“Take Idaho” was the way my sister-in-law Kathryn Elliott Stegall put it so very poetically as she mused over our longing to see all things well in the world.
But the world is large, and how on earth do we ever have the ability to take it all in? None of us can care for everything everywhere. So we choose– and Kathy imagined the relative smallness of Idaho to be a way to care about something somewhere.
I thought of that this week while getting to know two men who have chosen a people and a place near the Rift Valley in Kenya. As they set for their vision for a work that is “a mile deep and an inch wide,” I was surprised at the richness and texture of their commitment to Maai Mahiu—developing programs in education, environment, economy, health and community –realizing that most of the time most of us have a hard time settling in like that. We know so much in the CNN et.al. world of the information age, to choose, for love’s sake, to become responsible for one people in one place, is very unusual. But they have, and they intend to keep at it.
We spent hours together this week at the Praxis Labs in the Catskills of New York, about an hour-and-a-half north of New York City. They were chosen to take part in a year-long cohort of entrepreneurs who are giving heart-and-soul to seeing their dreams become reality. The more I listened, the more intrigued I was at the way discipline and affection were twined together.
“After living in Kenya my first year in 2000, I started to recognize that we could not address one area of need adequately without addressing all areas equally,” explains founder Zane Wilemon. “Why? Because they’re all connected. Deforestation leads to poor water supply. Poor water supply leads to economic deficiency. Economic deficiency leads to lack of healthcare and education… and the cycle continues.” Yes, and more too.
Zane is a Texan, and lives some of the year in Austin. As a 22 year-old he bought a one-way ticket to Kenya, and taught for a year in the Rift Valley Academy, learning much about God, himself and the world. But that year he also met Jeremiah Kuria, whose family had long lived in this part of Kenya. They began having lunch together every week, hearing each other’s lives, beginning to imagine a life together.
One of the most fascinating parts of the story is that in their efforts to seek the flourishing of their city, Zane decided to pursue Whole Foods, which is headquartered in Austin, to see what might be done on behalf of Africa. The story is his own to tell, but he tried and tried and tried, with remarkable creativity and persistence—and it worked! The result has been a business relationship between the women of Maai Mahiu and Whole Foods, the stores selling products produced by the women. There is more to tell someday.
But as we sat in our Adirondack chairs, I found myself thinking about the prophet Jeremiah, and his searching words of vocation for the exiled people of Israel now living in Babylon. “Seek the flourishing of the city. Build houses. Plant trees. Get married. Have children. Pray for the city, understanding that when it flourishes, you will flourish.” And I smiled, seeing Jeremiah sitting beside me, knowing that he was working this out in his own place among his own people.
“Take Idaho” was a good word, and still is. Visions of vocation have to become flesh. They have to be worked out and lived into– among friends, in neighborhoods, in small towns and big cities, and sometimes even in places like Idaho and Kenya.