Today was a day of overwhelming emotions, as we visited the Children of Africa Hope Center. John and Anne and their staff do what seems to be the impossible: care for 250 children, with little resources. We saw cramped classrooms, hungry children, and dedicated teachers. While John, Anne and I discussed the challenges they face in their ministry, the children and teachers were preparing a special school assembly for us. The entire school had filed outside, chairs were set up for the Glide team, as well as Glide ensemble member Dennis, who happened to be visiting in Kenya.
Each grade level sang songs for us, and recited poetry and bible verses. There was one poem that had a line that caused tears to well up as I listened:
“God, are orphans and vulnerable children a part of your creation? God, only you know the answer.”
Riruta’s Assistant Pastor, Isaac, also serves as the head teacher for the school at the Methodist Church. The small sanctuary is converted into even smaller classrooms during the week, and the church serves food and provides education to more than 250 children. Dennis Hersey, also from Glide and visiting Nairobi with a friend, joined us for the day. After a wonderful outdoor program put on by the students, Dennis sang with his incredible voice for the children and staff- it was an amazing, beautiful moment. Afterwards, we all led the children in singing “We Shall Overcome”.
Later, we served lunch to all of the children. Afterwards we present Pastor John, his wife Anne, and Pastor Isaac with a bag of supplies. Inside were two quart bags of almonds. The pastors were delighted and suggested that each child might receive a few almonds each. When they went outside into the courtyard, they held the bags up into the air. 250 children erupted with screams of delight like I have never heard. Karen, Robin and I looked at each other stunned. Two bags of almonds. This is one moment I will never forget.
After spending the morning at the Hope Center today, I see that it is far from its goal, though not for lack of passion. John and Anne are doing incredible work against the odds, feeding children every day on very little, and educating them well, despite severe classroom overcrowding. (Several children have to sit on the floor, and those fortunate enough to have desks are squeezed in with as many other bodies as will fit on a bench, without anyone falling off.)
After we served the children their morning porridge, we played with them in the front yard, which has no swing-sets or climbing equipment. They do not have soccer balls, basketballs, baseballs and bats, or even adequate space to play any sport. There is room enough for all of them to be out there, and that in of itself seems a rare blessing for a school in the slums. But the rent is astronomical, and the school does not generate any income from students whose guardians cannot afford to pay fees.
On the playground, the children swarmed me. I felt as though I were surrounded by the paparazzi, except that my captors only wanted to love me. The stampede knocked down Maureen, a small, mild-mannered girl, probably two years old. I picked her up and carried her around with me for the rest of the recess period, as the crowd showed no signs of letting up, and she appeared too sweet and tiny to stand up for herself. Her schoolmates laughed when I put my sunglasses on her, as they covered half of her face.
Maureen and I made a game of my efforts to break free. Every time we ran from the mob, impelling them to chase us, she giggled, my sunglasses holding fast to her beautiful face. All she wanted to do was stare and smile at me. I took every opportunity to stare and smile back at this little, human doll, as she warmed my heart with the love beams she directed at me.
After recess, our team sat out on the playground, as each classroom of children assembled before us and sang for us in turn. The songs were inspired, and I was touched by the effort that the teachers and school leaders had obviously spent in teaching them to the children.
I left feeling simultaneously hopeful and overwhelmed with despair. It is a loaded emotion I’ve come to know well this past week.