Kenya mission was a trip to remember
Given the opportunity, there's a pretty good chance any of the 19 Christian Life School students who recently returned from a Kenya mission would talk for hours about their experiences.
Describing a life-changing event usually takes some time.
The students and four CLS staff traveled to Kenya March 24-April 3 for a mission trip. To hear the tales of a handful who were there, it was an experience they will never forget.
The school typically does a mission trip every other year. Past trips have usually been in Spanish-speaking lands, where students are able to use the Spanish they have learned in school.
This trip was a different. While Christian Life Church's Rev. Kent Boyum was searching for a destination, he came into contact with one of his college professors, who is now a missionary in Kenya. Three other opportunities in Central and South America had fallen through, and Kenya seemed a bit expensive.
Apparently, though, taking a mission group to Kenya was part of God's plan. Before long, things just started to fall into place. Students set to doing fund-raisers and the cost seemed to decrease.
And then a pre-Christmas miracle happened. While students were bagging groceries at Cub Foods in Rosemount, a man from Connecticut who was visiting family stopped to buy some groceries. He asked about the group's trip. Before he left, he wrote them a check. It was for $10,000.
"It was crazy," said senior Luke Spangrud, who was there that night. "He just folded up the check and handed it to us and said, 'Have a good night.'"
The students did lots of preparation for the trip, learning ministry skits, preparing songs and dances to share with children in the orphanages where they would be working and choosing Bible verses to share.
They bought items to bring to the orphanages. They held a contest in the school to raise money so they could pay for 120 pairs of shoes for the children they were going to see.
They studied the country. They read about the conditions. They packed their suitcases and they left.
And then they learned how fortunate they are.
The group worked with a program called Kenya Kids. Organized by the Kenya Assembly of God Church, the program usually provides church, housing and schooling for orphans. Kenya Kids takes orphans off the streets, teaches them to live in a family setting, educates them and teaches them the word of God, Boyum explained.
At first, the students were in an area of Kenya where the poverty wasn't bad. There were still many children, but they were staying in homes with ministers. They were attending a school.
But then, the group moved deeper into Kenya, into Mathare Valley, an area commonly known as Kenya's largest slum. With an estimated 700,000 to 1 million people living in shanties and shacks, and a very high crime rate, Mathare Valley was more than any of the students had expected.
"The pastor there was so brutally honest," Boyum said. "He said, we honestly don't know if the kids will make it back to school the next day.
"I've never seen poverty like Mathare Valley before in my life. It's very overwhelming. I think it taught our students to appreciate what they have here. I think the students are still processing that," he said.
Surely, they are. Spangrud talked about seeing the children, many of whom are HIV positive. Junior Michal Graham said she was touched by how content the children are with the little things they have, sharing a story of watching a child play with little more than a piece of string and a broken CD.
Junior Shiloh Larson will never take her home for granted again. After seeing the conditions in which the children in Kenya live, she has a whole new appreciation for things she had just come to expect in her life.
"My attitude about my living conditions at home has changed so much. My bathroom is the size of their whole house. It's really a weird feeling," Larson said.
Despite the hardships they encountered -- the poverty, the hunger, the sickness, the danger -- the local mission group was able to find blessings along the way. Every night, the group held a sensory debriefing, a time when they could talk about the things they had heard and smelled and tasted of touched that day. In every experience, they gained a better understanding of the lessons even they were teaching the children in Kenya.
"That debriefing on sensory perceptions really opened their hearts to what was going on," Boyum said.
"It wasn't a field trip. It was a ministry trip that changed the lives of the students and the staff. We will never be the same again."
So would they go back and do it again if they could?