Find Me Unafraid is the autobiography of two people. The first is Kennedy Odede, a young man who grew up in a Kenyan slum and started a community initiative called Shining Hope For Communities (SHOFCO) with only a soccer ball. Some time later, Jessica Posner, a Wesleyan student, hears about SHOFCO, and comes to Kibera to help with the community drama program on a summer internship. Out of the shame and hopelessness of poverty, where people are punished for existing in a system that crushes them, Kennedy tenaciously and compassionately continues to builds an environment for growth and cooperation. Jessica is changed by Kibera and eventually brings her own tenacity and resourcefulness into play by beginning Kibera’s first free primary girl’s school with Kennedy. This program leads to many other successful health and education initiatives; their initial collaboration leads to friendship and love.
The power of collaboration awed me. Kennedy started something unusual because he was angry and tired of discovering that his sisters were raped and that friends committed suicide to escape the life of survival. He knew how to bring people together because he understood the importance of risk. It was a risk because of the oppressive weight of a hopeless community; it was a risk because they started with few resources and had no idea where they would get what they needed or how far they would go.
Reading this book gave me more compassion for Africa and Kenya specifically. I was aware of how prominent rape and violence are in impoverished regions; reading about specific people who have experienced these things is another thing. It makes me even more aware of the privilege of raising my children with the resources, both of character and material natures right at our fingertips, that I often overlook. It makes me more determined to connect my family and myself to others in order to help those who are trapped in all the complications of poverty of body and spirit.
At about the same time I read Find Me Unafraid, this idea of scarcity and what we do with it collided with another book I was reading, Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. SHOFCO was about combatting poverty with an undaunted spirit fueled by hope; in America, many of us face a poverty of self because, in our quest to look like the best of the best, we’ve created an economy of scarcity. There is more to Daring Greatly than this, and I won’t go into too much detail because it deserves it’s own post; but the contrast between it and the themes found in Find Me Unafraid are stark and worth noting.
Many of us in this country have the majority of our needs not just met, but surpassed in a wash of choices and options. We fret over which cereal to buy at the grocery store; we have clean water; we send our kids to school; we don’t live as if rape is an inevitable reality in our lives. It’s easy to forget that we’re robbing ourselves and each other by believing we’re not capable of such and such because we don’t have X amount of money, or time, or because what we do doesn’t appear social-media worthy. Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention; it seems that we are lulled all too often into believing that we don’t have whatever it takes to be the mother of a positive difference.
A few months ago, a young woman named Maureen spoke at the church we attended. She had a similar story to Kennedy’s. Provided with an education, food, and love through an organization called Hope for Orphans, she stood in our environmentally controlled building facing a group of us who’ve likely never known hunger and shared how, after attending college thanks to her sponsor family, she put several of her own siblings through college. Now she and her husband run a home for young girls. These girls are pregnant, abandoned and destitute, some of the most vulnerable people of Kenya. They provide basic needs as well as education, including childcare skills classes, self-care and the learning of a trade. They teach them of their need for a Savior and how to care for their baby. They tell them that Jesus loves them and never leaves those who trust him. They tell them they and their babies are not the refuse of society but loved by God, capable of good things. Maureen stood with a proud smile on her face as she told of her many adopted daughters and grandchildren, and she told us, “If God has told you to do something, don’t wait! You don’t need to be older; you don’t need more money. If God has told you to do something, he will give you what you need.”
I’m thankful for stories like Kennedy’s and Maureen’s, who didn’t wait for what we believe are the right conditions. Sometimes those right conditions will never appear. I’m thankful for stories like Jessica Posner’s, who didn’t keep someone else’s suffering and poverty at arms length, and instead, allowed herself to be changed and then fought tooth and nail for the people she believed in. They are examples of leadership, determination, and collaboration and can offer a reminder of what we too often forget in our western culture: you don’t need a lot to change someone’s life. You just need to believe it’s worth it.