As most of you know, my parents recently returned from a medical mission trip in Kenya. Last week, I shared the end of their trip, the safari part. Today, I’m sharing with you the actual mission part. Since I was not actually on this trip, although hearing all of their stories and seeing pictures – sometimes I feel like I might have been there, I wanted to let them tell you a little bit more about their experience.
When and how did you feel lead to go on this specific mission trip?
Dan: Sherri had wanted to go to Africa for a long time and talked about this often. It started out that I just wanted to experience it with her. As time went by, I felt like there was a real need in this slum community for medical people to come and do whatever they could to meet some of the physical needs of the people. I started thinking that maybe that’s why God lead me into medicine in the first place, to serve Him and the poor in this way.
Sherri: Forty years ago, when I was a nursing student, it was my dream to travel on a ship called The US Hope and go to Africa and other countries to serve the people there. When I graduated, the US Hope disbanded. I never lost my desire to go, and put it on my Bucket List of things I wanted to do sometime in my life. When the church we now attend had a night where you could go to the church and learn about all of the mission trips they offered, Kenya was one of them! Dan knew of this long lost wish of mine and fortunately was on board with going with me. Our Life Group leaders at our church, a wonderful couple, were the ones heading up this particular trip. This was our beginning.
What was your “job” on this mission trip?
Dan: My job on this trip was to help staff a medical clinic in the slum community of Bondeni, which is in Nairobi. There were five doctors and five nurses along with support staff to help out. We saw many people from the slum community as well as some children who went to the school in Bondeni. Mainly we treated a lot of infections from wounds and skin infections to intestinal parasites and worms, to lung and respiratory infections.
Sherri: We all got the opportunity to do several things. Initially, I was signed up to be a nurse. This required me to triage the patients: take their health history and vital signs. Fortunately, I had an interpreter with me as I did not speak Swahili, the main language there. There were hundreds of women with many children waiting patiently to be seen by the doctors that first day. Things went smoothly until a 6 or 7 month old baby took one look at me and began screaming at the top of her lungs. Once my interpreter stopped laughing, he informed me that this was the first time this baby had seen a “Muzunga” – a white person!
Tell us more about this picture, this place. What was the slum like?
Dan: The slum was unimaginable. The houses were thin sheet metal walls with dirt floors, no more than 10×10 feet, housing up to 5-6 people. No plumbing, no kitchen, usually no electricity. The people cooked over an open fire and drew water either out of a ditch, used rain water, or sometimes got water from a well that was not clean. There are no bathrooms so people just use a shallow ditch that runs through the community, as you can see in this picture (above). The shacks are all attached to each other with narrow dirt paths between rows of the houses, and they go on for as far as you can see. They are very dark inside, without windows and just a small door. The slum is also very dusty, there is trash everywhere, and the smells are pretty rough. It’s just hard to fathom how people can live in these conditions.
Sherri: Being in the slums was very overwhelming and very hard on us emotionally the first day we saw this. It never got easier except for the fact that the women and children were kind and the kids flocked around us just to be hugged and loved on. This became very important to touch and love on them to let them know that they were valued by us and by God, and that they were NOT outcasts!
Tell us more about George and the ways you prayed together for other people.
Sherri: George! A lovely Kenyan man concerned for his own people! I loved him instantly. He was my prayer partner and interpreter in “the prayer room.” This was a place all patients would go after seeing the doctors and before getting their prescriptions filled. This was my favorite job! George told me about how it worked and some questions to ask (to mostly moms with their children) as to how and what we could pray for them. It was also important to witness to those who did not know Jesus. Following George’s lead, it became easier and easier to pray with these concerned moms who never asked for prayers for themselves but always for their husbands to find work and their children to be well.
Sherri: It was my custom (I’m a touchy-feely type) to hold their hands as we prayed. No one ever refused prayer or to hold my hand and George’s hands. To have this precious moment with these lovely people was humbling and very moving (and emotional) for me. I often asked them if they knew who Jesus was and if they attended church. Most of them were Christians! But George and I had the awesome experience to witness and bring three new women to Christ! How we would celebrate with cheers and hugs! Moments I will never forget.
Sherri: My most cherished moment in the prayer room was when I asked George if I could pray for him. He was touched at the very thought and teared up when he said, “I would love that.” I held both of his hands and prayed for things personal to him that I won’t share here, but it was a God given moment and blessing for both of us. I told George that if we didn’t meet again in this life, that I would find him in Heaven and oh how we would celebrate!
Sherri: Another wonderful thing we were witness to was a thing called “Bring the Light.” Since they live in such small metal buildings with dirt floors and no windows and one door, you can’t imagine how dark and hot is in these little houses! We would, after asking their permission, cut a small hole in the roof and screw in a piece of heavy plastic to allow some light in. The process only took minutes and the results were unbelievable! Who, but God, would understand what a huge difference a little light could make in the lives of these impoverished and lovely people.
What was the hardest thing about this mission trip?
Sherri: The hardest thing about this mission trip was realizing that THIS kind of poverty exists! That we couldn’t permanently cure these people from diseases we easily cure in the US. That a government could allow this inhumanity to exist… that we allow poverty to exist… anywhere. That people actually live like this and can still feel joy AND still have hope.
What was the story involving the sunglasses?
Dan: Someone in the group brought sunglasses and some reading glasses. The reading glasses were very popular and needed by the community. The sun is very bright and harmful to their eyes, but culturally they don’t wear glasses much because they feel it means you are trying to hide something. At the end of the week, we brought out the sunglasses but only had enough for the nurses, social workers, and some teachers who worked at the clinic. They aren’t used to wearing sunglasses so we had to actually teach them to remove the tag that is over the nose part, and remove the stickers from the lenses. The guys were putting on girls sunglasses, so we had to correct that. After everyone had their sunglasses, we decided to take a picture and had to coach them up a little on how to stand and hold their arms and hands. It was hilarious having the white guys trying to coach the black guys “how to be cool.”
Sherri: We also spent time going into the homes to talk about how to prevent Malaria, how to prevent HIV (many of the men had it), and how to get a little cleaner drinking water by putting it in a plastic bottle and putting it on the roof of their homes in the heat of the day so that the sediment would sink into the bottom and the heat of the sun might kill a few of the germs in the water. There is NO fresh or clean water available for these people so what they drink is what flows through the slum when it rains… there are no toilets or bathrooms of any kind and no trash service so everything is done or put outside the house. You can imagine what they’re drinking and washing their clothes in. But the women were always glad to have us, so we visited them with open arms.
With all of the sadness of this place, what brought you happiness? What brought you hope?
Dan: At the beginning of the week, I was feeling really overwhelmed by the poverty and conditions and just wondered if we were making any difference at all by being there. One day I just started crying out of the blue, I guess out of frustration and trying to understand it all. I asked God to show me where and how He was working there, and how we were helping (if at all). Later that day, the school children and Missions of Hope workers had a party for us, and just thanked us for being there that week. They don’t get any medical care unless missionaries like us come over to staff the clinic. They also said that it meant so much that we would come from so far away to love on the kids and to help the slum community, not only in the clinic but with prayer and home visits. The native Kenyans won’t go into the slums because it is so dangerous, so these people feel like outcasts. It means so much to have someone show them love, and to help them understand that Jesus loves them so much more than that. The people in Bondeni are so loving and welcoming and beautiful, even despite such poverty – and the Missions of Hope workers are changing lives by giving these children an education, and teaching the adults life skills. So, God did show me what He was up to, and it was an amazing end to the week in Bondeni.
How can we pray for these people and this place? What can we do to help?
Sherri: Prayer of ANY kind is never wasted or forgotten by God. Perhaps after you see these pictures and read our stories, God will tell you just how and what to pray for. And God just may put it on your heart to sponsor a child to get a good education or convince you that a mission trip might be in your future!
If you have any questions about Missions of Hope or how you might be able to sponsor a child, please email me and I will send you information!