face-to-face, but what we saw was the rich, raw, passionate expression of faith. Pure generosity the way the early Christians practiced it. I felt like I was hearing one of Paul’s exhortations to give, and seeing it acted upon, instantly.

Pastor Cornelious and I started e-mailing once I was back home, his messages filled with exuberant greetings of brotherly love. Our little travel group decided we wanted to do something for the generous Living Water Gospel Church in Naivasha.

We thought of all those Bibles that were falling apart. Maybe we could give them some new ones. “Dear brother in Christ,” I wrote Pastor Cornelious, adopting his tone, “we have a vision of giving your church a library. Are there any books you would particularly like?”

He gave me a short list and I asked him how many Kenyan shillings it would take for them to build a bookcase. He named a price.

I wired him the money through Western Union. And I started mailing books. The greatest expense has been postage. (Amazon doesn’t deliver to Naivasha.)