There was a time when I spent three years in a village in rural Kenya, where I lived and worked at an agricultural training center and orphanage.
My season in Kenya had a huge impact on my worldview, on how I now see God, suffering, and poverty. On how I see the choices before me. On how I follow the Blue Thread of God’s presence day to day.
I originally posted parts of this story in July 2007, shortly after I met the Sifuna family, a family who lived down the road from me.
Love Your Neighbor
Often, when I’d be driving up the muddy road to our base, I’d see two girls peeking at me from the cornfields. They were not well cared for, and they were usually hauling water from a nearby well. I started asking about the girls and learned that their family (an alcoholic dad with four kids) lived in a small house belonging to a neighbor. Their mom had turned to prostitution and was no longer living with them.
I got permission from the dad to come and visit and help bathe the children. In the process, I discovered that the four young ones (the oldest was a mere 9 years old, and was responsible for most of the work in the house) were infected with jiggers—miniscule sand flees that thrive in circumstances such as those in which the Sifuna family lived.
After hatching, jiggers would almost immediately copulate, after which the female would look for a warm host to feed her and her growing egg sack. One sack contained about 200 larvae, and as the sack grew, the female would keep eating away at the flesh of the host in order to feed the growing sack.
Two of my Kenyan colleagues knew well how to treat these pests, and joined me for our first day of the war on jiggers. Armed with disinfectant, needles, triple anti-bacterial ointment, soap, and a huge dose of courage, we headed out to see what we could do to help the little ones that particular day.
As we rounded the corner into their cornfield, little Nancy (Jepkemboi) came running and threw her arms around me. It melted my heart! This is the same little one whom I could hardly get to smile the previous week.
My friends and I settled in for the task before us: bathing the young ones and removing one egg sack at a time. But we only removed 13 sacks from the little ones’ hands and feet when we stopped. The kids were simply in too much pain. They had between 80-90 egg sacks each, and getting them healthy would take a while.
Two days later, I piled all four kids (Joan, Nancy, Brian and Richard) into my Land Rover—an adventure for kids who were used to walking and public transport only—and hauled them to a pediatrician in the nearby town of Eldoret. I asked the man whether he could help me remove the stowaway jigger mamas surgically. After all, that would be less painful and take less time. The man laughed out loud, a burly laugh—like I had just told him a really good joke! Then he took off one sock and shoe, put his foot on his desk and explained, “See my foot? See the scars? My sisters took out all the jiggers from my feet when I was young. That is what you have to do, also. Just use sterile needles so you don’t get tetanus.”
So I picked up more surgical gloves, packs of sterile surgical needles, along with boots for the kids to wear—shoes tall enough to keep the jiggers off their feet. And over the next few months, twice a week I would grab my first-aid kit and a bucket of warm water and walk down the road to their small wooden shack.
Every single time I’d walk to their home, I did so with the expectation that I would find a miracle, that the children would be healed.
Yet they weren’t. At least not in the way I had hoped.
I would pour some warm water into a basin, and one by one, bathe the children, wash their scarred feet, and pray for them, asking God to show me how to love them. Then I would progress to remove one egg sack at a time, including the remnants of sacks that had already hatched. To me, this became a sacrament, an outward expression of the inward work of the Spirit. Every time, I would sense his Spirit affirm that what I was doing was exactly the way he wanted me to love them, the way he would love them.
It took months for them to be free of jiggers. But in the process, I saw the kids blossom from shy little ones hiding in the cornfields to healthy children who confidently walked up the road on Sundays to join the worship service at our training center. And their dad? Silas went through our alcohol rehab program and worked at every job he could find in order to support his children.
… or Your Friend’s Neighbor!
Over the next 10 years, friends from afar chose to partner with me to sponsor the children’s school fees. They even provided funding to build a home for the family! Just this week, we received news that Nancy had passed the national entrance exam and has been admitted to a good high school, where she will be boarding while studying. Her father Silas remains sober and is working hard to care for the boys. Soon, they will be moving to their new home.
While I know that the healing journey continues for them, I dream of the day when Nancy or one of her brothers might take off their shoes and show someone else the scars of a life long ago, inviting them, too, to follow the God who loves them enough to endure more pain than thousands of jiggers could cause, and that they, in turn, would extend a hand of healing to someone else—the Blue Thread of God’s healing presence.
My Challenge to You
- You might not live in a place where you’re surrounded by families living in less-than-ideal circumstances. But is there someone in your neighborhood whom God’s inviting you to connect with? Someone whose feet you could wash—perhaps not literally, but through sacrificial acts of kindness?
- Or it may be that you would like to sponsor children like the Sifuna kids. In my opinion, the best organization for child sponsorship is Compassion International. (I worked for them after my time in Kenya.) You can learn more about Compassion’s child sponsorship program here.
My Question to You
- Has anyone ever done something for you that had a positive impact on your life?