Last summer, I lived in a town in East Africa called Nairobi, Kenya for about three months. I taught and counseled students and their mothers in a school in the Mathare Valley Slum. This slum is about one square mile, and almost a million people live here in total poverty. My goal in travelling there was to "bring light to a dark world," "give hope to the hopeless," and all those other "Christianese" phrases we so often use. But right before I left, I heard the lyrics, "Break my heart for what breaks yours," and this became my new prayer. (Just a word of advice: NEVER EVER pray this prayer unless you are prepared for complete and total brokenness.) Little did I know, God's heart breaks so often, and taking on this heartbreak frequently left me in shambles.
Soon after arriving, I began teaching a class full of 9 to 12 year-old boys and girls, and God opened my heart to them. It took me only a few days to fall in love with them, and after a few weeks, some even began to call me "Mummy" instead of Teacher. God let them really get to my core and into my heart. And then He opened the doors to their lives. He let me discover terrible things that these children go through on a daily basis. I soon learned that every single one of my students had been abused, raped, or exploited in some way. God truly broke my heart. He had me literally falling on my knees in tears every night calling out to Him, begging him to comfort these children.
My daily prayer became, "God, if you need me to be broken right now, continue breaking me, but please heal these children. Break me as you will so that you may use me as you will. But help me with the hatred that I feel for the men and the fathers of this community." Daily, I prayed that He would help me to understand that men are cultured into evil in this society, that they needed Christ, and that somehow, they were worth saving. For two months, this prayer continued, and I struggled with hatred. My best friend, who was in Kenya with me, cried with me nearly every night as we talked about the weight of this hatred. Her words one night (translated into English) were, "My heart is like a stone. Sometimes, I feel so hurt that I just stop feeling. I need this rock of a heart to beat again, but I don't know how to stop being angry." That was July 25th, 2012.
On July 26th, the very next day, I happened to open my Bible to 1 Samuel 2, and just after hearing her say that she needs God to take away the anger, that she had compared to a stone, I read the words, "There is no rock like our God." How powerful! I knew that this was the beginning, that God was going to continue breaking us, but that the hatred would go away, and our passion would be easier to bear... Or so I thought... God had different plans, as He generally does in my life.
Leaving the school that I worked at that day, three friends and I decided that we would visit another friend and her new baby. We thought that it would be a great end to a somewhat exhausting day, but this meant that we had to take a new bus route home in an unfamiliar part of town. After visiting with our friend, we had her explain to us where to get on and off the bus and how to get home from the bus stop. So off we went.
Riding through town, we began to notice that it was getting a little dark, and being a really white girl in the middle of Africa is pretty dangerous at night, so we decided that as soon as we saw a landmark that looked familiar, we would get off the bus and walk home. We figured that this would get us home sooner. And then we saw a familiar store, and we grabbed our bags as the bus slowed down, but just as we were about to get off, we all sat back down. Somehow, we just knew that we shouldn't get off the bus. Less than a minute later, we began to hear the gunshots. We had no idea what was going on, but everyone was screaming, "Get down! Get down!" (In English and Swahili) As the girls on either side of me hunkered down in the floor, I realized there was no room for me, so I spread my arms out over them, and we all began to pray in our native languages: English, Spanish, Swahili, Kikuyu, Kamba, Luo... The list goes on and on.
After the gunshots ceased, I worked up the courage to look out the window. The tires of the buses around us had all been shot out, as had ours. There were men standing close by with AK47s and malicious eyes. But what scared me the most was the mob. The best way that I can explain it to people is by asking if they remember the scene from Lion King when all of the hyenas are running down the valley and Simba is terrified... That's what this looked like. A mob of men came running down the street, all carrying stones, and they began throwing them at the people inside the buses. They busted out windows and pulled men and women out and stoned them in front of my eyes. I was so afraid that I couldn't move to hunker down. I kept staring outside though I knew somewhere inside that I should look down, that it would be safer not to make eye contact...
And then I heard it, the back windshield, which was only inches from my head shattered. And I watched the glass fall all around me... Terrified, I turned to see that a rock had been thrown through the window only an inch or two from my head, that the hole in what was left of the windshield was directly behind my right ear. I turned and looked in the floor of the bus, and there sat the rock... How could this be? It should have gone straight through my head...
As I pondered the question, I forgot yet again to look down, and all of the sudden, I realized that I was making eye contact with a man right beside the bus, a man holding a huge rock, preparing to throw it directly at me... And in that moment, right before he threw the rock, I accepted it (and actually anticipated it). This was the end...
But then, another man yelled at him, and he threw the rock at the bus behind us, and my friend threw open our door, grabbed my hand, and we ran. We prayed, and we ran. Four Christians running through a mob of what we later discovered were Al-Shabaab terrorists praying a prayer of protection over each other. And somehow, we escaped. Somehow, we made it all the way home, four miles away, with only a sprained ankle among us. But as we were running and praying, I still kept thinking about that rock... How did it not kill me? How did it somehow go straight through my head? Was our prayer really that powerful? And I remembered again those words I had just read that morning, "There is no rock like our God."
Over the next few days, as we began to recover and discovered exactly what had been going on, and just how many lives had been lost, I had to repeatedly remind myself of God's power. We would tell each other, "There is no rock like our God." And over the next few weeks and months, as we dealt with even more hatred for the men in this part of our world, we constantly reminded ourselves that God can heal our hearts even when we feel broken and stone-cold because "There is no rock like our God."
As a daily reminder to myself of God's saving and healing power, in that place right behind my ear, where the rock would have hit me had it not been for the power of prayer, a tattoo will forever read, "Hakuna mwamba kama Mungu wetu." This is Swahili for, "There is no rock like our God."
And may we remember this at the Refuge and in our daily lives. No matter what, God can save us and heal us from anything because THERE IS NO ROCK LIKE OUR GOD!
-Alishia, a Refuge Intern