Saturday, April 9, 2016
A couple of years ago, our physics teacher, a native Kenyan, returned home for a visit, and while there spoke to a friend who is the principal of a small rural school, asking him to recommend a student who might benefit from the opportunity to get a high school education in the United States. The idea was that if the student was a good runner, as are so many natives of the Rift Valley, he could parlay that ability into a college scholarship as well.
And so it was that Edwin Rutto showed up one morning at St. Benedict’s Prep, fresh off the plane from Kenya. Now in his senior year, he’s a member of our family, and has done very well both in his running and in his studies.
This is the soft-spoken young man with a heavy accent who visited my homeroom yesterday to make a pitch. Not terribly tall, and thin as a rail, he has a powerful presence, and within ten seconds he had the perfect attention of twenty-five teenagers.
He explained that he wants to do something to help the little school that he left behind in Kenya. You would think that a typical teenager would be an idealist and would want to modernize and expand the school or buy sets of books for every classroom. But not Edwin.
With captivating simplicity and directness he described what “going to the bathroom” means in his school. There’s a hole dug in the ground, and you simply squat over the hole. (Imagine a group of boys from 7th through 12th grade listening to this in rapt attention without any silly remarks or giggles.) Okay, so presumably this is a form of sanitation used in lots of poor countries. But Edwin was bothered by the image of certain kids whose legs are not strong enough to allow them to squat. They just have to sit on the hole itself, competing for space with the flies and stinging insects. Then when they’re finished, they usually smell so awful that everyone knows where they’ve been and tries to avoid being anywhere near them. Sometimes students are so humiliated that they just don’t return to class. Some even avoid coming to school at all because of the situation.
Edwin told of one student who has no use of his legs at all, but “walks with his hands,” dragging himself along the ground, and he asked us to picture this young man using the school’s “toilet.” Our speaker’s voice cracked when he started telling us about this student, and how, as Edwin was running a race one day, this crippled boy began dragging himself alongside Edwin to cheer him on. “It almost makes me want to cry when I think about that,” he confessed to us.
Then he made his pitch: he is trying to raise $1,000 to build a proper latrine for his school. That’s it, that’s the project. He wants to share his good fortune with his schoolmates back home, so he’s decided to appeal to his American schoolmates to help him. He appealed for any donations that we could spare. He smiled his wide, infectious smile as he shook his pocket to assure us that he already had begun accepting quarters.
He’s a long-distance runner, so I’m sure he’s not concerned about how many quarters it will take to make $1,000 -- he'll just keep going until he has what he's aiming for.
During the Easter season the mass lectionary presents us with readings from the gospel of John gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Both of these works present idealized images of Christian life or sanitized stories of the earliest days of the church. Acts is especially fond of telling how the Holy Spirit kept inspiring and encouraging individuals and groups.
Edwin stood there yesterday as a living example of how the Spirit can inspire someone to take action. But this student had not been moved to any idealized, abstract sort of goodness, instead, he focussed on what he described as a smelly, disgusting hole in the ground.
You never know where the Spirit is going to blow, or what it’s going to inspire someone to do. And all of us were reminded yesterday by a high school senior that the Spirit can blow over some pretty unexpected places.