Multiple Disciplines Join Together for Africa Mission TripJuly 12, 2005
by Haley Wright (254) 710-3321
Many Christian students arrive at Baylor University having already experienced missions in some form. For example, they may have traveled with their youth groups to build houses in Mexico or to inner-city community centers across America to help with Vacation Bible School. Few students, however, have had the opportunity to serve others by using the skills that they have studied so hard to obtain in the classroom. Baylor's university ministries department offered faculty, staff, and students that chance by organizing the Africa '05 trip to Kenya, May 15-30.
The purpose of the trip was to involve several hundred members of the Baylor community in a multi-disciplinary effort to serve and learn in their respective fields of study. In order to serve the people of Kenya with their expertise, participants partnered with established missionaries, ministries and organizations. Discipline-specific teams came from the fields of deaf education, education, engineering, journalism, outdoor recreation, social work and telecommunication. Other teams included those from Baptist Student Ministries and Men's choir, as well as teams focused on leadership, women's issues and medical needs.
Professor Nancy Pfanner led the deaf education team that partnered with the Kenya Christian School for the Deaf in Oyugis, a town of about eight hours west of Nairobi. The team's goal was "to make a lasting, positive impact on the children and staff at the school by bringing much-need training, supplies and other resources that could be used for years to come."
Pfanner explained that Baylor students developed lesson plans and language therapy sessions long before they ever left for the trip. Each student was responsible for one "piece of the puzzle," which was put together with the other components to form a comprehensive educational program for the children. Once in Kenya, they spent all day teaching by involving the children in recreation, crafts, dramas and other activities.
Their most memorable experience as a team was the day they took a field trip to a zoo and to Lake Victoria, located only about a half hour from the school. For many of the children it was their first time to experience many things - from riding in a vehicle and seeing a lake to drinking a cold soda and eating pizza, all things most American students take for granted.
The students further integrated their faith by leading a worship service with the Deaf community on a Sunday.
"I looked around that crowded room and saw our Baylor students playing with, hugging and talking to these children who had been discarded by society because of their deafness," Pfanner recalled. "God's love transcends distance, race, culture and disabilities."
Engineering Professor Walter Bradley led the business-engineering team to the successful completion of two projects while in Kenya.
The team first partnered with Harmon Parker, founder and director of Bridging The Gap Africa, to build a 130-foot-long pedestrian bridge over a river that divides the community in West Pokot for most of the year. The bridge will save the villagers more than 2.4 million miles of walking as they travel to the market, schools and for medical care. After the dedication of the bridge, Parker was able to share in Swahili that the bridge was a gift from God, and that the team was just God's means to bring it to them.
The business-engineering team also completed the design, fabrication and installation of a solar panel, lighting system and laptop computer for the Kenya Christian School for the Deaf.
Even with the remarkable completion of these two projects, the team wanted to continue helping the people they encountered on their trip.
Three water-related projects in East and West Pokot, as well as many projects associated with potential commercialization of coconuts and their husks, were identified while the team was in Kenya, and work has already been initiated by students and faculty this summer at Baylor. The work will expand in the fall as more students get involved in the projects through course assignments. Baylor's Baugh Center for Entrepreneurship will be developing business plans in their MBA classes this fall, using ideas generated on the Africa '05 trip and the technology developed by the engineering department.
Senior Rebecca Beteet participated in Africa '05 as a member of the journalism team who was assigned to cover the accomplishments of the leadership team. Each member of the journalism team was dispersed out to one of the other 12 teams. Journalism students interviewed pastors, community leaders and other Kenyans that Baylor partnered with to record the activities and projects changing the lives of the people they encountered.
"The thing the impacted me the most was appreciating what I have," Beteet said. "When I looked at the Kenyan people, I didn't feel sorry for them, because even though they were living in cow-dung huts, they lived life with joy. I just wanted to make their lives better in any that I could. I realized I take so many things for granted."
Steve Graves, director of university ministries and missions, has already begun organizing a return trip to Kenya in 2006. He hopes for future trips to Africa and other parts of the world the same things he believes happened on this trip.
"I want each trip to be a life-changing experience for students, that they would see how God can use them in their field to make a huge difference in the world, whether that be in a foreign land or in the United States. Also, that we would support and encourage indigenous Christians and missionaries in their long-term work. I hope that with future trips as we make long-term investments, we'll be able to offer even more in terms of the resources and expertise we bring to the table in each field."