"How chaotic it was. Then as soon as you walk through that gate, peace." - Kolby Gustin, first time visitor to Kenya
Ten o'clock, Sunday morning. The van slowed to a stop - recent rains had made the dirt
roads an impassable mess of sludge and we were forced to continue on foot. Already the street was filled with people walking, selling, calling, bartering, hammering, welding, buying. People bustled in and out of buildings carrying their days necessicities in one arm and a baby on the other. Children laughed and yelled, playing games while they weaved in and out of the chaotic jungle of cars and people set upon a stage of tiny tin huts unable to hide the mountains of garbage overshadowing the Kibera slum.
Still we walked. Smiling faces greeted us with a friendly, "How are you?" despite their seemingly desperate living conditions. The smell of burning trash settled like a haze over the entire place and an open trench that paralled the street carried anything from sewage to rotting food. We sidestepped mounds of crushed rocks in the center off the street and hopped across wet piles of we weren't sure what. Halfway up a hilly dirt road littered with rubbish and rocks, we stopped in front of a gate - robin's egg blue with a white sign that read "Kibera Church of God." Our guide and translator, James, hailed the men at the gate as they swung wide the door allowing us to pass through. The moment we stepped over the threshold, everthing stilled.
Wide open space. Trees whispered softly in the gentle breeze; a fresh harvest of lush green vegetables dried in the sun around the courtyard. The smell of burning disappeared, replaced by a green, fruity aroma. Manicured shrubs lined the sidewalks and the shrieks of play and squeaks of swings revealed a playground filled with happy children. An oasis amidst the harsh reality waiting just outside the gate.
But it wasn't always this way.
The church elders use the Swahili word harambee, or, pulling together, to describe the congregation's beginnings. In fact, it seemed not just for the church, but for the entire expanse of Kibera, the sheer press of humanity demands survival by harambee. And so, years ago a small group of believers decided to pull together and meet under a mango tree to talk about Jesus. And when Jesus showed up, people kept coming. Very quickly, they outgrew the mango tree and built a church. Wouldn't you have guessed that right in the middle of one of the most densley populated and impoverished places in the world, Jesus just kept showng up? And so, people kept coming. Soon the church was crammed wall-to-wall with brothers and sisters, gathering for a glimpse of the Living God. Desperate for the One who says,
"Come to Me, all of you ho are weary and carry heavy burdnes andi will give you rest."
Today the conhgregations has a new building. Standing sentinel right in the center of that beautiful courtyard, its sun-yellow cement exterior mirrors the joy and deep foundation of the congregation it holds within its walls. The sound of 300 youth's singing, unified by the power of the saving blood of Christ, emanated from the building and seemed to rise up gloriously to the very throne room of God. There were so many children at Sunday school that they sat 4 to a desk. When we walked in and gave greeting, they clapped and laughed, saying, "Welcome!'
Everywhere, joy. Every face, the love of God. Though their trials are evident, they stand upon the promise that Jesus knows their names. Jesus cares. And you better believe, Jesus is right there with them.