By Lyndsi Tellinghuisen
A shuddering breath escapes my lungs as I take in the environment surrounding me. This is my first encounter with the extreme devastation of poverty. I see the tear-stained faces of people who know what it feels like to skip meals on a regular basis. I gaze upon the sewage-filled alleys and buildings that are weary and ready to release the weight they’ve been bearing. I see a man crouched on a street corner snorting glue in hopes of getting high to forget his current state of life, even for a short while. My head is spinning with the shock of immersion into a society so different than my own. Suddenly, in that moment, devastation had a face. It is the face of an orphan child; the face of a mother who is dying of aids. It seems to be every face that calls Mathare Valley “home”.
My feet enter the door frame to a small school deep within the slum. My heart breaks when I see the conditions of education offered in a third world country. None of what I am encountering feels fair, nor does it arouse positive emotions within me. The feelings I identify with are “bitterness” and “frustration”. That is until I encounter children playing in the schoolyard. I hear laughter, singing, and cheering for their playmates. The emotions they exude are those of joy, contentment, and hope. They have a roof over their heads. They have the hope of an education because of their sponsors. Amidst all the negative outlooks of people in the community they live in, here is a group of kids filled with utter joy. In that moment, a thought rings clear in my mind. “These children have so little. Why is it that they seem to embody so much more joy than the children in America? What do these children have that Americans are lacking?”
After I returned home from the 2017 Hope’s Promise Kenya Connection Team trip pondering this experience and others, questions filled my brain. I began to view my comfortable, cushy life back home differently. Devastation started to take on a new face, and its name is America. Through a lens transformed by my time in Kenya, I began seeking a whole different kind of wealth. I began to see the people of America as poor… We rob ourselves of precious quiet moments with the Lord. We rob ourselves of time to spend with loved ones because we are too busy fattening our pockets. We rob ourselves by booking every moment of our lives and leaving no room for spontaneity and Spirit-lead interactions. We rob ourselves of true joy that we can’t find in a 401K retirement fund or a promotion. As I integrated my experiences in Kenya back into my life at home, my perception shifted on how I choose to use my short time here on earth. I want to live a life that is rich in relationships with my Lord and the people I encounter here on earth.
My time in Kenya was eye-opening and heartwarming as well as heartbreaking. Witnessing how people in Mathare Valley and Nairobi, Kenya value the true meaning of life empowered me. It gave me great hope to see that even in the toughest of times, life is still a gift and a blessing to be celebrated. Often, we identify a good life based on the things we own or our success, when in reality a good life should be measured by the love it has brought us and the love we have shared with others. People don’t get to the end of their life and regret the number of fancy dinners they missed or count the amount of money they spent or kept. My trip to Kenya helped me realize that the value we get out of life is not found in the things we can’t take with us. It’s found in the moments we share.