St. Lazarus School
Reflection: The Shadowlands
(in Kibera Slum, a visit to St. Lazarus School)
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
You come wandering through with us
along narrow dirt alley streets
straight into the maze of close-set ramshackle structures.
Not very far, five minutes in
on the edge of the quiet chaos and dignified ruins of homes.
Past a butcher shop
a vegetable seller: today, five eggplants for sale.
Past the tailor.
Walking in we make occasional eye contact
to the somewhat perplexed and suspicious stares.
“Jambo” is exchanged,
but for the most part, my eyes are watching each footfall,
avoiding muck and filth;
trying to make sense
of the bewilderment that surges in my heart, the embarrassment,
the almost immediate pangs of grief.
You come in close, with us passing through the door of the school
into the warm, poorly ventilated classroom
with its rusted corrugated tin walls
with its drawings and handmade posters conscientiously displayed and tired looking,
spotted with dirt and age.
One: red apple
Two: black and white zebras
Three: green trees
Four: blue bouncing balls
You listen as the children greet us, singing:
“Good morning, good morning, good morning to you.
Good morning, good morning, and how do you do?”
At break time after lessons, more songs in the recess area—
a three by six foot rectangle hall of broken cement,
bordered by crumbling walls and a deteriorating slatted fence.
Even the smallest children
swaying, bouncing, “I love my Jesus, yes I love him.”
Stomp, clap clap.
Stomp, clap clap.
I love my Jesus, yes I love him.
You listen as they sing their unbelievable praises
for all the downcast spirits surrounding to hear.
Strange that the Glory of the Lord Jesus should be so present
in this dim, dank, seemingly Godforsaken place.
Strange how You show up here,
make it a point to be here with them,
Hallelujah, what a Savior, I think to myself
as their sweet voices unashamedly declare Your love.
Back in class after break, they sit at low benches, facing forward,
their tiny bodies squeezed in together
lined up and straight;
closely shorn hair, boys and girls
snotty noses and tattered clothes, too big shoes, knee socks.
Each called by name.
Sella. James. Snaida. David. Winnie. Michael. Christine.
Beloved, precious creation.
What do such words mean to me here?
Lord Jesus, Your Kingdom come.
Later, after some more schoolwork, each receives a new toy:
a magic wand.
One by one they raise them up, turning them around above their heads
watch the glitter fall from one end to the other.
Is there even a word in their vocabulary for that?
Is there one in mine?
Magic wand doesn’t seem to cut it when I remember the looks on their faces.
All with their brown eyes raised,
following the sparkles, tiny stars,
pink, purple, blue sequins floating slowly down.
One speaks a tiny “ahhh” and smiles.
All erupt in giggles. I definitely have no words for this.
The smallest girls receive baby dolls.
One girl takes it, rocks it in her arms
slightly, back and forth
her eyes closed.
I imagine that You come behind her, stroke her back with Your hand,
say to her:
I love you
and I am with you
We can’t find the words,
go from classroom to classroom peeking in,
watching as Your ever-present comfort envelops each
through small and ridiculous gifts,
through the care and assurances of their teachers
through the food Rose makes for their breakfast and lunch.
Before we say our final goodbyes and leave, everyone comes out
and poses for a photo in front of the school.
Still inarticulately fumbling our way around this Holy Ground
(in Kibera, You are present) we take our leave;
cross over the sewer gully, over the train tracks
past the tailor,
the vegetable seller,
Memory of this place lodged, no, wedged in our hearts:
This is not the way it’s meant to be.
And yet You give us eyes to see some sort of mystery,
some sort of sacred, holy communion
some kind of shadow of Yourself and Your glory
and Your Kingdom
I falter and linger in my astonishment.
I pray to never forget.
“ Then Job replied to the Lord:
"I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You ask, 'Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?' It is I. And I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me.
"You said, 'Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.'
"I had heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance."”