Foundation for Peace (FFP) President, Dr. Ken Culver shares the story of a mission trip to Kenya where they spent a day visiting patients with HIV/AIDS in the Kayole-Soweto slum in Nairobi.
Each year we go with volunteer caregivers, who visit ostracized, ill individuals to care for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. When we join them, we take food, medicine, and household items. We buy them water, clean their houses, massage aching muscles, feed them or whatever else we can do. This is always a humbling day and a privilege to experience firsthand what their physical lives are like.
We visited Jane. She had been ostracized by her family due the diagnosis of the HIV infection. They burned down her home thinking it would kill the virus. Jane and her children were forced to move to the slums of Nairobi. Her illness prevented her from working on a regular basis. She, like others in her situation, feared their slum landlord. (If they cannot pay their rent, the landlord takes all your possessions, throws them in the dirt road in front of the shack and padlocks it shut.) It was hard for me to imagine this bedridden woman with HIV holding her beautiful smiling baby in that situation.
I asked how much the rent was, thinking that perhaps our group could provide some rent until she could get back on her feet. When she told me it was $18 a month, I was astonished. Was it really true, only $18 per month and she could not pay it? I thought about how we value $18 in our society, wondering if we knew that $18 could put a family in a house in Nairobi, would we think more carefully about how we spend our money?
This is, of course, one of the important benefits of international mission trips, you have the extraordinary opportunity to see for yourself what extreme poverty looks like – where people really do survive on a dollar a day.
Before leaving, we held hands and prayed with and for Jane, her healing, her ability to care for her children and that she would know the love of Christ. As we left, I could not help but wonder about her future and that of the child she was holding and what would happen to that child when her mother died. It was one of the more memorable and sad experiences I had in the many years that I've been doing mission work.
The following year, we went back to the same slum to visit patients with HIV/AIDS and I asked if I could go back to see Jane, wondering if she was still alive. They said that I would see her later, so we went back into the slum to meet more people who lived in similar circumstances. We ministered to them, prayed with them and in some cases, gave them rent to tide them over until they had an income to keep their home and feed their families. $18 never felt so important and so insignificant.
At the end of the day, they told me there was one woman who wanted to speak to the group. It was JANE! She explained how the year before, she had given up and was preparing to die, but then a group from North America came and cleaned her house, prayed with her and encouraged her. This visit gave her hope, so she decided to come to the clinic to start taking care of herself, to go to church, take her antiviral medications and do what she could to improve her life and that of her children. She improved so much on the medication that she was able to get a job. She now trains and teaches other individuals about how to live a healthy life with HIV infection. Not only was Jane’s life saved and transformed, but now, Jane has the ability to help transform the lives of others.
As I sat listening to Jane speak, I couldn't help but sob. Had I become so used to working in poverty that it was hard for me to see hope in the midst of it? To me, this was the ultimate manifestation of God working through us and at the heart of everything mission trips are about.
Foundation for Peace has been organizing mission trips for more than 20 years. I can say with confidence that the transformation that we saw in Jane in the Kayole slum is not rare. And it is made possible by people like you – people who are willing to serve – touching lives in immeasurable ways.
If you haven’t been on a mission trip, you don’t know what you’re missing! If you have been, we want to encourage you to come again. Just like the story of Jane, you can see the amazing transformations that have taken place.
Join us. Mission trips change lives – including your own!