May 29, 2016

Encounters in Africa

My father has led an extraordinary life. Born into an Amish family in Hartville, Ohio, he was the first in his community to go to college, where he met my mother. They joined Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions, and went to Tanzania, where my mother had been born, and then Sudan, where my father helped set up the Sudan Council of Churches. In 1974, they moved to Nairobi, where he worked first with the National Christian Council of Kenya (NCCK), then volunteered as regional representative for Mennonite Central Committee, and finally served as an adviser to the All Africa Council of Churches. He remains active in Nairobi and the region today.

He is perhaps the most modest person you'll meet, but has had an astonishing influence. While working in rural development with NCCK, he facilitated the creation of the first sand dams in Machakos, which have dramatically raised the water table in the region. The Nairobi Peace Initiative, which he helped set up, has had an enormous impact on the continent, and was instrumental in heading off Kenya's descent into civil war following the 2007 elections. At eighty, he is as active as ever, walking many miles a day and offering his services as mzee (elder).

Last year, my brother and I helped my dad get a collection of his occasional pieces into print. Encounters in Africa is the first volume, containing primarily lighter stuff: book reviews, anecdotes, travel pieces. A second volume, due out later this year, will include weightier material.

Recently, a Canadian Mennonite book group read Encounters in Africa. Their delightful reflections were published by The Mennonite under the title "An Evening with Harold." (The picture is of the author of the piece, not my father.)

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