Stephen stands with the guards at the service gate twice a week, carrying bags of roses, wrapped in cardboard. He stands hunched, leaning on his cane, his left arm and leg limp. This is his livelihood – selling roses at the entrance to RVA and to others in Kijabe. He’s often sitting near the dukas when he’s not at RVA, roses at his feet, greeting folks as they buy their fruits & vegetables, asking them to buy flowers.
Sometime this fall, we began supporting Stephen monthly. We pay for a month’s worth of roses and he gives us a call once a week when he is at the gate. As we greet and talk with him a few minutes each time, we have begun to develop a friendship with him. He has four children, two grown daughters and two sons still at home.
Our family had the privilege of sharing a meal with Stephen’s family on Friday at his home. He met us at the service gate, as usual, but this time we drove to his house, nearly 45 minutes away. This man with a crippled body travels 45 minutes one way, two times a week, with the hope of selling a few bunches of flowers to some missionary families.
As we drove the long way on one-laned paths and finished the journey together on foot, he told us about the sickness he developed when he was young that left him crippled on his left side. He said that the doctors told his parents he would have to go to America to be healed properly, but his parents couldn’t afford to send him to America. And even if they could, they feared he wouldn’t return. Stephen outlived his childhood sickness, but his scars remain.
He worked at RVA in grounds keeping for many years, until it became too much for him physically. It was then that he began selling flowers. Even so, times have become tougher for Stephen and his family as many of his customers have since moved on from the Kijabe area. He is struggling to find new customers, asking us if we plan to stay here a long time.
We were greeted by his wife, Naomi, and his sons, Obadiah and Peter. We even met his brother and sister-in-law, while they worked in the field. We washed up and feasted together on cooked peas & carrots, irio, and chapati. Ethan kept saying “This is the best lunch I ever had!” Certainly their hospitality was second to none.
After lunch, we drank chai and visited. Then Ethan, Nate, & Evelyn went outside to play with the other Kenyan children that had, by this time, flocked to Stephen’s home to see the mzungu children with blonde hair. They all giggled together and pet puppies and chased each other with sticks for a while.
As the storm clouds rolled in, we had to be leaving. We were, after all, driving on mere footpaths. One heavy downpour would have left us stranded there for the evening. We brought them a small gift of flour, sugar, and rice, said our good-byes, and set off on the bumpy journey back home.
I think the biggest take away from our visit was that everyone has a story and everyone likes to be heard. I had no idea that Stephen’s limp left side was a result of a childhood ailment, likely polio or something similar. I had no idea that he worked on the grounds of RVA or that his flower business is at an all time low. As we live in relative comfort, with running water and electricity, vinyl on our floors and decorations on our walls, we forget that just outside our gates, there are plenty of folks who struggle to make it each day, whose stories aren’t often heard or shared with others.
I am thankful for the day we gave Stephen a chance to be heard, to share his story with us, and I’m even more grateful that my children got to hear as well.