Kibera...The most densely populated slum in Africa
Depending on whose numbers you accept, there are between 175,000 and 800,000 living in an area that is just over 1.2 square miles. That gives Kibera the dubious honor of being the largest slum in Nairobi and the largest urban slum in Africa. Also, because there is almost no multi-story construction in the slum, it means population density feels extream. Living conditions are atrocious by any standard. Unemployment is way into the double digits, with those working earning on average less than a dollar a day. Essential services such as electricity, running water, and medical care are rare. There are few schools, and most residents do not have the money to send their children. Crime is rampant with assault and rape commonplace. Open sewers are everywhere, with a local phenomenon known as flying toilets (human excrement in a plastic bag tossed out a window or door into the street) something for which you have to keep an eye out as you walk. Clean water is scarce, so it is no surprise that poor hygiene and communicable diseases are all too prevalent, among them HIV and AIDS.
Kibera is four miles from the center of Nairobi, which sports glass and concrete skyscrapers that would be at home in any western city. It is separated from the Royal Nairobi Golf Club - annual membership $5,000 - only by a chain link fence. Imagine the hopelessness of living in abject poverty while staring through a fence at someone playing golf; knowing that if you were doing well compared to your neighbors, it would take you more than 20 years of work to be able to afford a one-year membership.
I visited Kibera in January of 2017. I was not looking forward to my visit, feeling pretty sure I may be overcome by the utter hopelessness of the peoples' situation there. I can tell you it really did break my heart to see children, who by the seeming twist of fate, were born here instead of in my family in Buffalo, MN. Why do I have such a comfortable life while these people walk ground that is literally composed of refuse and rubbish? Walking into Calvary Evangelistic Church from the police station on the edge of the slum, the “streets” narrowed while the heat, dust, stench, and stagnation mounted. Thankfully the day we were there it was dry, so the open sewers stayed contained in the ditches that ran alongside and among the “streets.” The sewage was contained, but the stench was not - everywhere smelled like an outhouse, an overused, never-cleaned outhouse. Everywhere that is, except Pastor Timothy’s compound. I know it sounds hyperbolic, but inside his ministry area the air was lighter and smelled sweet.
When you meet Pastor Timothy, he will tell you he is the happiest man in the slum, and if you are privileged to spend some time with him, you will come to believe it. It is not just him who is happy and full of the hope of Christ, it is all those in his ministry: the staff, the children and even parishioners in his church. We met the head cook who calls herself the Prime Minister of Nutrition and has a smile that held more joy than I see in a week of encounters back here in the states. I also met a man, whose name I am ashamed to say I don’t remember, who moved his family into Kibera so that he can minister to the many Muslims who live there. And get this - they are gaining converts who return to their homelands as missionaries for Christ! A slum in Africa with an average wage of less than one dollar a day is sending out missionaries to the lost souls of the Muslim world. Hearing this humbled me, causing me to ask why we, the western church is not doing more.
My heart broke and breaks for our brothers and sisters who live in Kibera because of their destitution, but it broke again for joy at experiencing the hope and joy they have in Christ.
When I asked Timothy what the goal of his ministry is he did not say, to provide a safe place for some of Kibera’s homeless boys to sleep, although he does that. He did not say to provide at least one meal a day to over 200 children, although he does that. He did not say to have a school that will teach children the skills they need to perhaps one day live outside the slum, although he does that. He said it was to reach the people of Kibera for Christ so that they can all go to heaven. Amazing how he is able to see and fulfill the real mission of the Church, that is to make disciples, and in the process, God is adding “all these things” aka ministry success to him.
After meeting Timothy and seeing his ministry, as a board member, I am very pleased that we are partnering with him. My only wish is that we would have more resources that we could send his way.
Thanks for your time. God bless and Godspeed!