Creating daylight: Luther student co-founds facility for children in war-torn Kenya
by Tracy Behrendt, Correspondent
As far as friends go, Michael Kimpur and Nathan Roberts couldn't be more different.
Kimpur grew up in the nomadic Pokot tribe in northern Kenya and, like all boys his age, spent his early childhood in search of clean water and grazing land for his family's cattle. When a drought hit, his village of Akorat was forced to move to northeastern Uganda. While water and green grass were more plentiful there, so was tribal violence. Only weeks after the relocation, a neighboring tribe attacked, killing members of Kimpur's tribe and stealing their cattle.
"One morning it was like hell broke loose," said Kimpur, who hid from the enemy tribe in a bush. "It was my first time hearing gunshots. Everything was still dark. You could see the bullets passing like stars."
His tribe soon fled and slowly made their way back to Kenya. The 9-year-old Kimpur joined other boys his age in searching for food and grazing land, often for days at a time. It was on one of those treks that the children stumbled onto a well-worn path, one they thought was made by elephants. But what they found was something they had never seen before—a truck and several Caucasian workers from a nearby World Vision feeding camp.
Through the Christian humanitarian organization, Kimpur not only received food that day but also was eventually given shelter and education through the organization's Sponsor a Child program.
Thousands of miles away, Nathan Roberts lived with his family in Wayzata, Minn., an affluent suburb of Minneapolis. His family attended a conservative evangelical church and, like many in his community, was familiar with World Vision. He even remembers the postcards hanging on his refrigerator at home.
Though a high school mission trip to Peru let him experience the world, it wasn't until Roberts began attending Bethel University in Arden Hills, Minn., that he understood that the luxuries afforded to him weren't given to everyone. Wanting to learn more about other cultures, Roberts was drawn to Kimpur, who was working toward his master's degree at Bethel.
"I was trying to be friends with somebody from a different part of the world. So we ended up becoming friends," said Roberts, now an M.Div. senior at Luther Seminary. "I helped him sign up for a bank account and taught him to drive. He ended up moving into my apartment, and, through that, he started telling me about his people."
Kimpur's stories of nomadic life in Kenya and his path to Bethel opened Roberts' eyes to children with lives very different from his own—ones without safety, homes or free education.
"That, for me, really brought it full circle," Roberts said. "Here I was living with a World Vision child. I realized that the way I had treated poverty and people who had really big needs was as a bank. I give money to some organization), they give it to (those with needs), and they write me a letter back. But when I met Michael, I realized that I had the opportunity to make a deeper face-to-face connection."
But Roberts never could have envisioned the role he would play in Kenya. When Kimpur returned home in 2007, he was suddenly entrusted with the care of several orphaned children. Without money or a job, Kimpur had no way to take care of them. That's when he called Roberts, who soon sent money to help Kimpur with the growing number of children in his care.
But Kimpur saw a need for something more—a safe haven for all children in war-torn northern Kenya. He also felt a responsibility to help his people end the cycle of poverty through education.
So, in 2008, the same year Roberts began his studies at Luther, the two unlikely friends founded Daylight Center and School in Kapenguria, a city near the edge of the nomadic lands. The school seeks to follow Jesus' example of caring for the poor and to empower children to transform their communities "We take kids from all the major warring tribes in the region and send them to school together," said Roberts, who serves as the U.S. director for Daylight. "We teach them about Jesus and that the love of God transcends tribal allegiance."
Today, nearly 130 children attend Daylight. Some students are orphans, while others have been sent there by parents hopeful for a new generation of leaders. The school is currently housed in a Baptist church and led by Kimpur and other teachers who come from nomadic tribes. Because the school does not have a dormitory, members of the church serve as foster families for the students.
Though half a world away, Roberts has fostered relationships with both the staff and children at the school he helped found. But he didn't realized what a difference he had made until he traveled there in January 2010.
"Everyone knew who I was, and I was swarmed as a hero," said Roberts, who was also inducted into the Pokot tribe during his visit. He is one of only two white people ever to have received that honor.
The trip to Kenya also made Roberts aware of Daylight's growing needs. Upon returning to the United States, he spoke with House of Mercy, an ELCA church in St. Paul for which he is a board member, about serving as the fiscal agent for Daylight. Without hesitation, the church agreed. Before long, Roberts formed a board of directors, made up largely of former Bethel classmates.
One of those friends is Rachel Finsaas, who was recently in Kenya both as a board member and to conduct research for her master's thesis.
"The coolest part of this trip has been actually speaking with the people who are suffering from hunger and (lack of) healthy water and medical facilities and finding out that they do see the solution as being education," Finsaas said. "What Daylight is doing is important, and it's been great to talk with the people immediately affected by it."
In January, Kimpur took the next step for Daylight and bought three acres of land. With too many children to house among foster families, Daylight plans to build a dormitory, along with a school, in the next few months. All this has been possible through monetary donations, largely from donors throughout the Midwest.
And, remarkably, Roberts has been able to continue his work with Daylight amid the demanding schedule of an M.Div. student at Luther, which he chose to attend largely because of its course offerings in world religions. In his time at Luther, he has found that Daylight has changed not only his life but also the way he approaches his studies.
"I think as I've gotten closer to the community out there, the story in the Gospels has started to become closer to my reality and my daily life," Roberts said. "I think the proximity to the heart of the gospel—which I think is the radical love for the poor—can make those stories come to life in your own life."
Learn more about Daylight at www.daylightcenterpokot.org.