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Save the Date – 1/25/15 Lay Sunday!

The Board of Trustees of All Souls Unitarian Universalist NYC is performing church services on Sunday, January 25th, 2015, 10 am & 11:15 am. All are welcome!! The 2014-2015 All Souls Church Board: Sabrina Alano, Marilyn Collins, Heidi DuBois, Richard Ford, Carol Kirkman, Marilynn Scott Murphy, Miday Wilkey, Li Yu, and Victor Fidel (http://www.allsoulsnyc.org/board). All Souls UU Church address: 1157 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10075 (at East 80th & Lexington Avenue) http://www.allsoulsnyc.org/

  Here is our 2014-2015 Board:

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Africa 2014: Vignettes of Kenya

I was fortunate to join a group of friends from my church, All Souls NYC, led by Professor Ford, on a mission of hope, outreach, and fellowship to Kenya.

In Nairobi, everyday is different. Going with the flow rules the spirit. There’s a thread of energy that connects the people from the earth’s deep dust, flows through them and out beyond to the mauve skies of the city nights. How could it not be a spontaneous marvel, for though no drivers pay attention to the traffic lights, there are never any accidents. Though the rain doesn’t come much from the heavens this August time of year, there is no drought of friendship, smiles or humility.

The people, warm as a hot summer’s day, greet you, even if they don’t know you, particularly on hikes, and while I was recognized as Mzungo (White Person), I was always blood human familia to them. They are beyond difference and are interested in helping others – they know religion is not just about you but about all in the universal tent. They possess less material things than we in the western world, but their concerns lie in assisting their neighbors who have less.

As I write, over a week has passed since I came back from the cradle of civilization, as one of our guides called his homeland, and as a reflective mindset, what follows are some African vignettes. They are stories, which connected me to this continent where all of humanity comes from.

Click here for the Vignettes!

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Our collection of Unitarian Universalists (UUs) from Nairobi, New York, and D.C. – here we are at the Quaker compound where the Church of Nairobi rents space for their services.

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Here we are at the United Kenya Club.



Ahead of their time: Vision and Mission


The Nairobi UU Church does not have a building, but it has a stated written vision and mission (something even our own Church of All Souls in NYC doesn’t have – we can learn from them). Their vision is:

1) To capture an inspiring vision for our future

2) To use as the basis for developing a strategic plan for the next three years, a blueprint to help us realize our vision

3) To help us make an informed decision on the future of our building.

On our third day together, we met in the Nairobi Church’s preferred rented compound, in a Quaker village. There we joined together as a big group, and in All Souls Young Adult fashion we performed a food and fellowship, whereby we ate first, then organized later into one big group, and then formed smaller groups who would discuss vision and the issues tackling the UUs of Nairobi. Thereafter, our small groups rejoined and present what came out of our discussions.

We made sure that each small group would have at least 2 members from each congregation. My group had Grace, Margaret, Robin, Joyce, Kate and Justus. Kate and Grace facilitated our discussions. Through our discussion, five ways of outreach organically birthed:

1) Train and educate women and youth.

2) Enrich women with life skills.

3) Educate women and the young about abortion (it is not illegal in Nairobi – what is illegal is to perform one outside a clinic, and unfortunately, young women are undergoing dangerous procedures outside clinics – it is an issue that no other church is addressing, which is an opportunity for the UU Church in Nairobi).

4) Help orphanages. Noteworthy: A member of the UU Church in Nairobi already runs a school for orphans in one of the slums (The Little Angels).

5) Feed the hungry.

What impressed me the most about our UU sisters and brothers in Kenya is that they are strident in their outreach. These are folks who do not even have a church building, but their immediate concern is helping the other. They do not have the time or the care for internal divisions. They are true believers in the power of helping others; they practice religion’s core value of being there for your neighbor.

Here’s a visual scope of our day (on August 9, 2014):


Our combined group, three times!













Professor Ford & Deacon Robin


Rev Ben discusses empowering women and youth education, among other topics.









A little spiritual dancing started it all!










Our small, but mighty group, led by Kate & Grace:



Robin gives us a great insight into this day with his video, titled, “The Workshop”:

The Workshop from Robin Bossert on Vimeo.



My First Sermon

I thought I was just going for a ride this trip. Little did I know I would be chairing meetings, running groups, and in apex of one Sunday, also delivering my first sermon (!). It was of amazing coincidence that I took my traveling chalice, which we ended up giving as a gift from our congregation to the Nairobi UU Church, at the end of our sojourn.

My sermon would have been titled, "Spokes make the wheel turn when joined together", but I never got to write it because I didn't know I was going to preach, till 15 minutes before I performed the oration. Ben, our Nairobi UU Church’s pastor, at the beginning of the service said to me, “Please sit next to me. Ok, so you’ll light the chalice, give a brief welcome, and you’ll give one of the sermons.” Ah, ok, I said, I thought, well, I’m really welcomed to Africa now! Well, I confess, there was a bit more warning than that, as Ben did walk over earlier and Tom, as well as Lois, and they overheard his ask, which I was just peachy to accept. And, to penetrate my subconscious, Sara hinted the night before that they might ask me to preach, to which my conscious didn’t believe.

The inspiration for my first ever sermon came from our group of Nairobi UUs and our troupe of Wazungu UUs, who became tight with each other and within our own groups. Each of us shared our gifts of talent and generosity with the other, and each shaped our trip, the way two hands shape clay to make a pot, the way a rainbow shines with color, meeting the sun and the rain at once. I was moved by the Kenyan spirit of spontaneity and by Tao number 11, about how much we focus on being, but we work with non-being, and how the wheel turns because spokes join at the center to make it roll... I gave it in the oratory tradition, in the spirit of what our board has tried to do, to be united and work in the spirit of collaboration, in the spirit of Kenyan warmth and rigor.

Victor's Sermon from Robin Bossert on Vimeo.

Kenya inspires you to be and live in the intensity of the moment, to trust your impulses.

Images that inspired the sermon and the fellowship that arose:


Sara and Kate create a moment with the children.



Did anybody tell you, "I love you", today?
Put me on your list, let me be the first
I love you today.
God loves you.
And I love you.
And that's how it should be.
I love you today!

--Rev. Rose



Expert Linesmen!



Professor Ford donated outfits to the soccer team. Check out the teal shirt for the Referee!



Can you see Jesus behind Sara?
It’s not my best selfie, but does show you the soccer field’s terrain.



Rev. Ben offered me the honor of performing my first sermon. Asante sana, Ben!

Robin, video-master, shows you our ride in this video:

Sunday with the Nairobi Unitarian Universalist Council from Robin Bossert on Vimeo.



Bond 7 Whiskey Nights: Heri!

After a hard day’s work with our Kenyan sisters and brothers, our crew would engage in fellowship, kindled by Kenyan whiskey, Tuskers, and the mauve skies of Nairobi. As I look at some of these pictures, I think about the distance created by time and space, and I know these friendships will endure, and that they will say at some point, “Habari, hakuna wasi wasi”, and “Ndyo,” as well as “Asante.” Asante, thank you for the memories… Cheers! Sláinte! Heri!




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The Trifecta: Were it not for Cory, Professor Ford, and Kate, I would not have had the experience of a lifetime. I am most grateful for the Trifecta. I will join them where-ever they decide to go, should the allow my company. Asante sana you GREAT THREE!!






The Slums: Little Angels Lifting The World in Hope

2014_08_11JaneChildrenOne of the members (Jane) of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nairobi runs a school for orphaned children who live in a slum. The Little Angels Academy, as it’s called, has 55 children, from Pre-Kindergarten to 2nd grades. Several of their parents have passed away because of AIDS. The school is a little corrugated metal compound, with 4 classrooms. Living a western life, many of us would find the conditions distressing and depressing, seeing the squalor and smell around the slum. And, yet, I met there the most humble, proud and happy of all people. One gentleman who is friends with Jane and lives in the slum told me, “Karibu (Welcome), Victor, you are welcome anytime. It is safe here. The people are grateful you come here.” The community has a movie theatre that has a theatre that has 7 films a day for2014_08_11LittleAngelSign five shillings per flick . Life—or as they say—the show, must go on.

2014_08_11_MoviesThe UUs of Nairobi practice the core message of religion. They don’t care about internal divisions and useless minutia within their church. They do not even have a building; they rent out space.  They manifest their concerns by helping those who are less fortunate than they are. Could we learn from them? I wish we could. Their message of selflessness and caring for your neighbor is something that, while we aspire, we unfortunately have forgotten, particularly in New York City. The purpose of religion is to save the world. It’s not about you and your personal belief of what the world should be. It’s about us. It’s a collective. The Kenyans know it. They practice it.

Jane bought a toilet for the school, so that the2014_08_11KateArms children could experience dignity and cleanliness. She is paying 3000 shillings a month in installments until she pays the full amount of 60,000 shillings, which is about $750.00.

The day we visited the slum, the children came back with us to the Quaker compound where the church rents rooms for services, where we had our church service. The children ate lunches that we brought for them. They were so well behaved. They all had purple outfits too. They were adorable. They 2014_08_11Sara-Grace-Mariesang for us. Kate (my Mzungu Swahili teacher) jumped in and sang with them and led them into songs that she brought from the US – she and the kids engaged in that soulful universe called magic. Then Heli came in and led in her share of the songs. It was a sweet cross-cultural, intergenerational experience. It was so inspirational that it made our souls cry with the spirit of love. The best we could do was stand with them, on the side of love, we brought this message from the UUA, and we didn’t even know it, till we got there, such is the spontaneous spirit that reigns over you as you immerse yourself in the Kenyan way.

2014_08_11HeliGift520Heli and Kate offered a gift to the church leaders
that they could use as they saw fit to help the children.


Karim was ready to adopt every child, even me :-)


Despite the squalor surrounding them, the Little Angels lift us in hope because our Kenyan sisters and brothers care about our neighbors – they live true religion.

2014_08_11KateNoseKate shows how it’s done! How could these kids not love her!

And, here is one of my most favourite pictures of them all:






Professor Ford had told us that one must haggle when purchasing souvenirs in Kenya. It would be an insult to a Kenyan for a tourist to not engage in the barter practice, even if the price given by a merchant is already less than one would pay for the item, particularly since for us westerners, one dollar goes a long way in Kenyan Shillings (approximately 1 dollar to 90 Shillings). In a bartering exchange, Kenyans learn who you are, where you come from, even your profession, and it is significant for them to understand the buyer – it is part of the culture. Also, as Professor Ford would tell you, even the price you would end up paying after your best haggled offer, is still the Mzungo price, which is much more than the price that a Kenyan would pay. So, it is what that in mind that I encountered my first haggling situation. It is noteworthy to inform the reader that I am not a purchaser of souvenirs as much as I am an avid consumer of experiences.

So, I went to the Nairobi City Market, which used to be a zeppelin hanger, with my friends to view. As I walked along with Sara, there was one merchant who introduced himself, right away as Charles Kiarie, who would not let us pass his stall. He started asking us to buy everything, and we were just browsing nonchalantly. Then after showing us everything he finally said, "Oh, but you must not leave without looking at this. See, I think everybody needs this, and you need it too. People now a days only text, Facebook and send emails, but what we have forgotten to do is write. So I have created these cards with traditional artwork that you can send to your friends. These are the only cards made like these in this market, in all of Kenya. They are all hand-crafted by me...you must not leave without one of these..."

2014_08_05_05_42_25---IMG_3945_thumbI remember Sara’s smirk towards me. I knew what she was thinking, that this guy was selling to my soul because I love to write, but the interesting thing was, how in the world could he have known this -- this is just like she said, the universe is conspiring on your behalf, or something like this...

So, he said, "I'll sell one of these cards for 400 Shillings. You must take one."

"Wow," I said, "Four hundred! That's a lot for a card!"

He said, "Well, there is better price for more cards sold."

"Aha, go on," I said.

"Yes, if you buy 2, then it's 750. If 3, it's 1100"

"Ok, keep on going."

"So, if 4, 1500."

"What about five cards?"

"Oh, then that's the best price, at 1750."

"Ok, 5 at Seven Fifty, then?"

"Oh, no, why that would be stealing. But I can do 1600."

"Eight hundred."

Charles: "Oh, but that is so low. 1500."

Me: "850"

"1300", his turn.

"900", my turn

"Ok, I see, 1200", Charles again.

"950", me again!

"1100," Charles again!

"Ok, Charles, 1000 is my final offer."

Charles said, "Sold!"

And then we went on to choosing them. Sara helped me choose three of them, the lovers, the friends, and the market lady, which had red, teal, and yellow colors, respectively (red for lovers, teal for friends, and yellow for the market lady, I presume?).

Then Charles gave me his card and said, "So tell me, what do you do?"

I said, "Can you guess?"

Charles said, "You are either a salesman, a banker, or a writer."

I said, "and you would be right! I'm all of that!"

We shook hands in the Kenyan way, with our arms touching our opposite shoulders one time on each side, while one looks the other way. I then gave him my 1000 shillings.




Professor Ford: Our Chief Apostle

We were called Professor Ford’s 122014_08_10_05_44_55 - IMG_4564_thumb[5] apostles. He has been going to Africa for 40 years; so he is masterful at navigating the continent. He has practiced consensus building in areas where men have laid their weapons down in order so that the community can move on to a more prosperous collaborative environment. He has also led water conservation projects. Before going to Kenya, when we asked him, what would we be doing, he said, "Nothing strenuous. No ditch digging or anything like that,” and he then joked with me that we should have our women dig the ditches, while the men watched and took photographs, which they would with honor and pride. He takes himself lightly, but his spirit is always firm and supple. His voice may be soft, but he carries with him high gravitas of intellect and reason.

He took us on a learning mission, a cross-cultural interchange. Professor Ford enlightened on a tour of a world that has had much struggle and strife, and yet, with the powers of collaboration and resilience this continent has been 2014_08_13_15_36_48 - IMG_5092_thumb[7]successful in many ways. As he understands it, the nation state will change drastically in the next few years, but yet, Africa will continue to thrive, as it has succeeded in many ways, despite the sordid past of colonization, slavery, racism, AIDS, war, and other challenges.

In this mission, he put me to work, and I will be forever grateful for the experience. Asante sana, Buena Kubua!



Justus: Philosophiam, Vir Magnus

2014_08_12_11_28_43 - 20140812_112844_thumb[7]I met my philosophical uncle from another continent. He was born some 77 plus years ago, but he would prefer to say that his birth certificate is just paper concealing the real magic of rebirth. Many years ago, over the side of the road on one of his drives, he saw a baptism and decided to join, and as the water rolled down his body, he renamed himself Justus (née Ndungu), derived from “Justice” because on the debate team at school, his friends said he always stood on the side of justice. So like me, he changed his name, but he made his first name the middle, while I made my middle, last.

He was friends with Obama’s father, who comes from the Luo tribe, where the intellectuals reign. He is going to be a Unitarian Universalist minister and he will form the Church of All Souls Outreach in Africa. Thanks to Justus Connections, his driving company, our troupe of 13 UUs got around safely throughout the Kenya roads of traffic and dust, from Nairobi to Naivasha and beyond…2014_08_13_06_08_56 - IMG_5034_thumb[1]

The cow horn: It’s his libation chalice. He drinks out of it, where ever he goes, not just beer, but also whiskey. Since the horn is not able to stand on its own, you can only have one drink and therefore you have created moderation by drinking out of it.

Selected Justus’ philosophy in quotations,
you see…:

“My friend, you are making life most difficult; drop the heavy luggage and let me help you.”

“Corruption has become religion. Fight it. That…and monocracy.”

“Where there are more poor, religion thrives, you see. Where there are more rich, religious organizations do not do well.”

“When I meet new people, I realize how foolish I am.”

“Things go wrong when people don’t listen and think they know everything.”

2014_08_10_11_46_10 - IMG_4683[1]_thumb[6]“Life is easy when things go wrong: How you handle the bad things is the right experience” [i.e. In handling life’s challenges, you earn the true experience of life, however hard, that is the best way].

“Drink from your pembe n’gomebe (cow horn), in order to keep moderation. If you cannot hold your cow horn, you cannot go home.”



The Water at Mount Longonot

Our fearless troupe (Sara, Cory, Kate, Christine, and me) hiked Mount Longonot, a stratovolcano located southeast of Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley. After hiking up about 2 miles (3.1km), we hiked around the entire crater rim too (approx. 4.5 miles or 7.2 km), which earned us bragging rights, particularly because the day before we had arrived to Nairobi via JFK and Amsterdam, in a trip totaling 24 hours (of course our stay in Amsterdam had been a heavenly 8 hours – luckily Schiphol is so close to the city).

One of the hiking stretches of the crater while I hiked with Sara, a group of Catholic school kids walked by. They were so friendly. They would pass by and shake our hands. They would say, "Hello, how are you?" We'd say, "Mambo", which is the kid’s version of Hello, we were informed. On one instance, a girl walked to us and said, "Excuse me, would you have water?" She had her water-bottle. Sara took out one of her water bottles. I proceeded to help her open it, and when I did, I passed it to the girl while I held the cap. The girl then took the bottle and walked away with her troupe. As she was walking away, I said, “Oh…well, do you want to take the cap with you? Here” and her friend took it, and they walked away. Sara and I laughed. Well, I’m generous – Sara was a gently baffled. Ok, there goes your water. It was a silly moment, and it made us appreciate the geniality of our passersby. I ended up sharing my water with Sara, and it made for conversational jokiness, later on. In Kenya, like water, all goes with the flow… Here are some pictures of the hike experience.

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Oh, and we saw zebras at the end of the hike!

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