Tuesday was my 28th birthday.  I didn’t have any cake. I didn’t get any presents.  But it was definitely one of my most memorable birthdays ever…

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I woke up scratching a mosquito bite.  The soft sounds of singing and cooking came through the thin wall behind me.  I threw off the wool blanket that had covered me and looked up at the corrugated metal ceiling.

“Ah, yes,” I remembered. “I’m in Kibera!”

Kibera Slum, where half a million people cram into only two square miles, is where I lived during World Next Door’s first summer internship in 2009.  Now, two years later, I had returned.

Pastor Fred and I in 2009.

For the last couple of weeks I have been here in Nairobi preparing for our next summer internship.  Most of my time has been spent meeting with ministry leaders, honing the budget and booking our mid-trip safari, but I’ve also had the chance to simply relax with old friends.

My dear friends Pastor Fred Faradays and his wife Goretti are an incredible couple.  Although Fred was the valedictorian at his school and although he could have taken just about any job he wanted, he felt called to lead a small church in Kibera slum.

So, despite constant hardships, illnesses and frustrations, he lives with his family in a two-room shanty and diligently pastors a small congregation.

I absolutely love the people of Kibera.

Fred and Goretti were my hosts back in 2009, and I couldn’t wait to stay with them once more.  That’s why it was in Kibera where I spent most of my 28th birthday.

A Shift in Perspective

After getting out of bed, I took a quick bucket bath and gathered my things for the day. I goofed off with Fred’s two-year-old son, Fadhili, while Goretti served us chai.  After eating some buttered bread and gathering our things, Pastor Fred and I headed off to Tumaini Church.

As we walked together through the slum, our conversation from the night before was running through my head.

Fred, it seems, has been keeping up with my travels from a nearby internet café.  He told me how fascinated he was by my time in the mountains of Panama and shook his head at how crazy I must have been to live homeless in New York City.

Then he said something that absolutely blew my mind.

“When I read about you begging for money, I used that story as a sermon illustration,” he told me.

The fact that people’s eye contact gave me so much dignity, he said, was something his congregation needed to hear.  Because they have roofs over their head, they also need to dignify the homeless people they pass on the streets, even if they don’t have money to share.

A birthday party I’ll never forget!

Woah. Talk about a shift in perspective!

These are people living in Kibera, East Africa’s largest slum.  Most Westerners would consider them to be extraordinarily impoverished.  But here they were considering how they could give dignity to those less fortunate than themselves.

Wow.

A Unique Party

As the day went on, I had the chance to hang out with several of the people from Fred’s church.  I spoke with teachers at The Hope Academy (Tumaini’s elementary school), I laughed with kids during their break from class and as the day drew to a close I worshipped with a small group of church members in one of their homes.

After prayers at the fellowship group, one of them brought out mugs for chai and a platter full of delicious chapatti.  When they found out that it was my birthday, they insisted on singing “Happy Birthday” to me in English.

While they were singing, I looked down at the table.  The chapatti actually reminded me of a cake. The small kerosene lantern looked a bit like a candle.  I decided at that moment that this was my birthday party!

There were no banners or cheap plastic plates.  There were no nicely wrapped presents or party games… but drinking chai in Kibera surrounded by my wonderful Kenyan friends?  I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way!

—–

After a late dinner that night, I crawled into bed.  As I fell asleep, I definitely had a smile on my face.

It was a birthday to remember…

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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. Catherine Bell said... 

    Reply

    March 17th, 2011 at 11:09 am  

    Thanking God for His grace within you, Barry – and that you share this grace with us. Many happy returns!

  2. Linda said... 

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    March 17th, 2011 at 12:14 pm  

    Talk about a shift in perspective, indeed! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Sandy Larnard said... 

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    March 17th, 2011 at 1:55 pm  

    Thanks Barry for sharing your special day with us. Amazing how we take things for granted. Never thinking a moment about others and how they celebrate their birthday. Very eye opening, thanks for sharing with us. What a blessing!!

  4. Goretty faradays said... 

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    March 17th, 2011 at 4:00 pm  

    Thats wonderful it is unique how God work.GOD planned 4U that.

  5. Josie Tilyou said... 

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    March 18th, 2011 at 10:31 am  

    Thanks for writing this story. The people sound so sincere & grateful. I loved your birthday celebration, mostly the candle…one they don’t blow out! God is “shinning” in you & through you, Barry, thanks for what you’re doing!

  6. Kevin said... 

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    March 18th, 2011 at 10:40 am  

    Thanks Barry! You are such a special vessel in God’s tool chest. God uses your work to regularly put things into the proper perspective for me also.
    It’s not my birthday, but you made my day with this message. Keep up the great work and keep sharing those thoughts and the kingdom work that is going on around you. It’s hard to wrap your head around the “kingdom of God” in the midst of a slum. But there it is. The beauty and love of Jesus; present, wherever we are willing to take it or share it. God is good!

  7. Jessica said... 

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    March 19th, 2011 at 2:37 am  

    The Faradays are amazing people – thanks for introducing me to them! What a birthday gift just to spend time with them:) Glad you found such a great way to celebrate!

  8. Virginia Baldwin said... 

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    March 19th, 2011 at 3:49 pm  

    You are a generous person to share your birthday with us. What a day to remember! I envy you to be so blessed by God in a way like that. May God continue to bless you and the Kiberaean people.

  9. Jim.M said... 

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    March 21st, 2011 at 12:05 am  

    I think Goretty got it just right. God planned that for you.

  10. Breanna Sipple said... 

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    March 22nd, 2011 at 9:47 am  

    Glad you had a happy birthday, Barry! I’ve missed reading about WND and Kiberia- it always brings a smile on my face :)

  11. Pam said... 

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    June 9th, 2011 at 11:49 am  

    Barry, I love your beautiful perspectives. Thank you for being a light in Kenya and to all of us who get to read the heart-touching, eye-opening works of art that you post.

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