I will call you ‘Friend’ when you return

I will call you ‘Friend’ when you return

The following was shared by our President at our annual Mac & Meatball event at the end of February…

Kenya Matters beginnings reach back to 2002 when a Kenyan student attending college here in West Michigan met Blake Mazurek and Jason Anderson. Three years of friendship, and Isaac Munji, invited Blake and Jason to visit his country.

Here we are tonight, 11 years after that first trip. What started out as a friendship among a few people quickly became a group of people supporting orphan children in rural Kenya, orphan children who have been ravaged by the HIV epidemic as their parents often died too young.

Kenya Matters has gone from informally sending funds, to both a Kenyan board and an American board, and a capable staff on the ground in Kenya.

Eight years ago our Kenyan staff identified the poorest and most vulnerable orphan children in the Karai community, and brought them to one location to nourish them back to health. Today we are supporting orphan kids who are not only physically healthy, but excelling in so many areas of life.

At the same time, our staff continues to identify the most vulnerable children in the community and makes determinations how those children can be best supported through their efforts – and also our efforts. (pause)

I want to take you back for a moment, to what was my first trip to Kenya. It was afternoon chi time on the third day of our visit. Jason Anderson and I were sitting in the living room area of the home of our Kenyan director, Elijah Wachira.

Elijah is a big man in both stature and personality. While a large personality, he has a warmth that is inviting to the point of not being able to deny his invitations. Having worked with Americans for most of his professional life in Kenya, as well as spending considerable time here in America, he knew how to be a welcoming host.

We were sitting enjoying our chi, and this is not like coffee time as we think of Chi time when all things stop. This is a time in Kenyan culture when nothing matters except the others who are in the room. Sometimes important things are discussed. Other times chi may simply be a time of laughter or even silence.

On this particular day, with the sun warm outside, Elijah asked me about my initial impressions of Kenya and the children’s home. I remember telling him how I really thought they were doing great work, and then I recall saying something about my new friendship with him.

He chuckled with his deep voice, that kind of voice that gets the attention of everyone who can hear it. Imagine James Earl Jones voice for a moment.

He paused, glanced briefly at Jason, and then those piercing dark brown eyes returned to me. (pause) “I will call you friend when you return” he said.

And in that moment, I knew everything had changed. In that moment, Elijah, this incredible man with a passion for justice and righteousness, not only called me out. He was saying, ‘Go home and tell our story. It is time for your life to be different. It is time to make a difference that extends beyond yourself. We have kids here in Karia who need love, who need support to become every ounce of what they they were born to become. And you, your friends, your network of people and beyond are needed. I will call you friend when you return.

My friends. We have returned to Karia time and time again. Through trips, emails, Skpe, and now Facebook messenger, we are touching the lives of this community in rural Kenya.This organization is not about just feeding hungry kids however.

As we impact lives, the orphan children are also impacting us. In friendship, relationships always go two ways. A week ago, when tucking my eight year old into bed, she said a prayer that is not so unfamiliar. “Dear God. Thank you for today. It was a good day. Please be with the orphans and keep us safe. Amen.”

I paused, looked at her, and said, thanks for praying for our orphan friends. Without hesitation, she shook her head with a big “no”, and said, “Not friends. Brothers and sisters.” (Pause)

This year has been a good year for Kenya Matters. While we are going to ask for your continued support, and honestly, your increased support. We invite you into a relationship that is about helping a community and its orphan children thrive. It is also about allowing your hearts and lives to changed. (pause)

A month ago our oldest orphan, now a young lady started to attend college. On a weekly basis, Grace sends me a text that includes words of gratitude for the support from Kenya Matters.

At age 12, already fatherless, she saw her mother, who suffered from Schizophrenia, get hit by a car. After spending a couple of years being passed from relative to relative who did not really want her, she arrived at the children’s home. Today she is in college, and like any college student, she is now asking for her own laptop so she can study in her dorm room rather than in the computer lab. (pause)

Tereasa is another of our amazing stories. She is 14 and is just entering high school. She is a beautiful person, full of life, speaks three languages, and has high expectations for her life. She has the ability to do well in school.

Because her middle school test scores were remarkable, two months ago she was admitted to one of the top high schools in Kenya. She has received a four year scholarship to this impressive high school… which will also set her up for her choice of universities after high school.

She was honored for her scholarship beginning with a banquet. Then she had the opportunity to travel to Nairobi and meet with Kenya’s president, President Kenyatta. Let’s pause and think about this story. Teresea, an orphan girl who spent her first ten years of life in absolute poverty, is today attending an elite school in Kenya. She has shaken the hand of her President, and she embodies an attitude that won’t give up. Your commitment to Kenya Matters has helped make her story a reality.

Not all of our kids are scholars however. Not all of us here are scholars. Allow me to share one final snapshot. On my first trip to Kenya in December of 2008, I met Samuel. He was about 14. He is one of those boys who can do most any craft with his hands, and his work ethic was impressive even at age 14. He was curious to learn, and he was curious to try things himself.

Samuel has cross-eyed vision however. I remember asking Elijah about Samuel’s eyesight. His response was as expected. First, there were limited eye doctors capable of dealing with his condition. Secondly, there were simply no funds available for a doctor visit or for the possible glasses that would be necessary.

As I traveled home, I knew that the checking account of my wife and I could potentially transform Samuel’s life if we had the desire.

With a visit to an eye clinic, glasses, and exercises to strengthen his eyes, Samuel has been able to finish middle and high school. Because college is not in his future, our Kenyan staff is working hard to help him find a profession that will allow him to not only survive but thrive.

I could tell you more funny stories about Samuel than I have time to share tonight, but I do want to show you how Samuel is spending his time these days. With the help of Kenya Matters, he has purchased a three-wheeled motorcycle.

Local people, most of who have no transportation besides their feet and perhaps a donkey, will hire him. So he is trying to make a business out of hauling both goods and people to local destinations.

Remember that feeling of owning your first car? Suddenly you felt as if you were growing up, as if you had a newfound responsibility that opened doors to your future? This is how Samuel feels these days. We together, with his efforts, the efforts of our staff, and our efforts here, have made this a reality in his life.

If Samuel were able to be here tonight, he would shake every single hand in this room. He would look you in the eyes and say, “Thank you. God bless you. And I pray for you every day.”

So tonight I have the honor of standing here, expressing a deep gratitude. We hope you want to hear more of these stories in the year ahead through our newsletter, social media, and at future events. Many of you have already returned, and so I can say, with the blessing of Elijah when he looked at me, “I call you friend. You have returned.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *