As I traveled to the remote region in northern Kenya a few weeks ago, I knew the situation was dire. From the plane I watched as the green and lush landscape below me turned brown and barren. Turkana is experiencing the worst drought in years. And families are going hungry as they watch their livestock – their only livelihood – die due to lack of food or water.
Globally, the hunger crisis is staggering—nearly 50 million people are facing starvation if nothing is done. Increased conflict and violence, extreme and unpredictable weather, and the effects of COVID-19, have left people in need. Add in the Ukraine conflict — which is resulting in higher prices for food, fuel, and other necessities around the world – and it is a desperate situation for the families I met.
These are grim statistics. But what I experienced in Kenya tells a bigger story of what can happen when people of faith endure hardship.
I was particularly struck by three encounters, which I can best describe as lessons to turn toward the key values of faith, community and family in moments of crisis.
Turning toward faith
In the community of Kalapata, I attended an ecumenical service at Kangakipur Catholic Church led by a priest named Father Kelly. It was standing room only with people from all different Christian faith backgrounds.
As Father Kelly opened us in prayer and began to preach from a simple wooden altar adorned with a green cloth and a communion cup, I was overwhelmed by the presence of God.
Father Kelly’s words resonated with what I’ve been learning recently. He said, “The world can only be saved by human beings who look into the faces of others and see the face of God.”
People there worshipped God by dancing and singing with all their hearts. In the midst of so much suffering, they trusted God to be gracious and good.
During my time in Kenya, one woman even told me that all she can do is “tan yara”—call out to God.
Even as we see the numbers of people believing in God and reading his Word in the U.S. continue to decline, in places like Kalapata, suffering isn’t a deterrent to faith—instead faith is both central to life and critical to hope now and into the future.
Turning toward community
Ekidor is a young mother in the community of Nakorio. When we first visited her, food was such a precious commodity that she kept her small amount of grain carefully locked up in a rusty metal box. She and her family live off one meal a day.
One might think that the food she does get she would keep for herself. Yet, when we arrived at her home after a food distribution held by World Vision, a crowd had congregated there—neighbors who were hungry but not eligible for the distribution. There is not enough funding to feed everyone so only the most desperate get a ration. Without hesitation, Ekidor grabbed a cup and began scooping out portions of her food to give to the neighbors.
I watched in amazement, knowing that her ration would only last her own family a few weeks. “We’ve been taught this at church,” Ekidor said. “These are people. They have no place else to go.”
Generosity is a gift that can bring us together during times of suffering and trial. Instead of becoming isolated during hard times, imagine the impact if we turned toward our neighbors and our communities.
Turning toward family
Many Christian leaders in this region of Kenya have come together to form a Pastors Fellowship. The pastors come alongside their flock to provide spiritual and physical support, including strengthening and supporting families. This is even more critical now as families are burdened by the daily stresses of survival.
One couple in particular had an impact on me. Simon and Pauline received a cash transfer to start a small shop in their home where they sell grain, sugar, soap, and clothing. Through the training from their pastor, the couple learned to save money and to put God first and trust that he will provide. They also learned skills to improve their marriage so they could be each other’s strength and support through life’s challenges.
That was life-changing for them and for others in community. In this area that received the program of combined cash transfer and pastor support, almost 1,000 more children are receiving an education because parents are given an opportunity to provide financially. This is a 38% increase!
In my brief time in Kenya, the people I met left an indelible mark on my life. In times of suffering and crisis, we have two options—turn away from God and each other, or turn toward those who hurt and walk together in our pain.
My hope is that one day, we will all have faith like Father Kelly, generosity like Ekidor and love like Simon and Pauline as we encounter every crisis that comes our way.
Find more information about how to help at worldvision.org.