By Kari Miller
A couple of nights ago I was sitting quietly in the main room of my town house at Daystar enjoying the African night soundsthe soft buzz of mosquitoes, the sharp squawk of a passing bird, the wind blowing softly through the palm trees. It was beautifully peaceful. It was a good place to be alone. Suddenly, a loud ringing coming from the front door startled me. As I stood up to answer the buzzer, I remembered that in Africa one is never alone for long. When I opened the door, Damena Yiima greeted me. He had a broad smile that seemed to glow in the dark and eyes that sparkled. I quickly invited him to join me for some Kenyan tea.
Damena came from Ethiopia with his wife and children four years ago to study at Daystar University. He has now completed his coursework and will graduate in June. He had come to see me because I represent the church that has made his dream of a college education possible. Christ Presbyterian Church sponsored Damena during his time at Daystar. It was an incredibly wise investment. It was so thrilling to sit across from this passionate follower of Jesus who is now equipped to go back to Ethiopia and create new social, financial and spiritual development.
As we sipped our tea and our conversation came to a close, Damena asked if I would grant him one more request. He asked if he could host me for lunch the next day. Without hesitation, I said that I would be delighted.
He arrived the next day in the early afternoon and set off for his home on the other end of Nairobi. We took public transportation, which was an experience of epic proportions. The buses and mutatus (small vans that should have long since been put out to the junkyard) drive very fast, very reckless and could just as easily run you over.
As we approached the market, Damena explained that today was the birthday of his son, Kidus. He wanted to check the price of a small cake. The cake would be the only present this little 6 year old would receive that day. As we approached the bakery, I noticed that the cakes were not cheap. It is a luxury item, not a necessity. At that moment, I heard that little whisper, Buy the cake. I smiled and thought how wonderful it is to be able to do something loving for someone else. I asked if I could give a gift to his family and buy the birthday cake. After some protesting, he agreed. We even had the bakery write, Happy 6th Birthday Kidus.
Damenas home is a 6 by 6 room with two beds, two small tables and a stool. They cook over a fire outside the home and wash behind the home in a tub. It is no bigger than a backyard shed. As I approached the house, the two boys came running out to greet their father. He hugged them, and they smiled just as big as he did. His beautiful wife greeted me with a hug, inviting me into the home where their three-year-old was napping on one of the beds. I sat down inches away from this little sleeping angel. Their daughter had just been discharged from the hospital. She had been playing near a pot of boiling water and been badly burned. They were grateful that she was alive and slowly recovering.
Immediately, a large bowl was put before us. It contained a thin, doughy bread that is covered with spicy goat meat and potatoes. It was a traditional Ethiopian dish. After we blessed our meal, we all put our hands in the bowl tearing the bread and scooping up the meat and potatoes. It tasted very good, but on a couple of occasions, I think steam must have come out of my ears. It was SPICY! Towards the end of this communal meal, I thought about unity. Eating like this seemed like an experiential way to tangibly know unitybeing together as onesharing food with each other equally. There was tremendous beauty in that moment. As I was laughing, sharing and eating, Damena brought out the most special part of the mealthe meaty goat bone. He proudly told me I could eat it all. Oh boy! I bravely began to suck the meat off the bone while the whole family watched, laughing. They loved seeing this muzungu suck goat meat off the bone. Actually, it was quite good.
After this exquisite meal, the time came for the cake. Damena unwrapped the cake and called Kidus to read what it said. The boys eyes lit up, and he began to giggle. It was such a beautiful sound. Then, we sang “Happy Birthday,” and he made several attempts to blow out the candles. Then, we cut the cake, and everyone laughed as frosting seemed to get everywhere. It was on Kidus shoulder, his mouth, his hair, his knees, and his fingers. He was swimming in it. Damena had his daughter on his lap and was feeding her cake and then kissing her, getting frosting all over his face. Then, they would all laugh. It was the sound of pure joy!
All too soon, the time came for me to head back to that quiet townhouse in Daystar. We walked back to the bus; we walked through the city and finally caught a muatatu to Daystar. We relived the afternoons highlights. I was so grateful that he allowed me into his home, into his life, into his family. My heart felt so full. As we parted, I gave Damena some money that had been gifted to me and told him that God wanted to bless him with it. We both were overjoyed. I was delighted to be the messenger of Gods blessings, and he was delighted to receive what God had for him.
Unity. Gods children were sharing. We were giving each other what we had to offer. We both gave, and we both received. We were unified, and it was indeed beautiful.
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Kari Miller is a 4th grade teacher who is passionate about loving Jesus and loving others. She longs to inspire others to love the least, the lost and the left out.
For more information about Daystar University, click here.