A Day in Kibera, Kenya

by The Rev. Mark E. Sell

In a few months, the citizens of the United States will elect a new president. Are you afraid? Does the idea of a close race make you worry about your home being burnt down? Will protesters murder anyone in your family because they voted the wrong way, or are the wrong ethnicity or race? Thanks be to God, this isn’t something we usually have to worry about after elections in our country.

If you were living in a place like Kibera, Kenya, you might wake up while it’s still dark, next to three of your siblings on the dirt floor. Actually, it’s not really dirt on the floor, but rather a mixture of dung and mud covered with a soupy concoction of water, dirt, and more dung. Once dried, it hardens the surface to avoid dust or breaking apart.

Kibera is the second largest slum in the world, where one million people live in six square miles of poverty, disease – and since the elections December 2007 – dangerous political unrest.

This morning, like most other mornings, you rub your eyes and roll out of “bed”, trying not to hurt your brother. It’s early and you’d rather sleep, but as you look around your one-room home you know that the younger kids won’t eat today unless you feed them.

After scrambling around for a kerosene lamp (assuming you had money to buy kerosene this week) you light it so you can see to start breakfast. Once your eyes adjust to the light, you would probably squat over the hole in one corner of your home and go to the bathroom, which runs under the wall and spills out into the “ditch” running in front of every home in the neighborhood. It’s the closest thing to a “sewer system” in your city.

By 5:00 a.m. the wood needs to be lit so you can boil water for porridge. If you’re fortunate, you have chickens (which run around outside during the day, but at night they sleep inside the house with you) and can cook some eggs too. You glance around, automatically looking for the school uniforms – oh, that’s right, no school today.

There is no school not because of snow or a national holiday, but because protesters looted and burned the school building.

It’s not safe for children to go outside and play today because the rioting thugs might attack them, or even rape the girls.

You daydream about walking the kids to school again – maybe next week. As you think about getting the kids back to school, you hope you might be able to go to school too some day.

If only life could get back to normal. You wouldn’t look at anyone on the street, you know better than that. The gangs might find out that you’re a member of the wrong tribe and beat you up. They’d figure out where you live and steal the few things you own. They’d take your home or burn it down. Then what?

Call the police? The police are busy trying to restore order in Nairobi, 20 minutes away. They don’t bother with the slums of Kibera.

The day unfolds with daydreams of peace contrasted with the sights of suffering. You hope to get more food, but doing so is difficult because protesters looted and torched most of the shops. Thankfully, Springs of Life Lutheran church was handing out food, or you would be even hungrier. Hopefully the medical clinic at church will reopen soon. One of the kids is getting sick and the medicine they gave you last time was so helpful.

At least Pastor Meeker said he would have church on Sunday. Finally, a little bit of normalcy. You will pray together for help, order, and mercy. It’ll be great to see friends and know you’re safe for a while, even though it still smells like smoke. There is order in church. It is the one thing you can count on right now. The familiar words of the liturgy feel safe because they are from scripture. You need God to be present in your life, especially now.

You learned how the words of the liturgy bring mercy and grace with the hope of your salvation. It brings peace and the presence of God in Christ’s resurrected body and blood in the midst of the riots, rapes, and turmoil. It brings heaven, even to the slums of Kibera with all of its sinful problems. Even though you’d be sitting in the hellish reality of your burned-out church building, it is the Kingdom of God present right here for you. Church is a feast that never runs out and heals the diseases of the soul.

When you see Pastor Meeker, you might wonder why an Iowa farmer married a Kenyan and serves in the slums. You might wonder what America is like, where they don’t kill people when the elections get messed up.

So starts an average day in the Kibera slums since the presidential elections on December 27, 2007. When school starts again, students will learn to read and write in a room with no roof, the smell of smoke and wet ash hanging in the air, and probably half of the children missing... hopefully just because they moved away from the rioting. But in just a couple of months, over 1,000 Kenyans have died throughout the country since the rioting started.

Thanks be to God! He blesses us with such good government and peace in Christ. The Lord has given us a life of great blessings, abundance, and peace. We pray for the children, youth, and adults of our sister churches in Kenya, confident that our Savior will continue to forgive and renew them with His Holy Gifts!

Copyright Mark E. Sell, 2008

Ed. Just a couple weeks after the turmoil, a handful of children and a few teachers resumed school in the Springs of Life Lutheran Church basement. As time has passed, greater numbers are returning. The Lord continues to bless them in the midst of this trial. --RAH


The Rev. Mark E. Sell is Executive Director of TheFriendsOfMercy.org. Pastor Sell blogs regularly about mission work among people of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya at The Friends of Mercy. He posts many ways in which others can support the Lord’s work in Kenya through their prayers and gifts.

Created: February 26th, 2008