By natural standards, Levi Musima is a pretty ordinary Kenyan. Except, perhaps, for his especially warm, engaging smile, nothing would distinguish him from the other millions of Africans who live from hand to mouth, illness to illness, trying to survive in a third-world country. But God sees a man’s heart.
I first met Levi early in 1991. Judy and I had obtained our rental cottage in Kitale, Kenya, from another missionary couple who was returning to the States. Levi had been their watchman.
Anyone who owns anything of value in Kenya needs a watchman. Thievery is a serious and chronic problem, as it is in any place where poverty is rampant. Since we were not interested in entertaining uninvited late-night guests, we decided to keep Levi on the job. He was extremely grateful. Working meant that he could continue to feed his family. I was grateful to have a proven watchman.
All too often you find out the hard way that you have an unreliable, dishonest, drunken, or irresponsible sentry guarding your compound. Levi’s previous employer had gone through six watchmen in three years before hiring him.
Kenyan watchmen come in two varieties: light sleepers and deep sleepers. Fortunately, Levi was of the former persuasion, and very seldom did I need to get up in the middle of the night to see why the dogs were barking. Levi had us covered. Oh, I doubt seriously that at 120 pounds soaking wet he could have offered much resistance to a serious intruder. Yet, somehow knowing that he was on the job gave us great comfort. He was always faithful and punctual, not typical qualities found in rural Kenyans. I could set my watch by his arrival. Our watchdogs, Princess and Sissy, would station themselves by the gate at 5:59 p.m. and, as if by cue, Levi would step through to assume his duties.
He would spend all evening on the compound moving every hour or so from his chair under the roof of an open-sided shed to inspect the perimeter of our little one-acre “fort.” It wasn’t an easy job.
Nights in the Kenyan Highlands are surprisingly chilly, and rain comes down hard and cold about half of the year. Sometimes Levi would arrive for duty sick, fever-wracked with one of his frequent bouts of malaria. I would have to tell him to go home to rest, giving him some of the medication we always kept on hand.
I had been informed that at one time Levi had been a bright Bible student. However, he contracted malaria so often that it had gone “cerebral,” which means that the frequent fevers had caused some brain damage. He could no longer think as clearly and quickly as he once had been able. But God sees a man’s heart.
Judy and I loved all our helpers. Every one of them had their own particular qualities and we were thankful for each. But we could not deny to each other that we loved Levi the most. Without a doubt, the reason was that he was so genuinely grateful.
We were generous with our workers, making sure that we paid top salaries and helping them with school fees and medical bills. They were like our family there. Before returning to the States every two years to visit family and supporters we would give some of our personal belongings to them and our other African friends. Clothes, shoes, inexpensive watches, and such were always welcome gifts. Every recipient was thankful, but Levi was always particularly grateful.
First, I gave him a Casio watch. He treasured it, refusing to sell it when offered twice what it was worth. Then, I gave him a warm overcoat. He cried with joy. It was fun to give stuff to Levi because he was just so downright grateful. When I won a bicycle in a local golf tournament, I knew exactly who was going to get it! A new convertible couldn’t have thrilled him more.
One day he came down with a serious fever. His wife came over to get us and we knew by her countenance that it was much worse than usual. One look at him and I wasted no time getting his semiconscious body to the local hospital. After a few days, there was a slight improvement. The doctor advised me that Levi had typhoid fever. It might be several weeks of hospital care, and he wanted to know upfront if I was going to pay for it.
I agreed without hesitation. Two days later I received word to come and get him. His malaria had returned, as it often does when an African is weak with another illness. The doctor seemed certain that Levi was going to die within the next twenty-four hours, and the staff did not want him to die at the hospital.
I took him home, calling out to the Lord in prayer to save his life. His father was waiting at the house when we arrived. He insisted on taking Levi back to their little plot in his home village where he could die surrounded by his extended family. Death from an illness is so common that it is expected in every situation like Levi’s.
I politely resisted but agreed to bring his body to his father’s home myself if he died in my care. There was another, better clinic about an hour away. The Kenyan doctor who was in charge had been trained at the University of Iowa and had my utmost confidence. I was not going to let Levi die just like that.
Dr. Agwa was frank. He wasn’t sure he could save Levi’s life. By now Levi’s temperature was 106° and he was bleeding profusely from his nose. The doctor further stated that recovery, if possible at all, would be long and expensive. I was looking at a hospital bill of at least $1500. That’s not much for the United States, but more than I had immediately at hand.
In addition, I would need to care for Levi’s family and to hire an interim watchman in his absence. It didn’t matter. This was Levi. I didn’t need to think it over. I asked Dr. Agwa to do his best, and we laid hands on Levi and prayed together over him as a nurse inserted the IV into his arm. God sees a man’s heart.
God was merciful. Over the next four weeks Levi recovered enough to return home. After a few more weeks of rest, he was finally able to resume his duties. We were all grateful to God for sparing his life. Years later, while in Kenya again I was able to see Levi and his family. He has a better job now. He no longer spends long, cold nights outdoors. He makes an excellent salary and lives in a three-room house with electricity, a real luxury for rural Kenyans. He was so glad to see me and proudly showed me the bicycle I had given him, still in good condition, and the last gift watch bearing a brand-new strap.
Later, as I reflected on my relationship with Levi, I realized that it was his own gratefulness that had saved his life. I am not sure that I would have made the same personal sacrifice for any other African friend or worker.
In Kenya, the needs far outweigh one’s ability to meet them. Almost every day, there was someone at our gate asking for help because they were either sick or had a sick relative. Like the poor, the sick we will always have with us. But there are people like Levi for whom you want to make sacrifices. They are people whose gratefulness makes it impossible to refuse them any blessing available for you to give.
I am just a sinful man with limited power to bless others. Try to imagine for a moment how our gratefulness impacts God Almighty. He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). He is looking for ways to bless and exalt the humble that are sincerely grateful to him. I want to be more like Levi.
[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]