It is a good thing we do not have the ability to see into the future and to see how God unfolds His plans. If we did, we would no doubt spoil it but most of all we would not have that awe of God that He so richly deserves.
This will not be a daily account of what happened on my mission to Kenya with SOMA. Instead, I will try to capture what God did before, throughout, and after the mission. I admit, I really stepped out in faith on this and it felt good, in retrospect. I raised my hand and said yes to something that was really outside my comfort zone and outside my capacity to do financially. But God, who is faithful, had his hand on me the whole time.
I though of mission trips as just going out with people who really knew what they were doing and just being helping hands in a select community. While this may be true in many cases, this was not my experience. After accepting this opportunity I learned that I would be “ministering to ministers” which was a scary thought to me; I immediately felt unqualified for the mission. That feeling only lasted a short while because on our first teleconference with the team, I learned that we may also be preaching in a local church; it went from being scary to horrifying, I couldn’t even open my mouth to say yes on the teleconference. I was mute and may not have heard much of anything else on the call. For most of that morning the Holy Spirit did a number on me, so much so that I had to call the SOMA Director and team lead, Dr. Glen Petta, to let him know that I was willing to preach. I don’t think those words really came from me; first of all, I still needed to learn how to project my voice farther that the person standing five feet away.
The week leading up to the trip brought on some opportunities to face my fears. It was Holy Week and our rector had asked me to take part in the program called Stations at the Cross, where a select number of people would stand before the congregation and speak as if they were there the day Jesus was crucified. We were allowed to select who we would be and write our own skit; I chose to be Simon of Cyrene. The Men’s Leadership Team, of which I am a member, was also hosting a Vigil from 9 p.m. to midnight and we had three presenters and small group leaders all lined up for the event. Three days before the event one of the presenters had to back out because his mother fell ill and he needed to be with her. Two of us on the team said we were willing to step up and since I was the second one I felt pretty confident I wouldn’t have to do it. I had to be honest with myself; I prayed to God and said, “You know I really don’t want to do this but it’s not up to me, your will be done”. Well, I know what his will was because the very next day the other person also fell sick and the other men were all too happy to cheer me on. So now I had two speeches to prepare and present before the congregation.
I have had experience presenting before a group of people, which is partly why I was so concerned about how I would do. I quickly saw this as preparation for my mission and so I embraced it, even if I was extremely nervous about the whole thing. By the end of the week I was more comfortable but not because it was enough training. I saw how God just took hold of me and led me through the evening and I knew He would do the same on the mission. But I have to be honest, I was still nervous.
The team came face-to-face for the first time at the Airport in London where we drew names for who would preach that Sunday. Guess whose name I pulled out of the hat?
I immediately began preparing to write what I had been thinking about prior to starting the trip and spend much time on the plane doing so. I was not surprised that I was going to preach, the whole week was hinting at it. I felt mostly at peace with this and knew that God was going to do something wonderful on this mission. I was being obedient and was fully aware of it, unlike other times when I wasn’t sure if I was merely acting in the flesh.
The team began to work well together and it was obvious that team building during the first two days went well because the people couldn’t believe that most of us had just met. I very much appreciate Dr. Petta’s leadership style which helped to strengthen our confidence while allowing us much freedom in what we would present.
I couldn’t wait to get outside to see the community and meet the people. When I finally did, I immediately felt at home; everything reminded my of my hometown in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, down to the very soil type. I was so very excited it was difficult to contain myself. I felt a connection with the people before even meeting them; if only I could speak the language, I thought! Everything just felt right, even if we had much difficulty with internet access and being able to communicate with family and friends back home.
I had accompanied Dr. Petta to a local Airtel communication store to purchase data cards which he would attempt to use for internet purposes. With us were the two priests who had picked us up from the airport the night before and drove us almost four hours to our destination. They were getting ready to go preach at a crusade that evening. Since Dr. Petta was busy he asked me to pray for them before they left. I don’t know why I felt so hesitant about the whole thing. It’s not like I hadn’t prayed for anyone before. Maybe because I still felt a bit unqualified. I am not clergy, I haven’t been to seminary or any bible school; I just felt a bit out of place but I needed to be obedient and so I was. That night 15 people gave their lives to Christ and the priests were excited to tell me about it. It was a boost for me; I felt I was part of the whole thing, even if it was just a prayer.
God was doing something wonderful and we all felt it. The people were warm, welcoming, and very generous in taking care of us. The clergy did not treat us as if we didn’t belong; they certainly did not treat me as if I didn’t qualify to minister to them.
It was impressive to see the diversity among the age groups but even more impressive to me was the amount of young priests. They led passionate worship services that really set the tone for the day. Over the next few days I experienced things so wonderful that I am still having a difficult time putting them in words.
God showed up and showed off in such a way that it really didn’t matter what we had prepared to present; the Holy Spirit took over and we became obedient mouthpieces. It was more than just a wonderful time of fellowship, it was a wonderful time of learning together and making new friends.
They too were taking advantage of the time spent and really looked forward to tea time. Oh yes, tea time was almost non-negotiable. It was the time for them to share; a time to laugh together; a time to share in each others burdens and joys. In our western thinking, time was of the essence and we needed to skip some scheduled tea-times so that we could remain on schedule, especially since there were days we didn’t have electricity. This was no easy task because they would rather stay late that skip tea time. I learned something from this; we all need tea time. It is less about the tea and more about the time we take to build and maintain right relationships. I admit I don’t do this very well, I am always either busy or insulated. I find that the time between services on Sundays have become an all too common place to connect with brothers and sisters. This doesn’t even begin to capture the essence of tea time.
Our mission was made more effective by the participation of leadership. I was very pleased to see Bishop Joseph and his wife Josephine in attendance and actively engaged in the conference. Their participation was very encouraging to us but I believe even more so to the priests in attendance. He was concerned that his presence would discourage the priests from speaking what was truly on their hearts. While he may have been right for the first day or two, his concerns were negligible over the next few day. Not only did they speak up, they were bold in sharing and were even more emotional that we expected.
It was clear to me that Bishop Joseph really cares about their well-being as much as he does the well-being of the diocese and the Great Commission. His leadership style is much to be desired and so is his diligence to drive long distances to do God’s work. He and his family left an even bigger impression on me when they showed up to the airport to see us off. They even got their about an hour before we did and waited just to pray with us and see us off. Not only was this unexpected, it was impressive that he found the time to do so.
Our flight to Nairobi and the drive up to Makueni were long but the effort we put into getting there seemed small compared to the challenges many of them had just getting to the conference and have in their daily ministry. They had pressed forward and overcame many transportation obstacles and I believe that their rewards were waiting for them in the fellowship, teachings, and time spend in small groups. I am sure the list is much longer than this but those are just some of what stood out to me.
My experience in Makueni left a burning in my heart for missions and a need to just keep proclaiming the word of God. After we returned to Nairobi I had an opportunity to minister to a young lady in the market during which she agreed to have us pray with her to accept Jesus and to re-affirm her faith. This was big for me because I had never done something like this before; I wasn’t even sure how to pray with her so I asked her if it was ok it Dr. Petta prayed with us. It is still difficult to describe what I was feeling. All I know is that I was still mentally on mission and wanted to live in the moment. So much so that I responded to another opportunity on the flight from Nairobi to London. The Holy Spirit was active and I was along for the ride, this time I was much more comfortable leading her in prayer. What joy it is to bare fruit for the kingdom. My prayers continue to be with both ladies, that they would live out their faith daily and that they would add souls to the Kingdom, in Jesus’ name.
With my spirits high and my anxiety even higher, we went on to see the baby elephants, feed some Giraffes, and watch wordhogs , from a safe distance. I didn’t get a chance to see any lions but I’m not complaining; not all encounters are good.
I came home from this trip more confident and with a glimpse of what God does so very often. I don’t know when the next mission will be but I just want to keep walking in obedience and experiencing the joy in serving the Lord. Even in writing this I have failed to capture the true essence of my experience but you may very well know what I am talking about; if not trust and believe that God has a plan for you too.