I have a strong desire to live outside my comfort zone and challenge my children to do the same. I believe that’s how spiritual growth happens. I had spent the past 6 mo. reciting passages from the book “Do Hard Things” to my kids (and anyone who would listen) when I heard about the trip to Maisha that some soccer-mom friends were planning. I was instantly drawn to it.
What an opportunity for Aubrey & I to experience a different culture and so many “firsts” – international travel, a mission trip, working with children in a culture where poverty is the norm, and a running experience that would be amazing.
Running is often my metaphor for life. I don’t run with music, and rarely friends. It really isn’t a social thing for me. It’s just what I do, and where I’ve found a lot of peace. Many prayers have been answered in mileage afoot – probably because I’m still enough, mentally, to truly listen.
I kind of like pain, so I was excited about an opportunity to run in the Rift Valley Mountains in Kenya– mostly because I wasn’t sure I could do it, and there was no way I could truly prepare for it here in Oklahoma. It would definitely be a test of will. However, the marathon would be the relaxing part – the only thing besides my daughter that I was accustomed to!
I honestly didn’t know if I could handle the travel, being away from Sam and Jerry, the anxiety of keeping Aubrey safe – and I wasn’t exactly sure how to prepare for this. Definitely an uncomfortable situation for a person who has spent her life creating, coaching, or following a training plan! After much running and praying, I knew God had a plan for us in this. I just had to trust Him to get us to the start line.
It was important to me that this mission trip not be something I was doing to make me feel better about myself or to check off my bucket list. I wanted to be a “learner.” The more I prayed, the more God assured me. The scripture was clear as I read every day. “Without faith, it is impossible to please God,” “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous”– that’s pretty clear! I knew this trip was an act of obedience, but God continued to assure me along the way, as a Father would. I felt God would use this trip as a crash course, and, on this side of it, that’s an understatement!!
We were obviously dealing with people in some very impoverished areas, both socioeconomically and from a health standpoint. That, in itself, can unleash a strong flow of emotion, but I don’t want to relive this trip through emotion. These are hard issues, but some very real work is being done through Maisha, with great vision to improve the situations there.
We worked daily with kids who probably got their 1 meal/day at the school, and with women who worked incredibly hard to see that they did. They fed hundreds of kids each day, making a small income, but working at it with all they had. Lesson on Col.3:23!
The slums were filled with people who were carrying HIV/AIDS – most were sick with something else due to their weakened immune system. We learned that public HIV/AIDS education has increased across the board, even to the classrooms of elementary school children. The government provides medicine but it is difficult for the sick to get it. Maisha helps deliver meds and food to the HIV slums. The medicine can be deadly if adequate food is not available.
Prayer, visitation and help with various family needs are also part of Maisha’s ministry. We saw firsthand what it meant to the sick to have someone checking on them and their families. These families can participate in Maisha’s “micro-financing” – borrowing money during periods of illness that is repaid when they are again able to work. Money is never given to individuals. Bea expressed that doing so would be detrimental long-term. They need a reason to work and be productive instead of giving in to their illness or expecting a handout.
The vision of Maisha is structured, and implemented to have long-term effect versus throwing dollars at immediate fixes. Maisha gives hope through education, training, and life skills. Without this approach, history will just repeat itself.
I think it takes someone like Beatrice who knows what their life is like now, and also what the possibilities for the future are – because she’s seen and lived both. She is truly an advocate for the village. I admire her patience in seeking the best way to have an impact, to involve others to help in reaching these goals, to create an environment of accountability and self-respect, and to avoid creating one of dependency.
It was amazing to meet teenaged kids who were attending high school, and had hopes of attending college and career goals. Many of these kids had been at the orphanage with Mama Grace since they were young children. Their relationship with God was how they saw the world. Eric and Solomon had coached the running team, getting them ready for the race, showing great leadership. It was never about receiving a prize, but representing the Lord they worshipped every day.
Taking the older kids to run the marathon and on safari was an incredible experience. These kids stayed in a hotel, ate in a restaurant, and used a flushing toilet for the first time! They expressed incredible gratitude and ran their race with their best effort. I loved that they were able to see what else is out there, and hope it will impact them as they develop their passions and goals, and come to find their true purpose.
But these kids were an inspiration to me, too. Their perseverance was real and their character was deep. This “race” was an easy one compared to the challenges they’ve faced as children. A lesson on James 1!
The people of the Maisha village have such a reverence for the Lord. It’s not even questioned. They reminded me that sometimes having material things and not wanting for basic necessities can displace our trust in the Lord. The women of Maisha live to unselfishly provide for their children and each other. They share until everything is gone, and trust God for the next day. They’ve never lived with surplus, so they don’t seem envious or bitter about what they don’t have. They are not used to being pampered or having “down time.”
When we literally washed their feet, they understood the action, because of what Jesus did. But, they definitely were not used to being on the “receiving end”. They truly exemplify the Proverbs 31 woman!
The Maisha community lives as a big family – where support is action, not intention, and God’s provision and blessings are expected. The value of “family” is what I most strongly took away from Maisha. And it is also what I took away as lacking in the country of Kenya as a whole.
The living conditions that we saw in Kenya were very poor by our standard. The government is known to be corrupt, withholding much from its people for selfish gain – almost a disregard for humankind, which can permeate a culture. For most, a fair day’s work is not recognized with fair pay, providing little motivation to aim high. There is a cost for public education for pre-K to high school that is higher than most families can afford, and still buy food. The family unit has been compromised with polygamy and a disregard for marriage – hence the spread of HIV/ AIDS and the rise of orphaned children.
I saw that Maisha opened its arms to those without families, adopted them as their own. A very different life took place there. Orphans were welcomed into Mama Grace’s home, were given responsibilities, and went to school. Each person and child was valued and had been taught their worth in Christ, as a child of God.
The people of Maisha were busy giving – not waiting to be served. They were happy to receive and quick to express their gratitude. Children had been taught admirable manners and were joyful as they went through their day. They “get it,” where sometimes maybe we’ve come to take our families for granted. They didn’t have an abundance of material possessions, but they had a “family” that looked after them.
It’s easy for us to forget the impact that strong families have on the world. Most of us get our spiritual roots and value system from our family as we grow up. We find the courage to take on new things, confront difficulties, and to work hard towards our goals and dreams from family support. Families go through difficult circumstances – there are few exceptions to the rule- but God will bless us for making our families a priority during these times.
I left Maisha eager to get home to my family, to be a better wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend. Our families matter. I feel like Maisha has just expanded my family, starting with my new “sisters”. I have such great respect for every woman that traveled with us, and loved having our girls every step of the way.
That’s a huge thing to say about 4 teenage girls!! They got along so well, no drama – just lots of friendship building and hard work toward the goal that they had been challenged with for this trip. So proud of each of them!
I can honestly say that each woman had something to teach me – something that I truly respect in them and desire more of in myself. I look forward to our continued adventures together with our Kenya family. Maisha has become “we,” not “them”. This is just the beginning!