I woke up in Africa today, if only in my heart. We traveled to Kenya as a family last summer on a short-term mission trip, and I am convinced part of me stayed there. If I close my eyes and draw a deep breath, I can still smell the smoke from the Masai warriors’ burned wood. If I sink my ears into my pillow, I can hear the laughter of the hundreds of children we had the pleasure to meet. If I dismiss the daily to-do’s waiting for me, I am able to replay the memories we made as a team and as individuals.
What I still can’t forget are the smiles. Hundreds and hundreds of smiles shining at us. I can’t forget the extremely special people we met. We felt like we had known them for a lifetime. I miss them.
And the tomatoes! I’ve never in all my life had a tomato so sweet and delicious – you could eat them like an apple. The smell of the night air. Unpolluted. Dewey. Sweet. The fun we had! Singing, sharing, working. Standing on a mountain top, looking at people who have never seen white folk. I’d never seen Kenyan tribal folk. The language barrier – and how it really didn’t matter. Love truly knows no language. Smiles, playing, and just being together provided so much love we needn’t say a word. I was captivated watching the children’s faces as they saw themselves for the first time – through my camera’s lens. Never had some seen what they look like. Never had they seen themselves in motion as on Bruce’s iPad. The squeals of delight and fascination were contagious.
The poverty. Heart-breaking poverty. It was everywhere my eye wandered. I couldn’t get away from it. Even in our bunk rooms, children stood outside the door begging. Give me sweets? Give me Bible? Give me sweets? Give me Bible? they repeated over and over. There is so much need. They need clean water, dental hygiene, shoes, clothes that do not have gaping holes in them and that actually fit. They need allergy medicine, education, medical care, and to hear they are loved. My heart broke for them – with good reason. They have many, many important needs.
However, when we asked them if they want what we have in America, they said no. Hmm. Why? Because, they said, we see what it costs you to have it. Wow. I was speechless. They nailed it. They are impoverished people, but they are hard-working, loving, accepting people. They pay no attention to status, material possessions or anything that labels a person. They are thrilled just to spend time together. They have true community. Something we lack.
We worked primarily with children. It still amazes me that the entire time we were there, I heard not one single complaint from them! Not one I’m bored, I’m tired, I don’t want to, but why, why not, I’m cold, I’m hungry, or a single negative comment. Not one. Children who have no parents, no shoes, no possessions to call their own. Not even electricity or running water.
But boy were they happy! They laughed and sang and took us by the hand and showed us their orphanages, schools, and church. They played soccer with us, danced with us, braided my daughter’s hair, and showed us how to harvest corn in the fields. They wanted nothing from us, but were so thankful for what we brought. I met a boy who has the mind of an engineer, and I got to introduce a Rubik’s Cube to him. I met a teenage girl that hopped on our bus to ride up the mountain that she climbs every day…just because she wanted to feel what it was like to ride in a vehicle. She wants to be a teacher or doctor.
My kids fell head over heels in love with all of the children. My daughter is still trying to convince us to adopt the special friend she made. If only life were that easy. My oldest teen made instant friends with another teen there who wants to be a pastor. They were soul brothers just like that. My youngest helped buy and cut wood with his dad, and played soccer every single day with boys his age. They helped with VBS, led worship at church, and dug ditches to help build a kitchen onto one orphanage. Our children were changed forever. All of the children on the team were. We all were.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so embedded is a video I made from the photos I took. Watch with me. I need to see their faces again. Smell the dewy air. Feel the rich soil beneath your feet. Hear nothing but kids laughing and playing. See the precious, beautiful Kenyan people. They have many needs, but after being with them, I think they are some of the richest people in the world.