Salome had grown up hard as one of six children of Eunice, a woman living near the poverty stricken town of Maai Mahiu, Kenya. After giving birth to a son at 18, Salome bounced around from town to town, and by 26 was a mother of 4 kids. Eunice recalled tearfully how Salome returned home late in each pregnancy seeking her mother’s help to deliver her babies in the small room on the outskirts of town where we now sat. My eyes and thoughts darted around the modest space, imagining infant cries, blood soaked towels, and shared joy on days long past.
Salome ended it all 2 weeks ago, not an hour from here in a nowhere town called Banana. She had moved there looking for work with her twin 4-year-old girls and her 19-month-old baby daughter in tow. Eunice shook her head sadly, and swore she had never seen it coming. Before swallowing a lethal dose of cattle insecticide in their small one-room rental, Salome told Samantha and Vanessa to take care of little Tekla. She gave them the news that they would now live with their grandmother, and that she was going to die. As they watched, the toxic organophosphates stole her away violently from them within minutes, leaving frightening images they would later share with Eunice gradually. The toddlers and baby then spent that first parentless night with her heavy body blocking the only door out of the cramped house.
As morning broke, a barber living next door shouted his morning greetings as he was leaving his room, and the twins replied from inside, “Our mom has died!” Thinking the girls were playing a trick, he left for 3 hours, returning around 11 a.m. to his room. Only then did he realize they were telling the truth, when he tried to open the door and discovered their mother’s body. That afternoon, Samantha sat in an unfamiliar police station, recounting the grim details of an unspeakable act to uniformed strangers, her aunt now beside her. By nightfall the orphans arrived at their grandmother’s home near Maai Mahiu, facing yet another transition to new surroundings. Within days, they watched as Salome’s casket settled into a hole under a new headstone in a farm field less than a mile away. After the burial, Samantha asked Eunice hopefully at times when Mommy would be coming home from the garden to see them.
A call from the Naivasha Children’s Department to Naomi’s Village last week changed everything. Our social work team visited Eunice and the girls, carrying their heartbreaking story home to the rest of us. Sometimes a collective yes rises so easily to the surface that any doubt is relegated to folly. We all knew the challenge that loomed, but just couldn’t wait to begin loving these girls as part of our family.
As Eunice sifted through her emotions, sharing memories with our group, she handed us a framed photo of Salome, whose face carried a heaviness beyond her years. She dabbed tears away with a worn scarf almost as quickly as new ones formed, listening to NV staff members Bonface, Peris, and Anne tell her that her 3 granddaughters would be just down the road, in a good place now. They spoke in Kikuyu, consoling her and assuring her that our plans were for these girls to have good beds, nutritious food, spiritual care, trauma therapy, and the best education possible. With our understanding eyes on her, she signed forms, giving us custody of the three sweethearts playing just outside. We finished by praying together, new friends huddled in a room filled with bittersweet memories. Eunice and her sister-in-law Anne agreed to join the girls on the short drive to their new home. We piled in, 14 bodies in 11 seats, laughing at Bonface’s humor the whole way home.
Not 15 minutes later, the doors of our Land Cruiser opened to the singing and cheering that we now cherish as the first taste of coming home for the brokenhearted and weary. Arriving in heaven must include some amplified version of this, or God would not stir our hearts this way when we hear it. Samantha and Vanessa were engulfed by a cheering crowd of kids who know what being loved is all about, and who are confident that there is no such thing as “broken beyond repair”. Tekla rode high in the arms of house moms and older girls, treated like a precious Christmas gift. Joy passed effortlessly over the courtyard, as sunlight fills a morning.
In the dining hall moments later, Julie reflected on how seeds begin growing by cracking open, appearing worrisome and broken to the naked eye at first. Yet as they settle into rich ground, nurtured and watered by all they need, a sprout appears. And from that sprout, who can say what may come? A strong acacia tree that holds the varied and beautiful birds of God may one day stand, sheltering multitudes with its shade. Or perhaps a flowering plant will grow, feeding bees and butterflies, and catching the eyes of others, marveling at what God has done from such a humble and shattered beginning. Julie’s eyes scanned the dining hall for the perfect example, landing on the angelic face of Noelle, who first arrived as an abandoned infant in this same hall just one year ago. Julie raised her hand and pointed at our beloved baby as the crowd turned to look, remembering what God had done since last Christmas.
I swear there was an audible sigh, the kind that accompanies true satisfaction, as one hundred glances landed on that perfectly sweet face. There could not have been an ounce of uncertainty remaining in our Naomi’s Village family after that. These three new holy gifts had come from the Sower’s hand, and they had been cast as seeds of immense value into fertile soil, holding within them the power and potential to display the One Love that never fails.
By Bob Mendonsa