After an intimidating drive through the dilapidated streets of Nairobi, I arrived at my new home, St. Brigid Franciscan Friary, on Saturday, July 17th. I was escorted by a professor of political science who studies corruption in the government (even though he is apparently funded by the government...). Thirty seconds after arriving at the friary, I was shuffled over to my first notable experience. Fr. Christopher, who is the Franciscan friar who helped to organize my mission to Kenya, was across the street at the Starehe Boys Centre. The Starehe Boys Centre is a boarding school for impoverished youth whose mission is to offer the students an outstanding education, so that they can then go off to college (95% go to college and many of them go off to prestigious universities abroad). In fact, on Sunday, I met a student who will go to Boston in September to finish his final year of high school, and then he plans to go to Stanford.
On this day, the President of Kenya was speaking at the school to celebrate the tremendous impact that Starehe has had on disadvantaged youth. Upon entering the campus, I was given a full body search by soldiers holding intimidating guns. When I arrived at the celebration, I saw a sea of hundreds of black faces. I mentioned to my escort, "I don't stand out, do I?" He gave me a funny look, so I assume that he didn't get my humor. We listened to the president and other dignitaries, but I did not get a chance to actually meet them.
However, during the fanfare, we found Fr. Christopher (the friar who is generously helping me). There are not words to describe Fr. Christopher, as he is something of a legend among the people of Nairobi. He seems to be everywhere at once, helping the people in abject poverty with his spiritual guidance and charisma. Yet, he does his work in complete humility. As soon as we met him, we left the celebration, returned to my new home at St. Brigid Friary, I was shown my room, and then I slept from 5 PM until 8AM the next morning!
The next morning was Sunday. Fr. Christopher was scheduled to preach at 3 different masses: at Starehe Boys' Centre, at a church in the heart of the Nairobi slums, and at another impoverished church for the people of Fr. Christopher's tribe (the Kamba tribe). Again it is hard to describe these churches, but I expect that if a Westerner man who has grown sleepy with his religion was to enter one of these worship celebrations with singing and dancing and heartfelt speaking, he would be jolted awake.
So I don't continue writing so much, I just want to talk about my church experience in the slums. The slums look like the pictures we see on television in America, except for when you are actually there, the harsh reality of it is painfully felt. The pain is felt when you breathe in the awful smells of sewage and burning trash, when you see the fields of shanties woven tightly together with scraps of materials and mud, and when you see the dejected people frantically trying to earn money in the streets by selling their meager goods. Yet, when you enter into the church, the people come to life. The people may face the harshest of poverty, but their belief in God grants them solace and peace of mind, along with invigorating them with a spirit to continue to fight to better their lives. The church was packed from wall to wall, with people standing outside for lack of room, and the whole congregation raised their voices in singing. This is not like the poverty that I have seen in America. In U.S. poverty, you see lonely individuals who have lost hope in themselves; yet, in this Nairobi church, I saw families drawn closer together by their struggles and by their desire to serve and worship God. Continue Reading.
Please keep Zach, and all missionaries, in your prayers.