June 22, 2005
About 150 Baylor faculty, staff and students spent the last two weeks of May halfway around the globe on mission to Africa. It was the first time such a large group from the University had jointly undertaken a mission effort so far from home.
Known as Africa '05, the initiative was organized by Baylor's Office of University Ministries and Missions, which began recruiting for the trip last fall. Eleven faculty-led teams using various skills served in partnership with missionaries, ministries and nonprofit organizations in and near Nairobi, Kenya.
"We did Africa '05 to help students see how they can truly make a difference in the world by utilizing their gifts and skills," says Steve Graves, director of the missions office. "We did it to support and encourage Kenyan believers and those ministering there long-term."
The teams included faculty and students in deaf education, engineering, education, journalism, leadership, medicine, Baptist Student Ministries, social work, outdoor recreation, a Women in Africa group and 32 of the 45 members of the Baylor University Men's Choir (see next page).
Projects and assignments while in Africa varied. The deaf education team worked at a Christian school for the deaf in a rural location. The engineering team visited several rural locations related to appropriate technology sites, and the medical team set up free clinics outside Nairobi.
"We will work with teachers and students to implement a curriculum and help improve the educational process for the children," said Vicky Zimmermann before the group left. A Richardson, Texas, senior and member of the education team, she said, "I am sure I will learn a lot more than I teach."
One of the biggest challenges of the trip was funding the $2,300-per-person cost. Students and leaders sent out letters to friends and family asking for financial support. The Baylor Men's Choir was especially creative in its fundraising efforts, selling personalized serenades for Valentine's Day.
Stephen Magyar, a Houston sophomore and choir member, said before the trip that the choir would be singing at several universities and churches and working odd jobs for underprivileged people in Nairobi. "I am not only looking forward to the cultural experience, but also having the opportunity to interact with them through music, sharing things with them that they have never heard," he said.
Kenya was chosen for the trip for a number of reasons, said missions director Graves. Several faculty and staff had a particular interest in the country, and the directors already had established contacts. Also, many Kenyans speak English. Trip leaders worked closely with established groups in the country such as Daystar University, Buckner Orphan Care International, Compassion International and World Vision. In addition, one of the trip leaders traveled to Kenya in late March to scout the locations firsthand.
"Obviously, there is more risk in going to Kenya than in staying home, but there is so much more to be gained from going," Graves says, "and I believe that outweighs the risk."
Participants will have a chance to reconnect during a retreat in early fall, he says, a time to "revisit some of our experiences after the new has worn off and after we've tried to assimilate back into the culture."
"We want people to get out of their comfort zones and see that the world is bigger than we are," he says. "God is at work in ways we've never imagined, and there are hurts and needs in the world that we are too often insulated from. A trip like this can change a person's view of the world, of themselves and of God."