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The sun began to set over Kibera Slum. After a short but heavy rain, the air was clean. But gray skies and slippery mud took away some of the pleasure I had enjoyed from the dust free air.
I trudged behind James, Vincent and Steve, struggling to keep my balance as we straddled rocks on either side of a black stream of sewage. Grabbing on to walls for support, we slipped and slid between a row of mud and stick homes to reach a door at the end of an alley.
Jaqueline, the mother of the family we were coming to visit, saw us and welcomed us inside. We looked at our feet and started taking off our shoes. My sandals had about four inches of mud on them.
“It’s ok! You can keep your shoes on” said Jacqueline in Swahili. “Enter, enter!”
“Are you sure?” James asked.
“It’s ok,” she replied.
After one more hesitant look at our feet, we entered, tracking fresh mud onto the dry dirt floor.
A look around
Inside, the home was almost completely dark. It took my eyes a full minute to adjust to the weak light coming through the doorway. I took a look around.
The shack was about 5’ by 15’ in size. The walls were made of reddish mud. On one side of the narrow room was the doorway. A small wooden bench sat along the wall. Next to the door was a tiny table. On the other side was a bed. Other than a couple of plastic bags hanging from the ceiling, that was it.
Sitting on the bed was the man we had come to visit, George Morara, and his two youngest children, Karista and Justin. Jacqueline, their mother, stayed outside to light a charcoal stove.
After a few words of introduction, George lit a small kerosene lamp made out of an old soup can. James, the head teacher at Tumaini Church’s primary school, asked a question or two about the family.
After a bit of prompting from James, George then went into detail about his recent troubles, telling us the story that had brought us to his house that day…
It began with an unfortunate workplace accident. A couple of weeks ago, George broke his leg at his construction job.
With such high unemployment, an injury like that can be disastrous for a family like his. With the family’s sole breadwinner stuck at home recovering, others would quickly fill his position at work. Thankfully, George’s employers gave him at least a little bit of money to help tide him over.
But then a major hurdle became a disaster. The day after breaking his leg, an electric appliance in George’s home caught fire. What few possessions his family had were burned up and destroyed.
Determined not to let these setbacks get the best of him, George made a trip into town to buy new things for his home. He may have lost all that he owned, but at least he had the money given to him by his employers.
This is when the story becomes almost too tragic to be believed. Upon his arrival downtown, George was mugged by a gang of thugs and all of his money was stolen.
And so there he sat on the day of our visit. Broken, poor and desperate, wondering just what would come of his family.
After George shared his story, the room fell silent.
I’ve done quite a few Kibera home visits with Tumaini’s pastors before, so I knew what was coming next. After listening to the homeowners, it was time for the guests to speak.
James turned to me and said, “Barry, please share something.”
George and his two children looked at me, waiting for me to start talking.
I opened my mouth, but no words came out. I stammered and stuttered for a moment, but for the life of me couldn’t think of anything to say.
Generally I’m pretty good at coming up with thoughtful or encouraging stuff to share, even when faced by the ugliness of poverty or squalor. But after hearing George’s unbelievably awful story, I was literally at a loss for words.
What do you say to a person who has lost everything? How do you encourage a family on the bottom rung of society’s ladder that just got knocked down even further? What could I, a secure, wealthy and comfortable American, possibly have to offer?
After a few awkward moments of silence, I was finally able to get at least something out. I spoke briefly about my gratitude for them welcoming us into their home and offered my condolences for their difficulties, but after a few moments I turned to my right and said, “James, I honestly don’t know what else to say.”
James smiled and continued the conversation for me. He spoke with George about his daughter Karista, who was a student at Tumaini Church’s elementary school, The Hope Academy. James asked if George would ever be willing to attend a Sunday service. George replied that he might someday…
Finally, after talking through some ways that the church could possibly help George’s family, James asked us all to pray. We prayed that the family would have hope. We prayed that they would experience healing, blessing, joy… We prayed that God would reveal himself in the midst of their tragedy.
And just like that, the home visit was done. After politely turning down an offer to stay for a cup of chai, James led us out the door and back onto the muddy paths of Kibera.
As we walked back up a slippery path, I tried to process what had just happened.
As I thought about my inability to speak, I realized how extraordinarily grateful I am that it’s not up to me to “fix” Kibera. Let’s face it. In my two months living here this summer I am not going to solve this community’s problems.
No. It will be people like James, Vincent and Steve who bring healing to this slum. People who live and breathe the kingdom of God. Men and women who are not looking for a quick fix but are in it for the long haul.
It will be organizations like Tumaini Church that infuse this community with hope and life and joy. It will be initiatives like the Hope Academy that give education and opportunities to the next generation.
Do I know how the story of George’s family will end? No. But I am certain of one thing.
Tumaini Church and its incredible team of pastors and volunteers will be here, loving, caring and teaching, long after I am gone.
As we walked on to the next home, we talked briefly about the difficulties of George’s situation. Steve said, “It’s good to visit homes like that, isn’t it? It really helps you to understand how blessed you are.”
Hearing these words from someone who lives in Kibera himself, I had no choice but to smile and agree.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
- Do you want to give an encouraging message to James, Vincent, Steve or any other Tumaini leaders? Leave a comment below and I’ll make sure they read it!
- Look around your house today and take a moment to be intentionally grateful for the overwhelming abundance of food, safety and things in your life.
- Pray for George and his family. Pray that their community would be willing to come around and support them in this time of need.
About the Author: Barry is the founder and 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.