Hi ASA fam
In the mist of the madness while preparing for Christmas, I thought I would share a little bit more about me as a token of my appreciation to all my readers: it is after all the season of giving :).Seeing ASA’s reader base grow this year has been rewarding, and although much remains to be done…I have no doubt, ASA will get there.
A friend of mine asked me to contribute to her blog called An ordinary life (here) meant to document people’s individual faith journey as young professionals. Find below the article talking my fears, struggles and faith…Those close to me know I like to be private about my life-so this is was/is a BIG step for me & hope it encourages you to step out of your comfort zones.
Wishing you a happy and blessed festive season filled with loads of laughter, good food, family and friends 🙂 !
Original Article published on Sarah’s blog
I met Kenaya three years ago when I started working at GreenCape. I’ve always been amazed at how no matter the circumstances Kenaya has such a lightness and a happiness about her. You can always see hope on her face. She is one of the bravest women I know, always ready to take on a new challenge. This is her story. I hope that it will be an encouragement to you as she always is to me.
My name is Kenaya (a pseudo name which means “Glory be to God” in Lingala), and I need to put it out there: I am sh*% scared about writing this and have been delaying this for as long as I can could…lol!
I am originally from the DRCongo (the big one, and yes there are two Congos!), I grew up in what would be considered a pretty small and normal family back home in the late 1980s i.e. four kids (two boys, two girls). We later lost my twin sister at the age of 14 to sickle cell anemia (peace to her soul) which was probably the hardest time we have had to face as a family. I moved to South Africa at 18 to join my older brother for tertiary studies, and like many of my countrymen have not returned and have since called The Mother City home for the last 12 years.
Outside of my studies and profession, I am very passionate about things like as women empowerment, education, Africa, music and decided to start a blog to document the experience of African Students Abroad .
Writing my story is a difficult one as, like many other Africans, I grew up in a Christian home (Roman Catholic to be exact) and for as long as I can remember, my parents tried their level best to ensure daily prayer was part of our life (in the morning, before our family meal and before going to be bed)-which worked better before our teen years. For the reasons above, my Christian faith has always been part of my life for as long as I can remember…and sadly cannot identify one major defining life event in my faith journey and sometimes feel very envious of people who have a specific date/time and place about their encounter with Christ like Paul’s spectacular conversion.
Moreover, if you grew up in Central Africa, you also know that saying you do not believe in God will definitely linked to being labelled a “ndoki” (witch) which is practically social suicide as no parents will allow their kids near you and thou shall be blamed for practically all the bad things that happen around you. Safe to say that most Congolese therefore end up being Christians by default even when they have doubts, even when not convinced, even when their lives are not aligned to reflect their values. It is a bit sad as people should be allowed to explore their beliefs freely, whether we approve or not, Christians or not…
The real test for most “students aboard”, just like it was the case for me, happens when you leave the comfort of your home country and you are out there to fend for yourself with no framework of reference. While I am far from being perfect, this piece shares what I have learnt over the last 10 years in my faith journey.
1. No such a thing as perfection in faith
This has probably been my biggest struggle in my journey i.e. realising the fact that there is no such a thing as a “perfection state” but rather this incredible love being offered to us unconditionally through Christ, and all we have to do is decide to respond to it regardless of how we feel about ourselves (good or bad). I spent a great deal of my late teens and early twenties in a big emotional turmoil as I often felt unworthy based on my choices and actions as those who know me will agree that I tend to be my harshest critic. I was caught in a vicious cycle of being pious for a period, then being overwhelmed with what I assumed I should/should not do, walk away and be disappointed in myself…and this continued over and over. I would probably blame some of the above on a combination of my African upbringing (as a child, thou shall do exactly what you are asked to do, not have questions or attitude…unless off course you have chosen death, lol!) and this is the same attitude I adopted in my faith: I had to be a “good child” and if I failed, then well…I was worthless. My view of myself and faith in the world changed thanks to a priest who made the papers recently when he provided a shield for students during the #Feesmustfall (I expected nothing less of him, Fr Graham) who worked with me on seeing the “unconditional love” of faith rather.
2. Faith just like any relationship needs to be nurtured and there is no “one size fits all”
I have realised that for me (i) a sense of community and (ii) self-development through reading and prayer are what help me “stay connected” in faith. In that sense I am quite fortunate I belong to a parish where the youth is very involved and organised into quite an active structure called Genesis which is based on four pillars i.e. friendship, spirituality, service and knowledge. Seeing young professionals /students like me take their faith seriously, was a serious wake-up call for me and helped me on my journey. I would encourage everyone to identify what works for them e.g. many of my friends say they feel closest to God when exploring the outdoors in nature.
3. Faith carries you through dark times
There has been many dark times I can recall both in my family and/or in my personal life….and looking back, what I have learnt from them can be summed up in the words of this song by Hillsong’s “So I will call upon Your name and keep my eyes above the waves. When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace. For I am Yours and You are mine”. The challenging times I remember vividly are: the death of my twin sister not to her disease but to a bone marrow transplant that was supposed to cure her from sickle cell anaemia, seeing my mother struggle through her pain/broken heart over losing her child over a decade, being diagnosed with lymphoedema, from nearly failing my final year project for my Bachelors degree to both examiners not accepting my Masters thesis, dealing with a nasty break-up and family feud in between. Yet here I am in faith… and at each of these stumbling blocks I recall vividly someone next to me, who seemed to believe in me more than I did (I would like to believe that it was God working through them)… which made all the difference and helped me pushed through the darkness. The above taught me, the importance of letting our guards down when broken, and sharing our stories esp. to those going through similar challenges.
4. Angels are real life helpers
Never in a million years, if you had met me in my teens in Kinshasa and had asked me where I would be in 10 years, I would have said where I am right now (for starters I wanted to be a medical doctor, lol!)…. While there has been good and bad experiences, I definitely believe all the good comes from the random friends and people I have met who have opened up to me in so many ways. I chose to believe that these people are real life angels sent thanks to my mother’s countless prayers and fasts for her children. Everything I am, I know and have learnt can be associated with a particular person I encountered in my life from friends, family, both ex and current colleagues and bosses. I remain eternally grateful to all those who saw this random Congolese girl with a weird accent and opened their hearts, calendar, houses and sometimes even wallets.
5. Actions speak louder than words
As Christians, we often feel the need to profess our faith verbally….While there is a role for that, we are not all called to do the same and I have learnt that our actions have a far deeper impact on the people around us. Being introduced to the teachings of the Josemaria Escriva (founder of the Opus Dei), which focus on opportunities to nurture our faith through our daily tasks however small and/or big. They run a number of youth centers in the DRC, and I was fortunate to be a member for a number of years…which fundamentally changed how I started to look at my life and the importance of “menial tasks” during the day (e.g. How I react to that annoying person driving at 80 km/hr on the fast lane… lol!). Going to the “club” as we called it, also saved me in so many ways… either from a deep depression and/or rebellious anger spree post losing my twin sister as I simply could not make sense of life at that time…
6. The struggle continues
As I am trying to shape a path for my professional career, and finding the balance with my personal life…I find increasingly that the challenge is not so much in my faith but rather its application in my life, and the many MANY shortcomings about myself I have to face daily.
I would like to end with this quote from Barbara Bush:
“sooner or later, you realize that in life there is no station and that life is the trip.. And as you go, find a way to make this world more beautiful”.
I would like to dedicate this post to (i) all the kind souls who have made my stay away from home comfortable in South Africa/Germany/Netherlands (ii) my late twin sister and people suffering from sickle cell anaemia, (iii) those who have lost a loved ones and currently struggling with overcoming the pain and (iv) my Masters supervisor, Harro von Blottnitz for his invaluable support.
Hugs galore & God bless!