May 2011 Update
An Unreal Story
A refugee, a war, a slum, a savior, a mission.
In February, we witnessed the culmination of something amazing and I want to share it with you. In order to allow you to feel its full weight we must pick up this unreal story from the beginning...
Christian Nkulikiye was born into the worst of times. He came from the wrong tribe in a country that had been overtaken by sectarian violence. Before his first conscious memory, his family lost everything and was forced to flee to a neighboring country. While just a baby, he fell so sick that his mother was told to throw him into the lake and put him out of his misery. As she held his nearly lifeless body over the water’s edge, she felt something inside say, “Let him die in your arms first.” They were fleeing; she didn’t have minutes, yet she held him for hours. His fever broke, and he survived.
At an early age, Christian found an outlet in a simple game we call soccer. Balls made of trash and goals formed from sticks provided he and his buddies a place to both get lost and found. They survived in Rwanda for some time, then it all broke loose. Genocide. In 6 months 1.1 million people were butchered in a terrible and complex saga that, to this day, marks a dark chapter in human history. His family was caught in the middle of a horrific and ruthless war. Many people whose last name was Nkulikiye again lost everything–and some lost their lives. They hid in swamps, crossed rivers, navigated forests and mountains and walked through three countries in their battle for survival.
A war-battered refugee on the run, Christian found temporary refuge in a slum in Kenya called Kawangware. Soon he began fighting a different war: abject poverty. Raw sewage flowing in the streets, lack of clean water and no electricity characterized the environment he now called home. He was no longer being shot at, but everyday was still a battle.
Christian was full of rage against the tribe he had been taught to think “made all this happen.” With no rights, he was a refugee living in a slum of a foreign country. No name, no respect, no hope, no outlet... except soccer. He played every chance he got, every moment he could spare. But no matter what he did, he found himself always consumed with a burden of hate for all that had been done to him and his family.
Then one day, a beautiful Kenyan girl told Christian of someone who changed her life. Someone she called Friend, Father, Life-changer and Savior. At first, he did not believe someone could be all she spoke of. He reluctantly ventured to the place she worshiped, but as he listened to the words of Jesus, he found himself stirred and compelled. He threw himself full-length into the arms of her Savior and asked Him into his life. He recounts, “I felt the rage and the hate come off of my chest.”
A scrappy soccer goalie, Christian began to make a name for himself and one day got his break with a local professional team. A salary of around $100 per month was twice the national average and, although it didn’t get him out of the slums, it gave him opportunity. He performed well and soon married that beautiful Kenyan girl. He found a longing for change and for God forming in his heart.
Some time later, a broken white boy, who’d had a few scrapes of his own showed up with a dream to establish a self-sustaining center for humanitarian aid and disciple making in Kawangware. He moved in with a few Kenyans on the edge of the slum. For a year he didn’t take a hot shower, ate on a $1.50 a day and began pouring the Word and his life into Christian and 11 others. Christian knew his Savior, but longed to be discipled and empowered. He grew by leaps and bounds, soaking in the Word and training. He and the white boy became the closest of friends and spent countless hours speaking into each other. For over a year, they invested into a growing number of disciples that were forming around them.
People were finding refuge in Christ and the number of disciples kept growing as they worked with local laborers to construct Vapor’s first center. Then came opening day. Around 50 disciples enrolled hundreds of young people into the ministry’s first soccer league. Christian eventually took over the Kawangware operation, where to this day, around 900 young people are being mentored, and where national staff serve thousands of people through Vapor’s efforts to relieve poverty.
A refugee caught in a war, fleeing to a slum where he found a savior. That alone forms a story worth writing, but we are not at the end.
Christian and his bride Celine were so captured by the cause that they decided to give their lives to serve the poor and advance the mission of Christ in an unreached area. Christian wrote in 2009, “My dream is to see Togoville come from darkness to light as most people there still believe in witchcraft and still worship idols that are created by their own hands. It is why we are convinced that there is a need to move there and spread the Word of God through sports.”
In 2009, he and his wife dropped the label “refugee” and took on the title “missionary.” Two Africans equipped, trained, and empowered–full of passion, gifting, God and soccer–and with their children, left East Africa to establish a Vapor center in West Africa. With The words of the Bible entrusted to them by the broken white boy, they in turn began to entrust the Word to people in Togoville, Togo. They repaid what was done for them, only by the power and guidance of God... they did it better.
Last month, they hosted 17 wide-eyed American visitors. Together, we celebrated the culmination of two years of incredible service. We opened the first public pure drinking water site in the Togville’s history. We walked the seven acres of harvested crops that are a part of the center’s 14 acres of humanitarian and disciple-making outreach. We ate with orphans and children being educated and tended to by our local field staff. We all stood in awe as the final tally of kids enrolled in the sports ministry portion of the center reached 1,306–more than a tenth of the city’s population.
Now, as Christian and Celine complete their time in West Africa and entrust their center to disciples in that city, they look across the ocean. In May, they will chase the slave trail and become African missionaries with the aim of establishing a Vapor center in Haiti. Unreal.
This is their story. This is His story. God: renaming, rescuing, sheltering, redeeming, and commissioning. He is working through life’s sordid realities and bringing revolutionary hope through his children.
This is what you and they are a part of. A story not yet finished but worth the read. 40 centers, 40 slums, 2017.
Life is a vapor,
(the broken white boy)