Stay tuned to this site. In a few days the 2016 team of Service-Learning students will be arriving in Kenya and they’ll be blogging about their trip.
As a final chapter to our blog from Kenya, each traveler wrote a brief entry describing one incident she experienced and how it affected her. It’s a small way of showing the value of trip and saying thank you for your investment in these students.
To read any earlier posts from the trip, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on “older posts.”
Enjoy their stories.
One incident that really changed me on this trip was when we visited the town Maai Mahiu for the first time. We did some home visits and saw the living spaces of two young girls who were high school age but could not be in school because their families could not pay the school fees. After that day, seeing all of the poverty and despair, we all came back to the Daraja House and just cried. I remember feeling so overwhelmed and helpless at how to respond. My faith was broadened because of this experience by seeing the Kenyan Christians relying completely on the Lord and how Isaac and Esther are a bright shining light to the people of Maai Mahiu. I couldn’t help but think of Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” It was so powerful to witness Esther and Isaac working together to bring glory to God’s kingdom and shine their light in Maai Mahiu when at times it can seem so dim. It encouraged me to not be afraid and to shine the light of Christ no matter where I go.
The course readings and discussion were so helpful in preparing to leave for the trip. It really gave me a taste of what we were going to be seeing and experiencing on this trip. It helped me to be more thoughtful about the culture that we were going to immerse ourselves in. And it also helped us as a team to have cultural humility when we would encounter things that were quite different from what we were used to.
The Kenya trip was an unforgettable trip that has made a huge impact on my personal life as a follower of Jesus Christ. As I have been processing through everything we experienced, I have realized that one aspect that had a big impact on me was how consistent Kenyan Christians are with prayer. They truly rely on God to provide for all their needs. If they are struggling with their walk with God, this is shared with the church so that they can be held accountable and the congregation can uplift them. They referenced Jeremiah 29:11, “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ” Even though they have little to nothing, they know that in God’s time, He will provide.
I came back wondering why I hold onto so many concerns, thinking that I could handle them better. We have a Savior who loves us more than anything and he wants the best for us, therefore He will help us through the storms that are placed in our lives. Throughout the course we talked about how many Africans are very community-based. In one of the articles, Jomo Kenyatta talked about different factors of the Kikuyu tribes and throughout this article he explained that the three factors are all intermixed with each other. The first is the family group; the second is the clan, which joins multiple families together; and the third is the moherega, or ancestral group. This brings thousands of people together, which shows why the emphasis on community is so prevalent.
Learning the history about Kenya and Christianity was extremely helpful while we were talking with Kenyan people. We learned how to have cultural humility, which allowed us to connect better with the people that we were walking with.
It was our first day in Maai Mahiu, the town where Rift Valley Fellowship is located. Before arriving, some information about Maai Mahiu was given to us. We were told there is much prostitution due to the town being a large truck stop. Ninety percent of the population is HIV positive. Many of the children are not able to attend school due to lack of school fees. However, it was not until we arrived in Maai Mahiu that this information took life before my eyes.
We pulled into Rift Valley Fellowship, the church Isaac and Esther started. There were several women waiting to meet us. Some were older and some younger. Esther shared a little bit of information about the younger women. There were four of them—Salome, Salome, Jane, and Marcy. They were between the ages of 14 and 19. They are currently not in school because of the inability to pay school fees. Some of their mothers are prostitutes, some are not. It quickly became clear to me the reality that if they do not attend school, their likelihood of ending up in prostitution is very high.
We split up into two groups to visit these young women’s homes to pray for them and to see where they live. I ended up with Jane, 16, and Marcy, 19. Jane’s home was the first home we visited (it’s pictured to the right and is only the first window and door). Seven of us tightly packed into her home, which was one room divided with a curtain. Jane began to explain how she lives here with her seven siblings and her mother. I began to cry as I looked at the seven of us packed into her home and thought about the number of people who live and sleep here daily. I was able to get a glimpse into Jane’s life, and the more I saw, the more I realized how difficult her circumstances are compared to my comfortable life in America.
Yet here Jane and Marcy were, walking with us because they chose to attend Rift Valley Fellowship. No one was forcing them to go. Out of all the places they could choose to go, they picked this church. Rift Valley Fellowship creates a safe place for Jane and Marcy to be young women, where they can dream and where they can be off the streets.
In this time with Jane and Marcy, I began to see how the cycle of poverty works. If education is taken out of the picture, there is great likelihood prostitution will enter. If a parent is in prostitution, the likelihood is even greater because it’s a cycle that repeats itself through generations. Before the trip, I understood poverty to be a cycle. But in this moment the cycle of poverty seemed very real and more complex than I had ever thought before. And it was in this moment I was thankful for the ministry of Rift Valley Fellowship. I could see how the ministry was intervening in this cycle of poverty and more specifically, intervening in the cycle of prostitution.
One of the readings we were given talked about the idea of a holistic Gospel, which means the Gospel is directed at the whole person—physically and spiritually. The ministry of Rift Valley Fellowship understands the need for a holistic Gospel. Not only are they meeting the spiritual needs of these young girls, but they realize the need to meet physical needs as well. And sometimes physical needs may come before the spiritual needs. But in fulfilling physical needs, Rift Valley Fellowship is able to create a safe environment to talk about spiritual matters.
Not only is Rift Valley Fellowship praying for school fees, but they are trying to find people or other sources to pay for school fees. They know many of these young women are left without much to eat, so on Wednesdays and Sundays they provide a meal. Esther spends time with Jane and Marcy. She knows their stories. And she even tries to talk to their mothers to ensure they are being kept off the street.
Rift Valley Fellowship is intervening in the cycle of poverty being recreated in Maai Mahiu by meeting physical and spiritual needs. Prostitutes are being set free and restored. And young women are being kept out of the cycle of prostitution. The kingdom of God is being advanced through Rift Valley Fellowship’s holistic view of the Gospel.
The first time a few other members of the Kenya team and I ventured down the road from the Daraja House, we were followed by a giggling group of young children. They trailed a ways behind us for a short while before they built up the courage to come closer. Soon they left all hesitation behind and ran on ahead of us. They bounded quickly over rough spots in the road while we wazungu (white people) continued slowly and carefully. Several questions ran through my mind as we continued along the path. This was definitely not the first instance where random children accompanied us on our journeys, so I began to wonder why so many parents allowed their children to run wild with people they did not even know. Were the parents of these children too busy to watch their kids? Were they unaware of what their children were doing? Or were they just super-trusting of white people?
When we came upon a waterfall, we stopped to admire it for a bit and take pictures. Dr. Dixon marveled at how much the recent mudslide had washed out around the waterfall while the rest of us were unsure what to make of it since we had no idea what it usually looked like. While we all stood in some state of wonder, whether over the waterfall or the erosion, the children ran around like monkeys climbing up banks and sliding back down them. They moved around the jagged landscape with such ease. I was slightly jealous of their maneuverability skills.
Suddenly Janelle’s voice broke through the playful noise of the children, “Baboon!” she shouted as she pointed towards the top of the waterfall. This was the first time we had seen baboons since we arrived, so we excitedly lifted our cameras as a couple more baboons came out from the foliage. The children, however, were not so pleased. They ran past us and started climbing up the cliff that surrounded the waterfall towards the baboons. How they did this with such ease and skill I am still not sure. When they reached a flat spot they picked up surrounding rocks and started throwing them towards the baboons.
No one seemed to know what to do for a minute, but Dr. Dixon pulled the situation together and instructed us to start heading back. He called out to the kids, “Come on, kids—it’s time to go home.” As soon as he said these words the kids turned around and hurried down the bank. I let them dart past me, afraid I would fall if I traveled alongside their fast-moving bodies.
As we continued down the road back to the Daraja House, none of the kids made any attempt to go back and mess with the baboons. They did as they were told and followed us home. As we walked it occurred to me that many parts of this situation would not happen in America. One, there would not be baboons. Okay, that was an obvious one. Second, Dr. Dixon, or anyone for that matter, would not have tried to correct the behavior of children who are not their own. Third, had Dr. Dixon still given instruction to an American child, they may not have obeyed. Thinking about these last two statements helped me to understand the community element of Kenyan culture.
Before leaving on the trip, the Kenya team read a portion of Jomo Kenyatta’s book Facing Mt. Kenya. The first section we read went into detail about the kinship system among the Kikuyu people. In the early days of the Kikuyu tribe, they lived together by family in large complexes under a specific pattern of authority. By design the people lived very community-oriented lives in which everyone looked out for one another. One example is that children looked upon their aunts with just as much endearment as they did their own mother, and cousins acted just like brothers and sisters.
Though today’s Kikuyu do not operate just as they did in the early days described by Kenyatta, they remain very community-oriented. Understanding this founding principle of Kikuyu culture sheds some light on our encounter with the children at the waterfall.
For one thing parents are not afraid to let their children wander about because it is expected that other adults surrounding them will look after them. It is not that they were unconcerned about their children’s whereabouts, they simply trusted in other adult members of their tribe. While we were with the children, their parents trusted us to watch over them. This also explains the children’s easy obedience with Dr. Dixon. These children are used to taking orders from adults other than their parents and do it without hesitation.
Things are so different in America where this community parenting does not exist. The whole incident brings the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” into a whole new light because in Kenya it really rings true.
Nothing could fully prepare me for what I experienced in Kenya. Before leaving, I thought I knew what to expect. We had discussed Kenyan culture in our meetings, we had read about some of the history of Kenya, and we had talked about the role of religion in Kenyan life. I felt like I had a good grasp on what I was going to experience on this trip.
As the vans came to a stop in Maai Mahiu, I quickly realized I had been mistaken. I knew that we were here to meet with the Women of Courage, go to their homes, and pray with them. I could feel my stomach begin to tighten as I got out of the van. I said a quick prayer, “Lord, give me the strength to do this.” I had never witnessed this kind of poverty and I feared that the women would not want us in their homes. It was then that God reminded me of the work I had done before the trip. I had learned that Christianity operated in a very communal manner, and this included prayer.
While nothing could have prepared me to walk into a tiny, one room home that held a few pieced of furniture and pray for a woman whom I had never met before, the learning we did before leaving for the trip allowed me to understand it. I knew about the communal aspect of Christianity and that gave me the peace of knowing it was acceptable for me to be in these women’s homes, hearing their story. This peace gave me the opportunity to pray for one of the women. Standing in her home, hearing her story, seeing her children, and then lifting her up to the Lord in prayer was a moment I will not soon forget.
Understanding the community and bond that is present in the Kenyan church made that moment even more meaningful. Even though I lived in another continent, I felt like I was part of that Christian community in Maai Mahiu.
As I have been trying to comprehend everything that our team experienced in Kenya, I have continued to be overwhelmed. My mind races with new ideas for the people we met and with concepts that we have learned and talked about during our discussion times. One thing that has left a big impression on my heart is the concept of tithing.
I have been blessed to be raised in a family that believes strongly in tithing and giving in general. My mom is one of the most generous people I know, not only with the resources she has been given but with her time in various ways. Tithing is automatic for me for many reasons, but one being that I have seen the ways in which the Lord has blessed my family and me personally financially.
As we sat in the AIC church in Kijabe I witnessed the majority, if not all, of the schoolgirls and people in attendance put something in the offering plate. These young girls whose parents may be struggling to find enough money for school fees and their daily bread are giving up some of what they have to the Lord. They gave freely and cheerfully like the Lord leads us to do, living with open hands—ones that are not clenched around money, material things or just this world in general. What an example to live by!
During our table talk one night, Dr. Case brought up some statistics about tithing. “If every American Christian that goes to church regularly tithed, the American church would have an extra $46 billion.” My mind cannot wrap around the thought of that much money let alone what that amount could do for the “least of these” in this world. Just for example, this money could: fund 1,000,000 new clean water projects, finance 10,000 HIV prevention programs, sponsor 20,000,000 needy children, double the budget of World Vision, provide food, clothing and water to every single one of the existing 6.5 million refugees in the world and provide glasses, limb braces and prosthetics to 1 million people. And that is just scratching the surface.
Are we starting to understand how important tithing is yet?
In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul talks about the generous giver and alludes to the parable of sowing and reaping. The part of this chapter that is in new vision for me is the final four verses which say, “This service [tithing and giving] that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
We give because we are THANKFUL to God for all of the many things He has blessed us with. Why would I hold on so tightly to “my money” when it is the Lord who has blessed me with it in the first place? Tithing not only changes our own mindset but it helps others be obedient to the generosity the Lord calls us to. Tithing is an indescribable GIFT. What will you do with the resources God has given/gifted you with?
This beautiful woman’s story has continued to remain and replay in my mind since we have returned to America. Although I cannot remember her name specifically, her story remains just as powerful. On our last day at Maai Mahiu we traveled to the Internally Displaced People camps to visit members of Rift Valley Fellowship who live within the camps. IDP camps are refugee camps where many people fled to after the violence in the 2007 election. During the election there was intertribal violence and many of the people’s homes were set ablaze, which forced people like her to flee to the IDP camps. People fled to the camp and lived in tents for survival, until Habitat for Humanity provided homes for the individuals there.
While visiting the people of these homes, this woman stood out to us. We entered her home and were greeted by a handshake that included her winding in for a slap upon your hand, while she pulled you in for a hug and pat on your back. There was a sense of zest and life to her that immediately lured you into knowing her character. We stood in her home and soon found that she was quite the woman.
Her story told of raising children on her own since her husband left her and the trials she and her family faced upon entering the IDP camps. However, her story was a bit different than the rest. While we were in the homes of the Rift Valley Fellowship church members, we would end our visit with prayer for the family’s needs, but I was shocked at what her need was. We were informed that she always asks for prayer for others, such as her family or community members who have a need. There she was, with such a heartbreaking story but she desired to pray for others above herself. Although we did find out from our translator later to pray for her physical needs, we were told to pray for the “others” in her life who she thought needed the prayer more than she did.
We have learned throughout much of our course that within the African culture family is of such high value, which typically includes a unique sense of community that America is not used to. Through the example of this woman, I saw that in full display. Her desire to put others above herself is something that is not seen as much within our culture. Often, we are self-absorbed and long to have it “all about me.” This striking woman placed herself last. Her sense of complete humility impacted me significantly. I have printed an enlarged version of this picture and plan to hang it in my room as a reminder to remove my self-centered ways. Let’s start making our hearts more like hers, which seeks the needs of others above our own.
The day my own faith connected with that of the Kenyans the most was near the end of our trip. Esther joined us at our table talk one evening and discussed the importance of knowing that we cannot save everyone. We all found ourselves frustrated at our inability to help all of these people, especially those of Maai Mahiu.
When Esther stressed that we cannot save everyone, it was hard to understand. I did not think that helping one person alone could make that much of a difference. While she was telling us this, a story from my life popped into my head. I remember when my friend Ashley told me, “If all the bad stuff I went through could help you alone, then it would be worth it.” This meant so much to me, and the fact that she believed in me like that has stayed with me forever.
This also made me think of how Christ pursues us. He came to this earth and died knowing that not everyone would come to Him, and I know that had to break His heart. But I also know that He is the founder of starting a chain reaction by pursuing one individual. He would have come to this earth and died if He knew only one soul would come to know His saving grace. Due to how my friend believed in me, I was able to acquire a greater knowledge of the love Christ has for me, and because of what Esther said I now have a deeper connection with how investing in one person can change many lives. I went to Africa to learn about their culture, but I ended up learning so much about myself.
Dr. Case and Dr. Dixon made this idea of “impact one, impact many” a reality to me during our table talks, in particular when we talked about the Maai Mahiu community. Sending a child to school does not just help them and stop there. It is a huge chain reaction that can break a family from a vicious cycle. We learned that sending a child to school can keep them off the streets and out of prostitution. If they receive an education, they are more likely to get a job. If they receive a job then they will not have to go into prostitution and risk getting diseases. More importantly, their children will be able to go to school and not have to go into prostitution or stealing to make a living. The cycle can be changed by one individual making a spark and simply sending one child to school.