22nd August 2013
Today we learned that Nairobi has the dubious distinction of having the second largest slum in Africa after Soweto. We learned this as we drove the relatively short distance from the government district, with all its well dressed business folk, to the shanty town of Kawangware.
We were faced with the usual vision of dirt roads, rotting refuse in the streets being picked over by goats, and groups of youths standing aimlessly at corners. But what we were not prepared for was how much we were going to learn about church planting in a little concrete shack sandwiched between two dingy shops, and the joy we were going to have hearing the wonderful stories of young (and not so young) men and women born-again to a new life with Jesus Christ.
We were the guests of Tandaza Celebration Centre which is a small evangelical church planted out from a prosperous Nairobi church. In Kenya, like many other places, churches seem to be happy to take the comfortable route of preaching to prosperous middle-class folk. But when this church started praying for folk to come in and hear God’s Good News, God answered in an unexpected way with men and women coming in literally “off the street”.
Rather than turn up their noses at their unexpected visitors, these faithful Nairobi disciples embraced the street folk and went further – why wait for these people to come to us, we should be going to them!
Hence Tandaza Celebration Centre, which provides a beacon of light in the darkness of Kawangware and a place of refuge for those seeking a new life. Following Christ’s example, the centre offers healing to young and old alike: counselling for the ubiquitous addictions they suffer, lessons in reading and writing in both Swahili and English, and training in a basic skill like basketwork or card making that will allow them to take that first step out of the gutter, into a shack, and find their feet.
We heard from the teenage girl orphaned young and left on the street, the widow who had begged to feed her four children, and the teenage heroin addict who learned to hustle at the street corner for his next fix. Now they sat before us, immaculately clean and healthy: a weaver, a carpet maker, a theology student!
However what really moved Ruth and I was the faces of these people when they talked of how they had not only come to know the love shown by the faithful Nairobi Christians, but how – through experiencing that love – they had come to know the far greater saving love of Jesus. Their faces literally shone, and their eyes misted over with joy, as they told of the change Christ had made in their hearts and their lives. Sharing our life stories – rich and poor, black and white, old and young – the reality of our common status in one spiritual family was overwhelming as we came together in praise.
They went on to tell us how their joy in their new Lord, and their new learned reading skills, meant they could now meet together in pairs or small groups and read the bible for themselves – helping each other to stay true and growing in faith. And we learned how the change in their lives had caught the interest of their neighbours and friends so these small groups were multiplying fast.
Ruth and I had started this Africa journey largely to learn from God where we could serve, while also praying we would learn much. Perhaps we were not quite expecting God in his wisdom to teach us so much through people who – in the world’s eyes- have so little, but in Christ obviously have so much.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Faces of Hope from the slums of Nairobi