“I’m not a religious person but I decided that my family and I will spend Christmas day at an orphanage in the slums”, explained Andrew Lewela Mwanyota to a group of people who gathered at the pilot offering of the Software Developer Certification in late December 2012. A little context will surely help. Andrew is project manager with the Kenya Information and Communication Technology Board and he is managing me. I lead a team from Carnegie Mellon University in building a professional certification under contract to Kenya. There is so much here. Let’s start with slums. Nairobi knows slums like few other places in the world know slums. The Kibera slum to the left, just one of several in the city, is estimated to have as many as 2 million residents. What is it that animated this, “not religious” person to to pass on the traditional week-long family reunion at the ancestral home that is Christmas in Kenya? We’ll get to that but frist you need to know that I love Kenya and Kenyans. I do. I went to pursue my life’s work which seems to be equal measures of computer science education and service to the poor. I found Kenyans relaxed with easy smiles and great senses of humor. I found families of size, faith and cohesion. I found a country committed to lifting itself out of poverty, in part, by claiming leadership in information technology. I found the Catholic Church, don’t I always? I found it packed on Sundays and heavily attended at any Mass at any time on any day of the week. Eucharistic Adoration, which in Nairobi is every day, is the never solitary Holy Hour that I know from the Oratorio in Pittsburgh. Andrew, as others with whom I have worked in Kenya, is well educated, articulate and dedicated to doing a good job. He is proud of President Obama and the school shootings in the United States sicken him. He knows that I serve the Franciscan missions in Patzún and find my way to Mass at Holy Family Basilica most mornings when I am in Nairobi. Words help but Andrew had something more. He had India. In India we saw the Basilica where the remains of Saint Thomas lie. This is not just any old Saint Thomas, this is the “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands … ” doubting Thomas. He saw that church sitting across the road from the massive Chennai beach. He knew the 2004 Tsunami that took lives in far away Kenya and that on that beach in
Tamil Nadu we were near the epicenter. As St. Thomas commanded, the sea did not rise to the height of the Basilica, not this time not any time. He saw this and more. He went to Mercy Home, an Indian mission to the dying. He saw the old, claimed from the streets by Salesian Sisters. He saw the elderly living their last days in dignity and comfort. Here we peeked into the day care, safe harbor for children of the poorest women in Chennai. We bought lunch for everybody, less that $100 US. We prayed before Christ at Eucharistic Adoration on the premises. He could see my excitement and my feeble attempts to help. Nearly a year later, that December day in Nairobi when Andrew admonished me to “fix America first” he allowed to those with us that he and I were supposed to meet in India to visit the mission and the Basilica. Andrew is not a religious man and yet gave food to the hungry and comfort to the poor. He gave up a most special holiday and turned it back into a Holy Day. Some times you have to go all the way to India to know what you should do for a day or an afternoon back home. I may have caught you in the act of giving your heart to Jesus Christ. Fair warning my friend, once that happens He doesn’t give it back.