By Laura DeGroot
Part 3 of Imagine Kenya Series
Today we met the front lines of Crossroads Kenya: the volunteer mentors. Brothers and sisters from many miles away came together in one room and we sat at a table facing them for five hours. Many of them are pastors, chaplains and elders, who sat shoulder to shoulder, so thankful for this time to meet one another, to be together again.
Brother Samuel began with singing. Harmony in high volume sent praises to our God. I joined in, smiling and swaying. The music came from somewhere deep. It was reverent.
Brother Samuel invited us to continue with prayers to God, but rather than one quiet voice speaking at a time, all the voices spoke their prayers at once, with the same intensity they sang with. Voices bounced off one another—each one honoring and calling on the presence of the Spirit.
I joined in with the same intensity and found myself remembering the story in Acts 2 when the believers were meeting together in a room and were suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking in other languages.
I didn’t want it to end.
Love costs something
Let me introduce you to Jefferson. He has been the director of Crossroads Kenya since 2010. He is a leader of leaders, pastor of the African Inland Church in Kijabe and newly appointed committee leader, affectionately known as the “mayor” of Kijabe.
Jefferson and his staff coordinated today’s gathering of people, and he transitioned us from the time of worship to the program for the day. He spoke boldly, bright-eyed, joyfully. He encouraged the volunteer mentors, thanking them for the sacrifices they made in time and treasure to be together. Later in the day, I continued to hear how much of the mentors’ ministry to prisoners
For these volunteer mentors, showing love is costly.
And then, wow . . . I cannot find enough words to describe what happened when each brother and sister stood up and shared. They spoke of the people in the prisons they meet, the ones they know, the ones who study the Bible with lessons from Crossroads.
“Brothers and sisters, if we are faithful, we will go far; we will accomplish much.”
This was repeated over and over from one zealous, hopeful heart to fellow zealous, hopeful hearts. They encouraged one another in this hard, slow work. They shared their challenges.
I could hardly relate to the challenges they described.
Pens. They need pens! I banged my hand against my forehead. Inside my head, I screamed, “WHAT? THEY NEED PENS?”
Plastic chairs. They need plastic chairs in Kambu because they have no chapel space, just the ground to sit on. They need more Bible lessons in their language, Kiswahili. They need computers to keep good records.
They need funds for an 18-year-old coming out of prison who is determined to go to the university he has already been accepted to. He landed in prison because his grandmother called the police on him when he banged a stick on the door in frustration after being told his family would not sell land to pay for his university costs. That public disruption took him to juvenile prison for four months. He is out now, and he still wants to go to school.
There is a need for more training, offices for meeting and training, chapel structures in the prisons, professional development for chaplains . . . the list goes on and on. Often, their ministry is funded out of the pockets of mentors, pastors
My mind jumped into fundraising mode, coming up with all kinds of ideas for getting the word out about these needs. Some of them are so incredibly basic. Some are profoundly necessary. Some seem impossible.
Empowering the church to meet challenges
And then Cynthia (director of international ministries for Crossroads) stood and spoke to the growing list of challenges. She heard the people, she honored their sacrifice of stepping into suffering. And she confidently reminded them of the need-filler: God’s CHURCH! The church must rise up and sacrifice and supply and show up.
Cynthia boldly empowers them to seek resources here in their own country, to call the church to its responsibility to care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the prisoner—to help the least of these (Matthew 25).
My fundraising idea sheet stopped in its tracks. I was sitting in a seat of privilege and pride, thinking I could be their provider, a rescuer—like I could play God to help these people with so much need.
This need is not simple. This need is great and ongoing and won’t be solved by my feeble attempts to throw money at pens and chairs. I did not fully understand everything going on, but I felt a sense of repentance. I sensed an important piece of wisdom coming my way. I set down my pen.
I stopped seeing them.
I started seeing us.
The dividing lines of country, culture and need blurred to invisible. It’s not about differences. It’s about similarities. Not them and us. Just us.
We ALL have needs that make us rely not on ourselves, but on our Provider. We ALL need the saving grace of Jesus. We ALL are saved only by what He did in love for us. We ALL need the hope of salvation. We ALL have access to the throne of God. We ALL are called to become disciples and make disciples. We ALL need Jesus. Prisoners, pastors, chaplains, mentors, staff members, ordinary people in Kenya, in the US, everywhere.
I think we do not remember often enough God’s storehouses of gifts and the permission He has granted each of us to ask for what’s there. We have more than enough for ourselves because what we have is meant to come to us and go through us.
Church, what do you have that we need? You have love itself. Offer that first by seeing and treating one another as us, not them. And I mean now—do this now! Look at those you work with, those you live next to, those you worship with; look at those you serve in a myriad of ways and see Imago Dei, the image of God.
I picked up my pen and started to listen differently. I started to think of the organizations and ministries I have a connection to and the needs they have. We have similar challenges of wanting more people, more funds, more harvesters because the harvest is great. We’re not that different.
We’re the people of God, swept up in His mission to advance His Kingdom here on earth in the midst of challenges and difficulties.
As our time together ended, I was again reminded of the story in Acts. Jesus promised the men and women that when the Holy Spirit would come upon them, they would be witnesses, telling people everywhere about Jesus.
These men and women in Kenya are doing just that. Crossroads mentors in the United States are doing that. The challenges are different. But in both countries, men and women are following the winds of the Spirit into dark places and joining Jesus in the work He is doing there.