Though he was born in Denver, Frederick High School physical education teacher and boys basketball coach Enoch Miller had one thing he particularly wanted to do.
Return to his family’s native Africa.
Miller joined an entourage from Rocky Mountain Christian Church in Frederick and Mission of Hope International to spend a week doing missionary work in the Mathare Valley, part of the Mathare slum in Kenya and a short distance from Nairobi. The population is about a half-million people who take up about half a square mile.
“It’s one of the poorest slums,” Miller said. “There are a million people in an area that extends from Frederick High School to state Highway 52, maybe Colorado Boulevard. It’s unbelievable. You have to see it to believe it.”
But for Miller, the week-long trip was more personal.
“I am a product of missionary work through the Pillar of Fire Church,” Miller said. “My father is from Liberia. He lived there until he was 21. That’s where he met my mom. The church didn’t like it. He was black. She was white.”
The couple eventually moved to the Denver area, where Miller was born.
“It’s always been near and dear to my heart,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for his missionary work.”
Miller and the group (including his 13-year-old daughter, Savannah, the church’s pastor, Shawn Moyers, his daughter, Grace, and the church’s campus pastor, Matt Cote) spent a week teaching Vacation Bible School to some 800 youngsters and taking the kids to such things as health check-ups. The church group raised money over the past eight months to cover about 80 percent of the trip.
“There’s no playground,” Miller said. “There’s an armed guard at the front. There’s a little bit of a roof, but there are pillars in the way. Outside, it’s pandemonium. It’s the world’s biggest flea market, people selling trinkets, old cars, trash that comes up to almost the top of the driver’s side window.”
After school, the group was able to visit some students’ homes in teams of four to five people at a time.
“That was the most impactful part,” Miller said. “Most of these homes were the size of a master bedroom closet. It’d be easy for the temperatures to reach 100 degrees. There were wild animals outside.
“But that was the best part,” he added. “The kids were 10 times more happy to see us. I’m not exaggerating. We all gave a million hugs. But my daughter gave about 500 hugs to kids. They were so excited to see that people came all the way across the world to see them.”
The oldest kids were in eighth grade.
“They wear uniforms, and some of the pants are down near their ankles, so you can see they’ve been wearing them for a year or two,” Miller said. “We were encouraged to ask them questions about their lives, to show that we care, to tell us about their situation, what they do for work. Some are temporary workers, wash dishes. Most of them live on a dollar or two per day. They don’t know where their next meal is going to come from.
“We asked, ‘What can we pray for you?’” Miller added. “Some of the answers were pretty heavy, that we help need jobs. So we prayed with them. We did that a couple of times each day. Almost every single one of their situations was dire.
“It’s difficult walking out of those homes,” Miller added. “We asked, ‘What can I do?’”
As much as Miller and the church group wanted to do beyond the visit, they realized those options were limited.
“We can’t give them money,” he said. “The kids get sponsorships, and outside donations (such as the ones from Miller and his wife) help. The goal of MOHI is to empower. Most organizations throw money at them.
But in general, that’s not enough to change things. MOHI teaches kids trades, helps parents learn a trade.
‘It’s nice to meet you … and me?’
Miller never thought he’d meet someone with his first name.
“After services, we were congregating with people in the church,” Miller said. “One of the kids came up to me, and I realized we shared the same name. They speak Swahili. Some speak English, but most speak Swahili. I took a picture of the kid. That was really cool.”
Miller met another young man. As a result, Miller and his wife agreed to become a sponsor.
“I walked with a kid during one of those health visits,” Miller said. “He was quiet and shy, about 5 or 6. He looks at me, he hasn’t said a lot. He looks at me and says, ‘I want to be a doctor.’ I smiled and told him, ‘Yes, you’re going to be a doctor.’”
Miller and his team visited the young man’s house after a VBS session. The youngster was still in school at the time.
“He’s an amazing kid,” Miller said.
Miller was in charge of running the games’ session during VBS time. His 13-year-old daughter, helped.
“My daughter is very quiet, reserved. She has quirks like I do,” Miller laughed. “One of my goals was to get her to see outside her own world. She was amazing. She did so well with the kids, playing games.
Essentially, she was a teacher.
“She wants to be a teacher,” Miller continued. “She loved the kids. She understands how good we have it. For some of these kids, the only meal they get is at school. A lot of times, they don’t get a meal.
“The best part was having her (his daughter) with me,” Miller continued. “We had a tremendous time bonding. I wanted to take my daughter. It was a dream of mine to let her see life on the other side.”
Miller wants to return when his youngest daughter, Chloe, who is about to celebrate her 11th birthday, gets into seventh grade.
“Some kids were born into something they have no control over,” Miller said. “I know I can do it. I’d love to go every year. All I know is I enjoyed it. I want to go back. I just don’t know the timetables.”
The first day of the trip was a holiday for school but not for those who wanted health exams and dental check-ups. Miller’s daughter was right there in the front of the helping line.
“She loved doing that,” Miller said. “She got to know the kids. That was one of her favorite parts. She got to talk to them one on one.”
Savannah Miller also got an education while delivering an education.
“I wanted her to realize that even on a teacher’s salary, we have a lot more than other people,” Miller said. “We are rich by the world’s standards. But I want both my daughters to see how other people live.”
Miller felt some changes in his perspective after this trip.
“Every day in America is life or death,” he said. “Life is always crazy. I recognize, at times, that I lack perspective. The most important things in life are faith, family and health. But these days, if we don’t have the material things, we can’t make it.
“It gave me more of a perspective of necessities vs. luxuries,” he added. “It made me feel like every day is not life and death. I’m going to do everything I can to be a good teacher and a good coach.
“But it’s not the most important thing.”
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