Saturday, February 10, 2007

How I Spend the 9 to 5

My schedule has changed a lot since I’ve been here, but recently I’ve found a groove and now have a set routine for the next few months. I’ve been spending my mornings at Light and Power in the Gatina slum. I hold Bible studies and prayer meetings with a group of guys from 8-8:30, then work with them to make paper bags. There’s about 12 guys at Light and Power, plus our cook Beatrice. Most of the guys have been making bags for a long time and see Light and Power as an opportunity to provide an income for themselves and their families and also to help their community. The guys are an incredibly diverse group. They represent nearly a dozen different tribes. Some grew up in strong homes with traditional families, others spent their childhood on the streets or bouncing from one home to another. Some graduated high school at the top of their class and are now in University part-time. Others never went to school and lack any formal education whatsoever. Some are Christian, some are Muslim. All of them are trying to escape destitute poverty and bring hope to Gatina.

In the past two months, we’ve been through a lot of struggles together. These guys have a lot of talents and gifts and a strong determination to succeed. They’ve lived through crime, disease, hunger, abuse, and a lot of hardship. Many were manipulated and mistreated by leaders at the Centre before, so there is still a lot of mistrust, suspicion, and theft. We even had a small revolt/uprising and had to dismiss one of the members because of some of the trouble he had been bringing. As a team, however, we’ve been growing together, and we have a solid leadership group that hopes to cultivate a strong sense of community at the Centre. We’ve also been working with Amber and Anne and the Light and Power Board of Directors to try to stabilize the bag business, and enhance the Centre’s impact on the surrounding slum. Recently we’ve moved into a new home, updated our business and management structures, solidified our accounting, developed a catalog, and expanded our marketing base. Amber and Anne have also started a Saturday program with games and activities for children in the slum. In addition, Beatrice holds a small literacy program and Bible club for girls twice a week in the new house. She hopes to reach more young girls in the future and we’ve been discussing strategies to do this. Unfortunately, Beatrice doesn’t speak much English, so I’ve been trying to learn Swahili. We do our best to communicate to one another, but sometimes it comes across kind of funny.

I take Swahili classes for a couple hours three days a week. Amber, Anne, and I found a great tutor nearby, and we’ve been taking classes separately, but enjoying our interactions with our teacher, Peter. Peter has been focusing on conversational Swahili and we’ve also started some basic reading. Learning a language on top of everything else is challenging and frustrating. It makes my brain tired, but Swahili is a beautifully poetic and at the same time amazingly well structured language.

In the afternoons, when I’m not studying Swahili, I teach three days a week at Akiba School. I have 9th and 10th graders for Computer Studies, which means introduction to computers and the basics of Microsoft Windows and Office. Many of the students are very bright and eager to learn, and several are Light and Power members who have received sponsorships to attend school. Classes are going well, but teaching requires a lot of creativity. The school is blessed to have a computer lab, but there are only a few working computers and many of those have viruses or other problems. I have classes with up to 36 students. With the limited number of computers and frequent power outages, teaching here is a real challenge. I end up drawing a lot of pictures on the board.

On Wednesdays and sometimes Saturday afternoons I work with a small Computer College at St. Luke’s Church in Kibera. I’ve been helping with some of their classes and also with their business structure. The college has a solid board of faithful Kenyan men and women who volunteer their time to provide education and positive activities for youth in the slums, many of whom are idle, unemployed, and tempted by a life of crime. The college offers a variety of courses as well as job training and ministry activities. They minister to many Kenyans in the neighboring slum, which is the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are also several Sudanese students, and there are large Sudanese and Ethiopian communities that worship in the church during the week. Recently several of the school’s graduates found successful jobs in Nairobi and Southern Sudan. The college hopes to expand its outreach in the future and partner with other churches. They have plans to plant computer schools in neighboring urban slums as well as in rural areas of Kenya. The founder of the College is a good friend and from time to time he invites me to visit with him and help “facilitate” local church services. Jackson is currently working his way through seminary, studying urban ministry and missions. He also teaches and preaches at many churches and youth conferences in addition to working with the college. If anyone is interested in helping with his seminary tuition, let me know.

In general, life here has been an adventure: busy, tiring, and often a struggle, but never boring. I’ve been learning a great deal and am grateful for my friends here and for your support back home. Most of the time, I’m not sure what I’m doing, but God has been faithful, opened many doors, and helped me through many challenges. Thank you so much for your prayers and support.

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