This past January, I traveled with my family and a group from our church, Pleasant View Mennonite, to a small town in Kenya called Thika. We worked with a foundation called African Christian Missions International (ACMI) and spent most of our two week stay with a woman named Agnes and the 23 children that lived in the orphanage she runs. During our trip we helped build several additions to her house, including a kitchen and dining room. However, the focus of our time there was fellowshipping and spending time with Agnes and the orphans. This was definitely the most meaningful part of the trip for me.
The first sight of the Revelation Orphan and Destitutes Centre was a bit overwhelming for us. The road up to the house cut through a steep hill and was surrounded on both sides by red dirt, a characteristic of Kenya. The building itself was very small and had only two rooms filled with bunk beds, one for the boys and one for the girls. The children spent all day out in the sun, helping Agnes with chores or playing with whatever small toys they had been given or could make from nature. And yet, like most other Americans who travel and see the “less privileged” side of Earth, I realized that there even in the midst of devastation and uncertainty, a child can find joy. That is something that I hope will stay with me forever, even if I get caught up in my all too easy, comfortable life.
When our group of 15 first visited the orphanage, we were all a little nervous. Both the children and us Americans stuck in groups and milled about the small house and yard. But after a few minutes we relaxed and began interacting. They asked our names and we asked theirs. They loved our hair, nails, and light skin. They also loved holding our hands and sitting on our laps. A few young girls tried patiently to do our hair up in the neat little braids they had theirs in, but they soon gave up on our soft hair and were content to just run their fingers through it. The young boys brought out an old soccer ball from their one room bedroom and engaged our guys in a game. We sang songs for each other and they tried as hard as they could to teach us some Swahili. Each day we spent with the kids we got closer and by the end of the first week, we each had our own special buddies, the ones who jumped up to greet us when our van arrived and held our hands on the walk to the house.
This trip affected me in many more ways than I expected. In fact, I believe it had just as much of an impact on me as the children we helped. I was able to open my eyes and experience a new culture. I strengthened the bonds I have with my family, friends, and God. I met new people, heard their stories and now have a new outlook on life. Those two short weeks in Thika have given me a new outlook on life which I hope will always stay with me.
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