This past week, I was doing home visits with our Impact Team members. We were in a particularly poor part of Nairobi called Kayole. It is a part of town known for poverty, violence, and gangs. While I have been in the community several times before, I was surprised to see something different. The house we were visiting was made out of used Styrofoam crates. I was moved and my heart sank as I processed the weight of the poverty and the lack of resources this woman had. It reminded me of a lesson God taught me years ago.
When I was in University, I went on a short missions trip to Nicaragua. We spent a day doing ministry in a large slum called La Chureca, which is slang for city dump in Spanish. It was my first experience being in a place like that. It is literally the place where all the trash and waste from the city goes. People lived right in the middle of it, waiting for trash trucks to drop off loads so they could find half-eaten food or used scraps to sell. It smelled. It was hot. It was full of insects and mud. I remember boys sniffing glue to get high, people scavenging for food in muck, and people fighting over insignificant pieces of trash just to survive. It was so different from anything I had known or seen. It irritated my small view of the world.
I vividly remember thinking, “Jesus, where are you?” How could God have forgotten about these people? How could He allow something like this? As I thought this, immediately I looked down and saw a small old raggedy wooden cross on the ground. It must have been a plaque or something on someone’s wall. Ironic as it was, someone else, probably with more wealth, had not wanted this cross and it ended up in a heap of trash. Perhaps the previous owner wanted nothing to do with God, but all I know is that after looking down and seeing this cross, I had my answer. Jesus was right there. He had not abandoned these people or the community. Jesus was and still is working in the most impoverished places on earth.
Working with CARE for AIDS, I do spend time going in and out of different slums in Nairobi and Kisumu, but I have never forgotten that experience years ago in Nicaragua. In fact that experience has shaped the way I see ministry to this day. I know that no matter how desperate or bleak the situation may seem, not only is God aware of it, He is already working in it.
Often times when people come and visit, all they see is dirt and material poverty in the slums. But God’s eyes are much deeper and His heart is much bigger. God knows the work of Christ which is being done and sees the joy in the hearts of those who know him. We get caught up in the material state of things but we fail to see the wonderful spiritual works that God has in progress. Yes, God wants to bring people out of material poverty, but his end goal is much bigger and much better. He is preparing hearts for eternity with Him.
God is working all over the world, in every community rich and poor, even in places we think he has forgotten. The greatest joy of my work with CFA is seeing people come to know Christ because we know that one day this world will fade away and the most important thing will be our relationships with God. My hope is that when we walk into places of poverty, we see it as holy ground. We should walk into communities with humility and brokenness, knowing that the ground we walk on is the field of God’s harvest for Jesus is already at work there.