Day 5: Today, I Went to Hell

Armed guards (or bouncers, as Kenyans call them) walked us down a descending, muddy trail into Mathare Valley, one of Kenya’s largest slums, where 800,000 people live in an approximate two mile area.
Bile rose up in the back of my throat as my senses were overwhelmed with raw sewage and the smell of depraved humanity.
Silent tears streaked my face as we walked tightly in a group at a fast pace. We were told to “get in the project and get out” as quickly as possible. No cameras allowed (expect by our professional photographer, Keeley, who took pictures from her hip, under her jacket).
I simply do not have words to describe what I saw today. In my wildest imagination, I could never create these images. It was dark and oppressive. Evil and dangerous. The children looked so unhealthy, sick, desperate. The living conditions are not for the living.
Mathare Valley is a hell hole.
It is littered with young prostitutes, lonely orphans, vile pornography and extreme violence. Drug use and addiction, alcoholism are very common. The Compassion International project is deep in the center of the slum. We walked through absolute filth. I had to cover my mouth and nose several times to stop gagging.
I saw so much hopelessness. Where was God? How could He allow so much suffering?
The Compassion project is in the middle of this mess. The minute we entered the gate, I burst into tears, nearly sobbing. I felt such relief to be in a safer place. I immediately noticed the Compassion kids looked different. I saw something that was lacking in the rest of the Mathare Valley slum: it was hope.
There are nearly 300 children in this project, one of three in the area. Some of the beautiful children sang to us and performed a drama. Out of all the Compassion projects we’ve visited, I found it unbelievable to discover the most talented, gifted children in the worst of conditions.
It was like watching beauty rise from the ashes.
We went to the home of one of the boys who sang to us. His name is Vincent. He is in a child-led home, which is Kenya’s way of saying, he is a total orphan and there are no adults in his home. He is both brother, father and mother to his sibling. Vincent was orphaned as an 8 year old child and is now 18.
Compassion came alongside him and saved his life. Compassion gave him a job of delivering food, so he can provide for his brother. Vincent’s home was the most pathetic we’ve seen. It was just a dank, dark space, the size of a walk-in closet. It leaked rain water on us as we talked with him. There is no electricity, no running water. He does his homework by a small kerosine lamp.
We asked Vincent to describe a typical day: “I get up a 4 a.m. every morning. I get myself ready in the dark and then wake up my brother and he gets ready for school. I drop him off and then I walk an hour and a half to school, each way. I get home at 6:30 p.m. and I bring food home from school for my brother and I to eat. I do my homework by candlelight and then start again the next day.”
I asked him, “Are you afraid?”
He said that he used to be, but then he found Jesus. “I am not afraid with Christ in my life.”
There wasn’t a dry eye. We were simply overwhelmed by this amazing young boy, alone in the world, brave and strong, a Christ-follower. He smiled when he was asked what he did for fun. “I like music,” he said quietly.
The Compassion social worker asked him to sing us a song he had written:
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=10011386&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1
Today, I went to Hell.
But I found Jesus in the midst of it, helping Vincent and his friends find a way out.
Even now, after being back at the hotel for two hours, I feel like I’m in shock. I will never forget the smells and images of Mathare Valley slum.
There are five children in the one Compassion project we visited who need a sponsor and countless others in the surrounding areas. Today, I saw what Compassion does. It simply and profoundly saves children from death. It gives them life.


Comments

  1. 1

    says

    It's amazing the places Jesus turns up. It gives me goosebumps.

    Thank you for showing us how He is always, always a light even in the darkest places. And the light cannot be put out!

    ~Lisa-Jo

  2. 2

    says

    Amazing. Your heart can never be prepared for the harshest of realities.

    I agree with Lisa-Jo, the light of Jesus cannot be extinguished, even in the most hopeless of places.

  3. 3

    says

    Oh Kristen,

    I sat and read your post and just cried and cried. Then cried more. The children and I will sit down tonight and sponsor a child from Kenya. Thank you so much for sharing this very difficult post with us. Jesus is there. Thanks for helping us to be his hands and feet and arms to hold & provide hope for these children.

    Amanda (@ThisCountryLife)

  4. 5

    Tammy says

    Thank you so very much for taking us along on your journey. Your words and photos humble and inspire me, and today I signed up to sponsor a little girl in Kenya.

    All I can say is God bless you all.

  5. 6

    says

    Just seeing the photos is overwhelming and heartbreaking. I can't begin to imagine actually being there. My husband and I have been talking about sponsoring a child, and I think this has been the tipping point for me. Thank you for sharing and reaching out to these children.

  6. 7

    Terrell says

    Honey I love you. I will be praying about what God wants us to do.

    I simply don't know what to say, as I set here in warmth, with clean water, food, a computer and the list goes on.

    I think you and I can do more
    I love you. Thank you for writing this post.

    Father, be with Vincent and all the children trapped in this slum.

  7. 9

    says

    Thank you Kristen for this post. Wow. Even the poorest slum we saw in Ethiopia looked like a day at the beach compared to this. It is awesome that Christ is using you to bring sponsors to His most vulnerable!
    This Compassion tour is incredible and I would love to be on the next one to Kenya to finally meet my Bahati! Blessings to you!

  8. 13

    says

    Wow, the world SHOOK when they saw Haiti living like this after the earthquake. I wonder how it would react if they saw that there are parts of the world where it's like this everyday.

  9. 14

    says

    Do you know the project numbers of the 3 projects in the slum? I didn't think that there was a way that I could sponsor another child. But now I know that there is no way that I can't. I don't think I can sleep comfortably in my 3 bedroom house knowing that these children are living in this condition. I want to help one of those little girls find hope and a way out.

  10. 15

    says

    I have been riveted by your posts this week. This one has hit me right in the heart. I don't know if it is possible to sponsor another Comapssion child right now, but I am going to comb through our finances to see if we could possibly spread some of God's money a little further.

  11. 16

    says

    I just signed up to sponsor a little boy named Walter today – he'd been waiting for over 6 months. Thank you for sharing your travels so that our eyes could be opened!

  12. 17

    says

    Kristen,

    Thank you for sharing. I sponsor a young man in Kenya, Faraj is his name and I wish I could meet him. I wish I could go and see his land. I know that is horrible, I felt like I was there reading your blog. My heart breaks and wish I could sponsor all the children. I pray for your trip and look forward to reading more. Thank you again.

    Clint

  13. 18

    Mom says

    God will go anywhere ,anytime to save anyone if we will simply take him. We are his hands and feet and mouth. Send us God. You did that today. I love you Kristen Mom

  14. 19

    says

    Thank you for bringing the truth and for opening up our eyes. We have been talking about sponsoring a child for a while now. Your post simply made us stop talking and caused us to act.

    Today my girls (10 and 6) picked out a 10 year old boy, Tumaini, from Kenya. He is one of nine siblings and his father doesn't have a job. He loves to play soccer like my 6 yr. old and takes care of animals like my 10 year old. How can we not sponsor such a child?

    We live with such wealth – how can we not give up something so they can have SOMETHING? Praying for you…

  15. 20

    Maggie says

    Kristen, your posts are heart-wrenching. But so beautifully written.

    Please tell me, though…MckMama tweeted the following, and I'm confused as to who actually took pictures. I thought it was too dangerous, but then she said this:

    From MckMama via Twitter..

    "Managed to make it through the heart wrenching photographs I (and our amazing trip photographer Keely) took today at the slum. Now blogging. about 2 hours ago via web "

    Thank you so much for what you're doing. You've really dug your heels into this mission, and I admire you for that.

    Blessings to you, and be safe!

  16. 22

    says

    Literally sobbing. I admire you so much for what you're doing… what you're allowing God to do through you. I wanted you to know I just sponsored a 5 year old little girl from Kenya.
    My heart has been sick for the children in Haiti for a long time… long before the earthquake. But I will find another $38/mo for this child in Kenya the same age as my daughter.
    There are so many to help… but if we each help 1… I know if it possible.
    Thank you for what you are doing.

  17. 23

    says

    Oh that is horrible…..give me a few months to get on our feet (hubby's job is closing down and we will probably have to be on welfare while he finds a new job, doesn't qualify for unemployment as he was just through a whole year of drawing unemployment and hasn't worked enough) but once we get back on our feet on the top of our list is to sponsor a child (or 10)

    Wow! such beautiful children in such horrible places…..

    Thank you for bringing this to the eyes of the world..

    Jo Lynn

    PS Mckmama had her camera in Hell?

  18. 25

    says

    Im speechless. I simply cant imagine ppl living like that!

    You are in deed on the journey of a lifetime.

    Thank you for sharing this with Us.

    Many prayers for your safe return to the US.

  19. 26

    says

    I sponsored my second Compassion child today…..Remember that even in the midst of the blackness of black- Jesus is there, He is the light. Thinking and praying for you. And for all the Vincents of the world.

  20. 27

    says

    "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths*, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,' even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you" (Psalm 139:7-12).
    *Some versions read, "If I make my bed in hell…."

    The photos do show worse conditions that anything I've seen in my limited travels with Compassion. Thank you so much for sharing the pictures and your own feelings, thoughts and insights from this experience. You will never forget it.

  21. 29

    says

    I have been following the Kenya trip through Ryan and got directed to your site. I just can't even imagine the horror of the slums, let alone you being able to describe it.

    I do have one question (ok, two) though? Where do these children go after they grow up? Do they continue to live in the slums, but are no longer supported by Compassion? Do they move to bigger cities?

  22. 30

    says

    wow! Not many words can be said. And I am sure the pictures don't even do it justice.

    We have 3 compassion children from three different places. I cannot even imagine visiting them, but you never know one day!

    How real it would make it to actually go there. Amazing!!

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us!

  23. 33

    says

    Thank you friends for carrying this heavy burden with me.

    To answer and clarify a few questions…the pictures of the slum that you see were taken from either moving vehicles or from our photographers hip. Once we got into the Compassion project-like where Vincent lived, we were all allowed to take pictures. It was just too dangerous walking in and out of the slum.

    Also, the kids who actually survive a childhood in this slum, don't usually leave the area…they just repeat the lives of their children. The life expectancy is very low. I didn't see one elderly person.

    I think the 5 kids from this slum might have been sponsored today…but please, don't let this stop you from sponsoring.

  24. 34

    says

    I'm crying. What a beautiful image—is that weird? But it is. The hope and talent and love and courage in the middle of a pit.

    Praying for them. For you.

  25. 35

    says

    Kristen – thank you for what you are doing. Opening our eyes to what the world is like. Its so easy to turn off the TV or ignore the images you sometimes see, but today – reading your blog and reading your story, I couldn't help but NOT read it. I kept scrolling, kept reading – and then clicked on the link to sponsor a child. I have signed up to sponsor a little girl from Tanzania – who had been waiting for over 6 months. She was on the last page, and I am so very thankful I scrolled through them all to find her. $38 a month is a dinner out, but one we surely can give up to change this little girl's life. I am so thankful I found your blog. You've inspired me to try and do more. Thank you.

  26. 36

    says

    Thank you for sharing this. We sponsor two children through Compassion and are so thankful for the work they do! So amazing and wonderful how He shows up in the darkness. He always makes beauty from ashes…

  27. 37

    says

    I am so excited to tell my children tonight that we will be sponsoring a child from Kenya. How do we know which are the 5 children from that project? I'd love to sponsor one of them.

  28. 38

    says

    I, too, am at a loss for words. God bless each of you for your roll in aiding these people! Yes, for helping to find hope through Him and peace in such conditions.

  29. 39

    says

    Wow. That is worse than what I saw in Brazil, though I did not see a slum… I saw people's homes that were unbelievably bad. What you have seen is HELL on earth. I can't imagine. If Vincent is in the Compassion project, why do they not build a little better home for him? Or is he just enrolled in their day program? I also wonder if Compassion continues to help these children once they are older than 18?

  30. 40

    says

    Wow. That is worse than what I saw in Brazil, though I did not see a slum… I saw people's homes that were unbelievably bad. What you have seen is HELL on earth. I can't imagine. If Vincent is in the Compassion project, why do they not build a little better home for him? Or is he just enrolled in their day program? I also wonder if Compassion continues to help these children once they are older than 18?

  31. 41

    says

    I am sitting in my big clean backyard watching my little boys play while I read your post and hide my tears behind my sunglasses. I am so ashamed to be one of the blind, wealthy Christians who are stingy with their time and their resources. I don't want to be blind anymore. Thank you so much for opening my eyes. May God richly bless the work you are doing there.

  32. 43

    says

    While I know that what you are going through, living with and experiencing is gut wrenching and painful, I hope that you know that you ARE making a difference. You are helping people like me understand better, the pitiful situations that these amazing souls are enduring. Thank you for that. I truly appreciate you sharing your raw emotions with us as you travel to these areas.
    My husband and I are going to sit down VERY soon and talk about just how we can help.

  33. 47

    says

    This is overwhelming. Amazing. Horrific. I am blessed beyond measure, and I take Jesus for granted. Vincent has nothing and he praises Jesus. Humbling.

  34. 48

    says

    wow! Kristen- i just dont even have words to say. I can not imagine in my worst nightmares what that was like! Can not wait to sit down with you when you get home and hear all the stories.

  35. 49

    says

    Wow. Awesome, life changing trip. This is my first visit to your blog. Love it. Thought you'd want to know, if you don't that some of your ads seem to pulling references from your lust/pornography posts. Tonight I noticed two on here, one for essure and another telling me they could "teach me how to give my man what he really wants"! Might want to check those two! :)
    Blessings,
    Hannah

  36. 51

    says

    Thanks for your story. God is there, in Hell, in the slums of Kenya.

    God is good all the time!! All the time God is good!

  37. 52

    says

    He Said,

    I talked with Kristen tonight (early this morning for her). She was preparing to leave for the day and asked that I address a couple of questions that were put out in the comments. So here goes.

    To Granny Ann: Kristen said that she was under the impression that the kids can wash their uniforms at the Compassion Project. She said each child in the program is issued one uniform for the year. In her words, "They take tremendous care not to get them dirty and are very, very careful with them." This is an important symbol for each child who is a part of the Compassion programs.

    To Henly the Horn: Why hasn't Compassion built Vincent a new home? I was told Compassion gives each child what they need. They try not to make the children dependent on Compassion. Their goal is to make them independent. That being said, each sponsor is able to give a yearly one time gift of up to $1000 U.S. dollars to each sponsored child. When given a sizable gift, Compassion sets down with the local director and the family and talks and prays about how this gift will have the most impact. Sadly, I was told that Vincent's house is very much the norm for this slum.

    I hope this helps, if not feel free to contact Compassion International directly. It seems to me this organization is very open about the finances and methods it uses.

    God bless,
    Terrell

  38. 55

    says

    I've seen the pictures of the devastation in Haiti and they look much better than the every day lives of these people. I pray that the Lord will save more people like Vincent and continue to shine His light in a country filled with so much darkness.

  39. 58

    says

    Thank you. I came over from The Nester. Many tears reading your words, seeing your photos and footage. I needed the reminder today that I am rich while so many are poor. We all need to know that.

  40. 59

    says

    This post really touched my heart. Those poor people. My heart aches for them.

    I decided to sponsor a child. I am excited to be able to touch a child's life.

    I am still praying for you!

  41. 60

    Anonymous says

    Thank you for being such a beautiful conduit with such beautiful words that have inspired me. I'm sponsoring a child – TODAY!

    Kim in Minnesota
    (sorry-I don't have a GOOGLE, or a URL, or a blog)

  42. 61

    says

    I asked him, "Are you afraid?"

    He said that he used to be, but then he found Jesus. "I am not afraid with Christ in my life."

    Why don't we live that way?

    I'm reminded of this passage from Psalm 1397-12:

    Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you

  43. 62

    says

    this was so powerful. I love following ur days on ur trip. what ur doing is amazingly selfless. thank u for sharing… and know u have touched so many people's lives just thru ur efforts. xo

  44. 64

    says

    Thank you for sharing this unknown world with me.

    I was so touched by Vincent, tears welling up in my eyes.

    Because of Vincent and you, I am now the proud sponsor of two young Kenyan boys age 10 and 11 who will now hopefully be brothers of sorts to my two daughters age 9 and 10.

    What stood out about *my* boys (I'm so proud of them already! Can't wait to get my packets and get to know them), is that in midst of so much hardship that they are both according to their little biographies, "above average" students. Not that this was my criteria, but I was so amazed at how, with the odds against them they could still excel.

    I am hoping that with Compassion and our help that these two boys will grow up to be like Vincent. So strong and admirable. They can help change the atmosphere, maybe go on to secondary schooling and of course be strong and loving leaders of their future families.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  45. 65

    says

    My gosh, that is unimaginable. What a shock it must be to go in and out of such darkness and sadness, in person. The pictures alone were almost unbelievable. Thank you for sharing what Compassion is doing, Kristen! Stay safe…

  46. 68

    Cathy says

    I can't stop thinking about these posts and pictures. It shocked me that you encountered pornography there, I don't know why I find that so compelling and sickening. My heart has been opened wide. Praying for guidance on where to go with these images. It all seems so overwhelming (and our American lifestyle so sinful in contrast.)
    Thank you for carrying this burden so that others may see.

  47. 70

    says

    i found this link on compassion's website, after making a payment for the child i sponsor. unfortunately, this post made me cry a lot. fortunately, it made me sponsor another child… an older orphan, like vincent. sponsoring two children isn't much more than what i pay for monthly housecleaning. i'd rather have some dust on the shelves to clean myself than let precious children lose faith or hope because of their situation. i hope and pray that my contributions will help to fulfill some of the spiritual and material needs of these children.

  48. 71

    Alexander says

    We are Vincents sponser and we are very proud to see that our sponsership has helped him.We hope that one day he will be able to leave that place and follow his dreams to sing and write songs.

  49. 74

    Kristen says

    I know this is an old post, but I just found your blog a few days ago.

    I spent 6 weeks in Nairobi, Kenya in 1999 on a missions trip. I was barely 18 years old at the time, and my partner and I were taken to this slum, or one just like it. I, too, will never forget what I saw there.

    But, I also remember seeing hope. There was a woman who was running a small preschool, helping to provide an education for the youngest children and give them a safe place to go during the day. And I’ll never forget the sweetest little girl (probably 3-4 years old) who never said one word to me, but smiled and held my hand while we walked through her neighborhood. I have never felt so honored.

    Anyway, what I really wanted to say was thank you for what you are doing and for giving me the opportunity to give to the people who have been on my heart for so long.

  50. 75

    says

    Kristen— thank you so much for sharing this story and testimony of God at work. With a 15-month-old little one, my heart is moved with such empathy and prayer for this group of individuals. I cannot imagine seeing children in such condition…
    Thank you, too, for giving us all a way in which to help.
    Blessings,
    Tony Vincent

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