In a dark home nestled among the dangerous streets of Kariobangi, Kenya, “Mama” sits at home with her mentally handicapped adult son. Her husband and daughter have gone away to work in the early morning hours, and her 6-year-old grandson is off to school. Mama’s eldest son lives in their home without a voice, and thirteen years ago she found herself living in their home without vision. Now she can’t even see the huge smile her son bears when he feels loved and well tended-to. Her eyes can no longer gaze into those of her husband and children. She hasn’t only lost her vision, but a powerful form of connection to those she loves.
Physical disadvantages are only two of the challenges Mama and her family face. They live in a hard corner of town. Poverty runs high, and so do crime and fear. So like every careful mama, she locks her doors and windows and only answers to voices she recognizes. Unfortunately it’s easy to forget about people who are unable to leave their homes and meet us where we are, so familiar voices can be few and far between. Because she lost her eyesight she does not try to navigate the streets independently, but only goes out with assistance, and only to visit the doctor. She hasn’t only lost her vision, but connection to her community.
A Sports Friends intern went a few times with local staff to visit Mama. They would greet her, delight in her son’s flashy grin, then sit down to listen to Mama share her stories. The external needs of the situation were glaring: blindness, house-bound, high-crime community, few resources. But at the end of one visit, Mama made a profound comment in her gratitude. She thanked them for coming because their presence “took my loneliness away.” Even while they felt the weight of inability to relieve heavy physical and social needs, the Spirit of God had moved right through them to meet the deep emotional, heart-need: connection.
Truly, the Gospels show us we were made for more than meets the eye. We’re made for relationship with God and with others, and it is poverty of the soul to live without it. Throughout the Gospels, we find Jesus meeting all kinds of needs by connecting to people. In the Spirit of God He fed the hungry and healed the lame. In the body of man He touched the unclean and spoke to the outcast. He was the way for man to be reconciled to God. In John chapter six He addressed a crowd who just witnessed Him feed 5,000 people with only 2 bread loaves and five fish. He says in v. 26-27, “You are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Jesus wasn’t saying that earthly food isn’t necessary, or that we shouldn’t work for it. Instead, Jesus told them that the need to be in connection with God, i.e. “eating spiritual food”, is paramount. He said “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (v. 35) When His presence chases away our loneliness, we become so satisfied that other needs can be overshadowed (John 4).
Sports Friends coaches in Kariobangi make ministering to these less-tangible but more-important needs a fundamental piece of their work. By giving their time, attention, and instruction on the field, then visiting with the youth and their families off the field, they pray that Mama and many others will recognize just how much God loves them. Let’s join them: Father, we ask that today our neighbors in Kariobangi will find more than their daily bread, but by the power of Your Spirit will be filled with the bread of Heaven that gives LIFE to the world. We pray hearts, families, and entire communities will be connected to You, will become Your people, that You could chase away their loneliness forever.