James Mureithi, UPI Fellow, shares his story and his vision for UrbanPromise Kenya. James is currently a part of UPI's school of leadership and will be returning to Kenya in just a few months to launch his ministry. Inspiring words from an incredible leader!
Who would have thought a boy in a small village in Kenya, walking barefoot to school, with an avocado or a piece of sugarcane for lunch, would one day step through the doors of Eastern University? Talking about myself now can be a bit embarrassing and may sound like blowing one's own trumpet. I can't help but believe that everything that has helped shape me is on this page. Poverty would not stop me. Neither would the lack of school fees or having nothing to eat. Not even domestic violence and abusive relationships were enough to stop me. I was determined to work hard to secure my place at a public university. I knew I could do it-going to college was all that I wanted and I believed in the brighter future that would come afterward.
At times, the temptation to quit and try my luck somewhere else was intense. The odds were against me. The scourge of a polygamist family was following me.
My call to ministry came at a turbulent time in my life. My mom had just run away from her troubled marriage as the third wife. I had just graduated with my first degree, and was hoping to get a job to support my mom and educate my sister. I hesitated at first to be a church minister since I was surrounded by many troubles, but after one year, God’s call was unequivocal. I accepted it and over time became an associate pastor in my local church in Kenya.
I have been involved with developing and managing a village youth group for about a decade now. Part of what my friends and I have focused on is helping orphaned children. One highlight has been our annual Christmas party. We provide snacks and play games, pray with them and offer each child school materials and Christmas gifts. The joy we see on their faces upon discovering that someone cares for them is indescribable. I want to see more of that joy and want to be able to do more as God helps transform my dream into reality. I want to create more opportunities for those children. They can be like any other children in other parts of the country and world.
Imagine going through elementary and high school without touching a computer keyboard.
That’s the challenge most aspiring scholars have to overcome in Embu, Kenya. I acquired my own laptop at age 32. Currently less than 21% of Africans have access to the internet. In a global economy, that puts children in Embu in danger of being left behind in a rapidly changing world. I want to change that by establishing a nonprofit - Youth Promise Kenya. Through a partnership with UrbanPromise International, I will launch a new affiliate site based on their youth ministry model. With a focus on digital literacy and information access, my vision is to transform the lives of children & youth in the community through education, information technology & spiritual growth.
I often draw inspiration from the Bible and James 1:27 states “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
I’ll be returning to Kenya in just a few months. I can't wait to be reunited with my wife in the near future and to continue serving alongside her. My eyes are open now. Now I see that the hardships I went through were God’s tools to prepare me for this future ministry, which I am now embracing wholeheartedly.
Whenever I remember my experience walking 4 miles every day to high school, it makes me want to support vulnerable kids so that they can access high school education. I believe in giving young people opportunities to become change agents in their families and communities.
When Jesus told children to come to him in Matthew 19:14, he knew they were needed for His kingdom. Today, what are we hoping for our kids? What are we doing for them? Whatever good thing we do comes back to us and to our generation many times over.
Read some inspiring words from UPI Fellow Vanessa Mwangala! Vanessa is here in the US for the next two years and has a dream to go back to Malawi and expand her girls' empowerment organization, Voices Awake.
From a country where there is an outbreak of everything ranging from diseases, hunger, corruption, to prophecy, I got to experience my share of all of these. The first prophecy I got was, “you will be a great woman”. In my mind, great meant wealth and power, so I raced through life planning to make money and gain power by working ridiculously hard at school, and grasping every opportunity along the way. Then I met Jesus, who opened my eyes to the reality that life was what I was living when I was chasing grades and meeting deadlines. He made me listen to my heart and see the desire he had placed in me and my heartbeat went, “girls, girls, girls.” I looked around me and saw the plight of a Malawian girl.
She lives to be second best and her failure is not a surprise but expectation. She is defined by the duties of her body and her worth comes from her ability to get married and have children. Her qualifications don’t get her a job but her body parts do. She bears scars, and hides tears, and is told her gender is what proves she is weak. I saw a girl who had accepted the oppressed role, and grows in it. As a mother, she makes sure her children are clothed and fed. She produces food from no money and hustles to pay her kids way in school. She sobs in the night, and laughs her way through the day as she tirelessly takes care of her husband and children. Through it all, she is still told, “You are not enough, you are weak, so dependent, you do nothing but gossip, a gold digger, the world would be a better place without you”, just because she is a WOMAN.
As I looked closer, I saw how I was this girl, and was being prepared to be this woman. I was already being told how to channel my thoughts, manipulate my body towards satisfying the man who would marry me. I was as good as the man who marries me and my ability to make my marriage last before I had even met the man I would marry, before I was even half way done with high school. As I experienced these things, I made up my mind to not be that girl, and not to grow into that woman.
As I got out of college, I decided to use what I experienced to empower myself and other young ladies who would not have the same opportunities and exposure that I had due to extreme poverty and illiteracy. It was time to break the cycle. I started a girl’s program called Voices Awake, whose mission is to awaken the potential in girls by equipping them holistically to fight against harmful traditions for the positive transformation of their lives. With the support from UrbanPromise International, this project started in August 2013, and we have reached out to over 100 girls in Dowa keeping them in school, providing basic needs and getting some out of early marriages. This year, Urban Promise has sent me to Eastern University, where I am getting an education in Organizational Leadership and receiving training from the UrbanPromise Health and Wellness Center in how to recover from adverse childhood experiences and trauma. The knowledge gained will be used to establish Voices Awake as a trauma-informed girl’s organization in Malawi and engage in deeper outreach to more girls. My vision for Malawi is one where every girl is adequately empowered to transform her life and community. I stand, live, and walk with these girls everyday as we change Malawi. And now I choose to believe that when that prophet said, "You will be a great woman", it was not because I will have a lot of money and power, but because I will make a huge impact in other women’s lives.