In downtown Nairobi, just across from the Railways bus stage, in a cramped room on the uppermost floor of the Gatkim building, a peculiar fellowship gathers in the late afternoon hours of any given Sunday. If you stepped into the cool, fluorescent-lit hallways, squeezed into the perilously narrow elevator, and ascended to this meeting place, you would find a motley gathering of men and women. Cooks, bus drivers, shampoo boys, hustlers, and the occasional drug addict all attend, but everyone here shares a common background: each of these people grew up on the streets. This is Into the World, a weekly program for the MITS graduates led by power couple Jackton and Millie Omondi.
It’s easy to romanticize street ministry. Our annual intake of new students arrived from Eastleigh last week, and as the kids acclimate to the safety of Kamulu, their true personalities have begun to emerge as the drug-stained shells fall away. That kind of visible transformation makes for compelling narratives, and as the head of film production at Made in the Streets, I trumpet those narratives to anyone who will listen. Transformation is easy to brand: after all, everybody loves a ministry with visible results. Perceived progress gratifies our desire to make a difference, and that principal guides many of the stories I tell on behalf of this ministry. When I make films to document the transformative process, those films help reinforce our sponsors’ belief that their dollars have accomplished something tangible.
It’s easy to romanticize street ministry, but only from a distance. Despite our best efforts, when students graduate from Made in the Streets, they still face enormous challenges. They enter a job market with a massive unemployment rate and compete against candidates with college degrees. They struggle to overcome vicious prejudice against former street kids. They return to low income communities entrenched in a mindset which doesn’t want them to succeed. In the midst of these challenges, MITS graduates must also come to terms with unresolved trauma often caused by members of their own families. Some fall in with the wrong people and return to drugs, and eventually, the street. Others tackle their problems head on, but constantly struggle to make ends meet.
Jackton and Millie Omondi don’t romanticize street ministry. Over the course of two decades, they’ve worked at MITS in numerous roles, but for the past three years, these two have focused their efforts on Into the World, a weekly meeting which offers a place of community and rest for MITS alumni. Held once a week, Into the World combines Bible study with professional networking and counseling. As Millie observes, very few people in Kenya’s professional community have experienced the trauma of life on the streets, so it’s essential for former street kids to have a place to express their struggles to people who share their background.
This kind of story is much harder to tell. Aside from the logistical challenges of working as a one man film crew and surviving Nairobi’s infamous traffic jams, this project required me to navigate the uncomfortable reality that sometimes love isn’t enough. Even in the two meetings I recorded for this film, the Omondis had to figure out how to love and include a former student whose drug use had caused him to lose his mind. Sometimes loving someone won’t bring them back from drug addiction, won’t keep them from the streets, won’t help them find meaning and purpose in life.
But some people are brave enough to love anyway. Jackton and Millie, we see you. And we’re grateful.
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