Imago Dei in the Slums of Mathare

What does it mean to be made in the image of God?

Genesis 1:27 says “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

It’s a powerful idea. One interpretation that I appreciate is that to be made in the image of God means to be creative; essentially, we reflect his image by being creative. We make things. We think of new uses and new ways. We redefine and reinterpret.

My team went to Mathare Valley today, one of the oldest and biggest slums in Nairobi. We are told that 70% of Nairobi’s population lives on 5% of it’s land area. There, we saw people picking through trash, looking for things to sell or things to eat. It’s not that they can’t create, or are not creative people, but they have no means to create. They are focused on merely surviving. Four-year-old children are sent from their little metal homes to search for a meal for the day–they were made in the image of God, yet scavenge around in trash for food. Some mothers give their children beer, because it makes them feel full and sleepy, and it stops them from crying for food. The crime of the slums, as one staff put it, is that in the fight for survival, people in the slum cannot create, make or dream. They were made in the image of God, yet they scavenge around in piles of trash. Even 4-year olds are sent to the street to find something to eat for the day. Some children sleep on a chair. Some children believe that it’s okay to hit girls. Some 13-, 14-, 15-year old boys will be dead in the next month because of gang run-ins with the police.

Our director said, “Children grow up believing that the world looks this way, that the world smells this way (garbage), that the world feels this way (abuse, beating). They cannot climb the ladder because they cannot even get on the ladder.” As victims of violence, abuse, neglect, or abandonment, they cannot even touch the ladder.

In Meru Country, the place I spent 3 weeks with a host family, many people pick tea leaves everyday. It’s hard work, but it puts food on the table. Most people in Weru (the town I was in) don’t have running water or electricity, but they have a mosquito nets and their gardens and some have a cow for fresh milk. They’re working, they have some means. Many people would say that they are in poverty, but it’s enough.There is a drastic difference between Weru folk who have work, and those in the slum picking through trash. My standards of poverty have definitely shifted.

(I’m actually back from my experience in Kenya, but I kept a daily journal and I also posted email updates for my friends, family and donors. I wasn’t able to access this media website in Kenya, so here are my blog posts.)

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