Blindsided by 2020

20/20 vision represents the standard for normal eyesight as determined by a routine eye exam. However, after being slapped silly by the year 2020, it’s as if we have all woken up in a strange new darkness, groping around without the clarity normally afforded by our dependable surroundings. Perhaps when we reach January 2021 safely, Americans should adopt a new term for perfect visual acuity, one that doesn’t conjure up thoughts of months of lingering uncertainty when we hear it (The British already use 6/6 vision, the metric equivalent, so adopting their system would be easy).

Too often in 2020, we have been forced to focus on all that is messy and broken in our world –global disease, ugly politics, racial disharmony, violence, death, loss, unfulfilled expectations, and jarring life changes. To make matters worse, I have often strayed further into the morass by trying to fix things I cannot, whether through actions or misguided emotions. But 2020 has been a sobering antidote for action-oriented idealists like me.  Anyone with this same “disease” has surely also reached the end of their rope at times this year and accepted the futility of sorting everything out anymore.

Being exasperated to the point of stillness has its purpose.

When the noisy clamor of this world finally falls silent in our personal “to do list” wired brains, we may find things aren’t so confusing, frustrating, or futile after all. By His grace, we may recognize instead that God is still firmly in control and at work redeeming creation all around us.

The Story of Grace Love

Her face slightly plump, skin delicately soft and shaded like toasted cocoa, Grace Pendo danced in a pale turquoise dress and oversized Converse shoes on a Sunday morning at Naomi’s Village. All the dancers surrounding her were confident and beautifully adorned as well, but Grace stood out because of her young age. Barely 3 and just a few months removed from the baby room, she was keeping pace brilliantly with 4-9-year-olds. Sound, color, movement, gross and fine motor skills, social/emotional interactions, impulse control… these features of her healthy development were all on display. We marveled at Grace’s progress, realizing again what is possible when babies and toddlers are well nurtured, continuing to receive all the necessary inputs and none of the adverse childhood experiences that produce toxic stress. But those were mere facts, and they couldn’t distract our hearts for long from the show Grace and her friends were putting on. Laughter and cheering and tears, the “side effects” of grace, held much more sway on us that September morning. For who could truly explain what God had done? We weren’t responsible for the remarkable flourishing of the little girl who danced in front of us. It had all been grace. Knowing that deep within our spirits, our reactions poured out like unalloyed worship, the kind which doesn’t require a leader, a place, or a program.

The meaning of her given name (Grace), for a previously abandoned baby girl, seems terrifically prophetic now.  She simply shouldn’t be this far ahead in life already, considering her rough start. But it’s her middle name Pendo, meaning love in Swahili, that really explains who she is today. Grace Pendo has been loved consistently and unconditionally, first for 2 years in the baby room, and since then by two splendid Naomi’s Village mothers, Christine and Gladys. She shares her Naomi’s Village days and nights with two sweet “sisters”, Stella and Tekla. The attachment Grace enjoys because of our intentional caregiving model has provided her the safety, provisions, and heartfelt love she has needed to blossom.

Grace started attending LEAP Preschool on Naomi’s Village’s campus during the pandemic, even though she hadn’t turned 3 yet. We were only allowed to hold preschool for our NV kids, so we decided to add her to the program early since we had the space.  LEAP Director Mary Mwendia recently submitted a report detailing just how fast Grace has progressed in less than a year, noting she is ready for the 4-year-old class now. Grace volunteers to lead songs in front of her peers, shows remarkable command of language and numbers, and has adjusted very well to the daily routines of attending preschool.

Research shows that early childhood intervention programs that focus on child directed play, are literacy-rich, provide excellent nutrition, and empower parents to learn healthy parenting methods lead to better outcomes for kids who come from backgrounds of lack. Naomi’s Village and LEAP Preschool have been hitting these important points on all cylinders and getting amazing results in the process. We expect that Grace’s trajectory can and will continue to be the norm for hundreds of local Rift Valley children over the coming years. God has given us both the charge to do this and programs that have been proven to be successful. Grace’s story, while emblematic of His ongoing redemption, will not be the only one we share over the coming years.

So if we get overwhelmed by struggles sometimes, that’s understandable. But let us never forget that beyond all that portends evil there lies a far better thing. Redemption, the very work of God, has never ceased to claim new victories on even the darkest of nights. In distraction, despair, or even doubt, we might overlook the divine swirling all around us. Yet if we surrender control we will rediscover – in the beauty of sunsets, mountains, and gracefully dancing little ones, the joy of family or the merciful touch of a loving friend – that He’s still there working, even when we have nearly lost all hope.

And we will be reminded that 2020 and all the struggles left in its wake could never stand in place of the glory of God.

Stunning view of Mt. Longonot from Cornerstone Preparatory Academy.

By Bob Mendonsa