Night was falling, and young Kitwana was nervous. Where would he sleep tonight, his first night on his own? He rubbed his eyes, recalling the ugly scene where his mother’s new husband pushed him out of the house. If only his father hadn’t died…
A few miles away, 12-year-old Baraka huddled between a half dozen other street boys as the sun – and the temperatures – fell. Like last night and many nights before, the city’s concrete walkways would once again serve as his resting place. For just a moment, he allowed himself to remember the comfortable bed he’d had at home, before he’d run away in shame…
In Kenya (East Africa), Kitwana and Baraka’s stories are all too common. It’s estimated that more than a quarter million boys between the ages of 11 and 15 live and work on the streets of cities like Nairobi and Kisumu. As one might expect, the boys’ lives are often marked by violence, malnourishment, substance abuse and sexual exploitation.
But one by one and by the power of God’s Word, Capstone Ministries is helping hundreds of children get off the streets, bringing peace and reconciliation with their families.
Finding forgiveness in God’s Word
Though some aspects of traditional Kenyan culture have led to the families’ issues, Kenya’s tradition of being a Christian nation opens doors to forgiveness in Jesus.
Each day, staff from Capstone Ministries walk the city streets, reaching out to young boys who need and accept their help. Other children, including some girls, are referred to the mission by local police. Always, the goal is to reunite the children with their families.
“Reconciliation between people, however, is seldom an event,” remarked Dan Schmelzer, who founded Capstone Ministries in 2005 with his wife, Patty (pictured with group above). “After reconciling 709 street boys in those 18 years, we have learned that it takes time, repeated expressions of repentance and forgiveness, persistence and the spiritual gift of faith to bring a family to a point of being reconciled.”
They start by using a bit of detective work to track down the children’s closest relatives – sometimes a parent, other times grandparents or uncles. The children’s reasons for running away are many and varied. Sometimes they have sinned against their parents by stealing money from a pocketbook and they cannot face the shame. In other cases, parents have died due to HIV, or a widowed mother has remarried and the new husband doesn’t accept her first husband’s children.
As Capstone staff brings family members together, they begin therapy using an important tool: A Child’s Garden of Bible Stories, translated and printed by LHF in the Swahili language.
A culture of home devotions
“We teach the parents how to use the book for home devotions,” explained Dan. “We’re working to create a culture where parents sit down with children in the evening, even if by candlelight or lantern, and read Bible stories and pray. This book is perfect, because even though it’s designed at a child’s reading level, many [impoverished Kenyan] parents are also at that level.”
A devotion might cover the Old Testament story of Joseph being reunited with his 11 brothers after the death of their father, Jacob. Retaliation and revenge was a family weakness then, as it often is today in many rural Kenyan homes. Families learn how the cycle is broken, when Joseph renews his promise of forgiveness and chooses to love instead of hate.
“Our hope and prayer for these children is not what the typical American might think,” said Patty. “We aren’t striving to create scholars, doctors and lawyers. We want people who are stable at home, who value their family and value their faith in Christ. If we can get that much, that’s a happy life!”