We landed in Nairobi last night – exhausted from spending way too long in tiny seats and bloated from too much airline food. For the life of me I will never understand how this whole eating on your flight thing works. You folks who perhaps only fly domestic and eat little pretzels and whatever you’re offered to drink may be stunned to know that on international flights they still actually feed you meals. The entire time. How is it that all I have done since the last time you fed me is sit in this tiny chair cramping and twitching (but the seatbelt light is on so I can’t get up) and doing literally nothing else that would even remotely resemble working up an appetite, and yet anything you offer me I just eat – all of it! For REAL – what’s up with that? I think in a total of 18 or so hours in the air, I gained 30 lbs! At least that’s what it feels like. Anyway, I digress.
We actually spent our first night in Kenya in a wonderful hotel that was still on the airport grounds – we were totally spoiled by our hosts – but we were too tired to fight them for lesser accommodations. Really, we were there mainly for safety reasons as there was another act of terrorism earlier this year in Nairobi not too far from the hotel we stayed in last year, so this was a concession to luxury that had a practical value for which we were grateful.
We left paradise this morning and headed to a slum called Deep Sea. There are about 10,000 people living in this slum that is now sitting precariously in the way of a new highway. The highway is finished up to the edge of the slum from both directions but can’t be connected until someone figures out what to do with all of the people who will be displaced. They can’t just go find another place to live but I’m certain the government isn’t going to give up on their highway either. We’ll see. We have been here several times before and our destination is a small church a relatively short walk into the slum. We try not to look around too awfully much, not wanting to appear intrusive or nosey, but it’s difficult. This is a lot to take in, especially if it’s your first time. There are many small shops leading to the church – fresh fruit and vegetables hang in the open store fronts and the smells of fresh cooking are very inviting. But it’s clear that we are the outsiders – the ones who don’t belong here and we get a lot of looks. It’s not every day that they get a line of 15 white people (one of our members is African American but he is clearly with us) traipsing through their neighborhood. It is interesting to me how often some of these looks don’t feel welcoming or inviting but if you offer a warm greeting, their face breaks out in a huge smile and the greeting is returned. People are generally friendly, when you are friendly – imagine that. For the most part though, people are happy to see us and extend warm gestures and greetings.
These shops will serve not only the community in the slum but there are also others from outside who come as well to buy fresh foods more reasonably then they can elsewhere. The street (dirt with lots of holes) is also home to some who have already drank themselves into happiness or sniffed glue into a stupor and its only 11:00 in the morning. Frankly these are the ones who get me – especially when they are still teenagers. They don’t have a vision or mission for their life – every day resembles every other day and the years go by. They will probably never leave the slum and even if they are displaced by the new highway they will simply gravitate to another slum.
These are the times I can be overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. I can’t fix this – really, not even any of it. But that’s not why I’ve come. It’s not really about me fixing anything – it’s about me trying to live out the Gospel. At one point Jesus reminded those with Him that, “you will always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them…” (Mark 14:7). In other words, you won’t ever fix this but you should always be ready to help. In fact, helping the poor is a theme that clearly runs through the entire Bible – there is simply no escaping it. Perhaps we will always have them so the church will always have a place to be challenged to be God’s authentic church – His missional church – called to love those whom He loves, and care for those whom He cares about. I get it how challenging it can be to give to those who we think don’t deserve it or when giving can seemingly go against our principles, “you should get a job – that’s what I had to do” and it’s so much easier to walk in judgement of the poor and believe they are getting what they deserve.
Yet Jesus never tells us that any of that is our concern, He simply says, “Give to everyone who asks of you . . .” (Luke 6:30). He never tells us to qualify the one asking or judge what they might do with the money. He is testing our heart, not the heart of the receiver. We don’t have to give everything but we are supposed to give something – at least that’s where I personally landed on this whole giving thing many years ago. As a counselor I wonder if we wouldn’t have less depression and anxiety in our culture if we adopted a grateful attitude of giving. I wonder if we wouldn’t have healthier churches if we made service more of a priority in our congregations. It is amazing how things change when we are willing to get out of ourselves.
And so it begins – our wrestling match with God – trying to make sense of a land so different from our own and asking God why we are here and why we are doing what we are doing. We left the slum and had lunch in a wonderful Pizza place and then left for the Tumaini Conference Center in Nakuru. We have about a 4 hour drive to our destination to think through the day so far – we have already seen so much and our emotions are all over the place. We now leave Nairobi and head out into the country. We can’t figure it all out – really not any of it – surely not on the first day. Best to sit and try to just stay in the moment for now. Look out the window and take in as much as you can. The drive takes us through a wonderfully beautiful land, with breathtaking views of the Great Rift Valley. We saw giraffes, zebras, antelope and baboons along the way – simply amazing! It is good to be here. Tomorrow we visit Gituamba – to see our friends and begin some very special work there.
“For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. . . to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of these, you did it to Me” (Matt 25:35-37,40)
Be sure to also check out Jim's team blog here.