Having no idea what else to do when I arrived in Nairobi, I decided to take a walk. It was a decision that—five minutes in—I deeply and desperately regretted. I began down a bustling dirt road, and as I rounded the first corner, I came face-to-face with a level of human suffering I hadn’t known could exist. I peered down the street and took in scores upon scores of people leaning against broken-down, battered buildings. The effects of rampant disease and malnutrition were obvious; I breathed in the open-guttered stench; I felt the staleness, the thickness of the air, and I knew I’d never again be the same.

As I made my way around a row of gaunt, downcast faces, my stomach started to lurch. “I’m a Dutch kid from Kalamazoo, Michigan,” I thought. “What am I doing here?”

Turning the next corner, I saw a boy about my age. The leprosy that racked this part of the city had found its way to this young kid. The bottom half of his arm was missing, and on the nub of his upper arm he’d rested a tiny tin cup. I took in his situation, trying not to be too obvious about it. Our eyes met, and he uttered a single word.


I thrust my hands in my pockets but discovered I had nothing for a situation like this. My fingers found the stiff, rounded corners of my dad’s American Express card—useless to this kid—and then a wadded up stack of traveler’s checks that were tucked around a folded airline ticket for wherever I was headed next.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, showing him my empty hands. Embarrassed, I hurriedly stepped away.

When I was safely out of the young man’s sight, I ran as fast as my legs could carry me back to my hotel. Rushing inside my room, I emptied my pockets, fell to my knees and buried my head in the rug. I began to pray, although I had little relationship with the One I was praying to—and no idea what to say. All I knew was that I had never before seen suffering like I’d seen on the streets that day, and the only person I figured would know what to do about it was the God I’d heard hates suffering too.

As I sat crouched there, tears streaming down my hot cheeks, I heard an inaudible whisper from God: “If you will allow me to guide your life, one day I will use you to relieve some of the pain you see.”

I quickly sealed the pact. “That would be great,” I said to the silence all around. “That would be absolutely fine with me.”

— The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond (Bill Hybels)