COVID Contemplations (April 16) – “Serving the Street Boys”

I met him one night in Jerusalem several years ago and immediately I was impressed by his heart.  For it was clear even then that Seth Johnson wanted to be used by God to serve those whom others may overlook.  I wasn’t surprised at all thus when a few months later he found his calling, moving from the gentle hills of Virginia to one of the toughest places on earth, the Kawangware slum in Nairobi, Kenya.

The second largest such settlement in the city, Kawangware is a huge sprawling urban village of makeshift homes of cardboard boxes or aluminum sheeting, often 100 square feet, housing hundreds of thousands of residents who struggle to survive on less than one dollar a day.  Safe drinking water is often unavailable or otherwise expensive, and combined with a poor sewage system, residents frequently suffer from a host of both waterborne and airborne diseases.

It’s estimated that 65% of those who live there are children and youth.  The lucky ones have families and some are even in the little Methodist school I once visited there.  But all too many are simply street boys or girls, abandoned by parents unable to care for them.  And it was those most vulnerable children of God that my young friend Seth decided to serve, moving there to begin a ministry pretty much on his own except, of course, for God who led him.

What he has done is rather remarkable, thus.  But as you might imagine, the global pandemic has made things even tougher for those whose lives were fragile in the first place.  Like a modern day Joseph marshalling the resources of Egypt, Seth has accordingly been stockpiling supplies in order to keep on feeding roughly 150 people a day out of his modest ministry.  And he’s continued to use the relationships he has built up with local chieftains and other power brokers to retain his access to those he is helping, even with the social distancing guidelines in place there as they are here.

All of which is a reminder that whatever uncomfortable circumstances the coronavirus has produced for us, it’s exponentially harder for some in other places.  And yet, Seth’s street boys are not simply “his kids” or children of God, they are the children of all of God’s people as well.  Just as the villagers of Bulike in Uganda where our friend, Dr. Ronnie Kaluya, is at work.  And the people of Olivier, Haiti, and Reynosa, Mexico where our teams have served.  For just as the name Kawangware is thought to mean “the place of the guinea bird,” a symbol in Africa of glory or fulfillment, our continuing charge is to help others find their glory and fulfillment in God as well, no matter what their circumstances.

To be sure, our facility on Austin Parkway may be closed temporarily.  But my prayer is that our hearts towards those with less in this world will never be shut.

(Seth’s ministry, by the way, is called simply IAM Mercy, and you can find out more about him, as well as see a short video on what is happening right now in Kawangware, at http://www.iamercy.org. His tag line is that “mercy begins with you.” And I have a feeling he is right.)

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