There are so few hungry people in the world.
That provocative phrase jarred me a bit when it first popped into my head, as we shared a small table at Ubuntu Café in Maai Mahiu, looking across at lovely Evalyne. Home on break from her first 3 month term as a boarding student at renowned Riara Springs Girls Academy in Nairobi, she smiled confidently at Julie and me, then answered our question by telling us that she is #6 in her class of 97 freshman high school girls. Carrying the admiration of dozens of younger NV siblings on her small shoulders, this 14-year-old seemed poised to change her nation one day, if not the world. Yet she had only graduated from primary school at Cornerstone Preparatory Academy 6 months before. How could she have risen to such heights at Riara already, I wondered? And that led my mind to drift back, thinking about her past, her special character, as she and Julie talked in the background of my rumination. Suddenly my processing ground to a halt, settling on that odd phrase, and I wanted to say it out loud, but did not.
She came to us at age 9, the month after Naomi’s Village opened, a shy and broken adolescent with little hope. One in eight girls like her are pregnant in Kenya before age 14, and only half of all rural Kenyan girls ever set foot in a classroom. Evalyne carried some additional strikes against her, being orphaned and coming from a background of poverty and prior abuse. Her eyes back then held a mixture of emotions – sadness, a sense that she was deeply wounded, a bit of distant hope, and maybe some hint of a vanishing girlish smile.
The word of God promises that love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). We all have found our life’s joy in loving children like Evalyne, and have seen God prove the truth of this scripture through her transformed life, as well as others. Countless hugs, affirming words spoken back and forth over lunch tables and across car seats, shared NV vacations at the coast, and worship songs lifted together to Jesus for 5 years were a few of the threads now woven into our family identity. Love overtook us all on the way by natural result, and we never entertained a conscious choice in the matter.
Evalyne simply healed, and we can’t really say how God did it.
But this precious young lady, now blooming like a fresh rose before us after only 3 months away, had more to say. She loved everything about Riara Springs, most especially the opportunities to advance and learn. Stories about her unique and exciting classes, her spot on the sophomore soccer team, running sprints in track meets, and swimming in the school’s pool lit up her face as she talked. Her goal to be an international neurosurgeon came up again, and a bright sparkle of certainty shimmered in her soft brown eyes. I waited until she told us all she wanted to say, then reminded her like a father that we will continue to put stones where her feet will go next, to solidify her steps in the chase for her heart dreams.
Of all the practical virtues, she has the one that matters the most – hunger. Evalyne carries a gnawing, passionate, insatiable desire inside that insists on taking full advantage of the chances she has been given. I pondered its origin as I remembered how hard she had worked to avail herself of every opportunity given to advance, to squeeze life’s lemons and make lemonade. Such hunger is the engine for greatness, the key ingredient found in successful people, that intangible edge that trumps privilege, innate intelligence, opportunities, and all else.
I wondered about how often the world’s privileged fail to take full advantage of the chances they are given to make a mark, leaving so much valuable ground unexplored because of a simple lack of raw drive. Why her? Was it her background of lack that endowed this fighter’s spirit? Was there a set of certain personality characteristics common to people like her, an indwelling “DNA” that made it impossible not to strive? Regardless of the source of her gift, I have come to value its rarity, and believe it is worthy of supporting at all cost.
So I exhort you to notice the hungry in your midst, those yearning to seize every opportunity given. Take time to help lay a stone under the footstep they wish to take next, because you can be sure they are eager to take it. Feed, nurture, and bring to fruition the dreams they carry in the short time you have together. Remind them often that this orb we inhabit grieves constant strife and suffering, but sow seeds of heroism too, that they might see themselves as agents of hope, and more than the sum of their self-centered accomplishments. Teach them a bit about the brevity, beauty, and seriousness of life, though they may seem to be rushing somewhere beyond the scope of your view.
And finally, don’t expect to be disappointed by these hungry few if you invest in them. Refuse doubt any access to your faithfulness. I know now from experience that these sacrifices are worth it. Instead, prepare to reap joy as you watch them fly, patterning dark skies beyond with the rich colors of God.
By Bob Mendonsa