God Was In this Place

Yesterday I made my annual trip to North United Methodist church for a service led in part by our Duke interns to the Global Interfaith Partnership's Umoja project.  For those who do not know the Umoja project is an interfaith program that provides support for infants and vulnerable children in Western Kenya.  As a long-time board member I have seen the project mature and every year.  As part of that growth,  we have two interns from Duke Divinity School spend several weeks in Kenya at the project schools where we support these youth. Elizabeth Styron and Kadeisha Kilgore were the two women who went this year. They offered their ability to minister to the families in Kenya, give an American presence that helps continue to cement the relationships we have developed with our congregations, the teachers and the guardians in Kenya that make the program work.

Our interns always bring back information that is hard to collect from shorter visits and certainly from this side of the world.  This year was no different.  They told stories of a young girl taking her national exam to earn her opportunity to further her education,while her mother lay dying at home. As this young woman was trying to advance her own life her mother lost hers.  This tragic story is an extreme one based on a common theme.  The students we support in Kenya know that education is the way that they will transform their own lives and the lives of their community.  Their energy toward getting good scores, which are necessary to move on in school, is remarkable.  This story stunned but did not surprise me.  Many of the students I met and others have seem laser focused on school, when not having to find ways to meet the basic needs of life (food, shelter and physical safety).  The interns allow for seeing those moments in a day-to-day action and thus not simply a snapshot of a moment.  We learn a great deal of how our program is doing something powerful in Kenya.

At times there are doubts about the efficacy of our program in any important way.  We can say feed 3000 children, providing school fees for 100 students, and so on is something, but we can also think of thousands more that could use the support.  Worldwide we see daily places where our time, money and energy can be put to use and even at home there is hunger, abuse, and undereducated children we pass on the way to work.  However, one of the things the interns always bring back for me is the nature of the relationship, the connection of souls.  We aren't simply providing access to food and school, we are building community together.  That girl who is working on her future, knowing her mother is dying at home teaches us the power of what we are doing.  Watching our graduates who are off to university and coming back to change their community shows me that our small, directive and personal program is doing something far more than trying to create a giant program that dumps money into a community without the connection.

There are times I have had doubts about what we are doing, when there are problems with securing food, when we hear about the failed ability to help all who qualify, when it just seems like a drop in the bucket I can listen to the interns who come back and I am reenergized.  I see it in the eyes of a girl taking a test, a guardian who proudly shows off a test score or a boy who smiles and says God will provide for me and God brought you to me.  Hope is a slippery thing to grab onto at times, but today I have hope.  Thank you to Keisha and Liz for bringing that back from Kenya for me.  It is better than any carved wooden giraffe.  

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