April 24, 2009

Mathare Valley, Kenya

The desperation of Mathare Valley, a 600,000 person slum, creeps on you slowly. I've been in Nairobi for 2 weeks now, but the first few times I visited the slum I wasn't utterly shocked by it's horrors the way I expected to be. Part of that is that I'm staying out in the burbs of Nairobi with Pastor and MRs. Karau who do work there in Mathare Valley. They live out here because they're raising 21 kids in 2 small foster homes- kids who are orphans and vulnerable children from Mathare. They want these kids, who are ages 3-9, to have love and community and security, so they brought them out here to 2 really nice homes full of comfort and love. It's amazing to see how well they're doing. And then slowly, for the reality of what they're coming from to become real. Like I said, the first day I visited the Mathare church all I could see from the roof of the church was an endless sea of rusted tin, and that's where the people live, that's mathare. And the first day I walked through Mathare I visited the house of a guy who has electricity and a decent house, and I noticed that there's clean water and toilets available these days, so that's good. But then slowly, the deeper brokenness creeps on me by knowing and talking to people here. The fact that yeah, a lot of people these days have food to eat and clean water...but there is no sense of opportunity/ So many of the youth fail to go on to secondary school and there's not a lot of employment here unless you're into selling spinach and making a dollar a day, so a ton of the youth turn to prostitution, theft, making ilegal liquor, gangs, drugs. And then I started to meet all the women living with HIV, and hear about kids who start having sex at age 8 or 10 because they live in only one room with their parents, one bed even, so they see that happening and just are curious...And then I become good friends with Anthony and Virginia, and hear about Anthony losing his parents at age 12 and somehow, only by the grace of God he tells me, continuing on to this day, where he volunteers at the church and studies to become a pastor, living somehow miraculously on no income...And Virginia has such a heart for this slum where she was raised, looking at those street kids and wanting to give them hope and opportunity. So I'm overwhelmed by the lack of hope and opportunity here. Overwhelmed by the orphans left by the river and the women beaten by their husbands and the crime that's so prevalent. And I've only seen a little. But more than that I'm overwhelmed by the love of the people here at Mathare Worship Center. It's not just a church, Pastor KArau and his wife and many others have started a clinic, a daycare, and a primary school, all of which are provided at minimal to no cost to community members. There are support groups for HIV AIDS women, and youth support group, and the Karaus' son and friends have started a small organization to help girls continue in school, and to bring together youth for solidarity and to make music and dance. There's a Saturday club for kids to be encouraged in life lessons and to get food. And most of the people who work in all the different ministries of the church are volunteers or paid a t\iny amount. Ever since I was in Tanzania I was secretly sad at the hearts of so many of my friends, feeling that their goals were to get out of poverty, to get rich, to get to America, to leave behind the simple or insecure lives they had. I was sad that they didn't want to stay and help. And now, here, these people in the poorest place of all that I've been, and not only poorest but most desperate--these Kenyans are awing me with their willingness to love, to live by faith, to serve their community, their desires to stay here and make it a better place. And I'm really humbled by all that they're doing.

April 5, 2009


Just thinking about missionary life. Because there are a lot of missionaries and volunteers here in Arusha, and I've gotten to know and love quite a few, through a church we go to. I guess it just makes me think about what it means to leave your home and go serve in another country. I think it used to mean a lot of sacrifice in terms of communication with home, living conditions, etc. Today there is internet and really nice houses in third world cities and global trade that brings even Kellog's corn flakes to Tanzania. Also, American dollars go a long way in Tanzania, so if you're being supported from the U.S., you can get some pretty nice houses and cars here. I don't know how I feel about that. I certainly am not trying to criticize people, just thinking. Is it OK to have 2 SUVs and a huge house with a guard and a big screen TV and 2 computers, and eat American food all the time and take hot showers every day? Is sacrifice implicit in missions and service, or did it just used to be there by default? Does it separate the missionaries from the people they're living with and trying to serve? I've also been thinking about myself and how I'd want to live if I were here for a long time. Right now I'm living extremely simply, but if I were long term I'd want at least a modern kitchen so I didn't have to eat ugali every day. And probably electricity and running water just because it seems more sanitary and healthy than kerosene lamps and washing your dishes in standing water. And if I lived here a long time and had a family and kids then wouldn't I want them to be safe? So I might need a gate or a guard. And I don't really want a computer, but then it might be nice to keep in better contact with people I know and love, especially if I'd be here many years. So, I see the slippery slope that leads into having lots of THINGS and I'm scared of it. I think there's a huge value to living simply, and especially to have some kind of connection and solidarity- at least the public bus!- with Tanzanians, if I'm really here to meet and serve and love and receive from them. But I don't know where the line is between health and security and comfort and simplicity.