By Sara Shelton
Today we visited the largest slum village in Nairobi. We spent the day walking miles through the slums and it was unreal. Their homes are nothing but dirt huts with pieces of cloth to act as doors. They all work right out of their backyards I guess you could say.
They grow what they can and sell corn right outside their doors. Their homes, their land, these things are their livelihood so they do the best they can with them. But whats so beautiful to me is the way they look after each other here. There is such a sense of community, one that I wonder if Ill ever know back home. Everyone says hello to you and everyone knows which kid belongs to which family and everyone looks after everyone else. It is really beautiful.
Americans are so disconnected. These people are real and excited and show the kind of familial bond that I think God wants us to show. They find this contentment in such poverty, maybe because thats all they know. They dont live in the shadow of this American Dream. Just making it to the end of the week with all of your family members alive and healthy and just a little bit to live on is success enough for them. I wonder if Ill ever experience this kind of love and outlook when I get home.
-Africa Journal, May 29, 2004
I wrote this on the third of ten days working in the impoverished villages of East Africa. It came as a response to the revelation of truths that are not necessarily new or ground breaking, but severely out of practice in our country.
As Americans of the more recent generations, we have been raised to focus on success, taught to think bigger, aim higher, run faster, and push farther than any other nation, any other people before us. Unlike the people living in the slums of Nairobi, we see our environment as a means to an end and regard the concept of community as outdated and stifling to our personal success.
The problem with our environments, with our communities is simply that weve lost sight of them and as a result, have lost sight of what it really means to love.
While spending my time in the slums of Nairobi, I was continuously struck by two things: the way I was treated by the people and they way they treated one another. In just a little over a week, I knew more names, had visited more homes, and come in contact with more families than I have in my own neighborhood where I have lived for eighteen years.
Everywhere we went, we were welcomed and without reluctance; every face we saw offered a smile and without hesitation. Though they had so little food to feed their own families, they offered what they had to us anyway. And this wasnt simply because we were outsiders, Americans coming to visit a nation in need. This was the way they treated everyone, every neighbor or visitor or family member.
In a place where sewage and garbage ran down the streets, love ran between their hearts in a way more pure than I have ever seen. These people in their suffering and poverty understood what it meant to love your neighbor as yourself, what it meant to truly love God and they were not afraid to live it out in their daily lives.
Ive heard people say that these Africans live this kind of extraordinary faith simply because it is literally all they have. And perhaps in some ways this is true. But I think moreover they live this way because they know that is how God has called us to live.
They recognize the intrinsic value of the things around them, not just seeing people or skills or environments as a means to an end. They treat their food and land well because they recognize that these things come from the Earth that God created. They love their neighbors and families because they see them as members of the body of Christ. They are in tune with who God is not because they think He is all they have, but because they recognize that He is all they need. These people may live simply, but they love greater than any I have ever known.
As I returned to America, I found myself experiencing almost a reverse culture shock. Id never realized how disconnected I felt to my own people, to my environment until I saw my lifestyle juxtaposed with that of the people of the slums. Now I see the problem of the American people; were on the verge of losing what is most valuable to us and we dont even see it. Our communities, our environment, the things that God made for us to enjoy are all being overlooked for the sake of ourselves.
Weve forgotten what it means to know that God is all we need because we think we need so much. When I find myself tempted to forget where my blessings come from or drawn to selfish desires, I close my eyes and try to place myself back in the huts of Africa. I remember what it was like to truly be treated unselfishly and then I go forward, trying to love as well as Christ loves me.
Sara Shelton is a Tennessee native now living it up in Atlanta, Georgia. She works daily as a dance teacher, freelance writer, and general lover of creative work. She enjoys her family, her friends, a good book, a good day outside, and a good laugh. Her current goal is figuring out how to travel the world and she looks forward to seeing it happen!