Kenya, Kibera, and Coronavirus

April 10, 2020 |

Today is Good Friday.  In the Christian tradition, it’s a day for us to reflect upon the sacrifice of Jesus’ death in order for us to have eternal life.  As I was reading through my Common Prayer book today, this note about a past Good Friday event struck me:


Hundreds of Christians gathered on Good Friday to remember Jesus, and also to remember Jesus disguised as the “least of these,” those who continue to be tortured, spit on, slapped, insulted, misunderstood, those who ache, bleed, cry, love, forgive, and ask God, “Have you forsaken me?”


I thought about these words in light of everything going on in the world right now and in somber consideration of our friends in the slums in Kenya.  I’ve seen a wide variety of reactions and responses: of joy for a time of rest, of annoyance for a time of inconvenience, of fear in a time of death, and of deep concern in a time of limited resources.  

I experienced all sorts of emotions about the Covid-19 virus over the past month: barely even giving it a second thought when I stepped on the plane to go to Kenya; realizing a few weeks later that I did not want to be separated from my husband and child indefinitely; making a quick decision to fly back from Kenya early; panic about having a sore throat and praying I had not unknowingly gotten someone sick.  Then there was the complete shock of learning that the tiny county where I grew up is part of a hotspot with some of the highest per capita infection rates in the country. When you know people who have coronavirus and who’ve died from it, everything becomes a lot more real and a lot more personal. Suddenly, you live in awareness–not fear, but with a sense of responsibility.


When I left Kenya, no one in our organization really knew what was going to happen next.  And as the news unfolded, I feared the challenges ahead. How do you tell people in a slum to social distance?  With families living together in 1 room shacks, is that really possible? How do you keep germs away when people see soap as a luxury and when water shortages happen often?  With everyone in lockdown, so many people in the slums have lost their jobs working construction, in factories, and as domestic workers in middle-class homes. And while I do not take lightly how people across the US are suffering, what happens in a place where there are no safety nets at all for the extreme poor?   What about all the densely populated slums and refugee camps across the world?


Today I received the news that there was a stampede in part of Kibera as people crammed and smashed themselves into food distribution lines for a small packet of flour before chaos ensued.  The pictures of people falling all over each other and lunging for food trying to get their next meal, was disturbing and sad.  


As I am Instacarting my groceries and thinking of ways to entertain my kid, I am not scrambling every day to figure out how we’re going to eat.  No, I am living a privileged life, and I wrestle with what to do with that privilege.  Our Kenyan team has sewn masks for our artisans, kids, their family members.  We distributed soap and are working to find a way to safely deliver some food without being mobbed.  Our team mulled over crazy questions today: Can we safely walk families to the nearest shop and buy them rice? Do we hide it in a tuk tuk or strap it on a motorcycle? It feels strange even suggesting these options.

I don’t think there are any easy answers.  But I do think that Jesus still sees the suffering of the least of these.  His heart breaks because he has lived in our broken world, been outcast, and experienced the pain.  There is hope that even in this suffering across the world, his resurrection has overcome all, and He hasn’t forsaken us.  So in spite of everything, may we unify ourselves in prayer for our neighbors down the street and our brothers and sisters across the world.  May His love fill us with everlasting peace.

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