Compassion in Kenya

In February of this year, Compassion UK gave me and some other pastors the wonderful blessing of a few days in Kenya to try and catch a glimpse of how this ministry operates on the ground. It was a full-on trip – overnight flights there and back; in and around Mombasa for three full days (two nights).

We visited three projects in quite different parts of Mombasa. I learned a lot about Kenya and Compassion, but more than that, I came away deeply moved as I reflected on my own heart and our own Christian context.

Here are six things that hit me afresh during that time…

Compassion were once advised to remove “…in Jesus’ name” from their tagline, because they would apparently never make a very big impact in releasing children from poverty with such an explicit Christian emphasis.

They ignored that advice. And they sought to ensure that such a call wasn’t just about taglines and website vision statements. It wasn’t, and it’s not.

From what I’ve seen, that heart-attitude has filtered down through every level. Every Compassion staff member I’ve known – the ones I met in Kenya as well as two good friends who help lead Compassion UK at a national level; every project we visited; every testimony we heard, communicated, more than anything else, the blessing of knowing Jesus.

I’ll never forget the simple and heartfelt repeated words of our Kenyan Compassion coordinator for those few days: “Hi, my name’s Susan, and above all I love Jesus.” That really says it all.

A sponsor here, a sponsor there; one kid supported by someone in the UK, a different kid by someone in Germany. It could seem slightly sporadic and disconnected. But it’s not at all that way for the kids themselves.

Compassion don’t parachute professional teams in to make their projects happen. At the projects, you can barely see any reference to Compassion – no logos or signs. Local Christians from local churches are resourced and empowered to create and sustain beautiful Christian communities of light and hope.

As well as this connection with the local church in a particular country, Compassion are also very open to considering how whole churches here in the UK can together embrace the kids and specific needs and vision of a particular Project. I love their heart for the local Church….perhaps one for us to ponder for the future.

As well as education, healthcare, nutritional support and spiritual input, there was also a wonderful focus on vocational training and local economic renewal. For example, kids are taught skills that they can use to generate income. Someone else told me of how Compassion trains the church who then train the local community how to farm better, thus tackling poverty not just one child at a time (as wonderful as that is) but throughout whole communities. Jesus cares about whole individuals in whole communities and Compassion are seeking to follow him in that.

Every single child in the projects I saw was shown great love, care and attention. Compassion do what they can to connect meaningfully with each family represented. The way in which the work zooms in on single kids and their families is remarkable when you consider the scale of Compassion’s work.

Many of these kids will connect with Compassion, hopefully benefiting over many years from the practical care and love shown – and then will continue into adulthood, with all the joys and struggles of normal life in that community. Jesus loves every single one of those kids and no penny or moment is wasted.

As well as that – not the be all and end all but, yes, hugely significant – God is raising up world-changers. I met some of the most humble, Godly, intelligent, driven, impressive leaders I’ve ever come across; young men (they were men I met, but I heard of many women also) who have come through the Compassion pipeline and, though many of them could have had scholarships at some of the best universities in the world, they are now employed as Project Directors for Compassion in or near the areas where they grew up – with a God-sized vision to bring change across their whole nation.

I sat with two of these men, George and Nixon, and was profoundly moved as they shared their testimonies (quoting bible verses every sentence or so!) of how God broke in to the devastating circumstances of their young lives, bringing His Word and His hope through letters and financial support from a God-moved saint from some other part of the world.

Jesus loves all the little children. From what I saw, Compassion are determined to embody that – ‘world-changers’ or not.

What joy and gratitude through the bleakest of circumstances! I was rebuked and amazed and inspired all at once.

I smile as I think of the incredible welcome we received at the various projects – songs, beauty, dancing, smiles, gifts, hugs, flowers, laughter…

I am moved as I think of Tony – a bed-ridden father we met in a home visit, limbs amputated, broken and breaking still – somehow pulling himself up in his tiny space of a home to express his depth of gratitude for the way the project has blessed his family.

I am slightly embarrassed again as I recall the incredible way they sought to honour me and the other pastors, as if I deserved it – what generosity of Spirit.

I am inspired as I recall the deep sense of worship and wonder that pervaded almost every conversation and testimony.

And I am full of hope as I recall how unsentimental my Kenyan brothers and sisters are in how they approach this work. Compassion have managed to instil a culture of grounded, strategic, ‘turn up day-in-day-out’, Spirit-infused realism and expectation! That’s a powerful combination.

One of the other pastors said it best: “It just works, doesn’t it.”

I’m vaguely aware of the different philosophical questions and concerns that some have regarding a child sponsorship model like Compassion’s. I’m sure there is a great debate to be had. But from my very simple viewpoint, I can only agree with my pastor friend – this ministry ‘works’.

Millions of individual lives are being changed. And in that, families are being changed. And in that, communities are being changed. God is at work.

Jesus uses the small things – the ‘83p per day’ things, the ‘writing simple letters’ things, the ‘pray-for-me photos’ things – to bring big change. May He do that in us, and in the church in Kenya, and in the efforts of Compassion, and in His work to the ends of the earth.

Martin J Clarke, May 2018