The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. Firstly they have been crazy busy. I am so sorry for being so behind on emails, fb messages, voxers etc. I promise to get caught up soon. I read them all and they warm my heart. Just haven’t had time to reply.
They have also been the most joyful and heartbreaking couple of weeks I’ve had in quite a while. I’d say this experience has been very equal parts joyful and heartbreaking. I get home each night and either fall on my bed overcome with tears of gratefulness for the amazing day I had seeing His glory be made manifest in His little princesses’ lives, or I come home and never make it to my bed before I fall to my knees from heart ache as hot tears cascade down my face as I reflect on the horrors I saw that day happening to His precious children- in the brothels, in their homes, in the hidden places. For the past few weeks we have been recruiting girls for our program. We have been looking for children ages 16 and under who, because of poverty and/or pressure from their caregivers, are being forced to sell their bodies for their basic needs like food and school fees. Believe it or not, at first the process was really slow. We couldn’t find any girls who fit our criteria. After so many people had told me about the issues of children being sold for sex in the slums of Eastlands, we looked and looked and looked and didn’t find any. But then we realized we were looking in the wrong places. We were looking in the places we found girls in Mtwapa like popular night clubs and street corners. But all the girls we found there were like 18 and 19 years old. Still horrific and unjust, but not what we were looking for for our program. We went back to the drawing board and after exhausting all other options and almost giving up on Nairobi and deciding to go back to the coast to work, we decided to give it one more try. But this time we decided to break all the rules. We decided to go recruiting in the areas everyone told us was too dangerous and that the girls are “too far gone” and “beyond saving”, the places everyone warned me not to go and where many of our team members were afraid to go. We dedicated one weekend and sent two members of our team in. They went into little hidden brothels, nightclubs, and “guest rooms” really deep inside the slum. By Monday I had interviews set up with 12 of the most beautiful children in Kenya whom she had found there. Some of them were still drunk from the night before and a few quite hungover. One of our team members had literally dragged some from their drunken stupors to our office for their interviews. I looked at these girls and immediately my heart leapt with joy. I knew they were not “too far gone” or “beyond saving”. They were perfect! They were His! And He delights in them and therefore He WILL rescue them because He promises to. The realization that He decided to use us to do so wrecked me right where I was standing.
Over and over and over in the interviews I held 10,12, and 13 year old girls in my arms as they told me stories of being sold by their parents to men for as little 20 American cents. In the room right next to where I was conducting the interviews the rest of the children were playing games and doing art projects with two of our part time team members who live in Ethiopia, but have partnered with us in this work. Twelve times I went into the other room, called a girls name, she put down her crayons and cup of juice with a big smile on her face, then came into the office with me and one of our community workers and squirmed in her seat as I asked her “who brings money home for food in your family?” Almost simultaneously as the next question fell from lips tears would begin to fall from her eyes. “Where do you get the money from?” I’d ask. “wanaume (men)” she would say as her squirming became more like looking for a way of escape and her tears and snot began to wet her shirt. “Come here, honey” I’d say. I would hold her in my lap and press her head against my chest. It was painfully obvious that these children had never been held before. If your mother is selling you for a bag of flour it’s likely that you don’t often share an embrace. I would hold her and hold her until her body finally relaxed and she blurted out everything between heavy sobs. Time after time these small precious little girls would tell me about how every night their caregivers force them to go out and “find money”. Many of them are violently beaten if they don’t bring home anything. Many of the list of services the girls offered were the same:
One small bag of roasted peanuts: 35 cents
“shika shika” which is where a man can touch the child wherever he wants: 60 cents
sex: anywhere from 20 cents to $1.19
After a full night of “work” these children come home with a little as $3.50 and swollen, painful, infected vaginas. Each time the story was the same. And each time it broke my heart.
But even as I was sharing in the compassion and heartbreak that I know God feels as He also sits with me and listens to these stories, I also shared in His hope. I know its really strange and my whole team was looking at me like I was crazy. But after each session, the more my heart broke the more my joy also increased. I had the gifts of hope and joy so active in me because I could feel God’s presence and I knew that He had bought these girls to me not just to sit and listen to a sad story. But because He has a plan! He saw their suffering and sent people in to rescue them!! He heard their cry and He answered! He is the great rescuer! He is the great emancipator! He come for His children in the dark places!
From that batch of 12 we took 8 into our program. Some of those girls although their stories were completely unjust, didn’t fit our criteria. So what came next for the 8? We have an extensive authentication process that we do in order to make sure that the stories these kids are telling us are true. We do this not only because the stories are so horrifying that they are almost unbelievable, but also because many times children here are so desperate for help that they will say anything if they think they will get a meal out of it. So our recruitment team, social workers, pastor, community worker, project manager, and myself all have different roles in the authentication process where we do random house visits, night visits to clubs the kids work, undercover surveying of the girls as they are being sold, interviews with their caregivers, neighbors and friends, surprise visits to their schools, medical examinations etc etc. We are almost to the end of that process and are about to officially begin our programming in just 2 weeks.
Well… at least that’s how it’s supposed to happen. As you all probably know by now I have the tendency to break rules. Although the programing isnt supposed to officially start for two weeks I have already begun to spend many of my days with these girls just doing life and giving them little pieces of a childhood when I can. We have begun feeding them and having “family nights” which are so much fun. Our oldest girl is even in our full time care right now because after learning from us about her value and being fed daily she refuses to sell her body anymore so her mother kicked her out of the house. I never mind taking in another one of Abba’s favorite girls, even though my friends always yell at me and tell me we can’t afford it. We can’t. But He can 🙂
So as I said I am wading in the waters of both joy and heartbreak and seeing the fruit of both. The fruit of joy that compels me to love more, to keep going, to get out of bed and work even when I am completely exhausted like I have been for the past week. Its all worth it for the joy 🙂 Also the fruit of heartbreak which compels me to love more as well, especially myself. It compels me to slow down when necessary and even to stop and take a break when I need to. I was hoping to take a little vacation earlier this month, but wasn’t able to. So I am taking one at the beginning of next month. I am so excited. I’ll be traveling to South Africa to see two of my best girlfriends. Spending time with them is always so refreshing. They were both married in December and I was a bridesmaid in both weddings. Im really looking forward to just relaxing and being girly and normal with two of my favorite people on the planet. Balance is so important.
I have also began a ritual of a lighting a candle every night. I light a candle and I unpack my heart. I give back to God everything that doesn’t belong to me: the stories, the responsibility to help all of them, the fear, everything. What a privilege it is to be able to light that candle. As I’m lighting my candle countless girls are preparing for another night of abuse and pain. But that too, I give to Him. He is the savior and I am not. He is the savior an I am not… Amen.
If you would like to donate to the rescue and rehabilitation efforts for our girls you can do so at the following link. Tuesday is the last day to give and we must receive 100% of our $25,000 goal for any of the donations to be processed. We are 72% of the way there. I really appreciate your support . https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/898632450/art-and-abolition-summer-arts-camp