While I’ve made a number of friends so far in Kenya, my closest has become the one all us earthlings share…our beloved Sun. I’m blessed daily by our companion of the cosmos, whose very presence gives me comfort, protection and courage like never before.

I’m not sure I’ve ever given the Sun its due recognition until now, or even fully appreciated the many blessings it provides, but I want to make up for lost time. And it starts with well-intentioned words of advice.

Shards of glass are imbedded into the mortar atop many walls in Nairobi, including the walls of Tumaini Clinic.

“You shouldn’t be out alone after dark,” I’ve had more than one person tell me here. “You’re a mzungu (Swahili for “whitey”), so you’re an easy target for criminals.”

Now I tend to think of myself as an independent, self-reliant, ‘don’t-need-nothin-from-nobody’ type of a guy, so when locals insist on accompanying me at such times, my Lone Wolf persona takes a hit.

But I’m not the only one who’s compelled to seek safety by nightfall. Those living in the slums say the same. Once the sun drops low, security threats increase tenfold, and residents ensure they’re in close proximity to the place they’ll lay their head later that evening.

Sliding metal bolt-locks like this one are common on doors, and most have two. The doors are also made of heavy metal.

Criminals own the night here, and no one is immune. Frankly, I’m not used to living with such underlying paranoia, but the threats seem legit.

Securing the Insecure

Almost every single entrance door I’ve encountered, whether home or business, has massive sliding bolts that make it impenetrable to most anything short of a bazooka blast. Even the windows are outfitted with defensive measures. Most have metal framing between the small panes (conveniently sized a tad smaller than the dimensions of the average human body), or they’re covered on the outside by heavy metal bars. Some even have both on the same set of windows.

And all reasonably-sized businesses have at least one security guard that works the main doors. Most middle and upper class neighborhoods have the same security presence, coupled with barbed wire, electric fencing or broken glass shards on the top of the walls that surround their housing complex. Even in the slums, many of the patchwork walls of metal that surround the individual housing groups have at least one string of barbed wire along the perimeter.

Needless to say, a latent insecurity permeates the very fabric of the capital’s consciousness. And the Sun plays a pivotal role…well, that and a police force that’s understaffed and generally ineffective. 9-1-1 is a fairytale notion here.

But Kenya is an equatorial country. All year round, the sun is up as much as it is down, which means that half the time, potential dangers lurk around every corner.

A string of barbed wire hangs on top of the perimeter of this housing compound in Korogocho.

I was chatting with one of Tumaini Clinic’s staff who will be working an upcoming night shift, and I asked her about the hours that the shift entails.

As it turns out, she arrives at six, though it doesn’t technically start for another hour. But by then, it’s dark outside.

“It’s not safe to come at seven,” she said matter-of-factly. And since she was born and raised in Korogocho, she should know.

The clinic itself is a virtual fortress of security, particularly after one of the staff was shot and killed during a robbery attempt at its previous “Koch” location some years ago. So when they built the new clinic a few years back, they made certain that proper security measures were in place, including one-inch, bullet-proof glass at the cashier’s station.

Glimmer of Life

But all this necessitated awareness of my surroundings has awakened a certain primal sense of survival. And amid all of the potential threats and dangers, light is always my friend.

Whether it’s the Sun’s first rays at dawn or the street lamp’s glow on the sidewalk, I’ve learned to appreciate every light source for what it is…enhanced safety and security.

Criminals don’t want others to see their crimes, and thus, light is their enemy and my dearest friend. Thank you God, and Edison too!

Nighfall brings a very different feel to the slums, and a heightened security risk

But when I start pondering this luminary notion, I inevitably return to the fundamentals of life, and the pivotal role of light throughout human history. It has helped crops grow, provided crucial vitamins, given off heat, cooked food, warned of threats and illuminated books that enlightened minds. In so many ways, light is life, particularly to those of antiquity.

And now, I find myself living in the 21st century, temporarily residing in the capital city of a developing country, which has far more infrastructure and resources than any town or city of ancient times. And yet I have a newfound appreciation for what light truly is, and what it may have represented to the biblical audience, particularly when used in symbolic description.

You are the light of the world…let your light shine before men… Matthew 5:14,16

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. John 1:4

I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life… John 8:12

You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light… Ephesians 5:8-9

Day and night, the fires from the adjacent city dump spew smoke into the sky on the outskirts of Korogocho.

…God is light; in him there is no darkness at all… I John 1:5

I absolutely love these descriptions and contrasts. They’re worth contemplating. And now more than ever, they go straight to my heart, since light’s worth has never been more appreciated.

Light truly is life. Light is safety, comfort, protection and confidence. Light is health and well-being. Light is Wisdom and Truth, and dare I say, salvation.

You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness… I Thessalonians 5:5

Living in Nairobi these days, this verse has never been truer, and I thank God daily for the protection of his light.

Now if only I wasn’t such a Night Owl…in more ways than one.

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Next Steps
    • I challenge you to eat at least one evening meal by candlelight (or some other independent light source) this week, or every week for that matter. Turn all other lights off! You’ll now be eating as most do throughout the world. Marinate on that thought.
    • Think about the ways you “let your light shine.” Think about what that means. How can you increase its intensity, its warmth and its life-giving qualities to those around you?
    • Think about “the darkness,” where sin so often resides. I know it’s true in my own life. What about yours? What persistent actions, thoughts and attitudes do you try your best to keep concealed? Raise your awareness. Start on the path to break the patterns.
    • Pray for those living here and around the world, whose very welfare hinges on the sun’s position in the sky. Pray for God’s protection and safety. Pray for those folks who “rule the night” as well.
    Next Steps

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!

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Comments

  1. kajani said... 

    Reply

    July 15th, 2011 at 4:28 am  

    Welcome to night life in the Kenyan slums and l presume to many such around the world.However the community policing is coming up in many slums and in some middle class neighborhoods and has really improved the security.This is where the community is actively involved in the security decision making of their own area and they work hand in hand with the local law enforcement agencies.This creates monitoring and responsibility and thus enhance the security of the neighborhood.

  2. Amy Sorrells said... 

    Reply

    July 15th, 2011 at 8:37 am  

    Your photos combined with your words are beautiful. We can’t be afraid to shine light into dark places. Sure, it’s scary, stinky, dangerous and folks might think we’re nuts in the process. But praise God He breaks through the barbed wire around our lives and the lives of others! Super article!

  3. Jo Nading said... 

    Reply

    July 15th, 2011 at 3:13 pm  

    I’m really glad you are a smart enough man to listen to those who have the wisdom and experience to warn you. THAT is being a man – dropping your ego, your “confidence” in your ability to “be a man” – and to simply be wise. “Leaving your light on” shows others the way. Kinda cool, huh? Thanks for leaving your light on – for choosing to share God’s light in those dark places. yeah, I think we could come up with so many object lessons and analogies about light. That’s also very cool to me – God is pretty dang smart and creative.

    Always a pleasure to read your words and hear your heart and watch your growth.

  4. Jessica said... 

    Reply

    July 17th, 2011 at 11:54 pm  

    I really missed the nighttime when I lived in Nairobi! It was disconcerting to learn that the constant warnings I heard about safety after dark weren’t coming from paranoia, but just reality. Security is one of the biggest luxuries I realized I take for granted in my corner of the globe. I’m encouraged by Kajani’s comment about increasing security there..Praying for peace to take root and grow and reclaim the night there!

  5. Jim.M said... 

    Reply

    July 19th, 2011 at 7:51 am  

    Stephen, nice work. I am especially drawn to your reference to 1 Thessalonians. Reading all of 5 you can see Paul knew well the security, comfort, and serenity of the Light. He also knew about darkness.

    From “Glimmer of Life” to the end of the article, it is almost metaphorical. You have shown us what the folks at Tumani live with daily. They no doubt wear a breastplate, and helmet, and carry in their heart and soul the shield of faith as they work.

    Peace, and safety to you brother.

  6. Doug said... 

    Reply

    July 19th, 2011 at 11:56 pm  

    Good word! Another couple of reminders:

    Psalm 37:5-6 “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” Trust in Him and Obey (Shine), He will act!

    Philippians 2:14-17 “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” No matter what the cost, Shine!

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