St. Mary the Virgin, San Francisco, youth mission trip to Kenya

Seven teens and two adults traveled all the way from St. Mary’s to Western Kenya for our annual Youth Mission Trip. The destination was the Nambale Magnet School (NMS), a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school in the western part of the country. The two-week trip exemplified why youth mission trips are important: the teens bonded as a team, accomplished meaningful service, and most importantly broadened their understanding of who their neighbors are — and how to love and serve them in the name of Christ. As missioner Stella Smith says, “Our trip to Africa really changed my life. You don’t really understand how the people there are living until you live with them. I will be forever grateful for getting to experience it, and it is something I will never forget.”
 
Founded by the Rev. Evalyn Wakhusama in 2002, the Nambale Magnet School has a specific mission: to serve some of the poorest of the poor. With financial support from American and Kenyan donors, a third of the 300 students at the school are on full scholarship and would not otherwise have access to education.
 
Travel to Nambale was arduous. After a 24-hour journey, we got to Nairobi, Kenya, where we spent the night in a hotel. The next morning we flew across the country to Kisumu, where two SUVs took two hours to get us to the school. Immediately upon our arrival we were greeted with love and enthusiasm. Evalyn met us, along with Gama Ondre, the head teacher. We toured the school grounds and farm, and then got to meet the kids. Dozens of little kids swarmed us, played with us, taught us Kiswahili (the local language), braided our hair, and just connected with us. The mutual joy of our presence at the school was palpable.

We were lucky to stay for most of the trip at the school’s newly-constructed guest house, called “Karibu House” (Karibu means welcome in Kiswahili). Our main service to the school was painting the exterior of buildings. We worked to finish the guest house, the dining hall, and the two dormitories. Every morning was dedicated to painting, led by Simon, also known as “Dr. Marangi” (the Paint Doctor). The intense heat made the painting challenging from time to time, but we persevered. The Paint Doctor brought us gifts as well as paint, including handmade bracelets, a jackfruit, and sugar cane. It was lovely to see a lasting and meaningful transformation come to the school buildings.

After cleaning up the paint, we would have a late lunch and then spend time with the NMS students after their classes. Sometimes we would join a football game, or simply talk, or sing with the kids. Tea was served every afternoon, and not long after that came dinner, followed by evening devotionals with the students. That was an incredibly beautiful event to witness; the abundant faith and hope expressed in song and prayer moved our hearts significantly. Our group would return to the guest house for our own evening reflection and some time to unwind by playing cards.

One very special day was called Sports Day. The entire student body was divided into four teams that would compete throughout the day. The students’ parents and guardians were invited to attend and participate, as were many other members of the Nambale community. Our group led the students in their warm-up, and then joined each team in its grand entrance to the field of play. There were races, relays, and incessant cheering, all to the music of a local band. The NMS girls and boys each played a football match against a neighboring school, and there was a staff-parent football match, during which Mike scored two goals (much to the surprise of everybody). The day ended with trophies to the winning team (“Simba,” meaning lion). Then most of the students headed home for a three-day break.
 
During that break, the seventh and eigth graders remained to continue their studies. Our group worshiped with them on Sunday morning. Later, we wandered into the town of Nambale to experience an East African market day. When the students returned from their break, we were back to our daily routine.

   

Finally, after ten days of service and forging relationships, it was time to leave the Nambale Magnet School and head out on safari. The students sang a beautiful blessing to our group, and we experienced a poignant mixture of joy and sadness as we took leave of the school.
 
A long drive by the safari company took us south to the Masai Mara National Park, where we saw some of the most striking beauty of God’s creation. Zebras, elephants, giraffes, lions, cheetahs, wildebeest, gazelles, buffalos, hippos, and other wild creatures all moved through their natural habitat.
 
The teens were unanimous in their agreement that as incredible as the safari was, the more meaningful experience was at the school. As missioner Joey Moore says, “Kenya was a stunning experience for me. Interacting with the people and seeing their day-to-day lives was very captivating. It gave me a new outlook on poverty and the education system in a developing country.”
 
Overall, the trip was among the most moving and transformative of St. Mary’s youth mission trips. “To see so many children so grateful for all that God has given them and so happy to live and love the Lord, gave me the opportunity to reexamine my life and my relationship with God,” says Ginny Woodworth. “I’m so thankful to have been able to witness such unbounded joy; like the children singing their hearts out and studying relentlessly every night even without power. I am forever changed by this spectacular and remarkable experience.”
 
We all long to return to the school as soon as possible. Having had such an unusually transformative experience this year, our teens would love to work with St. Mary’s to continue the relationship with NMS, allowing us to return in the future. It would be impractical to make an annual youth group trip to Kenya, but we are committed to return as soon as possible. In addition, the youth felt that this experience should not be limited to teens, but should be expanded to include St. Mary’s adult parishioners. A group at the parish is forming to explore this continued relationship; anyone interested in exploring ways to further this mission should contact Mike Stafford at mike@smvsf.org.
 
Through the generosity of the parish, we were able to send seven teens and two adults halfway around the world to serve and experience Christ at the Nambale Magnet School. The church was also able to donate over $8900 to the school for its continued mission to serve the children of western Kenya. As the kids at NMS regularly and joyfully shouted, “God is good all the time! All the time God is good, and that is nature; wow! God is great!”

Photos: Mike Stafford