Author Archives: Jonathan Ferguson

About Jonathan Ferguson

Lead Pastor at Living Water Christian Fellowship in Nairobi, Kenya

How Many Points for a New Member?

I have retreated back to my seat at an all day Muslim evangelism conference, escaping the crush of people outside.  I needed a moment of clarity before writing these thoughts.

I sat outside on the steps, plate of food in one hand, bottle of water in the other. As I ate my chapati and stew, I began to overhear conversations around me.

“We have many missionaries. Many! So many, and we are converting Muslims all the time.”

“I attended school in London, and have a Masters from…”

“I’ve planted three churches, and the church I’m at now is getting so big, I am looking for a bigger building.”

All of these came unsolicited. No one asked, “Where did you go to school?” or “Are you doing work among Muslims?” These self-congratulatory statements came as introductions.

Why do we do this? I have been to pastor’s conferences where this happens as well, everyone sizing up each other, trying to find where they are on the totem pole.

What have we ever done apart from Christ? Nothing. Well, let me change that. What have we ever done that has eternal consequence apart from Christ? Nothing.

So what should we boast about? Christ. What Christ has done, what Christ is doing, what Christ will do.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭12‬:‭9-10‬ NIV)

Do we compare ministries like sport teams?

Do we compare ministries like sport teams?

Let me let you in on a little secret: ESPN doesn’t track Pastoral Stats. One point for a new member, five for a new convert. Two points for every worship leader you have, one additional point for every speaker and amp you have. No, there is no heavenly standings board. We don’t have to worry about how many conversions we are behind the leader.

When we do work for Christ, we do nothing, Christ does all. He gives us the desire to serve Him, He gives us the strength to serve Him, He should be the one to receive the glory for what is done.

I ended up silently eating my food, trying to listen for anything about Christ. But there was none. Oh, there were plenty of people taking about Church, ministry, evangelism, but nothing about Christ.

And that is tragic.

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A Stink to Remember

The other day I was driving down my road, heading to the local coffee shop for a nice quiet study day. I was preparing to turn on to the main road when I saw a group of men running across the street. Not knowing what was happening (mobs can form pretty quickly), I made sure the doors were locked, and tried to see if I would be able to turn around if needed.

I turned back around to see what was happening, and knew immediately I was going to be alright. The guy in the front of the running crowd, however, did not look like he was going to have a fun time. I pulled over to watch the scene play out.

He was running from a group of people, shirt off. One of the guys behind him was holding his shirt as he followed him across the road. Another man running had a bucket of water and a bar of soap.

Apparently, the first man running was a conductor on a bus, here called a matatu. Other conductors had been complaining to each other when they stopped at the same stops that this man stank. I mean, really stank. Passengers on his bus had been getting off miles before their destinations, and getting on different busses just to avoid the stench.

The other conductors had finally had enough. A few of the busses waited at the bus stop for the stinky bus to show up. When it did, they grabbed him as he opened the door, tore his shirt off, and we’re planning on a public bath to help cure the malodorous man of his problems.

The conductor was able to get away and run across the street, but the matatu hygienists followed after. They were able to grab him, and, right there on the side of the road, dumped a bucket of cold water on his head. Two men held his arms, and a third grabbed the bar of soap, and proceeded to wash the man’s entire upper body. A second bucket of water followed to rinse him off.

A crowd had formed around the poor man, as the bathing was going on in a small outdoor market area. People were taking pictures with their phones, and traffic began backing up the road as drivers slowed to catch a glimpse of the scouring of the conductor.

After they left him there, wet and half clothed, I asked one of the cleaning men what happened. He said they had warned this man for a long time that something was going to be done about his smell, that even the matatu stank at the end of the night when they all parked them back at the lot.

As I pulled back onto the road and head for that cup of Java, I couldn’t help it. I made sure I smelled clean. Just in case.

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Two Hours Late? Right on Time.

The Bride was not there when the wedding was supposed to start. Usually, a bad sign for a wedding. But for those of us who were at the wedding on time, we were not worried. You see, the groom wasn’t on time either. And neither were the bridesmaids, groomsmen, or even the guests.

We were going to be celebrating our church’s first wedding, and I was going to be officiating. Pretty exciting stuff. I wanted to make sure the church members were at the garden venue early, for we have heard that if the church members aren’t there, other people will try to take over the wedding, making it about them.

So we caravaned from the church to the garden, and made it there early. Some of the members started helping put the finishing touches on the grounds, tying bows on the chairs, hanging flowers from the canopies, and helping keep the ground clear of trash. When the service time rolled around, we were still the only people there.

I had been warned that the wedding party itself would be late. They always are in Kenya. I guess everyone knows that, because the first guests didn’t show up until an hour later.

Horns honking down the road gave us the warning that the wedding party was approaching. As they pulled into the venue, I took a look at my watch. Two hours late.

Right on time.

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Thanksgiving in Kenya

Turkey. Stuffing. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Football. Both bootleg copies from the internet.

Family. Friends. Americans, Brits, South Africans, Sudanese, Kenyans.

Giving Thanks, Corny “What are you thankful for” moments.

Overly full, Overly blessed.

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Time, Time, Time, is Not on My Side

The western concept of time is not a standard that is held by all cultures equally. One idea of being late to a meeting is showing up five minutes past the hour. Before moving to Kenya, I had actually been written up for being two minutes late for a shift.

But I have learned that this idea is not universal. In Kenya, the concept of time is much more fluid.

A few weeks ago, I was at a wedding rehearsal for a Kenyan couple. I had caught a ride with the happy code after church, because I had no idea where we were going, and Adrienne had to take the car to get the boys home. The couple was supposed to meet with the wedding vendors at 1:00, then we were to have the rehearsal at 3:00. I was excited, as this was the first wedding I would be officiating in Kenya.

We arrived at the venue, an outdoor garden area that was open to the public on Sundays for people to have lunch. I grabbed a chair under an umbrella, and opened a book to read until the vendor meeting was over. Around two o’clock, I looked over to where the couple was sitting, and realized that only one vendor had shown up. The photographer, who lived around the corner, was there, but the DJ, the caterer, the beauticians, and the guy renting the tent and chairs were still MIA. The groom came over and told me that they were all on their way.

I kept reading, wondering what was going to happen when the friends and family showed up for the rehearsal to find the vendor’s meeting still going on. But I was still thinking like an American.

The first people to arrive for our three o’clock rehearsal didn’t show up until 3:30. We waited until four o’clock before we had enough people to start. Even then, as the rest of the wedding party (20 people, besides the bride and groom) continued to come, we had to start the procession over again and again, so everyone knew where they needed to stand.

It wasn’t just the wedding party that was late. The couple had arranged for an entire goat, weighing 13 kg (almost 29 lb) to be roasted by 2:00. By 3:00, the groom and best man were wondering what was going on. They went to the kitchen area and asked the cooks what was happening. The cooks told them that the food was coming. They asked for 45 minutes to have everything together.

An hour later, the best man and I went back, but we were given the same story, this time by the manager.Finally, around 4:30, the owner came over to tell us that the full goat, which had been purchased by the groom and brought in for the kitchen to cook, had been butchered and given to other guests. He offered to cook up some meat for us, but it would take some time. He said he had just found out what had happened, and would cover all the expenses for the food and drinks for the entire party (which by now had grown to about 40 people.

And so it was, at 6:00, we were finally served our lunch. The nyama choma (roast meat) came out lukewarm, and the ugali (imagine corn meal cooked to a dense, play dough like consistency) was stale. Having nothing to eat since seven o’clock that morning, it was the most delicious food I had eaten in a long time, even if I am still unsure what type of animal it came from.

(N.b.: As I am writing this, I am sitting at the wedding gardens, waiting for the second rehearsal. We were scheduled to meet at noon, yet I am still the only one here. It’s two o’clock. Better order the nyama choma now if I want to eat today…)

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Can You Match the Green of my Dragon Tattoo?

I am about to admit something that may cost me some major man points here, but I do know my way around a sewing machine. Okay, go ahead, dock the points. Sewing is definitely not a hobby of mine, but watching my mother and sister sewing everything taught me how to work and repair a machine. Despite my attempts to stay clear of the feminine art, the other day I had to walk into our local habadashery. That, by the way, is an English way of saying “a store that sells buttons, yarn, and other sewing stuff”. It’s a fun word, don’t you think? Try using it next time you have to go to Michael’s or JoAnn’s.

Well this day at the habadashery was a reminder of the technological obsession that has hit the youth of Kenya.

Anyway, I walked in looking for green felt for a Christmas project for the children’s ministry at church. I walked over to where the felt was, and noticed that they didn’t have a Christmas tree green, but only an apple green. I asked the lady behind the counter for some help.

She walked out from behind the counter, chatting on her iPhone. She walked over to me, and I asked her if the colors they had on display were the only colors they had. I figured it was, as very few stores in Kenya have a back stock. Without looking up, Miss Chatty still typing, she said no.

“Okay, thanks.”

Still typing, “What color were you looking for?”

I was looking for a green darker an this one here,” pointing at the apple green felt.

Without looking up, Chatty kept typing. “Yeah, we don’t have that.” She sent a message, waited for the response.

“Great, thanks.”

Pause. “Uh huh.” Sends another message.

I was still standing there as she walked away, back to the counter. She hadn’t looked up once, but had sent message after message on her phone. I’m convinced that if I had taken my shirt off in the middle of the store, and asked if she had felt that matched a giant dragon tattoo on my chest, she wouldn’t have even noticed.

Oh, technology, the bane of decent civilization around the world. And yes, I understand the irony of saying that, while typing my blog on my iPad while using the wifi of our local coffee shop.

Also, I don’t have a giant dragon tattoo on my chest. Just wanted to clear that up.

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Pomp and an Unforeseen Circumstance

I have never been to a graduation where a three year old was one of the guests of honor. Until today.

An unusual situation, no doubt. But even more unusual for me, because my son was the three-year-old guest of honor.

Over the past year, I have spent quite a bit of time teaching at a local bible college. I taught nine different classes during the year, so I knew the students well. Even though I have left the position there (just too many other priorities), I knew I had to make it to the graduation ceremonies.

Adrienne had scheduled two meetings at church, the first with the leaders of the children’s ministry, and another with a team helping plan the ladies Christmas luncheon. Our older two boys were going to spending the day with their friends. That left Benjamin without a place to go.

Adrienne and I were trying to decide what we should do with him. By “deciding” I mean I was trying to convince her to take Benjamin, and she was trying to convince me to take him. I suggested he go with her, as she would be indoors. She suggested I take him, as we would be outdoors, where he would be able to make more noise. “Just give him the iPad, and let him play ‘Reading Rainbow’,” she said. “You can just sit in the back, and he should be fine.”

I agreed, and off Ben and I went. Graduation was scheduled to begin at 10:00, and we arrived at 9:50. I walked toward the administrative offices, and was greeted by the Dean of Admissions. “Oh good, you made it! I didn’t think you would. Your cap and gown are in my office.”

“Wait, what? I’m wearing a cap and gown?”

“Of course! You’re one of our lecturers! You’ll be sitting with the other lecturers on stage.”

So there we were, Ben holding his Lighting McQueen lunchbox, me holding the iPad I was going to use to keep Ben occupied. I was expected to be upfront, but I had my three-year-old to find a place to sit. Now looking back, I’m sure I could have politely refused, sat in the back with Benny, and all would have been fine. But everything happened so fast, I just agreed to go along with the plan.

A family friend of ours was there, and she agreed to have Benny sit with herduring the ceremony. I handed her the iPad, and Benny walked away with her to find their seats. I quickly dressed, very glad at this point I wasn’t wearing my usual jeans and a polo, but instead had actually dressed nicely. I got in line with the lecturers, and we began walking in to the ceremony grounds.

We made our way to the stage, and I found a seat in the middle row on the stage. It seemed like everything was going to work out beautifully. Until I saw my son.

Now, I didn’t see him sitting in a seat with our friends. I didn’t see him crying, or running in the grass with the other kids. No, he had walked around the side of the crowd and was walking up to the stage, lunchbox in one hand, iPad in the other. He walked right to the stage, and yells up to me, “Dad, can you help me? I want to play Angry Birds.”

Luckily I was able to get him to come up the back side of the stage and tried to hide him behind me in the back row. There was only two people in the back row, both sitting on the far side. I started up Angry Birds, made sure the volume was turned down, and turned around, hoping that it would be quickly forgotten by others.

So there I was, members of the Board of Governors for the school in front of me, a regional bishop for the denomination on my left, and my three-year-old son sitting behind me playing Angry Birds.

The graduation ceremony was scheduled to last three hours, and I was unsure how Benny was going to handle sitting there for that long. But I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, he did quite good. Well, except when his bladder notified him that it was reaching maximum capacity.

The guest speaker, a well known evangelist from the U.S., had just finished his speech, and  the M.C. had not yet begun speaking again, when out of the back row, Benny yells, “Dad! I gotta go to the bathroom!”  in front of over 1000 people. I turned around and tried to quiet him, and asked him if he could hold it for a bit. He didn’t answer, just gave the little potty dance all parents are familiar with. I tried to exit the stage with him as unobtrusively as possible, and headed to the bathrooms.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the bathroom situation in Kenya, many facilities only use the “Squatty Potty” style bathrooms, the toilet bowl resting level with the floor. This is an improvement over other locations, where it is just a hole over a pit. As soon as we got to the bathrooms, Benny started crying. “Daddy, I can’t go in there!” Well, it turned out that it wasn’t just his bladder that was full. Benny was too scared to use these toilets, and so I tried to figure out a solution.

We have friends that live on the the school grounds, and they were attending the graduation. I grabbed Benny (still wearing my cap and gown) and ran over to their house, praying the entire way that their gate and door would be unlocked.

We made it, but we did get some odd looks from the security at the graduation. I opened the gate, and ran to the front door. It was open, so we ran in. I hollered to the house help, “Hi, were friends, and my son needs to use the toilet!” and ran right in to the small guest bathroom. Alright, I thought, the worst has happened, and everything is fine.

We survived the graduation, but I did learn a big lesson that day. The next time Adrienne and I have to decide who takes Benny, she’s taking him.

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Benny and I, dressed to our finest

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My Mouth is Very Foolish Now

I’ve never liked going to the dentist. I know most people don’t like the dreaded tooth doctor, but for me, the dread has nothing to do with the pain of filings, or the sound of the drill, but something very absurd. I have never had a cavity, and so I am one of those lucky few who have never had a drill in my mouth. Carpentry runs deep in my blood, so I know that drills are meant for wood, not enamel.

Every time I go to the dentist, there is the fear that they will tell me that I have a cavity. It’s a ridiculous fear, but I have a record to maintain!

But here I am, sitting in the dentist’s office, waiting to sit in the chair. But this time, it’s not for a filling (32 year record still standing!), but for an extraction. I am about to get my two upper wisdom teeth pulled. Before I moved to Kenya, my two lower wisdom teeth were pulled because they were causing pain. Of course, I waited until there were only a few days left before my dental insurance expired, but I finally had two teeth yanked from my mouth. My wife still talks about the foolishness that came out of my mouth as I woke up.

I only had the two pulled that day, mostly because of how cheap I was (still am). The insurance refused to pay for the extraction of the top two teeth, because they weren’t causing me pain. And I was NOT going to fork out $2000 to have a couple teeth pulled.

So now, four years later and half a world away, I am finally having the last two yanked out. The good part about losing the final bit of wisdom I have is the price tag.

Sorry, they just called me back. Here it goes, I’ll let you know how everything comes out.

Okay, all done. I think that doctor was trained at the NASCAR School of Dentistry. He had both of my wisdom teeth pulled before I finished listening to one song from the Jurassic Park soundtrack!

But as I was saying, the biggest plus today is the cost. When I had my other wisdom teeth pulled, my co-pay was $300. To have the other teeth pulled would have cost $2000 more. Today, with no insurance, the total for the pulling was only $125!

Think about it, if you need your wisdom teeth pulled and have no insurance, it would be cheaper to get a passport, fly to Kenya, and have them extracted here! Plus, you can have your recovery in a place where lions and zebra are outside your window. Can’t get much better than that.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Go ahead, tell your four wisdom tooth stories. Anyone have tusks like a warthog that needed to be pulled?

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Karen Smells of Dirty Diapers and Hardy Smells of Cheap Cologne.

Like any major city, Nairobi has a number of neighborhoods, or estates, each with a different name. Being that the city was of British origin, there are many estates that sound like they have come straight out of London. Eastleigh, Hurlingham, and Lavington are a few of these.

Some estates have been given Swahili names, such as Umoja, meaning unity, or Balozi, meaning ambassador. Some estates are named using other African languages as well. Kawangware is a Kikiyu word meaning “the place of the guinea fowl”. I have driven through Kawangware many times, but I have yet to see a guinea fowl in the slum.

Perhaps the most famous area of all of Nairobi is a slum known as Kibera. Kibera is one of the largest slums in the world, housing between 170,ooo and 1,000,000, depending on who you ask. It was originally settled by the Nubians after their work for the British in the Colonial Army. They were granted a beautiful forested area of land, which the Nubians called Kibera, meaning forest. Not much of that original forest remains today.

Other estates are named after very obvious features of the area, such as Pipeline (gas pipeline running through the area) or Upper Hill (situated on the top of the hill downtown). Not much work is needed to figure out what the main feature of the Riverbank Estate is.

But there are a few estates that are named after famous people in Kenya’s history.

One such estate is named after Karen Blixen, the famous landowner from the colonial days. The estate of Karen is located on her old land holdings. Another estate, bordering Karen, is named after British Brigadier A.J. Hardy, former head of the Kenyan Army in the early 1960’s.

All this history to say, today, Karen smells of dirty diapers, and Hardy smells of cheap cologne.

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Should I be Concerned?

Last week was a pretty rough week in our house. My wife has been out of the country for a few weeks, and so, it has been a very testosterone filled house, with just me and the three Machines of Chaos running around. But this last week? Well, all four of us have been sick. And not your average, feeling-a-little-cold-coming-on sick, but genuine sick, with vomit and such.

After a few days, my middle son started complaining that his ear has really hurting. I don’t mess around with ear aches, so we headed off to the local pediatrician’s office. Now, we have only visited this office one time before, about four months ago, with my youngest son. When we got to the reception, I signed my son in, and told them I had a new patient. The man working the counter said, “Great. What is his name and date of birth?”

I gave it to him, and he typed it into the computer. He then told me that I gave the wrong date of birth.

I said “No, I gave you the correct name and date of birth.”

“But his name is not in the system.”

“Correct, that’s because he’s never been here.”

“Yes he has.”

At this point I really thought I should just leave, but gave him a chance. “No, he is never been here. My younger son has been here, but not this one. That’s why I told you he was a new patient.”

“Oh. That makes sense. I was wondering why you gave me a different name for your son today than you did last time.”

Um, am I the only parent that comes here with multiple kids? Should I be concerned?

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