As I was preparing for my mission trip to Kenya and India, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was getting myself into. To be perfectly honest, I’d never had any desire to visit the vast continent of Africa. My husband had lived in Tanzania as a student missionary, so I know of the fondness he’s had for the area his entire life. He even returned at age 50 and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with his with his son. His pictures of the Serengeti and the Maasai tribe were incredible.
But still, although I love traveling as much as my aging body can tolerate, I never had the desire to go to Africa.
Strange, huh? As far as serving in the mission field, my opinion of such a calling might be similar to yours: we can serve God anywhere. Whether it’s Taos or Tanzania, Kenya or Kentucky, we can love and help others in need. While I very much appreciate and admire those that serve overseas in the mission field, I believe that one can serve selflessly and be God’s hands and feet in their own back yard. People have similar needs everywhere.
And then I went to Africa.
While I was prepared to witness poverty at the Imara Daima School in Nairobi, I witnessed a level in which I’d never seen anywhere in the United States. It was dire. It was dirty. The entire area was dilapidated. It was dismal. I knew ahead of time that our group would be conducting a medical and dental clinic, as well as help with the construction of the second floor of a school. But somehow, my brain and heart had not prepared themselves for what stood before me, as armed guards accompanied our team past a barricade and onto the school property. Just driving our van into the slum area, sinking into ditches in which I was sure we were stuck, and being bombarded by beautiful children hitting the sides of our van, made my initial introduction quite difficult to digest. Their rusted tin homes were 10 ft X 10 ft. shacks, often holding 4-8 people. They’d sit outside during the day, trying to cook or sell something—anything to make an extra shilling.
Trash lay everywhere, stagnant water held filth and I rarely saw anyone smile as we make the trek each morning towards the school. Naturally, I asked the question of why the government isn’t more involved in helping these people. The answer: there are just too many of them.Simple needs as clean drinking water, electricity and sewage disposal are considered luxuries. The needs here are overwhelming to political officials as well as anyone who chooses to try and make a difference.
There was initially a small voice inside my head that whispered, “Nothing is going to change here, Angie. It’s a lost cause, but at least your heart was in the right place.” I felt hopelessness for these people, people who looked at yours truly as some rare blonde white girl who’d decided to help for a few days in Africa. They come, they help, they leave, never to be heard from again. I was sure that's what they were thinking. I even thought it myself and began to reel from this new reality as I prayed to God each evening.
I was in over my head. My heart had not prepared enough.
I returned to my hotel each evening, sickened as I fell into my soft bed adorned with a chocolate on my pillow. I sank into the hot bath water, knowing full well that the children I’d just helped had most likely bathed in cold water (if they bathed at all) and were drinking bacteria laden water before going to sleep. It was hard to put on a happy face to my fellow travelers as I struggled with processing their bleak existence.
Like so many Americans who grew up watching infomercials that solicited money for Africa, all while featuring fly-covered children, I questioned why God would allow such hopelessness in the first place. Honestly, I still ask that question. Like you, I hope I’ll receive these answers when I get to Heaven. But this I know for sure: God could have chosen to place me in one of those run down shacks. He could have placed me as a mother, standing knee deep in garbage and holding a daughter in pain with rotten teeth.
That could have easily been me. It could have been you.
God placed all of us in our current situation for a reason. To whom much is given, much is required. I must hold on to that verse with every fiber of my being. I must bury it in my heart, but not so deep that I risk forgetting it as I return home to my easy surroundings in New Mexico.
But I as I worry and pray for the people I left behind in Nairobi, I must also remember that which I observed inside the school grounds: Joy. Humility. Grace. Yes, they were there in abundance. The children who attend this school are rich in nourishment from these fruits. Although they have so very little, reminder signs are posted “Be Humble” on the school walls of the school, and parents speak so politely and quietly that it’s barely audible. And while they live in extreme poverty and filth, these mothers and fathers take pride in ensuring that their child’s school uniform is clean. It may not fit them properly, but the joy in owning clothing which represents a school which stands firmly with Christ is most likely one of their greatest earthly possessions.
My daughter, one of the dentists serving on the trip, brought soccer balls at the urging of her colleague who had served in Kenya years prior. As someone who had lived among the people of Nairobi for years, Dr. Meharry knew that those inexpensive balls stood for something far greater than just a toy to keep kids active. In actuality, there wasn’t a soccer field around for miles. But those 12 balls (one for each teacher to use with their students) provided a reminder that at least in a few ways these students were just like other kids: they liked to have fun and be members of a team who could lift up one another to accomplish a goal. For just a few moments each day, these children could simply be a kid with a ball. For just a few moments each day, they could forget about their painful teeth, from wishing for clean water, or from simply wanting a safe place to sleep.
A soccer ball can do amazing things, my friend. It goes far beyond the celebration of a Women’s World Cup Victory.
So, have you labeled me a Debbie Downer yet? I certainly hope not, although I will admit I hope it made you stop and count your blessings. But if that’s all you gained from this much-sincere blog, then this writer of words did not accomplish that in which she’d intended.
For I want you to ask yourself the exact question in which I’d screamed up at God while standing in my hotel room. The same question my heart asked as I walked through the filth, preparing to serve in the windowless, leaking schools in Kenya and India: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE ME?
Perhaps you’ve heard the popular Matthew West song, “Do Something.” If not, then I definitely encourage you to download it. Below are just a few of the lyrics.
I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now, and thought
How'd we ever get so far down? And
How's it ever gonna turn around,
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, "God, why don't You do something?!"
Well, I just couldn't bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, "God, why don't You do something?"
He said, "I did, yeah, I created you!"
Amazing song, right? As I end this blog and prepare to do my umpteen loads of laundry after this three week journey, I hope you don’t mind that I make this simple request: Ask yourself why God chose you to be in this space, in this situation you’re in.
Perhaps you’re in a struggle with your own conscience. Perhaps you’re praying for patience that never comes. Perhaps you’re harboring anger towards someone who really only has your best interest at heart, but you can’t see it due hurt feelings? Perhaps you’re experiencing a life lesson that leaves you hopeless and ready to throw in the towel. Can you relate?
If so, my sweet friend, go buy yourself a soccer ball. Bounce it and be filled with joy, humility and gratitude. Then, may I suggest and plead, Praise Him! Look at your own life and DO SOMETHING for others.
After all, He chose you. He chose all us.