Olivia Tyrell was one of the Mary Okeyo Travelers – she sent this. Interesting and a bit frightening.
I want to start by saying thank you to all the people who helped us along the way on our journey from North Dakota and Minnesota to Kenya. There are so many people who dedicated their time, talents, and prayer to this trip, and our group is so grateful for all of the support we received. Secondly, it is so important to recognize that God is doing wonderful work in Kenya, and it is such a blessing to have been a witness. It is hard to explain such a life changing experiences in a blog post. After experiencing Kenya all I can say is that I feel so much lighter.
Kenya was not my first mission trip. In 2009 I attended a short term mission trip with St. Andrew’s Mission Society to Rio Bravo, Mexico. Our group built a church in the dumps (I use the term literally) of Reynosa and taught Bible school for the local children. In one week of teaching Bible school I saw way more of life than my seventeen-year-old faith was ready to witness. I held children that would not live to see their tenth birthdays. I listened to kids belt ‘Jesus Loves Me’ at the top of their voices only to hear familiar cries when they beat each other over someone else’s garbage. I learned the hard way that sin will break your heart. I left Mexico so heavy.
Guilt is a heavy burden. I could not understand why I had so many blessings and those children had to eat from garbage bags. I remembered the terrible feeling in my chest when I watched those children steal and fight, and I wondered if that was how God felt each time I sinned. The worst was knowing that there was a small part of me that couldn’t love those children anymore. For a whole week I held them close to me and shared all my love with them, but when I saw them fight and lie and steal with no remorse I did not want to be close to them anymore.
And just like that, three years later I am sitting in the dirt with thirty kids at a Bible Club meeting in Africa. They are all so close in a circle around me that I could look up and just see attentive faces; I could not see the sky above my head. And just like those kids in Mexico, they want me to tell them a story about my life. We are talking about America and Kenya and God. The kids are shouting out questions until I cannot even hear myself think, when I hear one child unmistakably. The group gets silent as I turn to the six or seven year old boy who more bravely repeats the same thing he had said before, “I am going to kill you.” The child thrusts himself sideways into the circle and on top of me as the group erupts in a sound that sounds similar to both a growl and a laugh. Thirty sets of eyes look at me. I move so the child is no longer on top of me, look him right in the eyes, and with a smile say, “Well that would be an unfortunate choice for you. Killing would make God very sad.”
No one says a word for some time. The silence is so startling, and I know I need to say something more. I look straight into the eyes of that child and realize there is nothing menacing about the skin and bones and inquisitive eyes staring straight back at me. As I glance around the circle, each face looks the same. Each and every one of these children is just looking for someone to notice them, someone to love them. Without knowing anything better to do, I start to laugh and scruffle the little guy’s head as I reply, “And it would make me very sad too, don’t you think!?” The group cried out in a wonderful silly sort of laugh, and we just went on talking. Just like that. Before we had to leave I hugged each one of those children I could find with a smile and said, “God loves you, and I love you too!”
To those thirty kids sitting in the dirt with me in Kenya, I was the craziest ‘white’ they had ever talked to, they told me so. (I have the sneaking suspicion that I had little competition for the title.) But for me, those kids taught me a wonderful lesson about God’s love. My love is not perfect. It is far from it. My love is not unconditional. When I am disappointed or scared sometimes I forget how to love my neighbor. My love is in limited supply. After talking with those children all afternoon, there was a point when I just wanted run away and not tell any more stories. But when my love falls short, God’s love is there overlapping, filling up all the spaces where I had nothing left to give, and filling me back up. And, God loves the children all over the world more than I ever could.
It is a wonderful feeling knowing that God is enough. Jesus paid for all my sin. He has taken all my guilt. And, His love is always enough.