Haggling is something I have always been terrible at.

There are however, those certain people who are incredibly clever at this tricky game.  They have this very particular tone of voice – firm and strong, engaging yet not too eager. They split their money into multiple pockets using some complex system designed for supreme sneakiness, taking care not to reveal how much money they actually have on them too soon. Reminiscent of some well practiced dance routine, they nonchalantly walk away from the seller at what seems to me to be completely random points in the conversation.

How do they know when to walk? And exactly how far should one walk? I have tried this trick before, waiting anxiously for the dance partner to follow, grab my hand and lead me back to his selling booth. It wasn’t until I got to the end of the street that I finally decided he probably wasn’t coming. Apparently, these cunning tactics are only for the haggling masters. They are to no avail in the hands of mere amateurs like me.

Despite my sincere attempts at that firm uncompromising voice, and even the furrowed stern-looking brow that is meant to accompany it, the response elicited is usually one of hearty laughter which is only on a rare occasion paired with a price cut.

Determined to redeem my reputation as the one who always gets ripped off by vendors, I decided last Wednesday to try a new approach. Work with what I have. Although I am not such a pro at cunning manipulation, I happen to be fairly good at making friends. And so, with a hearty smile on my face and a wallet full of small bills, I made my way to Toi Market. I realized, of course, that the possibility of few Swahili phrases being able to win me new friends (who’d give me cheap clothes) was very slim. But I quite enjoy little challenges like this and the adventures that inevitably accompany them.

Believe it or not, my new technique proved incredibly successful and I not only came away with two bags of incredibly cheap clothes but also a ton of new friends! There is one in particular that I have gone to see four times since then and she has been teaching me so much about the heart of God.

Penina, surrounded by her clothes.

Penina, surrounded by her clothes.

While I was attempting to persuade Penina to sell me a skirt for half price, it came out that I worked in the Kibera slums. All of the sudden this woman didn’t care about the price of the skirt; her expression had completely changed.

“Can I give you some clothes for those kids you teach in Kibera?”

Give me some clothes? For five minutes she’d been going back and forth with me over 50 shillings (the equivalent of about 70 cents) for this skirt, and now she wanted to give away free clothes? Gosh, this making friends thing really works!

I expressed to her my confusion. “Why?!” I asked her.

“God has been so good to me lately, Christine.”

Excited to find she was a Christian, I inquired further,“What has he done?!”

I was eager to hear.

She looked down, kind of ashamed. It was a look I’d seen before from so many mothers in the slums.

“I didn’t have enough money to pay for my daughter’s school fees.”

This meant that Penina’s bright 14 year old daughter would not be able to continue her education and would likely end up washing clothes, and probably battling poverty and hunger for the rest of her life.

“I was praying hard that the Lord would provide. And just the other day, a relative in the States offered to pay for her! God has been so so good to me, I just want to give back.”

Her shame turned into joy as she recounted the story. She was glowing. It was the glow of someone who has tasted God’s goodness in a real, tangible, life changing way. It was the glow of someone who knows she is loved by God and that He is a God who sees every tear, brings freedom from every last bit of shame, and provides in extravagant ways for his people.

We stood there between these dusty, tattered stalls and praised God for his faithfulness. I told her I would ask around first and find someone who really needed them and then I’d come back to pick up the clothes.

Pastor Fred, ready to hand out the clothes.

Pastor George, ready to hand out the clothes.

About ten minutes into my walk home I saw a familiar face across the sidewalk. You know those days when it is so obvious that God is orchestrating every moment? This was one of those days.

I know virtually no one in this big big city and the chances that I would run into Pastor George whom I’d met the week before were slim to say the least. Pastor George just happens to be in charge of a number of programs for kids, teens and adults in Kibera and he said he would have no problem finding happy homes for any clothes Penina wanted to donate. In fact, just that morning he had included clothes as an urgent need in the organization’s update email.

Irene, the lady from the stall next to Penina's.

Irene, the lady from the stall next to Penina's.

Excited to tell Penina about the divine encounter with Pastor George, I came back the next day with an empty grocery bag. She was thrilled that the clothes would be filling an important need and began immediately grabbing clothes off the walls to fill my empty bag. The day before she’d mentioned something about maybe ten items, but I held the bag open and watched her place in 20…25….30 pieces. She’d told the shop keeper next door about the cause and Irene enthusiastically beckoned me over to her stall next.

I stood there with no words as these women filled my grocery bag to the brim and then continued to shove clothes in until the plastic was about to tear. It was all I could do to hold back the tears when they said, “this won’t fit, we have more!” Irene disappeared to buy another bag they could fill with more donations. She came back with a bag twice as big as mine and they proceeded to fill it with so many clothes that it was too heavy for just one person to lift.

It started with clothes for the babies, it seemed like she had an excess of those. But then they had the thought, “What about the mothers? We want to make them feel loved and special too!”

“O and the brothers!” a third shop keeper added. She contributed to the bright yellow bag but made me promise to come back tomorrow to pick up more clothes she’d bring from home.

My generous new friends!

My generous new friends!

It was beautiful. I stood there carrying this bag that I could now barely wrap my arms around. I watched them excitedly root through their collections for matching outfits- they were not giving the tattered old stuff, this was prime merchandise.

Before I left on this trip to Kenya, I went around to Walmart, Michaels, and Staples asking for art supply donations for my classes. I waited in long lines to talk to managers. I wrote official letters with business cards and thorough descriptions attached. I tried to wade through the red tape. From these big corporations with so much money, I received nothing. And here I was with Penina, whose “shop” was made with sticks and a plastic tarp. I was blown away by the contrast.

Penina helped me carry the two bloated bundles up to the matatu stage and somehow I made it all the way home without them being stolen, or my arms breaking off from the weight of their generous giving.

Some of the ladies who received the clothes!

Some of the ladies who received the clothes!

I came back the next day to pick up a third bag that was even more full that the previous two. As Penina and I struggled to lift it into the bus she told me that the nosy shop keepers had asked her the day before if I had really bought all of that merchandise from them. With a humble joy she told me, “we let them believe you did.”

“We thought about that verse in the bible ‘when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret’.”

I stood in awe of this woman, not even accepting recognition for her extravagant generosity.

“Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you,” she recited the promise with an expectant confidence.

This is a woman who knows God. I love the advantage the Swahili language has on English when it differentiates between knowing experientially and knowing conceptually. Penina knows God in the kukuja zaid sense. She has tasted his goodness in such authentic ways. God’s love is so real to her that the only logical option for her is to give back. Her giving isn’t motivated by some clever motivational marketing. It isn’t driven by guilt or duty. It is not corrupted by the pride that comes from everyone thinking she’s such a good person. Her giving is a natural overflow, an uncontrollable response to her experiencing the goodness of a God who takes care of her. It is pure. It is secret. It’s contagious. It is beautiful.

Saturday, I delivered Penina’s offerings to a group of AIDS infected widows who were in desperate need of clothing for their children. The joy on their faces can’t quite be captured in words. I’ll just say it was not unlike that glow in Penina that I first saw on Wednesday.

Clothes to these people are not just clothes, just like Penina’s school fees held such divine significance. These clothes came as a miraculous answer to hundreds of fervent prayers for God to show up and provide in tangible ways. The cotton tops I handed Samantha met more than the physical needs of her children. That pile of clothes answered the questions she has quietly, persistently been asking for so long:

Am I really worth anything to God?

Does he see my pain?

Does he listen to my prayers?

Is he capable of meeting my needs?

Does he care to?

Somehow woven into each item of clothing given was a big resounding YES to all of the above.

Through Penina’s generous giving, God spoke. He spoke to these women. He spoke to me.

I came to Toi Market to practice my getting, but I walked away learning what it really means to give.

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Next Steps
    • The AIDS widows that Penina and Irene blessed are praying for blenders next. With blenders, they’ll be able to make fresh juice and sell it for a significant profit to support themselves and their children. It only costs $40 to buy them a good quality blender that will take them one step closer to their dream of having a village shop!
    • Pray for Penina and Florida, her 14 year old daughter. Penina is applying for a school administrator position in hopes to make a more significant income to keep Florida in school.
    • Go through your closet and give away those clothes you’ll never wear again!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Christine Sullivan was a summer intern with World Next Door in 2009. She graduated in 2009 from Taylor University with a bachelor's degree in Studio Arts. She loves finding beauty in the unseen and overlooked and is passionate about bringing stories of injustice to light.

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Comments

  1. Amy Sorrells said... 

    Reply

    July 20th, 2009 at 12:43 pm  

    A beautiful, convicting reminder of my pitiful inadequacy in so many of these areas . . . yet penned in a way that makes me more desperate to give and shout the goodness of God than ever! Thank you, Christine!

  2. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    July 20th, 2009 at 3:37 pm  

    Am I generous?

    Am I grateful and do I shine when I have the opportunity to give.

    Am I generous…or am I stingy, small and ignoble?

    Do I generously give or selfishly hoard?

    This is what you have gotten me to wonder Christine.

    Thank you…I think.

  3. christine Sullivan said... 

    Reply

    July 20th, 2009 at 4:15 pm  

    they just gave me another THREE bags… these women truly blow me away!
    thanks for the encouraging words amy, i can’t wait to hear what stories come out of that desperate desire to give!

  4. Rob Yonan said... 

    Reply

    July 20th, 2009 at 4:50 pm  

    i am speachless.

    thank you for being so aware of God’s presence in everyday moments.

  5. Denise said... 

    Reply

    July 21st, 2009 at 9:49 am  

    (Tears) – …”the nature of the Kingdom of God, whose economy is diametrically opposed to that of the world. Rather than accumulating stuff for oneself, followers of Jesus abandon everything, trusting in God alone for providence.” Shane Claiborne – “Irresistible Revolution” –
    I feel so brainwashed by Corporate America and the “systems” that continually perpetuate injustice… and yet the fine line between providing for our families and giving it all away?? Only God…

  6. shelli said... 

    Reply

    July 21st, 2009 at 1:12 pm  

    what amazing women! how convicting. do i give out of my excess or am i really giving to people’s direct needs? good things to think about!

  7. Lisa said... 

    Reply

    July 21st, 2009 at 10:43 pm  

    What a post. I keep coming back to this and these images of the women stuffing their bags… without hesitation. Humbling, for sure. These posts are wonderful and told beautifully! I look forward to these “gifts” daily. Thank you!

  8. christine sullivan said... 

    Reply

    July 22nd, 2009 at 8:08 am  

    last night they gave me a SEVENTH bag. i told them how much they have challenged me and so many of my american friends and one woman said

    “we don’t give out of abundance, we give out of sacrifice”

    and THAT is the difference. if only we could change our mindset. it’s not a matter of them having excess, it is a matter of them DECIDING that giving echoes the heart of God and so, THEY GIVE, no matter how high the sacrifice.

    WOW. i wish you all could meet these ladies!

  9. Blake Anderson said... 

    Reply

    July 23rd, 2009 at 6:13 am  

    What a powerful statement. Could you imagine what Hamilton county would look like if we gave out of sacrifice?

  10. Dave Quigley said... 

    Reply

    July 28th, 2009 at 8:54 am  

    Wow Christine… your story really touched me. I was expecting great negotiating and haggling tips (that I could have used in my trips to SE Asia!). But instead was struck as you said by the incredible generosity of those who could afford little and yet gave so much. It is a chilling conviction that we in the wealthy suburbs who have so much – give so little.

  11. Bee said... 

    Reply

    August 17th, 2009 at 3:12 pm  

    such a beautiful and challenging story. thank you.

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