Today I went to church right outside the gates of hell.
But I didn’t know that is where I was. Not at first.
This morning the Compassion Bloggers and I took our seats in this small church in Mathare. Children filled the front of the room and sang us songs about Jesus. We all clapped. We sang when we knew the words. We smiled as bright as we could. In the mix of it all I noticed a boy who’s eyes were trained on me. But he was not smiling. I’d wave at him and he’d look away. This cycle continued for about 10 minutes. Eventually, I thought maybe he just needs to be invited? Maybe he wants a new place to sit?
The next time I caught his glance I tapped on my lap trying to motion for him to come sit. It was the best thing I could offer at that moment. I was sure he wouldn’t come. He could barely look at me when I waved at him. But before I knew it, he was climbing into my lap.
At first he sat there timidly. But, slowly, I think he decided I was safe. He grabbed my hand like he was trying to steady his soul. He laid back on me and drew a long breath. His body went limp as he shimmied in closer. It seemed like he hadn’t rested in years. I was about to find out why.
I was about to learn about living conditions in the Mathare slum.
It only took us one slight right out of the gate where the church was, proceeded by a few steps, to enter the Mathare slum.
Mathare Valley is one of the oldest and worst slums in Nairobi, Kenya. It is reported that one of every three adults is HIV positive. Do you know what that means? It means there are a lot of orphans. It means there are a lot of kids trying to take care of kids. And just to survive, these kids and teens are turning to drugs, gangs and prostitution.
Which is readily available to them, if not already banging on their door.
If evil is looking for a bulls-eye for children who are highly vulnerable and unprotected – the Mathare slum has it. And the Enemy has his arrow aimed and steadied on the target. We were told stories of some of the terrible things that happen to the young children who live in this slum. Stories I’d rather not repeat.
So these kids, they aren’t just raising other kids. They aren’t just trying to find food for daily survival – which is more than too much to bear. They’re also trying to escape being preyed on.
And then there is the smell. It’s the one thing I feel like I cannot properly describe to you. My stomach turned as we walked through sewage and I looked in disbelief as I watched children barely old enough to walk, sitting and playing in the slush. I later learned that there are no proper toilets in this slum. They use what is called “sling toilets.” A bag filled with their waste and then slung into the slum. The river that runs through the valley has water that is filled with this waste and this water is also used to wash their clothes. Which makes disease in this area prevalent.
Inside the Mathare slum we met with children and families who are part of the Compassion program.
This means they are being fed. This means they are receiving medical care. Clean water. Education. The hope of God. This means they have a sponsor who is writing them and encouraging them.
As we emerged from the valley of the Mathare, we took a slight left turn back into the church. The church that is cozied right up against the evil of the world. The smell dissipated. Children were dressed nicely in matching track uniforms given to them by Compassion. Their playing was interrupted by snack time.
There were clean bathrooms and clean water. We ducked into a classroom to find a room of children ready to write letters to their sponsors.
It was hard for me to get my mind around the stark contrast between the hope and peace behind the gate where the church sat from the evil and stench that was just feet away.
But then I remember what Jesus said about church.
The first time church is mentioned is by Jesus in Matthew 16:18. He says to Peter, “…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Amen.
So, let’s look at it again.
This is the church.
This is the slum.
This is the church.
This is the slum.
What is clear is that the light has penetrated the darkness. But the darkness has been unable to invade the light. It can’t. Jesus said so. And then He chose his people to be the church. And he asked us to care for the poor.
I am not going to try to be clever or eloquent here. So here it goes. This:
does not happen without sponsors. It does not happen without sponsors. It does not happen without sponsors.
Evil is working overtime in Mathare. And we cannot afford to look away. You can shine your light into this slum and other impoverished areas in Kenya.