Monday, Feb 20, 2012
by Steven Siler
Today began with our commute to the Anajali school with plans of clearing a plot of land in preparation for building a new classroom in that spot. I had caught a glimpse of the site just the other day and observed that it was very uneven and that much work would need to be done in order to level it out. Little did I know just how much work this would be. When we arrived at the site and surveyed the task at hand, we all quickly realized what we were up against. The classroom to be built on the site is to be approximately 15 feet wide and 40 feet long. This area was completely unlevel and covered in rubble - mud clumps, rocks, pieces of concrete, and a variety of trash. Our team of thirteen was eager to get started, but the only tools we had were two mattocks, one shovel, and about twenty burlap sacks. For most of us, this meant our tool of choice would simply be our hands. This was reasonable. After all, we are in the slum and did not expect there to be an abundance of tools. However once filling a few bags with mud clumps, we asked where they were to be dumped. We were led through the tight alley ways of the slum, under the clotheslines, across several streams of waste water, past the sharp edges of the corrugated metal roofs, over the trash-filled “sidewalks”, down the hill, and finally to a large hole in the ground on the other side of the main road. In total, this was about a 250 foot walk in one direction. I quickly began to feel overwhelmed, my mind racing trying to figure out a better and more efficient way of executing this task, but no solution came to mind. We simply had to buck up and carry our burlap sackfuls of rubble back and forth until the approximate 10+ cubic yards (or about 3 to 4 tons) had been transferred.
My first few trips to the dumping point were very awkward, as I was trying to keep my dirty burlap sack from touching my clothes as little as possible. Then I realized that the task would be much easier if I simply slung them over my shoulder and carried them on my back. This continued on for several more trips, passing team members along the way in each direction. I could see the look of exhaustion beginning to set in on some of their faces. At this point, it was not certain if we would even get all of the rubble cleared by the end of our day. Trip after trip, we each grew more tired, and more dirty. The red dust of the Kibera slum was covering our sweat soaked skin. We were all acquiring a dirt-caked “tan” as the day progressed.
We stopped for water breaks throughout the day, but after the first water break, I began to take notice of our surroundings in a much more vivid way. My own feelings of being weary and overwhelmed at our task began to fade, and my awareness of the living conditions of the people of the slum rapidly increased. The smell of feces and other waste was prevalent for the majority of our walking circuit. Most of the men and women I passed along the way were even dirtier than I was. Trash was everywhere. Worst of all were the children - some half naked, some sitting and playing in the dirt, some putting trash in their mouths, some with snot running down their faces, some crying, and all filthy dirty.
Sometime about halfway through the day, some of the children that were sitting in the alley way between the corrugated metal houses began to take more interest in us. They began to speak as we walked by, “How are you!, How are you!”. We would kindly reply, “Good, how are you?”, or “Mzuri, habari?” This continued for several trips back and forth. Kids being kids, this turned into a game. They wanted more interaction with us, from each sack-toting team member that walked by. Eventually, they stood up and began to reach out for a handshake or a high-five as we went by. This turned into them running up to us and hugging us as we carefully maneuvered our ways through the alley. Initially I was taken aback by this. I thought to myself, should I hug them back? What if they have diseases, perhaps even AIDS? I reassured myself that I had received all of my shots - Hepatitis, Meningitis, Yellow Fever - and had taken all of my vaccine pills - Typhoid and Malaria preventative. But then I realized how shallow these thoughts really were. These poor kids, so starved for love and attention, are reaching out to us, just a bunch of strange “mzungus” (white people) that happen to be walking past their homes. Aren’t I supposed to be Christ to these kids? How could I even think of not hugging them back and showing God’s love to them?
John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In Philippians 2:7-8 we see that “[Christ] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself...”. When God came down from heaven in the form of Christ, he stepped off of his holy and royal throne and into the slum called mankind. The One who was righteous, dwelled among the unrighteous and the dirty. But he didn’t simply dwell among us; he loved us. He ate meals with sinners, healed the sick of their diseases, and hugged all of the little children he came across. He certainly wasn’t concerned about getting dirty. We are, in fact, dirt. Made from dirt, covered in dirt, and with dirty sin in our hearts, he loves us still.
This was the picture that was painted right in front of me. Speaking to me. Hugging on me. Yet the disparity between my rich American self and these poor little children of the slum pales in comparison to the expanse between my holy King and the unholy mankind he came to save. This is something that I will never forget. This is something I wish everyone could experience - to see the humble position that we are all in, and to witness the need for the love of our Savior in spite of it.