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Aussies Serving Overseas – Colonels Geoff and Kalie Webb (Kenya)


Australian officers Colonels Geoff and Kalie Webb with fellow officers of the Kenya West Territory.

The Australia Territory has 32 Aussie officers serving overseas this year, one at International Headquarters in London but based in Australia, and 10 overseas officers serving in different appointments here. Over the coming months, Global Focus will feature many of these officers – who they are, where they’re serving, the joys and challenges they face and what life looks like for them in their unique corners of The Salvation Army world.


 

 

Australian Colonels Geoff and Kalie Webb, who had been previously based at International Headquarters (IHQ) in the United Kingdom, took up new roles in Kenya West Territory in February. At IHQ, Geoff served as Executive Secretary to the General while Kalie held two roles – as Under Secretary for the South Asia Zone and as Director for SASIA SALT Learning Centre. In Kenya, Geoff is serving as Territorial Commander and Kalie as Territorial President of Women’s Ministries. They have now served in four out of five Salvation Army zones, which they say has been an incredible privilege and opportunity.


Salvos Online journalist KIRRALEE NICOLLE sat down with the Webbs virtually to find out a bit about their recent move, what they are learning and how we can all be more aware of what is happening on the other side of the world.


You’ve obviously moved around quite a bit, but can you tell me how it felt this time finding out that you were moving to Kenya?


Kalie: I was very busy in a job that I loved as Under Secretary for South Asia. Having served in South Asia, I understood the context and was really involved with it, so it was sad for me to leave that job after such a short time. However, the opportunities that we have to be able to come alongside the people of the Kenya West Territory has been a blessing to us.


Geoff: I think our respective situations were different. Kalie was heavily immersed in her role. We were only in IHQ for a year and then we were moved here to Kenya. For me, it was a different context. I was the Executive Secretary of the General, which was a wonderful opportunity to serve very closely alongside two generals for whom I already had great respect – which further increased when working closely with them. Having said that, I must admit that being involved in a territorial leadership role is something that I enjoyed before and now I’m really enjoying again.


The Webbs visiting one of The Salvation Army hospitals in the territory.

What would you say has been an unexpected or surprising feature of your last 13 weeks in Kenya?


Geoff: I would have to say the worship. It’s an amazing experience: it’s vibrant, there’s a lot of dancing and the music is so rich. A worship leader might sing one line of the melody and then everybody joins in with this amazing set of harmonies. If you’ve never experienced African singing, then it’s hard to describe. Another thing I’ve encountered is the incredible sense of welcome. We walk down the street, and because there are so many Salvationists in the area, we could go into a supermarket and the person who is the checkout attendant may be a Salvationist. People smile readily, are happy to see you and we feel safe. We feel part of things here and we are spending a lot of time learning and listening.


Kalie: We’ve grown up typically expecting that you only go to worship for about an hour on Sunday. If it goes longer than, say, an hour and a half, people tend to think it’s too long. We are now in the situation where we have worship that goes for anywhere between two and three and a half hours long. But it’s vibrant and it’s great.


Which city are you living in?


Geoff: Kakamega – it’s a rural town in the heart of the territory. It’s fairly small by comparison to Mombasa, Nairobi or Kisumu, the top three largest cities. A lot of officers in the territory are farmers, and when they take holidays, they return to their family homes to plant the next crop.


A Salvation Army march of witness is often a colourful spectacle with hundreds of Salvationists involved.

Which sources have you been drawing on to help you understand the context that you’re now in?


Geoff: There have been several officers who have lived in Africa before – people like Commissioners Robert and Janine Donaldson, and Major Seth LeLou from New Zealand, who have all been an amazing help to us. We were given some helpful resources by people like Richard Bradbury at IHQ who’s also lived in Africa. I think a lot of it is about asking questions, being adaptable and recognising that everywhere is different, and if you listen you can learn fairly quickly from people.


Kalie: An example of that is that on Thursdays and Fridays, we often hear shouting and yelling, and we’ve recently learned it’s because someone has passed away. Usually, they will move the person who’s died from the morgue to the funeral home on a Thursday or a Friday, ready for a funeral on Saturday. Some of those life things give you a little more understanding of the culture. We’ve been fortunate to have lived in Pakistan before, so we know to ask the questions where you anticipate that the answer is going to be different from how you live your life back home.


So, from the news we are aware of some of the some of the things that are going on in that part of the world, including famine. In the time you have been there, what are some of the needs that you’ve identified or are learning about?


Geoff: It’s an interesting one because Kenya West demonstrates two very different effects of climate change. In the northern part of the territory, where we visited recently, is an area which is basically desert. It resembles parts of the Australian inland. People living in that area tend to be nomadic. Water and food insecurity are problems there. In other parts of western Kenya, where drought has not been a problem, we are now facing the climate-change issue of flooding, which is occurring much more frequently. Crops have been washed away, and potential harvests have gone. Others have not only lost their livelihoods but also their homes have been swept away. So, it’s a difficult situation here in Kenya and probably in other parts as well. In Kenya East Territory, there are places where they are really doing it tough at the moment with the flood situation.


The Webbs often travel to rural parts of the territory.

Are there any other experiences that you’d like to share?

Kalie: We recently had the opportunity to go visit a corps in Turkana, northwest Kenya. When we got there, we found the building of the hall was funded by the Australia Territory back in the 1990s. It was great to have that connection and to tell them we were from Australia. We also learned some officers in Turkana are really doing it tough. One young male officer was living in a corrugated iron shed with no fan. Because the temperatures reach the mid-40s, he was not able to stay in his house after a certain point in the day. It was too hot to sleep in at night, so in the evening he would drag his mattress outside, but that made him vulnerable to snakes and scorpions. We also found out that when the people of Turkana get really hungry and desperate, there is a poisonous fruit that they will boil three times to extract the poison so that they can eat it. Things like this just break your heart.


Geoff: All you want to do is help as best you can. But, unfortunately, there is no magic wand solution. We did buy some fans for air movement in two corps/quarters where there were none. It’s not until you hear the personal stories that you actually can connect more with it than just reading about it on the news.

Overall, we’re having a wonderful time. We are enjoying what we’re doing and we’re also incredibly grateful to Australia for the support they provide. Australia Territory has always been very generous to different projects around the world, including here in Kenya.


Kalie wearing an outfit celebrating 100 years of the Kenya West Territory.


 

 

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