This is the post I was both anticipating and dreading.
The two days we spent here were simultaneously a highlight of our time in Kenya, as well as the most difficult and heartbreaking.
Kibera is an informal settlement in Nairobi, located approximately 3 miles from the city center.
Covering an area of about 1.5 square miles and home to an estimated 250,000 people, Kibera is the third largest slum in the world.
HEART operates a WEEP center in Kibera, and we would be spending two days here, meeting with the women and doing home visits, joining their weekly Bible study, and doing some painting. This was the group of women I had heard so much about from my dad, the women who were praying for my mom and I to come to Kenya. Monday night during our debrief for the day, we spent some time talking about what to expect. The team members who were returning for their second year spoke about how their time in Kibera was a highlight of their trip, and that they were excited to return. Our team leader (my dad) warned those of us who were going for the first time that nothing could prepare us to walk into that slum.
He was right.
As we began walking from the road down into the slum, we were assaulted by a barrage of impressions.
Trash. Refuse. Downcast eyes. But most conspicuous, the smell.
As we stepped gingerly in avoidance of the open sewers, I was overwhelmed by the atrocity of such living conditions.
How can we live in a world where children play on the street, amidst the trash and human waste?
When we arrived at the Kibera WEEP center we were split into pairs and sent with the women to visit their homes and bring food for their families.
Luke and I were paired up with Rosalind, and sent with a translator to go to her home. After a decently long walk through the streets and alleys of Kibera, carefully attentive to our footing, we arrived at her house.
As we walked into her house, which as no larger than the size of my bedroom, I was struck at how much it felt like a home on the inside.
She said she had been living there for 19 years.
She had done as much as she could to make this house feel like a home for her children, but I still marveled at how long they had been living there. This was no temporary living situation, no transitional housing: this was permanent.
As we sat together, we got to hear her tell some of her story.
When she had discovered she was HIV positive, she was abandoned by her husband, though he was the one who gave it to her.
Before she joined the WEEP program she was very sick, and towards the end couldn’t even get out of bed.
Her fear of leaving her two children with no one to take care of them.
Her gratitude towards “mama Vickie” and HEART for rescuing her and her children, giving her the chance to live and care for them.
Her joy in the LORD, knowing that all she had been given came from Him.
We wanted to spend some time praying for her and her family, so we asked he if she had any prayer requests. In the midst of all the needs she had, she asked we pray for her children, Dennis (18) and Clinton (5), that they would have the money to continue sending them to school. This really impacted me, knowing that there were so many things in her life that she could use prayer for, and yet she prays for her children to get an education.
We often take for granted our access to education.
These people do not; it is something they strive towards, something that they fight for.
After returning from our home visits, we had the opportunity to meet more of these incredible women, and hear just pieces of the incredible story of redemption that God has written throughout their lives.
And then the dancing started. Praising, dancing, and such joy as we were ushered into the throne room of God through these women worshiping.
I don’t think I can fully express the joy, and the laughter at our dancing attempts.
The Kibera WEEP center also has a school on site. HEART had begun this school initially for the women in the program. Soon other parents in the community began asking if they could send their children, and the school has grown. As hard as we tried to be distracting, going over to watch the class, or waving at the kids from a distance, I was amazed at how attentive all those kids were, especially with only one teacher and an aide.
At the end of their school day, we had gifts for the children, donated by one of our amazing supporters. I loved seeing the happiness and joy on their faces.
Our last day of ministry, we were all so excited to return to Kibera, to see these women again, to dance and sing with them.
We started our day doing some work. We repainted their main meeting room, while the women washed down the walls outside.
They had so much fun. The washing soon turned into a water fight, and there was so much joy and laughter.
After we shared another incredible meal they had prepared for us, we joined them for their Bible study.
More dancing and praising.
Judi shared a message with them, encouraging the women and reminding them who they are in Christ.
I think my highlight that day was what we did next: we split into groups and prayed for one another. In our group we went around and prayed for both the person on our right, then the person on our left. As the woman on my left prayed for me in Swahili, it was again impressed upon me the beauty of the Body of Christ. As I let her prayer wash over me, while not understanding her words, I knew the blessings she was praying over me were in faith, the faith in Christ that we share.
Our time in Kibera was incredible, humbling, full of heartbreak and joy.
As I looked at these women, I was heartbroken by the circumstances of their lives. Most widowed or abandoned by their husbands. Infected with a disease that led them to be treated like lepers. Caring for children, some of whom are HIV positive as well. Living in a slum, struggling for access to basic necessities.
And then I look at my circumstances, knowing the home I would get to return to in just a few days, and the injustice of it all was almost overwhelming. As I write this now, the tears well up just remembering what it was like, and remembering just how blessed I am. I’ve never had to worry about where the next meal is coming from, or how I’m going to feed my children.
Angela is a woman waiting to join the WEEP program. Her daughter is HIV positive. Often, when she takes her ARVs, she vomits them right back up, because the drugs have to be taken them with food, and that is something they often don’t have.
I find myself asking, “why God?” By what stroke of fate did I get lucky enough to be born into affluence, while these children are sick and hungry?
On the other side though, I look at these women and see something I often lack.
Even in the midst of these circumstances I would consider horrible, they have such great faith in the God they know will always be there, even if he doesn’t change their circumstances. And through that faith and hope comes so much joy and love, it overflows.
And we were blessed to have it overflow onto us.
I find myself praying to be like these women, full of faith and joy, no matter the circumstances of my life.
While there were parts of our time in Kibera that were heartbreaking, I would not trade our time there for anything. It turned into a highlight of my time in Kenya, and I sincerely hope to have the opportunity to return there.