Looking Back: Lessons From Strangers

It was a trip centered around a giant, dream-sized goal. I’d planned for it, trained vigorously, packed my bags and headed 24 hours by plane to begin. Before I went I was asked multiple times, “Is it a missions trip?” I’d laugh and shake my head. “Not really.” Still, malaria pills packed and a stomach filled with anxiety, I wondered what exactly this journey would bring. Memories? No doubt. Great pictures? Guaranteed. Success? Hopefully. A life impacted by many? I had no idea.

I went to climb Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is one of the 7 summits of the world. Tall and mighty, the challenge of the climb beckoned me to Africa. I convinced my friend Leigh Ann to come along — in truth we weren’t even very close friends …yet — both of us eager to do what we had traveled to Africa to do – summit the over 19,000 ft peak.

I remember our plane arriving in Nairobi around 6am, the heaviness of sleep building in our eyes, the relief in seeing our bags waiting for us in the baggage claim, the thankfulness for the driver holding my name on a sign outside. A gentle smile, the weight of our bags relieved. A glimpse.

We headed to our hotel and headed to bed without even checking in (the lady at the front desk could see our weariness and showed us straight to our rooms without payment or concern… another glimpse).

A few hours later I woke up startled. The phone was ringing and ringing and ringing. Hello? Some was waiting for us in the lobby? Confused and groggy, I stumbled out to see who could possibly be there to see me. I didn’t know anyone in Nairobi. This was just a stopover on our way to conquer mountains. Why would anyone be coming to see me?

There in the waiting room was Ben, a student leader from Compassion International, an organization I sponsor a child in Rwanda through. He had heard that I was coming to town so he came to meet me (we had made plans to visit Leigh Ann’s sponsor child the following day, but hadn’t made any plans for this da)y. The front desk had told him that I was asleep from my long trip so he waited. For a couple of hours he waited for us to wake up. For people he’d never met he waited. Glimpses.

With kindness in his eyes, Ben said that he had come to welcome us and to let us know that they had set up a day of touring for us. “They?” I asked. “Yes. We heard you were coming and that you are a child sponsor, so we set up the day for you. In a few hours some friends will come and show you some things in Nairobi.”

And so began a 3-week African adventure with strangers who would give and share and pray for us and help us all along our journey. Strangers that would stir our hearts, show us hope in what should seem like hopeless situations. Strangers that would share generously when they had so little already. Strangers…child strangers… whose faces are forever etched in my heart and mind. Glimpses of heaven, I like to think. Glimpses of how we should all be living our lives. To give freely. To love well. To help strangers. To pray for those we come in contact with. To give. To give.

Our first stop…the Kibera slums…. hundreds of thousands of people searching for hope in the middle of mud and disease and poverty that is so deep. Huts made out of scraps and children running shoeless through the streets that look as if a war just settled here, which, is some ways it has. And yet…

We rolled into the Compassion project there and talked to the leaders. It’s a humble grouping of buildings and playgrounds surrounded by an iron gate and filled with joy and laughter. They offered us beverages and showed us around. We met the women who were raising a group of children as their own. Children were receiving food, shelter, a hopeful future, a safe place… all in the middle of this muck. There were smiles all around and hearts full of gratitude. GRATITUDE. My heart was changing.

Sitonuk’s mother

The next day I refer to as “the day I was in a National Geographic Magazine article.” We headed 3 hours west of Nairobi to meet Sitonuk, Leigh Ann’s Compassion child. We had stopped to collect some small gifts for the family — soap and food items — but had no idea what to expect. A dusty bumpy drive to a place removed by time. We arrive at a school in a dusty field and I see her. Gorgeous with dark brown skin, kind eyes and a neck adorned with beaded jewelry. She looked nervous, unsure. They warned us that we might be the first white people some of these have ever seen as they were Maasai and lived far from the city without electricity or a car or just about anything we’re used to. Just past her, Sitonuk, Leigh Ann’s sponsor child, hide shyly, his curious eyes darting towards us timidly from time to time, unsure.

Sitonuk, showing off Leigh Ann’s sunglasses

We spent time getting to known one another and looking at Sitonuk’s progress report from school. Translating, they said he was excited to meet his sponsor, and we watched his shyness slowly fade away to reveal a well-loved and playful child. The lovely woman, Sitonuk’s mother, invites us to her home. We eagerly follow. It’s a modest home, typical for a Maasai village, and they welcome us in graciously, thankful for guests, eager to share. One room made out of mud, dung and sticks, with a bed in one corner and an area for cooking in another. Sitonuk’s aunt and grandma have joined us now as we gather inside their home. A plate is passed and we are offered to share a meal with them, a meal they prepared for us when we were the ones bringing them food. A meal when they have so little. Glimpses. Generosity so humbling. And then…

I’ll never forget this moment and the one that followed it. The grandmother with her kind eyes full of wisdom and home made of mud asks if she can pray for us. For us. The weight of it still hits my selfish heart. We had gone to their village to give to them, pray for them, and they were the ones wanting to give and pray for us.

I don’t remember the words of the prayer, but I’ll never forget it and the realization that you don’t have to have much to give much. The gift of generosity actually has nothing to do with what you give, but rather, how freely you give what you have. Outside the hut, the women start removing their necklaces and earrings with bright smiles and give us their jewelry. Gifts of gratitude and perhaps the most lovely of gifts I have ever received.


Sitonuk’s grandmother

There are more stories like this.

The guide from Kili that invited us to his home to share a meal with him and his children.

The pastor who invited us to stay in his two room house, giving up his bedroom for our comfort.Who woke early every morning to retrieve and heat water for us to wash wish.

People — strangers — going out of their way to help us, guide us, share with us, pray for us. I think about it now and wonder how often I do the same here in my comfortable house and my reliable car and food-stocked fridge. How often do I share with strangers? Pray for strangers? Give the little that I have?

Jesus has much to say about giving. Are you as challenged as I am about his story about the woman who gives all that she has?

Mark 12:41-44
And He [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

Luke 6:38
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

My trip to Africa impacted me. It wasn’t all easy or fun or great — sometimes it was downright frustrating — but it was most definitely memorable. Yes, I made it to the top of Kili, a huge victory and something I’ll always be proud of, but it was those two days in Kenya with Compassion, it’s leaders and the children that impacted my heart. I loved seeing the work of Compassion in action, seeing entire families being changed just with one child being sponsored and knowing that the money I give every month to help a young boy in Rwanda works to give him a warm meal, light in a dark place and education for his tomorrow. This organization is an organization of givers, lovers of many, friend to strangers, hopeful light to children around the world.

I’m in a season of learning about thankfulness as I wrote about recently. “Thankfulness is always proceeds a miracle. “ Remember that? As I’m learning just how much I have, a seed has been planted. In my gratefulness, a yearning to give. J and I recently decided to sponsor another child through Compassion (we haven’t picked one yet but will this month) and are excited to spend some time writing to, praying for and helping provide for the life of a child.

Please, if you are looking for a place to give, consider Compassion International.


4 thoughts on “Looking Back: Lessons From Strangers

  1. What a beautiful story. I lived in Tanzania for 6 months and experienced similar glimpses of humanity & generosity. I love it that you felt climbing Kili was a side issue!

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