Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Sunday in Kibera

Sunday I was invited to go to church with a friend of mine named Raphael who lives in Kibera. I met Raphael a few weeks ago because he had come by the Karen property to see the orphanage. As a product of the Kibera slum himself, he has hopes of starting some kind of children’s home to give children growing up in dangerous situations a chance at life. Raphael had a very difficult childhood and his testimony is one of the most intense I’ve heard. He found Christ at a time when he had basically tried out every immoral thing he could do that he had access to in the slums. It’s refreshing to hear how the presence of God in his life has been able to really reshape his priorities and purposes in life.
The church he brought me to was actually right outside of the slum, maybe a few hundred yards away. When we first walked in, there were only about 20 or so people that seemed to be present. I wasn’t sure if this was to be expected or not, but even as the worship continued and we transitioned into the sermon nobody else arrived. It was a bit confusing to me because they had enough chairs to accommodate about 150 people, I guess that one will remain a mystery to me. I can’t say I was super enthralled with the sermon, and the service went on for about 3 hours which made it somewhat difficult for me to retain focus for the whole time. But afterwards I was introduced to the pastors and a few of the other people at the church, and the way their welcoming nature reaffirmed to me why I love Kenya. Being a complete stranger, you can be welcomed in right away and appreciated. Yeah, Kenyan hospitality is pretty legitimate.
Afterwards Raphael took me to his home in the slums. To get to it we took a matatu down the street and then entered into the maze of narrow alleys and low roofs. When we got to his place we stepped in and had me sit down on one of the beds after lifting the sheet that divided the room. We sat and began a conversation and a few minutes later someone came out from behind another sheet that was hanging in front of the other bed. It startled me because I had no idea that there was anyone else in there. The room is about 10’ by 10’ like most of the rooms in the slum, and this one houses about 5 people. They share beds at night to accommodate everybody. I was impressed at how clean they kept the place despite having so many people living there. After about a half hour Raphael brought us plates of mcheli na maharagwe (rice and beans). I’m not sure where they actually prepared it, but it was delicious, and their generosity in giving me a meal in their poverty meant a lot to me. Raphael lives in a pretty broken family, but the ones I met were still very inviting, and it was nice to be able to spend time talking with them.
The next day I saw Raphael and he thanked me for coming. I told him that I was the thankful one for them inviting me in, and he responded by telling me that they hardly ever see any white people venturing into that part of the slum and feeling comfortable with everything. Raphael told me that I’m the first American he has met that he really considers to be his friend, and his family had appreciated me being there. It’s something that amazes me. I don’t feel deserving of such thanks, I did nothing other than spend time with them. But it means a lot to many families here to have a visitor, so I guess I can say I am thankful to be able to fill that role.

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