The God of Kshs. 2,500?


Scenario 1

5:30am. Kawangware, Nairobi. John is woken from his blissful sleep by the loud, repeated hooting of matatus at the nearby terminus. “Why do they make so much noise?” he wonders. “People in the area need to go to work so whether you hoot or not, they will come to take the matatu to go to town”. As he gets out of bed he begins to remember the heavy burden he has in his mind as he went to sleep. Today is a “make or break” day for him. He feels that if he doesn’t focus on God and His goodness, things are going to go really badly today. He sips anxiously on his strungi (tea without milk) and dashes out of his one room house he likes to call maskan. After walking about fifty metres, he stops and rushes back to the house hoping that he remembered to lock it. “I’d better be sure that I locked it. I don’t want people stealing my stuff”. He confirms that he had locked it and resumes his walk to work. He almost laughs at himself when he thinks of how little there is to steal from such a house and the irony of being woken up daily by vehicles he cannot afford to take to go to work.

He tries to put on a brave face though he knows that if by the end of the day he does not raise the Kshs. 500 his landlord has been demanding from him, he will find another padlock on top of his. About halfway to work his cellphone rings, he looks at it and decides he will not answer it. It’s his dad. He knows he is calling about money. His younger brother is due to start school today and he has a fee balance of Kshs. 1,500 from the previous term. The school has agreed to have him start the new term and pay the fees in installments but on condition that he clears all previous outstanding balances. No, he can’t answer it, what will he tell his dad? And who knows, maybe there are even more problems at home that need more money. “No, I can’t answer it”. After it stops ringing, he can’t help thinking about the ringtone he has on his phone, Jemimah Thiong’o singing Akisema Atakubariki (when God says He will bless you). Irony. “Where is God lately?”, he thinks to himself, just last week they demolished the ‘workshop’ he was operating near Yaya Centre to pave way for road expansion, fuel prices are going through the roof and from what he has been hearing from home, there will be a miserable harvest due to poor rains this season. This means that his parents will depend on him more heavily for their upkeep. In his mind he knows that God does amazing things for people, yet for him today, all God needs to do to prove Himself is to ensure that by the end of this day, he has raised the Kshs. 2,500 he needs. Of course the extra Kshs. 500 is to enable him to survive until his business stabilizes soon.


Scenario 2

Frank’s life has been transformed lately. He is surely moving on up. Some of the things he is able to do these days amaze him considering how his life had been since last December when he landed the job of his dreams at one of the fastest growing mobile communications companies in the region. He has bought a new car and now lives in one of those areas of Nairobi many call the leafy suburbs. His work has also entailed considerable travel throughout the region and that has come with all the trappings of his new-found socioeconomic status. It is only a matter of time now before he acquires his own house, a wife and even begin a family. He has to think this way as he has begun to see that now more than ever, he seems to have an amazing appeal to girls who had little or no time for him when he attended church. Some these days even call him when he fails to show up in church due to his work schedule, some have even taken it upon themselves to poke him repeatedly on Facebook when he seems to delay or even fail to put up his usually witty status updates.

But deep inside, Frank knows that though his life is far better than it was only a year ago, he is not handling the pace well. Yes he has a good salary and now so many of his issues are sorted, but all this has come with heavy responsibilities and loans that sometimes overwhelm. Banks managers that only last year would laugh at his attempts to borrow money now insist that he should not queue with the other ‘regular’ customers, but instead he should sit at their office sipping tea while waiting to be served. This pampering has made him let down his guard and borrowed more money than his payslip will justify. One of the managers has even hooked him up with informal money lenders whose terms are not as complicated as the banks but the money he borrows from them attracts between 10 and 15% compound interest per month and heavy penalties on defaulting. “It is not like I borrowed all this money just to waste it”, he tells himself in an attempt to justify his choices. And it was not unreasonable to borrow as much as he did. In one instance he had been involved in a little traffic issue that threatened to go out of hand. This lady he was driving behind suddenly braked and he rammed right into her car with his Nissan xTrail. Trying to explain that his phone had started ringing while he was driving and he could not reach it as it had fallen to his feet did not seem to be a reasonable story to give the traffic policeman who had seen the whole series of events in person. So he just agreed to fix her Toyota Vitz assuming that since the car was not so expensive, repairing it would not be a big deal. A few weeks later the lady sent him a demand letter through her lawyers for what he estimated was half the value of the car. The lawyers had attached his signed agreement to meet the entire cost of repair.

The other amount he had had to borrow urgently was for some of the Cisco Certification courses he had registered for. He had failed a couple of times due to his crazy work schedule. But this did not worry him too much as he knew that he would get a promotion shortly after passing the exams and get fully reimbursed by his employer. The problem is that now the shylocks were on his case and the amount had grown to Kshs. 250,000 in a couple of months and could easily spiral out of control. God, he thought, would have to come through for him in a mighty way really soon if he is to get out of this mess.


Scenario 3

Joseph’s car business has seen better times. A few years ago, Ngong’ Rd. was the ideal location to have a car yard. But of late, in typical Kenyan fashion, more and more people have decided to start the same business in the same location. Most potential customers these days only pass by to ask about his prices and do not seem to have any intention of purchasing. The new KRA requirement that vehicles be registered before leaving Mombasa has also had a major effect on such businesses especially the ones that have a lot of stock. “Kenyans buy registration numbers,” he explains. “A person will not buy a KBK… when now everyone wants to have a KBP…, it does not matter how I try to convince them that the KBK has not been used since it came to Nairobi, they sometimes will not believe you.”

But for Joseph, this is not even the problem. As with every business, one wrong decision can jeopardize years of hard work and a great investment. Joseph’s big mistake was to not pay as much attention to an inner voice when some two gentlemen who came and told him that they represented a major taxi cab business in Nairobi. They said that the firm had wanted to boost its fleet by more than 50 units and wanted to do so in phases in partnership with a car dealer. They said they would make him a very good deal if his price was right. They had wanted to buy 10 cars at a time. The first batch had gone amazingly well. They paid the money straight into his account. So had the second batch. For the third batch, they had paid half and promised to pay the other half within two months when they sort out their finances and they even offered to buy the cars at 10% higher than the agreed price. That was six months ago. The men seem to have vanished into thin air, lost without a trace.

Yes, the police have indicated that they have made great headway in their investigations, but until then, and nobody knows how long it will all take, if Joseph does not find at least Kshs. 2,500,000, things are going to get out of hand. He remembered how he almost broke down as he shared with his home fellowship group from his church this prayer item. That he has tried all else and that he is at the end of his tether. He is now firmly convinced that only God can get him out of this one.

Three different men, three different scenarios, One God.

These three men have needs that they feel are beyond themselves and are bringing them to God because they trust He is able to provide. John and Joseph would honestly be shocked at each other’s needs. To John and Frank, 2.5M is one heck of a lot of money. They probably cannot even picture God answering a prayer like Joseph’s. The same principles apply in all of life – we classify needs in categories; we know the category we can handle alone as individuals, we know the one we need a friend’s input and we also know the humongous ones where we need friends to come alongside us as we implore God.

God only seems to be only as big as we allow Him to be. We allow Him to be big or small depending on how we have perceived Him through our experiences of Him in our situations and adaptation in life. There are standards that we have set for Him and do not expect Him to exceed. If we were to be honest, there are many prayers we would be shocked if He answered. It was the same with the Apostles in Acts 12:15-17, the disciples could not believe that Peter had been released from jail even if they had spent many, many hours earnestly praying for the same. That is human nature that even “Zawadi 2929” beneficiaries last year would jump with a “I can’t believe it!!” answer upon being told that they had won. It kept surprising me that some of them had sent hundreds of texts but seemingly did not expect to win.

Yet God is NOT limited in any way. True fulfillment can only come as a result of relating to a limitless God Who longs for us to experience Him as such, so much so that He came to earth that may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10). Therefore, the fewer limits we put on God, the better. To God, Kshs. 25, 2500, 250,000, 2.5M is all the same. If we perceived Him as such, blinding scales would fall from our eyes.

I want to put some disclaimers here. One, I am not equating success with money. Neither does a lot of money reflect a lot of blessings. The different limits that we could be putting on God could be in the area of wisdom, wellness, health, vision or even finances. Two, I believe God works according to His purposes for us. We cannot dictate how much He is to give us; we can only receive what we ask for if our requests are consistent with His will for us.

How big is God for you? Is God bigger than any of your circumstances? Or, when you are in trouble, do you feel God is in as much trouble as you are, sometimes even asking you for suggestions?

Tuendelee kuongea.

Sawa sir, you keep your money…

I am really enjoying blogging. I had actually set out to write a book recently with the same title as this blog. Ok it was 7 good excuses, but still, I have always wanted to write. Maybe I still will. I mean a physical dead-tree version book that you can put on the shelf. But let’s just wait and see. Blogging is a good middle ground as I prepare to write a book, that is, if I will end up writing it. I have felt like it is a bit like running a radio station. You are just speaking into the microphone and hoping that there are people out there tuned in. No wonder radio stations always ask people to call or text in, I think it is good for them to know that they are talking to someone out there. With this blog, I can check my statistics and know with certainty how many times it has been opened. But unless I get comments from you, there is no other way of knowing if people are actually reading. So feel free woiye! to leave a comment. I would also be very grateful if you could use the share buttons at the end of each article to share the links to these posts on Facebook or twitter.

I have just over 400 friends on Facebook, every once in a while I go through that list of friends to know whether these are friendships that are active online. Sometimes I remove friends because they are not active, they don’t comment, like or do anything about what I post on my status. Ok, some poke me too much! Some just do not update their status. You could check their status and wonder, aiii, this guy has been in traffic, hungry, upset or whatever they were, for more than a month! These are the people I usually remove. I meet a lot of people who say they really enjoy my status updates. But they never comment. I consider my Facebook page personal and would even struggle to accept friendship requests from people I do not know personally. This may of course change a bit because of this blog.

These first few posts have been stories I have had on my mind that I wanted to get out of the way before we start getting into really deep issues that would have been the substance of the book. These stories, I would say have been turning points in my life. Some of them happened a very long time ago but they are still quite fresh in my mind.

Anyway, on to today’s story.

In 1997 I married the love of my life. We had dated for about 3 years. I had also started a small IT firm. Work was not forthcoming and many times I relied on referrals from friends. There were no cellphones, no email (at least not for small businesses operating from home), no internet. Most communication would happen through snail-mail and the completely unreliable landlines from the then Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Ltd. We lived in a small one bedroomed house in Eastleigh section 3, a not-so-posh area of the city of Nairobi. Our rent was a whole Kshs. 3,500 and I remember almost having a heart-attack when this was reviewed upwards to Kshs. 3,800. I worked from home and relied heavily on the landline and had to make sure I was home most of the time so as not to miss any phone call. I drove an Isuzu Uhuru vehicle that I had managed to get my dad to allow his former employer to sell to me on very reasonable terms. It was not all that but it was a good car. The main problem is that I felt it consumed a bit too much. Of course when you think of how fuel prices have gone, those were the good old days! Another problem is that, typical at the time to houses in that area, there were very few parking spots. In fact for our place, there was only one parking spot for four houses. If unfortunately we got home late and found the parking spot taken, I would have to go to one of the pubs nearby and negotiate with the watchmen to take care of the car for the night.

In August I got a client who was running a forex bureau in town. They had a few problems with their computers and printers and needed someone to sort them out for them. I was glad to do so. Now, IT support was very different those days. Viruses were not a big deal at all. In fact if you got antivirus updates once every two months or so you were ok unlike today where most antivirus software updates itself automatically once or twice a day. In those days, I would have to talk to my friends who were working for big companies to ‘channel’ for me a floppy disk with the latest updates. This client also had a printer that he needed to revive. It was a Canon BJC 200. It had stopped working. I found that the previous IT guy had ‘channeled’ a power cable for it and I had to get a new one. After getting that cable and confirming that it was powering, I asked the client for drivers to install it. He told me that he never had them as he did not get this printer from the shop.He had got it as a gift from his sister who was now in the UK (or some weird explanation like that). So basically I had to find the drivers from somewhere. Now if you know anything about printers, even if just those in Kenya, you will realize this is a very rare printer and it was going to be a very difficult task to find drivers for it. I even contacted a company called Vanguard who were the Canon dealers in the country. They told me that this printer was rarely sold in this region and they would have to contact their main suppliers either in the UK or Japan to ask them to send the drivers for that printer.

Now if you read my previous posts like this one or this one, I believe that God has a wonderful plan for my life and many times He does miraculous things that only He can do. One day I went to visit my brother at his office in Hurlingham. After spending a few minutes in his office, just before I left, a lady who was living in the apartment opposite my brother’s office came and asked for help with her printer. I went into her house and she must have been shocked at my reaction when I saw her printer. It was a Canon BJC 200! She just needed to have it installed and she had the drivers. I told her I would do it for free if she could allow me to make a copy of the drivers. As I left Hurlingham I was just amazed at how God had worked this out. I rushed to my client’s office and set up his printer. He was simply amazed.

The next day I billed him Kshs. 8,000. When I placed my invoice on his desk he looked at it and burst out laughing. “Young man, what is this? How can you bill me this much? If I knew you were going to bill me all this money I would never have agreed for you to do this work for me. It is too much. Can you explain how you have arrived at this amount?”

I don’t know whether you have ever had this feeling. Something in your stomach gives way. You get dizzy and you can feel heart palpitations coming along. Some people feel this when it dawns on them that the 4m they put in a pyramid scheme is gone. Others feel it when they are sentenced to life imprisonment when they are only 18. Others feel it when they are told that they have several weeks left to live. You feel you have come to the end. For me, it became clear that I may never see this money, it was the last week of the month, all bills were due at the end of that week. My car outside had been showing the ‘thirsty’ fuel light most of the day. In my mind I was seeing how by the end of the week all our earthly possessions are going to be in a not-so-neat pile outside our ka-house. Wondering how we will be pleading with our neighbour to at least let us have a shower in their house while we try to find alternative accommodation towards the Mathare area.

“Sir, let me explain”, I pleaded. “Of this Kshs. 8,000 I have invoiced you, Kshs. 4,000 is from a previous invoice I gave you last month and you did not pay, Kshs. 2,000 is for things that I bought including the power cable for your printer and I have attached the receipts. So when you think about it, for all this work I am only charging you Kshs. 2,000”

“Still”, he insisted, “that is too much money, I cannot pay you all that”.

I think I am very poor in negotiating because after a few minutes, I was almost on my knees pleading to be refunded at least only the Kshs. 2,000 I had spent. The guy refused to pay even that. Imagine! Finally, I uttered those words part of which forms the title of this story

“Sawa sir, you can keep your money. But I can assure you that the God whom I serve, will see to it that me and my family do not starve”, I said tearfully as I walked to the car.

I sat in the car. I tried to pray but all I could manage is “God, I am sure you have heard what I said in there. I said you would take care of us. Haya basi, kazi kwako (ok now, it’s up to you).

The next morning I dropped my wife at her workplace and went back to the house. I had barely slept. When I got back to the house, I went into the bedroom and attempted a prayer again. I was kneeling next to the bed, “God, you know I don’t do those long overnight prayers. Here is the deal, if my wife and I cannot rely on you to provide for us, YOU tell me what we are going to do. Amen”. Without getting up from my knees, I removed my wristwatch and put it on the bed and started waiting on the Lord, literally.

I kid you not, seven minutes later, the phone rang. It was a gentleman I had met in March and had offered to computerize his business operations. He said he had been looking for me since May. Apparently he had flown to Dubai in May, bought computers and said that only I would unpack then and set them up. He said that all the time he had called there was no response (I didn’t have a secretary or an answering machine). He said that he was now calling for the final time, after which he was going to look for someone else. Of course I assured him that I would be there in a few minutes. To cut a long story short (a bit too late I think!) By the end of that week, I had in my hand a cheque for Kshs. 64,000. (8 x 8,000). This is far more than the guy at the forex bureau had refused to pay me.

My friends God is faithful, God is amazing. Ephesians 3:20 says He “…is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…”

Tuendelee Kuongea.

I wish I was one of them

As I blog I am realizing that I can be quite verbose when introducing my posts. When I did last post I was introducing a story. The introduction grew and became so long that it became an entire post by itself. So I will not introduce this post.

24th September, 1995. I had been sent to South Africa by my then employer (a Kenyan tour firm setting up its operations in South Africa. SA had began opening up. Mandela was free and had now been elected (in 1994) as the President of the country. It was a euphoric time in the history of the country and suddenly it had become a great investment and tourism destination. Anyway, enough of that, this is not an economics/business post.

I arrived at a hotel room late in the afternoon and was just amazed at the country. This was really not a 3rd world country as I had imagined. I have never been to Europe but I felt that the roads, cars and services were comparable. The hotel was the Holiday Inn Garden Court at the corner of Rivonia Rd and Katherine St. My window on the second floor overlooked that very busy junction. People were zooming past each other heading God knows where.

Being a stranger in the land, hearing so many people speak in a language I did not understand, unable to enjoy much TV or radio entertainment, I felt particularly vulnerable. At one point I even started asking myself,

“If the people at the next table are plotting to rob me blind at gunpoint, how will I know before it is too late?”
“What about the laughter at the other table? Are they laughing at me?”

At some point during dinner I couldn’t take it anymore and I stormed out and ran to my room where, being completely alone I felt some degree of security. I could shout in kamba or swahili and feel at home even if I was talking to myself. Then I went to the window overlooking the busy junction and just looked enviously at the drivers zooming past. I remember praying audibly, “God, I wish I was one of them”.

The next morning was a Monday and as I prepared to go to the office, I received a call. It was my colleague in the SA office. He was supposed to basically take care of me and make me feel comfortable and at home. He told me that they had not realized that it was a public holiday and that it did not make any sense to go into the office as all the people I was supposed to be worked with were not in the office. He suggested I just relax, enjoy the hotel and prepare my presentation and that he would come to pick me up the next day.

So that is how I suddenly ended up with a full day to kill. I decided I was not going to get bored or lost. I took walks back and forth from the hotel, each longer than the last, always ensuring that at whatever point I would be able to find my way back to the hotel. Across the junction stood the majestic Sandton City Mall. This was an amazing architectural monstrosity in my eyes. I felt it made Sarit Centre look like a stall in Kalundu Market in Kitui Town.

I made sure I could see the hotel from the entrance into the mall so that I could still find my way ‘home’. I ventured inside the mall and was fascinated by the amazingly modern shopping paradise this seemed to be. They had everything, movie theatres, supermarkets, bookshops, food courts everything! I got carried away in gadget shops, lobby cultural displays, level upon level of all manner of interesting places that it took a while to realize I was no longer exercising the caution I had before out of fear of getting lost. After a while it occurred to me that I couldn’t even remember how I got into this place. I was completely lost. I tried desperately not to worry but instead to just enjoy myself as it was still early in the day. Surely, I thought, by the end of the day I will find my way out.

I had a light lunch at one of the food courts, went through many interesting shops from hobby shops to tattoo salons, gun shops, pet shops and generally decided to enjoy my ‘being lost’ and to worry about it only when it was time to go ‘home’.

That time came very shortly.

At 6:30 pm, what I thought was a small problem had become a full blown crisis as it was getting dark and beginning to get cold. I now started trying to get out of the place. My strategy of choice was to follow people who were carrying stuff assuming that they were on their way out of the mall. As you know, there is something about men that just makes them uncomfortable asking for directions. Most of the people I followed would go into the basement parking and drive off before I could see which direction they went. I found a watchie who I felt was a safe person to ask for directions. For some reason, he assumed I was South African and was just pretending to speak english just to be posh. After a short while he was convinced and stopped talking to me in Zulu. He asked me to follow him and in a few minutes we were facing the entrance to my hotel. I was so excited to see the hotel that I literally skipped to the reception. I smiled at the receptionist and asked confidently for my room key. After a few moments of punching into the keyboard, she looked up and asked me if I was sure of my room number. I insisted I was right but she told me that the guy in ‘my room’ was a Dutch guy in his seventies.

She got on the phone and after a while confirmed to me that I was in the wrong hotel. This was an almost exact replica of the hotel I was booked into. She called for a taxi and I was given a ride to the right hotel. I later realised that the taxi guy had taken a very very long route to the hotel and it would have even been possible to walk me there. I rushed to my room, went to the window and looked again enviously at all those people who knew where they were going and prayed audibly again, “God, I wish I was one of them”

Fast forward to September 1996. Though my initial assignment in South Africa was for a couple of weeks, I had since been officially seconded to our Johannesburg office at the beginning of 1996. I had been working in Sandton for almost a year. I had made many friends some of them even Kenyans. I became a sort of tour guide whenever my friends visited SA. In August of 1996 I had even hosted my brother and his new bride at my house in Jo’burg.

One evening (I used to work very late) I was on my way to my 3 bedroomed town house in an area called Hyde Park speeding along Katherine St. when I looked to my left, and in a flash of nostalgia I looked and could see the exact window of my room at the hotel I had stayed in about a year before. It occurred to me that it was 24th September 1996, exactly a year since I had prayed desperately at that window. I was overwhelmed. Tears flowed freely. I stopped the car on the side of the road and wept like a baby!

“O God, I am one of them, O God, you knew I would pass here today and remember this. O God, you are awesome…”

Those who have seen men or boys cry will tell you that we don’t cry neatly. I was a sorry mess. Makamasi everywhere. I could not imagine how far God had brought me. It was an extremely intense emotional experience. A cop on a bike pulled over and asked me if everything was alright, I tried to regain my composure and assured him I was ok.

Have you had a similar experience? Were your prayers once answered in an overwhelmingly powerful way? Do you tear-up sometimes when you think of where you were 6, 12 or 36 months ago compared to where you are now? Tell me about it.

Tuendelee kuongea.