Today’s a big day- I guess all of our days here have been big days in their own way, but today has been long anticipated, planned for, and looked forward to, because today is dedicated entirely to the Sanctuary of Hope kids.
We’ve come up with a “camp” sort of a day for them, filled with different workshops and projects. We’re basically going to divide all of the SoH kids into groups, with each group going to different workshops with a “shepherd”. A few members of the team are at the other SoH home painting because Pastor needed some help; the rest of us are here, either shepherding, leading workshops, or talking with Mama and the cooks. But I’m super pumped because I get to be a shepherd! I get to not only do the workshops with the kids, but I get the chance to know maybe four or five of these kids at a deeper level. Heck YES.
On the bus heading to the SoH home, I start strumming my ukulele. Mitch, Isaac, Keenan, and myself have a few songs prepared to play before the camp starts, sort of as a kick off! We’ll be playing “I’ll Fly Away” and teaching it to the kids. I’m just fooling around on the uke in the back of the bus, and next thing I know, Isaac and Mitch have joined in with the mandolin and recorder, and soon our entire team is singing and laughing and jamming together on that crammed bus driving through Nairobi. It’s already common for the locals to stare at us because they don’t see very many white people, but now we’re drawing even more attention: we’re white and we’re loud.
We pull up to the house and all get out to start playing with the kids. They’re playing basketball on the new court, almost exactly the way we left them on Sunday night. Soon enough it’s time to start, and all the kids (finally) gather in the same place in the yard, and the guys and I take our place on the patio. Isaac sings the chorus of “I’ll Fly Away” to begin teaching the kids, and they catch on pretty quickly. Next thing you know, we’re in a full on jam session with the kids, Mitch and I playing instruments and Keenan and Isaac singing (though Isaac sometimes plays the recorder). The morning begins on a high of laughter and music, and then the workshops begin.
In my group, I have four kids- two are named Esther, one is called Laban and the other is Stacy. Our first workshop is the recorder workshop, which Jori and Lyndsi have organized and are leading. Each of the kids gets a recorder (I bet Mama and Pastor are going to love us later), and they begin learning “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” Three of the kids start to pick it up very quickly, amidst much laughter and giggling. But one of them, Esther K, is slightly underdeveloped and is having a bit more trouble. She was rescued from Mathare when she was very small, and was so malnourished that she still looked like a baby and was unable to walk. Her mom was unable to give her the medical and physical care she needed, although she tried her best. It was decided that it was in Esther’s best interest to grow up in SoH, and since coming here so many years ago, she has blossomed beautifully. She walks, she eats, she is healthy and bubbly and quiet, but full of tender love. She captured my heart from my first minute here at SoH. She’s twelve now but still has the brain function of maybe a six or seven year old. Noticing that she is having more trouble, I start to gently move her fingers over the right holes on the recorder and encourage her to blow. She never quite picks it up, but there’s one moment where she sets the recorder in her lap and looks up at me with those beautiful brown eyes and just smiles. She hardly ever talks, but I’ve never seen a more pure love in anyone’s eyes- it’s safe to say I’m in love with this little girl.
The other Esther and Laban are bubbly and comfortable right away, but Stacy takes a bit longer to warm up to me; she’s difficult for me to read at first. It wasn’t until the second workshop, the basketball workshop, where her and I truly hit it off. Keenan and Jenny are heading up the basketball workshop, complete with drills, exercises, and (of course) a game. Once we started playing, she was unafraid to guard me nonstop, even though I’m almost six foot and she’s probably around five feet tall. I kept trying to dodge her, and occasionally succeeded, but she was good. I”ll never forget her turning around and looking at me with the biggest laugh on her face. From then on out we were besties. On an unrelated note, it is HOT out here today!
We then take a quick break for lunch. The SoH kids eat in another room together, and the team gets a chance to rest and cool off inside. I’m not going to lie, even though the day isn’t quite half over and I’m having a blast, everything in me wants to lay down and take a nap after I eat. At least the most active part of the day is finished and I can (somewhat) sit back and rest for the remainder of the workshops.
The next workshop is headed up by Emma, Beth Woods’ niece. It’s a life story project, a coloring sheet where you draw what you think you look like and write down fun facts about yourself like your name, age, and favorite things. One of the coolest parts about this workshop to me was the fact that some of the kids colored themselves in white. We’re all made up of the same stuff, black or white, and we all love each other greatly. And that’s how it should be. There’s no such thing as “colored skin” in the eyes of a child and there shouldn’t be any differentiation among us either.
After the coloring pages we go inside to make bracelets. Colleen sells bracelets that the kids make, and it helps bring in money to support SoH. Once the kids learned how much their creations mattered, they became much more passionate about what they were making. Tina and her daughters are the ones leading this workshop, and I spend most of the time helping Esther string beads onto the cord, because her fingers couldn’t quite figure out how to line up the hole with the end of the string. The beads are organized by color and style, and each bracelet made is uniquely beautiful, just like each of these kids.
The last workshop we go to is one led by Joann, Colleen’s mother-in-law. They’ve stitched together a quilted wall-hanging, and they are having each of the kids choose a square they like to sign. We are going to give this to Mama and Pastor as a surprise at the end of the day.
All during the day, Isaac and Mitchel have been bouncing from house to house filming- they’re thinking this is the last major day they will take to get interviews and footage, because so far on this trip they’ve mostly been behind their cameras capturing it and they want to have the last few days here free to just be able to experience it. They’ve done an incredible job so far! The last major project they’re completing now that we’ve finished all the workshops is trying to get small clips of each of the kids individually. All of the kids are outside playing while dinner is being finished, so I grab some sound equipment and get to help finish this last major assignment. We finish right before dinner.
But before dinner is served, Mama gathers everyone in the living room and asks if anyone has a word. Within seconds, every kid starts saying, “Laban! Laban!” He is maybe 12 years old, but has the reputation of being the family preacher. Laban steps forward, smiling, and asks us all to turn to James chapter 1. He then proceeds to give a ten minute sermon from the first chapter of James, and I just sit there mind-blown at the fact that a 12 year old kid just gave a spur of the moment sermon that was deep and full of wisdom. I don’t know many 12 year olds back home with that level of spiritual maturity, and I can’t help but be amazed at how Sanctuary of Hope is truly providing hope and restoration for kids who would have none otherwise. I think Laban is wiser and more mature than most of us sitting in this room.
There’s probably somewhere between 45 and 50 people crammed into the living room and dining room to hear his sermon, and afterwards all the SoH kids go up to the front of the living room and begin singing, leading us in worship. At this point, there’s some songs in Swahili that we’ve heard multiple times and are beginning to pick up, so for the most part we are able to sing with them, and the room is bursting at the seams with praise.
We give Mama and Pastor the wall hanging, and Mama cries a few tears of joy. I can’t imagine the level of daily sacrifice that both of them must have in order to keep this mission alive and flourishing. After visiting their other home in Meru, I can’t help but think how easy it would be for most anyone to choose to retire and live their older years in a place filled with beauty and peace- instead they have chosen to take on 20 more kids and keep pastoring and church planting in Nairobi. What an image of Christ-like sacrifice and love. And I can’t imagine at how God is beaming when He looks at them. I want to be like the Karaus’ when I grow up.
Dinner is probably the best meal I’ve had here- two kinds of rice, homemade chapati, some delicious meat, watermelon, and steamed veggies. We all take turns getting our food and spread out between the dining room and living room to eat, and shortly afterwards, it’s time to pack up for the day and go back to the compound. We say our goodbyes and our see-you-laters… tomorrow we are going back to Mathare, but on Saturday, the whole day is dedicated to a field trip with SoH kids as our last full day in Kenya. We can’t wait to see these kiddos again, and we also can’t believe it’s almost time to think about going home. All I know is my heart is full.
And once more, when I get to my room, I’m out like a light within seconds.