A mighty tree has fallen in the City of Oaks. He was Patrick Njiraini, a Kenyan oak, an immigrant who gave much more than he took from North Carolina. His life is a marvelous example of appreciating America’s freedoms and opportunities and a reminder of how immigrants can strengthen our country’s fabric.
First, Patrick believed in integrating into his local community. Like other Africans, he placed a high value on education and believed in working together rather than as an isolated individual. He was committed to helping incoming Africans understand how to function as productive citizens here.
He trained at Duke to become a hospital chaplain as well as a clinical therapist until his death June 13. The funeral was absolutely packed. I gave the closing prayer – for the family – but I should’ve been praying for myself, too.
I want to be like Patrick. I don’t want his stomach cancer, but I want his generosity. He didn’t accumulate many material possessions because he was so busy giving to people he thought needed things more than he did. His own wife said she learned generosity from him.
I would love to spend my time thinking less about me and more about others, less about my stuff and more about who else could make better use of it. I would love to be so conscious of my liberties that I just couldn’t get over them.
I would love to keep my family and community so high on my priority list that I gave them the kind of time they deserve. That’s a constant challenge, and I have the freedom to take it on without having to travel to the other side of the world. It’s all here, right where I am. Hello, Doug. Are you listening?
Talk about a long funeral. These Kenyans know how to stretch out their get-togethers. While integrating into the greater community, they maintain their connections with local Kenyans. They love spending time together. I’m pretty sure America could use more of that.
First-generation Kenyans are content to take low-paying jobs, remembering the violence and tough times many of them faced back home. But they keep making time for each other instead of the unending pursuit to acquire more and more stuff.
You might have noticed these folks working some of the harder positions around North Carolina, some as nurses in hospitals that are difficult to staff. Others obtain certification to provide health care to elderly Americans who have money or insurance but no family members who are able and willing to provide the necessary care.
These workers represent the brain drain and character drain from their country of origin. Ambitious. Willing to delay gratification. Ready to sacrifice to get training. Strong convictions about family and local support systems.
Kenya could use those attributes, but our modern nation needs them just as much. Patrick and his stateside Kenyan community rent until they can buy, they maintain customs that even their children enjoy, and they bring no racial baggage with them. Once again, it all sounds like something America could definitely use.
Patrick was a Kenyan at heart, of course. People don’t need to lose their roots to be true American citizens. He became an American at heart, too. He was like our ancestors who brought similar values when the United States was still being settled. Only, not all of my Gamble folk brought the good values Patrick and his people have brought. My family history has its shady areas.
We citizens sometimes get so worked up about immigration issues that we overlook the measurable contributions newcomers make to our state. The technical skills required by Triangle businesses are obvious. Less obvious is the day-to-day good living that people like Patrick add to our lives.
If I were talking only about him, he wouldn’t be so impressive. But I’m talking about a leader who left a firm legacy, a permanent mark on first-, second- and third-generation Africans who are making North Carolina a better place than they found it.
Tell me we don’t want that in our state.
N. Doug Gamble is a pastor at Crossroads Fellowship in Raleigh. He trains leaders to be forces of good in their communities.