Another beautiful African day begins at the not-so-beautiful Bungoma Tourist Hotel, a member of the Worst Eastern hotel chain and a place we are all more than happy to bid “good-bye”. After a quick breakfast, we load up every bit of our luggage, and wave adios to this place we will never forget for all of the right reasons; it has been good for us soft westerners…it reminds us of many gifts back home we take for granted. Pulling out of Bungoma, dodging some of the most impressive potholes I’ve ever seen, we begin our journey toward Eldoret, Kenya, with a morning stop along the way at a fledgling school in Lurare that had not even a building last year. It is the Premiere Christian School, led by a Baptist pastor and his wife, Samson and Ruth. As a Bible student and teacher, I have to think for a moment about their names, so drastically different in their original contexts. Obviously the parents of these two must have been believers, and they must have also been captivated by the strength or the message that came through their representative lives as taught in Bible stories. When I think of Samson and Ruth of the Bible, I think, respectively, of strength and grace. As I come to know these two, I understand that they are named appropriately! They are gracious, welcoming, and seem very well suited for what they do.
This school started with a handful of children two years ago and now has grown to 150 kids who are crammed into the mud-walled classroom building, like so many sardines in a can too small. But no one has ever instructed them concerning state-mandated teacher-pupil ratios, and they go at it like it is the most important thing in their lives. And it is. I’ve never seen construction like this, and since much of it is fresh or still underway, I get a crash course in building without bricks. The rooms are framed with wood posts, horizontal lattices running between them. These posts and beams provide the support for the tin roof overhead. In between the lattices is then stacked large globs of mud mixed with straw, layered from bottom to top. It reminds me a bit of the less-than-resilient houses of the first two of the three little pigs—more fast and cheap than durable—but the locals tell me that it can last 20 years! Still, it looks to me like a hard rain from the wrong direction could quickly result in an open-air classroom. I trust they know exactly what they are doing; they’ve been doing it since before Jesus walked north and east of here.
While the construction is primitive, the quality of education is that in no way. In these rooms they learn about academics; they also learn about God. And they learn, hopefully, that God loves them and people a world away love them enough to send money each month for their care and feeding. It is remarkable and noteworthy that in a classroom filled with what appears to be four and five year olds, along with simple English words on the blackboard are the words “their” and “there”. Five year olds in mud-wall buildings are learning in a second language what the majority of American 8th graders haven’t yet and may never master! (In another classroom at a different school we saw a complex explanation on the blackboard of the atomic weight differences of certain molecules….advanced chemistry in a building made of mud!)
Here in Lurare the rooms are so small, and our visitors group so large, that we have to move the assembly outdoors. While we are waiting for the protocol to formally begin, Travis and I notice two boys across the playing field. They are standing outside the fence, looking in. It’s ironic, though, because even though the round, chemically green fence posts have been installed, there is no wire yet between them. Turns out they live adjacent to the school yard, their small thatched-roof mud huts not 20 feet from the school property. Yet they stand there, on their side of the fence, somberly looking on as 150 joy-filled school kids cavort in the school yard, one step away. Because they are not “sponsored” kids–no one in the US sends monthly support to pay their freight–they cannot step across the imaginary line that divides their lives from the school children who learn and play there just a stone’s throw away. For lack of 70 dollars a month, two kids who are too poor to pay for public school in Kenya, have no school at all in Kenya, even though they live practically in the school yard. They are “there” but none of the blessings across the imaginary fence are “theirs”…. (I learn later that it is not only the lack of sponsorship dollars that “fences them out” of the school. It is also an issue that they are required to help work the family farm, to contribute labor so that their family will not starve. The collective labor of these two boys could not possibly make more than a few dollars a month. Maybe their work is required at home so the father and mother—if they are fortunate to have both—can work away from home themselves to feed their family.) It’s complicated. And it is sad. It is heart-rending indeed to see these two boys standing behind the non-existent fence, yet who for all intents and purposes are as barricaded from an experience we Americans consider a birthright–as if there were a 12 foot fence topped with razor wire. It is all I can do not to shout to those in charge–“Here’s the money, please include these kids in the school.” I didn’t do it today, because I know it isn’t quite that simple. But I may do it tomorrow…..
I believe, if I’m not mistaken, that the story of these two boys is not unlike our own. Because of sin–indeed the very circumstances of our human birth and moral failings–we are separated, we are outsiders. Sin is a formidable fence, and unless someone does something on our behalf, we will never get to cross the fence and experience the fellowship of joy. And this “something” will have to be an act of pure grace, because by ourselves we are completely unable to do anything that would be sufficient to change our predicament. Jesus did something. He left the joy of heaven, he came near, took on our flesh, lived in our “mud hut” for a while down here in the mud with us—so that we could see and understand, perhaps, the love of Father God better, and so that we could experience for ourselves the joy on the other side of the fence. Not only did he come, he died, paying the un-payable for us–so that we wouldn’t have to be outsiders any longer. I hope there’s a way we can get these boys into the joy just across the fence. I’m so glad Jesus did that for me!