James Ouma · Lifesong Kenya · Mission Field · Running for My Life · Standing with boys · the making of Jim Buttons · The Matrix of a Learner

Singing Hopeful Songs of Intercession

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“It’s never the differences between people that surprise us. It’s the things that, against all odds, we have in common.”

Jodi Picoult, House Rules

I am listening to William McDowell’s Song of Intercession. It is one of my favourite songs. And just like all of my favourite songs, I am listening to it on automatic rewind. I am at the Students Centre, Strathmore University, waiting to meet Ian Wairua so we can discuss ways of involving men in my work with boys in juvenile prison.

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My failure to find more men to be involved got me so frustrated I had to take the whole year off (in 2016) to seek God’s direction through prayers and waiting to hear His voice. It was a tough year, to say the least. Mostly, I wanted God to clearly – beyond all reasonable doubt – tell me to find a 9 – 5 job, provide for my wife and working with boys in juvenile prison.

True, most of the boys I work with have done bad things and hurt innocent people. The image of a boy robbing people of their precious belongings, stealing a neighbour’s miraa, sexually defiling a helpless 1-week baby or gang raping a 60-year-old grandmother isn’t justifiable at all. And that I would quit my job in 2013 to work with this special group of children who deserve to be locked behind bars is a burden I have asked God to take away from me many times.

The need to stop working with boys in juvenile prison and look for a job instead never used to be a strong urge when I was still a single man. However, the decision to look for a job was made out of utter foolishness and ignorance. I am saying this because looking at everything that I am (have and will ever achieve) haven’t been as a result of my own effort. I wasn’t even qualified for the job I quit in 2013. I look back at the years I worked at KBC TV as an untrained TV producer and realized it was God’s doing. Even the marriage I was now so worried about I started panicking, was made possible by God’s divine intervention.

Picture this…

I had been without work for close to two years when I proposed to my wife. By that time, I had debts (most of which I am yet to repay) and had nothing other than blind faith that God was going to see me through by providing for my needs and blessing the gift and creativity I possess. I had two pairs of trousers to my name – a brown and a black one. I also had one shirt while I owned 5 more (red, black, baby pink, white and purple) as a result of being a member of CITAM Woodley Music Team.

Many were the times I missed going to church when it rained. I missed going to church on Sundays because my trouser failed to dry up due to the cold weather. I also missed many sessions where members exchanged gifts with each other just before Christmas because I didn’t have anything to share. The only pair of shoes I owned had numerous holes under its soles and couldn’t bear with the muddy rain water and pebbles that seeped through the gaping holes.

To make matters worse, it hurt that none of the men belonging to the group were ready to identify with the kind of work I had chosen to do after quitting my 9-5 job. Deciding not to leave the church was the most painful decision I have ever made as a born again Christian. Things became more difficult when I made it known that I was going to get married to one of the ‘favourite’ girls in the team. I knew most of them thought I was out of touch with reality and needed divine intervention. Because of this, the growth on my neck made me stand out like a sore thumb.

I made drastic changes in my lifestyle immediately. I decided to stop receiving ‘relief’ from church. I wanted to fully depend on God for everything. I applied for seed capital for my business ideas. I had just published my first children’s book and needed money to print copies and sell to the people who were asking for it.

The interview to see whether or not I was going to get capital was scheduled on a Sunday, after church. I strongly believed and faith that I was going to get the money. Besides, with the whole church having prayed for me and for my book the previous Sunday, who was I to ever doubt? By the end of the interview, I discovered I wasn’t going to get anything from the interview. I swallowed my pain and disappointment and went back home to listen to Buju Banton’s Optimistic Soul and asked Jared Omoke to sit on a chair and answer the questions I had on behalf of God.

I fully identified with the Israelites when their thoughts were captured in Psalm 137:1 – 4

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?

Fast forward to January 2015

God is like a film producer who has a penchant for employing the 3 act in every success story. He used the very things I was looking at as obstacles to change my life. While I didn’t get the money I needed to print copies and sell and was no longer getting ‘relief’ from church, my resolve to continue working with boys despite not getting help was growing stronger. I finally got the girl of my dreams and knew I had to depend on God more than ever.

Three months into marriage I panicked. All of a sudden, the odds that were against me seemed so big I wanted a way out. I was still hoping God would raise up and heap the burden for boys in juvenile prison on another man. And much as I was ready to quit, I prayed and asked for signs from God. Just before the end of January, 2016, God provided the first sign when He took care of the growth on my neck.

“Jim Buttons,” Josephine Djirackor said over the phone. “We want you to look for the best hospital where you can have surgery on the growth on your neck. Please book for an appointment and give me the information.”

“Yes mom,” I replied, shaking all over.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that God would provide for my surgery in ways only He understood. I went to the Coptic Hospital and had the necessary check-ups and booked for the surgery in a week’s time. The whole surgery was going to cost 45, 000 and since Josephine had mentioned they were going to pay 35, 000 I took a huge step of faith and asked to see the hospital’s administrator.

I gingerly walked towards the lift and entered it silently mouthing a prayer. My heart beat so loudly I feared the nurses inside the lift and my wife would hear it. I knocked the administrator’s door and entered it, still whispering prayers of victory.

“How can I help you?” she asked.

“I am going to have surgery next week and would like the fees to be reduced,” I said, giving her the surgery booking. “Would you please reduce it to 35, 000?” I asked, wondering what would happen if I had asked for 25, 000.

“What do you do?” she asked.

“I sew buttons for children and mentor boys in juvenile prison,” I replied. “I am also an online writer and have a children’s reading club which are still not doing very well.”

“Okay,” she said picking up a pen. “I’m going to reduce the fees to 35, 000.”

“Thank you,” I said, my lips trembling – in gratitude and fear of God. “Thank you so much!”

“You are doing a good job sewing buttons and thinking of children in prison,” she said, handing over the surgery booking from where she had crossed the original 45, 000 and instead wrote 35, 000 over it. Just like that. (Singing Hopeful Songs of Intercession continues tomorrow)

I was taught to do math and read at the same time. So you’re six years old, you’re reading ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and it becomes rapidly obvious that there are only two kinds of men in the world: dwarves and Prince Charmings. And the odds are seven is to one against your finding the prince. That’s why little girls don’t do math.”

Emily Levine

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