Back Again

Posted Jun 15, 2011 by 5 Comments

I know it may seem a little strange for a video-game playing, latte drinking, lawn mowing suburbanite like me to say this, but here I am again… living in an East African slum.

Two summers ago I had the honor of living in Kibera Slum with an incredible Kenyan Pastor named Fred Faradays and learning from the wonderful people at Tumaini Church.  This summer I am back and planning to spend almost two months living here.

I’ve been here less than a week and already the learning has begun…

Kibera

Actually living in Kibera (instead of just visiting) is a thrilling experience to have, not just because I get to see God at work in some powerful ways, but because I get to experience first-hand many of the realities faced by the residents.

Kibera, East Africa’s largest slum.

Throughout my stay I will eat Kibera food, listen to Kibera music, make Kibera friends… Apart from the fact that my skin is gleaming white and that I speak Swahili at the level of a 2 year old, I’ll be right at home in the slum.

And that’s why I love it so much.  Being immersed here without the option to turn it off is a rare honor indeed.

Discomfort

Get ready. There will be a LOT of cute kids showing up here this summer!

Then again, slum life is not without its difficulties for a suburban guy like me. The day after I moved in last week, I caught a nasty cold that had me sneezing and wheezing all over the place.  One of the kids who saw me yelled out in amazement, “There is water coming out of the white man’s nose!”

Every evening before dinner I find myself sitting in a crowded room, breathing in charcoal smoke that makes my throat raw.  I bathe out of a bucket in a small, dark closet with a hole in the middle that also serves as a toilet.  Guys, I grew up wanting to wash my hands the moment I thought about germs.

It’s also tough being somewhat introverted.  There is no such thing as privacy here.  People are everywhere.  Even when I’m sleeping, I am sharing a bed with Pastor Fred’s brother, Joe. I’ve kneed the poor guy in the back quite a few times…

Mice dart under the couch when we are eating.  Cockroaches crawl across the wall.  And whenever it rains, my shoes and clothes get covered in mud.

You get the picture.  It’s not a particularly comfortable place to live.

What would Kibera be without a gang of kids following me around everywhere?

No idea

But this discomfort is where some of my most powerful learning experiences have come from.  The more time I spend here, the more I realize that I have no idea what it means to struggle.

Everything I mentioned above – the mud, the overcrowding, the disease – these are all daily realities for the hundreds of thousands of people living here… every day of every year for every person in the slum.

Why did I catch a cold?  Because everyone around me is wheezing and coughing and sick.   It’s uncomfortable sharing a bed with another person?  Most share a bed with their entire family.

But beyond simply the discomforts, the people of Kibera face ongoing tragedies that would be unspeakable for someone from my community back home: constant respiratory infections, unclean drinking water, children dying of preventable diseases…

Vincent, my new friend. A true inspiration!

The discomforts and inconveniences I face here are but the tip of an iceberg compared to what most of Kibera’s residents face on a daily basis.

I have no idea what it means to struggle.

Vincent

But Kibera is not only a place of struggle and of pain.  It is also a place of significant faith.

Never was this more clear than in a recent conversation with one of my new friends, Vincent.  Vincent is a teacher at Tumaini Church’s elementary school (The Hope Academy).  The other day as we sat in the school’s office listening to rain pounding the corrugated metal roof, he told me a bit about his life.

Vincent is one of seven children in his family.  There would be more, but five other brothers and sisters died from diseases like measles while they were still young.  “I guess my parents had us by trial and error,” he said with a bleak smile.

I am thrilled to see what God has in store for this summer.

Today, Vincent teaches for little to no pay.  The school just can’t afford to give him a salary.  Nevertheless, he works hard every day to give children in his community a chance at a better life.

And although he rarely knows for certain where the next week’s meals will come from, he spends his evenings pursuing his true calling as an evangelist.  “I just feel grateful that my job allows me to visit with people in their homes and share what God lays on my heart.”

As I spoke with Vincent, I was blown away by another startling fact.  Not only do I have no idea what it means to struggle… I don’t know the first thing about gratitude. I don’t know the first thing about faith.

Why I am here

This is why I am excited to spend the summer with the leaders and congregants of Tumaini Church.  Not because I want to add a new “adventure” to my list of experiences.  Not because I feel like I have much to offer the people of this slum.  But because here I can learn at the feet of people who have truly suffered.  Here I can learn what it means to have real faith.

Although I’ve lived here once before, I have a feeling my true learning has just begun…

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Next Steps
    • Want to stay up-to-date with my experience in Kibera? Follow me on Twitter! (@barryrod)
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    • Is there something specific you’d like to know about life in Kibera Slum? Let me know in the comments section below and I’ll find out for you!
    Next Steps

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. Nickson Kirongo said... 

    Reply

    June 15th, 2011 at 4:27 am  

    Good to have you back Barry!

  2. Jim.M said... 

    Reply

    June 15th, 2011 at 7:30 am  

    Reading this just before I leave for work. Through this lens today things will look different. Those smiling children now two years older than the last time you were there, find some joy daily. Guys like Vincent quietly doing His work with complete trust in His faithfulness. Those two tings jumped out at me…not sure why, but I think I will find out as today unfolds.

  3. fred faradays. said... 

    Reply

    June 15th, 2011 at 9:02 am  

    Thanks Barry.It seems that none of us ever seems to graduate from God’s school,and we continue to be challenged by your daring to care and share attitude and trust that we will grow together this summer.

  4. Nick Brooks said... 

    Reply

    June 15th, 2011 at 9:33 am  

    I pray that as your eyes are opened to Greater things, like suffering and true Faith, through what you experience

    That God would give you the words
    To open OUR eyes
    Too

    Wake us up Barry

    God Wake us up

    Love and am praying for you my friend :)

    -Nick 😉 😀 :)

  5. Shelli said... 

    Reply

    June 15th, 2011 at 11:32 am  

    Love your amazing stories of hope… and Vincent surely encompasses hope for Kibera!

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