It took less than 24 hours to experience something that I had so many questions about just the night before. On Saturday night, we were graciously invited to dinner and cultural training by a Canadian missionary couple, and the wheels were really turning in my head when the topic of street boys and girls came up during the training.
“This might be a silly question, but what are street boys?” I asked.
And this is the answer I received. Street boys and girls are not necessarily orphans. That was a misconception that I had. In a lot of African countries, there are many superstitions relating to the births of children. For example, if your first born is a twin, they are to both be killed or the family will be “cursed” forever. However, often times children will be just left on the side of the road at a young age instead of being killed. There are also other reasons why a child would be left on the side of the road, but this is one I had just learned about.
My heart broke, but I couldn’t picture it. “How can we tell if a child is a street child?” I then asked. I was then informed about their shoe glue addiction. Shoe glue is a cheap substance that is snorted by them and makes them high. Their addiction grows and they end up spending all of their money on glue rather than food. In order to get money for the glue, the boys typically perform different “services” like offering to carry groceries to a vehicle and then asking for 5 shillings or so, and the girls typically prostitute themselves at night. There are places in Kitale where street boys and girls can seek shelter, food, clothes, and rest, but it’s hard for these children to see the benefits sometimes. The street is better in their eyes. It really reminded me of sin. Choosing to flee from sin doesn’t always seem appealing at first. It’s the long-lasting benefit that counts.
Sunday morning rolled around and we had the privilege of watching 20 Neema girls get baptized in the Christian faith and then attended an authentic Kenyan church service. It was only 4 hours. ;) Post church, there was chai and mandazi (donuts) to be shared and fellowship to be had. About a half hour passed and a young boy approached me and reached out for a handshake (not uncommon). I shook his hand and then noticed he was giving me more attention than the kids from the church. Those kids have been very bashful around us mzungus (white people), but this kid wasn’t. He was almost aggressive.
He wanted to establish a “friendship” to then ask me for money. I glanced down at his feet and saw that from his knees to his toes, he was covered in dust. I glanced up at my leader, and she nodded her head. I was shaking hands with a street boy. He was most likely 8 or 9 years old and soon after, his friend, who was about the same age, joined us. Clephas and Bryan are their names. They were covered in dust, had ratty clothes, and glazed eyes. They both had their glue bottle tucked down their shirt. A bunch of the Neema girls meandered over and soon after, there was a circle of about 15 Kenyans and 3 Americans around these two boys.
Kenyans viewed these kids as scum, and it was written all over the Neema girls’ faces. Melinda turned around and asked what they thought of them. “Are they different than me?” “Are they different than you?” “No, they are made in the image of God just as we are.” I could tell that this was the first time the girls had heard this. One girl in particular, Loyce, had tears welling up in her eyes. Loyce was baptized just hours earlier.
We chatted with the kids and heard their desires. They wanted a blanket. They wanted a shirt. They wanted schooling. They were being attacked at night and wanted safety. Using a translator, I knelt down to them to get to the basics. “You want food?” “Yes.” “You want a blanket?” “Yes.” “You want schooling?” “Yes.” I pointed at the hidden bottle in their chest. “”What are you going to do about that?” They took them out and offered to give them to us. We said no, as taking them would lead them to danger as they went to find more. “Promise me that you will come back tomorrow and we will bring you to safety. We want to help you.” “Okay.”
The two boys asked for prayer and everyone looked at me. Uhhh, okay. I asked the Neema girls to help me. This is their new calling in Jesus Christ--to help the broken as we are broken, too. We all held hands and had the boys stand in the middle. They got down on the ground. No, stand up, you are one with us. With one eye open (street kids are common pickpockets), I prayed aloud slowly and carefully, choosing words that hopefully everyone would understand. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. The boys promised to come back tomorrow and they sauntered away, glue bottles in hand.
I pulled Loyce aside, as Kenyans don’t strive for attention the way Americans do. I asked her about the tears in her eyes earlier. More formed. She bashfully put her head down on my chest and started giggling. Vulnerability is not common here. I pulled her up and put my hand to her heart. “That, Loyce, is the Holy Spirit in you. He gave you compassion for those boys, and that is incredible. Allow Him to keep changing you.” That 30 second conversation is the highlight of this trip so far for me. God is good all the time and all the time God is good and that is His nature...wow!
Neema Team 2017