Twelve of the most beautiful and powerful days of my life began with trusting the Lord and going to Kenya with eleven strangers. When SERV invited me, immediately my answer was YES. A few vaccine shots later and I was on a plane to the sweetest adventure of my life. I didn’t really know much about where we were going or what we would be doing, but I knew God was in it. As we arrived at the SERV International Packing Center, we hit the ground running as our team spent hours packing over 30,000 dehydrated meals to hand deliver.
Our first stops were at some of the largest slums in Kenya, where we were able to feed children that hadn’t eaten in many days. I met a woman there called Mama Mercy, a true light in a place of deep darkness. Those slums are what Mama Mercy has been calling her home for 25 years so she can rescue abandoned children. She told us children come to her nameless and often don’t know their own birthdays, so God has given her the ministry of giving them names and choosing birthdays for each one. She trusts God for their daily food and has brought over 10,000 children into her home. She helps them get an education and find hope for their futures.
Mama Mercy keeps adding mattresses to her seven-story orphanage, and the orphans keep finding a home and receiving a mother that nurtures and cares for them. Her ministry is incredible. She cares for around 300 orphans currently, many with HIV. She knows them each by name because she’s given them their names. It is more than an orphanage; it is a glimpse of Heaven. Like our Father, she opens up her heart without restraint and loves with all she has.
Our journey led us to villages where families walked for miles in the oppressive heat carrying huge water jugs they would fill at the wells where our team would gather to pass out the packaged bags of food. We also cooked food and fed the hungry as we shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ at each location. They taught us how to give thanks with a cheerful heart in all circumstances. They taught my feet to dance upon injustice and disappointments that come in life. They showed my hands how to clap for joy. They showed my face how to smile even before Providence comes, because I know provision is coming. They taught my heart to overflow, because depression has no place in a heart that has made itself open to the real source of lasting joy – my Jesus.
In one village we met “The Jewels of Obaga”, a community made up of ninety widows that are supporting one another. Most widows in Africa are cast aside and have to beg for everything; the Obaga community wanted to show them that they are of infinite worth. They call them jewels because they are jewels in the eyes of God and their town. They have worth, and they have value. They are not forgotten or cast aside, they are cherished.
We were able to build a new house for a widow entirely in one day! That astounded me. Ninety widows and a community came together to join our team of twelve, and we built Lillian and her four children a home to replace one that flooded every time it rained. As Lillian thanked our team, she said something I’ll never forget – “I’ve known suffering.” I could actually feel the pain that she’d been through in losing a husband to a motorcycle accident and feeling alone trying to support her family. When the new house was completed, there was a celebration with singing, dancing, and praying over the new home and family. We left comforted knowing they would have a better place to sleep. Thank God for our Victory Partners being able to help bless this sweet mom with a free home.
I sit here weeping because I know that I’ll never be the same. I can’t go back to life as it was. My heart is so stirred to love the unloved, to reach out to the ones no one else is reaching out to, and to show up like the ones that showed up for us. Little did I know that the best was still ahead on the road to “Hope.” Years ago, SERV created The House of Hope, an orphanage that currently has sixty-seven of the liveliest kids I’ve ever met.
As we walked down the sandy path to the orphanage, the kids ran up and tackled our team with the most powerful hugs I’ve ever felt. Their hugs didn’t end, they just kept squeezing me with everything they had in them. So often we hug someone for a split second, but these were the most heartfelt hugs I’d ever received. They truly welcomed our team with excitement and the love of Jesus. We were not prepared; we thought we were the ones bringing His love with us, but they seemed to minister a love that opened our hearts wide and left us undone. We truly connected with each beautiful child at that orphanage.
For four days we played, had our hair braided, taken down, and braided again. I’ve never had so many kids want to hold my hand. Some settled for a finger to hold, others grabbed onto an arm and still, others would jump on my back – and it was like that all the time. We would sing and dance and talk about many things. They had so many great questions and shared lots of Bible verses with us, too. Many of the children knew English and also spoke three or four other languages. Many wanted to travel the world. They have dreams of becoming doctors, teachers, actors, etc…and it was great to encourage them to keep chasing their dreams.
We were able to deliver gifts to each child, and I saw a little girl get so excited about opening up a coloring book, while another child screamed with joy to receive a wooden pen. A little girl opened up the gifts I brought her: a shirt, candy, makeup, nail polish, socks, a deck of playing cards, and ChapStick. She came up to me sobbing and thanking me for those simple items – things that we take for granted. She was truly moved that I brought gifts from America and gave them to her. I don’t think I can ever buy any of those items again without thinking of her and the tears that rolled down her face.
I picked out another gift for a little boy and it included some toy cars, a toy helicopter, a deck of playing cards, a shirt, some games, etc. He ran up to me with that small toy helicopter that cost just a few dollars, but it was his new prized possession. I will never forget the heartache of leaving as I was hugging each child. I was trying so hard not to cry but then, a group of girls that I really connected with that week came to me with tears flowing down their faces and I couldn’t hold my tears back for anything in the world. Hearing these girl’s stories of strength, overcoming loss, grief, and tragedies had so impacted my life. They will forever be my heroes.
They know Jesus and shared Him with me so well. I encouraged their precious hearts to know that He has big plans for them – and He has dreams for them that will come to pass. I hope you know that’s how Jesus loves you. He lavishes His love on You. He’s given you a name and even selected your birthday. He’s opened His doors for you to find eternal safety, security, and a Father that won’t ever leave.