A young carpenter once gave a great message about how God wants us to live and make every day count and not be consumed by memories of past high or low points, or worrying abut future concerns or ambitions.
But this isn’t the carpenter you are thinking of! Daniel Kamoshu is a carpenter in Mathare Valley – one of the oldest and worst slums in Africa that’s only three miles from Nairobi’s city’s buzzing business district. It is an area covering just three square miles, and home to over 700,000 people who exist in one of the most unhealthy, densely populated and uncomfortable places I have ever experienced.
People live in tiny shacks, made of rusting tin, cardboard and mud. There are a few disgusting public toilets which residents have to pay to use. But most cannot afford to pay and so use any space between the shacks, making the whole area like an open sewer, polluting the river that runs through the slum. And it is in these conditions that children, who should be in school, hang around playing in the filth, begging for food. Without education they are in great danger of disease and being sucked into gangs and prostitution to earn a meagre living.
Life is extremely hard for those unfortunate enough to end up in Mathare Valley. It’s a daily battle against hunger, disease, violence and drug fuelled gangs like the infamous and ruthless Mungiki Gang. HIV AIDS, drug and alcohol addiction are rampant even among the children. It’s no wonder that life expectancy is short. Local people say children are like the desert flower that blooms for a day then fades and dies.
And yet, as I have experienced so many times in the 40 or so years visiting people living in the ‘hard places’, these are often the most generous and hospitable people you could wish to meet, often insisting on sharing what little food and drink they have with you. I have enjoyed many cups of tea and simple meals in the most humble homes, served as if I was a special honoured guest.
Right in the heart of Mathare Valley is the Redeemed Gospel church; the pastor is Joel Githai, a visionary man of God, who gave up a successful career in engineering to minister to the people in Mathare. In the small church compound, Joel has built a school which has become a haven of peace and security where hundreds of children learn how to stay safe and healthy. Vocational training is helping young people to learn skills to earn a living. Daniel Kamoshu, the carpenter is one of the elders of Redeemed Gospel Church.
Three years ago Dreen and I were visiting Joel’s church and enjoying the vibrant worship with hundreds of people crammed into the sanctuary, when Daniel got up to speak. His message spoke powerfully, right into our hearts. It was one of the most remarkable and memorable sermons I’ve heard and one I often revisit in my mind.
He quoted Psalm 90v12:
Teach us to number our days and recognise how few they are; help us to spend them as we should.
The main point of his message was, this passage is not saying we should count every day we have left, possibly being anxious about our circumstances, or fearful for the future. But we should be thankful for every day God has given us, and try to make every day count for God.
And in the context of this filthy slum with all its difficulties, dangers and challenges, Daniel’s message hit home to me. The Christians in Mathare Valley exude a sense of inner peace, despite their extreme difficulties. Their absolute trust in Jesus, and their fulfilment and joy in serving him, is inspiring. The sense of community and sharing of resources and their struggles is something we have largely lost in our busy schedule and entertainment filled lives. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when Dreen and I literally stopped and smelt the roses.
At the Coach House we have roses growing front and back and the most fragrant and beautiful of all is Zephirine Douhin.
We sat, warmed by the late evening sun, enjoying the beautiful and delicate pink flowers with their heady scent. It was a moment of sheer joy. Unlike most modern roses, Zephirine Douhin only flowers once a year and the flowers only last for a few days. We then have to wait another whole year, but boy it is well worth the wait for those few days. It is stunning! However, little did we know that a storm would fall upon us that night with high winds and torrential rain leaving most of the rose flowers in tatters by the following morning.
But we had enjoyed a special moment. The memory is seared in our minds and will last until the next season’s flowers appear.
It is easy to become so consumed by concern about the future that we let our lives be defined by the uncertainty of what we imagine might lie ahead, good or bad. This is especially true at this time of global political unrest. And the clock ticks relentlessly on, time passes and suddenly we are in the future we once feared, or couldn’t wait for, and it’s often not quite what we looked forward to, or as bad as we feared and then that too becomes a memory. And in the process we have missed some very special times that can never be repeated or recapture.
So I’m now trying to pause occasionally to enjoy the present and make the most of each moment, whatever I am doing and give thanks to God.