When I was 11 years old I was taken to a Christian concert by a relative. It was a fundraising event run in aid of a famine in Kenya. Half-way through the evening a video showed the situation in the country. It was shocking footage and sitting in the dark I was quietly moved. Afterwards, I overheard my concerned relative, who I guess had spotted a stray tear on my face, saying quietly to my mother that perhaps I was, ‘a bit too young’. At the time I believed they were wrong, and with hindsight I still believe that; we are never too young to start to care about the needs of others – especially the poor.
Following this event I had one prayer:
“I want to visit Kenya and do something for the poor.”
That prayer never went away.
When I was a university student the Panda Pops company (remember them?) did a special offer: win a safari in Kenya. You had to find a bottle with a winning lid. I don’t know how much I spent on Panda Pops that year, but I know it was a lot. Every bottle was bought and opened with prayer and every lid examined. I even pulled empty bottles out of public rubbish bins and checked them. Surely this was God’s chance to let me go to Kenya! Surely he could see that!?! But I didn’t win, and to be fair, a safari was not the goal.
My answer to prayer came via another route just a few weeks after the competition ended, but ten years after I had first started to pray. I was visiting a church with Jo (my fiancé then, wife now) and we ran into my old Sunday school teacher and her husband, now in retirement, who were also visiting the same church that week. After hugs and greetings she asked if we would come and visit them in our summer break, and we said, yes, – not understanding what they really meant.
It turned out they were using their retirement to work as missionaries with the poor in rural Kenya, and I remember her saying,
“I mean visit us in Kenya … we are able pay for everything … you just come … you only need your passports.”
Talk about an answer to prayer! It turned out they were in their last year in Kenya and wanted to use that year to connect young people to God’s mission to the world – and it worked; Jo and I had a life-changing trip.
1993: A life-changing trip
So in 1993, Jo and I stayed with them for several weeks in rural Kenya (no running water or electricity or toilets.) We spent time with local people in their mud hut homes. We led some Bible studies. Jo (vegetarian) almost managed to avoid eating goat. We kept pigeons off the roof (our water supply) with a catapult. We helped to vaccinate rural Masai children against polio. We learned to drink Chai (sweet tea) flavoured with rancid goats milk and charcoal. We visited a local medical clinic and with funding from our home church were able to pay to connect that clinic up to the newly established mains electricity supply and buy them a fridge to store medicines. I was able to give basic pharmaceutical advice to the clinic and to a local doctor (having just graduated). We even ended up with a quick safari at the end of the trip. And it was also in Kenya that I preached my first ever Sunday sermon and felt God calling me to that ministry.
The detail of God’s care
Jo and I went to Kenya genuinely expecting God to call us there, or somewhere similar, more permanently, but that didn’t happen. We came home and got normal jobs with a sense of surprise that God hadn’t spoken to us in that way. But he had spoken to us and shaped us in lots of other ways. Not least he had shown us that we have a Father in heaven who hears our prayers and gives us the desires of our hearts; the detail of God’s care is awesome.
This week I am in Kenya again, this time at the invitation of Compassion UK to see the work they do. We’ve done lots of things with Compassion as a church as part of our GraceWorks initiative. Next week I’ll let you know how I got on.