UN-SLUM YOURSELF, STEP INTO THE FUTURE
A few years ago, I met a beautiful young lady born and raised in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi. Korogocho, sometimes called Koch, is one of the largest slums in Nairobi, with approximately 150,000 to 200,000 people living on about 1.5 square kilometers. This population density has become the home of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, rampant HIV/AIDS, crime, poverty and generally a hard life. It isn’t very hard to live in despair in a neighborhood like this.
Elizabeth Oteng’o fondly called Liz, had a quick smile and laugh that drew you in then you saw the depth of trouble in her eyes. She was struggling to figure out life and find work when she opted to serve as an intern at the congregation I attended and so we met. Her daily narrative was how hard things were, how little she had, how life was unfair and how people should have mercy on her because she was from Koch. She was so caught up in the troubles that many would listen for a while then quietly walk away.
She asked me to help one of the programs she was working on and I began asking questions so I could understand. As we talked she kept coming back to the position that people should understand her need and help her because she was from Korogocho. In her mind, that was a good enough reason to be granted help. I understood her position but I couldn’t get over how limited it was.
You see, she was not the first person or the last one to be born in Koch neither was the she first or last to use that as a way to gain sympathy or empathy from people. Unbeknown to her, she used her place of birth as a crutch, explanation or excuse. It was the armor that protected her from moving forward; the reason she would not apply herself to understand a difficult concept; the barrier to getting a lasting job. It was the base of her interaction with the world and guess what…it wasn’t helping her.
Interestingly, she used her life in Koch as a crutch yet she had moved out a few years before we met. She had worked with a ministry taking hope back there through scholarships, she was spending time with people who could challenge her narrative but she wasn’t changing her worldview. Why? It was hard and it would challenge everything she had always held onto. However, if we were going to work together and bring the change she was talking about, this would have to change permanently.
We would have to fight to the end but she was not staying there if I could help it so, I started the fight. Whenever she brought up growing up in Koch or used it as a reason I asked, ‘So? What does being from Koch have to do with anything?’ Liz got mad at me, so mad that she avoided me for months yet she couldn’t fully avoid me.
I was leading teams and she needed my help so we had to interact but it was a very strained interaction. Every time she tried to use Koch as an excuse I asked the same biting question with increasing intensity because I realized that her mindset was the real challenge. One day after many fights, I noticed a change in her posture when I asked the question. I heard her question her defense, I watched her eyes light up when she understood that where she came from wasn’t as important as where God was taking her.
She had made progress but she still couldn’t see how to scale the invisible barrier her background raised; she couldn’t see how to move beyond what she had always known; her mind couldn’t see the way out despite her desperate desire to set an example for those she left behind. Thus begun the journey of dealing with every excuse she had ever given. It was quite the journey, shrouded in hard conversations, deep dealings with God, many tears, broken relationships and studying the Word. It took separation, times alone and honest reflections away from all of us but I could see God at work each step of the way.
At one time, she almost passed up a job opportunity to hold fort for a friend on maternity leave because she was scared she wouldn’t have a job after the three months were over. I pushed her to believe she could work well and display competence so they would want to keep her and it worked. She did. Then she fell and broke her leg and once again feared that her employer would let her go because of the extended healing time, once again she was proved wrong.
The change came when her mind finally understood that the perfect plan of God must be the only fuel for her life; that challenges would still remain but she had the ability to overcome. Change came when she understood that she had to look within herself, understand her limitation then ascend to the limitless nature of God and become what He told her she would be. It wasn’t an instant solution but a process, one thought, moment and day at a time as she chose to stand on the word God spoke and live it out even when it didn’t make sense. This allowed God to fulfill His Word and promise.
The journey wasn’t easy for her but by now she knew that unless she held onto the new picture God was placing in her heart about her value in Him, her life wouldn’t count as much so she pressed on dealing with every aspect of life. She rose in faith to silence the voices on the outside and remind herself that her path was charted by God and His word would remain true. Change had come!
Today, five years later, Liz is still working at the same organization in a completely different role, has grown professionally and has even gone back into Koch to help the children connect to God. Above all, she has grown in her walk with God. She is able to speak of the realities of walking with God in the appointed path and finding His peace, joy and life. Her life is evidence that God had His eye on her but she was standing in her own way; once she got out of the way, He made it work.
What is holding you back? What are the anchors in your mind that keep you limited? What do you need to let go of for the word of God to break forth? You are so much more than where you were born and what you have been through to date. Your path was defined and ordained to build the skills needed to become everything God has put in you.
Editor’s comment: The struggle Liz faced is the same struggle Afrika is facing. Mindset. Overcome those limitations and you will break through to whole new realities and possibilities.
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A Kenyan visual scribe, storyteller using words and images to connect all aspects of life. She powers from faith to food, health, nature in ways that encourage viewers and readers to find balance in life through its connectivity. PASSION FOR THE ART Passionate about telling HIStory of hope, love and family.