By Laura McKillip Wood
Anthony blinked hard. His head spun. He fingered the bottle of glue in his pocket; the effects of huffing it still lingered, dulling the memory of the night before, when a man from the neighborhood found him alone in the dark and took advantage of him. He closed his eyes and lowered his head. Nobody cared that he had nowhere safe to go, no one to feed him or provide for his needs. I’ll never be anybody, he thought. He shook his head as the dizzy numbness took over his thoughts.
Kenya has roughly 500,000 street boys like Anthony. Left to fend for themselves, they live in garbage dumps and on the streets in makeshift living areas called “bases.” As Americans, we struggle to imagine a society that shuns young boys without families, but in Kenya these boys are viewed as useless nuisances. People call these children chakora, which means “trash digger.” Not only does the community reject them, but churches won’t allow them into their facilities and try to ignore their existence.
Most of the street children in Kenya are boys. Homeless girls often end up working as house slaves or prostitutes, and, therefore, fewer end up on the streets. That does not mean their plight is any easier. When girls live among the street kids, they usually bring babies with them, the products of their mistreatment.
When Tyler and Amy Maxwell met in college, they believed God had a plan for them. Amy became a teacher, and Tyler planned to go to seminary to study counseling. As they started a family and their life circumstances changed, they found themselves trapped with debt and unsure how to begin ministry. They discussed intercultural work, but their first few inquiries with mission organizations did not pan out.
One day, Tyler went to lunch with his dad, who had served for years as a pastor. Tyler poured out his frustrations. When he finished, Tyler’s father asked, “Have you been praying about this? I mean, have you really given this to God with Amy?”
Tyler and Amy began praying together earnestly. Soon, they put their house up for sale, planning to move in with family so they could save money and pay down their debt.
Despite their prayers and efforts, they did not find a ministry opportunity until one night when Dustin Fulton from ACM International (the Alliance of Christian Missions) called and asked them if they knew of a husband and wife team willing to go to Africa to work with street kids. The next night, the executive director of ACM International visited their home. “We talked for six hours at the kitchen table,” Tyler said. The couple felt God was opening the door for them to go to Kenya. Within a year, their debt had been paid by a generous donor, and they had raised the funds to go.
A Rough Start
The couple’s first ministry proved difficult. Between culture shock, language learning, and relationships with teammates, Tyler and Amy decided to move to a new city. They were unsure where to go, when they heard of a Kenyan man already working with street kids.
“John was a street boy who was high when he went to church for the first time,” Tyler said. John met a man who discipled him, and eventually he ended up on staff at the church.
When Tyler and Amy met John, he was working with 40 boys; John was providing the boys with an opportunity to bathe and eat, and he was also teaching them about Jesus.
“John is an amazing individual who has a sixth-grade education,” Tyler said. “He is exceptionally smart and wise, and we’re very blessed. God has put him in the position, and we recognize him as the founder. When he stands in front of the boys, they just close their mouths and listen.”
Tyler and Amy joined forces with John and started a work called TRU Africa.
John and the Maxwells do not work alone. John’s childhood friend, also a former street boy, was certified to coach soccer in Europe. “Coach,” as he is affectionately known, teaches the boys to play soccer. This physical activity gives the boys an opportunity to do something healthy while learning cooperation.
Advella also grew up on the streets. She already had one baby, and when her sister died of AIDS, she took on the role of raising her sister’s two preschool children. She participated in the ministry before becoming a volunteer. Now she works with moms in the community, helping to strengthen their ability to parent and provide for their children. Whenever possible, she helps reunite moms with their children. Other teammates cook for the boys, work with them in the home the team established, and fill other roles that demonstrate the love of God for these overlooked and mistreated children.
When the Maxwells joined the team, Amy began teaching art to the boys. During their art lessons, the boys sit still and pay attention.
“In their life on the street, no one asks how they’re doing, what’s bothering them,” Amy said. “They’re not known as street boys in class. They’re known by their names. Art gives them an outlet and a way to express themselves and be seen. They’re seen as having something to say, being unique. They are God’s masterpieces, important creations that God has made.”
In addition to these activities, the Maxwells and their teammates provide meals, baths, and clothing to about 450 boys on the street. They help some of the boys get vocational training and maintain a home where a number of the older boys live. The ministry is focused mainly on the street boys, but the number of girls and babies attending the program is growing. Two families are currently raising support to go to Kenya and begin working with them.
What About Anthony?
Some of the boys absorb the care given them by these loving ministers of the gospel and accept the love that God has for them. They move past their difficult beginning and become healthy members of society.
Anthony was at his lowest point when he approached John. “I want to change. I don’t want to live like this anymore,” he told John. Together they made a plan for Anthony to get sober. John gave him jobs, which Anthony did faithfully. Anthony learned to be a plumber at a trade school, and now he works as a gardener and volunteers at the ministry. He is active in the church.
“Now when you look at him, you’d never know,” Tyler said.
God’s love, expressed through people who rolled up their sleeves and helped him do the hard work, has changed Anthony’s life.
Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, now lives in Papillion, Nebraska. She serves as an on-call chaplain at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. She and her husband, Andrew, have three teenagers.