This May, I had the opportunity to travel to Nairobi, Kenya with Kenya Children’s Fund. In coming weeks, I will be sharing some of my reflections on this experience here.
Come and see. At first glance, Dandora looks like the most God-forsaken place on Earth. Piles of garbage burn by the side of the road. Men and women sort through the dirty scraps trying to find anything of use to keep or sell. Stall after rickety wooden stall, each one coated in a thick, red dust, line the streets of the village, where vendors peddle their wares to passers by. Kale, fried fish, plastic tubs, shoes, and jeans all are available within steps of each other.
Bill Bryson writes of Kibera, a similar slum in Nairobi:
“To step into Kibera is to be at once in a random, seemingly endless warren of rank, narrow passageways wandering between rows of frail, dirt-floored hovels made of tin and mud and twigs and holes…Each shanty on average is ten feet by ten and home to five or six people. Down the centre of each lane runs a shallow trench filled with a trickle of water and things you don’t want to see or step in. There are no services in Kibera—no running water, no rubbish collection, virtually no electricity, not a single flush toilet…In the rainy season, the whole becomes a liquid ooze. In the dry season it has the charm and healthfulness of a rubbish tip. In all seasons it smells of rot. It’s a little like wandering through a privy. Whatever is the most awful place you have ever experienced, Kibera is worse.”
Kinyago Dandora School provides solace and shelter for the children who daily walk through such a village. When our van enters the gates of the school, the children wave, cheer, shout, and sing for joy. I am thronged by hundreds of the happiest children I have ever seen. They sing:
Joy, joy, joy in my heart is ringing. Joy, joy, joy Jesus has set me singing.
See what the Lord has done for me, He died just to set me free, Fill my heart with melodies with joy, joy, joy. I’m rejoicing.
“Mambo!” I say in my nascent Swahili, greeting each eager child with a smile and a handshake. They smile and return an often barely audible, “Poa,” which means “cool” in Swahili slang. “Jina laku nani,” (What is your name?) I say to one particularly striking girl of about 9 or 10. Her face is luminous. “Purity,” she answers. Yes, Lord. Purity, indeed.)
The children are fed here, educated here, nursed here, and sheltered here until night falls. There are only four things they will ever have for lunch: beans, rice and beans, maize and beans, and ugali and beans. They drink porridge that looks more like sludge than sustenance. But they have clean water piped in from the city of Nairobi. And they have living water.
The Lord is here. He dwells with his people. He has not forsaken these precious ones who are in no way deceived about their daily, hourly, moment-by-moment need for Him and His protection and provision. They know they were made to praise Him.
The Lord brings poverty and he gives wealth; He humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the garbage pile. He seats them with the noblemen and gives them a throne of honor. ~1 Samuel 2:7-8
My life no longer makes sense unless it is lived in this context. I have seen my neighbors, and they love me with the love of Jesus — an everlasting love, a love that’s capable of crossing physical, cultural, and intellectual barriers to fill me to overflowing and make my joy complete.