"We might have a problem."
This was a phrase that our group of high school students certainly did not want to hear on that beautiful day in Kenya, Africa in April of 2012. We were in Africa on a mission trip, and we had just returned to where we were staying after a long day of visiting schools and families in the surrounding slum area. It had been an exhausting, but extremely successful day. We were expecting to find about a dozen dinner guests at our house when we returned from our excursion. So why did our Kenyan hosts appear so worried? What was the problem?
The problem was that these dozen dinner guests that we had been expecting had invited about seventy of their closest friends. We had approximately 80-90 women waiting outside our house, socializing, cradling crying babies, looking after small children in tattered clothing, and all expecting dinner. The problem was that there was no way we could feed all these people, and the women could tell by the looks on our faces that they weren’t getting the dinner that they had been awaiting. These women probably hadn't eaten a decent meal in over a week. To turn them away with nothing to fill their empty bellies would be a grave cruelty. We needed an immediate solution. The women began to murmur to each other in Swahili. You could feel the tension in the air, see it in the icy glances they sent our way, and hear it in the tone of their hushed whispers.
Although we did not have enough food to make them dinner, we as a team did have an abundance of granola bars in our rooms. We had brought these with us because we were not sure what we would be eating in a place that was completely foreign to us. However, it ended up that we were never in need of food. So after a few minutes of panic, which seemed to last for an eternity, we made a decision.
We gathered up all of our granola bars and distributed them to the women. Then we wrote down their names and how many people they had in their families. We promised them that the next day we would have bags of enough food to last for weeks. Then we held our breath. Would they doubt our honesty? Would they be outraged at only receiving granola bars? Would there be a riot? What happened next was the utter opposite of anything we imagined.
The women began to sing and dance. They were overcome with gratefulness. There was a riot of sorts, but it was a riot full of praise, laughter, and hugs. The next day, they brought more friends. We ended up being able to provide over 150 families with enough food to eat for weeks with what we had gotten in the marketplace. And we were met with more singing, more dancing, and more joy.
I wish that I could say that I have never complained about a meal since I’ve been back in America, but that wouldn’t be true. But there have been many times that I have stifled an unnecessary complaint, or finished that last bite on my plate, because I think of those women that I met on that day. But I don’t think of the “problem” that they presented us with that day. I think of their joy for the basic things in life and their extreme thankfulness for a simple act of kindness. And I will never forget those women as long as I live.
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