Shadows could not conceal them; the crude metal huts only separated them; the piles of seemingly endless waste and garbage with countless flies everywhere leading to and from it did not stop their beauty; and the numerous adults rushing to or just sitting lifelessly still on the sides of the dirt road just blended in to this heart warming message of the smiles displayed so many miles away from my home, in a country so far away – away from this area in the slum area just outside downtown Nairobi, Kenya. Pictures within my mind of Africa did not know of such horrible things or of the beauty of such smiles.
The smiles on the smallest infant and child held my thoughts at an emotional standstill. I could only stare in amazement how the children could smile so naturally within such a hellish setting – “Lord, help me understand their secret!” was my heart filled prayer. As I walked with Donna I had a mixed feeling of doubt and blessing. I was not sure if I should have taken my loving wife to this area, or if I indeed may have allowed her to be blessed in a way only Jesus could allow happening. With these thoughts I laid hands upon a number of children and gently spoke the Name of all Names – Jesus. I felt led to do this believing that when those children went to bed, or upon waking up, they would remember a white man and the word he spoke: JESUS. And I also believe that they would hear His voice speak to them in Swahili. I heard the word “Mzungu” called out very often as we were in area that may have never seen a white person. (*Mzungu— Swahili word for white person, but not restricted to men only. Also used for Caucasian women).
Things not a part of their life such as shoes, sneakers, or shirts which many did not have, or were too small or oversized for them, or toys as we know them (a can or small piece of wood tied to a string), or even adults near them to watch over them with supervision, were sadly and obviously missing to my eyesight. The accepted and normal things from back home in the U.S.A. were clearly silently a void in this setting….Only I seemed to troubled by this picture of a lifestyle for children that was before, behind and depressing all around me.
As we slowly continued to walk over and around puddles of ‘not sure what it is’, in this section of ‘homes’ in this ‘pipeline area of Nairobi, the air was filled with the sound of laughter and continuous – “Hello! How are you?” from the many, many children who were as numerous as the chain of flee mart styled shops and shacks within my vision. This scene looked like it was from a futuristic kind of dark movie. Only the smiles of the children set this place apart from such movies. Donna shared the same expression that I did. We knew that we would never be the same after this mission trip.
The children came towards as we walked cautiously forward. They came up to us with outreached hands and wanted to not only shake our hands, but they touched our arms with obvious curiosity. I felt very special, but at the same time felt as if I was a display piece being observed for the first time by these children. Maybe I was the first white person that they have ever had the opportunity to see and touch. I knew that Rrrick was not special on this day – this time in my life away from home. No – they were the ones who needed to be called special and I was honored to be able to be with them.
Their endless smiles that filled the picture within my heart’s vision, blurred out any of the terrible lifestyle things that had darken my heart’s mind. I could only react with my hands held out trying to touch as many of their precious small hands that I could. Tears flowed unashamedly as I looked into their faces. Tears of joy flowed as I was able to bring a few moments of unscheduled happiness into their life and also be allowed to be a part of their wonderful smiles.
We were a part of a heavenly burst of light, from within a sad way of life, shared by hundreds and hundreds of Kenyon children. Along this stretch of road, that was a short way – only a few blocks – from fancy buildings, people were walking in fine clothes, food within their reach to purchase and a home with food somewhere probably not all that far from this place. This hard place where all too many kids had to live within daily – and maybe the rest of their life, was not out a story book or a movie. No, it was sadly real and here in Kenya.
During the three weeks in the Nairobi area we were allowed to visit a number of schools, churches and homes. It was not any different from that first day that I had mentioned a moment ago with the children in that area just outside the city. And the lessons I was learning continued to stretch my vision of what life in Kenya was about. This tough way of life was real – as real as the smiles that were always displayed – softly hung upon the faces of these children. I needed to press on and try to understand how they could smile within such a hard way of living here.
Upon entering one classroom that looked like it was maybe ‘ten by ten’ in size, I was shocked to see a sea of small heads! AND – ONLY ONE TEACHER! I learned later that there were 55 children in that classroom. I’ll add here that the void of desks, pencils, paper and books was a shock as well. Clearly there was only room for the students and teacher.
Smiles, laughter and small hands waving greeted us. Donna, I noticed, was also being overcome with emotion by this room of children who were truly blessed in a joy that could only be from a source from above – Jesus. These were His children. The familiar words spoken along the streets and back roads were again herd; “Hello! How are you?”
During these visits to the schools we were blessed and honored, with the children entertaining us outside the school classrooms, with songs and special dances. I even was asked more than once to ‘join in’ which I quickly did to there amazement and laughter as I tried to do their Kenyon dances. My twist on the movement caused them to laugh so hard that they had to pause with the singing!
Before I go on I must share a little about of a boy (maybe 4) who not only noticed me as he walked by one of the classrooms – but pressed his little body through the doorway crowd and made his way to my arms. When asked to move back towards the door, he quickly climbed up upon my lap, placed his tiny hands’ one by one’ upon my knees , and with his chest puffed up, smiled a smile of contentment. Even the teacher had to smile and let him stay there. I asked his name and the teacher said Carlos. WOW! Even with so many students she knows them by name. Impressive!
As Donna and I walked around the school yard at every school, we were always quickly feeling little hands join ours. We were theirs for ‘a monument in time’.
During this mission trip the ‘Rrrick Karampatsos Foundation’ was officially in operation. Besides the high school with the 35 students (mostly orphans), the foundation will be working with the local grade schools with some financial help and with sports programs. We also plan to help the many widows who are not able to take care of their children… So many needs to be taken care of… So many children within this area living – existing – in a way we never knew could be true.
Children, who were found playing and searching for food upon the mountains of trash and garbage in the area, they call home, are now in classes learning and being placed in homes or places of safety. ‘One by one’ is a start that I pray the Kenyon government will help us erase the situation that is sadly happening in many of the local areas and towns outside the capital city of Nairobi.
There are no ‘free high schools’ here. The government has grades up to grade eight. Only families with the financial ability send their children to high school. The foundation hopes to help many more in the years to come. The thirty-five students are a start. These students will now have a better chance to brake the cycle of poverty – to be able to, in time, give back and help others as we have helped them. And yes, college is in sight for some of them also! The future of Kenya rest within these students and I am proud to be a part of it!
This trip has also set in motion a lunch program for the students at the foundation’s high school (renamed the Streams of Life & Rrrick Karampatsos High School) which will have sandwiches and drinks. They were going all day on whatever they were able to get to get before coming to school. (* A love gift of $10 per month or a one time love gift donation of $120 will help us with this lunch program).
The smiles we saw along the streets, back roads, classrooms and everywhere else we travel through do not have to disappear when these children become adults. The help we give, along with the Christian teachings, will mold these children to become leaders in their community. Their joy will flow out to many. The smiles placed upon their faces will continue to be a gift of our Lord who “So loved the children”.
“The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them. (Mark 10:13-16, MSG)
We are looking forward to not only do all that we can to help keep those smiles upon their faces, but to again be able to have fellowship with many of them ‘face to face’ again in the near future… I am smiling with those thoughts.