Holding Hands in the Kibera Slums

We weave through a maze of debris, shops and homes on non-existent roads. I’m in Kibera, Kenya, in the front seat of a car with 9-year-old James.

houses with tin roofs

As we bounce over piles of trash and splash through rivers of raw sewage, I hold James’ hand. I tell myself the gesture is to cheer him. Later I will realize I needed his hand to steel me and keep me brave.

I feel suffocated in this despicable, prison-like slum. The stench of burning trash, feces, and far too many people in far-too-little spaces threatens to overwhelm me.

Colleagues had cautioned me that it would be difficult to go into one of Africa’s largest slums. But no one could have prepared me for this.

Leaving the car, I step tentatively over mounds of trash. A bucket of sewage is splashed onto the street in front of me, the same street where barefooted children run by me.

We arrive at James’ humble home. Two of his lively brothers and his sweet young mother meet me at the door. His mother smiles and we embrace — not as strangers, but as if we are long-lost sisters.

In the tiny home I sit across from James, our knees nearly touching. I ask him if he’s received letters from his sponsor. After translation, he nods his head. Yes. He’s been sponsored for only eight months but he’s received three letters.

woman sitting with a boy

I ask James to tell me about his sponsor.

He looks confused, as if I’d asked a silly question. He points across the room, right at me. My translator, a Compassion worker in Kenya, chuckles. James is mistaken. He thinks I am his sponsor.

Of course! How many other white people have stepped inside his home and showered him with hugs and forehead kisses?

Later, back in the comfort of the ministry headquarters, I tell this story to a friend. She points at me, smiles, and says, 

“In that moment, you were his sponsor. You were the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing comfort.”

I flinch at the thought. In the stark beauty of that humble Kibera home, I had not felt worthy to even tie the sandals of James’ brave mother, let alone “be Jesus” to her and her children.

How could I explain to my friend that I hated Kibera? I love Africa but I hated this slum. I had never felt so much righteous and unrighteous anger bubble up inside of me over a place.

I wish I could say I was brave. Brave like our child development center workers who thump back the gates of hell and Kibera and bring comfort to its children each day.

two people holding hands

I may not be brave like them. But I remember the moments in the car, waiting to go into the bowels of Kibera, holding James’ hand. When I return to that place, as I certainly plan to do, I will go clutching the strong hand of Jesus.

13 Comments |Add a comment

  1. shadrack mutua August 30, 2014

    this a really touching story…..love love love

  2. Martyn October 20, 2013

    Well written, thank you, I’ve been there and felt much the same…

  3. marilyn April 20, 2012

    H Katie, Thanks for taking me there with you through your
    powerful description of what you were seeing and feeling.
    How insulated my world can become–how wealthy we all
    are and how much Jesus longs for us to be His hands
    and feet. Thank you for giving James a taste of the love
    of Jesus. Blessings, Marilyn

  4. Andrew DeMello April 19, 2012

    You are brave, nice and kind. You are in God’s hands.

  5. Tina Larson April 19, 2012

    How wonderful to hear your personal story! I felt I was there walking with you and James…with all the sights and sounds and misery and hope given through the love and care of God’s people.

  6. Jimmy Wambua April 18, 2012

    Hi Katy,
    Thank you for posting this story about your exxperience in Kibera. I am a former sponsored child, now grown and I moved to Kibera to change the situation.

    God is already doing an amazing work. We will rebuild the broken walls, restore the long devastated creation of God
    Jimmy Wambua

    1. Katy Causey April 19, 2012

      Hello Jimmy,

      Praise God for you and your heart. We are praying for you!


  7. Valerie Silva April 18, 2012

    I lived in Kenya in the 90s and Kibera was an intimidating place then too. Although it is a hard place to be I’m so glad you went and met with his family. I’m thankful for the work being done there through Compassion, to improve the lives of so many. I hope you are able to share this story with many others and touch others to help in Christ’s name.

  8. Sherry W. April 18, 2012

    Katy, Thanks for bringing us to Kibera. I love the smile on James, as he meets his sponsor through you.

  9. Amber Van Schooneveld April 18, 2012

    Thank you for sharing, Katy! When I went into Kibera, all I could think is, “I want to get out of this place as soon as possible.” I haven’t had that same experience anywhere else. I agree with you – what it reminds me of is the sacrificial love that so many show in willingly and continually going into dark places!

  10. Rebecca April 18, 2012

    We visited Kibera seven years ago as part of our work with Cure. It, and slums like it, will do that to you. I remember my own anger, standing on the train tracks, looking out across it to the far side, where a ten foot cement wall embedded with glass shards separates the largest slum in Africa from the rolling green lawns of a manor-style house. The story I tell now is that we, Compassion, break down that wall every day! What a tough journey you had, but now you have a story, too! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Fred Schied April 18, 2012

    Thank-you Kathy , for bringing this story. You exude the love of the LORD Jesus Christ.

  12. Michelle ~ Blogging from the Boonies April 18, 2012

    This is such a touching post. I have read quite a bit about the slums of Kenya, but I think that even still, it would be hard to comprehend the reality.

    I love the photo of your hands together.

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