Over the past two years I’ve seen many kids hurt, I’ve heard many lies, I’ve seen sickness and even death. It’s too easy to focus on these things, to lose hope and to despair. And it’s also too easy to become so caught up in the everyday activities and just ‘getting the job done’. I was thinking about this last week as I sat surrounded by scraps of paper, cutting out 140 arrows for Turning Point holiday clubs and as I focussed on how to cut as many arrows as quickly as possible so I can lie back and watch TV without being hunched over a pair of scissors. I thought about how many people back in the UK have commented on what an ‘exciting’ or life I lead…. And I kind of smiled while I thought of this, and I thought I wish they could see my oh-so-exciting life now as I sit here getting blisters on my thumbs from all this snipping.
But in amongst the pain and hopeless and destruction that often comes through St John’s and Turning Point, and in amongst the mundane and ordinary of everyday life, there are stories that give purpose to it all. They’re miraculous, as life is, but they’re not miracles that happen in an instant. They’re not stories that have already finished with a ‘happily ever after’: they can still be classed as ‘works in progress’. And because of this, it’s easy to miss them in amongst everything else. It’s only when you take a step back and examine, reflect on the past and look towards the future that you notice them. So I want to take a bit of time to remember these stories and the small miracles that are taking place everyday. The is Juma’s* story-in-progress:
I first met Juma in 2007: a bright and lively boy who was fiercely protective of his younger brother and sister. Despite a difficult home situation, he would come bouncing up with a big smile covering all of him – even the bruises and marks from previous beatings. He took a special place in the hearts of many who met him. When I returned to Kenya in April 2011 I sought him out. He couldn’t be found, couldn’t be traced. After a bit of digging around I learned that in 2010, Juma had disappeared. This was not unusual for him. In the previous few years since 2007, Juma had become increasingly attracted to street life, often leaving home for days at a time to live with friends on the street. Life at home had not been easy. When his father had been drinking, Juma would often bear the brunt of many beatings as he tried to protect his mother and younger siblings. Life at home handed Juma responsibilities well beyond his years. Life on the streets, on the other hand, offered independence and a relative safety away from his aggressive father. However, after a few days, Juma would always return home. In 2010, he did not.
Word reached his mother that Juma had been caught stealing a phone and taken into children’s remand, where he was to stay until his case reached court. Juma’s mother was sick when his case went through court. He was sentenced and sent to a government rehabilitation centre, and his family had no idea where he had been sent. He had just disappeared. With the help, I began searching for Juma when I returned to Nairobi in 2011. We eventually tracked him down to a rehabilitation centre a couple of hours drive out of Nairobi. It was a precious moment when I travelled with Juma’s mum to meet him for the first time in well over a year. Prior to this visit, Juma had had no contact with his family since being taken into remand. At just 12 years old, he had gone through remand, court and then ‘sentencing’ to this rehabilitation centre alone.
When we found him, his behaviour at the rehabilitation centre was very bad, and he was at risk of being sent to a borstal institution, which has the highest level of security and discipline, if his behaviour continued in that way.
Since our first visit with Juma’s mum, his behaviour began to improve. He realised he had not been forgotten about, his younger brother and sister missed him and he had a reason to work hard to be released. In subsequent visits, I watched as Juma became happier and more outgoing. Staff at the rehabilitation centre reported that Juma was becoming more obedient and taking responsibility.
In November last year, Juma sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams. The following month he was released from the centre and returned to live with his family. Although he was released from the centre a changed boy, his behaviour much better, I was concerned that upon his return to the slums, he may be drawn back into a life on the streets. With perfect timing, a wonderfully generous person came forward offering sponsorship for a child to board at secondary school. I laugh at how God has things planned so perfectly.
It was an exciting day in March 2013 as we packed Juma’s things, got his school uniform and saw him off to boarding school. In the holidays, Juma returns to his family, but boarding school means that for the majority of the time he is away from the dangers and lures of slum life.
It’s been a journey. In 2011, Juma had little to look forward to, few expectations and much pain. Over the course of two years, much has changed and he now has much to hope for in his future. No, his story is not over yet. There’s still much to come, including more trials and troubles I’m sure, but out of the pain and burdens that was all I could feel when I looked at his case two years ago, and out of the mundane tasks such as standing in line at the supermarket last month to buy the things he needed for boarding school, there is hope rising and a life-changing. I’m so blessed that God allowed me to be part of that and from now on, in the more frustrating moments I’m going to make more effort not to forget this and not to miss the miracles in the small things.
*Name changed to protect identity