What I learned on my mission trip to Kenya
READ TIME: 11 MINUTES
The past couple of weeks I was so SO blessed to spend my time doing missions work in West Kenya.
Some of you reading this post financially supported me. Many of you lifted up our team & Kenyans in your prayers.
I’m so grateful for both. Thank you to everyone who allowed God to open your hearts & wallets to fund the work we did. You need to know how much your obedience has changed lives over there, and how much you changed my life. I will never be the same.
I previously wrote about Why I’m going to Kenya.
But what I didn’t share was my doubts. I was *POSITIVE* God was sending me on this trip, and I didn’t want to uproot in fear what I planted in faith. I poured out my faith AND doubts before God. He’s amazing like that — He allows us to doubt Him. He receives us even as faithless and skeptical as we can be. And He still chooses to use us for His great work of reconciling the world to Himself.
Anyway, the truth is I’ve kinda always been skeptical of short-term missions. I was willing to allow God to either change my point of view or affirm it. Turns out I was wrong, and He is more patient with my doubts than I ever deserve.
About Short-term Mission Trips…
The thing is, I’ve been “that Christian girl” for most of my life.
I did all the Christian-y things.
Prayed & read my Bible every morning.
Went to church every Sunday unless I was severely ill.
Gave to the church.
But there was one discipline that I was skeptical of: short term-missions.
All the other ones were easy enough to do, because I could see how these spiritual disciplines were transforming my life — if I stuck with them.
But I was skeptical that short-term missions work was really as transformative for people as much as it was an anti-guilt trip. I didn’t think it helped struggling communities to the extent that it cost for fundraising.
Until one day a few years ago, my long-time friend Aaron was going on a mission trip to Africa with an organization he helped to create: Go Love Africa.
I trust Aaron, and he has good judgement, so I was curious about the work he was doing. I found out that his team was going to countries in Africa, taking & printing portrait shots for people who likely never owned a photo and printing the Gospel on the back of the pic in their native language. They were using it as an opportunity to connect local Christian pastors with his own community groups which weren’t as receptive to the Gospel but surely wanted a photo. They were building a bridge to unreachable people and building it sustainably by connecting to the local boots on the ground.
I sponsored a $15 photo his first year. Then his second.
Fast-forward to a few years later...this year...actually May of this year, and I practically begged Aaron to let me join them.
He asked if I had a camera. Yep, I do. I didn’t mention that I wasn’t good at photography... So I basically tricked him to letting me join the team. (I repent…)
Fast-forward to this month. Over the summer, friends & family donated almost all of the $3000 cost for this trip. $3000 that isn’t going to world relief groups. $3000 that isn’t going to local church pastors here. $3000 that could have been spent on many other worthy endeavors, but I’m using it to go on a short-term mission trip. I was thinking, “This better be worth it!”
I don’t know if you trust me or if you know me at all. Maybe this is your first time reading my blog. But let’s pretend you know me, and you trust my judgement.
I can tell you that the $3000 I fund-raised for this trip was money well-spent. Scratch that. It was money well-invested. We distributed 2600 photos with the Gospel. Each recipient met the local pastor and has his contact info for the future. We distributed 362 Days for Girls kits — women’s reusable feminine hygiene products.
Lastly, when judging our financial accountability, I had a realization that’s altered my perspective on short-term missions. Many of the people I brought in to donate to this trip are searching to share love with the suffering world. They’re tired of lame religion. They want to see love spread to people in need. They want to see God’s love penetrate the world, not used to insulate us from worldly problems.
In modern America, it’s too easy to think the Gospel is about me, my comfort, and my happiness. I know it’s not, but when faced with the real, hard problems of poverty, famine, and preventable diseases… We are forced to confront the question:
Where is God in this situation?
I had to answer this question amidst my first tragedy as a young person — when my parents divorced and my world fell apart:
Where is God in this situation?
As I looked around West Kenya at the villagers who are lacking so much that I take for granted. Running water, electricity, trash pickup, food & clean water, sanitary feminine products, internet, Amazon Prime... As I looked around and saw the need, God answered this question for me.
Where is God in this poverty? He’s right here, loving them and calling their hearts to Him. And for 2 weeks, He was using our photos & our Days for Girls kits to reveal His love. The effect they have will alter their lives, their family destiny, and their eternities.
I’ve always been skeptical of short-term mission trips...until I went on one. Now I have no qualms investing my time & my friends’ money year after year to do work like this.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves…
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…”
James 1:22, 27
Lessons Learned on the Battlefront
I want to be completely transparent with you, because some of you are considering going on a mission trip, or maybe you feel called to full-time missions, but you have doubts like I did.
After doing some research, the popular consensus is that only 10% of American Christians will go on an overseas mission trip in their lifetimes. Just one. Just once. Just for a few days or a couple of weeks.
Why? I’m sure a myriad of reasons. This is my first trip because a combo of (1) I didn’t believe in the effectiveness of past short-term missions I’ve been offered, and (2) I couldn’t take the time away from work. God resolved both of those issues for me -- HAHA! But at the end of the day, we have to resolve if we believe God’s Word which says:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
I want to be honest with you, because though I’ve come back with amazing memories, a changed heart, and so much more love than I had before… it isn’t all peaches and cream. No, just like most hard but holy work, it’s tough and it tests your resolve and your faith and your heart. But you learn — oh, how you learn! — who you are, what you believe, and most importantly who God is.
I thought I was going to feel sorry for Kenyans. I left feeling sorry for Americans.
Kenyans have an immense amount of (what we would consider) lack. Most all of them in rural villages lack running water, toilets, toilet paper, electricity, basic sanitation, trash pickup, grocery stores, waterproof homes, etc. etc. But they have communities, not just by title. They depend on each other. They have families who sincerely love each other. They have churches where they battle the enemy together and praise God’s name like they’re already in Heaven!
Americans have everything we should ever want, and all we can focus on is what we don’t have. We spend all our lives striving for more money, the corner office, a fancier car, a richer neighborhood, enviable vacations, the respect of being rich, etc. And you know what? It comes at the expense of what really matters: quality relationships with family, getting to bear the burdens of our Christian brothers & sisters, communities where people are dedicated to the good of the whole. We give up what matters in life so we can strive incessantly for what doesn’t matter.
We think it’s enviable that we can spend more than we make, striving to keep up with the Joneses. We have the luxury of having substance abuse problems: alcohol, excessive food intake, Amazon habits, etc. We think it’s worth bragging about that we work so hard for our kids to “have the best in life”, and in doing so they miss out on present parents.
I’m not saying Kenya is better than America — don’t misinterpret me. I’m just saying my heart was full in Kenya, with the peacefulness and love within communities. In America, I constantly feel the longing for more, the need to impress and please and strive.
Recently, I’ve taken some steps to change that problem in my own heart. Quit my job in what would have been a 40-year striving career. Learned to depend on God’s affirmation instead of people’s. Learned to say no to busyness. Learned to say yes to eternal things. Learned to value the people in my life instead of letting them pass me by day after day. Learned to live in the moment and seek God’s glory right here, right now.
It’s going to take time to change this fiercely independent & competitive person into a contributing part of a healthy community, but God can do it! I believe He can and I believe He will, because that’s part of becoming a Heavenly citizen.
Anytime you step up in faith, you’re entering a battleground between good and evil.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
It was clear to me from the day we flew out that we were entering a battleground. On our flight out, I flew from Tampa to Boston, where I was to await the team flying in from New Orleans, and we would all make our merry way to London, and then down to Nairobi. Welp, the New Orleans flight left so late that they missed their Boston flight. I was panicked, because I couldn’t go past London without them. I didn’t even know where we were staying in Nairobi, and it’s not a place you willy-nilly around.
It’s obvious to me now that the enemy was attacking our minds before we even made it to Kenya. And it’s just as obvious to me that God allowed it to happen to teach us to depend on His strength.
The spiritual warfare continued while we were there. I could sense the presence of evil around us and prayed fervently during the long, long car rides that the Spirit would rest on our vehicle, in our hearts, and in the villagers we were ministering to.
When you’re battling evil, it really helps not to battle your Christian brothers & sisters.
“Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”
“Love one another with brotherly (& sisterly) affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
This isn’t my mission trip; it’s God’s.
If I’m being really honest with you, we didn’t accomplish the goal we set out to do. We planned on taking 4000 photos, and we prepared and were equipped for that. But there were circumstances outside of our control that prevented us from doing that. We took 2600 photos — no small amount. We were all feeling dejected and disappointed that we weren’t going to reach our goal, and that is when God reminded me that as much as we set our own goals, it is truly up to Him to accomplish them.
“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD.”
I’d been warned by some other regular missions-going friends not to expect too much, but just to be open to how God was working. It was good I heard that before I left. Instead of boiling in frustration, I was peaceful. I got to watch God move, and I obeyed when He told me to do something.
Maybe that’s not success in our own eyes, but I feel God’s affirmation now. We did what He asked us to do. We didn’t get our own results. We got His. And that’s worth celebrating!
#5: Gratitude changes my attitude.
#6: Prayer changes everything.
#7: Spending solitary time with the Lord changes my direction.
When we realized we weren’t going to hit our goal, we were all moody. We sacrificed 2 weeks of our lives with our families and work and our normal foods to be here. We asked our friends for their money to be here. We were tired. We started feeling the enemy attacking us and tempting us to doubt each other.
And all this was just after 2 days of ministry… Yikes! That’s when God reminded me to do what He’s already trained me to do.
First, list my gratitudes. Specifically recognize what God’s already done:
He provided some good worship music for our multi-hour car rides
He provided good meals, hot running water, electricity, and (PTL!) toilet paper for our evenings at the hotel
He provided very welcoming, friendly Kenyans for us to minister to and be ministered by
He provided the very best driver imaginable: our beloved Ephantas
He provided us with humor. When all falls apart, it def helps to be with people who can laugh about it
Second, pray. When you have a heart of praise & joy before the Lord, you can begin to pray faithful prayers. I spent A LOT of time praying in Kenya. And I was able to get one little text message out to my bestie & her mom (my prayer warriors) back home so that they could pray. God gave me specific language to pray over each of our team members. And over the course of the week, I saw them grow. I saw God change hearts faster than humanly possible. It was miraculous. At the end of the week, we had a group recap meeting, and THE EXACT SAME LANGUAGE God gave me to pray over them was used in their own recounts of the week. Only God could do that!! He uses prayer to change people and circumstances.
Third, spend solitary time with the Lord so He can change my direction. It makes me soft and flexible, like fresh clay ready to be used by the Master Potter. I have to confess, I tend to be pessimistic, sad, and distrusting of people when left to my own vices. But God taught me to bring all of that mess to Him and allow Him to help me process my thoughts with His love. I don’t have to hide all the dark corners of my heart that are sad and angry. I can give it to Him to work through, and He can change my demeanor, my emotions, and even my fluctuating hormones. #FixItJesus!
Scroll Through the Photos:
I want to share my favorite memories from our trip. If you’re viewing this on your phone, turn it sideways to read the captions on each photo below.
Lastly, this post would not be complete without thanking the Go Love Africa team:
Nathan, Aaron + Johanna, and Cullen — I’m thrilled that God chose you for this trip! I loved being with y’all, following the Lord together, and sharing His love. You, too, have changed my life.
I hope you’ve enjoyed experiencing my Kenya trip, too! If you have any questions about Kenya or mission trips, let me know in the comments!