As I walked into my home earlier this afternoon, I broke down crying, my heart aching in a way I have never before experienced. …
This morning, I met four children whose little faces are now etched in my mind. I had heard of them last week when someone mentioned in passing that there are two girls living in a little hut in the cornfields, and they take care of their baby brother.
On Wednesday, I sent food to them, and I ran into the two girls on the side of the road on Saturday. This morning, I went to their home with two friends. We took a mattress and bedding, and told them we’d be back in the afternoon. We wanted permission from their father to bathe them. Here’s their story, some of it told by the oldest girl, some related by their neighbors, some by the father.
But now their dad is hardly ever home. He works in the area, weeding people’s fields. Colleagues who live next door say the man doesn’t come home till late at night, and when he does come home, he’s usually drunk.
I’ve seen the girls on the side of the road a few times recently, carrying water. I always waved and smiled, and on Saturday, I had a Kenyan colleague with me, so I stopped and visited a little. As I headed home, I knew I had to do something! I shared with Ruth, a Kenyan friend, and she immediately said that when I go, she’d go with me. She’s been praying, asking God to show her if there are neighbors who she is to serve.
Yesterday, Karen (a friend visiting from the US for a few days) and I bought a mattress, some sheets, and a blanket. This morning, Ruth, Karen and I walked just 10 minutes or so down the road to visit the girls and take them the bedding. We knew they’d also need a bath, but wanted to ask the dad first if we could do that later this week.
When we walked up to their home, I called, “Hodi?” (“Can I come in?”)
A little voice answered from within, “Karibu!” (“Welcome!”) and the door of the wooden hut swung open. Joanna’s little face lit up as she saw me, and she flung her arms around my waist. She had remembered me from our meeting on Saturday. But more importantly, her smile said, “You remembered ME!”
The smell of urine hung heavily in the small room and around little Kiprop, whom I lifted onto my lap. The children don’t speak any English, and Ruth started visiting with them in Nandi (a dialect of Kalenjin). As she related their story to Karen and I, I couldn’t fight the tears. It’s impossible not to be moved by their story.
We told the children we’d be back in the afternoon, and as we walked home, I asked Ruth, “How is it possible that they’ve been our neighbors, and we’ve never known of them? How many times have I driven past their house with a car full of food, not knowing that they’ve not eaten for days?”
But now we know. We know their names and their faces. And more importantly, they are sleeping in a clean, warm bed tonight for the first time in years. And the children themselves are clean for the first time since their mother left. Getting them clean, though, is what caused me to break down crying today…
We did go back this afternoon, taking with us a tub of warm water, soap, Q-tips, Triple Antibiotic Ointment, Band-Aids, tootbrushes and toothpaste, and towels. We found their father, Silas, at home. Ruth explained to him that we were caring neighbors, and we visited for a while. He told her the story of their mother leaving and said yes, we can give the children a bath. (When Ruth’s husband Philip came later, he visited with Silas while the dad was chopping wood. He encouraged him that even though he lost his wife, he should take care of the children as not to lose them, too. Philip shared with him that though life seems hopeless, there is hope in Christ. Philip will go back to visit more with Silas, and he’ll help him rebuild the floor of the house as it’s below ground level, causing the wooden hut to flood every time there is rain.)
While Philip was visiting with the dad, Ruth, Karen and I bathed the little ones. One by one, we placed them on a wooden stool and bathed them in warm water. And as we started washing their little hands and feet, I could do nothing but pray for God to restore them. If I didn’t pray, I would have broken down there and then and sobbed.
Their little fingers were black with parasites eating away at the tissue. And so were their little feet. I could not get myself to look at the soles of their feet, but felt every little pebble embedded into the necrotic tissue. I cut their nails, but some were so infected that I couldn’t come near them or they’d start crying. The four-year-old was brave, however. Even as we cleaned out an oozing boil on his leg, he hardly flinched. But later, as I rubbed his body in coconut oil and dressed him in clean clothes, he lay his little head back against me, hungry for some motherly love…
When we were done, we asked the father if we could put the mattress, sheets and blanket on the bed. He agreed, hesitating at first. But Ruth explained that we would like to do that so we could send a picture to the friends who bought the mattress. (In fact, I know she said it to make sure the mattress gets on their bed, not his.) As I removed the layers of rags from their bed, I gagged. Three children have been sharing this bed, and in the seven months they’ve lived there, I doubt the urine-drenched rags have ever been taken outside.
Philip ran home to get some socks and shoes for the children, and as we waited, I sang songs to them and then took out a little bottle of bubbles from my pocket. It seemed so little, but the kids had never seen anything like it, and even little Jepkemboi who had hardly smiled all day broke into a smile as she tried to catch the bubbles floating by…
As we bid the family farewell, I had a sense of hope. These children will know that Jesus loves them! I believe they’ll get to go to school someday, too. For now, they’ll come to Sunday school. In fact, Jemutai had already come this past Sunday because Philip had walked by them on the road earlier in the week. She had asked him, “Will you take us to the wazungus (the white people)?” He said she’s welcome to come to our place on Sundays. And so she came. I believe her family will get to know Christ through her!
So, what am I to do next? I’ve asked Mama Chiri (a neighbor) to take them a quart of milk every morning. Ruth and I will visit them at least weekly and check up on their wounds. We’ll bathe the little ones, and Philip will keep reaching out to Silas through friendship. And we'll take them food from time to time.
1 John 3:16-17 has been on my mind since I first heard of these children. As I shared with the visiting team and our Kenyan colleagues tonight, several of us were crying. “Show us how to love, Jesus! May we not miss the opportunities around us to show your love.”
Thank you for touching my little neighbors’ lives today through being part of this journey.
(In the last photo, next to me is Jepkemboi, then Kiprop, Kiprono, Jemutai and Ruth.)