A sea of mostly unfamiliar faces greeted me that morning – a sight I have grown accustomed to as I begin this summer in a new city. It was my first Sunday at Karura Chapel, and I was beginning to get a picture of just how diverse this community is. Families from wealthy Nairobi suburbs filled the parking lot with their BMW’s as women from the slums arrived on foot.

Then I saw a familiar smile, a woman named Susan I had met two days earlier. Her worn clothes and traditional head wrap suggest she is definitely on the poorer end of the spectrum. When I caught her eye as I made my way across the sanctuary to greet her, I could tell she was glad to see me, too.

Karura Community Chapel... Church in a tent!

Karura Community Chapel... Church in a tent!

My first encounter with Susan occurred in a much different setting. It was a 20 by 60 foot wood-slatted building that served as a church in the village of Gathanga, not far from Karura Chapel. Eleven widows representing several nearby congregations were seated in the first three rows, looking to me like timid schoolgirls. Their wrinkles, scars and tattered clothing left me wondering what kind of difficult lives they had known, how they got to be so frail and broken.

Listening to Susan (wearing green in the middle) and some of the other widows.

Listening to Susan (wearing green in the middle) and some of the other widows.

But looks can be deceiving. After we listened in silent attention to some pastors speak, one woman in the front left corner stood to respond. It was Susan. The rest of the women followed her with their eyes – it was clear that she acted as the voice of all of them.

Almost immediately, her words brightened the mood of the room. There were smiles and laughing as she expressed gratitude for the three-month-long food distribution campaign in her town led by Karura Chapel. She testified to the changes they have seen in their community as a result, especially a drop in alcohol abuse.

Together, these widows decided to begin meeting together every Friday – to pray for the ministry of Karura, and against the hunger that threatened their families. These women had drive and spirit!

When the meeting was over, not just Susan, but the whole group of women came alive as each of them embraced me and gathered for a picture. Some talked excitedly at me in their tribal language with happy stories that I only wished I could understand.

And that wasn’t the last I saw of Susan that day. Later, while I was visiting a nearby orphanage, she suddenly appeared at the door with a bulging plastic bag in hand. Marching over to my chair, she laid the gift – a bunch of bananas – in my lap and asked if I would like some avocados, too.

Dedicated prayer warriors...

Dedicated prayer warriors...

My first question was how she tracked me down so easily (until I realized what a trail of commotion we cause everywhere we went), and the next was why she would share her food with me. We both knew that she was the one who was lacking, and I surely had plenty to eat. But she wanted to bless me, and so she did.

Meeting Susan is making me re-think, or rather expand, my definition of influence. She is no pastor, politician, or business woman in a power suit, but she has much to offer this community. What’s more is that she knows it, and isn’t afraid to exercise that influence.

That’s why she came to Karura’s Sunday service this weekend. Facing a church of hundreds of people, some wealthy and some poor, she got up on stage to share her gratitude with those who had given to the food campaign and to tell them about the widows’ Friday prayer meeting.

No situation seems to daunt her. She can rally her peers to pray, speak her mind in any kind of church, and make complete outsiders feel at home in her town. Out of self-assured confidence, she is able to lead and bless others.

So when I noticed this unassuming person patiently waiting for the service to begin on Sunday, I saw in her the most beautiful paradox: a poor widow with much brokenness in her past living and leading with a very un-broken spirit.

I think my own recipe for achieving influence could stand to be tweaked just a bit.

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About the Author: Jessica Shewan is a journalist with World Next Door. She graduated in 2009 from The University of Evansville with a bachelor's degree in History. She loves making new international friends and is passionate about seeing the global church pursue justice and peace!

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Comments

  1. Denise said... 

    Reply

    June 27th, 2009 at 9:27 pm  

    Jessica,
    That reminds me when we visited a small village in India (that was extremely poor) how the people received us with much enthusiasm and prepared this “big feast” for us. I just wanted to say “No!! You don’t need to do this” — but they were so excited about “blessing us” and welcoming “the white Americans” into their village. It was, by far, the most humbling experience of my life!

  2. Blake Anderson said... 

    Reply

    June 28th, 2009 at 8:14 am  

    I love the message it says about generosity. When we think we don’t have much and that we need to hold on to it, we have to think of all the blessings we are missing out on.

  3. grandma Mack said... 

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    June 28th, 2009 at 1:52 pm  

    Hi dear, Oh , how you move my heart! I have so much and waste. God bless you as you open our eyes to the “real world”. May you keep telling us truth and may He use you to teach us all the meaning of generosity. I am so glad you are there seeing for us all.

  4. Amy Sorrells said... 

    Reply

    June 29th, 2009 at 12:00 pm  

    Oh, Jessica, this is so beautiful. Thanks for adding to the tears I’ve already been blubbering all morning after an emotional weekend of gratitude and realizing the importance of even the smallest, most seemingly insignificant steps of faith. My favorite piece of prose from this: “the most beautiful paradox: a poor widow with much brokenness in her past living and leading with a very un-broken spirit.” Praise God and thank you, Jesus!

  5. Brad Ruggles said... 

    Reply

    June 30th, 2009 at 12:26 pm  

    I can definitely see how your definition of “influence” could be altered in a place like that.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Aunt Ruth said... 

    Reply

    June 30th, 2009 at 4:19 pm  

    Dear Jessica:
    I’m so thrilled to hear of all you are learning! Your posts are teaching me to rethink my comfort zone. I was just reading Calvin Miller’s Philippian Fragment and the charater Lenia the Leper of Bythinia tells Eusebius the main character, “Only in poverty of our need may we discover the riches of Christ.” Eusebius continues, “May I choose such poverty as will make me truly rich.”
    Thanks for your obedience to Christ this summer. You are truly an influence for the Kingdom!
    Love Ya!!

  7. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    June 30th, 2009 at 7:35 pm  

    Great insight Jess. The Kingdom of God advances on the backs of the Susans of our world.

    Reminds me of:

    1 Cor. 1:26-27 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

  8. Em Shake said... 

    Reply

    June 30th, 2009 at 8:22 pm  

    Keep the articles coming, friend. They’re fabulous.

  9. Rob Yonan said... 

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    June 30th, 2009 at 10:30 pm  

    Oh the unseen cadre of faithful Susans we will get to see some day who inspire us to be as faithful and courageous.

  10. Gaciru said... 

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    July 1st, 2009 at 7:40 am  

    Jessica am glad your experiencing the many things we tend to take for granted here in Africa…we focus sometimes so much on what we lack and forget the greatest gift that lies in our hands….the gift of LOVE that so easily flows from our people….thank you for reminding me…we are blessed!

  11. shelli said... 

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    July 3rd, 2009 at 8:42 am  

    Kenyans have taught me the true meaning of hospitality. Not the glossed over American version that we squeeze in as it suits us and as time allows. It isn’t a front you put on to be polite. The majority of Kenyans I have met practice true hospitality. The type that puts the guest first… on a pedestal even. It is a hospitality that comes from the heart, is genuine. It is a warm hospitality that puts its arms around you and makes you feel like a longtime friend, even upon first meeting! How much we have to learn from our African friends!

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