This article is an Internship Retrospective by Jessica Shewan.  Retrospectives are our way of helping our interns reflect on how they grew and changed over the summer.  As we’ve mentioned before, Jessica will be continuing her stay in Kenya until late November as a World Next Door journalist.

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I am a thinker.  I like to read, and study, and analyze.  My friends will tell you that I love having deep conversations about all sorts of things: politics, theology, history.  I’m one of those people who actually enjoys research papers!  So whenever I thought about social justice issues, it was mainly just that…something I thought about.

Of course, I did things related to social justice, too.  I participated in missions trips to inner city neighborhoods, worked in soup kitchens, and built houses for poor families in Mexico.  All of those experiences were valuable because they kept me aware of injustices I would otherwise never see, and showed me how people were trying to right those wrongs.

But even as I took action, I had a sense that my small contribution wasn’t really going to solve these issues.  Hunger, poverty, tribalism, corruption – these are huge problems!  I believed strongly that we should avoid doing unjust things, but I didn’t know how we would really overcome injustice.

So, I didn’t let myself get too emotionally invested.  When I interacted with people affected by injustice, they were just faces to me.  I was more comfortable analyzing their situation, than feeling their pain.

Until I came to Kenya.  The summer started out like other trips.  Our first day here, I met the kids of Huruma slum, and for the two short hours we spent in their neighborhood, they looked to me just like the 3-D version of the photos of Africa I’d seen a hundred times before.

Was there really hope for this slum?  I saw new schools there and heard about feeding programs, but my logic told me that this slum has been here for more than one generation, and like the other slums scattered throughout Nairobi, it wasn’t going to disappear anytime soon.

Sometimes social injustice seems overwhelming in places like Huruma slum.

Sometimes social injustice seems overwhelming in places like Huruma slum.

Thankfully I didn’t stop my analysis there.  I also spent time listening to the Kenyans who are taking action for social justice.  These are “long-haulers,” who have a vision for a transformed society, and a hope that it’s possible.  At the same time, I read a book (ok, so I’m still a thinker at heart) called Surprised by Hope which claims that God’s purpose for this world is to redeem it, and that he is doing it through redeemed humans committed to creating justice and beauty here and now – humans like me.

While these may not have been completely new ideas to me, I began to understand them in a much more real way.  Why?  Because I began to see the transformation these people and books were talking about actually taking place.  Not only was it possible, it was a reality.

Armed with his cameras, Thome has big dreams for building a career in mass communication.

Armed with his cameras, Thome has big dreams for building a career in mass communication.

Through Karura Community Chapel, I met a man who used to hijack cars and commit violent crimes but now serves at church and plays for their semi-pro soccer team.  I also got to know a mother who lived her whole life in Huruma, and is now committed to providing the education for her kids that she never had.  I have a friend from Githogoro slum who joined a small savings cooperative through Karura and now owns camera and video equipment that he used to start a business.

In the process of seeing these stories, something changed for me.  I started to believe that I could be a part of real change.  Instead of simply observing the situation as a journalist, I spontaneously gave a little money to someone who asked for it (not an easy thing for me!).  I prayed with more faith for reconciliation to come to divided communities.  I even decided to stay in Kenya for four extra months just to get more involved in the work of Karura Chapel.

The more I believed in this transformation thing, the more invested I became.  But this didn’t make the problems I saw any easier to face.  In fact, the more I commit to working for justice, the more injustice hurts!  It’s suddenly my problem.  But the good news is, it’s a problem I can do something about.

Being comfortable isn’t the goal.  (As long as injustice exists, I probably won’t be!) Transformation is the goal.  And my own change of perspective, my growing commitment to be truly invested in this, is more evidence that transformation happens.

Pastor Muthoka's church is the epicenter of transformation in Gathanga.

Pastor Muthoka's church is the epicenter of transformation in Gathanga.

I had a conversation recently that showed me just how far I’ve come.  Pastor Muthoka is a well-known leader in a Gathanga who has, in the past year and a half, helped root out the illegal brewing of alcohol and rampant alcoholism that had plagued the area for years.

When I was finished interviewing him for a possible article, he asked me a very direct question: what I was intending to do with all the information I gathered, and what was my purpose in coming to Kenya?  The weight of the question made me uncomfortable at first, and I hesitated before answering.  After hearing the many needs facing his community, I knew that I must be ready to do something about them.

But instead of a burden or insurmountable task, I realized that acting for justice is within my reach.  In fact, it’s a privilege and an exciting opportunity!  I told Pastor Muthoka about writing for World Next Door in order to share his stories with Americans who can get involved and partner with people like him.  I also started dreaming about what more I can do to personally promote Karura Chapel’s social justice programs for the rest of my time here.

So now rather than just thinking and learning about social justice, I am discovering what it is to own these issues.  Not because I should.  But because, in God’s kingdom, I can.

Confidence. Responsibility.  Hope.  Whatever I call it, I am looking forward to the next four months with eager anticipation!

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Next Steps
    • For those thinker types: Read Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright and discuss it with a friend.
    • Go on a short-term trip to an impoverished place to see transformation in action and learn from some long-haulers.
    • Own an issue, whether that means studying, giving, praying, or changing your lifestyle to advance justice in your community.
    Next Steps

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

    August 16th, 2009 at 10:40 am  

    Great insight Jessica! Loved your “next steps”… so challenging!! Sending prayers to you as you continue your stay and your work out there.

  2. Kerry said... 

    Reply

    August 16th, 2009 at 4:46 pm  

    Y’know, its funny, Surprised By Hope is the next book on my list of books to read.

    I loved reading about your learning experience, Jess. I always do: its almost like I can hear you talking to me.

    Still praying for those around you. Continue to be blessed!

  3. Njoki's brother said... 

    Reply

    August 17th, 2009 at 3:34 pm  

    Great article sis. Guess what book I have sitting on my dresser? Surprised by Hope! Keep it coming, you’re giving priceless perspective.

  4. grandma Mack said... 

    Reply

    August 19th, 2009 at 3:52 pm  

    How far you’ve come from “what I did over summer break”, or “What I want to be when I grow up”. God is just so pleased to see you in this journey with Him and those that are sharing their heart and passion for betterment. I am becoming a more purpose-driven reader because of your recommendations. Thanks, Jess, you are still teaching me. My prayers are with you and my hugs are coming through my comments to you.

  5. Em Shake said... 

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    August 28th, 2009 at 11:00 am  

    Wow, Jess. Truly powerful.

  6. Aunt Ruth said... 

    Reply

    August 30th, 2009 at 10:31 am  

    Dear Jessica-
    Thanks so much for your insight. Great reminder that transformation is always God’s goal for each of us – transformed into Christ’s image – in all we say and do. Wish I was there but I have new eyes thanks to your experiences! Love from all!

  7. Breanna Sipple said... 

    Reply

    February 24th, 2011 at 2:14 am  

    Wow, awesome. It’s been such a blessing to read through all the articles from this summer in Kenya and what God did in and through you. God truly is a God of hope and He redeems!

  8. francis amonde said... 

    Reply

    March 18th, 2011 at 3:50 am  

    It’s a great job you did over there!Thumbs up for your efforts!

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