At the stroke of midnight, we stopped our game of Skip-Bo to toast the New Year. It was a quiet celebration, and certainly one I will never forget. As I sat silently with my fellow Aggies, I could not help but think of the images of displaced families, burning homes and machete-armed mobs that we had seen earlier that night.
We arrived in Kenya just two days before the 2007 presidential election. People were speculating foul play as the numbers for President Mwai Kibaki suddenly soared with only a few hours left in the election. Political tensions grew hourly, and by the time Kibaki was finally announced victor over Raila Odinga, ethnic violence erupted as political parties took their anger to the streets.
This was my third trip to Kenya, and I was leading a group of five other students from Aggies for Christ (AFC) to work with a ministry 30 kilometers east of Nairobi called Made in the Streets. The organization works to rehabilitate street children that live in the slums surrounding Nairobi, taking them to a farm where they educate them, feed them and most importantly, provide the stability and unconditional love that every child craves. Completely discarded by society, nearly 60,000 street children make their homes in piles of trash, finding comfort in glue fumes, which they sniff to ease their hunger pains. If Kenya had a social ladder, these children would not reach the bottom rung.
For the last several years, students from AFC have spent their semester breaks working with Made in the Streets, and the street children have come to love Aggies and look forward to their arrival. According to local missionaries, the Aggies are different than other Nairobi missionary groups: They will “go anywhere and do anythingâ€”no matter how dirty or difficult the work.”
Titus, a wonderfully mischievous boy, was orphaned at the age of seven and forced to live on the streets. He once spit in my face when I refused him money for glue, but then cried in my lap 10 minutes later when I offered him a plate of food. Meeting Titus for the first time, in the midst of sewage and decaying waste, was like learning to breathe again. As if I had held my breath my entire life until that very moment. For two long summers we tried fruitlessly to get Titus off the streets, and finally, this time back, I was ecstatic to see that he was finally in the rehabilitation program and off drugs.
Working with kids like Titus has become my life’s passion. Which is why, even as two congressmen, the State Department, a specialized evacuation company and our parents frantically worked to get us out of the country, I still could not picture myself anywhere else in the world. Exactly one week after the violence began we were evacuated to Tanzania on a chartered bush plane. As we flew toward the border, Mount Kilimanjaro on the horizon, I felt a mix of sadness and relief that we were finally getting out. My life has not been the same since my first trip to those slums. There is something about Kenya and all the Tituses of the world that make this work undeniably worthwhile. I go because, like other Aggies, I am called to selfless service. Such service is part of who I am and who God has called me to be; attending Texas A&M has only further ingrained this idea within me.
So when people ask me if we were scared or upset that we had to cut our mission trip short, I only pull out a picture of a young boy and say, “Let me tell you about Titusâ€¦”
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This article was reprinted with permission from Spirit magazine, a publication of the Texas A&M Foundation for alumni, donors and other A&M supporters. The Texas A&M Foundation, a private nonprofit organization with on-campus headquarters, solicits and manages investments in academics and leadership programs to enhance A&M’s capability to be among the best universities. Its current multiyear initiative, Operation Spirit and Mind℠, aims to raise $300 million in scholarships. For more information about the foundation, see http://giving.tamu.edu.