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A Highway Maker for God
The home of a transformed alcoholic becomes a beacon of light in the dark and hopeless surroundings of a Nairobi slum community.

Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, is the main crossroads city in East Africa. It is a modern city with its high- rise buildings, technology and business headquarters. Yet it has all of the marks of a struggling, dysfunctional city in the developing world as it deals with problems of poverty, overpopulation, crime and corruption.

A Highway Maker for God
Kiberia slum, only two kilometres outside the city center of Nairobi, Kenya.

Nairobi has a population of more than three million, but only a minority enjoy the comforts and security of material success. The vast majority of people live a meager existence. They come to the city seeking work and prosperity, but for the most part they find only unemployment, misery and hopelessness.

More than 25 percent of the people live in slums like Kibera, located only two kilometres from the city centre. It has a population of more than 90,000 and is the largest slum in Africa. It is the home of John Ogonda, his wife Rose, and their three children.

We met John five years ago when he was working as a parking lot attendant at a shopping center near our home in Nairobi. He was earning the equivalent of $90 a month. More than half of this money paid for the rent of his one-room mud and tin shack in Kibera. John was outgoing and friendly, but there was always the smell of alcohol on his breath.

We tried to share the love of Christ with him, even giving him small tips with specific instructions, saying, "Make sure this gets to your wife and children." He would spend most of his money to feed his alcohol addiction, coming home late at night from the bar, leaving his wife and children with little to eat or live on.

In 2001 we learned that Nairobi Pentecostal Church would be conducting evangelistic services in a park adjacent to Kibera and encouraged John to attend. One evening he made his usual stop at the bar on the way home from work, but instead of going home he ended up going to the meeting. As he tells the story, he went to the meeting drunk. When the evangelist invited people to come to the platform to receive Christ, he went forward still drunk. He went home in the same condition and told his wife, "I'm saved." Of course, that testimony had no credibility with Rose.

The next day he went straight home from work and spent time playing with his children. That had never happened before. This pattern of behaviour continued throughout the week. Rose began to think that something 'real' might have happened in that meeting in the park. When John went home with his full salary at the end of the month, she knew he was different. God was gradually changing John into a new man.

Two young men from Nairobi Pentecostal Church befriended John and began to disciple him as a new follower of Jesus. Soon he was baptized in water. The next step was for John and Rose to solemnize their marriage before God in the church. (They had had a traditional wedding, but hadn't exchanged vows before God.)

A few weeks ago John invited me to his home for fellowship, tea and prayer. "One day," he said, "a road will come through this place." His comment struck me as strange. All I could see were dirt paths strewn with garbage, filled with children playing and women in kiosks, selling food and crafts to make a few shillings.

"I know that God has a mission for me here to bring people to Jesus … "

On my visit, I discovered that John was well known. His home was like a beacon of light in the dark and hopeless surroundings. There was no electricity or running water, but the unmistakable presence of God was in his home, and it had transformed his family.

John gathered a group of Christians who live in the slum to study the Word of God and strategize about how to impact their community with the Gospel. I asked him, "Do you ever think about moving out of Kibera?" "No," he replied. "I know that God has a mission for me here to bring people to Jesus. And one day a road will come through here."

I was deeply humbled by this visit with the Ogonda family and to hear the vision of this relatively new Christian who desired to be an instrument for God in this bleak setting. As I left I said to John, "My brother, you have already built a road in this slum. A road for the Lord — a highway for the Gospel which is bringing life and hope to these people."

Ken Birch is the PAOC regional coordinator for East / West Africa.

Originally published in Testimony, March 2005.




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