Eleven-year-old Neema walks across the playground in Kenya carrying a bottle of water. Other children are playing wild and noisy games during break, but there is something else she prefers doing.
Arriving at her favorite spot, she squats and proceeds to pick up a rock, which she uses to break the soil. Neema goes on to pour water, little by little, onto the hard ground. As she pours with one hand, Neema uses the other to knead the clay into a texture that she can use to form a sculpture.
Neema — image bearer, hands in dirt — shapes surprises from the soil like her Father God.
The Image of God
In the beginning, it was the Lord God who “formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7, NIV). God, the original sculptor, made soul with skin from soil. Did he think of Neema in the garden that day?
Centuries later, it seems that God’s Son also shared an affinity for dirt. When a blind man was before him, “[Jesus] spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes” (John 9:6, NIV). It was then that a muddy miracle was made — sight from saliva and soil. Did he smile down there in that dirt and think of Neema?
Down another dusty road, when a woman caught in sin sat condemned, “Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger” (John 8:6, NIV). No one really knows what Jesus wrote, but we can say with certainty that salvation was born in a few silent seconds over this soil. Did he brush off his hands, help the woman to her feet and think of Neema?
Neema gets lost deep in the process of creating simply from soil. She balances a ball of clay on top of another and says, smiling, “What I do looks dirty, but my joy comes from what I am able to create out of nothing.” Little does she know that miracles are at work around her and within her, too.
Although poverty threatens her, it does not define her. Neema faithfully attends a Compassion center, where she learns about this God who shares her love for dirt. She is nourished, encouraged and empowered by other image bearers.
One day during her quiet play in the mud, someone thought of Neema and carefully watched her craft. The staff seized the opportunity to nurture Neema’s love of art and encourage her to keep making from the mud. Every week, they think of Neema and make sure she has the time and access to the materials that she needs to craft her sculptures. Neema is seen in the soil and slowly takes her own shape — transforming from desperately impoverished to deeply empowered.
When we recognize the potential that comes from the most mundane moments and the most dire spaces, we connect with the image of God within us. When we partner with him in his work, no matter how minute it may seem, we are part of the miracles he is working around us. We can think of Neema and say with her and God, “What I do looks dirty, but my joy comes from what I am able to create out of nothing.”
Field reporting and photography by Kevin Ouma, Compassion Kenya photojournalist.