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I’ve been in Kenya for less than a week, but it seems far longer. Everywhere I go, I’m experiencing new things, learning new customs and meeting true servants of both God and people. These are folks who embody the call to be God’s eyes, ears, hands and feet here on earth.
The fact is, I’ve already encountered Christ here, multiple times and in multiple people. The initial sighting was on our very first day in country. And he came in the form of a young, 20-something Kenyan.
That afternoon, our group was walking in one of the Nairobi slums accompanied by Kenyan guides who work with one of our partner organizations in the area. I lagged behind with a couple of them as the rest of our group made a right turn at an intersection about 20 yards ahead.
As we neared the same junction, a large crowd passed in front of us, heading in the opposite direction of our group. A man staggered along toward the front of the pack, surrounded by the mob of some 40 men, women and children, all moving with a frenzied energy. A few dozen curious onlookers followed as well.
The entrapped man had two old tires slung around his neck, and his clothes were doused with gasoline. As he got pushed and prodded down the street, the man’s face seemed frozen in a look of helpless dread.
A few yards behind him, a man held up a flaming piece of paper, as he prepared to inflict the punishment for theft in a Nairobi slum…death by burning.
I kept walking the opposite way down the street, still stunned by the entire scene, though I tried to hide my shock. I wanted to look back at the mob, and I did…more than once. Curiosity gnawed at me, and I couldn’t resist. I wanted to know the man’s final fate.
Instead, I looked back and saw one of our Kenyan guides emerge from the melee. Transfixed by the scene, I hadn’t noticed him turn left and follow the mob while the rest of us turned right.
He hurried back towards us and came alongside me with a solemn expression. I did my best to play it cool, still trying to fathom what my eyes had just seen.
“Mob justice, eh?” I mumbled, or something equally inept.
His reply pierced my core.
“I tried to tell them,” he said earnestly. “I told them they should look at themselves first. They should not be doing this thing.”
A Coward among the Courageous
Jesus walks my friends, and he talks too. I heard him speak that day. And I saw him step into the midst of a furious horde, mere moments from bloodshed. He did so emboldened by heavenly Truth, despite the earthly odds. And as always, I was humbled by his actions and inspired by his Words.
So many times, I’m busy intellectualizing my faith with theological discussion and abstract debate. Meanwhile, the people here in Kenya readily work in the lion’s den, all for the sake of Christ’s message of love and grace.
One of my favorite quotes comes from St. Francis of Assissi, who said, “Everywhere I go, I preach the gospel. If I must, I use words.”
Let me just tell you, the people and organizations around here preach the gospel every day. And words are rarely needed, for their actions speak far louder.
I’ve seen Jesus in a number of other people since that day, and the folks working at my organization top the list.
The staff members are proverbial trench-dwellers in every sense of the phrase, voluntarily operating in the shadiest, shabbiest, scariest part of Nairobi. They are improving lives daily…mind, body and spirit.
A Light on the Hill
The name of the place is Tumaini (Swahili for “Hope”) Clinic, and its initial mission focused solely on expectant mothers in Korogocho, the most dangerous slum in Nairobi with a population of 150,000.
About seven years ago, the infant mortality rate neared 10% in the “Koch.” But Tumaini has reduced that number to less than 1% for all the mothers that come to give birth. These days, about 70 make that visit each month.
The clinic has also expanded its services in recent months, and nearly tripled its staff. The crew of about 30 now provide general healthcare for sick people of all ages, as well as immunization services to infants and toddlers. They do outpatient care, home visits and also administer voluntary HIV/AIDS testing. On average, Tumaini Clinic assists about 3,000 people a month in all, and it houses patients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The story of Tumaini Clinic is a fascinating one, and I’ll be detailing the various aspects as the weeks go on.
Until then, I just gotta say that I’m so humbled and so excited to be working with these folks. They are the real deal, and their story demands to be told, though they’d never be willing to admit such a thing.
That’s the nature of such people. They don’t seek recognition. They don’t seek fame and fortune. They simply seek to answer God’s call of service and sacrifice.
They love God, and they love their “neighbors.” It just so happens that their neighbors inhabit one of the most dangerous and depressed places in Kenya, if not the world.
Jesus walks, and Jesus talks, every single day. And he’s hanging out in the slums of Nairobi at this very moment, helping the poor and healing the sick.
And I’m humbled to tell his ongoing story in the coming weeks…a story of grace, compassion and Truth, despite the earthly odds.
- Think about the intimidating "mobs" in your life, and how you might best confront them. As a famous person I can't remember at the moment once said, "One man with courage makes a majority."
- In the coming days, I challenge you to tell no one about your faith using words. Let your actions speak for you, and think about ways to make those actions louder.
- Prepare your heart and mind for the upcoming weeks. You will be hearing stories of faith in action by true spiritual warriors. These tales should convict you of areas you're neglecting. They should inspire you to change. Pray for an open heart, and for the humility to hear the soft whisper of Truth.
About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!