Monday, February 14, 2005


It took me several moments to understand where I was. The transition from city to slum had come too quickly. It was not until the stench of a gigantic trash heap washed over me that I could truly register my surroundings. We were walking into one of the biggest slums on the face of the earth…

A map of Nairobi shows Kibera slum as a large blank area without any roads or landmarks. A simple glance at a map makes it look like a forest or city park. Kibera is not a city park. It is a sea of ragged metal shacks stretching to the horizon. It is a desolate expanse filled with thousands of hopeless Kenyans living minutes away from a world class city. Kibera is poverty.

We walked fast. My eyes darted back and forth, trying to take in the quickly passing scenery. On my left was a small river of sewage. Gagging, I tried to focus on the other side of the street – a ten foot high wall of rusty corrugated steel. We passed tiny stalls where residents of the slum tried desperately to sell overripe fruit, hand-woven baskets, and cell phone credits. I was intensely aware at that moment of how rich and white I looked. I could feel the gaze of children staring as I passed. I was extremely grateful to whoever had suggested that I take off my tie.
On the way to the medical clinic we passed a dog standing in the middle of the road, staring at us with vacant eyes. Its mangy fur was stretched tight over much too visible ribs. A toddler with a sagging diaper and filthy t-shirt waddled out of his home, sucking on his hand. I realized with pain that this child would more than likely live in this slum the rest of his life.
We climbed a high railroad embankment that gave us a shocking view of the slum. I was amazed at how big the place was. I turned to the man leading us and asked “Is that most of Kibera?” pointing at the vast expanse of shacks that stretched over a distant hill. He chuckled and said “Oh no. That’s just a corner of it. Most of the slum lies in that direction.” He gestured behind us. I was speechless.
We were given a tour of a small Christian clinic in the center of the slum. The clinic gives very cheap medical assistance and nutritional education to the people of Kibera. I was in awe of the selfless volunteers working at the clinic. I thought for a moment about the jobs any of them could have had. With skills in medicine and nursing, these capable servants could have easily made large incomes in one of Nairobi’s bustling hospitals. Instead they choose to give up everything to help those who have nothing to give.
After meeting the clinic’s volunteers and asking them many questions about their ministry, we began walking out of the slum, retracing our earlier steps. With my mind still reeling from the enormous sacrifice these servants had made of their lives, we came across a group of children. When they saw me they all started shouting “How are you?!?” – the only English words they know. I answered “Good! And how are you?” They gave me blank stares. Instead of giving up, I greeted them in Swahili. “Habari?” Their faces lit up and they shouted back “Nzuri!” They formed a line and wanted to shake my hand. I shook each of their hands, answering when each of them asked me “How are you?” again. It took me quite a while to lose the smile on my face, but in my heart, I was sobbing. How could children like that be so joyful in a place of such desperation? It was heartbreaking.

The experience ended just as quickly as it had begun. We walked as a group out of the slum. We caught a bus and within moments we were back in the Nairobi I knew. I went home, ate a full dinner, and lay down in my comfortable bed, acutely aware of the luxuries I had been blessed with throughout my life. As I drifted off to sleep, the shocking images of Kibera played over and over in my head. Something had clicked inside of me. It was as if God had walked me through the slum, pointed at the people I saw and said “Here. These are my children. These are the ones I love. It pains me to see them suffering; doesn’t it hurt you too?”
From that moment on, I knew I would never be the same…

Friday, February 04, 2005

Kenya Email Update #5


Can you believe it? I’ve been here for a whole month already! One down, 11 to go! This year is going to fly by! Again I want to thank those of you who have written to me. It’s so great to hear from my friends… Just be sure to keep me updated!

Ok, a couple of weeks ago a bunch of people gathered at Mark Kioko’s house (he’s on staff at Chapel) for nyama choma. Nyama choma basically just means “roast meat.” It’s a very Kenyan thing. Someone buys a goat, has it slaughtered, and then roasts it at home with a bunch of friends. I suppose it’s the same as having a barbecue in the States. Except in the States people don’t usually eat roasted goat intestine as an appetizer. In case you are wondering if I actually ate any, I’ll tell you this – it’s really really chewy.

I’ve been thrown head-first into ministry at Nairobi Chapel. Since the church planting process hasn’t really started yet, I’ve been working a lot for Pastor Linda (who does a lot of administration and stuff). She discovered that I like writing and sort of put me to work! I’ve been writing grant proposals, pastoral letters, etc. In fact, the very first thing I wrote for her became the bulletin insert that Sunday!

So on my last day off I went to see a movie in a theatre downtown. It was actually a really nice place! I was surprised. The funny thing is that when a movie is about to start they play this ancient video of the Kenyan flag blowing majestically while the National Anthem plays. I guess if you don’t stand, you can get kicked out! It’s a national law!! Right up there with the law that all places of business in Kenya have to have a picture of the president hanging on the wall. Weird.

As I write this I’m getting over a really bad sickness that hit about two days ago. I guess it’s some sort of intestinal infection (I won’t go into details…). Let’s just say I have been rather miserable these last few days. Oh well. I guess there has to be some downside to living in a country with perfect weather and fresh mango juice…

Since coming here I’ve had the chance to visit three huge slums in Nairobi. Each one was quite an eye opening experience. I really don’t think I’ve ever seen poverty like that in my life. If you are interested, I have written out a little narrative of my experience with the first slum I visited. Just drop me an email and I’ll send you the story.

Also, if you are supporting me with prayer, I am going to start a new email list to which I’ll send specific prayer needs as they arise. Those emails will be more frequent than these updates, and will give you a better idea of the things I (and Nairobi Chapel) need prayer for. If you want to be on that list, just drop me an email as well.

Ok. Keep in touch! I miss you all! For those of you in the Midwest, enjoy your freezing rain and ice and mud! I’m sure it’s just beautiful there!


p.s. For those of you who are wondering, I don’t really miss Xbox surprisingly, but man, I could use a big bag of spicier nacho Doritos right now… Oooo… and some pizza from Lou Malnati’s. Oh, and a big bottle of ice cold Mountain Dew! Oh well… I guess I’ll just go have some more roasted goat intestine. hehe