Nairobi Street Kids discover Christ’s love

I wrote this story years ago when I lived in Nairobi. It didn't get much coverage but was one that was always dear to my heart. I often went with Mama Jordan to the street in the mornings when I was not on assignments.

IMB Photo

n the grey gloom of first light it looks like a pile of trash – a clutter of cardboard and cloth on damp pavement.

A run-down delivery truck picks its way down the city street, sputtering and dodging pot holes. Its headlights spotlight a hand reaching out of the clutter, pulling back the cardboard to reveal a boy.

It’s 5:30 a.m. and Henry is waking up.

He stands and wiggles out of his makeshift sleeping bag, a discarded nylon bag once used to store charcoal. He stretches and nudges other, nearby piles. More boys emerge. Some of them sniffed glue the night before, trying to take the chill off the night.

Henry doesn’t take glue, he quit months ago.

The boys see a familiar car. They hurriedly grab their charcoal stained bags, stashing the cardboard inside. “Mama Jordan! Mama Jordan!” They call out, rushing to her.

Sandy Wilson, a.k.a. “Mama Jordan” (in Kenya, mothers are known by their eldest son), slides out of the car, making a joke about it being too early for anyone to look presentable. She didn’t have time to brush the “bed head” out of her bobbed auburn hair or put on makeup before leaving this morning.

Everything about this veteran International Mission Board missionary exudes warmth and love. She shakes hands with the teenagers like Henry and asks how they are. They tell her all about their week, as if she were their mother.

A group of eight to 10-year-olds walk up. Mama Jordan gives them hugs. They look embarrassed, but love the attention. A three-year-old runs to her, exuding a gut-wrenching smell of body-odor mixed with excrement and the caked on dirt, holding out grubby, little arms. She sweeps him into an embrace. He gives her a wet, sticky, kiss.

These early morning hours are strategic for Wilson and her Kenyan ministry partner, Pastor Boniface Mwalimu. When the street children first wake up, they have slept off most effects of glue, drugs and alcohol. It’s the best time to share Bible stories and show each child that they have hope and a future in Jesus.

Chokora (Street Trash)

“I don’t have a hope or future,” says 19-year-old Peter, still glassy eyed from last night’s glue. “I’m chokora (street trash).”

Nairobi residents call the 60,000-plus homeless children roaming the streets “chokora” or street trash. The children form their own bands, traveling, stealing and sleeping together. Their clothes are ragged, their eyes glazed. Many become dependent on glue they buy for a few cents to dull their hunger and help them sleep. Without any other means of support, begging and stealing become critical, well-honed skills for survival. Many boys turn to violence, girls often become prostitutes.

Henry is no stranger to street life - in fact, he chose it. He left his village home when he was eight because a friend convinced him it would be fun to live in Nairobi. He quickly joined a band and took up residence on Sheikh Karume Road - the same street Mama Jordan and Mwalimu began working eight years ago.

“I’ve known Henry since he was this high,” the 5-foot 5-inch Wilson says holding a hand at her shoulder. Henry has not grown much since then; an effect of sniffing glue and smoking “bhang” (marijuana).

A knowing smile passes between the two.

Henry squats against the dirty store front that serves as his Sunday school classroom. “Mama Jordan and Pastor, they care about us. They sit with us when most people run.

“For years, they got in my face to tell me to stop sniffing. They tell us about Jesus and how He loves us. They tell us that we are not trash…that we have a future.”

Wilson and Mwalimu exchange surprised looks. They expected Henry to talk about the clothes and shoes, the weekly feedings and basic medical attention, they’ve provided over the years. The ministry team’s goal is to show Christ’s love through Bible stories and actions. They want the street kids to know they have value in God’s eyes. They want to make a lasting difference in each life – a difference like Henry experienced.

“I stopped sniffing six months ago. I stopped with Jesus’ help. He is in my heart now,” Henry announces proudly. The teenager is among 15 that made Jesus their Savior in the last year.

The new believers are easily identified among the band of street kids. Their eyes are clear. Their clothes clean. They stop stealing and taking glue. They joke and play just like normal teenagers.

“It’s very exciting to see the guys that are Christians change,” Wilson says. “Their demeanor is so different. They used to be so high that they could hardly walk and were abusive to us. Now, they are cleaner and politer. They are responsible.”

Three of the boys, including Henry, showed so much responsibility that they voluntarily left the streets to take care of some donated property for the street kid ministry.

Hope and a Future

Now when Henry wakes up, he is no longer under cardboard and rags. He snuggles in a cotton blanket draped over his body. His shoes rest at the foot of an overcrowded bed. He used to always sleep with his shoes on, fearing someone would steal them.

All three sleep in the same twin bed inside a small, 4’x 8’ tin building. It might sound crowded to some, but these three feel like they live in a palace.

Mwalimu plans to turn this two acre plot of land into a transition home for street kids. They plan to teach them farming, basic life skills and let them finish school.

Henry, Patrick and Justin are the first to try their hand with this new life. They rush around, cleaning house in anticipation of Mama Jordan’s visit. It’s hard to keep a dirt floor clean, but they try. They carry water from a community well and water more than 300 seedlings.

The garden is a bit ragged and the boys worry what Mama Jordan will think. But, not much can be done when a cow gets loose and eats your hard work.

With all of the chores done, they sit at a three-legged, homemade table with a hand-drawn checker board on the top. They play using pop bottle tops and beans and talk about the future, something they never used to discuss.

Patrick wants to be a farmer and raise food for the transition home. Justin wants to be the driver for the home and ministry.

Henry wants to go back to the street and teach the other kids about Jesus. He wants to give them the same hope Wilson and Mwalimu gave him.


Update: Mama Jordan left a lasting legacy when she retired. This ministry has grown to include a partnership with a children's home and many of the street kids go to school now.