**All photos except the featured image are thanks to the lovely and talented Colleen Briggs*
My eyes slowly begin to open and adjust themselves to the faint early morning light. It’s still mostly dark outside, but the sky is beginning to turn from black to a deep blue. I glance at my phone- it’s only 5:30 in the morning and I don’t have to be awake for another hour still. At first I’m unsure of what woke me up (I know I’m dead exhausted and should probably try to sleep still but don’t really know if I’ll be able to fall asleep again). So I just lay there. Enveloped in a mosquito net that looks like a canopy over me, not even covered by the bed sheet because the room is still so warm.
Our window is cracked and is letting in the beginning hints of light and a whole new world of sounds. There’s a countless number of birds that I’ve never heard before, all singing together in beautiful harmony. There’s still crickets chirping, whispering their final tunes as the night draws to a close. Not so far away, a rooster crows. Five minutes later he crows again. And five minutes after that, he crows yet again. “Time to wake up!” he seems to yell. Realizing that very few are heeding his cry, he keeps trying until he can rest assured that he has done his job well. I listen a little closer, and there’s also the not-so-distant echo of a choir from the church right outside our compound. Oh yeah… it’s Sunday.
I lay there on the bed, soaking in the peace of the morning and the beautiful soundtrack streaming in from the window. Maybe the only reason I woke up was because Jesus wanted to give me extra time to talk to him. There were a few things I felt unsettled about the night before; expectations I didn’t realize I had that I realized wouldn’t be fulfilled in the way I thought. So I spend that hour just talking to my Jesus about all of it, the whole time feeling a peace and joy wash over me that I know will be more than sufficient to carry me through the next week.
Finally my alarm goes off at 6:30. I throw on a long skirt and nice shirt and walk to the nun’s chapel, which is empty. I sit on a pew, reading my Bible for a few minutes and then just look up and realize that there’s now the sounds of choirs coming at me from three different directions. It’s only 7 in the morning and I’m hearing the most beautiful choirs I’ve ever heard, their harmonies and praises echoing for miles around. You know it’s Sunday here!
After breakfast we all head to the church that the Sanctuary of Hope kids attend (it’s called Wendani). It’s a simple setup compared to all the churches at home; a few plastic chairs, a small stage, and an electric keyboard all under a tent. There’s maybe 50 chairs set up all together. We’re welcomed with huge hugs from many of the women, and shown to our seats almost right away. How freaking cool is it that we can go anywhere in the world and have people who feel like family immediately because of a shared relationship with Christ?? Talk about global connection. A young man begins to play the keyboard with exceptional skill and another plays the guitar, while two men and about four or five women all go on stage and share microphones. Although it isn’t always the most “perfect” sounding, worship is real and passionate and raw. They praise Jesus with a burning fire, and hearing them talk, I can tell it’s based on the work of the cross alone. The “basics” of God’s grace are enough for them… being here it almost feels like we’ve lost touch with what’s actually most important in America.
One man speaks with fire in his voice about God’s goodness and faithfulness, about His steadfastness and how He never changes. They worship loud and free, some dancing, others jumping, others just standing. There is no “set list” or schedule or time chart to hold to. They simply go wherever the Spirit leads them. God is enough. I don’t think I’ve ever grinned so wide and so genuinely during a worship set! And I can’t help but think we’re missing something at home; sure, we have big stages and fancy lights and good instruments and tons of musical talent to pull from, which is all good and well, but I’ve gone to very few churches where people actually sing loud and without shame or fear of what others think. It sort of seems like it’s all a show, just another thing we do, when it should be as passionate and true as it is here. I bet heaven sounds a lot like this. I wonder what God thinks.
Keith is introduced and welcomed onto the stage; although he wasn’t expecting it, he was asked to preach this morning. The pastor of Wendani, Pastor Benjamin, had only just lost his father a few days ago and wasn’t in a mental or emotional state to prepare and preach a sermon. Talking to Keith that morning, I had found out that Matthew 11 had been placed on his heart several weeks before even coming here to Kenya, and he was unsure why. Now he knew- that passage was placed there to minister to Pastor Benjamin.
He begins to preach on Matthew 11:28, which says “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He speaks confidently and clearly; even though he hasn’t really had time to run through anything, it’s clear to all of us that the Lord is speaking through him. Pastor Benjamin is on stage interpreting. Keith reaches a part in the sermon where he puts his arm around Benjamin, to illustrate how Jesus comes alongside us and walks through the valley with us. Pastor Benjamin’s face says it all, and we smile at the sweet revelation being presented to us: God uniquely chose and brought Keith halfway around the world for the specific purpose of encouraging a fellow pastor’s heart in a time of grief.
We enter back into a time of worship and prayer, and shortly afterwards are released. I can’t remember the last time my heart felt so full of joy and life after church… but this is how it should be, isn’t it?
Walking out of the tent, Jenny and Megan and myself all begin smiling at and hugging the kids- they’re staring at us wide eyed and giggling. It’s not long before Jacob starts chasing them around and an epic game of tag ensues… and of course he is picking them up and spinning them around when he tags them, and they laugh vibrantly.
We split into two buses with the SoH kids and head back to one of the two SoH houses. Lunch is pizza (a welcome change of pace from the goat and rice we’ve been eating!), and to my surprise, Kentucky Fried Chicken. I’ve seen more KFC here than in America, and that’s definitely something I didn’t expect. All of the kids are so loving and playful and welcoming. They laugh and are filled with a unique kind of joy, and at the same time, I have this sense that they’re somehow filled with a depth and maturity that I probably don’t even have; it’s hard to explain. While I don’t feel like I specifically connect with one child here yet, I feel as though I’m making small connections with a bunch of them. Chasing Henri around for a few minutes, smiling at Esther from across the yard, laughing with Grace as she and I have a showdown during a game of ninja…. I’m slowly getting to know them and can’t be more thrilled.
One of the best things about today is how I’ve gotten to see Keenan and Jacob so in their element. They’re both so naturally outgoing, fun loving, and playful, and those qualities are only highlighted in the best way as they interact with the kids and plan games for all of us to play together. We “played” basketball- about 25 of us all running around a really small court in the yard and basically wrestling the ball out of each other’s hands for a chance to shoot (there wasn’t a single foul that whole game, I’m sure). The basketball hoop is a very new edition to the SoH home, and the kids are anxious to learn how to play and to play with us. Keenan is a great shot, and I think they’re convinced he’s a pro.
I also really adored getting to watch Isaac. Even though he’s kind of on the “outside”, filming everything, he’s in his element and he’s passionate about it. And yet he is still finding ways to interact with the kids some and laugh and play with them, showing the curious ones how his camera works and joining in on ninja…. I have to admit, I’m beaming with pride at the balance he is striking and the great joy on his face.
Today was just one of those rare and lovely days that felt so full. God is good and He is enough here… I’ve heard “Praise the Lord” a whole lot and haven’t heard complaining. It’s hard to explain what this kind of joy feels like- joy almost feels like an insufficient and overused word, that’s how good today was.
I’m trying to bottle it all up, store it deep in my heart and use this depth of hope to fuel the rest of the week. Because I know tomorrow will bring a painfully sharp contrast to what today was. I’ve spent the last two days trying to prepare myself to be broken, but even the very idea of that seems so foreign and distant right now, because today filled me to the point of overflowing. I suppose I need to try to prepare somehow, because tomorrow will be hard. Really hard. Tomorrow we go to Mathare Valley.