Grace and Bonface
“My grandfather was king of this whole region,” said Baba Daniel, “well known and well respected by all who lived around him. My father became king after him until Kenya achieved independence in 1963, and then his status was changed to that of ‘chief’. All the land around us, as far as you can see, belonged to him and our family.”
I listened in fascination as Bonface’s father continued recounting their family history. We were sitting in the warm afternoon sunshine on their front porch watching a herd of cows, sheep, and goats as they grazed across the lawn. Other relatives, who had joined us in honor of our special visit, added various details as the story continued. I was intrigued, for I had never met the son of a king before. Such things occurred only in history books or story books; or so I had thought. Of course, I had never thought we would be visiting a family of the Luo tribe in southwestern Kenya either. Life sure has its interesting twists and turns.
We were especially grateful to have met one of Bonface’s grandmothers: a thin, wizened, ancient lady, who moved slowly yet spoke with dignity and grace. She shared some of her story also; of coming to trust in Jesus as her Lord more than forty years ago when there were hardly any Christians in their region. She immediately had a burning desire to see other people come to Christ also, and so began praying fervently for her family and neighbors. Now, many years later, most of her extended family members are serving Christ, and there are numerous churches in their area. It is humbling to see the fruit of this elderly saint who paid the price in spiritual warfare to see Christ proclaimed and made Lord in her "little portion of the world".
On our second morning, as our breakfast of rice and fruit was being prepared, Julie sat outside next to this old saint while playing hymns on her banjo. After awhile, I heard the grandmother begin singing a song in her mother tongue. What was it? I’ve heard that melody before somewhere? I listened a little longer – oh, I know what that is – “Shall we Gather at the River”! We joined with her, each of us praising God in our own language. We live in such different “worlds” now, yet we both serve the same Jesus and both look forward to the day when we shall meet Him by that River which flows from the Throne of God. There our songs of praise, in English and in Luo, shall once again worship the One who gave His life for all the peoples of the earth.
We had traveled with our good friend, Bonface Owiti Abongo, for six hours by public transport to visit his wife Grace, their two children, and the small kindergarten school they started last year. We met them two years ago through our oldest daughter, Anna, who lived with them for awhile in Mwanza. Bonface works for Compassion International as a computer teacher, but his family now stays in the home he built for them back in Kenya. Good jobs can be difficult to find, so he has continued on with his work here, while traveling home to visit his family twice a month. Bonface became involved with Compassion by volunteering to work at one of the project centers in Mwanza while he was looking for a job. After graduating from a university in Uganda, he had looked for employment in Nairobi to no avail, and then went to Mwanza at the invitation of a friend. That job opportunity fell through; so he volunteered his time for six months while he was waiting for something to happen. The staff members at the Compassion centers were so impressed, that eventually he was offered a job. He now teaches computer skills to students at a different center each day of the week.
We arrived by bus with Bonface at a dirty, hectic, border town after being “entertained” for four hours by cheap, low-quality, Swahili comedies being played at an intrusive volume. At the border we changed over to a small minivan, overloaded with too many people in our opinion, but normal in their eyes. Being over six foot tall has its disadvantages sometimes! Our bumpy two hour ride took us over hills and valleys, past large fields of maize and sugar cane, and eventually dropped us at the edge of a small town. We walked down a dusty side road (its dry season now) for several minutes and then turned off onto one of the many footpaths that wound around the garden plots of his neighbors. Familial greetings and friendly waves came to us from those walking past or sitting under a shade tree, for Bonface is well known and appreciated here. The small plot that he was able to purchase had room for a little garden in front of their house, but he and his wife have decided to use that space to grow something more valuable than vegetables – Children of Hope!
The public school education is theoretically “free”, (meaning the government has provided an empty shell of a building along with a few underpaid teachers and a few books); but the extra “school fees” make it difficult and sometimes impossible for poor families to send their children to school. As a result of his good employment with Compassion International, Bonface had a desire to do something to benefit the families living around them. He explained that as a boy he had been taught that when one is the recipient of good fortune, it should not be kept to themselves, but shared with others in need. So, he and his wife thought, “what can we do?” As they prayed about it, the thought came to build a little school for young children whose parents could not afford the school fees. They took the first step of faith by building a two-room building of stick and mud construction with a sheet iron roof in which to teach children the fundamentals of reading, writing, and mathematics. Now there are 15 neighbor children, ages 5-8, coming each morning for a half day’s lessons. Recently they have been able to provide some funds for a young lady to work as a teacher at this school. They have also built an extra room into their own home as a place for a teacher to live with them on the property.
Yet this was not enough, Grace kept remembering a lady that she was good friends with near the old home they had previously rented while working on their house. The father of this family has low education and low paying jobs as a day laborer, and was always struggling to pay his rent. Grace said, why can’t we help them out by giving them a place to live for free? So, the second room of the school building was given to that family (father, mother, and three children) as their place of residence. Not having to pay rent has helped them a great deal, especially since the father’s work can be quite sporadic and seasonal.
Through donations and hard work, improvements have been made. A 10,000 liter plastic tank has been installed for capturing rainwater during the wet season. Finding water is always a chronic problem during the four month dry season. Usually most of the wells dry up and many people have to walk 1 – 2 kilometers (or further!) to find their daily water. Grace would often leave the house at 4 a.m. in order to avoid the long lines at a spring located about a kilometer away. She would carry home two buckets of water, twice a day, for their daily needs. Not much water for cooking, cleaning, bathing, and laundry. Many people suffer from health problems during the dry season because of the pervasive dust in the air and from the shortage of water. Capturing and storing rainwater is an effective way to overcome some of these problems. Bonface hopes to eventually install a second water tank on his property because one tank is not big enough to see the two families and the students through the dry season.
He has also made considerable progress on the construction of a second school building – two larger classrooms and an office, made with burnt bricks this time. The roof is on, but the floor, doors, and windows need to be completed before they are ready to use. He is also at a similar stage on another building which will be used for raising chickens to supplement their simple diet of mostly rice, maize, beans, and greens.
Our purpose for going to Kenya was to visit this “Children of Hope Centre”, as the school is called, and to learn more about this simple action of love for the poor being done by a young couple who live among them as one of them. They have registered this school with the government and now have an official identity, bank account, and license for operation. Their hope and ours is that others will join with them in supporting the education of these young students. There’s not only the need to finish the buildings, but also a teacher to pay, school supplies to obtain, and a simple meal to offer the students each day (some of the families are unable to provide a breakfast for their children). When the students have progressed beyond what Bonface and Grace are able to offer at home, they will continue sponsoring them at the local schools as well. In fact, they are already providing the school fees of several older students; which is not easy, considering that most of what they are doing is coming from the little bit of “extra” they find in their own pockets.
Perhaps most importantly, this is a school where the love of Christ and the truths of God's Words are being imparted to the little ones, so that as the foundation of their education is being formed, they may also learn that they too are Children of the King.
If you would like to share with Bonface and Grace in this endeavor, either through a one-time gift or as a regular sponsor of one of the children, you may contact them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
May the peace of Christ be with you,
The path approaching our destination.
The school in foreground, new classrooms in rear,
chicken house on left, new water tank on right.
The new teacher, Rose, with the students.
Young students are shy with visitors.
Playing together at break time.
Each child deserves a basic education.
Perhaps a future engineer?
Bonface and Grace with their two children.