GUILFORD -- James Brown talks fast, very fast.
He is short and well dressed, and his dark eyes seem to brim with life and an intensity few people can match. He's sure of himself in a way that is not egotistical, but strong and centered. He's a local man in his 40s who has stayed close to home for most of his life, never leaving the continent, and will soon be on his way across the world to visit a small village in Kenya with a group from the Guilford Community Church.
Being away from home won't be easy for James for many reasons but mainly because his 5-year-old son, Ambrose, is terminally ill. Twelve days is a long time to be away when your child has only so many days on this earth.
The group is flying into Nairobi and then taking a van to Kaiguchu, which is a small village located about four hours from Nairobi. Also causing conflict in the minds of James and his fellow travelers is the current mayhem taking place in Nairobi. Less than a month ago, Somali terrorists attacked a mall and killed at least 69 people. The intended victims were foreigners and those who practice non-Muslim religions. James wonders whether a van full of foreign missionaries will attract notice as they drive to Kaiguchu from Nairobi. At least one member of the church group planning to go to Kenya has backed out because of the unrest. However, James feels he has a purpose in Kaiguchu and is determined to fulfill it.
James began to get excited about traveling to Kenya when members of his church in Dummerston and members of the Guilford Community Church started planning a return trip to Kenya. The Guilford Community Church has a partnership with the village of Kaiguchu to help plant macadamia trees, which fruit quickly and will give the villagers some economic stability. The church has taken three trips to Kaiguchi to donate uniforms and books to the school in addition to planting trees, which will hopefully number in the tens of thousands by the time they return from their trip at the end of October. The project is all about helping to provide sustainability to the villagers and helping to reforest Kenya, which will have an impact both ecologically and economically. James thought that he would like to get involved and procured a ticket to Kenya to travel with the group. However, as he waited for the date in late October to arrive, his plans picked up steam.
James recalled how a member of the church had built a bench for the Kaiguchu people while he was there. The villagers loved it and some of them became interested in how the bench was built. James began thinking about how he could have even more of a positive impact on the villagers. What if James, a carpenter and woodworker by trade, could teach the villagers how to make furniture? A simple plan in the dreaming stages became much more complex in reality.
James had to think about what life was like in Kaiguchu. Because Kaiguchu is without electricity, power tools were not an option. So James set about collecting hand tools that could be used without electricity and printed blueprints for Colonial-era furniture that was made with similar tools. However, Africa has some of the hardest wood in the world, which was another thing James had to consider when thinking about what to bring. In order for the people of Kaiguchu to be able to sustain the woodworking trade, they would need to be able to sharpen their tools, another really important part of the plan.
James began to gather what he'd need to teach the people of Kaiguchu how to build the furniture and the tools they'd need in order to continue making furniture once he'd left. Being incredibly passionate, James bought many of the tools needed for the trip with his own money, spending about $1,000. Luckily, with the help of friends and people from the church, James was able to collect about $1,000 more in tools. Some of the tools that people gave him were incredibly valuable, like the antique plane, whose owner donated it knowing that it would stay in Africa. James planned to bring doubles or even triples of some of the tools in case anything was stolen from his suitcase and placed them in various spots throughout his luggage to ensure that the most important tools made it all the way to Kaiguchu. With the luggage allowance being two 50lb bags, James, who's tools had substantial weight, also had to consider how much he could bring on the plane to Kenya. A considerable feat, James was able to fit 100 pounds of tools into two bags, with his clothes and personal items going in his carry-on.
James will be teaching a specific group of kids from the community that show an interest in woodworking or that show some aptitude for working with wood. He will spend four days teaching the group, but the school in Kaiguchu is building an entire curriculum off of what they learn in hopes to start producing an income for the village.
Aside from going to Kaiguchu, the group will stop at an elephant orphanage to visit elephants that have been rescued from the ivory trade. Because elephants are familial by nature, the orphanage takes younger elephants and pairs them with older elephants to help them form new families. James and the church group will feed and visit with the elephants before heading down the road to Kaiguchu.
James is a remarkable man in that he is able to find joy in life despite having lost a daughter to the same terminal illness his son has. Part of James' life mission in being a deacon at his church and in his new passion, ministry, is to show people that joy is possible, even after facing hard times. James feels that this trip to Kenya is partly a way to show the people around him that being exuberant and present in life is still possible. James has a fierceness and intensity that pierces those he communicates with. Perhaps it is the knowledge, learned first hand from a son and a daughter with lives punctuated by doctor visits and hospital stays, that life is short. One only has to really think about the gifts a child brings to us; to live in the moment, to laugh and smile, to feel deeply; to know that children can be our most influential teachers. The sparkle in James' dark eyes are reminiscent of a child, potent and brimming with life.