“Retrospect is always 20/20.” That’s the heralded saying as one looks back and recounts past experiences. For me it will be my excuse as I recap the three months of my African dream. The pace has finally slowed to where I can devote ample time to the retelling of this most excellent adventure.
My first month on the ground in Kenya was one of construction and re-construction. Both literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, I spent the second half of my first month constructing a home on the campus of East Africa Bible College. Little did I know that the lessons I learned and the relationships that were forged on that job site would cause a complete reconstruction of my perspective, future, and Spirituality.
February 15, marked the turning point in my internship. In the wee hours of that morning, I came to a critical realization. I found myself midway through a daydream of: “Someday when I am on the mission field full time, I can…” when it hit me. All my somedays, were today. The dream I had been dreaming for the past eleven years, was now my reality. Instead of being so caught up with the life I was missing back home and the uncertainty that awaited my return, I had to be fully present in that moment. I may never have another opportunity as incredible as this one ever again. So from that moment forward my critical realization, became a crucial resolution to be fully present for the remainder of my internship.
A few hours later, I joined my supervisor at the Nairobi airport to welcome the construction team from the States. Little did I know the impact those seventeen men and women would have on my life over the following two weeks. Or the challenges that awaited us. The team of seventeen was made up of several different pastors and their spouses, architects, brick masons, contractors, a law enforcement official, a pageant queen, educators, a physical therapist, and people just wanting to help serve.
After resting that evening, we loaded up the bus and began the seven-hour ride from Nairobi to Eldoret, allowing plenty of time to not only observe the spectacular African landscape, but to begin breaking the ice and forming relationships. Personally, I began practicing being present.
The moments on that bus ride made me laugh harder than I had the entire three weeks I had been on the ground in Kenya, simply because my heart and my head were fully there. We arrived on campus in the early evening and we served the team their first official Kenyan meal and acquainted them with the campus that would become their home for the next two weeks, and would eventually rob some of them of a large portion of their heart.
The next morning began early with breakfast and a chapel service to fill our stomachs and focus our Spirits on the task that lay ahead. The team met the students for the first time and began building relationships, before even building the home. We then marched ourselves down to the job site as contractors, Tony Hirst and Danny Cupp, became our visionaries and strategists of how to transform a concrete foundation, a tin roof, and a pile of bricks into a home. Once we each received our individual assignments for the day we went to work. My tasks that first day included moving bricks and slingin’ mud (aka mortar). I loved the fact that at the end of the day I was covered in dust, dirt, cement, sweat, and a little bit of blood. But even more than that, I was thrilled with the relationships that were beginning to merge from the job site.
The work progressed over the following days. Piles of bricks became walls. Loose sand became sturdy cement. Engineers became educators. Foreigners became friends. Strangers became family. It was beautiful. The first Saturday the team was there the ladies split off for a ministry day at Huruma Children’s Home just outside of Eldoret. We were taken on a tour of the dormitories prior to meeting the children, in which my heart began to crumble. I saw the need of the home, and felt helpless. But then I saw the residents of the home and felt encompassing love. As I looked into the eyes and the smiles of these precious children my entire world and perspective shifted. The materialism, the entitlement, the selfishness, the comfortable all faded. Love alone remained. Before I knew it, one of these precious little ones grabbed a hold of my hand, meanwhile latching hold to my heart. Her name was Phoebe.
These incredible ladies and I became the “sho-sho’s” (grandmothers) and aunties these children may never have. All the obligations, worries, frustrations, discomforts, and minor ailments disappeared as we gave our all to these little ones. We gave them each gifts. You would have thought we had given thousands of dollars away upon watching their reactions. Their simple, innocent gratitude humbled me. I can confidently say that this experience perplexed, encouraged, revived, challenged, and blessed my fellow sisters and me beyond description.
After a weekend of incredible food, views, and worship, we went back to work Monday morning. The second week was full of more memories and challenges. These various challenges put into perspective relationships back home as well as those quickly developing on the field. One morning I woke up with my right arm full of welts each the size of a quarter. After putting it off, my supervisor and the team finally convinced me to go to the clinic. To this day we still don’t know what caused the welts, only that it was an allergic reaction of some kind. But in those moments of pain, discomfort, and uncertainty the team became family as they rallied around me to help wrap the welts, accompany me to the clinic, researched the possible causes, expressed concern, cheered me up, and prayed continuously for me until my return to the site.
After these bumps in the road (pun not intended), I returned to help continue construction. I was amazed at how quickly this team was accomplishing their goal. But even more amazing was the impact they were having on the community. Many on the team were branching beyond themselves and their comfort zones and welcoming every challenge with optimism, as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Each day as we left the job site, sore, tired, dirty, injured, and smelly, it was hard not to find the majority of the team in good spirits with laughter and smiles as they saw the grander goal.
Friday afternoon we began bringing our work to a close. No, we had not completed a full Ty Pennington, Extreme Home Makeover. No, there would be no “Move that Bus!” incredible reveal of a fully completed, fully furnished home. No, we didn’t fully finish laying all the inside walls or install the doors and windows. However, we completed something so much greater. We built up people. We constructed relationships. We remodeled perspectives. We tore down expectations. We welded two nations together in a beautiful way. The eternal construction and re-construction the 18 of us underwent those two weeks was far more important than any physical structure we could ever construct.
That is the purpose of missions. The people are no means to an end. They are the end. So Saturday morning we gathered around the site one last time thanking the Lord for not only the progress, but the people, the relationships, the memories, the frustrations, and the victories. We thanked our incredible visitors for their sacrifice and willingness. We stood in awe of what God had done. We celebrated a home to come.
The rest of the weekend was filled with more memories. We left Eldoret that afternoon and ventured to Nakuru. Sunday morning we worshipped with our brothers and sisters at Nakuru Worship Center. After lunch, we were given a tour of Nakuru CMD and Pistis Education Center, the largest children’s home in Kenya for the IPHC. Once again my heart was broken as I saw the need, and my reality was put in check. The afternoon was filled with presentations by the children. They sang, they danced, they recited poetry and I fell in love. I spent the remainder of our time with some of the older girls being taught how to dance their rhythm. My heart smiled as I watched them smile and laugh when they realized this mzungu could actually dance!
That evening we dined with two of the most amazing individuals I have ever met: Bishop Laban and Mama Gladys Wakesa. Mama Gladys prepared a feast for over twenty people on two small charcoal stoves. The meal was exquisite! After the meal, Bishop Wakesa, a man who has saved the lives of thousands of children through the CMD, was wheeled into the living room to meet us. Bishop Wakesa had been battling a terminal illness and confined to bed at the time. Once Bishop Wakesa joined us we prayed over the church, the children’s home, his home, his body, Mama Gladys and the nation of Kenya. It was a beautifully sobering and holy time.
My first month on the field concluded with a safari with the team. We left early the morning of Leap Day to encounter some of Africa’s most marvelous wildlife. We spent the morning among baboons, flamingos, warthogs, rhinos, a couple of lions…oh and the python. The dagom stinkin’ giant baby python. We then journeyed to the game lodge where we had the most incredible lunch and explored the tucked away paradise.
After lunch we ventured out of the game park, and back to the hotel. There I had to part ways with the team. It was a time full of many tearful goodbyes, swapping of contact information, “Please-keep-in-touch’s,” and hugs. I felt like I was saying goodbye to my family all over again. In many ways, I was. This team of seventeen became like adoptive grandparents, mothers, fathers, crazy uncles, and best friends. I forged relationships that I pray will last a life time.
As I waved goodbye to everyone on board the bus, I whispered a prayer. I thanked God for the construction. I thanked Him for pushing me to my limits and further out of my shell. I thanked Him for reminding me of my foundation. That no matter what life threw at me, big or small, He remained the same. I thanked Him for being the Master Craftsman. He took what the world saw as broken and unusable, and fashioned me into a vessel for His glory, a masterpiece with His signature. I thanked Him for having a perfect plan where all the pieces fit and no experience or circumstance would go to waste. He would make sense of all the uncertainty I was left facing. I thanked God that I too was under construction.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time…” – Ecclesiastes 3:11
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10