I am so thankful to be a small part of the story God is telling in Kenya, and so I felt today was an appropriate day to share Samuel’s story:
Samuel dropped out of school at 13 years old. He was in standard five.
His dad was in prison.
His mom couldn’t afford to take care of him.
So he spent most of his first 12 years living with his grand mom.
When he was 13, his mom remarried and he was told he was going to have to go live with his step-dad’s mom instead.
But she was a disciplinarian, to the point of abuse.
“It was like I was a slave. I really struggled that year. I was number one in my class at first, but then I started to drop…#4, #5, #6…”
He ran away multiple times, and when they threatened to send him back to his step-dad’s mom, he ran to the streets.
First he hung around his hometown of Nyeri and then in an effort to further escape his family, he fled to Nairobi at the age of 15.
“I never knew anyone in Nairobi,” Samuel said.
He had to learn from the other street boys how to survive in the big city. This meant making clothing from thrown away sacks and stealing anything that could fetch a price in the markets- hubcaps, headlights, or even breaking into homes to steal valuables from inside. He learned to sniff petrol, smoke cigarettes, and later, marijuana.
“I came to be a professional,” Samuel said, referring to his criminal activity.
The first time he was arrested was in 1993. He was put in a juvenile home for nine months and then sent to a juvenile school for five years.
“But the problem was I had tasted money. I had tasted petrol. I had tasted marijuana,” Samuel said,”so there was no way I would stay in school.”
And he was right. He lasted only eight months in the juvenile school before escaping and running back to the streets of his capital city.
He continued to steal, learning to snatch phones from cars in the city, and got more involved with the street gangs, spending time fighting and beating up other boys on the street.
And sniffing petrol and glue weren’t enough anymore. So he took it to the next level: heroine.
“Because you were so nervous about a job, you had to smoke so that you would have a curtain over your eyes, and you would be able to snatch phones.”
In 2002, he was arrested again. 6 months of prison.
Again, in 2004, for stealing the headlight of a car. 3 years in prison this time.
When he was released after serving two years of his sentence, he ran back to the streets he knew.
“I found out that most of my other friends had died.” They had beaten death by either the mob or the police when they were caught stealing something. “You would be beaten so hard that you would wake up three days later and wonder where you were,” Samuel said, running his fingers over the countless scars on his head, most of which he didn’t remember how they got there.
“The time I remember most, [two friends] and I wanted to steal a gold chain from a Hindu man and an armed guard saw and shot my two friends. By the grace of God, he didn’t see me.”
In April of 2009, Samuel met John Makyao, a Tanzanian contractor who was working on a job in Nairobi and doing street ministry in his free time. “He would buy me tea and we would talk. I kept asking myself, ‘Who is this guy and what is his agenda?'”
Eventually, Makyao invited Samuel to attend church with him at Kileleshwa Community Church.
“After the service I felt like that was the place where I was supposed to be. I didn’t belong to the street.”
Not long after their first visit to Kileleshwa, Makyao offered Samuel a job working on cell phone towers out of town. The job was located in a remote part of the country where he didn’t have access to the drugs he usually bought, so it allowed Samuel the opportunity to earn some money and go through the withdrawal process.
Even upon returning to the city, Samuel struggled to remain drug free when he reconnected with his old friends from the street, but Makyao was there to disciple and lead him, and continued helping him find jobs away from the city. One of these jobs led him to Turkana county, a remote region of Northwest Kenya bordering Uganda and South Sudan.
This is where Samuel finally made the choice to follow this Jesus that Makyao had been telling him about.
“From that moment and that time, I have never smoked cigarette or done drugs again. Jesus is able to do anything to transform your life. If [anyone] saw me before [I met Christ] and they saw me now, they would have to say, ‘Wow. There is a God out there.'”
Now Samuel is married with two kids and working in one of the slum areas outside Nairobi. He has a passion for reaching street boys, and who better to do that than Samuel?
I wanted to share Samuel’s story with you, to remind us of the importance of testimonies, but I also want to caution you. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in testimonies, in experience-centered faith, in ourselves and worldly things, that we miss the point.
The point of testimonies is not to gawk and awe and ourselves, or others.
This story really isn’t Samuel’s story at all. It’s God’s.
It’s Him telling his story, the story of redemption, through Samuel’s life.
It’s the story of grace. Of forgiveness. Of healing. Of the gospel.
The story that he tells throughout eternity. It’s a reminder that though we are far, he is jealous for us. He finds us in our darkest places and moments. He loves us. So much so that he died, and conquered death, so that we can be called from death into everlasting life.
Sometimes I think we read scripture and we think, “That was then, but this is now.”
But God has not changed. “I AM that I AM,” He tells us. He is constant. He is unswerving. He is faithful.
He is still performing miracles. He still heals the blind. He still comforts the weary and the weak. He still sees. He still brings hope to the hopeless. He is still moving and breathing and pulsing through our very veins.
HE IS HERE.
And he is still changing lives. Because He has changed mine, and because He has changed Samuel’s.
And when Samuel finished telling me his story, he spoke these words that should be comfort to everyone:
“In this life, you have to fight. You have to struggle. But not alone.”