By Sandi Roach
The van climbed the hills slowly over the rough terrain as a group of sleepy Americans started on a Kenyan adventure that would change their lives forever. There were lots of pictures and video taping going on between the catnaps for the group of five who had not gotten to bed until well after midnight. Departure was a little after 6:30 in the morning and the city was just barely coming alive with people walking in the glow of dawn. The day was cool and the group of females from West Virginia was getting to know their Harvesters’ leader as they drove out of the city into the climbing hills on their way to Uriri, a small town in the Southern part of Kenya near the Tanzania border. There was great enthusiasm for the pristine beauty of the valley, the farms and the wildlife they saw along the way.
It was a long drive, about six hours until the group pulled off the road at a small church where they were greeted by their host, Pastor Phillip Ochieng, who was attending a seminar. He welcomed the group, encouraged them to make themselves at home and promised to spend time with them during the evening when he would return home to Grace Outreach Mission where the group would spend the next 8 days ministering to the orphanage children, sharing the Gospel in homes surrounding the orphanage and doing some painting in the compound.
As the group proceeded down the road about another 10 minutes the leader spotted the orphanage off to the left. She had never seen the facility in person, but knew it from the many pictures in the office. She was surprised that it was so close to the main road and that it was so self-contained. From the pictures it looked to be a sweeping facility, yet it reality it was a compact area which reached higher than previously believed. The van struggled to turn around inside the courtyard, but finally the group was ready to meet the children who had gathered to greet the weary visitors. Pastor Phillip’s wife Rose, eight months pregnant, was there to meet the team and to direct the children to the common room with the bags and visitors. It didn’t take long for the children to warm to the new guests, and the team had fallen in love with the children even before they got off the van. Each person introduced themselves and then the children helped to take the bags to the guest rooms that would become home to the visitors for the next week.
It was a diverse group – the leader in her 50’s, who had spent a great deal of time in Africa, Asia and Central America, the Evangelist and group coordinator, her sister who is a young mother, and her daughter who is a senior in High School. The other two members of the team were a college student and a young woman who directs a children’s center who had her birthday during the team. Each member came with different gifts and very different backgrounds – most had never experienced living in the environment with the people they were ministering to, so there was a great deal of culture shock, jet lag and adjusting to the national food. It took a couple of days to get the jet lag under their belts, but they were willing workers eager to use their gifts of Evangelism, personal testimony, compassion, music and dance. As the week progressed the children seemed to bond to different team members, and those bonds are ones that will hopefully continue for many years to come. The team challenged the students to excel academically by setting goals and signing contracts. The students were bright, enthusiastic and very eager to learn about the United States, politics and the Word of the Lord. Others were eager to share the history of their country with the team, and all were most impressed at the polished presentation.
The team did door to door Evangelism in the mornings – there were two salvations and an opportunity to pray with a girl who was ill. The team conducted a Vacation Bible School three afternoons for the orphanage and local children. The theme was the Lord’s Prayer and the group of about 45 participants was divided into four groups – pre-school age, 6 to 12 year olds, teens and adults. They were challenged to memorize, learn songs, dig into the meaning of the verse, create skits to illustrate the verses and for the adults some Greek word studies. It was a wonderful time for the team as well as the children and the program ended with a celebration complete with beverages and snacks.
After two days of sightseeing at a sugar processing plant, Lake Victoria and Masai Mara Game Park, the team was glad to have one last day with the children. It was a special time of taking pictures, making t-shirts, singing and dancing. There was rain outside and no electricity, but the atmosphere inside was bright, energetic and overflowing with love. After dinner there was a final group time where the team presented gifts to the children that they had brought from the United States – school supplies, books, games, beanie babies and candy. Each person shared what the time had meant to them:
- Wanting to come back
- Not wanting to leave
- You just get used to things and you have to leave
Leaving the next day was difficult – there were endless tears from everyone, lots of hugs, waves, kisses and promises to never forget each other. The bonds of friendship had bridged an ocean – a little town in Southern Kenya was burnt into the hearts of a group of American women. There was a new understanding of the challenges that these children had – life away from extended family, a struggle to be able to continue in school, few material possessions, and a desire to be loved. The plus side was the lesson that the team took home of the great “family” life these children have built with one another. The responsibility that they take for the little ones, the help they give to Phillip and Rose and their willingness to help where needed.
Looking back, life was different in Uriri, but the reality is that these children have a hope for the future. They have an opportunity to go to school; they have food, shelter, clothes, clean water and a loving family to care for them. They have a hope in Jesus Christ who will never leave them nor forsake them. We in the United States have a hard time comprehending that being in a wonderful orphanage like this one is actually better than living in a rural area with a family who struggles to feed and cloth them. One thing is for sure – there are faces with names that will live in the hearts and minds of the team members for years to come.