I’m starting to understand what people mean when they say, “try walking in my shoes.” This morning I boarded a matatu on the way to Bomo to meet Kristin for church. A little before 10:30, she gave me a call and told me she couldn’t make it. So I got off in Karen and started to walk back. I didn’t take a matatu because I didn’t want to spend the money, even though Karen is pretty far from Dagoretti.
At about 11:00, I saw a sign for the World Vision headquarters in Kenya. There were a lot of mzungus driving to and from that way, so I thought I would stop by. On the way, I met a 15 year-old beggar named Benjamin. I told him I would buy him some bread, so we walked to a nearby convenience store. He told me on the way that his father was killed by lions, and that he wasn’t allowed to go to school because his shoes were too bad. When we got to the store, I bought for him two loaves of bread and some milk. It was 89kshs, and I had 100 on me. Outside the store I asked if we could trade shoes. So I gave him my almost-new New Balance for his ADIDAS, which I soon found out had no soles. I said, “God bless you” and went on my way. In the hour-plus walk that followed, I learned a lot about God and myself.
First, I had to fight off feelings of self-righteousness. It was so easy for me to think that I had done something noble, something only the most dedicated of disciples would have done. In reality, those shoes did not belong to me anyway. They belonged to my brother who needed them and was without them. I don’t know if he was telling the truth about school or not, but it doesn’t matter.
Next, I had to fight off feelings of self-defeat. I thought about neat things I could have said to share the Gospel, like: “You are my brother in Christ, and He loves you,” or “With these shoes I have purchased your soul. Now I give you to God.” Then I thought, why didn’t I give him the extra 11kshs? What did I need them for? Maybe that would have been more effective… as if his salvation depended entirely on me! Only God can reveal Himself to Benjamin. I am lucky to just be a tiny part of that process. The words “BE SILENT” flooded my mind. I didn’t have to say anything to him. “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” Self-righteousness and self-defeat are both forms of selfishness. I must trust in God alone to carry out the work in Benjamin’s life. I don’t know if he will ever know Jesus or not (and that’s assuming he doesn’t already), and I will probably never see him again. Who knows what will happen? All that matters is that I was able to love my brother as myself, and I hope Jesus smiled.
The first thing I learned walking back is that Kenya is a rocky country. The shoes I bore gave the illusion of comfort and safety, but it was a façade. The rocks were just as sharp as if I were barefoot. The shoes are worthless. No, they are worse than worthless because they are deceptive. When we give charity in the West, we often give our leftovers and our less-than-best. Do we really love our neighbors? Giving away shoes and clothes that are worn-out, things we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing? ‘It’s better than nothing,’ some may say. I disagree. I would almost prefer that we give nothing before we give away our waste! If we are to love others as ourselves, I think this means we share the things that we would also enjoy. The Bible commands when we offer up sacrifices that we give our very best. Why wouldn’t it be the same with charity? After all, Christ says in Matthew 18 that when we welcome the stranger we welcome Him. We wouldn’t want to give Jesus less than our best offering, would we? For the widow this means giving her last penny; for the young rich ruler this means selling everything and giving to the poor. Jesus wants our best. He wants our everything.
One more thought. I look like a Kenyan in almost every way. The skin, the hair the dirty clothes (my luggage still hasn’t arrived), and now the shoes. The only thing that separates me is my tongue; and starting today, I am committing myself to learning Swahili. I am among the people I seek to serve. But how do I serve them if they no longer know to come to me? How did the people know that Jesus was the Son of God? They say He had no special appearance that made Him stand out. Contrary to popular belief, He didn’t walk around with a clean white garment and a halo on his head. He had long hair and a beard, wore sandals, was probably dirty, and looked like every other Galilean. How did they know to touch Him? To cry out for Him? To spot Him? Jesus looked like the people He loved; I want to do the same. I must learn to speak the native language.