Magazine Article

A Home of Another Name

Reflections on my Maranatha mission trip to Kenya

Lawren Slack
A Home of Another Name
Photo by Damian Patkowski on Unsplash

I didn’t expect to find another home on a mission trip overseas, but God works in mysterious ways. Evidence of His design was written all over my mission trip with Pacific Union College Preparatory School to Kenya’s Kajiado Adventist School and Rescue Center, a safe haven for Maasai girls who have escaped child marriage. God gathered the right group of people, at the right time, and taught us countless rich lessons. Some of my first journaled words over a plate of steaming curry were I take so much for granted! We take people for granted; I was grateful for the food, but, in that moment, more appreciative of the hardworking chefs who had prepared it.

Simple Lessons

The first day at Kajiado Center we stumbled off the bus and up a dusty path lined with children of all heights, sweater colors, and smiles. Swoosh! The children converged upon us, grabbing anything grabbable, and escorting us toward the bones of the residence we were to build. After a couple thousand ambush hugs from students, you start to forget to feel awkward. Their kindness was voluntary, warm, and refreshing. I felt a sense of belonging there because the girls already understand to whom they belong: the Savior. So what else was left to be but welcoming? The hospitality didn’t stop at Kajiado Rescue Center; it extended to the hotel we were fortunate to stay at. The bus drivers, staff, and teachers we met all had the same spirit of goodwill.

Saturday, the second day of our trip, we shared worship at the Kajiado Rescue Center. During the service I was astounded at the depth of their faith. “Happy Sabbath! Happy day!” chorused the eager congregation in a call-and-response format. “God is good? All the time. All the time? God is good, and that’s His nature. Wow.” The mission team agreed: none of us would ever hear the word “wow” the same way again! The Spirit was palpable in the room; back in America, I strive to praise Him as vibrantly.

The language barrier, however, was tough to navigate. We learned to be patient with one another, delighting solely in one another’s presence and praise. Praising God is a universal language. Words can be optional. A smile translates into every language. Names, on the other hand, are a language all their own. A little girl came up to me on the third day and began helping me sweep cement dust off the sidewalk. “Do you remember my name?” she asked, staring, as it were, into my soul. I wracked my brain . . . “Virginia!” The joy beaming from Virginia’s face when I remembered her name was moving. It taught me that remembering a name shows you care about someone. A name is valuable.

Tearful Goodbyes

It was a tearful goodbye the day we left. None of us realized the roots we had grown. Roots that sprouted sneaking off the jobsite to play games with students and connecting with even younger children on other campuses during Vacation Bible School (VBS), their tiny hands clasped in ours. Little thrills in the life and time we’re given are important to appreciate. The center held a dedication ceremony for us. They gifted us figurines of animals—later seen in real life on a Maasai Mara safari—and traditional Maasai blankets.

It was generous . . . and uncomfortable for me.

Why were these kind people, who had already given us more than we expected, making a big deal? They were the superheroes. They were the ones who needed money for food and clothing donations. Some of these girls had run away from their homes to find refuge and safety at Kajiado Center. “Sometimes it’s more important,” mused one of my teammates, “[for people] to give something important to [them],” whether the receiver feels worthy or not. It isn’t selfish to accept a gift given in kindness, and our hosts seemed to abound in kindness!

Our hosts had welcomed us with open arms, embraced all our mistakes, and loved us in spite of them. These are people God is apparent in. Kajiado taught me that wherever God is makes a place whole—a home. I will never take for granted the people God has put in my life, who they are, or what they do. I will strive to make others a priority, instead of focusing on myself. I will live with the inspirational resilience, respect, and compassion of those girls I met at Kajiado. I will find a home in fellowship and faith. By God’s grace I will smile no matter what.

Words cannot express how much I miss the culture, people, and spirit of Kenya. I miss haggling for goods, playing sports with the students, and hugging toddlers during VBS. I miss the kitchen staff and their sincere prayers. I miss the sprawling, grassy savanna dotted with animals. I miss their sincere praise. But I won’t cry because our time together ended. No, I’ll live their example—smiling because we met. “Remember us! Remember to come back to Kenya one day,” they said. “And if you’re not able to make it, then we can part knowing we’ll meet again in heaven.”

Our mission team may have constructed a building, but the people of Kajiado gave us something better in return. What we gave them paled in comparison to the rich, life-changing blessings we took home. New perspectives, memories to last a lifetime, and love to last forever. For a time they gave us another home, and we left roots behind. But there is another home God is preparing for us in His perfect timing. What a blessing and a reassurance that even if God’s plan for my future may not include a follow-up visit to Kenya, there is a hope we will see those smiling faces again someday.

Lawren Slack

Lawren Slack is a student at Pacific Union College Preparatory School.