Even though I’ve been to numerous domestic mission destinations with the youth group, have traveled to Haiti three times and later went to Madagascar, the mercy medical team trip to Kenya in 2013 stands out for me. First, it was our first trip to Africa. Second, I was immersed in a much different culture that expanded my view of the world and its people.
We received a very good orientation in the culture of Kenya when we arrived. One lesson was about public displays of affection. Men and women, even married couples, would not walk hand-in-hand in that culture. However, two men who were good friends would. I didn’t think much about this dynamic until I began working closely with the local bishop of the church where our mercy medical clinic was. As we walked around the church grounds and talked about the masses of people lined up to see the doctors, we held hands, something I hadn’t exactly pictured myself doing in my pre-trip preparation.
As the week went by, the growing number of people who came for care became unruly. For example, when I simply wanted to hand out the toothbrushes and toothpaste we had brought with us, a mob of men, women and children rushed up, grabbed everything out of my hands and ran off. As the bishop and and I talked and watched the crowds, he said, “This is terrible. We can’t have this.” And then he turned to me and said, “Let’s go have some sugar cane.” He had brought some with him from his brother’s farm. He skillfully used a large machete to chop up some pieces for us to chew on under the shade of a nearby tree. I learned a valuable lesson that day. When life seems out of control, you don’t have to step in and fix it. You might just need a break and a little sugar cane to gnaw. (I seem to remember Jesus also taking breaks when the crowds following him became overwhelming.)
I had the opportunity to preach in Kenya the Sunday I was there. It was the first time I had ever preached with an interpreter. We visited an elephant orphanage, got to go on safari and saw hippos in the wild. It was a memorable ministry moment in so many ways.