A heartwarming Kenyan experience for NorthPointe Church group

A heartwarming Kenyan experience for NorthPointe Church group

LINCOLN - Back from a two-week trip to slums in Nairobi, Kenya, members of the NorthPointe Christian Church can hardly contain their emotions as they reflect on the experience.

One story leads to another as they describe a trip to the Mathare Valley that is so densely populated, it can be equated to fitting the entirety of Rhode Island into Central Falls, side by side in one-story, 8-by-8-foot tin shanties.

There are both laughs and tears as the NorthPointe members talk about visiting families and children with disabilities, meeting some of their dozens of sponsor children and teaching the village how to play tee ball and purify water, along with members from SouthPointe Christian Church in Warwick and Rockingham Christian Church in Salem, N.H.

It's not until an hour into the discussion that they think to mention that, oh yeah, the airport misplaced half their bags and later caught on fire, leaving the group to live in the same clothes for close to 50 hours before borrowing from those who were lucky enough to have a suitcase.

That setback represents the trip as a whole, they said, which was the second for the church that is headquartered at the Lincoln Mall. NorthPointe members on the trip were Steve Kilsey, of Lincoln; Missy St. Martin, of Cumberland; Kathy Nelson and David Shaw, of Smithfield; Mark Brown, of Uxbridge, Mass.; and Cheryl Celeste, of Cranston.

Though the fire gave the trip a difficult start, "It didn't overshadow anything," said Kilsey.

St. Martin, Kilsey's fianc?©e, agreed, saying that after two days of wearing the same clothes, they were still cleaner than most of the villagers.

"It didn't take over," she said, recalling what one of the social workers said when the group told her about the lost baggage and supplies. "She said, 'We're just glad you're here.'"

The parishioners got started immediately visiting families with social workers and translators, walking through narrow dirt streets that never see trash pickup, so the waste is used to make speed bumps. There is no running water and no electricity.

They were invited into the one-room shanties with tin walls and a tin roof, where the only light comes through the front door, save for those who have illegally jerry-rigged dangerous-looking light bulbs.

That is, until NorthPointe members introduced their "Bringing the Light" program. After chatting with the families, they talked about Christ's light. They then cut a hole in the roof of the home, covering it with Plexiglas to keep out the elements.

"This hole lights up the room," Kilsey said.

"Kids are usually just entranced by it," St. Martin added, "because they've never seen light in their home."

The group then prayed.

"Their needs are very different from what we perceive their needs to be," St. Martin said, explaining they pray for their children to get an education, and for their friends and neighbors to be healthy, not living in a bigger home or getting a better job. "It's very community based."

One woman, Kilsey remembered, was abandoned by her family for having diabetes. She first prayed for them, then prayed for the two women who regularly drop in to take care of her, and lastly, prayed for her own health.

Nelson, a childcare worker herself, happened to meet a woman who shared her profession on her first stop on day one of visiting families. The woman watched the children for the women who spend the day peddling jewelry, clothing and other wares on the streets, and "her prayer was that the women had jobs," Nelson said.

"I related to her on a different level," she said, tearing up as she explained that this woman would not be able to give the children everything Nelson, as an American professional, thought they needed in a childcare setting. But she did provide "safety, love and a caring place so women are able to go to work."

When these women head off to work, many of their school-aged children, wearing matching uniforms of red sweaters over collared shirts, head to class at the Missions of Hope school. Started by Mary and Wallace Kamau with 50 students in 2000, the organization has doubled in enrollment every year, Kilsey said, and now has 15,000 students. Enrollment doubled at one of the Mathare Valley schools from 80 to 190 in the year since the NorthPointe made their first visit.

There are also programs for adults to learn trades. There is a beauty school, a microfinance class, and instruction for jewelry-making, sewing and welding.

"When the kids got out of school everyday, it was like spreading hope out into the community," Shaw said, referencing a quote by Nelson that there is "so much beauty behind the circumstance."

It is one of 14 schools in the Mathare Valley, and keeps kids enrolled until they are ready for middle school. Then they are sent several hours away from the slums to boarding schools until graduation from high school.

Each graduating senior in Kenya must pass an exit exam in order to be eligible for college, and to have a chance at earning a merit-based scholarship. Missions of Hope will have its first graduating class this year, and 90 percent of students are expected to pass.

It's a staunch alternative to a scene played out in front of the group's bus one day in a traffic jam, St. Martin recalled, when a group of boys about 10 years old hung out in the back of a dump truck, drinking and sniffing glue.

"I was seeing in front of my face what this organization is saving these kids from," she said.

Students are recruited for schools based on need and willingness of the families to allow education - many see their children, especially daughters, as financial assets. But other families are eager to pass on the value of learning to the next generation.

"No one ever says, 'Give me,'" said JoAnn Monroe, who organized the trip. "It's not about giving people things. It's about setting them up to succeed."

Families pay what tuition they can, and the rest comes from money sent in by sponsors who pay $35 a month to give a child education, clothing, medical care and two meals a day.

Shaw compared meeting his sponsor child to the births of his own children.

"It was probably one of the most awesome experiences of my life. It was like meeting a son that was long lost," he said. "I hope it shows people who ever had any fear or trepidation about sponsoring" that it is worth it.

Anyone interested in sponsoring a child can visit www.northpointeri.com or call the church at 401-333-6800.