From the very beginning, my heart fought going to Kibera. I hesitated walking off the bus, I closed my eyes against what I saw, I separated my mind from my heart so I wouldn't feel the pain. But God has a way of breaking you free - of softening your heart of stone. Mine came the first full day in Kenya.
We had to stop by New Hope Baptist to drop off some supplies on the way home, and so Sandy prepped us on the walk we were about to take - the walk that changed his life years before. I remember kids running full speed towards our bus - eyes gleaming and huge grins covering their faces. Many of them jumped into the embrace of a waiting team member - grabbing hold of their shoulders or leading the way toward the path.
I followed the line, keeping my mind off the kids rolling around in the piles of trash. The path is completely surrounded by lush greenery and plants - farmland full of sugar cane and peas and corn - but the water feeding into it holds more mud and sewage than actual water. I hopscotched across the stream - feet hitting the sandbags placed there before - and silently prayed for strength. We continued up the path - through the field where kids were playing and gathering around us mzungus. We continued past the make-shift steel bridge, through the winding dirt path leading to New Hope. Clothes hung across the way, causing you to dip your head as you jump across a small stream of trash and sewage flowing into the area below. At times, there was no getting around piles of mud - so you just walked through the trash and prayed for the best.
It was at this moment I began to break.
I remember looking up and seeing Sandy greeting everyone we passed. He laughed at the chorus of "how are you?! how are you?!" echoing off the dirt walls and tickled children as their heads peeked through cracks in the wired gates or windows. I remember seeing this and wanting to stop. I wanted to plant my feet firmly on the slim walkway and call out to those around me, "are you seeing what I'm seeing? Are you walking through the same piles as me? Do you see these kids picking up trash to make toys or placing their mouths on the wires separating us?" My heart began to pound and my eyes started clouding over. I wanted to leave. I wanted to turn around and run, not walk, back to the bus.
And then we walked through the gate of New Hope.
The kids were supposed to be in class, but as soon as they heard we were coming, many of them began running out of their classrooms to greet us. Others just stuck their heads out of the windows to say hello. One of the boys Russ connected with earlier in the day found him and said, "you came?" I walked up to them, and after introducing me, David held out his hand. "Welcome. Russell is my best friend." I smiled and turned away for a brief second, gathering my wits before looking at him and responding, "I understand. He's my best friend as well."
At that moment, I needed to get away. My heart screamed for some sort of reconciliation to what I felt and saw. I separated myself from the group and just took everything in - much like I found myself doing in Haiti ten years ago. Closing my eyes, I felt the ripping open. Glancing through the open gate and down the path, I felt my perspective shift.
And looking down at the tiny hand grabbing my fingers, my heart fell into a rhythm. I smiled.
I didn't want to leave. Every part of me screamed for normalcy and comfort, but I knew nothing would be the same - even if I tried. My heart found purpose and meaning in those dusty trenches of Kibera that day, and despite the breaking, despite the tearing open and the discomfort of stepping out, I know if given the chance she would do it again.