As I prepare to leave Open Arms Village, there are many moments I could write about. I look back on these last 10 days and realize how greatly this visit has impacted me. From the Kambi Teso Slum, to the Juvenile prison, to the Tumaini (Hope) Rehabilitation Center (for children living on the street), to the great assistance I saw OAI providing, I can say I will never be the same. I would like to share my brief encounter with a beautiful woman and mother named Jane, but first, allow me to share my life in the States. Maybe you’ll find pieces of familiarity woven into my story and we can sit and share a good dose of perspective together.
I have been a stay-at-home mother to my four beautiful children for the last 14 years, and I thought I had it rough. Up at 6 a.m. to ensure my kids got to school each day, I venture into the kitchen, frustrated with all the details needing to be done before the 7:45 a.m. departure for school. I spend the morning cooking, cleaning, fixing hair, changing outfits, preparing lunches and downing as much coffee as my body can handle before we rush out the door. Tough… right?
After dropping my family off, I head to the gym for at least an hour; Then I’m off to the grocery store where I am presented with bountiful options. All I have to do is pick which items I would like to fill my refrigerator and pantry so my family doesn’t starve. Starving. That’s a word that will not be used lightly in my home again. Well, I could bore you with the rest of my day, but I’m disgusted with myself. So, allow me to introduce you to Jane – she’s the one this story is really about.
In Kenya, I had the privilege of delivering gifts to neighbors of the Open Arms Village. Most Kenyan homes are made from clay and sticks with a sort of thatch roof. Typically, they don’t have electricity or running water, so they must make every meal from scratch. Some people have access to a hand dug well, but many must find water to carry home and boil for safety. Most of the homes have dirt floors and very little furniture.
After a tedious journey (driving down long dirt roads, walking across fields, and climbing over and under barbed-wire fences), I see a tall, thin woman in the distance with a child by her side. As we get closer, I can see the poverty in which she lives. Both she and her 4-year-old daughter are barefoot, working in the field together tending the crops. They wear torn, dirty clothes and their feet are swollen from the sun and exposure.
We are out of breath, but I see just how beautiful she is as we approach! We greet her with a kiss and hug and she never stops smiling. She stops what she is doing in the field and asks us to walk to her home with her. As we walk, I inquire a bit more about who she is. She is a mother of 8 children, one of whom is disabled. Her husband is usually absent and spends his money on alcohol or prostitutes, leaving Jane to care for her family. As she is walking and sharing with me, she never once loses her contagious smile.
We enter her home after passing her disabled son who sits in the dirt in front of her home, incapable of moving himself except by dragging his body with his hands. She smiles and welcomes us into her home, honored to share it with us. I walked in to what can best be described as a cardboard box with clothes strewn all over the dirty floor and no furniture to sit on. All this woman had was walls and a dirt floor. To her, it didn’t matter what she had or didn’t have – what made her home wonderful were the people and love in it.
I pause and breathe in her life. I take in her world and begin to process, painfully living out her day so I can fully appreciate what I have. We start to leave her home and she directs us to an easier way back to our car. I ask Jane if this is her field. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I have done this.’ On her own, with a 4-year-old at her side and a boy with disabilities at home, Jane tended an entire field of food for her family so they could eat.
Oh… Sweet, sweet perspective, there you are! You meet me in the middle of Jane’s field and I am humbled.
I look at Jane and move toward her. “You are amazing!” I say to her, and then she asks me the question I was dreading.
“Do you have a field like this at your home?”
I look back at my friends, hoping they would save me, defend me but they just stand there while I try to explain grocery stores. The more I explain the more embarrassing it is, and I just don’t want to talk anymore. I give her a hug, thank her, and once again remind her how amazing she is. Then we leave. Jane goes back to her life tending the fields and raising her children.
I wonder what Jane thought after we left. She was honored that we came into her home, shared briefly in her life, and loved her. We filled Jane’s cup for a while. But her beautiful smile, incredible story and simple life have done more than just fill my cup; they’ve caused me to decide to change my cup completely!
I think Jane’s story was my ‘aha’ moment because it challenged my theories, opinions, and feelings on so many levels. For Jane, life is survival in the most extreme way. At the end of her day, if she has provided food and shelter for her family, then she has done her job well; anything above that is a huge blessing to her. She doesn’t have time to think about herself, her desires or dreams, and she has found simple, unadulterated joy in serving the needs of her family and community.
The Bible says there is more joy in giving than in receiving. I don’t desire to live on the level of poverty Jane does, but I do desire to have her outlook and attitude in life. Jane will be my ‘go-to” person when I’m in any kind of difficult moment back in the States and feel the need to complain, whine or argue about my circumstances… Jane is my perspective!