Last week our family returned from a missions trip to a children’s home in Kenya.
It was our fourth time visiting the Mulli Children’s Family, a home to orphaned, abandoned, or abused children. MCF was started a Kenyan almost 30 years ago. Charles Mulli grew up as a street child, in abject poverty, but rose in the business world and became quite wealthy. Then one day God told him he was to serve the children he had left behind.
MCF has since seen 13,000 children going through their program. They now have about 700 kids at the location where we stayed, along with another 100 teenage girls nearby at another farm location. The teenage girls, many of whom are child mothers, were mostly rescued from abusive relationships or sex trafficking, and are given vocational training. The main location takes kids through the school system and, if funds are available, sends as many as possible to university.
We visited in 2006, 2007, and 2010, but then not again until this year. My mother and Keith were the team leaders. Our team of 21 were half medical (they ran a medical clinic for the community, which ended up treating about 1300 patients) and half humanitarian. (You can see my husband’s reflections on the medical team here). The rest of us gave out donations, repaired clothing, played with the kids, and taught skills. I worked with some of the girls at Ndalani (where we stayed) to teach them how to actually knit a sweater.
Then Rebecca and I introduced some of the girls and staff to Diva menstrual cups (since pads are so expensive) and handed out many that we brought.
We also showed them how to sew cloth menstrual pads, both to use and to sell.
And then I did a big question and answer session with the rescued teen moms about sex and relationships. A dear Kenyan woman had to translate into Swahili for me, and let’s just say that she had never had to translate like that before!
It’s hard to sum up the trip quickly, but here are 10 random thoughts from my trip:
1. Beauty is all around you.
The people are beautiful. The singing is beautiful. The land, even with its cactus and thorns, is beautiful. The animals are beautiful. And perhaps because you live more outdoors and you’re not connected to a computer, you experience and appreciate that beauty in a way that we can’t in our busy lives. It reminded me that there is much beauty at my home, too, and often I miss it because I hibernate, or I don’t look. Time to look.
2. You don’t suddenly self-destruct if life slows down
I went with the expectation that I would get X, Y, and Z done. But things don’t move according to my agenda. They value people much more than accomplishments, and they’d rather sit and talk to you than do something that you think is important. Rather than get frustrated, I learned how to talk and enjoy people with no agenda. It was actually quite freeing.
3. God heals HUGE things.
Seeing a girl who was rescued from a ditch at the age of 3 weeks of age, and is now a thriving child in high school, is an amazing experience. Hugging a child who is 2 and who has survived her house being burned down while her mother did not, and feeling her peace, is so calming. It reassures you that no matter how dark life can get, God does not leave you. He snatched these children out of the worst circumstances and brought them to a place with great light. And we would say that these kids will never recover from their psychological wounds, and yet I have seen adults who grew up there as children who are now doing well–they’re married, they have jobs, they’re happy.
One of the best blessings of this trip is that we got to see some of the kids we met years ago doing so well. We first met Benedict when he was in junior high back in 2006. This year he was one of the Kenyan doctors who helped out at the clinic. He grew up at MCF. Now he’s married, with a little girl, and is working as a physician.
Esther was one of Rebecca’s closest friends, from way back in 2006. They have kept up on Facebook. She married another beneficiary from the program, and he now works as an engineer, after going through university.
We met up with Esther in Nairobi, and we got to meet her two adorable little sons. Here’s the oldest, peeking out from behind his mom:
Perhaps we don’t recover from traumas because we’re too focused on them. These kids don’t focus on the past–they focus on opportunities. They work hard at education, they make new friends, they learn to love God, and they form families of their own. Somehow the hurts fade. It’s a good lesson.
4. One of the greatest untapped resources is human potential.
The medical team was so impressed with Benedict, and loved working with him (also because he made them laugh!). And they were so impressed with some of their translators, too, who were high school students who hoped one day to become nurses or doctors.
It made me think: What would have happened to Benedict if he had not been given this opportunity? What would have happened to Esther and her husband if they had not had education?
I believe that Africa has the human ingenuity, intelligence, and dedication to fix many of their problems. What’s holding them back is that much of those resources are untapped, residing inside children eeking out an existence in the slums, with no way to get education. That’s truly a tragedy.
5. Women the world over love to feel pretty.
There’s a high-end bra manufacturer in a town near us that donates all of their “seconds” (those that don’t pass quality control). Usually it’s because they’re mislabelled or the band size is off by 1/8″. So they’re perfectly good bras, and very high quality.
We take over thousands every time we go, and fit all the girls and the staff.
One of the images that will never leave my mind is a woman who worked in the kitchen, likely in her 40s, wearing a shapeless dress that had likely never covered a bra. My mother was rummaging through trying to find a good size when I whispered, “Lacier! Give her lace!” She was wearing a shapeless dress. We found her the absolute laciest purple one we could put our hands on in her size (we tried them all on over their clothes). Her face lit up like you wouldn’t believe. It was just one of those moments.
6. The chance to have a hobby and be creative is such a gift.
We started bringing yarn over for their knitting vocational program back in 2004 (when my mother went for the first time). This trip I wanted to do something different. I wanted to leave some yarn for the younger girls, who live at the main location and go to school, so that they could knit for fun. I left some basic patterns they could do, and then I identified four girls who could knit well, and took them through the process of actually making a sweater (so that they could teach others when I left).
I first met Queen in 2006, when she was just 3, a week after she had been rescued. Here she is at 4:
When she was 7, we taught her how to knit.
She’s now 16, and she was one of my girls. We had such fun, and I so enjoyed seeing her doing so well!
One of the greatest joys of my childhood was knitting. I loved having a hobby. When we handed out the knitting needles and yarn–let’s just say the girls were VERY excited. It’s a blessing to have hobbies, and I wanted to share it with those who have so little, too.
7. 6-Year-Old Boys Are 6-Year-Old Boys the World Over
In the middle of teaching knitting, a 6-year-old boy grabbed at my hand. “Mzungu, mzungu!” (White person! White person!). He got my attention. Then he plopped something into my hand. It was a beetle the size of my palm. I rewarded him with very loud screams, which got louder when I saw how happy they made him.
Yep, 6-year-old boys are 6-year-old boys.
8. It’s okay to say that some cultural traditions need to fall by the wayside.
In the West we’re so leery about imposing our views on other cultures. But you know what? Some cultural practices are just plain evil. Female genital mutilation is evil. Child marriage is evil. Sending boys to school but not girls is wrong.
I hope we would all know that. But those things are not necessarily all agreed to be evil in Africa. Many tribes still practice these things, and there is great work to be done.
When I spoke to the child mothers at the vocational program, one of the things that I kept reiterating, over and over again, is that sex is meant for marriage. These girls are mostly Christian, but that is a lesson that they don’t seem to have understood. In North America, most Christians would agree that God wants sex for marriage–even if they disregard that. But in Kenya, many don’t even realize it. It’s not taught. And here’s something else interesting: There’s no Swahili word that means the equivalent of “sexual consent”. The idea that just because a man in authority wants sex does not mean that you have to provide it is not widely taught, just because sex isn’t talked about that much. I had some heartbreaking questions in our Q&A that will haunt me for a long time. But I pray that those girls understand that it’s okay to say no, and it’s okay to say, “if you really love me, you will want the best for me, and you will want to marry me. You will want to give to me, not just to take from me.”
9. People Crave Human Contact
The medical team saw a number of people who presented with issues far too severe for the clinic to handle. Many of them had walked along a dusty road for hours to get to the clinic before 8:00 am, despite intense pain, serious illness, and bones that had been broken for months. When told by the doctor that nothing could be done for them at the clinic, they would often smile and thank the doctor, grateful simply because someone had listened to them, touched them, and tried to help them.
10. Canadians really want a chance to be a part of something bigger
Our team consisted of 21 people, most of whom we hadn’t personally invited to the team. Instead, when the word got out that Keith was leading a team to Kenya, these people started breaking down the door trying to join.
Friends, family, and the community really stepped up and helped fund the team’s travel expenses, sent donations, and spread the word. One little girl even spent the last 3 years making bracelets so every kid in MCF could have one (and we handed them all out!).
It can be really disheartening when we look at the news. But whenever there’s an opportunity to help, people do step up. That’s worth celebrating.
I’m left with the thought that this is not real life–this thing that I do.
This playing on the computer and figuring out what to wear each day and taking the car in for an oil change and planning vacations. It’s all fun, and it’s all part of my daily routine, but life is so much bigger. The world is so much bigger. And we need to listen to God’s whispers to take us out of our small lives and pay attention to that bigger one–the one around the world, the one around the corner, even the one that He is creating for us that we can’t see yet. Each day is a gift, so let’s spend time just appreciating it, and praying, and being still. Let’s not get overwhelmed by the here and now. This is such a small part of God’s creation, and He is doing so much in the world. I’m glad to realize again that the world does not rest on me–it rests on Him, and what He is doing. And that’s so much better.
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