Celebrating East African Writing!
One East Orlando pastor saw hope, even in Hell’s Hole. Many say the Kawangware slum of Nairobi, Kenya, is one of the most dangerous places on the African continent. Called Hell’s Hole, it is a case study of human tragedy. There is a 70 percent unemployment rate, with an equal percentage of drug users or alcoholics.
Fifty percent are infected with HIV. Ninety percent of children have little or no education, 70 percent have only one parent or guardian, and 10 percent are orphaned and living alone or with siblings. It’s a place where, every day, women and children are raped, treatable airborne diseases pick off the survivors, and crime is a way of life.
Pastor David Janney, 53, said the United Nations considers the people of Kawangware the most desperate group of people in the entire world. Janney, the pastor of Orlando Baptist Church on Semoran Boulevard, took a five-year break from pastoring, in part, to transform this ghetto — rife with poverty, crime and abuse — into something else entirely.
More than 300,000 Kenyans live within one mile of the Hope Center, an eight-acre island within a tide of misery. “Here’s the bottom line. We want to be involved in people’s lives spiritually, but it’s hard for them to listen to you talk about spiritual things when they’re so hungry and thirsty.” Janney says. In Nairobi, Hope Academy educates 450 children through eighth grade.
Hope Baptist Church, which includes services in English and Swahili, as well as one language of Sudanese refugees, ministers to about 1,000 people a week. But they also built a deep-water well to supply clean water to the slum. And they offer medical clinics.
And they help residents who want to start their own tiny businesses — a man baking bread in an oven or a woman sewing clothes on a single machine — who need startup capital. “In the long run, they can take care of themselves, and take care of the center,” he says. Nearly 1,500 children are involved in Hope Center’s sports program, playing “football” (soccer) and basketball.
Janney recalls Burundian refugee Christian Nkulikiye, who was living in abject poverty with his wife and daughter. It was the soccer that drew him to the Hope Center initially. “Christian asked if he could play, and then he started coming to church and becoming a part of the fellowship. He kept playing and he ended up being so good he became a professional footballer.
He was the most noted goalie in the country,” Janney says proudly. “But most importantly, he learned the cycle of blessing — when you’re blessed, you must bless others.” Later Christian won a resident visa through the New Zealand lottery. But he turned it down, and today he continues to head up the children’s sports teams at Hope Center in Kawangware.
“He said, ‘I need to stay here and bless the others behind me,’” Janney says. “He had to give himself back to the others who have needs.”
The Great Commission
Janney saw his share of orphans and at risk youth growing up in Miami, as the son of Pastor Alfred and Elinor Janney, who are now part of his own congregation.
“It’s been a burden on my heart ever since my teen years,” says Janney, who holds a doctorate in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University in Shreveport. Sharing the burden is his wife of 30 years, Donna, and their four grown children. Amidst 1980s excess, Janney began preaching at Orlando Baptist.
That same year (1987), the church began to conduct missionary work around the world. When the Iron Curtain came down in 1991, and news channels conveyed the plight of orphaned children in Eastern Bloc countries, Janney’s heart went out to them. He traveled to Albania to help, and became responsible for a state-run orphanage.
It was where his nonprofit, World Hope, saw its beginnings. Orlando Baptist now gives hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to worldwide missionary work through the organization. Even with cities boasting great wealth, the average Filipino is hopelessly poor. In 2003, Janney led a celebration in a barangay, or barrio, of the Philippines to preach the Gospel, and give away groceries and medical attention.
A similar celebration had brought out 250,000 a couple years before, so they had prepared an area for 1 million people, to make it the largest ever one-day gathering in that nation. But a monsoon coming in off the Bay of Manila kept blowing down the sound equipment, and poured torrents of rain on the audience, threatening to shrink the crowd.
But 1 million Filipinos stood amidst the howling winds and stinging rains to hear Pastor Dave tell the story of Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke. The story goes that Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector who was loathed by his people. Since he was short, he climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus as he came into Jerusalem.
Then Jesus looked up into the branches and called him by name, and told him to come down, that he intended to dine at the man’s house. The crowd was shocked that Jesus would sully his own reputation by being the guest of a tax collector. “Sometimes we think we’re unimportant, that we have so little, why would anyone notice us? But Jesus noticed everyone.
Jesus noticed this one man, walking along with a throng of people,” Janney says. “Zacchaeus believed in the Lord that day, and Romans 10:13 tells us that whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. And later Zacchaeus went and made things right with his brothers.” Janney says the president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was touched by his sermon.
“She said, ‘I’ve been thinking about the story of Zacchaeus all week. In the Philippines, part of our problem is we’ve become a hateful people, filled with bitterness. We need to get right spiritually and get right with our brothers,’” he recalls. Janney was in turn touched by President Arroyo’s humility.
“I asked her, ‘Would you like to stand under the eave so you don’t get wet?’ She said, ‘My people have stood out here for an hour in the rain to listen, so I’ll stand too.’” This year alone, World Hope plans to install indoor plumbing in a tiny church in the Appalachian Mountains, and launch a Hope Center project in Nicaragua and Christian radio station in Honduras.
The organization will also create youth and couples retreats in a Romanian town, schedule more medical clinics and construction in Kenya, and perform “street meetings” in Trinidad, where young people will act out the story of Jesus in public parks. “In some parts of the world, every day’s a hurricane, a tornado, a typhoon. It’s desperate every day.
[Mission work] is consistent in a lot of the evangelical movement. In the Bible it is called the Great Commission, to go unto all the world and teach the Gospel. It’s a responsibility and a commitment,” Janney says. “Our goal is not to mandate people to believe. Our goal is to share and give people the opportunity to believe based on that. We just let everyone know. What they do with that is up to them.”
© Walter Keyombe 2009
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