The following post is written by Heidi Hopkins who is a dear friend who has sponsored boys in the Children of the Kingdom program with her family for the last 18 years. Her family had an opportunity to go to Kenya this summer and were finally able to meet the boys who have grown into young men. It was exciting for me to see pictures while they were there and to share stories upon their return about the incredible joy it was for them to see the fruit of this ministry.
We got off the airplane in Lodwar and stepped into the heat. It was a stark contrast from the more chilly, rainy weather in Kitale and Eldoret. Baggage claim in Kenya is refreshingly simple: you stand outside near the plane, they drive the trailer full of bags up and you pull your bag out of the trailer. We walked through the tiny airport and out the front doors and there they all were: Philip, Loibach, Peter, Alfred, and Zakayo. Grown now, here were the kids whose pictures and reports and letters we had opened in the mail regularly over the last 18 years. Here they were! We hugged them and called them by name and let ourselves feel the fullness of our belonging to each otherwhich had up to this point been virtual.
We piled into the back of a van with our bags while the boys hopped on motorbikes. We waved at them through the rear windows of the van like silly children on a school bus all the way back to the center where we would be staying. We spent a couple hours gathered around the table eating lunch and chatting with them. We heard about Zakayo studying at the medical training college to become a community health worker and Alfred training at the technical college to work in shop keeping and warehouse management. We found out that Loibach had to drop out of school in grade 5 to start working after his father died, so he is a "boda boda" driver now (motorbike taxi) and doesn't speak much English as a result of his schooling being cut short. We made sure John translated what we were saying from that point on so Loibach could be included. We learned that Peter had an engineering contract with an oil company, but after that ended he opened up his own welding and fabrication business next to his family home. And we listened to Philip share his earnest passion for shepherding young people as he described his work as a volunteer teacher. He is waiting for a paid position to open up now that he has his bachelor's in education. We gave them each a gift of a watch, and chuckled to ourselves at how American that is since, unlike the Africans, we really do allow time to rule our lives!
Then we piled back into the van and visited all 5 of their homes. Wow! We bumped along narrow dirt roads and into areas fenced off with sticks, with several homes built on the dirt. Some were mud and dung with a thatched roof, others were cement with metal doors. We went inside some of the homes and at others we sat outside under a tree. Life is very indoor/outdoor in Lodwar because it is so warm--laundry, dishes and cooking are often all done outside the home. Trees are used for shade when people gather or students study. Kenyans are hard-wired for hospitality--visitors are one of the most important things to them. It isn't politeness or manners--it is their heart to attend to you with all they have inside and out. No matter the type of home, chairs were arranged and we were invited to sit down. Each person introduced themselves. Given our situation, there were words of heartfelt thanks, sometimes with tears and much earnestness, and so much was exchanged non-verbally.
I gave a small gift of jewelry to each of the mothers or sisters. Alfred's mom received a moon and star necklace of mine which sparkled on her dark, dark skin so beautifully. We talked about how we can both look at the same moon from opposites sides of the planet and think of each other. Alfred's parents have 7 biological children and 11 orphans in a tiny cement house about the size of a small American kitchen. I'm not sure where everyone sleeps. Alfred says they are all in bed when he needs to study in the evening. Philip's family was so grateful they gave us their goat. And by the time I got to Loibach's house I had run out of gifts, so I fished around in my purse to see what else I had. I asked John if a headlamp would be a useful gift, and he said it would be! I gave it to Loibach's wife.
Peter asked if we could sponsor his brother for college, as the whole extended family depends on Peter's income from his welding business and he doesn't have enough to pay for his brother's college. Similarly, Loibach's entire family depends upon his $5/day income as a driver, but $2 goes back into the motorbike for fuel. He asked if we could sponsor his first born as he is about to enter school. We enthusiastically agreed.
The rest of our visit was spent visiting all different levels and kinds of schools, and meeting COK children there. Our boys had a ping pong round with some of the boys at a high school, and Maisy got to participate in a lesson with fellow 4th graders at a primary school--85 students in the room all sitting on concrete blocks at little wooden benches for desks. The common denominator everywhere was that they were thrilled to meet us, fascinated by the way we looked different, full of questions, and radiating joy. Constantly being "on" was both tiring and exhilarating as we knew this was a very special chance to really connect with the people and take in the culture. At one point when Maisy was overwhelmed by students crowding around, Marcus got irritated with her after we left that location saying, "Maisy, you have to be fully present and engaged with the people!" So sweet. The kids humbled me with their easy laughs and conversations with all the kids, never tiring of talking, playing soccer or volleyball, answering questions and making jokes.
A highlight for me was visiting the medical college and being shown around by Zakayo, as well as seeing and connecting again with Alfred at the technical college. At that particular school, 95% of graduates get a job immediately upon graduation. It was so exciting to realize that by sending a small amount of money each month, children are able to truly build a life of food security for themselves and their entire extended family, as they are able to support so many with a college-level job. It made me want to come home and see how many of the now 47 kids on the COK waiting list I could find sponsors for! My oldest works washing dishes at a restaurant and noted that he could easily give $40 per month to sponsor a child. This is only a few hours of work for him. My younger son wants to get a job reffing soccer games in the fall so he can sponsor someone. It's so exciting to think about leveraging the tremendous earning power even teenagers have here in the states and funneling it across the globe where it goes SO FAR and radically changes an entire family's future. Such a small drop in the bucket for a huge impact.
Being up close with the COK folks in Lodwar and with the families and sponsored children gave me a taste of what I will call their humble boldness--and I absolutely love the flavor of it. They are so aware of not wanting to take advantage, so aware of what has already been given, so ready to give whatever they have as a sign of thanks (for example they even took an offering at church because our family brought the message and it's customary for them to give a stipend to the speaker--amazing!) At the same time, they know that we have a lot, and that a little of what we have will change their lives. They are survivors, and in this spirit, they discern when and where it is the time to humbly ask for something. Like Peter asking for his brother or Loibach asking for his son. I wish you could see and feel the energy and presence that accompanies these requests. It is truly beautiful, and you realize that the scripture in Corinthians is really right on which says basically that some of us have essentially been given "other people's resources," and this is so that we will connect and share and find a special kind of oneness in this interaction.
We went shopping for some summer clothes and shoes this week, and the kids kept revising what they felt like they needed or wanted, what they could do without. I could see that their inner "calculators" had been adjusted. We didn't talk overtly about it, but I noticed. Even more important than this kind of perspective, in my opinion, was the fact that they formed true friendships with Kenyans, they laughed and sang and danced and ate with beautiful people from the other side of the planet who are different in every way and the same in every way all at once. I hope it is just the beginning for them of many, many relationships like this with other humans.
Write to your kids! Go if you can! Share with your friends the vision and genius of the beautiful exchange that happens through sponsoring and let's see if we can whittle down that waitlist! Wishing you all a restful summer :)