It’s interesting to be in Kenya. Sometimes I wonder if this is really a developing country. We were driving through one neighborhood earlier today when Peter (more on him in just a bit) asked me how much I thought the houses in the area cost. I couldn’t imagine offering a guess so I gave up quickly. His answer: Close to 3 million U.S. dollars! I couldn’t believe it.
My doubts about the “developing country” status of Kenya only last for a moment. Yes, there are some very rich people who have made their fortunes through Tea, Coffee, Construction and Government Corruption. 80% of the country, however, earns $60 or less per month.
Many of the people I see have almost a battle-hardened look about them. At first glance they seem so innocent and so joyful, but I know they are well familiar with acts of evil. Take a neighboring country to the Southwest, Rwanda. In 1994 one of the worst genocides in human history took place. For virtually no reason other than racism (black tribes against other black tribes), more than 1 million people were murdered in only 8 weeks. Then take Uganda, the neighboring country to the West, in the 1970’s Idi Amin was responsible for killing around 500,000 of his people. More recently the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda would regularly kidnap kids, forcing them to kill at least one of their family members before spending their lives terrorizing others.
The neighboring country to the Northwest is Sudan. In the Darfur region of Sudan it is believed around 3 million innocent people have been killed since 2003. The neighboring country to the East is Somalia. Since 1991, Somalia has had no government. Every person does what is right (or wrong) in their own eyes. Many Americans will remember the 19 American troops killed in Mogadishu in 1993. Somalia is one of the most violent, godless nations on the planet. Being in Kenya feels like being surrounded by some of the worst evil committed on earth over the past 30 years.
Many Kenyans living close to the borders of these countries experience a tough life. For this reason many come to Nairobi looking for hope. Much like poor Europeans immigrating to America 200 years ago looking for a better life, people come to Nairobi hoping to start a life where they can support their family for generations.
There are limited opportunities in this city. Many of these families end up living in places where most Americans wouldn’t even store their lawn mowers. A fresh start in Nairobi begins to morph into a hopeless life of poverty. Can the hope and reality of Jesus make a lasting difference in East Africa? Can the worldwide church do what has never been done, to fix what has never been fixed? I’m here full of questions, eager to see some groundbreaking work happening in Kenya, hoping that the solutions don’t cause more problems. You can imagine I was excited for our first full day.
Breakfast with Peter
I thought my day would start very slowly. God had different plans. A man named Peter has been with our group since we were at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. I heard Peter lived in Denver and didn’t think his life would end up having a big impact on mine. As we sat down for breakfast I started asking him questions. I did not expect the answers that followed.
Peter grew up in Uganda. His father is from Rwanda. His father was one of the worst fathers you could imagine. Fearing for his life Peter went to the streets. He lived on the streets of Uganda, fending for himself, from age 11-15. Peter told me on average he would eat one meal every two days. At age 15 one man reached down into the gutter of life and pulled out Peter. This man loved Jesus and out of the love God had shown him, he had compassion on Peter.
Peter first heard about Compassion International at this time. The man who helped Peter was in charge of all Compassion’s efforts in Uganda. Peter was officially too old to enter the children development program, so the director personally took Peter under his wing. As Peter grew, his love to help children who find themselves in similar situations grew as well.
In 1994 Peter was in Rwanda. Why? He was rescuing children from the genocide. Peter told me some stories about what he saw during those terrible 8 weeks. The story that I will never forget came when I asked him about the church in Rwanda during this time. He told me about some heroic things but then turned to tragic stories. The worst came from a Roman Catholic Church which had become corrupted by the madness. More than 5,000 people had fled with their families to this church for safety. Peter went to help them. The church leadership, unfortunately, had tipped off others about the church being full of hiding families. When Peter arrived the church was full of 5,000 dead bodies. Some had survived, miraculously, by hiding under the bodies and pretending to be dead.
I couldn’t believe it. Peter and I talked on the plane about the Broncos and Tim Tebow. He told me about being in the stadium as Tebow threw the overtime pass to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, he was there. He said the stadium felt like it might collapse!
I can’t believe this is the same guy. Peter now works full-time for Compassion International. He spends about 90% of his year taking people on trips all over the world to witness first-hand the poverty and opportunity in developing countries. Two weeks ago, for example, he was in India. Kids flock to him like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve already seen 2 little babies fall asleep on his shoulder. Yes, I’ve been a little jealous. He helps to raise up more people like the guy who rescued him those many years ago.
As a total side-note Peter is single and in my opinion one of the best catches on the planet. If you are single, love Christ more than your life, love children, and don’t mind traveling a few million miles a year let me know and we’ll see what happens.
Peter has been such a great help for me already on the trip as I report on How to Disciple 1.3 Million People. Peter is an insider. He was a part of the problem (so to speak) and now he’s a part of the solution. Here are the three areas, Peter and others have shown me, where Compassion International is seeking to holistically disciple 1.3 million people. I will just briefly describe them in this post and describe them in more detail later.
Child Survival Program
Compassion International accepts kids in their programs who are between the ages of 3-9. They started to find, however, that many people were already too far gone by the age of 3. Imagine any mom in America not being allowed to properly give their child nutrition until the age of 3!
So Compassion has recently started this program from the time a woman conceives. Pastors, who have a great local knowledge of what’s really happening, select the woman in the worst of situations. We met about 10 of these women today.
These moms and infants are helped with prenatal care, the birth process, immunizations, breast feeding, taught skills to earn income, and several other important things to prevent their children from dying in infancy or being in such poverty their bodies and brains are irrevocably damaged by poverty.
All of these women had become strong believers in Christ during their time with the Child Survival Program. We joined them in dancing and singing. They were overjoyed, it was amazing. Most of the white American guys on the trip, however, did look pretty pathetic dancing with these African women.
Child Sponsorship Program
This is the main thrust of Compassion International. Kenya now has more than 82,000 kids in this program. More than 10,000 of them have joined in the last few months. How it works is someone in places like America, South Korea, the UK, or Australia pay $38 per month. They don’t pay the money generally to Compassion. Compassion is all about 1-to-1 relationships. So the people giving the money are providing it directly to one specific child.
The child is selected by a pastor in the area. Only a maximum of 20% of the kids selected can be a part of his church. The children are selected based on their poverty, not based on religion. Many of these kids are Muslims, Pagans, etc… The pastor is familiar with each family situation and knows better than most those who are in the most dangerous of situations.
These 82,000 kids come every week to churches all over Kenya. Compassion staff are there each week for the kids. It’s kind of like putting on VBS every week for an average of 300 kids week-after-week, year-after-year! Everyone who works with Compassion in Kenya is a Kenyan.
The kids get a solid nutritious meal, are taught many things practical to better their lives, are given school fees to keep them in school, receive tutoring, and are taught about the love God has for them. Much more on this program later…
Leadership Development Program
Kids stay in the sponsorship program until they’re young adults. The Leadership Development Program (LDP) was started recently for those who excel within the sponsorship program. This program continues to support some select few kids who grew up in the sponsorship program. This program makes it possible for these kids who were once some of the most downtrodden of humanity to go to college. It covers their living situation, their tuition, books, etc…
How are kids selected? One of the biggest criterion is their character!!! Why three exclamation points? Because the Western world could learn a lot from the importance of character when deciding whom to be leaders in a country. There are currently 325 LDP students in Kenya. These 325 people are a gigantic hope for Kenya.
I was immediately drawn to a guy named Peter. Yes, that’s two guys in one day named Peter who had a big impact on me. Peter told me many of the people he once hung out with on the streets are now dead. Many of those who are not dead are hopeless. They lay around doing drugs, drinking alcohol mixed with jet fuel and waiting to die. Peter is a fully-devoted follower of Christ at the university because of Compassion International. He is a great hope for Kenya.
Another lady spoke to our group but unfortunately I can’t remember her name. She spoke articulately. She had such hope and strength in her voice. She is also at the university because of the LDP. She is studying to be a lawyer. In a land full of injustice my eyes watered, I sat taller, worshiped my God, and encouraged this lady to go and make a difference for the sake of the Savior.
Each of these 325 LDP kids are supported by individual families who write letters to them, encourage them, and spend $300 per month so these kids can go to college. Thank you to you who sacrifice to make such a crucial difference in these lives.
I’ve been up since 3 am. My internal clock is a bit messed up but I’m thankful to have had the time to write this post. In one hour we’ll be driving a while to a heavily impoverished area. They said we’ll be like bobble-heads in the van as we travel on terrible roads. I’m full of energy and excitement at the hope of seeing discipleship in action making people’s night turn to day.