“I must be out of my mind!” That thought has run through my head all day. Here I am, a 26 year old white guy, and I’ve decided to live in East Africa’s biggest slum for five weeks. What???

You read that right. As of 5pm yesterday (Kenya time), I am living in Kibera. I will be eating the food, sleeping in shacks and staying with different individuals and families across the slum for more than a month.

I will be primarily hanging out with the staff of Tumaini Church, a small plant of Nairobi Chapel. I will be doing the World Next Door thing… following them around, asking lots of questions and undoubtedly learning a whole lot in the process.

Now, it would be easy to make it seem like I am totally cool with the idea… to convince you that I am some brave and fearless Indiana Jones type, ready to eat bugs and trek into uncharted territories without so much as a second thought.

But let’s get a few facts straight:

Fact #1 – I am just a kid from the suburbs.

Almost my entire life, I have lived in suburban Indianapolis, and it has definitely shaped my values.

One of the buildings at Tumaini Church.

One of the buildings at Tumaini Church.

For many years of my life, I viewed “roughing it” as going without video games for more than 24 hours. “Adventure” meant trying out some new coffee shop instead of heading over to Starbucks again.

Granted, I’ve had the chance to do some crazy stuff over the past few years (like hike 10 miles through the desert near Somalia, sweat like crazy in a Ukrainian sauna and take a 22 hour train ride across India), but that doesn’t change the fact that I am a suburban kid at heart.

If you had told me 10 years ago that I would one day be speaking Swahili, bathing from a bucket and eating ugali with my hands in a Kenyan slum, I would have laughed at you… and then run away looking for hand sanitizer.

Oh, and I’ve never exactly been “Mr. Adventurous Eater” either. I used to have trouble eating anything off the bone. Brussels sprouts made me nauseous. Warm soda was an abomination.

Sure I have grown out of many of these tendencies, but let’s face it. I am still a suburbanite.

Fact #2 – I am as white as they come!

Whenever I walk through a slum, kids see my gleaming white skin and come running. Shop owners chuckle and point. An mzungu (white person) is just plain out of place there.

Pastor Fred of Tumaini Church.  Maybe HE'LL hold me when I miss Doritos.

Pastor Fred of Tumaini Church. Maybe HE'LL hold me when I miss American food.

When the sun is out, there is always the slight possibility that a group of mzungus will enter the slum as part of a missions trip or aid organization. But that’s during the day. I will be living there. How many shop owners in Kibera have seen a white person walking around after the sun goes down?

Obviously, being white in the slum makes you stand out. And even though I’m getting a little better at ignoring the stares, it still really gets to me from time to time!

Fact #3 – I am going alone.

This is not some adventure by a big group of Americans. I will not be marching into Kibera with the mzungu patrol. When I lay awake at night, clutching my knees and weeping softly because of how much I miss cheese, there will be no other westerners to hold me.

Of course, the good thing about being alone in this is that it forces me to trust my hosts. If I get lonely or sick, I will need to turn to them. And even if I head out of the slum a couple of days a week to see my interns, I will still have five days a week of full cultural immersion.

I don’t care who you are, that’s not easy (I’m looking at you, Indiana Jones).

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So there you have it. Three facts that should convince you of one thing: living in Kibera slum for five weeks is going to be quite an adventure for a suburban 20 something like me…

I really must be out of my mind!

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About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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Comments

  1. Amy Sorrells said... 

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    June 20th, 2009 at 8:27 am  

    “. . . weeping softly because you miss cheese,” LOL!!!!! Seriously, praying for your safety, health, protection & peace. And praising God for the mountains you and your team are moving in these suburbs. You go, white boy!!!

  2. Dave Rod said... 

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    June 20th, 2009 at 8:39 am  

    “To abide in Jesus is to place Jesus, both devotion to him and discipleship to him, above all else. It means letting other voices, other invitations – to profit, to pleasure, sometimes even to safety and self-preservation – go unheeded.” David Rensberger (Anabaptist scholar)

  3. Blake Anderson said... 

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    June 20th, 2009 at 8:52 am  

    I am so excited for you. I will be praying for all that God is going to do in you, and I can’t wait to hear what God has taught you.

  4. Sharon said... 

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    June 20th, 2009 at 9:50 am  

    What Amy said. Keep your sense of humor and remember the prayers of many are going up for you. (And some of us are a bit jealous–OK, maybe not the eating bugs! 😉

  5. Denise said... 

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    June 20th, 2009 at 10:36 am  

    Barry, After visiting the Middle East and India, I cannot imagine serving in an African Slum at that level! Good for you and your interns. You all are getting the opportunity of a lifetime that most of us will never get to experience. So happy for you! It brings to mind what Gary Hugen stated in “Just Courage” – “How do we find that abundant, heroic life for which we were made? How do we enter in to God’s kingdom now and experience the authentic power and presence of God? — We do it in weakness, and we are comfortable with our weakness because we actually believe that our heavenly Father is both all-loving and all-powerful — and that all is well as long as we are with the One who neither leaves us nor forsakes us. — Accordingly, I can take my gifts and passions and training and strengths beyond the places of safety and control, and into the sphere of the kingdom where I actually need God.” Praying for all of you!!:)

  6. Amy Osgood said... 

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    June 20th, 2009 at 12:24 pm  

    Well Barry, it will be interesting to see the kind of “light” you bring into their darkness. Ironic, the contrast of a mzungu (light/white) staying after dark. Few of us physically or spiritually will stay if it’s too dark. I’m confident God will work through your humility and bravery. Remember brave does mean you’re not scared, just that you stay in it! Looking forward to all that God will do through you and to you! Many prayers and blessings. Great is your reward.

  7. Sharon said... 

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    June 20th, 2009 at 6:18 pm  

    Barry, thanks to your link to the “10 mile hike in the desert” story, I’ve spent the last while reading through your posts during your year in Kenya. It’s amazing to read about God’s work in your life then and see how He continues to lead you today. Your post in February about visiting Kibera slum was particularly moving. “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?'”

  8. Kevin Law said... 

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    June 21st, 2009 at 2:13 pm  

    Barry, this just may be the best story yet. I’m probably not alone in thinking you’ve gone through some overnight transformation that has turned you into something totally unrelated to your past. You’re carrying a lot of stuff from your past and culture, but Jesus is right there with you every step of the way. Transformation, sanctification, if you will, is a process with fits and starts. Your journey is a testament to this. My prayers are with you and your team.

  9. eness said... 

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    June 21st, 2009 at 7:54 pm  

    Praying for you right now, friend. You’re living brave not, not safe…maybe the only way to live. I’m praying.

  10. kimberly Carr said... 

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    June 22nd, 2009 at 12:53 pm  

    Barry, praying for you as you embark on this life-changing adventure! Looking forward to reading about your experiences!

  11. Brad Ruggles said... 

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    June 24th, 2009 at 10:04 am  

    You’re such a creative writer. You had me laughing at some of your “white kid” comments.

    We’ll be praying for you while you spend this time in the slums. I know it will be another life-changing experience for you. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  12. Jodi Yoder said... 

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    June 26th, 2009 at 10:26 pm  

    You brought such a smile to my face and a chuckle to the soul. That being said, I am praying for you and can’t wait to hear (read) about it all!!!

  13. Aram said... 

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    July 2nd, 2009 at 6:32 pm  

    Thank you for this.. for your web-presence, your slum-presence, your presence in the abundant (upside down) life. If I made a list of all of the white boys who inspire me you would be on it.. twice.. both times near the top. Peace to you.

  14. Dale Shaw said... 

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    July 4th, 2009 at 7:12 pm  

    Hi Barry – I will be praying for you and look forward to checking in on how things are going for you. Remember Jesus’ words (Jn 15.9) I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love…Dale Shaw

  15. Breanna Sipple said... 

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    February 15th, 2011 at 1:53 am  

    This was GREAT! “Now, it would be easy to make it seem like I am totally cool with the idea… to convince you that I am some brave and fearless Indiana Jones type, ready to eat bugs and trek into uncharted territories without so much as a second thought.” Well, up to this point you DID have me completely convinced of exactly that…not sure you can un-convince me. Thanks for this post, even if you wrote it awhile ago, it made me laugh out loud a LOT; I really enjoyed it.

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