The Mathare Slum has got to be the darkest pit in Africa. All the slums in Nairobi (and there are several) are bad, but there are elements about Mathare that make it one of the worst hellholes you can imagine.
Mathare is a fairly large area that straddles a small valley in the middle of the city of Nairobi into which are crammed several hundred thousand destitute people. There are no sanitary facilities, no garbage pickup, and no semblance of decency – just mud, trash, and sheets of rusty corrugated tin lashed together to make a mass village of destitution.
The garbage is what you notice first. It is everywhere, everywhere, even in huge piles where kids play and animals rummage for a meal. You can hardly go through here without seeing someone urinating on the side of a dirt pathway, which makes you wonder what you are stepping through as you negotiate your way through the muck.
10’ x 10’ homes are staked out with sheets of corrugated metal, cardboard and sticks, crammed against one another like a patchwork of rusty boxes. The corroded tin roofs flow down the hillside to the creek and up the other side. This is like a valley of corrosion and despair.
There is no work or visible means of support to be had other than brewing an illegal, dangerously toxic alcohol down in the polluted creek that runs through the slum. (If the booze doesn’t kill you, the water will.) Prostitution, drugs, and crime rule their lives. Although that kind of corruption can be found in any poverty-stricken area, Mathare has the distinction of being controlled by gang-related thugs from some weird cult. (If the thugs don’t get you, the hoodoo will.)
Pretty much, you’re damned no matter which way you turn. And you’re trapped there because there is nowhere else to go, and no way to get there. You are in a whirlpool of despair.
You can just imagine how much sickness and disease grips this place, AIDS and malnutrition topping the list. The slum is filled with orphans roaming the alleys, digging through the trash, sleeping in the mud, fighting for survival. Almost all of them are HIV positive. That’s why they’re orphans – their parents died from AIDS and passed it on to them, and nobody – I mean NOBODY—wants to touch them.
Standing in the midst of this are two born-again Christians, Simon and Margaret Mwangi, whom God called to drop their successful careers and start an orphanage in the midst of this hopelessness. This man would comb the alleyways for these HIV positive orphans and bring them home with him, and God would heal these tiny children of AIDS, rickets, severe malnutrition, and a host of other devastating diseases.
Starting with nothing and without any support from any organization, they created an orphanage based on faith. Today, they have grown to several tiny, dimly lit schoolrooms, teaching, feeding, and caring for not only the orphans that they pick up but also many of the children around them.
[if you would like to learn more, we will soon have a video on our website that shows what they have accomplished.]
I have devoted the entire day to visiting their orphanage. This pastor had attended a service I held in Nairobi two years ago, and told me that that service affected him dramatically and galvanized him to the purpose that God had called him to. Apparently he answered the call because what he and his wife have accomplished is nothing short of a miracle, and I feel humbled just to visit them here.
I could write for pages, describing what they have built, the look on the faces of these children, and the strong vision that you can feel just being in the midst of them, but if you haven’t walked through the pits of Mathare, you would never really grasp the enormity of this work of God. You gotta watch the video to get a feel for it.
I spend the morning visiting all the children in their classrooms. They are so happy to have visitors and have put on a presentation for me. When I look into their faces, I see lives that have been reclaimed from death. What would their lives have been like right now if these people had not rescued them? That is, if they would have been alive at all. It is a pretty emotional moment for me.
Simon is the driving force that started this work, but as I sit in a tiny room that serves as their kitchen/dining room/ living room, I can look into his wife Margaret’s face and see a depth there and the pain of quiet sacrifice that no one knows about, not even her husband. There is something large about her, large and soft. She may have the strength of an iron will to break through the challenges that she has faced, but behind it is a soft heart, big enough to absorb and encompass all these precious little souls that God has sent to her.
I am choked up as I look deep into her eyes and give her a message from the Lord that, although no one else knows, He knows. He has not forgotten, and He will requite her. Man, I feel like I am in the presence of royalty.
Their church has gathered together and is patiently waiting for me to come to the services that have been set up for my arrival. This is a very special time for them, and they have come expecting something special from God. It is in times like these that I wonder what I am doing here because I sure don’t feel like I have anything special to offer them. But then, we’ve already been through that, haven’t we.
The service takes on the same pattern and direction that I always go in – worship, preaching out of a passage of Scripture, and prayer. I don’t know how long I was preaching because time seemed suspended, but the praying part went on for a long time.
Even if I do not feel anything extraordinary, the people in the congregation do. They are touched by the hand of God. Since I came to minister to them and not to be ministered to, I guess it makes sense that I don’t always get to feel all the stuff that they are feeling. At least I think that makes sense.
I don’t know if it is their faith, my faith, or just the fever of the moment that has elevated us to another level, but we are floating through time. I have no idea how many people I prayed over, but when we were finally done, the service had lasted 5½ hours, and even then, no one wants to leave.
Yeah, try that in the U.S. some time.
Late at night, I work my way back home wondering what will happen next to all these people that I have preached to during the last few days. Will these services change things for them and their churches, or will it just be another bump in the road? Perhaps another revivalist will come along and nudge them again, but it is not likely. I am the first evangelist of any nationality to come and preach in some of these places, and there might not be any after me.
The bishop at the “Lunchtime Service” church told me that although it was admirable that I spent time preaching in these little churches, I really should be spending time in the big churches and national organizations because my message was so important. Yeah, and ignore all the little people, right?. That tells you something about the Kenyan church leadership, doesn’t it? While big-time preachers like this bishop are over at the Temple during the Feast days, look for me over at the Pool of Bethesda where the sick, maimed, and poor are lying there hoping for a troubling of the water.
The word Slums has an ugly connotation, even to those who live in them, but I look at it differently. I would rather be there where the intense need can be felt and where you can hear the sound of hearts desperately crying out for God, than to walk in the clean and polished halls of ivory where the only sound you can hear are empty echoes off of bare marble walls. Jesus seemed to have a similar propensity to hang out in places such as these, while the Pharisees were afraid to touch anything that would make them unclean. Things haven’t changed much in 2,000 years.
As usual, I get back to the hotel close to midnight and I am too tired to do anything: read, pray, or write down what happened. Somebody please remind me to slow down the next time I come here.
… Then again, you only live once, right?