We had just finished dinner at a favorite restaurant we’d go to occasionally on the north-side of Nairobi. When we left, we entered the long line of traffic. Street vendors began weaving their way through the cars offering their typical assortment of key chains, steering wheel covers, pirated DVDs, magazines and catalogues, peanuts, and the occasional vendor offering small amounts of cell-phone air time.
They were usually followed by the beggars–some who were dressed in rags, others who may have been blind being led by a friend or family member, and others with missing limbs. Then came the children. While in most of the city the beggars were adults, up here there were always kids.
A beautiful little girl who was about six or eight years old knocked on our window. We were warned not to give to child beggars because many of them are forced to beg by adults who are sometimes in criminal networks. “Mista, I’m hung-rree,” she said with a rolled r in her accent of English. We gave her a full bag of change…
When she went away, my first thought was, that pretty little girl is going to grow up to be a prostitute. My heart ached. I wanted to weep for her, and concentrated hard to keep the tears from flowing as we made our way back to our house that night.
It’s not an unusual scenario for a girl conscripted to beg as a child to then be forced into prostitution as she grows into an adult. Sometimes the criminal networks that control these children, have a hold on them their whole lives. It’s a life of enslavement. It’s not fair.
While we know local people from the countries where we’ve lived and visited who live just the same as us, we also see people struggling, and we know some of them, too. Often their struggles are so different than what we were confronted with at home:
- The woman who’s daughter died of AIDS, who now cares for her grandchildren and doesn’t know from month to month if she’ll be able to afford their school fees.
- The man who lives in a corrugated metal shack in an urban slum, and walks with a limp after being beaten by a mob who mistakenly thought he was to blame for a community crime.
- The fathers who we give our old clothes to who moved from a country known for war and violence to the country where we live now hoping for a better life for their children.
- The people who pick through our trash looking to see if we’ve left something they can eat, something that can be recycled or something that can be fixed and sold.
- Some of our colleagues and others we’ve met who because they were followers of Jesus spent time in prison, were beaten, were tortured, and witnessed friends and family murdered because of their beliefs.
- The people who fled from their homes to get away from people who wanted to eradicate their communities and now live in crowded refugee camps.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I had been born somewhere else. I wonder how it is that I’ve been able to live such an easy life, comparably, to how many others live.
Sometimes I wonder what if…
- I had to live in a metal shack in an urban slum
- I had to go to jail for my faith
- I struggled to buy clothes or find food to eat
Life’s problems are not doled out in equal measure.
Life isn’t fair.
Sometimes problems arise out events we can’t control like natural disasters. Sometimes they happen because of our own actions or poor choices. But, sometimes it’s the results of other people’s wrong behaviors. And, if you look at major world difficulties you can see patterns of systemic societal, even global sins, for which a portion of the population, even a majority, are subject to the negative outcomes.
God’s Word tells us that this world is fallen (Psalm 14:1-3, Ecclesiastes 7:20; Jeremiah17:9) and broken and that human beings are by their very nature inclined towards evil (Romans 3:23; Galatians 5:19-21). All of these inequities that we see are a result of our personal and corporate sins.
But, God can make us new (2 Corinthian 5:17). He can change our communities. He can change our societies. Someday he’ll make a new earth that will be perfect (Revelations 21; Isaiah 65:17-25).
Until then, God promises to give us the grace to persever through life’s troubles (John 16:33; 1 Corinthians 1:3-7).
We’ve witnessed examples of God’s grace in action.
- Individuals of various economic levels who offer the resources they have to help others.
- Churches and organizations running programs to help those who are struggling with immediate needs and offering training to communities to help them overcome long-term problems.
- Attitudes of thankfulness that transcend circumstances.
The hope that they have, gives me confidence to know that if God can sustain them, he can also sustain me no matter what difficulties I may face.