This has been an amazing, whirlwind week. As I shared in my last post, we have successfully opened the Upendo Home in Sikhendu, Kenya. Seven precious boys who were previously abandoned orphans on the streets of Kitale are now living in Upendo Home…these are our “Upendo Boys.” I say our boys because although I was instrumental in coordinating this effort here in Kenya, Upendo started as the vision of Pastor Paul Odari of Divine Life Kenya and took the dedicated help and effort of many others who now love these boys as their own, just as I do.
Upendo means love in Swahili. I am proud to love and be an advocate for these precious ones. Jesus himself was an strong advocate for children. In fact, Jesus actually scolded the Disciples publicly as they tried to shoo children away from him. He said:
“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:37
In these days following their rescue from the streets, the boys’ personalities and experiences have started to surface. Although they are clearly happy to be at Upendo — elated is more like it — these dear ones suffered a great deal before they were liberated.
All of them suffered the rejection of their families when they were left on the streets to fend for themselves. In our first group of Upendo boys alone, we have boys as young as five and as old as twelve. Most have been on the streets for years. Imagine a young child in this scenario. They also suffered the rejection of the society as they are ignored or scolded as they beg for food in their filthy clothes, many without shoes.
So what did the rescue look like? First, Pastor Titus went to pick up the boys at a designated rally spot. When he arrived, the initial six boys were there, however, there were also nearly 20 others who had heard about what was going to happen. Pastor Titus had the heartbreaking job of looking into all of those hopeful faces and telling many that this would not be their day. When Titus came to meet us for the start of a long day of transitioning to Upendo Home, he had seven boys total. Two of the boys we had previously expected to rescue were MIA but Pastor Titus had found two really young boys among the group — truly our targeted audience — so this made seven total in a plan for six.
When the seven were presented to me, I immediately recognized several that I expected would be there. These were precious boys that I have formed a relationship with over the weeks I have been serving here — Meschach, Davis, Arafat, Joseph and Joshua. The two new boys — Mike and Ibrahim — were unknown to me until that day. If you know my heart, then you already know we did not leave that day with six boys but seven. I just did not have the heart-strength to look into Mike’s face and tell him he would be left behind, nor could I leave the older boys I had already fallen in love with. So instead, I quickly reasoned that although we had prepared everything for six, including beds and clothes, the two smaller boys could bed share and we could quickly get another round of clothes and shoes. So that’s what we did.
Next on the agenda was to go to the Kinyozi (barber) to get the boys’ hair shaved. Many times, kids who live on the street have skin problems, worms, fleas and jiggers (burrowing, flesh eating fleas). Once the boys’ heads were freshly shaved, a bath was next on the agenda.
But this was no ordinary bath. Where does one take seven boys to bathe in a city where they are not welcome? The car wash of course! Here locally, the car washes are done by hand and when we previously rescued Junior, the car wash worked perfectly. So we carted all seven boys to the car wash. They strolled across the street to an open field, where they stripped off all of their worn, filthy clothes and got a washing from head to toe. Of course for this part, I remained at a distance as I did not want them to be embarrassed. After all were clean, they got dressed in their new clothes and shoes. Talk about bright and shiny new! They felt so proud and I imagine so acceptable.
Following the bath, it was time for lunch. We took the boys to the local Nakumat center where there is a nice restaurant. The boys were so happy and confident as they strutted right past the guards that would previously have stopped them. Meschach laughed as he told us these very guards who would have previously scared them off or even caned them to get them to leave were now “saluting” them as they walked by (that is Meshach saluting in the picture above). No caning this time and not ever again. Our precious boys sat at a nice table with linens and were able to order whatever they liked. Most chose chicken and chips (French fries) and a soda. All were very grateful.
Next up was a trip to the doctor for a head to toe check up, including blood work. Most of the boys thought getting their blood drawn was cool. We were elated to learn that not one of them is HIV positive…such a common issue for many kids here. In addition, not one of our boys had jiggers either. Aside from a few mild and treatable ailments, all were in good health. Praise God!
After this, we took the boys to the Upendo Home. They were shown their new surroundings, including their own room stocked with six new bunk beds and more clothes and provisions. You have never ever seen such joy and gratitude than what we saw that day.
On Sunday, the boys came to church and I had the opportunity to introduce them and talk about them with the great pride I have. These boys — despite all they have suffered — are truly amazing. They are sweet, happy, and very talented. They all have dreams and aspirations like any child should. It made me so sad to think that because of some horrible circumstances they had faced, their gifts to the world could forever be hidden if left on the streets. Nearly every Upendo boy has already spoken of wanting to help the other kids who remain on the street. The older boys on the streets are pleading for their turn too. These are boys who did not have an early intervention like our Upendo Boys. But we are not giving up and we have told them not to either.
I leave my beloved Kenya in just over a week. My heart is already breaking at the thought of leaving these precious ones that I love so much. With the help of translation by my equally beloved Enoch, who is working with the boys as a Social Worker and mentor, their “Mama Karen” was able to explain to them that I must return to America very soon. In fact, the last day I will see them is Friday — just four days away.
While I watched a range of emotions pass across their precious faces, I also assured them that they are welcome and wanted, that I love them deeply, am so proud of them and am committed to continue to help them. They asked how soon I would return and I told them I would come back as soon as I can. I also let them know that I have made sure we have a strong Kenyan team in place to support them. And we do, including an amazing Upendo guardian family who already had three boys of their own. These precious people are now are raising ten boys! Finally, I told them to make me proud and to remember that they’re so blessed to be at Upendo. They promised me they would do their very best. I just don’t know how I will be able to walk away from them on Friday. I know my heart will break in a million pieces.
Friends, this has been the most incredible ministry experience I have ever been a part of. To have the love and devotion of these precious boys is unlike anything I have ever known. I am fiercely committed to seeing this through…and looking forward to watching these boys become strong men who will make a difference in Kenya. But I cannot do it alone. I don’t believe I’m meant to. Most everyone I know lives a life of great comfort, well above anything that a street boy in Kenya will ever know.
I am asking you to help me by sharing financially whatever you can to help support Upendo. Trust me, we will make excellent use of every dollar so even if you can only support a little, it will help immensely. Will you please consider either a one time or monthly donation or perhaps commit to sponsor a boy to help us? In my next post. I will share pictures and more details of each boy who needs to be sponsored. Perhaps you can forego buying coffee or dinners out on occasion, team up with a work group or with the holidays approaching, how about considering scaling back what you will spend and donate the difference to Upendo. We would be ever so grateful. You can either donate online via our fundraising page or for a tax-deductible donation of $100.00 or more, message me @firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions.
And would you also please spread the word? May you be ever so blessed as you bless our boys with your support. To see more of Upendo, including many photos, please visit our Upendo Facebook Page.