James 1:27 – Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (NIV)
In April 2003, I found myself in a literal pit of filth, despair, and rot. The smell of death was only surpassed by the other odours that wafted out of the makeshift huts and the sewers that people called their homes. This place is Kipsongo. Arguably, this is the worst of the worst of the slums in Kenya, Africa.
This was my first "missions trip" and one that I will never forget. It wasn't the human waste, the human remains, or the lack of humanity that will remain burned into my memories. It was the face of a small child — the smiling, happy, hopeful face of a tiny boy, maybe three or four years old. As he grabbed hold of one of my fingers, I couldn't help but take photo after photo of this little "creature-like" being who was so dirty and so sickly that I was surprised he could keep up with us on our journey into his world.
He was missing many bottom teeth, and his top teeth were dark brown from rot and malnutrition. His eyes leaked, and his nose poured. His hands looked like his clothes — neither had ever been washed with soap and water — ever.
But he smiled. He laughed. He clung to my finger throughout my whole trip in his "village", and happily waved goodbye when it was time for me to leave.
I left Kipsongo that day and have had the picture of this little boy on my wall ever since. I pray for him and think of him often.
I went back to Kipsongo again in October of 2003 and looked with great hope and anticipation for the smiling face of this young boy. I had no name, no address, nothing other than a photo in my head and in my heart. After straining every muscle in my eyes to look for him, I realized that he was not there — likely dead — gobbled up by the evil of starvation, lungs torn apart by the raking cough of tuberculosis, or worse, left alone to die of AIDS.
On July 23, 2004, I returned again to the slums of Kipsongo to help minister to the sick and needy people who live there. And there he was — the little boy who had haunted my thoughts and dreams for fifteen months. His name is Michael. He is now five years old. Both of his parents had died of HIV/AIDS, and he had been left to fend for himself — to eat garbage off the street, to drink water off the ground. That day, we found him! With the permission of the elders, we took him that day to the Mully Children's Family Home, a place where he would receive good meals, constant care, and an opportunity to go to school.
As we made the two-hour journey to MCF, Michael's new home, I held this precious young life, and I thought of the love of Jesus. Imagine how tightly He must hold us! I realized at that moment that Jesus gave His whole life to save "the one" — to save Michael — to save you — to save me. Neither Michael's life nor mine will ever be the same. Praise be to God.
Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for Your promise that whoever welcomes even one of these little children in Your name welcomes You. Help us to defend the cause of the weak and fatherless, and to maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
Editor's Note: Presbyterian World Service and Development is also working in Africa to help communities care for the growing number of children who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. In Kenya, PWS&D supports the Shauri Yako Community Youth Support Centre, which provides meals and counselling, and organizes arts, crafts, and sports for a growing number of children who spend most of their time on the streets of Shauri Yako, Kenya.