138 Dirksen Drive, DeBary, FL US 32713
As we served in the classrooms and ventured into the Mathare slum for the first time, we gained perspective on the challenges confronting AIC Zion's students and the magnitude of Zion's broader mission to raise people out of poverty.
The first item on today's docket was visiting students' homes in the slum--a truly overwhelming experience. The Mathare slum is unlike any site imaginable in the United States; red African dust floats in the air around your face as sewage and trash cover the dirt path under your feet. The air reeks of smoke and exhaust from innumerable sources, including market squares in which residents openly ferment grain to create alcohol. One of the central features of the slum is the Mathare River, which is a rapidly flowing mixture of gray water and plastic trash.
Every home that we visited in Mathare was a single-mother household, which disturbed us even more than the environment of the slum. Homes are roughly 50 square feet and lighting is poor; we now understand why students report that studying is nearly impossible in the evenings.
We immediately noticed another feature of the slum: it is filled with unattended children of all ages. However, the difference between these children and the students at Zion is remarkable. While the children we observed generally appeared unwashed and unhealthy, Zion's students are explosively energetic, well fed, and treated by the clinic for any illnesses. Ron, who had the opportunity to serve lunch to the children, was impressed by the generous portion sizes that sufficiently nurture Zion's students throughout the day.
Zion truly cares for any child that enters its facilities. Laura and Laura were able to meet a preschooler with special needs, who Reverend Wambua and the teachers have decided to educate and eventually place into a specialized school for children with learning disabilities.
After returning from our visits, we interacted with the primary school and high school during their respective Chapel times. Bill shared the story of Jericho, and the primary students enjoyed copying his gestures as he explained the tale. Cami was able to share her testimony and present the Gospel to the high schoolers. As she summarized at the end of the day, the children of Zion "reached their hands for my hair and reached their hands for my hips, but they really put their hands on my heart."
Our afternoon consisted of spending time with the students through games and classes. Matthew was able to harness his passion for sports as he coached Zion's volleyball team; he said that they have remarkably improved since last year. Ron taught algebra to the high schoolers as Cami was impressed by the difficulty of the content in Class 8 (the equivalent of eighth grade in the United States). Ben enjoyed working with a handful of gifted Class 7 students; he introduced them to quadratic and cubic equations, which are topics usually discussed in America at the high school level. Nevertheless, the students quickly picked up on patterns and proved their brilliance to their new American teachers.
Our day concluded with a large group discussion about church leadership with AIC Zion's pastors and elders. Each team member from The Bible Chapel pre-selected a leadership trait, such as integrity, growth mindset, or discipline, and then explained its relevance in the church. Wayne and Dee, who have a deep understanding of Kenyan church culture, were able to relate every comment to Jesus' leadership style and to challenge the pastors to develop their abilities.
Before we left Zion for the night, we received a schedule--yes, a schedule--complete with event dates, times, descriptions, leaders, and locations for the remainder of our trip. Kenyans and schedules typically mix like oil and water. We wonder if we are unintentionally changing our friends' habits or if our hosts are simply being gracious. Regardless, we are certain that this schedule is the first to ever appear on AIC Zion's property.
We learned several important lessons today: slum conditions are no match for a Zion student's mind and motivation, teaching duck-duck-goose to Kenyan preschoolers is like herding cats, and an AIC Zion volleyball match is not to be taken lightly. Our team enjoyed pouring into Zion, and we loved discovering more about this place--which is feeling more and more like home.
(Written by Ben Zeisloft, on behalf of the team)