“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!”
Have you ever thought about the saying “to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes?” I mean, really thought about it. If you take the time to consider the words, the saying is a bit silly. I mean, walk in someone else’s shoes? Well, what size are they? Do they smell? Where are we walking?
Obviously we all know that this is not the true meaning of the phrase, yet it is funny that the phrase uses something as insignificant as feet to describe a much deeper motive. I suppose if someone truly wanted to walk in someone else’s shoes there would have to be a real eagerness, but why? Why walk in another’s shoes if yours fit perfectly? I face this question every time I consider traveling to places like Kenya. It is terribly selfish, but if I am being honest, I have to consider how walking in someone else’s shoes may make mine uncomfortable, or worse, they may make mine never fit the same again.
As I walked onto the HOPEww site in Mukuru I could feel the flood of emotion. I had not been back to this place since 2009 and still the memories were fresh upon my heart. I could remember the sounds of the kids singing, the smell of the sewage and unsupervised cattle, but most of all, I could remember the joy of the days I spent there, and the pain that had stayed in my heart until this return. Tabitha escorted us onto the site and was eager to show us all of the advancements that the place had made. It was truly extraordinary to see the growth that has come to this place which serves as a beacon within the community.
The first thing we did, in true Kenyan form, was to have tea with Tom. Tom is an incredible leader who has worked closely with the JamQuest crew. Tom, though flooded with work, felt it of great importance to sit down with me and express his gratitude for the JamQuest team and all that they have done to enhance the future of the kids. After tea, we went around the site and were astonished by the forward thinking of the HOPE staff. Wal-Mart in association with PEPFAR (the presidential emergency plan for Aids relief) had donated a few trailers to the HOPE site in which they are now being used to provide courses for students and children from the slum of Mukuru to take classes such as sewing and fashion design, cosmetology, and computer classes. These donations have opened a huge opportunity for children in the slums to begin a head-start in a career which will allow them to run small businesses within the slums which, in turn, will continue to advance the economy within the slums and change the face of Mukuru as a whole.
While touring the site I was able to talk to a few boisterous students who excitedly told me about the many dreams that they had for themselves and the plans they had in place to pursue them. Never in my life have I seen such eager, grateful and intelligent students in one place. I couldn’t help but fall into their dreams with them and become excited for all the possibilities which were now directly in front of them.
The Greatest Doctor in the Country
After the tour I was soon greeted by a teen boy who sported a large smile across his face. His job was to escort me to the homes of two JamQuest beneficiaries who had asked to meet me once they heard of my arrival. The teen boy was kind but soft spoken. He proudly walked me around his slum and even bought me a sugar cane to chew on during our walk. It wasn’t until we had had a few steps together when he leaned down and quietly, yet proudly, told me that he was one of the students from the JamQuest benefit. I smiled and quickly began to ask about his school and the dreams that he had for himself. Just like with the other children, within moments I was completely enveloped into his dream of becoming a doctor. He told me that he always had a heart to help people and that, in fact, he had signed himself up on this day to protect me while I walked. I couldn’t believe that this young man, who could very well be in great danger for being seen helping a white person, willingly signed up to protect me as we walked.
I immediately knew that this boy was soon going to be the greatest doctor that country had ever known.
The first house we went to was of a small girl named Irene. Irene was currently living with an Aunt as her brother was very ill and he and her mother had been in the hospital for quite a few months. Irene, however, decided to stay with an Aunt so that she wouldn’t miss any time in her beloved school. Irene has been a JamQuest beneficiary for two years and is the first in her class. She told me about her love for math (which I could not relate to) and began schooling me in what she felt was simple math problems. She giggled as I struggled through them. Irene wants to be an engineer. She wants to stay in Africa because, though there is much opportunity in other places, she believes that she can change Africa for the better. I was honored to be in her presence.
Irene, along with the brilliant teen boy, took me to the home of a young man named Ken. Ken was tall and dressed in nice pants and a button down shirt. Ken sat with us along with his mother and younger brother. Ken didn’t say much, as his mother was more than happy to take over and brag endlessly about him. Ken did not know his father and his mother has been very sick for some time, yet you could see in her eyes and certainly hear in her speech the deep pride that she had in her boys. Ken is the president of his school and hopes to go on to be a doctor. Ken was confident and kind and seemed ready to laugh at any lame joke that I had to offer.
The group as a whole were appalled when I told them that some of my classmates in college would come to school in their pajamas. I am always amazed at the respect and gratitude that they have towards their education. We gave Ken, Irene and the families small health packets of a toothbrush, some soap, and a few other sanitary items. We then prayed together for the family and for these incredible students who would change the world. At the end, the mother held me closely and for a long time. She told me that above everything – food, money, health, etc. – she wanted her children to have an education. She cried as she tried to get out the words to than me. I too cried, I cried in complete humility and honor of being able to know such incredible people.
It was amazing to me how everyone in Mukuru seemed to know JamQuest. When they found out that it was this organization that I came in the name of, many hugged me and thanked me for making their home different and giving their kids a chance. I couldn’t help but laugh a little thinking to myself “I’m not doing anything, it is these incredible children who are working to make the future of Africa, and of the world much brighter.” I felt proud. Proud to be a small part of something that stood behind these kids and supported them as they take on the world.
As I walked back to my temporary home, my shoes now feeling more uncomfortable, I thought of the saying, to walk in someone else’s shoes, and it was in the moment that I realized how privileged I was to, even for a moment, see the beautiful lives and the beautiful journeys of the people I had met that day. I pray for them every day, and whether it is this life or the next, I cannot wait to see how they change the world in the way that they changed mine. Suddenly it doesn’t feel that I walked in the shoes of another, but rather, they we walked together, side by side, bringing the good news.
Director of International Programs