Majengo: where it all began

The view from St John’s Church, Majengo, Nairobi (2007)

(Posted by Jane)

A month ago I was sitting on the steps of St John’s church in Majengo, Nairobi. Back, after ten years. This was my favourite spot; looking out over the corrugated roofs of Majengo, through the precariously balanced aerials, to the skyline of central Nairobi. It’s not much of a view, but it took my breath away, as it always did. Ten years ago I wrote, “I must capture these moments, sat on the steps of St. John’s church. My back against a pillar,  my knees drawn up to my chin, looking out over the slum roofs. I hold my breath – absorbing it… existing in the moment… my heart swelling at the gloriousness of it all.”

This is where it all began: my journey here, to Uganda, started on those steps. Perhaps ‘glorious’ is an unusual word to use when describing Majengo; rife with poverty, struggle, abuse and daily challenge… But then again perhaps the word is fitting. Majengo; rife with love, hospitality, potential, energy, colour, sacrifice, hope… like I’d never experienced before. In 2007 it was my first time out of Europe, aged nineteen, on a five month Tearfund Transform trip and I was naive and clueless as to what to expect. But my first response to Majengo  was (as I recorded ten years ago), “…strangely quiet. Not a rush of emotion, feeling, judgement, surprise or confusion… Just an odd quietness in my heart. My eyes, for the first time, naked to these scenes, but in my heart an unexpected familiarity; like coming home.”

I knew then that I would be back, though it took much longer than I expected and I doubted it in the meantime. I’d been fairly convinced that I would throw in the towel at university after one term and be back on those steps looking over Majengo by Christmas, but it’s alarming how quickly my passions are absorbed into the present, and in time my plans became more measured and calculated.  At University I began to wonder what my purpose would be in going back. Would I be all passion and no use? What did I have to give?

St John’s Church in 2009

I returned two years later, expecting (and hoping) for positive answers to those questions, but in reality I struggled. As my friend SJ and I travelled around the country my heart became heavy:  heavy with helplessness at the extent of poverty, disgust at the level of corruption, uncertainty in an unfamiliar country, and fear at the unpredictability of our experiences. Such a contrast to my heart swelling at the potential, hope, progress and loving dedication that I witnessed in Majengo at St John’s Community Centre. I concluded, reluctantly, that there was little I could do to effect change; the task too large, my skills too niche, my heart too fearful. Despite the joy of having seen old friends again, and the excitement of adventure with SJ, I felt relieved to arrive home at the end of it all; to the country I know, the language I speak, the culture I understand. So, I would love East Africa from afar…

In our early years of marriage Laurence and I began to dream about what next. The journey was a long one, and much of it unconscious perhaps as I can’t even remember it now. But we considered our combined gifts and skills, and our desire to use them for God’s kingdom, and became fixed on the idea of pursuing a combination of overseas development and mission work; the task was still large, my skills were still niche and my heart was still fearful, but now I was not alone. We were willing to go anywhere, wanting to share the vision of an organisation rather than feeling ‘called’ to a particular country or even continent.

‘Calling’ is  a word Laurence and I have pondered a lot in recent years… were we eventually ‘called’ to EMI, ‘called’ to Uganda? Perhaps. But I find that term can be more confusing than clarifying, with each Christian using it in a slightly different way. For us, it was simply that we were available… and now here we are; after much prayer, lots of searching, common sense and practical planning. The beautiful thing is that this is very much a ‘calling’ for us as a team; and frequently we both say that neither of us would be here if it wasn’t for the other one. The love for East Africa sown in my heart ten years ago, combined with the useful, practical skills that God has given to Laurence, make us both passionate and useful: together.

So here we are, living and working in East Africa. A twelve hour coach journey from those church steps, but close enough. I didn’t have the same sense of homecoming as I did when I first walked the streets of Majengo, in fact I feel far more like an alien in a foreign land; learning it, embracing it, questioning it, and then living and loving as best I know how. But as time passes it feels more like home here, albeit a second one, and it helped to sit back on those steps looking out over Majengo last month, remembering where it all began. I know I wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for Laurence, and God’s collective ‘call’ upon our lives; but we wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for that Tearfund Transform trip to Kenya ten years ago, when God planted in me a restlessness for this part of the world.

Back on the church steps after ten years, with four of my fellow Tearfund volunteers (plus two husbands) and our Kenyan friends (2017)


4 thoughts on “Majengo: where it all began

  1. Jane and Laurence…..your last two postings have moved me so much for they both seemed to come from the depths of your hearts. What an amazing team you make. You will soon have completed a year, and looking back on that year I feel that not only have YOU learned a lot, but those who have been following you have been blessed by new knowledge too. God bless and protect you in the days ahead.


  2. Pingback: Connecting belonging with place: reflections on ‘home’ | The Knoops

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