Tag Archives: slums in Africa

Rocks In The Road Is Not A Business Plan

Last time I was in Kenya, I was in a car with my wife and two of the Kenyans who are our good friends. As we neared the edge of Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, our car was stopped by two men who had placed a large rock in the road. Their “business” if you will, was to put a rock in the road and demand money from people as they drove by before they would remove it. What they got instead was a stern talking to from Jimmy, who had given up a fairly comfortable life to live in the slum.

I have to admit, I’m quite angry right now. One of our friends from the United States is currently helping Jimmy in Kibera. There is a small library there, and it’s not much to look at, but it gives kids who would normally be abandoned during the day a place to go. Outside the library is a festering cesspool of human waste that runs between the library and the next building. Yesterday Jimmy, our American friend, and a group of willing people built a platform over that gully, not just to cover the filth, but to create a small area for kids to sell goods so they can support themselves. On the first day, the children took in about $30, which is quite an accomplishment considering most people live here on $2 a day. It gave the kids a way to learn initiative and self-respect, and keep them from selling drugs.

Over night, some people came and destroyed the bridge they had built, for no other reason than misery loves company. This is the incredible difficulty in poverty alleviation. I’ve seen this happen in Kenya. I’ve seen this happen in South Sudan. I’ve seen this happen on the Indian Reservations in the United States. The attitude is, “I’m Ok with misery and lack as long as you have misery and lack, too.”  Confucius said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”  The same can be said for envy. You can’t sabotage someone else’s work and expect that the same is not going to happen to you. That in a nutshell is why Kibera still exists.  The unfortunate and politically incorrect truth is that no rich man is needed to hold down the poor. Given the opportunity, the poor man will do it himself. This is why it is impossible to separate the spiritual from poverty alleviation. Poverty is rarely just a lack of resources. It may start as a lack of resources, but quickly turns into poverty of spirit. That’s why it is so hard to lift a community from poverty once they’re there. This is the fundamental flaw in western understanding of poverty.

A couple months ago, I was watching the news. Some member of a European royal family (which one I don’t remember) was in Africa with a large entourage and a film crew and reporters. This royal was touring a village and looking around at the poverty. He was interviewed by one of the reporters, and asked what he thought should be done. The royal responded, “They just need resources. They’re not getting the resources they need.” All I could do was sit and shake my head. It wasn’t the resources that were the problem, it was the poverty of spirit that keeps people poor even when the resources are there. You can give a man in the slums fifty dollars, and for some rare individuals he’ll take it and start a business.  But more likely than that is that he’ll take it and get drunk, then come home and beat his wife. This is the harsh reality of the slum. That’s why Kibera has been there for over 100 years. This member of the royal family’s heart was in the right place, but the understanding is not there. He’ll go back to Downton Abbey, and probably raise a bunch of money that will be sent back to this community. In ten years, there will be no sign that he was ever there.

What the slums need is people who are committed for the long haul. People who realize that change comes slowly, one person at a time, through personal sacrifice. What the slums need is leadership from within, not the white man to come from outside and fix all the black man’s problems. The slums need partners who will identify and empower the people and the human resources that already exist there. The slums need Godly men and women who are willing to sacrifice personally so that others won’t have to, and to be examples to people who wish ill to anyone who wants the slum to become a better place. This is all a lot harder than throwing money at the slum. I wish I could convey this concept to anyone who hasn’t been to Africa, but unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. After my first trip to Africa, I knew in my knower that you could throw all of the worlds financial resources at Africa, and if that’s all that was done it would bankrupt the whole world.  If you’ve ever thought about traveling and seeing the world, I want to encourage you in the strongest possible way, to go and see the developing world. Go the the slums. Go see what most of the world lives like. It will give you an understanding of the world, and an understanding of yourself that you didn’t even know you lacked.

For now, all I can do is pray for our friends in Kibera that they will have the fortitude to start over. I will also pray for those that put rocks in the road and destroy other people’s work, that God will break through to them and show them that all they’ve done is hurt their own communities and themselves. I’ll pray for those that think that tearing someone else down somehow lifts them up.  But tonight I’m just sad and angry.

A view of the sewage ditch from the library in Kibera.
A view of the sewage ditch from the library in Kibera.

There Are No Coincidences.

I’m not even sure where to start today, and I’m going to apologize in advance for what may seem a disjointed blog. I am attempting to take many seemingly unrelated events and bring them together.

A year ago, I was just leaving for South Sudan. Little did I know at that time that a series of events would transpire that would touch so many lives. My fourth trip to South Sudan set off one of the most difficult times of my life. I’m not going to get into the details of it, but after coming back, I found myself, along with two other couples who had traveled with me, in the impossible situation of being rendered completely ineffective in our ministry. The option was always there to stay where we were, to remain in effect comfortable and useless. We chose not to do that though, and shortly thereafter we were in a brand new church, with vision for what might be, but with no tools in our hands.

Let’s move across the world to Kenya around 1992, where a boy named Jimmy had just watched his sister die of starvation in his mother’s arms. That event caused his mother to go and find help for the family….any help. She found  Compassion International, and was able to get Jimmy sponsored by a twenty year old man who was a new Christian. His sponsorship made it possible for Jimmy to have enough food and to get an education, which eventually led him to a college education at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Realizing by that age what that sponsorship had meant in his own life, he decided to stand in the gap and sponsored a child in Haiti so that that child wouldn’t have to go through the same thing he did. His experience with Compassion International also brought him to a conference called Catalyst in 2009, where he told of his experiences, and then, to his surprise, to meet the man who had sponsored him all those years. I have a link below to the video of that event. I will warn you. Have tissues ready if you’re going to watch it. It’s one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen. Two thousand more children were sponsored that night.

Let’s move to summer of 2014, where one of the couples who moved churches with us was at an arts conference in Atlanta. They met another Kenyan there named Njenga who was also promoting Compassion International. This couple had a heart to do missions in Kenya, specifically the slums of Kibera, which is one of the most difficult places I’ve been. So they asked Njenga who they should talk to about getting into Kibera, and he connected them with Jimmy. Our friends wanted to introduce their two teenage boys to missions, so they planned a trip to Kenya. There they met with Jimmy, who took them into the slums of Kibera and showed them that even though lots of organizations say they have a presence in Kibera, most come and take a look at what is happening once a year and other than that have no actual presence there. Jimmy chose to live in the slum for four months even though he didn’t have to, and spent that time looking for who was being faithful with the little they had. He found that parents would leave for the entire day to go and find help or to go work, and their children were either completely unattended or left in what I hesitate to call a daycare, where they were not held or attended to. So he searched for people in the slum who had a heart for the children. One day, he made an unscheduled stop at a place that was not on his list. Jimmy walked into a daycare run by a pastor named Obedi and his wife. As Jimmy walked through the door, Obedi had one small child in each arm and was praying over both of them. He knew at this point that this was the man he needed to work with. He was loving on those children, and being faithful before anyone showed up, before anyone had offered him a dime.

Four weeks after our friends visited Kenya, I had the chance to meet Njenga and Jimmy and Obedi in Nairobi. I always have a full schedule in September, but this year I didn’t, so I figured God was telling me it was time to take a trip. I had planned a trip with my wife for our twentieth anniversary. So I asked her where she wanted to go. We could have gone anywhere. But despite the fact that she had never left the North American continent, she said she wanted to go to Kenya. I’m still not sure how that answer came about.

So here is where it all comes together. Jimmy is getting married next week in the United States. He was able to come to our church and speak to our congregation. He’s spoken to 35 churches in the past, and none have offered to partner with him with his vision for children in the slums of Kenya. It so happened that my pastor and some of the staff were at Catalyst in 2009 and saw Jimmy speak, but until this week they didn’t know that he was the same man invited to come speak at our church.  I watched today as a church came together in a single vision to advance God’s kingdom; to do what God said is holy and acceptable in his sight, to “help the widows and orphans in their distress.”  I watched people put themselves aside, to offer themselves, their time, and their finances in an incredible way.  He put the right people in the right place at the right time.

Jimmy speaking at church this morning.
Jimmy speaking at church this morning.












Had that initial difficult situation not happened, or if our friends had chosen to just stay comfortable, this never would have happened.  Had Jimmy’s sister not died and his mother went for help, this never would have happened. If Jimmy didn’t go to school in the United States, this never would have happened. There is now the chance to help literally thousands of people in places so poor, most Americans literally have no comprehension of it.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  This is not just idle words. God took difficult and terrible situations and used them for His good and for our good. The first team will be going to Kenya in January of this coming year. I leave for Ethiopia in two weeks. God took the work we were doing in South Sudan and is now expanding it to all of East Africa. To think, I wondered if my time doing missions work was over. I’ve heard the question asked, “what is God’s reward for faithfulness in doing His work”?  The answer is more work, and I am great with that. I have not even begun to list the “coincidences” that brought all this together, or the ones I can’t talk about.  I am certain that there are many others that I am unaware of. The point is, there are no coincidences with God. I have never been so excited to see what He is doing as I am now.

The video below is eight minutes, but believe me, well worth it.