Though I had been to Uganda and Kenya many times, I never noticed the big difference between the two countries. Departing from Entebbe on a very chilly morning during the August rains, we arrived at Jomo Kenyatta airport only to be met by a very humid yet rainless morning. Just like any other country, Kenya has its challenges, but there is always a group of people who are most affected and vulnerable. Some face more challenges because of their social status and others because of the natural conditions surrounding them. But there is always hope in hopeless places.
On my arrival to Mathare, my first thought was, “There is nothing good here.”
The stench from open sewer lines hit hard. If you are not strong enough, you may momentarily lose your breath.
A common scene is that of children collecting scrap metal from sewage channels. As one moves about, mounds of excrement line up in some areas. As we walked through, my eyes met with sad-looking faces of people high on drugs. You can clearly see that they are hit hard by life as some are found sleeping by the wayside, others in narrow corridors, and still others staggering to find a convenient corner to lay down.
Finally, as we approached the end of our walk, there it was: MATHARE COMMUNITY OUTREACH CHURCH.
You could call it the HANDS and FEET of Christ in this slum. The church is situated right in the middle of Mathare and has dedicated itself to transforming lives in the slum. It has supported many from infant and pre-school to attaining higher education and gaining practical skills. Their primary school is a refuge to scores of children, whose parents cannot afford education elsewhere. The provision of hot meals may not sound like a big deal to many of us, but it is a sign of hope to those children. Coming to school and not learning on an empty stomach puts a smile on their faces because they are not assured of a meal at home. I can confidently say that those school walls keep children from the ugly influences and hopelessness of Mathare.
According to Robert, a senior teacher at the school and a former slum dweller and drug abuser,
“Many think that people in Mathare take drugs simply because they want to, but it’s because they have no options. Life has hit them hard. So, drugs help them to temporarily forget their troubles, but that too is a short-lived experience. So, they go back for more.”
Despite all of the negative misconceptions society has with regard to Mathare dwellers, hope is being restored by Community Outreach Church.
Young people have been inspired to become accountants, teachers, and journalists. Many, like Robert, have returned as teachers and are helping disciple younger people as they are led to Christ. I came face to face with former hardcore drug abusers and criminals, who are now pastors preaching the good news of Christ to more Mathare dwellers. Who better to do that than one of their own? You can best believe it when you listen to their stories and see how they interact with everyone in the slum, despite who they are.
When I first heard their stories, I did not believe them.
But then I met Bill and Matete, some of the many whose lives have undergone great change. Mothers from Mathare are employed by the school as cooks and janitors. This also gives them a chance to fend for their children and plan a better life and a better home out of Mathare. I was filled with so much hope!
To all those who are contributing to the transformation of lives in Mathare, I can only say, “May the good Lord richly bless you!” God is surely bringing up a generation that will not just change the face of Mathare, but will deliver the entire slum into the hands of Christ.