XASS: Thanks for joining me today. Let’s start with an introduction: who are you?
Martin: My name is Martin. I’m a senior – alumnus in a week – majoring in computer science and I’m from Kenya.
XASS: How did you come from Kenya to Stanford? That’s not the most obvious choice.
Martin: Yeah, that’s so so not. I went to this high school that was for bright but poor kids. Basically, we got scholarships in that school, so I didn’t have to pay fees and it was while there that I first got to hear about schools abroad. We had students from my school apply and come to colleges in the US and even had some come to Stanford, through the four years that I was there. During assemblies which we had every evening, we’d hear announcements like, “So and so got accepted to Stanford” and things like that. And that’s when that got into my mind. I also remember in my freshman year I read Gifted Hands by Ben Carson and he talks about how he decided to join Yale and his time there and I remembered that. But it was a year after I graduated high school that I actually applied because I had to convince myself that I stood a chance.
XASS: What food do you miss most from back home?
Martin: See, that’s interesting. It’s something I talk about with my roommate who is from West Africa and my friends from West Africa. Honestly, I’ll say I miss meat in the way it’s cooked back home. When I eat beef back home, I always know without being told that it’s beef. You know what I mean? Over here I mostly have to read the label, especially in the dining hall. I’m like, “Oh, it says pork”, but when I eat it, I taste all the things they added to the food – the spices and the seasoning and the pork is lost on me. I also miss Kenyan sausages. I don’t know how they’re made here, but I just don’t like their taste. Besides that, I don’t miss the food that much to be honest. I’m not from a culture that has great food.
XASS: So why computer science?
Martin: That’s also interesting. I didn’t grow up with computers or anything techy. The first time I used a computer was in seventh grade when my school got computers and we had a computer room where we would go and use computers. And I was like, this is cool and then I went to high school, and I did computer studies which was largely learning how to use Microsoft Office, not how to program. The thing is, I like machines. As a kid I would open radios at home, like literally unscrew them open trying to see where the sound came from. Obviously, I messed up a lot of things back home and remember there was a time where I was not allowed to touch anything that was electronic because if touched it, it wouldn’t work afterwards because I would open it up but couldn’t precisely put it back together. So, when I came here, I knew I wanted to study something engineering-related but I didn’t know what exactly. But then, my freshman fall I took CS 106A with Mehran and he just sold it like Kool-Aid. I’ve never seen a better pitch for a major yet; I remember like one lecture where he came and he did all these slides about jobs and the job market showing us how there was a huge deficit for computer science majors, which was only going to keep growing in the foreseeable future. He also told us about the space shuttle and how each line of code cost some ridiculous amount of money which I don’t recall. I was like, “Okay, it’s pretty cool that I can tell a computer what to do and turns out I can make good money doing it! Well, if I don’t do this, I’ll be a moron.” Yap, my major was decided by the end of that lecture!
XASS: Now you’re about to graduate. Do you have one of those jobs lined up he talked about?
Martin: Yes. Thankfully, I do. He used to talk about when he worked at Google all the time. And I got a job there which is great.
XASS: Awesome. Now, do you have any hobbies or passions that you engage in?
Martin: I like traveling. I’m one of those people who if you tell me, “Let’s go somewhere” I don’t even ask where. I’ll just go if I can. I also like photography; I take a lot of pictures especially of nature because I love nature too and I go on scenic hikes often. And finally dance! I’ve taken all the social dance classes (some twice), Living Traditions of Swing Dancing and hip hop. I went to the Viennese Ball twice and it’s hands down my favorite Stanford event!
XASS: What’s your favorite place that you’ve been?
Martin: That’s a good one. I would have to say it’s Tahoe. We went in my freshman year, and we got this huge house next to the lake. Like right on the shore of the lake. The next morning when we woke up, everyone was on the deck of the house quietly staring at the lake. It was this magical moment. It looked exactly like some of the pictures that my mom would buy and hang on the walls of our house when I was young! I also really enjoyed being at the Chi Alpha retreat in fall and ski trip because they were in the mountains.
XASS: How did you get involved with Chi Alpha?
Martin: I stopped, or I was stopped, by the Chi Alpha table during activities fair and I remember meeting Albert and he was like “you’re from Kenya? I’m from Kenya!” I was like, “Awesome! (in Kiswahili)” Then I asked him where in Kenya he was from and turned out he was from the same suburb that I had spent my gap years in. I then came for the ReFARMation and it was nice. I had not been to church for the three years prior to be honest so I didn’t stick with it cuz I was taking a break from God.
XASS: It sounds like you’ve been on an interesting journey. Would you say Stanford’s been a positive experience for your faith?
Martin: I would say it’s been a net positive. Back in high school I was in the Christian union and heavily involved. However, I remember coming out from a morning prayer meeting at the start of my senior year when I looked up and said, “You know, God, I think I’m going to take a break.” I felt like my relationship with Him was not working and that He was to blame. After that moment I went the exact opposite direction from God and I was gone until Thanksgiving break sophomore year. I had just downloaded the Kindle app on my phone and came across this book titled Your Faith in God Will Work. Instantly, I was like “Really? Tell me about it.” In my head I had tried it and it didn’t work and that title rubbed me the wrong way. I got the book and started reading it with a bit of a cynical attitude. It was a short book – about a 25 minute read – and at the end of it I got on my knees and said something like, “Okay God, I’m sorry. It’s not your fault that my faith did not work, it’s my fault. Please forgive me and take me back, this time for good.” Later I got more books by the author, Kenneth E. Hagin, and listened to his teachings on YouTube and honestly that’s when I started growing in my faith. Shortly afterwards, I was filled with the Holy Spirit in my room in Kimball after reading a book by him called The Holy Spirit and His Gifts. This is pretty significant because I had fasted and prayed numerous times for this in high school without results! I also have to acknowledge a girl who yelled my name at the start of summer the same year and told me Chi Alpha was having services through the summer and I should come. I didn’t think I had seen her before and it was a little strange but I was really glad cuz I had prayed about a community to help me continue growing spiritually that summer. I don’t think I missed a service all summer and It was my favorite summer at Stanford! Thank you Dorothy!
So yes, definitely a net positive.
XASS: Do you have a favorite Bible passage?
Martin: Yes, I do. John 1:11-13. It talks about how Jesus “came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
XASS: Beautiful. On a different note, we’re in some very strange times right now. We’re recording this while protests are still ongoing after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. As a Kenyan living in America how are you experiencing all this and do you have any thoughts you’d like to offer to the community about it?
Martin: So, it’s this confusing time, you know? My friends say I’m just too positive. I would say, “Sure there might be some racism but let’s be honest, it’s way better than it used to be. Maybe some microaggressions and things like that.” But then having something like that happen… it’s different. Distressing. I was very angry after watching the videos and it definitely provoked something in me. I felt that I had to do something more than just sit by and hope things get better. At the same time, I was hoping for some guidance from Christian leaders and different ministers who I follow on what to do and how to process everything because to be honest, all I felt was like punching somebody really hard. When I didn’t hear anything from them, I was really upset. That was when I posted in the group. I still believe that as Christians, and especially leaders, we should be vocal on about what we believe during such times and should take action that would help bring change. I think if protests were organized by churches, they would at least be more peaceful. At the same time non-believers would not have to wonder what our stand is or think that we support oppression.
And then I guess there is the flip side of it, which is to those who are directly affected, mostly black people that have lived here their whole lives and who are believers. I think it’s crucial to remember – or realize – what our identity is. As Christians, it’s crucial to really see ourselves for who we truly are – as children of God. And that’s why John 1:12 is an amazing verse for me because it keeps me grounded in my identity and there is heavenly peace in knowing that I am, literally, a son of God. When that really takes root in you nothing else really matters. I don’t care that I’m black. I don’t remember that half the time; actually, most of the time. Realizing that we are not just black or white or brown or anything like that, but we are children of God and God lives in us will cause us to approach life with a whole different perspective. A perspective that brings lasting peace and a sense of belonging and identity better than anything on earth. When this becomes a reality for us, then even as we fight for justice we don’t fight from the place of being oppressed or from a place of being victims but we fight from a place of knowing that we are God’s Ambassadors, God’s own children. Jesus himself calls us His brothers and sisters and that to me is mind blowing! It’s crucial to have that sense of identity and know who you are in Christ. Know who you truly are. When you find yourself in that no matter what happens in life you are not shaken; you have peace through it all, even through 2020!
XASS: Awesome, thank you for sharing. Now for the classic spotlight series question: Martin, are you in a relationship?
Martin: Right now the only relationship I am in is with Jesus. It’s honestly going great!