Finding Easter’s message in the slums of life

A symbol of hope: Christ on the cross in a fire-bombed church in Nigeria. Photo: Andrew Philip

As I reflect on what happened to Jesus on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I think about Nathaniel. Easy-going and articulate, it is easy to get the impression that Nathaniel comes from a well-to-do family. But until a few years ago, Nathaniel lived in a plastic shack in desperately poor conditions in a slum in Nairobi. With only plastic sheets as cover from the elements and surviving on what little food he could find, life was bleak and hopeless for Nathaniel and his family. He had no work and could not think of any work he could actually do. He felt inferior to others and worthless in himself. He thought living in desperate poverty was his fate.

Attracted to love

It was at this low point that members of a local church found Nathaniel while visiting people in the slum as part of the Tear Netherlands backed church and community mobilisation process (CCMP). Nathaniel told me how embarrassed he felt when the group first found him. There was no place for them to sit and no coffee or tea to share. But in his hopeless situation, Nathaniel was attracted to the love of God that he could see in this group of people. Building on his connection with them, he would eventually open his small room to host weekly Bible study meetings for other people living in the slum. That was the beginning point of change. His heart, mind and everything were transformed through the word of God.

New life

Through the Bible studies and his relationship with people in the church, Nathaniel discovered that God loves him and has given him talents and resources to improve his life, and the lives of his family and neighbours. Today, Nathaniel no longer lives in a shack — he lives in a flat. He is a qualified teacher helping children to receive an education to improve their lives and achieve their God-given potential. He has also studied theology and is part of his church’s CCMP leadership group involved in expanding the church’s work in the community.

Nathaniel, centre, with his pastor and Dr Sas Conradie, left. Photo Sas Conradie

‘Jesus rose on Easter Sunday so that people can be reconciled with God, themselves, others and nature in such a way that brings them out of the slums of life.’

Nathaniel’s dream is to transform the lives of thousands of children and youths in the slums by building their capacity in education and life skills. He testifies that growth brings change according to Romans 12:2: ‘Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.’ (New Living Translation) 

Nathaniel is dedicated to the process of changing the community and is mindful of this quote from American author and pastor John Maxwell: ‘Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing themselves.’ Because God changed him, he now wants to be used by God to change others. Through this change, his life is better and full of the joy of the Lord and he works to help others experience life in fullness. 

Easter hope

Jesus died on Good Friday for people like Nathaniel who were living spiritually, socially, economically, psychologically and emotionally in the slums of life. ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost’, says Jesus in Luke 19:10 (NLT). 

But Jesus also rose on Easter Sunday so that people can be reconciled with God, themselves, others and creation in such a way that brings them out of the slums of life. Easter gives new hope for people who feel lost like Nathaniel once did. But to grasp that hope they need to encounter Jesus’s story – if the church had not reached out to Nathaniel in the slum, he might have never known that there is hope for him as well, that God loves him and that Jesus died and rose from the dead for him. Paul says in Romans 10:14: ‘But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?’ (NLT). This is why I believe so much in the church and community mobilisation process. It envisions and equips Christians in making Easter a reality in the lives of people living in the slums of life... people like Nathaniel.


This activity took place before the outbreak of Covid-19 in Kenya. For safe ways of connecting with others during the current crisis please look at our dedicated Covid-19 page.

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Sas Conradie
Rev Dr Sas Conradie is Tearfund’s Theology and Networking Manager for Africa: sas.conradie@tearfund.org