Released to Dream

Silas

I’ve met many inspirational people through my job at Compassion. Those who inspire me aren’t always those who have achieved great things as most of the world would see it. Most of the time they’re people who have beaten enormous odds and have then gone back to the place of their greatest challenges in order to help others.

Silas is one of those inspirational people.

He has overcome great challenges and has exceeded the kinds of expectations that poverty placed upon him. Silas refused to believe the lies that poverty told him.

Silas Mwangi Irungu was born and raised in Mathare, Kenya’s second largest slum after Kibera. As the first born in a family of three, he grew up in his no more than 10 by10 feet mud house, wondering why life was so unfair. His family struggled to find their place in the immensely populated, narrow, dark and dangerous alleys of the slum.

Silas’ father survived being stabbed during a robbery attempt, and as a young boy, Silas was rushed to hospital, unconscious, after he was injured during one of many violent raids in the slums. He lost many of his friends to crime and drugs. Even more tragic was the loss of his only brother, who was shot and killed in his neighbourhood.

Yet, there was a tiny ray of light that shone through the rusty iron sheets when he was enrolled into the Compassion program, and sponsored by an American couple, Mr. &Mrs. William Jackson who went on to support him for over 15 years.

Thanks to a sponsor who lived half a world away, Silas was able to not only survive where others didn’t, he proved again and again that poverty doesn’t have to define a person.

SilasandRodney
It was an honour to have Silas in Western Australia to tell his story and to inspire hundreds of people through a number of speaking engagements. It was even more of an honour to spend some time with him and to get to know him a little.

I really don’t know that I would have the kind of resilience that Silas displays if I had been born into poverty. I guess that understanding the extreme privilege of being born and raised in Australia reminds me of my responsibility to speak up for the many millions who have no voice.

While Silas was in Perth he was interviewed by Tim Long at 98five. You can be inspired by hearing his story too. Just click the play button on the audio player at the bottom of this post.

Silas joined Leadership Development Program and studied a Bachelor’s degree in Science (Mathematics). It was a ground breaking occasion for him. He was the first in his immediate family to join university. LDP not only assured him of uninterrupted access to higher education, but also confirmed to him that years of growing up in poverty, and rummaging through piles of life’s uncertainties, hadn’t reduced his life’s worth.

The greatest ‘disservice’ that LDP did to Silas, he says, was raising his life’s expectations. He began to see that he could conquer challenges that initially seemed insurmountable. Compassion gave him hope.

Silas is now conquering those challenges by making a difference in his family and society. He is now supporting his family- who no longer live in the slums, and also educating his sister through university. Silas also works with Compassion Kenya as a Field Communications Specialist, and tells the stories of hope, of children living in poverty.

You can make an incredible difference in the life of a child who right now is facing the kinds of battles that Silas faced. Please consider sponsoring a child through Compassion today.

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The Jesus Question

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Each year as we approach Easter we tend to hear some more ‘out there’ theories about who Jesus was and about the Easter story. There are lots of thoughts and ideas floating around but whether we consider Jesus to be someone of importance or a fairy tale, we need to make up our own mind over claims made about him.

I wrote this a few years ago when I’d been thinking about a few lines from the good book. They come from Luke’s account of what Jesus did when he walked the earth a couple of thousand years ago. In Luke 9, just before Jesus tells his disciples that he’s going to killed and then be raised back to life, which is the story of Easter, he asks them a couple of interesting questions.

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

I suppose that if we reset the scene in modern times it might look more like:

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They replied, “Some say you’re a good man; others say a teacher; others say a religious leader; others say a misunderstood man; others say a fictional character; others say an irrelevant historical figure; others say a prophet; others say a bigot; and still others, that you’re a guy who gives us a couple of days off each Easter and at the end of December.”

Then comes the question that should be directed to each one of us.

“But what about you? Who do you say I am?”

Jesus was very wise in the way he asked his question. (After all, he is Jesus.) He says to his disciples, “Firstly let’s clear up what everyone else is saying about me.” It can be very easy for us to parrot someone else’s idea of who Jesus was or is. There are so many options that we can easily pick one that sounds reasonable to us.

But Jesus doesn’t give the disciples that option. After clearing up the range of things that others were saying, he focuses in on the individuals in front of him and says, “But What about you? Who do you say I am?”

I believe he’s doing the same today. We need to be aware that there are many ideas of who Jesus is but in the end we need to answer that second question for ourselves.

Jesus looks at us all saying “But What about you? Who do you say I am?” Not who do your parents say I am; not who do your workmates say I am; not who does Richard Dawkins say I am; not who do your philosophy books say I am; not who does your pastor say I am; not who does your church say I am, but “Who do you say I am?”

Whether we say we believe the Bible’s idea of who Jesus is or not, we can’t afford to just grab someone else’s ideas on this one. We need to be open enough to have our views challenged. We need to look at how we came to hold the views we do and decide if that’s a good enough reason to think that way.

All the arguments about what people believe about Christians and their views are secondary and irrelevant until we decide what Jesus is about.

If we truly look at the evidence for ourselves and decide that Jesus was just a man we’ve got nothing to lose but if he was who the Bible claims and we don’t acknowledge it, our life could be at stake.

I’m siding with Peter on this one when he answered, “Who do you say I am?” with “The Christ of God.” Exactly what that means for me and the way I live my life is something that I will continue to grapple with for the rest of my life.

Who do you say Jesus is?


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101 Best Books

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I’m sure they’re designed simply to make me feel inadequate. They’re the lists that pop up from time to time that sit there mocking me. They leave me scratching my head wondering what I’ve done with my life.

Bookshop Dymocks has come up with a list of The Best 101 Books as Voted by Dymocks Booklovers.

Here’s their top ten:

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
4. Magician by Raymond Feist
5. The Lord of the Rings (Books 1-3) by J.R.R. Tolkien
6. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
7. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
9. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
10. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

I’ll admit that I’ve heard of most of the books on the list. I’ve read some, like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and The Bible. Animal Farm by George Orwell was required reading in school. I’ve seen the movie of The Princess Bride several times. Both 1984 and Wuthering Heights were amazing songs and I can sing along to both, even if I can’t get the high notes that Kate Bush can reach … or David Bowie for that matter.

What I need is someone to fund me to take a year or two off to just sit around and read. I need to catch up. Any takers?

To be honest, I do know what’s happening here. Those lists are designed to create what we now know as FOMO. Fear of missing out. If I haven’t read those books I’m inadequate so I need to rush out right now and by some copies … from Dymocks.

Yes, I should spend more time reading and there are probably many books on that list that I should lose myself in but my life is never going to be measured on whether I’ve read a list of books that others think I should.

There are dozens of books that I’ve read and enjoyed that aren’t on that list. There are still others on my shelf and in my electronic library that I would prefer to read before many that are in the top 101.

Just out of curiousity. If you were compiling a list of top books, what would your top three be?


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Relax

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I don’t understand why anyone would choose to become a dentist. I have no desire to spend all day in someone else’s mouth. Facing the risk of having my fingers bitten by someone I don’t know doesn’t thrill me.

To be honest I don’t understand the attraction in many jobs, just as most people would never see themselves working in any of the jobs I’ve worked over the years. Thankfully we’re all wired differently and thankfully some people are wired to become dentists. I don’t want to be one but I’m glad that some people do.

This is all to say that I’m due to visit the dentist tomorrow. Not really a cause for celebration but rather a case of necessity. I don’t dislike dentists but put a visit to a tooth tweaker up against most other pursuits and I’d go with the latter.

Today I had to prepare for my dentist visit by a trip to a radiological clinic. I needed an X-Ray of my mouth for the dentist.

Everyone was pleasant enough but it was a little odd. I had to stand in front of a machine that looked like a robot from a B grade movie. Then I had to get closer, then closer again, then bite down on a small piece of plastic. At that point I had to stand even closer.

Then a set of calipers was clamped onto my head.

Next was the instruction to smile … while still clamping tightly onto the machine with my teeth and standing oddly close to the large apparatus. Then, to avoid the moving parts during the X-Ray, I had to drop my shoulders.

Finally the ultimate request. While doing all this …. RELAX.

Helpful, cheerful, pleasant, efficient and many other words would describe the staff at the clinic today. They just seem to have a very different concept of relaxing to me.


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Meeting Solomon

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It was only around 8 o’clock on a Saturday morning but the overwhelming smell of alcohol was unmistakable. I don’t know if he hard started early or perhaps had over done it on Friday night. Perhaps it was both.

We were staking our claim on a good position to watch The Giants, part of the Perth Festival. Solomon came wandering along pulling a suitcase behind him. I assumed that his case held all his earthly belongings but assumptions can often be wrong.

He was a short, cheerful man. When he laughed, as he did often, he revealed his few remaining teeth. My guess is that the streets of Perth are is home. He approached me ready for a chat. He held out his hand and I shook it as he greeted me. It was the first of many times we’d shake hands during our conversation. His speech was at times garbled and almost unintelligible but at other times I’d catch bits and pieces of his story.

Solomon came to Australia quite some years ago. He’s from Ghana. He told me as much several times. He originally settled in Adelaide and studied for a Masters in Agriculture at Adelaide University. I tried to find out if he ever used his studies but I couldn’t understand his response.

He has three boys. Judging by Solomon’s age I imagine they’re grown now. I wonder if they know where their dad is. I wonder if he knows where they are. I asked how old they would be and he started telling me his eldest son is named Solomon Junior. His boys were born to a German woman in Adelaide.

Within a few minutes we had unpacked a fair bit of his story but I’m sure there was much, much more to tell.

Why did he leave Ghana? Why did he come to Australia? How long has called the streets home?

Then there are the deeper questions. What happened in his life to bring him to this point? Was there a traumatic life event that caused him to turn to drinking or was it his drinking that led to him to this point in life?

I wonder what lies in Solomon’s future. I wonder how deep the wounds are that lie beneath his cheerfulness. How is it that in such a rich country there are people living on the streets.

I also wonder how much more likely we’d be to provide help if we knew and understood some of the stories behind the homeless in our cities.

Meeting Solomon was a good reminder that we shouldn’t be too quick to make judgements and that there is much to be learned from hearing the stories that lie just under the surface of everyone we meet.


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