Rebecca Beteet, a student writer for Baylor Magazine
, was one of about 150 students and faculty who spent two weeks on mission in Nairobi, Kenya, in May. This is her firsthand account of the sights and impressions she experienced.
It's what you imagined Nairobi, Kenya, would look like ... but worse. Most Americans don't know what poverty is compared to Kenyan poverty.
Could you imagine an America where only affluent neighborhoods got trash pick-up service? Where your neighbors throw their bags of trash out their doors, never to be picked up?
What about not having a toilet in your home? Or not being able to pay to use the toilet designated for your area, the one that more than 10 families use? How would you feel if your neighbor used a polythene baggie to defecate in and then threw it out the window because he was scared to go out at night? They're called "flying toilets."
How about walking two to three blocks a day, every day, at a certain time to bring home 5 gallons of water because you don't have indoor plumbing? You bathe, wash clothes, cook and clean with this same water. And, to top it off, you're not even sure where the water came from originally.
Now imagine you're hungry and haven't eaten for two days, so you steal and get caught. To make an example of you, you're either stoned to death by a mob or burned alive.
This is how it is for many of the people who live in Nairobi, a city of 1.5 million people.
On May 15, about 150 Baylor students and faculty boarded a plane to Nairobi for a two-week mission trip. This group consisted of 11 faculty-led teams that used their expertise in different academic fields to serve the Kenyan community. To be in a group that large, whose heart is to serve God, was amazing.
I remember returning to our guesthouse one night, later than expected. I asked the friend who was with me, Matthew Maron, if he was worried about being out late. He replied, "Why would I be? I know God has our back."
And that was the attitude for most of the students. God was in control, and that's all that mattered. I don't believe there was a time on this trip when a person was frightened.
Maybe it was because Ryan Richardson, Baylor's Chapel music coordinator, led us several nights in song and praise. Maybe it was the individual team leaders who made sure there was a nightly devotion. Maybe it was the professor who stayed up most of the night praying for her students. Or was it the students who stayed up praying for one another? It could have been the Baylor men's choir unceasingly singing their cloud of protection around us. Why worry when the spirit of the Lord is around you? And we didn't.
On May 31, we returned and as our plane touched down in Houston, the lyrics of "I'm Proud to Be An American" played softly in my head. The contrast is so stark, and yet I realized the only difference between the people I saw in Kenya and me was chance.
I know not everything is right with America. But I'm glad I live in a society where my voice is heard, no matter my financial status. Where my hope is that justice is served not by random mobs but by a system that works, most of the time.
Hope. It's the one thing that connects all of us. Even in the midst of the poverty, in Kenya, I saw hope. I saw it in the young people from Baylor with whom I traveled. They were there to help and to learn from the people of Kenya.
It's hard to have hope in a society where only two in 20 are employed. But in Kenya, where 80 percent of the population is Christian, their hope is in God.
God was evident in Nairobi. He was a sticker on the back of the buses. He was on the safari in the eyes of a jungle king. And he was in the slums in the hearts of the children caked in mud. He was even in the heart of one street child who recited scripture while sniffing glue, the way many escape the pain of their situation. I also remember a former drug addict telling me how he found Christ while drunk.
In Africa, I saw nature in its purest form taking me back to Genesis -- where God made all things in his likeness -- and through that I saw God in everything else.
God doesn't only save those who can afford him. He isn't just in a church or in a healthy body. He's not on a pedestal. God's arms encompass everyone and everything. And we can choose to see the beauty. Africa is beautiful, even when devastated by poverty, disease and corruption, because God is there working to redeem his creation.
I returned grateful and hopeful with my soul quieted. This trip reminded me to trust in God and his plans for my life, my future and me. And also to trust in God's plans for Kenya, because I know he sees their tears and hears their cries. My friend, Martin Ombok, who lives in Kenya, once said to me, "I often wonder why God did this to my people, and then I read Jeremiah 29:11: 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
Rebecca Beteet, a senior majoring in journalism and public relations, plans to graduate in December 2005.