A week from now my bags will sit at the stair landing in my home, waiting to be thrown in the back seat of my car, lugged onto a plane, and tossed across my shoulder on African soil.
I’m not really excited. I never get excited to go anywhere but home or tropical beaches. I’m a mix of complex feelings. I know when I spend my first week in the slums of Nairobi with Life in Abundance the feelings will grow in complexity.
If I didn’t write about them, I would never make sense of the feelings. Writing helps me make sense of the world.
Last week an email was sent to the team members making the LIA documentary. In that email, Justin Narducci, Director of LIA, explored the complex feelings which the slums of Nairobi stir up in him. It’s a powerful piece of writing and he was kind enough to allow me to post it here in full.
/// Real and Raw ///
by Justin Narducci, Director of Life in Abundance
To be honest, it is easy to say that the poor will always be poor and there is nothing that can be done about it. This is especially true, if you see the tremendous needs that are present in Africa in light of and the tremendous amount of resources that have been poured into the continent over the last twenty years. At the very same time, this disposition also comforts those of us who are looking for a self-justifying way of not being involved with the plight of the poor, though few of us would probably admit to it.
Even me, as I walk the streets of Nairobi with my wife and children over the past few days, my gut reaction is indifference and apathy rather than compassion and grace. Naturally, I want to walk as fast as I can through these ‘uncomfortable’ alleyways with the implied purpose of ‘getting my family out of there as fast as possible’. ‘These streets are dangerous,’ I further reason, ‘these cars could easily hit and kill my toddlers’, or ‘these men could easily abduct my wife and do who knows what to her’ are the thoughts raging through my head. My body sweats, my heart pounds, my alertness seemingly suffocates any form of rationalization. This still happens to me and I have been working among the world’s poor for the past five years!
Whether you are someone who, from the comforts of our suburban lifestyle, have relegated poverty to a broad ‘issue that just cant be turned around’, or you are someone who feels threatened when encountering the poor in a personal way, I’m here to confess that I’m guilty of both of these feelings. Over the past few years, however, I have learned a very important lesson: the way that we feel is simply not reality.
This statement will resonate with anyone who has felt ‘fat in these pants’ when the reality is not such. Or, this same is true of the golfer who made a dramatic swing change that ‘feels so different’ but in reality looks exactly the same as it used to! Our feelings can be deceptive in light of reality. Our feelings can also lead us to reason with faulty logic.
Think back to the first paragraph. If the feeling is true in your mind, then of course, you would logically not give any of your time, energy, resources, or even prayers because the ‘system is broken’ or at least it feels like it is broken. In the second example, you would simply disengage from the actual people who suffer on a daily basis from a grind of poverty – relegating them to an issue rather than a mother and her child that have a name, a place, and story just like my kids, my wife, my parents.
Now, imagine walking into Kibera with one of our LIA staff who work in this, sub-sahara Africa’s second largest slum. Can you begin to smell the burning trash, the raw sewage, and the body odor? You walk further and begin to feel overwhelmed by the filth that these children live in, the filth that lives on them. Your heart races as you suspect the men looking at your bag to steal or pick-pocket from you. You press on and are ushered into a small ‘church’ where the community has gather to present to you they ways in which they are serving their neighbors. You, subversively, start to think about how much money you have in your wallet to give to them, but instead you just listen. Children and their single mothers begin to disarm you as you hear their stories.
Tabby is a mother of a child who is eight. Tabby is infected with HIV and was regularly beaten by her husband because of her ‘status’ (which he ironically gave to her because of his promisuity) until she took her child away from that man. Without the support of family because of her disease, Tabby is forced to find the least expensive rent possible, which happens to be in the slums of Nairobi.
Tabby doesn’t want your pity and she doesn’t even want your money. Tabby wants a job so that she can pay for her son to go to elementary school. She wants access to medicine that will help her feel better and prolong her life, because she knows that it is out there, but she simply doesn’t have access to the systems that provide this medicine. She really doesn’t even want to leave the slum; she just wants to be able to repair her dwelling so that the rains don’t flood the floor where they sleep, every time that it rains.
At LIA, we believe that persistent poverty is the global injustice of our day. We also believe that there is a new way of serving some of the world’s poorest people/communities in a way that is empowering. We know that equipping local churches to meet the needs of their neighbors in a sustainable fashion is an effective way of truly meeting the comprehensive needs of the poor.
In the very same breath, we realize that the reality that most of us exist in is not based on much more than unexamined feelings that we have. The purpose of this film project is to bring the ‘people behind the issues’ to reality in a way that changes the perception you may have about the poor or the way that you choose to interact with ‘them’, accordingly. These slums are gritty, dirty, nasty places where neither you nor I would want to raise our children.
At the very same time, in this darkness, powerful rays of light are emerging. Seeds of hope have been planted. Injustices are being confronted by passionate local believers. Tabby and an entire group of 50 women now have the ability to provide for their children. Their children are going to school and are learning. They are sleeping in dry dwellings, which prevent them from regular sickness and infection. And, Tabby is able to take medicines that have her feeling better than she has ever felt before, though still infected.
Tabby’s story needs to be told and our purpose is to join LIA in humility, to tell that story. This journey will not be fun, but it will be an experience that changes me forever. It does every time that we serve alongside Tabby and her friends. Thank you for your support in telling this story. It is important.