Jason Kelly, the youth pastor that joined Mike, me and the Pa Pa’s on the East Africa trip, wrote some very descriptive words regarding his journey with us into the Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi, Kenya. They are definitely worth reading. I have therefore posted them below (with a little editing and abridging for length) and have included some of my photographs that match with his observations and reflections:
Looking down at my fingers on this keyboard, I am struggling with where to begin. So much happened today and my thoughts are many and jumbled. I thought I saw the most desperate place yesterday, nothing doing. Today was an emotionally difficult day. I woke up anxious about it, but really didn’t fully understand why. I understand better as the day is fading away.
So far, every place we have been in Nairobi has required long rides. This morning’s ride, however, was only a short distance and ended at a fuel station. Paul announced that we were meeting Lameck, our host from Fountain of Life Children’s Home, and picking up two armed soldiers.
(Image: Our soldier escorts)
I was really anxious, wondering what in the world we were doing going to a place that required armed men. I had some good prayer with the Lord this morning and found great peace in the light of the approaching challenge. We drove across the road from the fuel station and entered a narrow road surrounded by row after row of shacks.
(Image: One of the soldiers oversees our disembarkation point)
These shacks were covered with mud, tin, tarps, and no telling what all. As we slowly traveled down this alleyway, the passage grew narrower with each passing shack. This entire slum is not even a square mile in size, and it lies in a valley. Looking down from the top of that valley, all I could see was a sea of rust-colored tin and make-shift roofs.
(Images: Tin-roof maze)
The normal pack of children began to follow us and watch every move we made. Before long we stopped and Mike and Paul opened the door to get out. I gathered my cameras and with mixed emotion got out of the comfort of the van.
(Image: Jason after exiting the van)
Initially, I was disconnected from my environment and fully intended to keep it that way, and the two tall guys with guns behind me served as a great distraction, keeping me from truly appreciating the setting around me.
(Image: The reason and the distraction)
I imagine if I were flying over this slum, looking down on it would look like a maze. Each shack was attached and there weren’t backdoors to any of them. A series of two to three foot alley ways lead us to our first stop and the one room home of a lady named Elizabeth. The dirt floor in her house was at least two foot lower than the alley way outside. Entry to the home required climbing down into it. Looking down into the room, I saw Elizabeth. She was a middle aged woman holding a less than year old baby. Turns out her story is far too familiar in this slum. She had two daughters die of AIDS and leave behind children.
(Image: Children outside of one of the ‘homes’ we visited)
Walking through this slum required careful steps. The rusty corners of tin were at eye level and the ground was covered with ruts flowing with sewage. We visited others in the slum all to find out they all were struggling to meet the bare necessities of life. The very things I take for granted are missing in these people’s lives.
(Images: Rivers of raw sewage flow down every slum road and alley)
At one point, I spotted two little girls about three years old. They were dirty and standing so close to a collection of sewage and trash. An unexpected image hit my mind and caused me to enter into one of the most humbling experiences. I pictured my kids in this place.
(Image: A young girls navigates past the sewage rut outside her home)
(Image: Thick sludge-stream of feces)
I was unsuccessful in keeping my mind from thinking about Jensen walking through this mess with no shoes. I could vividly see Juddy Bear running down an alley way with no shirt or shoes but clothed with the yuck of the slum. I visualized Jackson leaning against a wall looking down at the ground. Those thoughts were too much and the painful reality that children just like mine, were doing these very thing, living in this mess. My eyes filled with tears and they streamed down my face. The thoughts of my children living in that place were painful, but those thoughts soon turned into great compassion for the children that actually live there.
(Image: Children on their ‘playground’)
At one point the pain in my heart was so great I could hardly stand it, and for some reason, I just looked up, I suppose to take my eyes off of what I couldn’t stand to see. I noticed the sky looks just like it does in Arkansas. I was instantly reminded at that point that God was looking down, and he never changes, nor does he make any mistakes.
I admit, I questioned God why anybody should or would live that way. Only He knows why.
(Image: Another young girl standing amongst the piles of trash and excrement)
Some of us made the trek down to the center of that valley and there was a stream flowing there. It wasn’t a pretty stream; the water was gray and full of trash. Disease and death were flowing in this water. Hundreds of people’s homes were on the dirty banks. While I was there, many were cooking nearby, children playing, animals growing. The sight of a banana tree growing by this stream made me sick to my stomach. The very thought that this was a real place seemed impossible, and still does as I think back on those images forever etched on my mind.
(Images: River of disease and death)
As we walked back up out of the belly of that horrible place, I began to sing a Nicole C. Mullin song in my head – Redeemer. I don’t know all the words in right order but some that hit me were: "Who made the stars shine in the heavens, who told the ocean you can only come this far? I know my Redeemer lives. I know my Redeemer lives, let all creation testify, that God’s love will never die. I know my Redeemer lives."
When I got back into the van, I got out my bible and read the relevant words of Romans 12:9-18:
"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor serving the Lord. Be patient in hope, joyful in affliction and faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it is dependent on you, live at peace with everyone."
Looking back over all the events of this day, my heart was heavy, but my faith in God was stronger than twelve hours before.
(Image: Many children like these live in these conditions without parents. We can indeed see them protected and stronger also)