An answer to prayer
I first heard about the missionary trip that was being planned to Africa last year and although I had no idea what it was about I put my name down for it. I realised later, when discussing the cost of the mission with my parents that we couldn’t really afford it. So as the year went on, any hope of being able to go with them slowly faded away. Eventually one of the team members rang my mum to ask whether I was going or not. My mum said that she was unsure and then she asked me whether I wanted to go. At that time I was also unsure, so I decided to pray about it. My prayer was: Lord, if I am worthy to serve your people in Africa, please give me the opportunity to go. About a month later the opportunity came when my parents asked me if I wanted to go to India. When I thought about it, I realised that God had opened up a way. So I asked them if I could use the money to go to Africa instead of India. I wasn’t sure what they would say to this but to my surprise they said yes. I am so grateful to my parents and especially to God.
The flight to Kenya
So on 21st July a group of fifteen of us (including two other teenagers, Shalana and Sharlotte) flew out from Birmingham airport for our ten day missionary trip to Kenya, which is on the eastern side of Africa. We caught the flight to Istanbul in Turkey and then flew from there to Nairobi, which is the capital city of Kenya. It was a wonderful flight because I had the opportunity to sit next to Father Soji and was able to pray with him. At 2:30 am we reached Nairobi and Fr Antony and Fr John came to pick us up from the airport and drive us to the Retreat Centre that we were staying in. Soon the sun came up and the best nine days of my life began.
They danced in celebration
When we arrived, there were lots of people in the middle of a four day retreat and we were amazed at what we saw. I could not believe the faith of the people in Kenya. It made me realise how small my faith is compared with theirs. The best thing about their retreats and their Masses was how much they like to celebrate and I mean really celebrate by dancing. I love dancing, it’s one of my favourite pastimes and it was great to see how they used it to worship and thank God. They even danced in the Mass during the offertory procession. The beat and rhythm of their music just naturally makes you want to move. Even their singing was different as they raise their voices to praise. One of the valuable things I learnt was not to be ashamed to worship the Lord. As it says in Mark chapter 8:38 “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Realising this I began to join in their dancing and singing. It felt sensational to be freely praising God even though none of us understood their language of Swahili. It was amazing that towards the end of the mission, I had learnt to say the Divine Mercy chaplet in Swahili. Their prayers are so deep and meaningful that you naturally melt into the words. I realise now that those prayerful ten days were a time of real spiritual growth for me.
The nicest people
Many Africans are influenced by the old tribal beliefs and witch craft and are living in darkness and fear. But once they have experienced the love of God, their lives are turned around, the light of Christ shines in their faces and they have a very strong and lively faith The retreats allow people to open their hearts to God. The retreat centre attracts over two thousand people each week, so they are kept very busy all through the year. After attending a retreat, many of the people become volunteers at the centre, but they have strict rules to follow. Shalana, Sharlotte and I were privileged to be able to help them out in the kitchens and we helped to serve food to those on retreat. Trying African food was a unique experience. They were so grateful and happy that we had come to help them. It was amazing talking to them about their experience on the retreats as they couldn’t stop talking about how their lives had been changed. Their dedication to God is unbelievable, they would spend hours on their knees doing intercessory prayers for all the people around them, and they are the nicest people I have ever met.
Of course, there is a massive difference between the standard of living in the UK compared with Kenya, where it seems that there are only two classes of people, the rich and the poor. There is no such thing as middle class. However the rich people can be generous, for example the current location of the retreat centre is on ten acres of land that was donated to the Vincentian fathers by a man before he passed away. Even the poorest people are very generous as they would give even their last penny as an offering to God. After struggling to get to the retreat centre they sometimes had to ask the priests for the bus fare so that they can get home again. They demonstrated to us that God is much more important than wealth. Matthew 6:24 says “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
A visit to their homes
We visited a village called Mubani, which showed me the harsh living conditions in Kenya. It made me realise how blessed we are in the western world. Although they are so poor the village people were very grateful for the very little resources that they have. People in the village have to walk miles to get clean water. The only alternative is to collect it from dirty puddles in the road. The people live in very small rooms with very little or no facilities. Most were the size of our garden sheds or even smaller. They can only take a shower once a month because the water supply runs out. At one of the houses we visited, the owner was so happy to see us because it was the first time that a car had come to their house. It amazed me that these tiny things made these less fortunate people so happy.
A school mission
The children in Kenya are some of the cleverest children that I have ever met especially at a girl’s school called Carmel Girls. All the pupils wanted to get scholarships to universities in the UK and around the world. Conducting a retreat for them was an extraordinary experience for me. They said that I was an inspiration to them, which made me realise that God’s grace was working through them and me. It was a new experience for me to speak to them about God’s love and give my testimony of how I had met God. As well as the big mission in the school I felt that it was my small mission to share my best friend (Jesus Christ) with all the children I met. I enjoyed preaching for the first time to people and sharing the Word of God, I felt that I was truly serving the mighty Lord Jesus.
“So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8
Visiting an orphanage
I was lucky enough to visit the ‘Star of Hope’ orphanage, which is instilling fresh hope into the children’s lives. It was a humbling experience as most of the children, including new born babies, were abandoned by their parents. When I looked into their eyes, I could see how lost they looked but also how grateful they were for all the care that they received. Their smiles just brightened my day. It is wonderful and I just wished that I could take them all home with me! Another big problem in Kenya is that there are many single mothers who cannot cope on their own and they have to abandon their children in the streets. This made me think of the times that I have ignored the advice and warnings from my parents.
The Vincentian fathers are doing great work running retreats in Kenya. I had a ‘proud to be an Indian’ moment in Africa as I was stunned at the number of Indian missionaries working there. Praise be to God. One of the missionary nuns, called Sister Mary, looked after us. She was like a mother figure to us all, caring for us with such grace and kindness. The ten days flew by and I really didn’t want to leave Kenya. In a short time it felt like home to me. I was overwhelmed by the whole experience and I could go on forever about my experiences in Africa.
What I Llearned
When reading this, you may have noticed how many times I used the word ‘realised’. Life is all about realisation. Through my trip to Africa I realised how merciful and great our God is, how blessed we are and how his unconditional love is showered upon us. We may not be aware of all the small blessings that we receive every day because we are too busy to notice but the smallest opportunities that we reject could be the biggest deal in someone else’s life. How fortunate we are to have the basic necessities and so much more. I am now asking myself ‘Do I need this in my life?’ Many people are neglected and treated unfairly in this world for the benefit of other wealthier people but we are all children of God. We are all part of God’s family. I now consider whether other people are suffering because of my actions. I want to see other people’s problems as my problems and I want to pray for them because that is the greatest gift that I can give to them. Believe that “Nothing is impossible to God.” (Luke chapter 1: 37) He gave me the opportunity to go to Africa not only for the missionary work but to transform me into a new more faithful and compassionate person. Thanks be to God!
Written by Merlin Jose