Our last adventure found us circled under a sparse shade tree trying to escape the hot desert sun of Turkana, where a roast-beast-feast had been prepared for the honored visitors—us! I covered all of that well in my last post, but I didn’t have space or time then to say much about what was one of the most significant events of that day, and perhaps the whole trip.
When we first drove up to the new well-site at Nadabal, there was a great deal of activity already there. It’s always interesting to take in with your own eyes the first real experience of something you’ve only seen in pictures or heard about second hand. And there was so much here to see: a literal stream of water, overflow from the well, running a hundred feet or so away in the sand to where it disappeared into the thirsty mouth of the desert; animals of all kinds who had come to drink from that stream; people, as many as 50 at times, circled around the well while some pumped and some caught the precious liquid in old yellow recycled corn oil containers. As I framed the mental pictures of all of these things, one small boy kept finding himself in the corner or background. I have no idea at this time who he is, or who he belongs to; he is just there. (As I look back at my hundreds of photographs of these same images, it is amazing how many times I find his little face!) It is obvious that he’s malnourished. In his tiny hands he holds a cup with a handle—his water cup—and a small yellow plastic pail for food. They are both empty, but he knows he has come to a place where they can be filled.
As the day progresses, I see hundreds of other children. But there are a couple of them who catch my notice again and again. One is obviously older than the rest; he is tall and lanky, with tattered clothing and a vacant stare. Another, this one a girl, appears normal at first glance but walks with a strange gait. With closer examination I see that one of her feet is severely deformed, a club foot that “shovels” into the sand with each step. It doesn’t seem to slow her down much. Three children among so many, three children that for whatever reason today seem to be everywhere I am.
It is as we are just finishing the feast that my friend Francis (who helps direct relief operations for CRF in Kenya) comes over to where I am sitting. With him is a little girl; it is the same girl I’ve mentioned above. He explains that she is an orphan. Within about ten seconds I am a sponsor of a CRF child in Kenya! Communication is tough here, as the Turkanans speak their own dialect and the children haven’t learned the British English that comes with school-learning. There are almost no schools here. Yet. As best I can, I try to communicate that I will from now on make sure she is cared for. I’m not sure she understands what I’m planning to do for her, or what this will mean. She will come to understand it soon, I hope. Very shortly after she has run off to play with the other children, Francis comes up with another child, a tall and lanky one, bigger than the rest, with a vacant stare. He is, of course, the same child I noticed earlier. This is a sneak attack, and within about another ten seconds I am the proud sponsor of a second child in Kenya. Let me introduce these new members of my family:
Elkatorot Ekamals is 10. When his parents found out that he was mentally challenged, they abandoned him. He now lives with an elderly grandmother who has no means of support, along with 10 other people in a tiny grass hut smaller than your toolshed in the parched desert of Turkana. He doesn’t know it, of course, but he’s special. He is “officially” the first child sponsored through CRF in this region. He is the first of a wave that is coming.
Chrotine Akatapan is 5; her parents died of AIDS or were killed in tribal violence. No one really knows for sure. Her only means of support is an older brother. She lives in a grass hut with 7 other people. She suffers from a serious foot deformity. She attends a new school that has one teacher and one blackboard. She has the distinction of being the second child sponsored through CRF in this region.
Emmanuel Lokolonyoi is 4; his family moved away and left him to starve because he suffers from mental and visual impairments. He moves from house to house wherever he can find shelter; he is never without his cup and bowl, and never without a concern for water and food. Emmanuel is the third child I sponsor through CRF. (Although his number officially makes him the 89th child sponsored here, that’s only because I sent a picture and it took a while to find him!) I credit Emmanuel, whose name means “God with us”, for sparking the desire of my heart that our church family become significant sponsors and ongoing partners in this region where we have drilled four wells. We are just getting started!
I know these three pretty well; I’ve met them, I’ve seen them with my own eyes and touched them with my own hands. These are the orphans I sponsor in Turkana. They are three of the hundred we support as a church; they are but three of the 2.5 million in Kenya, and three of the 50 million orphans in Africa. But these three are substantively different now than they were a few months ago, because someone who can make a difference knows their names and someone for whom God has provided much—has been moved to share that provision. I’ve had quite a few conversations with God about “why these three?” It seems so obvious that I was supposed to see them. They are by no means the prettiest or happiest or smartest of the kids. There was nothing winsome about them at all. In many cases, in many places, these three kids would be, respectively, the village freak, the village idiot, the village beggar. They are but three incarnations of the so many kinds of lepers society loves to shun. To ignore. To marginalize. But now they have a place at the table. That makes me glad. And it reminds me of a bigger story.
Without getting too preachy here, let me remind you that the Gospel itself is a message of help for the helpless–for those who indeed cannot help themselves. For we are all, on our own, at our self-made spiritual bests, the freaks and idiots and beggars—at best—of the village. In our sin we are paupers, in our sin-deformed selves we are damaged goods, in our sin-confusion we are twisted and dim in our understanding. But then Christ, sent by the Father right into our damaged and dangerous world, has rescued us. And he has audaciously called us his brothers and sisters, the adopted sons and daughters of God. It’s a hard reality for us to fully grasp, that the King would so love and so choose the pauper children of earth to be his own. But he did and does. Maybe that’s why they call it good news.