Last week, a dear lady at our church who ministers to widows in Kenya shared a prayer request during our church’s prayer meeting:
A dear pastor who interpreted for us earlier this year in Kenya, was killed by a hippo a few days ago. He left a widow, Mary, with six children.
My first thought was, “What a terrible way to die.” Smithsonian says that male hippos can weigh up to 6000 lbs. and they “have trampled or gored people who strayed too near, dragged them into lakes, tipped over their boats, and bitten off their heads.” Hippos likely “kill more people each year than lions, elephants, leopards, buffaloes and rhinos combined,” according to Smithsonian. They can bite your head off?? Apparently, despite their adorable ears and cute backsides, hippos are aggressive, nasty animals. Death by hippopotamus is not the way I want to exit this world.
My second thought when I heard this story was that I’m grateful to live in a country where we don’t have hippos charging up out of lakes to kill people. I know this may sound silly, but as I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve been filled with an incredible sense of gratitude to live in a country that is exponentially better than Kenya in so many ways. Aside from the marauding hippo problem, the life expectancy there is only 50 years of age. Forty percent of Kenyans die from HIV, TB, or malaria, all preventable diseases. A full 34% die of other communicable diseases. While we are debating Obamacare and screaming about a website that doesn’t work here in the United States, Kenyans are still trying to eradicate tuberculosis and malaria. It’s something we need to keep in perspective.
In addition to the physical dangers inherent in living in Kenya, my friend who ministers to widows there tells me that the future is often very grim for women who lose their husbands. Widows have no legally protected absolute rights to inheritance and in many cases the property passes to the husband’s family upon his death. Often, the grieving widow must stand by and watch as her in-laws confiscate their property, sometimes dismantling the family home and hauling away the building materials, leaving her destitute.
Margaret Nil, a widow and mother of seven, tells a story that is all too common to widows in her country:
“After his burial, things drastically changed for the worst, my in-laws took all the properties my late husband had bought, nothing was left to me; the culture does not recognise the well-being of a woman,” she told Think Africa Press.
Ngii says that most of the widows in the area do not have the right to inherit any property from their late husbands, forcing many widows to return to their ancestral homes.
“I have tried to seek help from the local authority but all in vain…I am forced to work as a house helper so that I can feed my seven children”.
After the loss of her husband, most of her friends left her to struggle alone.
“What many widows go through in our area is shocking; we are isolated and left alone. The number of suffering widows is growing day after day…The situation is even worse when the woman is illiterate, which is common in the area; some are accused of the death of their husband.”
Ngii worries how her children will cope. “It has been hard for my children to construct a traditional hut since their dad’s piece of land was sold after his burial; I do not know where to go from here.”
Many women turn to prostitution to survive.
My heart breaks for widows like Margaret and like the widow of the man killed by the hippo and I pray for their fatherless children.
At the same time, I’m unbelievably grateful to live in a country where we enjoy, for the most part, a just legal system and property rights that protect women and children. And, for better or worse, we have a social safety net that, although it is sometimes abused, is available to the most vulnerable members of our society who desperately need assistance. I am truly thankful that if something happens to my husband, my in-laws will not be permitted to come and take my house and throw me out into the streets. Despite what critics say about our country, we do care for the poor and the fatherless — so much that we argue about the best way to do it rather than whether to do it.
When I hear stories like the one about the hippo attack, I realize how much I complain — and how little I really have to complain about. And I’m reminded how much God hates it. Back in the days of Moses, in Numbers 14, when the Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness before they entered the Promised Land, the people rose up and complained to Moses about their plight and thought maybe they’d have been better off staying in Egypt, where they were slaves.
And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
God didn’t mince words in answering their complaints:
And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”
God pointed out that in complaining about their circumstances and their leaders, they were complaining about Him — despising Him, even, and demonstrating a lack of faith.
That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?
The Bible continually warns against complaining and encourages contentment, despite our circumstances:
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content (1 Timothy 6:7-8).
And Paul told the Philippians, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.”
Sometimes, we need to have our consciences jarred in order to give us a new perspective and to teach us to be grateful for all that we enjoy. The hippo was that kind of moment for me. I challenge you to watch the world around you this week and look for opportunities to express gratitude to God for the blessings in your life.
And maybe work on your grumbling, if that’s a problem for you.
Also, if you think about it, will you keep Mary, the new widow in Kenya, and her children in your prayers?