Waking up on Sunday morning, my heart feels especially sensitive to every detail around me. There is a glory and majesty here that is unique to any other place on earth that I’ve been. As I wander the courtyard for my last morning devotional here, I run into Becky, who beautifully puts into words what I feel: “I’m trying so hard to soak it all up and I desperately don’t want any of it to spill out.” Hearing so many birds sing in the morning, seeing one bird in particular who has a mohawk dance in a tree, hearing the rooster crow once every five minutes to let the world know it’s morning, listening to the massive choir and African drum in the compound right outside of our own…seeing how delicately the rose petals begin to fold and twirl over themselves, silently offering their beauty to any who stop to notice. In the morning especially, it’s a quiet lull of background noise, but it’s the most beautiful, eclectic symphony of background noise that you’ve ever heard. My own small words can’t possibly do it a justice.
And that’s not even mentioning the people. They are generally unhurried by the colorful flurry happening all around them; as one Kenyan asked, “what will you do with all that time once you save it?” They smile and wave, perhaps particularly to us because we are mzungu. But they are brilliant at giving their full attention and love to whomever is right in front of them. They are a lovely people, and I see Jesus’ eyes in them. All of these thoughts are collecting in my heart and mind; I’m trying so hard to not miss a single detail.
We go to church for the last time this morning; this week however, we get to go to Mathare Worship Center for church, which is the church Pastor leads. The SoH kids don’t attend there because Pastor and Mama think it best to keep them mostly separated from Mathare Valley and the influences there. Every SoH child came from Mathare, and it’s a very weighty thing to come back and visit, though the kids do visit this church now and again.
Our team arrives to church early and is greeted enthusiastically by Mama. Everyone is dressed in their Sunday best: skirts, dresses, heels, slacks, dress shoes. The smells of Mathare are still there. The hustle and bustle is right outside the doors. We make our way inside, and by the time 10am arrives, the room is filled to capacity; there’s not even standing room by now! And then worship starts.
My words can’t do a justice to a lot of things, but most of all they can’t do a justice to what it was like to be in that room with all of those people praising our Lord and Savior with all of our hearts. I’ve never heard singing so loud. I’ve never felt such genuine passion for God. I’ve been moved to tears by worship a number of times over the years, but never as quickly as I was this morning. I didn’t even know half of what they were saying; I didn’t know half of what I was singing. I just felt pure, unashamed love for the Lord stronger than I’ve ever felt before, and the echo of our praises filled the room for more than an hour. It was powerful. Beyond what I’m capable of describing.
Then an offering is taken up. There is a neighboring church that is literally starving, so Mathare Worship Center takes up an offering on their behalf. Remember, this is a church in the heart of Mathare. I know that almost every person in this room has almost nothing for themselves, and many probably don’t know where their own next meal is coming from. They have nothing and they live in nothing, and yet within five minutes, this church has somehow raised enough money to buy a hundred bags of corn and food for their neighbor church. I’m crying again. They give extravagantly and from their hearts, even though they have nothing. I’m reminded of the widow Jesus speaks of in Mark 12, who gave her last pennies in the offering plate and who glorified God by her sacrifice. God’s heart is surely glorified here.
It’s almost 11:45 now, and Pastor starts to preach. I’m so wrecked by worship and the offering that I don’t even really remember what his sermon is about, other than this verse: “Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:31).” We are reminded that we are born to fly high for Him.
Leaving church around 1, we go back to the compound and begin the debrief process, which includes thinking of our five “critical” or most significant moments from the trip. It seems difficult, because there’s so many. Church this morning is definitely one for me. Another was watching Christine at the vocal workshop I helped with in Mathare; her story is hard but her heart is soft and filled with joy as she sings to her King. Another was hearing how many girls in Mathare are encouraged to give themselves away to a man if he pays, and how many are set up to be raped. I’m furious and heartbroken. Another was holding that little girl wearing the coat in the daycare; she kept falling on me and crying when I set her down, and I know she isn’t held enough. And the last was Esther. When she looked up at me and smiled as I was helping her with the recorder on Thursday, I remembered that if she hadn’t been found when and where she was, she likely wouldn’t even still be alive. That was a surreal thought. I’m crying again (a common theme today).
We gather in the main hall for afternoon tea and Pastor and Mama join us. This is the last goodbye, and probably one of the most difficult. Pastor thanks us for our help and our love, and I can’t help but feel like we should be the one thanking him. He and mama make the daily sacrifice to pour all of themselves out on behalf of these kids, to advocate for them and love them and parent them and encourage them. We just got to witness it. Pastor reflects the Father’s heart so beautifully. We surround them and lay hands on them and pray for them after taking communion together.
The Father’s heart for us is so beautiful. That he would give up His son, that Jesus would sacrifice literally everything so we wouldn’t be orphans any longer, is incredible. I’m reminded of that by watching Pastor.
We eat one last meal together, get the last of our things, and load up the bus for the airport. Our flight is at midnight and goes to London, then we spend tomorrow in London and fly to Colorado Springs tomorrow afternoon. I can’t believe it’s over.
My eyes were opened to so much during this trip. The severity of poverty. The blessing it is to have a voice, to have choices because of where we live, and the injustice that so many don’t have that same freedom because of what they were born into. The hope that is available to us in Christ was brought to life in a new way. The fact that we are no longer orphaned thanks to Christ’s sacrifice is suddenly real. God’s sovereignty and goodness even over pain and hopelessness shines brighter than anything else. The beautiful and tender heart of the Father which prevails over even the darkest circumstances. The power of worship to break and heal and draw us into intimacy. The impact that a family has on a child for the rest of their life. And as I check my bag and think of heading back to America, I don’t know what comes next. I’m actually confused and unsure of what I need to do, other than knowing I need to do something. But one thing I do know: this story doesn’t end here. God is still in Kenya. He was there long before we showed up and will be there long after we leave. And I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I want to be a part of what He is doing there.
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling.”