What Did You Do In Kenya?

This morning’s post is from Shelley Eckert, a recent Impact Trip participant and dear friend of mine. When Shelley got back from the recent June trip to Kenya, she was asked over and over by friends and family “How was Kenya?” and this is her response: 

One time I painted the home of an older lady in inner city Cincinnati as part of a week long short term mission trip. She was kind and grateful and had some big needs…. but our group came to paint her house. In the hottest part of the afternoon, we took a break from painting and rested on her front porch. During our breaks, she came out to sit with us. We tried to make conversation with her, but there was an awkward tension that was blocking the conversation. We were all hot and sweaty and tired from painting this sweet lady’s home and all she could say was “thank you” -so many times. Inadvertently, we had assumed the role of provider and she, the role of receiver. There was an unintentional, unspoken-but-ever-present sense of inferiority that this sweet lady seemed to have because we were helping her and she was doing nothing for us. It was imbalanced. Our relationship with that sweet lady remained just “giver and receiver”.  I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when, in a few years, her home needed another coat of paint.

Last month, I visited the home of a graduating client in Nairobi as part of a week long CARE for AIDS Impact Trip. The client, Rose, was kind and grateful and had some big needs… and our group came to share a meal. Rose taught us about how to make traditional Kenyan dishes and showed us her garden – she even cut down some of her fresh sugar cane for us to try. Rose spoke just a little English, but conversation flowed freely as we described to her what it was like in America and she told us about her family and her life in Kenya.

We were all hot and sweaty and tired from cooking in this sweet lady’s home and we were always saying thank you to her for accommodating us and teaching us. And in return, she was thanking us for coming to visit and to listen and to celebrate with her. There was an unintentional, unspoken-but-ever-present equality between her and our group because each and every one us had something to offer. It was balanced. And so our relationship with Rose became friendship. When we saw her at church the next day she smiled widely and ran over to hug us all. When she walked across the stage to graduate from the CARE for AIDS program, we all smiled so wide and big tears welled up in the corners of my eyes. Rose embodied deep truths about hope and persistence and faith and Jesus. Rose no longer needs any of the services provided by CARE for AIDS- she is able to be independent and provide for her family. Now, CARE for AIDS needs Rose. Rose is needed to share Jesus and life and hope with her friends and family and her community, and that is what she is already doing. It is beautiful.

As a visitor to the CARE for AIDS program for ten days, here is what I observed: CARE for AIDS doesn’t create dependency. Clients are met where they’re at and loved and valued and believed in. CARE for AIDS teaches clients about Jesus and life and their hopeful future even with an HIV-positive status; then those clients teach friends and family and the community those things; and the cycle continues and continues. And occasionally, some people like myself have the opportunity to come from half way around the world and observe just a small piece of that huge and beautiful life-giving cycle. We get to celebrate in those clients’ victories and weep with them in their struggles and tell those clients they are valuable to us all the way across the world. And in doing so, we realize that we are all more similar than we ever imagined. 

So what did you do while you were over there? 

I have been asked often since returning home. It’s the best question I can be asked. Every time I answer by talking about Rose. I talk about her struggles and her victories and what she taught me about Jesus and life and hope. There is no painted house to serve as the end-point of our trip; there has been no dependency created by our brief visit. There is no need for another group to come in a few years and re-execute any tasks, painting or otherwise. Instead, there are smiling, joyful, empowered clients instigating change in their communities. And back on the other side of the world, I am smiling, joyful and empowered by the memories of Rose and the many others I met with similar beautiful stories.

So what did you do while you were over there? 

I learned. I laughed. I celebrated. And I returned home with a deeper, more sustainable perspective of empowering and serving people.

Go and see what is happening in Kenya. But not because Kenya needs people from halfway around the world. Go to see the smiles and the joy and the celebration and the struggles and the victory. Go to see Jesus. And please, give Rose all my best.