Wednesday May 25, 2011
As we packed up our bags to leave the Grace House Resort in Nairobi and set off to begin our adventures in Nakuru, I could hardly believe that our journey is coming to a close. It has been an amazing week and a half, so it was a bitter sweet moment as we began to realize that this is our last opportunity to do sports ministry. We had a long car ride to Nakuru but we were blessed to have an amazing scenic route through the Rift Valley bearing witness to the beauty that God has created. Arriving in Nakuru, we ventured up into the mountains to a school named Mountain Park Academy. I know that the American football players have been chopping at the bit to show that they are good for more than just manual labor (only joking!) but today was finally there time to shine! Mountain Park Academy has the rare quality of knowing a little bit about American football, and in the country where the only real futbol has two goals instead of two uprights, this was a sports ministry opportunity that is few and far between! When we arrived, hundreds of children escorted us up the hill to their field we were to use for the clinic. While the guys took the older boys off to their clinic, many of us spread out around the open field to do various activities. Although the children are coy in the beginning, their fascination and eagerness to play quickly allows us to all become fast friends. Today I suddenly found myself staring at thirty adorable faces gathered all around me, walking with me, following me; their unwavering attention can be intimidating at first, but their admiration for each team member serves as an opportunity for us to serve as role models through Christ. The most precious moment of the day for me was when I asked the children if they knew about Jesus Christ, explaining the six color beads that we have used to tell the story of Christ. When I was finished, I asked if they knew the verse John 3:16. In perfect unison without missing a beat, they recited the verse back to me (ultimate Kodak moment-I just had to ask them to repeat it so I could record those cuties on video!). It was absolutely adorable seeing these young children beginning the foundation for a relationship with Jesus ChristThose thirty little voices reciting the Word of God is perhaps one of the best sounds I have ever heard. We come on this trip to spread Christ’s Love through something that we all love as well: sports, but frequently throughout our journey we encounter moments where the Lord is in fact using those we are helping to spread His Love to us, and those thirty seconds of pure elated joy will be something I take with me forever. After a little time to break the ice, groups were quickly busy laughing and playing. Who knew that Duck, Duck Goose, Red Rover, Miss Sally Walker, getting your hair braided and just silly dancing would still be cheek-hurting-from-smiling-so-much fun when you’re nineteen years old? Some of us soccer (ahem real futbol) players had the opportunity to play a short 8 v 8 game against some of the boys from the school! When the clinic ended and we separated from the children for lunch, I was able to learn from our football players that their long awaited clinic was a huge success! Although they had a little background knowledge, the young football players in fact knew very little. Some could catch, some could throw, but after two hours of teaching routes, blocking formations, and some basic fundamentals, the kids went from knowing nothing to running actual plays! I know the football players were incredibly proud of being able to help the kids and hope they can carry on their newly acquired skills. After a relaxing lunch, we were invited into the school’s assembly hall for a special program that school had rehearsed and presenting to us. Walking into the performance hall, there were hundreds of kids! Children ranging from grades kindergarten through eighth grade performed poems, traditional dances, singing songs, and even performed a skit for us! Many girls wore pretty, colorful skirts, some of the children had paint on their face, which later ended up on the faces of many team memers haha! Dance seems to be a large part of Kenyan culture. Their dances give us a glimpse into their history and how they worship and give thanks, so for them to rehearse and share their culture with us was such a unique experience. We were able to share our knowledge of sports and activities with them, and they were able to share their dance and songs with us! The program was so much fun! After it was finished, the principal shared with us the story of how Mountain Park Academy was founded eleven years ago. It began with the principal’s mother having a vision from God that she was to create a school. With the help of the Kenyan project, an organization starting in Kenyan that eventually grew to the United States, the school flourished through generous sponsors and has even allowed the school to house many of the orphans that attend the Academy. The commitment and dedication of all the teachers and staff through the help of the Kenyan project is unique in that no other outside foreign organization has helped them. Mountain Park Academy has created a sustainable and successful educational institution without the help of missionaries or other organization needing to step in! It was a pleasure to see such a wonderful learning environment. With the departure from the Academy, I knew that although our work, the Academy will continue to grow and I hope that future sports ministry trips will just see how much! Now began the amazing opportunity that not a lot of people will be able to experience in their lifetime. We arrived at Nakuru National Park, the location of our two hotels, and right away the animal kingdom came to life! Little spider monkeys were everywhere! They were adorable but so funny, some ate food off of a team member’s shoulder, one crawled in another teams van and stole food! I hope they enjoyed that peanut butter sandwich! As we drove through the trail to the Lake Nakuru Lodge (we are only saying here for the night and then moving onto our other hotel due to the generosity of the connection between the hotel and the Academy), words cannot describe the beauty of what we have seen. Rolling hills and mountains that looked majestic in the falling night sky, acres upon acres of trees, wildlife all around us. In terms of the Lion King we have already seen: Rafiki, Pumba, the evil hyenas, and Mufasa!! For those who haven’t seen the Disney classic, we have had the amazing opportunity to see monkeys, zebras, flamingos, GIRAFFES!, a lion (our van didn’t see it but there is amazing footage of the lion passing next to one of our vans!), a warthog, and a hyena! The lodge we are staying at is like nothing I have ever seen. I truly cannot believe that this is my life right now! God truly is so great in the wonders that he has created and the opportunities he has blessed each and every one of us with. As I reflect over my week, I am so overwhelmed with emotions, but the largest of them all is my gratitude. Gratitude towards everything that the Lord has blessed us with in America, everything the Lord has allowed us to have a hand in through spreading his Word, and everything that he has created for us to marvel at the beauty of our world. We have seen things that are so haunting we will never forget, innocent children living in filth and tin homes, burning piles of trash, children running around without shoes in a land covered with human waste, but now, as if thanking us, God is showing us his beautiful creation and showing us on the opposite end of the spectrum: natural habitats and creatures that are so beautiful, any words I write will not to it justice. Currently as I sit staring out at the breath-taking view over onto the mountains on my hotel room porch and look at vast land of the national park, I ask that those who read will continue to pray for not only our safety and our experience, but that you also pray that all the work we have done, whether it is building fences, homes, laying concrete, donating sports supplies, and most importantly spreading the message of God and demonstrating his ministry, continue to become a sturdy foundation for those lives we have affected remembering our message and inspiring them to continue taking action. Pray that those who are feeling ill on this trip currently to let God heal them so that they can experience these last amazing days in good health. Lastly please pray that the seeds of God’s love we have planted in the lives of every individual we have had the blessed opportunity to meet, grow into something as grand and marvelous as the beauty of this safari land that lays before my very eyes. Thank you so much for all your prayers, we truly appreciate all the love and support. God Bless every one of you.
“Faith by itself, it it is not accompanied by action, is dead” James 2:17
Today our team had the opportunity to go visit the Nairobi Men’s Prison and the Langata Women’s Prison. We split up this morning with half of us going to the men’s prison to play soccer and volleyball and the other half traveling to the women’s prison to run volleyball and basketball clinics. I traveled to Kenya with the team last year, and the Nairobi Men’s prison stuck out as one of the most memorable days, so this year I was so excited to be able to visit the women’s prison. Prior to our arrival the guards had selected the women who were to participate in the clinic. We just ran through some volleyball and basketball drills for a couple of hours, and at the end gathered them all together to give them some milk and bread, and share Jesus with them. We were also able to give each one of them beaded bracelets that tells the story of salvation, and our “Kenya Habakkuk 1:5” bracelets. They were all so excited to receive them. I think what blew me away the most today was joy that thrived there. I can’t even begin to articulate what I saw and how I felt, but I will try my best. As we were playing with the women today and teaching them volleyball and basketball drills, it did not feel like we were playing with inmates; I even discovered half way through our clinic that a handful of the women were on death row. And yet they had so much joy! Towards the end of our clinic I became distracted by the young children who were watching us through the gate, so I went to talk to them. I met a woman named Judy who was told me that the women were only allowed to keep their children with them until they were 3 or 4 years old when at that point they either had to go live with a relative or were sent to an orphanage. I don’t know what it was about those children, but the thought of them spending the first 4 years of their life in a prison broke my heart. Towards the end of our visit I met a women named J.D. who I was able to talk with for a little while. I did not ask her how she ended up in Langata, but she has served 6 years and has 11 months remaining. She shared her testimony with me, and what she planned on doing once she was free. She had so much hope and joy in a situation where would be very easy to lose both, but she kept her trust and faith in the Lord, and it was evident that He is and will continue to be her source of abounding joy. Today was truly amazing. Our team might be the only visitors that some of these prisoners will see all year, and just the thought of us being able to be Jesus’ hands extended to these people was such a humbling experience. 1 Peter 1:3 says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” I pray that those we visited today would continue to find joy and hope in the Lord; that they would come to a point in their lives if they haven’t already when all that matters is whether or not they know Jesus Christ.
Today started off with what was supposed to be an hour and a half drive up into the mountain village of Murang’a and turned into more than a three hour bus trek through the tiny towns scattered along the ascending dirt roads. Despite the worsening conditions of the roads themselves, the air got fresher and the scenery more beautiful as we got farther and farther away from the city. Tea plantations, whose green tea plants dominate the agriculture of the mountains, create the awesome lush scenery experienced on our long drive.
When we finally got to the village after several trial and error turns and getting lost a few times the small community greeted us warmly. Our task for the day was to create a concrete floor in a house for a family that was selected by a local pastor. Murang’a and other mountain areas are known to have an infestation of small flea-like bugs called jiggers, which burrow into the skin of the village’s inhabitants causing a painful infection. Last year, the Baylor Sports Ministry team was able to do a feet washing that killed the jiggers infecting people’s hands and feet. This year we were able to execute a more permanent solution by bringing shoes to the family and making a floor that will expose the family less to the jiggers than their previous dirt flooring. Although we weren’t able to help the whole village, we hope that by initiating a lasting solution to the problem it will open doors for future ministry.
Because we have such depth in our team and the working quarters were so small, breaks were abundant and we were able to walk up the hill to the nearby tea plantation. One of the workers graciously showed a few of us how to pick “two leaves, one bud” then to throw them over your shoulder into the basket securely fastened to your head. We even got to wear the neat head basket and actually harvest some Chai tea leaves. When their baskets are full, the workers bring them to the Binding Station where the each basket is poured out onto the long tables and loaded into burlap bags approximately weighing 12 Kg each. Then, each bag is hung from one of the more than 200 hooks of the tea truck and taken to the factory. So next time you’re drinking Kenyan tea, think about how it may have been harvested by a Baylor student.
Later, the group was split up and half of us were taken to a local primary school. When we drove up the road toward the school hundreds of children clad in blue uniforms came running over the hill to excitedly greet us with waves and shouts of excitement. I have never in my life been greeted with such enthusiasm, especially from a stranger; it was like a scene from a movie. It turns out these children and possibly some of the teachers had never seen “mzungus” (the swihili word for white people) before and they had a fearful fascination with us like one might have with a lion. They separated into about six groups, which left 3 of us to about 50 of them. The children would swarm with interest but keep their distance and would back away if you approached too closely. We finally convinced them that we were harmless through the universal language of sports, it seems like everyone in this country has a passion for futbol. Nearing the end our time at the school, the kids were running and playing happily with us and we were able to teach them some American games and they taught us some valuable lessons. We presented them with some soccer balls and frisbees as gifts and of course explained the six basic colors on our soccer balls that represent the Christ story. By this time the kids were comfortable not only surrounding me as we sat and listened to Brian talk about the colors but were talking to me too. One little girl turned to me hesitantly with a finger pointing at Brian and asked, “Is that God?” No, but his long flowing hair could easily be confused with the stereotypical depiction of God.
Like everywhere else we’ve been and everyone else we’ve met, I was amazed at the strong faith of these small children. They could recite more Biblical text than me. I think mission trips are a two way street. We come with the purpose of serving and teaching the people we meet about God and leave with an incredible new understand of faith that they’ve taught us.
Today was a fun experience in being able to provide a more permanent solution to the jigger problem. We were able to lay a foundation of concrete within the home of a family that had given birth to three kids with special needs. However, these “kids” have now grown to their mid-forties, and their parents have passed away. Due to our large numbers this year, I did not partake in the actual labor on the house (unless you count the handful of rocks I put in a wheelbarrow…you’re welcome Taylor and Troy). And although I have an extensive background in soccer (or at least I did when I was 8 years old…), I did not go over to the school to play futbol with the kids. So I spent my afternoon joking around with the three siblings we were pouring concrete for, being questioned by the women in the community about the size of the different states in America (thank you seventh grade Geography), and joining in on some dancing.
As we loaded up to leave, they wouldn’t let us depart without having some food they had prepared for us. It never ceases to amaze me how these people with so little are so eager to give abundantly to their guests. We went there to help them because they didn’t have the resources to complete the project, yet they spent the entire afternoon cooking a feast!
After we arrived back at the hotel, we had a quick team meeting in which Walter talked to us for a small while. For those of you who don’t know Walter, he is our main contact in Kenya. He does a lot of Sports Ministry in the Nairobi area and sets up the majority of our clinics and projects. As Walter spoke to us, he mentioned that the people in that community talked of how they had never experienced ministry “like that” until today. They had heard sermons about it, but had never seen Christianity lived out.
When I think of Walter, I see a man who is steadfast in his ministry. He works with the poorest of the poor in the slums. He sees the needy, he sees the hungry, he sees the broken. And it’s not so much that he’s numb to the pain, but that he understands the complexity of the problems in his community, and realizes it is his job to be faithful to where he is called and approach it with hope for change. But as he shared this information with us, it was evident that he was moved by the fact that these people, so close to his home, had never experienced an outreach of love.
John 13:35 tells us, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Often times we don’t see the fruits of our labor, but it was a privilege to be able to hear that through one afternoon of service, God was able to demonstrate the reality of His love to a group of people for the first time. For the first time. What a cool way to be used.
My prayer for the last days of our trip, for us as we go back home, and for all of you reading, is that we can love Jesus. Love Him so much that people can’t help but see something different about us. Can’t help but feel a love that can’t be comprehended, can’t be contained. And ultimately be drawn to Jesus Christ, the Source of it all.
After five full days of work we used Sunday to worship and rest. We went to church with Walter at the International Christian Center and heard a challenging message.
Afterwards we went to the Carnivore Restaurant and ate meats of all kinds of wild game and enjoyed sharing and laughing with each other. Some of us went out to the Massai Market to barter with local merchants for crafts they had made before coming back for our team meeting to plan for this week.
Here are some Sunday Reflections
In looking back at the time we spent with the “Street Kids”
Hanna Gilmore: “It’s amazing that they are called ‘takataka’ (which means trash in Swahili) by the local people, yet they are so accepting of us.
Dana Larsen: “Yea, one of the boys I met had more questions about me than I asked about him and seemed and wanted to know more about me. One thing that hit me was when he introduced himself the first thing he said about himself was that he believed in Jesus. We say where we’re from or what sport we play but his relationship with Christ is what defined him.”
Larissa Campos: “Michelle (Hagen) and I were trying to talk to one boy and had trouble getting a conversation going but as soon as we asked him if he played soccer he just lit up and began sharing about his favorite team and how excited he was to play with us that Friday. It’s cool how sports can bring people together. I was so inspired by their passion for God and the faith and dependence they have in Him for everything.”
Jarred Salubi: “It’s hard to get out of your comfort zone and speak to people you don’t know who are in tough circumstances but I enjoyed seeing my teammates do that.
Hanna Gilmore: “I’ve just been thinking about the impact that Boniface has had on their lives. Just a man that was willing to serve God and love people who has changed so many lives and is helping so many others.”
Carlie Davis: “I don’t know how to word it. Their conditions are so sad it leaves me with a heavy heart. It makes you thankful for what you have but then again I kind of envy what they have. I ‘have’ a lot more, but then I think they have a lot more than me.”
Lanear Sampson: (on the sports clinic with the street kids at City Park Friday)
Usually we only get to see the kids on the street early in the mornings and only for a little while but when they came to the park they were so excited. Even though they are homeless and dirty, their faces lit up and they ran around and had so much fun. We’ve never gotten to see them like that and it brought so much joy to my heart.”
Natalie Woodham: I think one of the things that stood out to me when we got to meet the street kids at City Park was that I saw some of them put down the glue bottles and just play and kind of forget about sniffing glue and just have fun with us. They were just so happy and it was one of the most fun games I’ve ever played just seeing them have so much fun. There was an infectious joy everywhere.
On rebuilding a home and community center after the fire in Makuru Slums:
Andrew Judy: “It was kind of like a mini extreme home makeover. Just to go in one day and give someone a new home, even though it was just a place made out of tin. It was amazing how others wanted to still keep the old tin that had been burned in the fire to use for other people who still hadn’t rebuilt.
Lanear Sampson: It was so different for us to get to be a part of a project like rebuilding a house for a family. As we worked people began to come around and watch. It was interesting to see how they reacted to us building for one of their neighbors. They seemed kind of amazed that we would do that. We saw the man who we had built for two days later and he had such a big smile on his face. You could tell how excited and joyful he was to see us and how grateful he was for what we had done.
Jennifer Gueldner: I thought it was amazing how people can live with so little and have so much overflowing faith. They rely on God and prayer for almost all of their needs and it seems like the miracles flow generously here.
Troy Baker: “Walking through the slums really is one of those things you will never truly understand unless you do it yourself. It was tough just seeing all the children hang over makeshift fencing to just try and touch you. Then when we arrived to the area we worked on building a “house”, we learn that it costs $1,000 to live in the slums when they are no better off than any homeless person in the U.S. It’s just surreal to think about so many people living in such conditions and paying to as well, when back home we worry about pointless things that in the overall mean absolutely nothing.”
Saturday we did a volleyball clinic, a basketball clinic in conjunction with the Kenyan National Basketball Federation and 2 soccer clinics. Here are some thoughts from those.
Melissa Jones “I was so very impressed and quite intimidated of how many people showed up for the basketball clinic. I think we were expecting 60-80 children, so when 200+ showed up, it was a huge shock but we also realized what an opportunity this could turn out to be. That’s exactly what happened too! We were all able to come together and share about God, all through basketball. It was an incredible atmosphere that turned out to be one of the best times of my life.”
Jordan Rice: “Sharing the experience of working a clinic with my teammates was an awesome opportunity. We had the privilege of working with the Kenyan Volleyball Federation and when they saw us walk up the kids and the coach’s eyes lit up. Their passion for the sport helped remind me why I love playing and that we are all playing for the same Audience of One. There is nothing better than sharing the love of God through something that you love!”
Taylor Heatherly: Personally for me it was really eye opening to me to see what a lasting impact the team members before us had on the lives of the children of Makadara who they had worked with before. Not only were they so eager to learn soccer but also to learn the colors on the ball that we used to share the gospel.
After we left balls for them to use for their league this year they had their captains present necklaces to us that they had worked on since last year to show their appreciation. It really touched our hearts!
Alyssa Dibbern: “The thing that stood out to me the most is how the children are so grateful for the simplest things.”
Caitlin Fennegan: “One thing that really stood out to me would probably be how little the kids have and yet how much they appreciate what we do. I was talking to one buy who didn’t have shoes yet didn’t let what he didn’t have affect him. He had such joy.”
Bryan Swindoll: “Every year I return, Walter’s ministry has grown tremendously. God has taken our small offerings and multiplied them like the bread and the fish.”
A Kenyan sports website has been doing some write-ups on our team, plus they got a bunch of pics, check’em out here: