Driving through Nairobi you can’t help but notice the influence of the West. For example, in contrast to Addis, Ethiopia there seems to be more of a structured traffic routine with bustling roundabouts and white traffic lines that are followed, for the most part, that is until someone gets impatient with the unprecedented traffic here and forges their own lane on the side of the road. Then, before you know it, a caravan of vehicles are following close behind. Kenyan men and women sit beside expats in Java Houses while sipping away at steamy cups of coffee waiting to be served Kenyan versions of American burgers and Mexican burritos. Old Kenyan women dressed in bright colored traditional African clothing can be seen walking along side young Kenyan women dressed in modern day pant suits and high heals; two generations desperately trying to stake their claim and relevancy. In this emerging city black puffs of exhaust from used cars that have been imported from Japan and Dubai saturate the air, causing the smog to hang heavy filling the lungs. Heightened security personnel are scattered about due to the recent activity of Al Shabaab over the past year. It seems one cannot enter a public place, without their person being scanned for bombs and their purses and backpacks searched for weapons. Likewise, a day does not seem to go by without conversation, either by way of news or people, surrounding the Ebola outbreak. Discussions center on whether Nairobi is either ready to handle an Ebola outbreak or perhaps potentially putting the world at further risk by not closing up its access to West Africa.
However, if you drive only twenty or thirty minutes outside center city the influence of the West begins to steadily fade and you are reminded that although Nairobi, Kenya may be looked at as one of Africa’s strongest and most developed countries, it is still developing in comparison to the West. Slowly, almost without noticing at first, asphalt roads become bumpy dirt pathways that send each car bouncing up and down as if they were buoys cast out into the ocean. Billows of smoke from burning trash can be seen coming up from the earth, giving the illusion of mini erupting volcanos along the sides of the roads. Goats, big and small roam the streets like free-men and trash covers the ground like confetti. Mothers are seen walking the street with their children attached to their backs like wrapped parcels to be delivered.
There are so many things that I could share with you about my time here in Nairobi so far. For example, I could tell you about the afternoon we spent in the home of a South Sudanese refugee with her nine children and memories of her dead husband because of war. The story couldn’t be told though without mentioning that four of those children aren’t even hers. They too are refugees from South Sudan who were abandoned.
I could share about our time spent with 50+ girls rescued from female genitalia mutilation and early marriage. Or the boys who have been swept up and taken off the streets after running away from their villages. In each of these places boys and girls are being fed, protected, schooled, empowered and discipled to know Jesus. I could share with you the stories of human trauma and torture we learned about that the majority of refugees living here in Nairobi faced in their home countires: rape, beatings, watching loved ones die in front of them–and things so grotesque I won’t even write about them here.
Or Kibera, the slum we visited with the assistance of two armed guards. Kibera is considered to be the largest slum in Nairobi with a population of 400,000. It’s a place where paths of dirt and sewage mesh together making it impossible to avoid the latter as you walk. Houses in this place are identified by scrapes of arranged metal or mounds of clay. The stench of excrement is so ripe that it follows you where ever you go. I can only think of two things that act as an oasis in this wasteland: A chorus of children that can be heard nearly around every corner chanting, “How are you?” in their African-English accent as we pass by (seemingly their only known English phrase) and a school full of children where the teachers are volunteers who grew up in the slum, made it out to be educated, and chose to come back to live and teach children with the hopes of giving them a better life.
There are other things I want to share with you and mostly people I want to introduce you to. People like Beatrice and George who work as missionaries here in Kenya among their own people saving children and helping to disciple them. Or, Hezron a young man who grew up in an orphanage after his single mother died and now makes his living making and selling soap so that children in orphanages, just like the one he grew up in, can have clean bars of soap to wash themselves.
There are so many others I have met along the way who have given up families, mothers, brothers, sisters, homes and lands for the sake of being Salt and Light. People who have dedicated their lives to helping restore the whole of a person–body, mind, and soul. People who are spending their lives making the person and work of Jesus known.
I want to introduce you to… Samuel. Yes, Samuel! However, it’s too late at the moment and the mosquitos are much too thick to introduce you to him now, but next time, maybe…