Sermon given by Rachel Finsaas for Edina Morningside Community Church.
Batman built the bat cave for more than just one night out fighting crime. Sherlock Holmes cracked more than just one case. Heroes are in the business of heroism for more than the brief, 15 minutes of fame. Heroes are heroes for their lifetime.
Batman continues fighting villains; Sherlock continues solving new mysteries. My colleague, Michael Kimpur, continues saving children from violence and poverty in Kenya.
I think it’s also important to acknowledge who heroes are before they are heroes. That before they are heroes, they are usually just ordinary people. The title of hero is not applied to that ordinary person until after they produce an act of heroism, until after society places its stamp of approval on a courageous, extraordinary, or noble act.
Imagine, for example, you and your Aunt Helen are walking down the street and you notice the animal hospital is on fire. Aunt Helen turns to you and says, “well, as a future hero, it’s my job to rush into that burning building and save the 7 puppies, 3 cats, and 1 long-tailed parakeet inside.” You would probably call her crazy and insist you both simply wait for the fire department to arrive. And after she goes in anyway, you find yourself embarrassed you didn’t help in some way when the local news station plays and replays the scene of Aunt Helen bursting out of the over-sized doggie door carrying that lightly-singed parakeet.
Each protagonist, at some point, must cross a line from Average Joe to Prince Charming. And in the midst of crossing it, their actions may often be considered absurd or unsettling by society until the protagonist has successfully crossed over to the other side.
* * *
When Michael Kimpur first envisioned Daylight Center and School, he was criticized and laughed at by his peers. Friends couldn’t believe he went all the way to the United States to earn a master’s degree only to come back to Kenya to turn down a high-paying, cushy job in Nairobi. Angelina, his wife, pressured and guilted him to reconsider finding a Nairobi-based job because how else would he support her and their five kids, let alone an untold number of orphans from Kenya’s war-torn desert.
For a few weeks, Michael even relented and drove to Nairobi to job hunt. However, a cushy Nairobi job was not in God’s plan for Michael. Six weeks later, he was back in Kapenguria, making a phone call to his friend Nathan Roberts in Minnesota. A phone call he had no idea six years later would be responsible for significantly affecting the lives of 260 children in Kenya, 20 teachers, 10 skilled staff, and over 200 Americans, including me and you.
Just 2 weeks ago, while in Kenya, I was having chai with Angelina on a quiet, calm evening in their nearly-finished home on the edge of Daylight’s property. She was reminiscing about this journey, in awe about how God has directed and provided for their lives. She admitted to having doubted Michael in the beginning, and shared her appreciation for me, Nathan, and all of the people in the U.S. who have encouraged and supported Michael in growing Daylight.
She may have been a critic at first, but Angelina is now an active and integral part of Daylight. Just as Batman has Robin, and Sherlock has Watson, Michael has Angelina.
She approves the weekly menu with the school cooks, reviews the progress of construction when Michael is in meetings, and comforts and nurses students with upset stomachs or fever as if they were her own. Truly. I’ve seen Angelina give up her own bed to sick students so that she can monitor them more easily.
Now that Daylight is established and developing, Michael and Angelina are seen as heroes in their community, and by the teachers, staff, and students at Daylight. They have successfully crossed over to the other side, from Average Joe to Prince Charming, from Aunt Helen to “Protector of Parakeets.” But having crossed over does not mean the story is over or the mission has ended. Now that Michael and Angelina have acquired the official title of “hero,” their lifelong work as heroes begins. And this is why your continued prayer and support are still very needed at Daylight.
Some of the orphaned students who attend Daylight even call Michael “papa” and Angelina “mother.”
During my recent visit to Daylight, I met closely with Terry, the school’s office administrator, about the children who attend Daylight. Terry is one of Michael’s trusty sidekicks, who has been around since Daylight’s meager beginnings.
She showed me a list of 115 students; boys and girls ranging from preschool to grade 7. Many of the names I recognized as the bright smiling faces of students I met around campus. At the top of the list, it read “Director’s Children.”
“We didn’t want to use such a sensitive word as orphaned,” Terry explained when she saw the confusion on my face.
“Director’s Children.” It’s appropriate, I think, after seeing such genuine love and care Michael and Angelina bestow on these kids. But although it may be a better title than “orphaned,” this list is still disturbing.
In my role with Daylight, I know the statistics, the numbers of orphaned, rejected and disabled students who attend the school. But to see all of their names adds such a weight to those facts. Gillian, Sunday, Emily, Francis…
* * *
Francis is in the sixth grade at Daylight. Rather than stay in the dormitory on Daylight’s campus, he shares a room with Michael and Angelina’s son Yatich and hired cow attendant, Ruto, near the cattle pen because Francis and Yatich enjoy milking the cows with Ruto every morning before school.
I often woke up at 4:30 each morning to help them, because my room was right next to there’s, and the same vibrant radio station they woke to also worked it’s waking power on me through our shared, thin wall.
It was during these early morning chores that I had the privilege of getting to know Francis, the kid, in addition to my getting to know him as a student in the Daylight classroom.
The first thing to know about Francis is that it’s very easy to read his mood. He wears a big, beautiful smile as he runs with Yatich between cattle pen, school, debate team practice and the soccer field. In the classroom, his face becomes serious. You can almost see the wheels spinning in his head from concentration, as he absorbs every instruction from his teacher. At home again, he is a responsible and loving extension of Michael and Angelina’s family. Not only does he help with chores like milking the cows and giving buzz cuts to other boys when their hair gets too long, but I also witnessed him pick up and brush off Michael’s 4-year-old son Joshua after tumbles, like any big brother would.
During a more formal interview with Francis at school, I asked him about his favorite subject. He seriously and shyly responded: “mathematics.” I think he feared I would give him a pop quiz right there. Then I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He relaxed a little bit, smiled his big smile and said: “President of Kenya.”
* * *
In the Scripture reading for today (Mark 10:42-45), Christ reminds his disciples that he is the ultimate hero, that his whole life was to be spent serving and saving us. He also urges us to be heroes, to serve and save others. And inspire others to do the same.
Michael and Angelina have answered Christ’s calling. They have committed their lives to saving children from war-torn Kenya, serving as heroes at Daylight every day of the year: wiping runny noses, quizzing students on the day’s lesson, repairing the most active children’s torn clothing, answering to every call for “mama” and “papa.”
Michael and Angelina are inspiring kids like Francis to also become heroes and star in the sequels and trilogies to the Daylight story, to one day become President and change the violent and poor condition of rural Kenya.
It’s haunting to think what would happen if Daylight one day suddenly stopped. If the hero and heroine lost their powers. Where would these children go? Are the same students who are thriving and excelling in debate team really going to be sent back to nomadic Kenya: girls married off and boys take up a bow and arrow?
This is why Michael and Angelina are in the heroism business for the long haul. Because 260 students are depending on them for a better future. Because these children cannot be returned to the desert like overdue Blockbuster rentals.
This is an overwhelming commitment. And Michael especially draws upon the strength and emotional support of his heroes back here in the United States. Me, Nathan, our board of directors, and Edina Morningside Community Church, as well as other churches and individuals who send him encouraging notes and photos, and raise money for things like cows, blankets and school supplies.
Michael has answered Christ’s calling and so have you. Let’s continue our work as heroes, pinning capes to these kids.