I Fell in Love in Kenya


Rebecca Denning, Volunteer, Kenya

I Fell in Love in Kenya

I fell in love in Kenya...with a dirty, hungry, homeless, 9-year-old boy. He was swinging on tree ropes near my home on the missionary compound at Tenwek Hospital. I could tell he was enjoying himself, smiling and pumping his legs hard as if it would swing him into a new life. 

“Hey buddy, time to go home,” I said.

 The pumping stopped, and he walked toward me, eyes on the ground. In broken English he said, “I have no parents.” 

Another missionary walked by and I said, “Hey Jenny, this boy says he doesn’t have parents.” 

“Yeah, he told me the same thing earlier.” 

The neighbor’s daughter, a Kenyan, was passing by so we asked her to translate. We discovered Emmanuel had been living on the streets and truly had no family. The three of us walked to a storage closet for orphans. We found a few outfits, a backpack, toiletries, and a teddy bear. For the next two days, Emmanuel slept at Jenny’s house and even learned to ride a bicycle.

Those days were filled with social workers and child services attempting to gather the pieces to Emmanuel’s story. Emmanuel shared that he had been homeless for at least the last six months, but the gaps in his story suggested far longer. His mother had reportedly died of HIV when he was very young, and he didn’t remember his father.   

After two days of investigative work, no family could be found. It was now time to decide what to do with this precious little one. Peter, a dear Kenyan friend, helped us arrange for Emmanuel to be placed at nearby Mosop Children’s Home, which doubles as a boarding school and has high standards for cleanliness, nutrition, academics, and medical care.  

Peter and I loaded Emmanuel in the car, his new teddy bear peering out the side pocket of his backpack. Emmanuel was squirming and showing off his toothy smile, thrilled to be going to school. As we pulled in the driveway, he practically jumped out of his seat in excitement, yelling, “Mosop-school! Mosop-school!” Children dressed in neat brown uniforms ran along the fence to greet us before teachers led us to a room where they gave Emmanuel an academic examination. It was determined he would be placed in Class 1 (the equivalent of first grade) because of his inability to write. He would need special attention to keep up with the class, but he was expected to do just fine. 

I asked that he be examined at the clinic and receive an HIV test. The teacher agreed and then offered me a tuition breakdown and a list of required school supplies. He needs what for first grade? She then told me it was time to take him around the school and orient him to his new home. I asked if I could join them, to which she politely responded, “He will be fine; we’ll see you tomorrow.” Got it, time to let him go. 

I hugged my little friend, told him I would see him tomorrow, and left him at that big school with people he had just met and a bunch of kids who I prayed would be nice to him. All night I thought about and prayed for that little guy.

I’d only known him for three days, but I felt like a part of me was missing. As I prayed, God brought three words to my mind: “God with us.” Burdened with emotions, it took me a second to remember that Emmanuel means “God with us.” Emmanuel has never been alone, forsaken, or homeless; and neither have I. 

The next day, I stuffed his footlocker with supplies, clothes, and extra goodies, including pictures Jenny’s family had laminated. Emmanuel loved opening his footlocker, coming to the pictures saying, “Tank you, tank you!” 

I was told his HIV test was negative, but he has hearing difficulty in his right ear. Inside, I breathed a great sigh of relief about the former but had a thousand questions about the latter. The teacher beat me to the punch, saying, “I think I’ll ask the nurse; I’d like to know what’s wrong with that ear.” God is with him. Okay, got it! 

For the next week, I learned how to embroider “Emmanuel Kiplangat” on all his clothes. With every letter sewn, I thought about his smile, his laugh, and his goofy “Yah!” he uses to express happiness. I thought about what I’m going to do when I leave in July, who will come to visit him on my behalf, and when I’ll be able to come back to see him. As much as my heart breaks to think of leaving him, I know Kenya is Emmanuel’s home and that the staff at Mosop will raise him to be a strong man. Instead, I should direct my thoughts and prayers on how I can support him from afar.

So, I’ve fallen for a 9-year-old boy. I can honestly say, I would give anything for his happiness and success in this world. No matter the impact I’ve had and will continue to have in Emmanuel’s life, I pray that neither of us will forget that God is with us. He is with us when we have nothing; when we are homeless and hungry, without family or friends; when we’re brokenhearted and deeply saddened; and when we have all we need and more.