Mucoore Wakwa, My Friend

When I first arrived in the barren land of Eastern Kenya, a thin young woman at the translation center approached me cautiously with her hand out and greeted me in the local language. I responded in kind and smiled. Her cheeks rose, and she grinned back white teeth glistening against her beautiful, dark skin.

“Yes,” I thought, our eyes connecting, I think we’re going to be friends.

Makena (not her real name) had been an orphan, was neglected and abused, moving from one relative’s home to another. She found solace and acceptance in her village church, was able to get educated and then trained to become a secretary at the translation center where we all worked. She had come from nothing to become a very respected and independent woman in the area where we lived. I didn’t know all that information right away, of course; it came out gradually as we got to know one another. Over cups of chai, making chapati together, walking down dusty paths and dodging thorny brush, we talked about life. We discussed our families, loneliness, what trusting God meant, malaria symptoms, goat meat, and the beauty of language. We held hands, walking and talking, because that’s what friends did.

 I found Makena to be a sweet breeze that wiped away the sweat of my cultural immaturity and stress. 

She would chuckle when I said the wrong word in her language, in fact she laughed at me a lot, teasing me about being so dramatic. But her timing was always perfect. She was quiet when words just wouldn’t do, clicking her tongue, acknowledging my problem as real. Makena would hold my hand when my husband had malaria and pray for healing. She spoke softly, and timidly around people, especially men. But when she prayed, her voice rose to the Heavens as if she wanted all the angels to hear how much she loved her Baba, the sustainer of her soul and lifter of her head. She sang with even more intensity, clapping her hands and shuffling her feet in time. I can hear her now, eyes focused upward, letting her scars shout to her Jesus, “I love you!”

Makena began to call me sister. We cooked, traveled, worshipped, taught, laughed and cried together. With open hearts, we co-labored and learned from one another under that hot African sun. I had other dear, sweet friends who called me by my Ki-Thrak name, but Makena was my constant. Perhaps it was because neither of us had children at the time or farms to manage, that we found the space to just be friends. Or maybe it was because I saw the sad teenage ghost residing in her soul, that reached out and hugged the ghost in me. Whatever it was, we connected effortlessly, albeit through cultural faux pas and funny misunderstandings at first. But with time, the depth of our friendship grew into a sisterhood that stays with me to this day. So, I nod my head, yes, to Proverbs 27:9 which says, “A sweet friendship refreshes the soul.”

I have been so blessed to form meaningful, authentic friendships overseas with locals and expats alike. Many of my teammates, neighbors, and local colleagues have become family. Developing these genuine relationships took time, meant pushing hard in language and culture learning, and humbling myself A LOT.

We have to press in. (Prov 27:17)

Get vulnerable. (Prov 27:5,6)

Help one another. (Gal. 6:2)

Learn to trust and forgive. (Col. 3:12-14)

Love one another (John 15:12, 13, Prov.17:17)

It’s not easy—the business of friendship, and I am not an expert. But I do know that we need to be and have sweet friends. Real friends, a ‘mucoore’ that sticks by you, closer than a brother or sister, in the muck and on the mountaintop. Like Jesus. And a lot like my Makena.

When I think of her, my chin shakes, my throat gets tight, and tears form in my eyes. Oh, how I miss her. She is married now, praying for a child, and staying close to her Jesus. Sporadic email messages fall so short of what we both long for: good conversation and a cup of chai in our hands while we sit on wooden stools in the shade of a baobab tree. What I wouldn’t give to sit with my friend in this moment, to talk and pray…someday, I hope.

Her story is unknown to many, but not to her Heavenly Father, or to me. And as her friend, I will always honor her- the tossed-aside girl who types out the Word of God in her heart language, so that others will know truth and love. Our journeys intersected in the most uncommon way, and yet, I can’t imagine any other way. A bit dramatic, I know.

I can hear her laughing now, head thrown back. She glances over at me, eyes smiling. “Oh Monica,” she says, “you are too much!”

On the field, do you have a “sweet friend that refreshes your soul”?  Share with us, and honor them in the comments below. In the culture where you have lived or are currently, what are some of the marks of friendship that you have discovered?  For example- touch, language, food, time, etc.

4 Comments

  1. Johanna November 15, 2018

    My sweet friend Kholod. We raised our babies together in language class for over a year and talked about everything. She was my first deep friendship in another language. I miss her often. She can’t really leave her country and I am currently not able to enter.

  2. Grace L November 16, 2018

    Right now I have such a sweet friendship with Rose, a woman who is 30+ years younger than I am. We have known each other and worked together for 12 years. Rose is from a minority village and had to leave school at age 15 to help at home. After coming to faith, and being in touch with foreigners, she has taught herself English. Back in 2012 she went through a season of being extremely weak and anxious with no clear diagnosis. I stood by her and read to her from the Word, and got her some better medical help. We would study the Bible together every day and learn from one another. She knows she is weak and needs God and is always giving Him the glory. I love it when she types out scripture verses for me which so often are just what I need at that moment. Recently she sent me an email with the reminder that when we ask God for help, anxiety is superfluous. I love it! I am reminding myself of that a lot lately. I treasure this friendship so much.

    I have another dear friend who used to be a local here, but has since moved to the US where she lives with her husband. Immediately upon meet with Jo, we hit it off and had a connection that spanned from mother-daughter, to sisters, to best friends, to employer-employee. I treasure our friendship and am so glad that we can get together when we are back in the states.

    There is something significant and different about these friendships with locals. There is a love and a loyalty that will last a lifetime.

  3. Monica F November 20, 2018

    Thanks so much for sharing Grace- what a blessing these friends have been to you!

  4. Kathy Vaughan December 24, 2018

    I thank God for putting Ruth in my life! We met at church my first Sunday in the village, and I got to know her as she would bring people to me for whom she was seeking help. She has a servant’s heart, and is always open to how God would have her help someone. We soon became fast friends. I love her sense of humor and her laughter, her wisdom and her kindness, her passion for justice and her deep desire for people to know her Jesus. I have seen her boldly step in and stand up to a powerful man when pastors were being persecuted. I have seen her tenderly care for the sick and the hurting. Her home, not that most of her own children are gone, is still full – a dozen kids right now, who need her sweet mama’s touch and strong guidance. She continually teaches me about her culture, laughs with me about my language mistakes, shares precious treasures from God’s word, worries that I don’t eat enough or don’t get enough sleep, and serves with me now as my partner. I love being with her, and I learn so much from her. She is almost young enough to be my daughter, but she is truly my sister in the Lord, and His rich, sweet gift to me – my dear mukwano.

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