“What did you learn in Kenya?” my wife, Cari asked as we de-boarded the plane in Amarillo. A whole group of Wesley students with signs and fanfare greeted Beau Niewoehner, myself, and several people from St. Stephen UMC as we walked past the security line.
“I don’t know…” I must have looked dazed. In fact, it took me about 6 months to figure out what was going on inside of me after experiencing Kenya in 2010. Something about a third world country does something to a person…
We were nearing the equator. The van bounced hard on its suspension. I wasn’t sure how a van would last long driving over such rough terrain…and by terrain I mean, Kenya roads. The van we bounced around in was smaller than a Toyota truck in the States. The roads had potholes the size of a small bathtub, and I felt every one of them. With no air conditioning, squeezed together like sardines, and there I was, wearing a suit and tie. WHY? I’m glad you asked! Because Kenyans don’t wear shorts…unless you’re a little boy. Only school children wear shorts in Kenya they told me.
Other car-like-busses zoomed inches beyond the window I sat near. Every time I jumped just a little. I probably looked like a kid on cocaine, tweaking every time we passed another car.
We were on our way to Busia, Uganda. It would have taken maybe an hour on U.S. highways, but in Kenya, it took six to seven hours driving 15-20 mph on these horrible roads. I was nearing the end of my American wits.
And sitting shoulder to shoulder with me, sweating as profusely as I, sat Bishop Zephaniah. “Bishop,” as they called him, rocked back and forth with every slam of a pothole, looking off in the distance with a huge smile on his face saying, “Bless God. Bless God.” Nothing seemed to bother Bishop. He was a man that you could tell had met with Jesus…in fact, he had…that morning at 5:00-8:00 A.M.!
As I looked outside, poverty was like a plague. You could throw MILLIONS of dollars in any given direction and not even make a dent in it. Even the goats and cows were skinny enough to see all their bones through their skin. Kids were lucky to have shoes; most were barefoot. Kids less than four-years-old were just walking down the sides of these two-lane roads, inches from bustling vans, jeeps, and busses. Women carried large baskets of fruit, or 5-gallon buckets of water from who knows where on top of their heads. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more dangerous, a bicycle would pass between our bus and an oncoming bus, nearly scraping handlebars on the sides of each.
What messed me up though was, although I came to Kenya to help these people…It seemed that they knew something I didn’t because though they were in these impoverished conditions, the smiles on their faces stretched from ear to ear. When the bus driver would be cut off or almost hit someone because of their fault, he would just wave at them and smile. If anything like that had happened in the U.S., horns would be blaring and obscenities shouted! But not in Kenya…not what I saw.
How many useless things did I throw away back home? How much junk did I have sitting in my house right then? How much did I spend on storage for the junk I couldn’t fit in my over-crowded house? These people were just scraping by to make a meager living from day to day and here I had been, worrying if I would have enough…
“So what did you learn?” Cari asked me again. I just teared up. There was a flood of emotion and I wasn’t sure what it was.
I couldn’t tell if it was from the way that the children would rush up to our bus and chant and be so excited to see us like we were rock stars? I didn’t know if maybe it was because we saw the face of Jesus in the faces of the orphans and widows? Or if it was because I’d been given so much and felt guilty? Being born in the U.S. was like winning the cosmic lottery. What was I doing with the blessings I had? Would I forget their faces? Would the pain of seeing MY brothers and sisters in Christ suffer in hunger, ravaged by AIDS, and hoping for a better future for their children ever go away? Could I just close my eyes and forget what I’d seen? The third world will mess you up…
So what did I learn?
- That feeling bad about the blessings God has given me does not help them at all.
- If I want to help them, then I need to learn to leverage what I do have toward GIVING rather than living beyond my means. My goal in life is to live like the man J.C. Penny, who started giving 20% to God, and then 30%, so that when he died, he was giving 90% of his income to God and others. I LOVE TO GIVE, and have started to leverage my life to do the same. I’m starting with 15-20% of my income to God, orphans/widows, and “the least of these.” We have a “Compassion Child” from Compassion International named Tsotso from Togo who is Maci’s age. Our whole family prays for her every night. We buy goats for families in the Turkana region of Africa. Many years, Maci has used her birthday money to buy one of these goats for $50.00.My heart breaks when I see students that I’ve trained in the faith say they can’t give to certain things because they just moved into a bigger house that they can’t afford, or they just bought an overpriced car so now the “least of these” don’t have a place in their budget. But I’ve looked into Jesus’ eyes in Africa, in the homeless guy whom I met at Burger King last Saturday, in the girl who is fleeing for her life because she converted from Islam to Christianity…I have seen His eyes through theirs.
- That Jesus was SERIOUS when he said in Matthew 25:
Mat 25:42 …I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”
What if Jesus was serious when He said this??? Maybe He was?
- I have to go back to Kenya
So I will be leading a team of six students back to Kenya to work with a United Methodist group called “Life for Children” who have worked tirelessly to help the orphans and widows. In fact, they had the awesome idea of pairing up orphans with widows and finding sponsors in the U.S. to support these kids. Brilliant!
They have a thing called one-thousand-dollar house, where teams can build a house for a widow for $1000.00 in one day. They drill water wells and preach the Gospel and people get saved and they start churches right there! They work with street kids who have no homes to go to. They have “micro financing” to help them start businesses and break the bonds of poverty.
We will be working with all of these ministries this summer from June 25th to July 5th. We will also be doing evangelism in the schools and streets and villages.
This is a team of college students who are raising money in faith that they can go, many of which did not grow up in Christian homes or have home churches. They gave their lives to Christ at the Wesley, so they have no networks of fundraising. We need to raise somewhere around $7000.00 for these students to go. They are working hard and we are looking for financial partners who will join with us, and send them to Kenya. Would you pray about sending them?
There are two kinds of missionaries: Those who go, and those who SEND. Both are MISSIONARIES! If you have a heart for Africa, or those in poverty, or regions who have not yet heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or maybe even college students who need to learn what I learned in 2010 by going to the very place I went…then you too can be a missionary just by sending us!
After we raise funds for our flights and stay, we hope to raise enough to build several houses for orphans and widows (each house is $1000), and if we raised $10,000 over our expenses WE COULD HELP THEM BUILD A SCHOOL that doubles as a churh! That’s dreaming though.
So I can’t wait to look in these student’s eyes and see the utter hopelessness in them…followed by the resolve to do something about it in this life…to learn to live recklessly in love of others…to SEE JESUS in the eyes of “the least of these.”
If you would like to help us get to Kenya donate online at www.wtwesley.com/give and put in the memo line “Kenya 2016” or send checks payable to:
The Wesley Foundation
107 26th Street
Canyon TX, 79015