There are some questions we get asked so often that I’ve seriously considered writing answers to on cards to photocopy and hand out: why did you choose Pepperdine? What are your plans after graduation? Why aren’t you dating anyone? When was the last time you washed your hair? (okay, that last one is a more recent addition)
The big one I started getting, especially from other American visitors, during my time at Made in the Streets is, “What brought you to Kenya and MITS?” I’ve heard lots of nicely packaged answers. Some stem from childhood dreams, others from a clear calling from God, a family tradition. All are here to serve, to “transform street children for God and country,” as the saying goes. Just like all those other questions, we all make our mission and purpose sound so much clearer than is actually the case. We know who and how we’re here to serve.
What brought me to Kenya and MITS? My answer usually involves a few things:
- Devon convinced me to apply with her as a duo (and then forgot)
- Cecily had me go on a power walk with her to work through my hesitations and remind me of all the things I love
- The things I love happen to be children, photography, travel, putting myself in circumstances beyond my comfort zone, and deferring student loans
So there it was. I would come to Kenya to serve street children (teenagers) by knowing and sharing their stories. Easy-peasy.
Well, obviously, real life hasn’t been so simple. I know why I came, and I have an answer to that that would fit nicely on a 3x5 index card. But then, someone asked me not why I came, but why I am here. And the truth is that perhaps the reason I am here is not the same as the reason I came. Perhaps I am only just catching on to who and how I’m here to serve, beyond my job description.
We often talk about God’s plan, about how He can see and do immeasurably more than we could ever imagine. I thought that was fulfilled when I ended up coming to Kenya in the first place; it was not my plan. But I knew I had to follow whatever path would require me to trust more. So in my head I said, “Alright, big guy, I listened. Now I’m here in Kenya so I’ll go do my job and you don’t have to worry about me anymore.”
Nope. He is not finished with me yet. I’ve been thinking a LOT about whom I’m here for. This is partly because I’m different here than I am in America; I’m far more shy and I don’t feel quite the same need to be consistently busy and over-committed. Which translates to me serving differently from how I’m used to, which has kind of had me in a funk. I can’t invest in every single person like I have often tried to.
So, how do you pick and choose whom to invest in and to what capacity? I was talking to my fellow intern about that a few days back. His alignment between why he came and why he was here, the clarity of whom he was here to serve and how, was actually confusing to me. But such is the beauty of how God works in our lives; a clear well-lit avenue reaches the Kingdom of God just as well the avenue that requires me to look at a map, get a little lost, climb a few trees to confirm direction, and jump through some puddles (I prefer the adventure anyway!). My avenue kind of reminds me of the staircases in Hogwarts that shift around depending on who’s on them and where they’re going. And it really makes so much sense that that is the nature of my avenue because those are the kind of avenues that people followed to reach me and lead me toward what I didn’t know I needed.
I had this whole conversation with my honorary Kenyan mother, Nancy, a couple nights ago. She was hardly involved in MITS, but through the avenues that people like Hung and Charles followed to meet her in the Kingdom, her youngest son, Victor, was able to receive a highly specialized kidney operation in the States. Those people did not come to MITS for Nancy or Victor, but they are part of why God had them here.
So have I figured it out yet? Probably not, but I’ve got some good leads.
Last week, I got in a fight with a Kenyan man who was beating his wife. A lot of screaming (by me) happened. And although, despite his guilt-ridden promise to never touch her like that again, I am far from confident that I made a huge difference in the specific family dynamic. But something else happened during that incident. A number of my girls from MITS saw what happened and had never seen me, quiet Safeena, react with so much energy toward something. That type of treatment isn’t a “norm,” but it’s also not something that most people would choose to get involved with or stand up against. In some tribes, it’s also understood that the husband may teach his wife a lesson through physical violence.
Ever since, a number of the girls, some who had grown up with abusive fathers or had seen their mothers go through similar things, have asked me what I would do if someone was like that with me. I pray I can help make sure these girls know their value and what they don’t have to put up with. Perhaps that is a piece of my ministry.
There are some American visitors who come that have a certain sparkle that you can tell is leading them back to MITS in the future. And there’s a chance that if and when they come back, they’ll have 10x the impact on these kids than I am having, and be able to love them so much better than I ever will. That is something I am so okay with. Even more, if I can invest in those visitors in a way that leads them closer to their purpose, I have the potential of being part of something bigger than myself and my own experience here. Perhaps that is a piece of my ministry.
Occasionally, someone from home will read my blog or see my pictures on Instagram, and they’ll make my day by letting me know how it has touched them. This is by far the most narcissistic piece of my ministry, but potentially the one that could make the most difference. Maybe I can inspire people to sponsor one of the sweet children here rescued from the streets to receive an education. Maybe I can reconnect with a friend from high school looking to change directions in her life and show her that what she wants, especially if it is to serve, is not so far beyond reach (that’s actually happening and I’m SOOOO stoked!!!!). Perhaps that is a piece of my ministry.
There is a girl in the community that hardly anyone knows. She was rescued by a friend from being sold for marriage at age 12, and is now preparing to go to college. Despite having the majority of her education paid for due to receiving high exam marks, she cannot afford the remainder cost of attendance. I’ve been so overwhelmed by my own loans that I never considered that I could make a financial difference in another person’s life. But the cost that could make all the difference in the direction of her life totals three Free People dresses (cue my American materialism). Maybe I can sit down with her to work through potential options together. Perhaps that is a piece of my ministry.
The list goes on. And as long as I remember that it is my job to represent love in every circumstance that makes itself available, the list will keep going on. It’s definitely not going to fit on a 3x5 card but that’s probably okay. Nancy told me this, and this is the difference I hope I can make in the people I serve here: “Even though I may not know the impact that you are having right now, I can feel in my heart that being close to you is making a difference to me.”