Mission: Unforgettable

Mission: Unforgettable

In July, I traveled to Kenya to the “safe house”, the orphanage Elijah and “Mama” run, where the children had lost one or both of their parents to AIDS. For me, this mission trip has been “life-changing.  Last year, Elijah came to Spring Valley to show a video of the kids playing in the water from the well that we helped donate money to have dug. I knew right then, I needed go.  I wanted to understand what it was like to live without some of the most basic needs and be happy, simply because of their faith in God.

The very first day there, we were welcomed like family. Every greeting and goodbye was met with hugs all around. We laughed, cried, talked and played and I learned some great dance moves also.  I felt connected so deeply to the children. I learned something from every one of them.  Every night, during devotions, we would stand with our arms wrapped around each other.  It was so humbling to see the passion these children had for God and how they never questioned his love, no matter how difficult their lives have been.  Mary, an 18 year old girl I became close with taught me not to fear praying aloud (a phobia I´ve always had).  She prayed with such grace, intimacy and commitment for God.  I learned it doesn´t matter who is listening, if I loved God, prayed from my heart, the words would come. I prayed like I had never thought possible.  I prayed through fear, inferiority and tears and still the words came. I prayed aloud in Kenya and I pray aloud now.

Despite living in cramped conditions, the children seem so happy and content. They were so gracious and humbled by the little gifts we brought. We gave an 18 year old boy some bright pink crocs and a new pair of oven mitts.  He makes bread in a large oven, and often burns himself. It didn´t matter the color of the Crocs, and the oven mitts, he was so proud of them, he wore them for three hours that night with a smile on his face!

We visited villagers to bring them gifts such as sugar, flour, soap and tea. Their homes are much smaller than our homes – about the size of a large bedroom, and made of cow dung. Kitchens are simple: a roof with a hole for smoke, because they cook with fire. They collect water from the rain off of their roofs, or sometimes walk miles to carry fresh water home.  At night, chickens and small calves sleep inside the kitchen, so thieves can´t get to them. The villagers confirmed why I felt so compelled to come to Kenya in the first place.  They praise God for everything they have while living without many basic needs. Even with very little food and no running water, they graciously served us Chai tea and at times had prepared it hours earlier in anticipation of us coming. It was difficult to comprehend them praying for US so intensely and genuinely so that our cups may be full. They are so thankful for EVERYTHING in life.  There is no resentment.  They have been blessed with God´s love and everything else is extra.  My experience with them was so humbling and I am grateful to see Gods grace, through them.

One of my most memorable moments of the trip was when our group decided to make pizza for all the kids and staff (of about 50).  I was simply amazed that they had never had pizza before.  We received a compliment that I will never forget.  They said they were overwhelmed and overjoyed that we (white American´s) would make and serve a meal for them (black Kenyans) and that they have never been served by people white people before.  In a way that comment made me sad but also taught me so much about Kenyan lifestyle, their perceptions of Americans, differences between Kenyan and American cultures and their appreciation for us.  Personally, I thought it was a privilege and was so excited to treat them to pizza.  I felt like I was making dinner for my family, albeit, a very large family and loved every minute of it.

We all had a difficult time leaving.  Whether it was our first or seventh trip to the safe house, we all wanted to stay and not let go.  I felt like I was saying goodbye to my own children when I left.

So, how has the mission changed me?

  • I pray out loud from my heart now, without the fear of sounding like gibberish.
  • I love differently.  I express my love for my family and friends better. I love the warmth of a good hug.
  • I feel blessed to have a house that I love.  I am no longer embarrassed by all of the imperfections, the work that needs to be done and how inferior I used to think it was to my friends and families homes.
  • I appreciate the little things so much more. Running water, good road infrastructure (Yes I did say that and will never complain about Michigan roads again) and enough food to nourish my body.
  • I give more and need less.  I no longer buy anything without necessity and think hard about that need.
  • “Elijah has a saying in Kenya: “Haraka Haraka Haina Baraka” – it means “Hurry Hurry has no blessings.” This IS the Kenyan way. I´ve slowed my life down, focusing on what´s important; family, friends and eliminating anything that causes me to be too busy or lose focus.
  • My loved ones in Kenya are always on my mind and I pray for them everyday.  My heart often aches with such a desire to see everyone again.  I pray about when I will return to them and pray God has a plan for me to return soon.
  • Most of all, I thank God for this trip to a little orphanage in Kenya, Africa that has changed my life in more ways than words or feelings could ever express.

Cathy Armstrong

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