My memories of Kenya are so many forms of overwhelming. Vast, staggering, shattering, breathtaking, eyeopening and astounding are a few of the forms they take. It’s a country of contrasts. It’s a place that at first glance devastates you with it’s poverty while every subsequent look stuns you with the beauty and strength found in it’s people.
Kibera Slum. I’ll always remember it as the place that I was absolutely crushed by joy. In a small safe haven called “Spurgeons Child Care Kenya” which is supported by Feed the Children and is located on the edge of Kibera, I found that my ideals of loving mercy and walking humbly were blown away by reality. Here were kids who live in a massive and dangerous slum, who, of all the kids IN that slum, are the most vulnerable.
Really? It gets more vulnerable than living in a one room tin shack with multiple people surrounded by five square miles of the same? More desolate than no sewage system except the roads and ditches? More desperate than absolutely no certainty where your next meal is coming from or if there will be one? Apparently it does. Not that I can really grasp it.
So, these kids, these most vulnerable of the most vulnerable, they were invited to come to this school every day where they get at least one meal they can count on. Beans and rice never looked so important before. They also were able to attend school which is by no means something assumed for any child in Kenya, much less Kibera kids. Here reading, writing and arithmetic are held in great esteem, by far more desirable than summer break. The facility, like the slum, is also made up of tin shacks, and some concrete buildings, on dirt floors, no sewage system, etc. By American standards it would have been condemned long ago. Instead, it was and is a refuge. A safe place. A haven.
We spent the lunch hour with the whole school. That’s when I was crushed. I mean, I thought the conditions had sufficiently taken me directly into an immediate cultural shock, but no. Not even close. These kids were, well, KIDS! They laughed, played, ran amuck, asked me to take their picture, posed like superstars, got shy when I asked a question, asked me a million questions in return, grabbed my hand to hold it, told me their names and, well, I just wasn’t expecting it. They were SO full of joy. You know what? People who are joyful in the midst of poverty have a dignity that is difficult to wrap your brain around. These kids had a joy that made me feel like the Grinch, you know, that moment his heart grew? I felt like my understanding had expanded just like that.
As we drove back out through the slum, then down the streets in Nairobi I could now begin to recognize this same dignity in the women, men and children everywhere I looked. Now, when I look at the pictures I took, I don’t see the dirt, the ragged clothing. I only see beauty, strength, joy, determination, love, friendship, acceptance, welcome. I can’t see past it!
I do still see that I can make a difference. I can relieve a little suffering, I can provide a moment of happiness or relief, a small window of opportunity. We all need mercy. Now I love mercy. I love giving it, getting it, sharing it. In the second part of it’s dictionary definition, mercy is described as “An event to be grateful for, esp. because it’s occurrence prevents something unpleasant or provides relief from suffering.”
To love mercy.
This was my introduction to Kenya.