My alarm goes off at 5:45, and it’s still partially dark here. Through the cracked window I hear all of those birds starting to sing and wake the world up, I hear the consistent white noise of the drizzling rain, and my eyes still feel incredibly heavy. It’s our fourth full day here, and the amount of physical and emotional energy that we’ve been exerting is starting to catch up with me… my throat is a bit scratchy and I feel like I could sleep another 4 hours. Nonetheless, it’s another beautiful morning in Kenya, and I roll out of bed (after untangling my mosquito net) and throw on some comfy clothes. Breakfast is at 6 because our bus is leaving to go to Meru, Kenya at 6:30.
Meru is where Pastor grew up. It’s much more rural than Nairobi and is about four hours away from the compound we are staying at. His childhood home is there, as is the larger home right next to it where he and Mama often take the SoH kids for vacations and weekend getaways. But the reason we are going is to see the coffee farm that Pastor and Mama own. Their goal is to find a buyer for the coffee and build a large enough business that Sanctuary of Hope could become self-sufficient, no longer having to rely on donors or sponsors to function. This is a baby project, a developing piece of Hope’s Promise, but it’s a pivotal piece to Sanctuary of Hope and I’m excited at the chance to get out of the city for a night.
I walk through the rain and across the yard to the main hall where we eat all of our meals, and I head straight for the instant coffee to try and wake up… I can’t help but think this won’t be quite strong enough this morning! Good thing that we have four hours on a bus to rest (and that we’re going to a coffee farm!). After we eat, the white noise of the rain suddenly grows louder and louder- we look out the door and it’s grown into a full fledged thunderstorm like I’ve never seen before in my life. You almost can’t even see across the courtyard because of how the rain is hammering down! We all start playing cards (that’s our go-to entertainment when we have down time), because it’s going to be a little while before we can leave. Twenty minutes later it’s slowed enough that we run to the bus and leave around 7. I tried to stay awake and keep laughing in the back of the bus with all the other twenty-somethings on this trip, but it’s not long before I let my eyes close and drift back to sweet sleep.
When I wake up an hour later, the scenery is totally different. No longer am I surrounded by makeshift buildings, carts, and goats and chickens wandering the streets…. instead I look out the window and the skies have cleared, the road is barely paved and we’re surrounded by green. There’s mountain ranges in the distance (Mount Kenya is somewhere over there!), lush trees and grass, and tons of bodies of water where locals are harvesting rice. It’s… stunning.
We make a quick pit stop for a bathroom break at a small… well, I’m not really sure what it is! There’s a cute grocery store here, a little restaurant, a large patio with lots of tables and chairs, and as we go to the back to find the restrooms, there’s also a pool and a small waterpark! I don’t know whether to call it a hotel or community center… but it’s nice. We buy cold Cokes and Kenyan cookies and hit the road again.
Shortly after that we make it to the Isaak Walton hotel where we’ll be staying tonight. At this point I’m still in denial at the fact that my throat is scratchy (I’ll be fine, I’m just tired), but have also learned that several members of the team are going through a stomach virus while others are going through a respiratory virus. I guess it’s bound to happen when you travel to the other side of the world and aren’t getting hardly any sleep.
The Isaak Walton is gorgeous, a sweet sanctuary. There’s beautiful gardens, large, comfortable beds, and a restaurant with many more options for food than what we’ve been getting at Little Sisters (although that food has been great too). I find myself excited at the chance to rest. This is sort of the halfway point through the trip, and on every other mission trip I’ve been on, it’s around the halfway point where I start to hit a wall of exhaustion. It’s hard to give and keep giving when you feel like you hardly have time to refill your own tank. Every other trip like this I’ve gone on has been nonstop, usually up until the day before we leave and go home, and it makes it difficult on that “halfway” day at least for me to keep my head and my heart in the right place because I’m just so tired and so emotionally spent. That’s what makes me so thankful to have a chance to visit the coffee farm, talk with my team, and get a really solid night of sleep. I have a feeling that because of this break, I won’t hit that wall on this trip.
We all gather in a large hall for a group meeting before going to the coffee farm. I feel great being here- it feels like a small sanctuary in the midst of the crazy. Yet I quickly learn that several other members of the team don’t feel the same way. Many (especially those who have never been to a third world country or who haven’t done a trip like this) are dealing with something like culture shock. They feel… almost guilty that we are here, in a nice hotel in a beautiful part of Kenya, not really doing any “work” for a day or two. Especially coming out of Mathare Valley the previous day, being in this sort of environment is a complete shift, and many feel like this is becoming more “vacation” than “mission”, and like we shouldn’t be here when we could be doing something “effective” in Mathare.
While I understand these viewpoints (I experienced this sort of culture shock on my first mission trip to Brazil), I also find that this time around I’m not experiencing the shock of such a nice place, only gratitude. And I’m thankful when Beth, one of our team leaders, addresses these issues to the group as a whole. I don’t remember her exact words, but they were something like this: “I want you all to remember that even though it seems weird to be in a place this nice, we shouldn’t let our guard down. Missions should be a mindset, a way of life, not something you enter into when you go to an impoverished place. There are people here at this hotel who need Jesus just as much as people in Mathare. And the Karau’s have been talking about wanting us to come visit this farm for months; they are proud of this place and what they’ve built, and our being here means more to them than you know. We are here to encourage them. And the mission doesn’t stop just because we get to sleep in a nice bed tonight.” AMEN.
After getting a few interviews done for the video that Isaac and Mitch are making, and after eating a delicious buffet lunch of chicken and fruit and rice and bread, we all pile into the bus once more to head to the Karau’s home.
We start walking up a dirt trail, and I’m immediately taken by the amazing views. This place has the feel of the Garden of Eden- serene, at peace, lush, and drop dead gorgeous. We turn a corner and walk a little further, and then Pastor and Mama begin giving us the grand tour. The bigger home they’ve built is surrounded by trees and a lovely stone wall, and going around the back they have a garden where they are growing corn and a few fruits I don’t recognize. They have two cows and some sheep in a pen, and Mama is absolutely beaming as she shows us what she and Pastor have created together. We also get to see the small home right across the yard where he grew up. There’s one large room with an incredibly small kitchen in the back, and one or two small side rooms with bunk beds. It’s small and it’s old, but even here they both are beaming; this is where they came from. This is an intimate piece of who they are.
After giving us the tour of what they proudly consider to be their home (even though they live in Nairobi with the SoH kids), we head to the coffee farm. And I have never seen a place more green or beautiful in my life. In one small stone building there are tons of coffee cherries that have been picked and are waiting to be shelled. Behind that, there’s a covered washing area, and behind that, rows and rows of shelled coffee beans that are laying in the sun to dry. To the left are the coffee trees, which are absolutely beautiful, and beyond all of the coffee there’s tons of tea growing. Pastor tells us that even though they don’t need all of the employees that they have working for them, he keeps them on because he knows they have families they’re trying to support and not many other options. His goal is to not only provide them with jobs, but also provide jobs to any of the SoH kids when they grow up, if they choose. He ultimately is seeking to find a buyer for his coffee so that the profits from the coffee farm could make SoH self-sufficient. He and Mama are constantly looking at each other and grinning- it’s not hard to see that they are best friends.
They also grow baby bananas and macadamia nuts here, and we start taking turns whacking the shell of the macadamias with a big stick just like the farmers do. Laughter abounds, and the next thing you know, Pastor is handing us all small cups of his coffee and some of the baby bananas they’ve grown (which are unbelievably sweet!), and then calls each of our names and hands us all a small packet of his ground coffee to take home. With much laughter and joy, we head back on the bus to go back to the Isaak Walton for food and sleep. At this point my nose is running profusely and I have a slight cough, but I’m still in denial- one good night of sleep and I’ll be good as new!
Dinner is delicious, once more, and shortly after we break for small groups. I’m thankful for the chance to finally talk to my small group and see how they are all processing the complete shift from Mathare to here. As we gather by the pool and talk and pray for thirty minutes, I’m relieved that they are all doing well.
Upon returning to my room around 8:30, Jenny and Jacob are there meeting with their small group; the small handful of middle and high schoolers that came along. I overhear the last of their discussion, and the younger ones especially are feeling guilty for staying here; we only emphasize to them once more that missions isn’t location based but mindset based, and I tell them to soak up and savor the chance to rest while it’s here. Because after tomorrow, it’s right back to “work” again, which will be incredible, but will also naturally be more straining.
Jenny and I share the King bed, and the mosquito net isn’t quite big enough to spread over the whole bed, so she creatively uses some hangers and sweatshirts to tie the corners of the net near each of our heads so we are at least mostly protected. We pray together for healing over the whole team and for health, and lift up the rest of the trip and our families back home. And then we turn out the light. And I drift into the most glorious, sound sleep for a whole eight and half hours.