Falling in Love in Africa…

As hard as I tried not to, I fell madly in love in Africa. I told myself I wouldn’t do it—couldn’t do it.

Just smile, stand back, and keep your hands to yourself and you’ll be fine…

I was wrong.

His name is Kevin. He has black, curly hair and brown eyes and he lives in Nairobi, Kenya. And he’s about three years old.

I suppose it’s no coincidence that I dreamed about children the whole time I was gone. I was working with Toposa schoolchildren each morning in Sudan. But although the Toposa children enjoyed us and we enjoyed them, they weren’t all that affectionate and didn’t particularly want to be hugged or held by the funny-looking kawajas (white people). We had fun together, laughed, played, and learned together, but there wasn’t one of them that stood out and really stole my heart.

On Saturday, we left Sudan and returned to Nairobi. On Sunday morning, my roommate Alanna (pronounced Ah-lay-nah) and I had been invited to teach children’s church at the Calvary Worship Centre in Nairobi. It went tremendously. We had a blast with the kids and they were just fabulous! But again, none of them stole my heart.

On Monday, we made the two-hour drive to Nakuru—“the city of dust”—to see the orphanage and school run by a wonderful, loving, generous couple called the Wakesas. There, we saw tiny beds, stacked in unlit, un-air-conditioned rooms.

And that’s where I first felt my heart begin to crack. You couldn’t deny that these kids were better off at the orphanage than they had been on the streets, but how can you watch children play with broken toys and sleep two or three to a single bed and be satisfied that they have enough? But I focused on the kids’ smiles and comforted myself that God will take care of them.

And then, we learned that on Tuesday, we would be volunteering for a bit at a baby orphanage. The Nakuru Orphanage had only been for ages five and up, but the New Life Orphanage was for orphaned and/or abandoned babies from birth to age three. And I’ll be honest with you—after spending ten days with sick, starving, and suffering children, I just didn’t think I had it in me to see any more of them—much less the tiniest, weakest, and most vulnerable ones. But as a part of a group, I couldn’t just say no.

All the way to New Life, I shuttered up my heart. And once we arrived, I stood back and watched the others interact while I stood there with my trust, fake, “polite” smile. And then, we went to the toddlers’ wing.

It was nearly six in the evening and so the staff was bathing the toddlers. As the staff finished each bath, they would diaper each little bottom and then send the child out to us to get them into their pajamas for the night. I stood back and watched Alanna and Sharon dress the kids. And once they were dressed, the babies would run to the toy shelf and begin dragging out their toys…

All except one little guy that the teacher called Kevin.

Alanna zipped Kevin’s pajamas and pulled his little sweater over his head and when she let him go, he turned around and ran straight to me, throwing his little arms around my legs and beaming up at me. That was the moment I fell madly, head over heels in love.

After a couple of tender moments, the little fireball ran off to play, but moments later, he was back again, hugging my legs and beaming up at the muzungu (white lady).

There wasn’t even the remotest possibility of me bringing Kevin home with me, but I carefully packed the memory to bring with me…

On Sunday at Calvary Worship Centre, Alanna and I taught about The Good Samaritan. I thought I knew what I was teaching about. It turns out that really, I had a lot to still learn and Kevin was my teacher.

Luke 10:25-37 NIV

25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

 26“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

 27He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

 28“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

 29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

 30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

 36“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

 37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
      Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

A Good Samaritan loves, even when it hurts, because God loved them enough that they can’t just keep it to themselves.

A Good Samaritan gives freely and without hesitation because they know that God loves them freely and without hesitation.

And a Good Samaritan knows when to let go and let someone else finish the job.

All three of those are hard for me. But maybe, because of Kevin, and mostly because of Jesus, I can learn to love hard and strong and open and without hesitation. And when it’s time for me to let go, I can do that, too.

About Sarah Salter


  1. And we knew it would happen, Sarah. Your heart was there before you arrived.

  2. Ugh. My heart aches. How did you ever leave? And I agree with Glynn. Your heart was definitely there before you even arrived. You can’t fight it. God’s love always wins. And since kids usually have the gift of seeing through our disguises straight through to our hearts, you wouldn’t have been able to hide for long.

  3. Oh, Sarah. This has definitely cracked my heart.

  4. “I can learn to love hard and strong and open and without hesitation. And when it’s time for me to let go, I can do that, too.”

    For the longest time I had a hard time loving people and getting close to them, because I knew I would be leaving them behind. I eventually lost sight of even how to love…I had become a turtle in a hard shell, surrounded by a barrier of my own creation. I was withering inside of it.

    It took me years of prayer and hard work to break out of that shell…but it was well worth it.

    Thank God for his love and for the Kevin’s of this world!

  5. Okay, what happened to my comment? Are you editing me out?!

  6. Didn’t I tell you that you should bring an extra suitcase to bring home souvenirs from the orphanage?

  7. Sarah Salter says:

    Wendy- I told my team leader I thought I could fit two kids in my suitcase if they held REAL still… Seriously, I wouldn’t be averse to adopting from Kenya, but the US has tightened up on that because of some corruption in the system. It’s sad that politics keep children from loving homes.

  8. My heart is in Africa too. What a wonderful experience you had. 🙂

  9. Thanks to Jesus – the giving up and letting go is only a temporary “see ya later”. We’ll meet again in the city with no good byes.

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