“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” Acts 17:26-27
Precious Jane is nineteen years old and lives in rural Kenya with her mother. Jane has Downs Syndrome, and her community does not know how to receive her. The strong cultural stigma surrounding disability results in a shame that literally locks children in the back bedroom and behind the protective gates of the family compound. Jane spends her days and nights lying in the dust within her physical walls, her family lying desolate and bereft within the belief that they have been cursed. Sorrow and self-hatred have reigned in their lives for years, as they have been cut off from love, community, and hope by lies of rejection and shame.
When Sports Friends staff arrived at Jane’s home to take her to Camp Baraka, everything changed. She had never ventured outside the walls of her family compound, hiding from the hatred of those who don’t understand her. Now receiving personal visitors and preparing for a very special trip had her wild with joy. Her siblings had never seen her leave the home, and their excitement filled the air. Jane had never even seen a motorbike, but she and her mother climbed onto one with their escort, then took a two-hour bus ride that introduced Jane to a whole new world beyond the confines of isolation. She was mesmerized by the landscape, the expanse, the people around her.
Camp Baraka is a Special Needs Camp organized by Sports Friends to serve children with disabilities and their families. It is structured to surround them with love, compassion, joyful inclusion, and gentle care. The children are each poured into by two volunteers assigned to serve them personally for the three days. They are fully invited to enjoy games, art, music, and play organized specifically for them; they experience the joy of life with their caregivers and other equally suffering children surrounding and embracing them. While the children play and are very well tended-to, their family members are shown hospitality and tender compassion in trauma healing sessions. Their mothers are assured that God has not cursed or abandoned them or their child. He is with them and His love is real, but the enemy has loudly lied to them for years. A foot washing ceremony drives out rejection and despair as Jesus literally touches and cleanses shame through the hands of His people.
When Jane and her mother left Camp Baraka, they left with a clear picture of the truth. Filled with hope and on the road to healing, they were equipped with a powerful recognition of Jesus’ love for them. When Sports Friends staff visited the family a few weeks later, they did not enter a compound heavy with despair, but were welcomed with smiles and hearts encouraged by hope. Though Jane is nonverbal, she had a visibly brightened countenance and curiosity, and was excited to see them. It is a new day for sweet Jane and her family. It’s a day marked by the morning’s new mercies and the proven faithfulness of God.
As Sports Friends Kenya reaches out to the special needs community through Camp Baraka, we are working to break down walls of shame, hatred, and discrimination. We pray that as we love the hidden and cast-out in Jesus’ Name, He will continue to transform individual lives and strengthen their surrounding communities with understanding of the dignity and special gift their special needs neighbors bear.
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:14