The plane touches down. You weren’t lucky enough to get a window seat so you wonder what this new outside world will look like. The place that you always dreamed of going, the place where they are in so much need, the poorest place in the world, the starving babies on the commercials. Africa. But when you step out onto the tarmac, it’s just black. You had forgotten the time change, and that it was 8 hours different from what you were used to back home in your comfortable little life. You aren’t able to see the lay of the land because night has already fallen, so you make your way to the hotel that has been prepared for you just outside of Nairobi. As you make your way to the small two bed room complete with mosquito nets and bottled water, you can feel the lack of blood in your legs from sitting on them for 17 hours straight. I guess that it was time for bed, but how could I sleep? My first mission trip, my first time flying out of the country, my first time coming to Africa. My mind was speeding through scenarios. And in trying to calm my thoughts, I began to clear my head of any expectations that I had for the trip. I wanted to go in with an open mind for whatever it was that God wanted to happen on this trip. And there was where I found my nerves letting go.
The next day we attended church at the African Inland Church at Milimani where we caught the end of the Swahili service and then stayed for the remaining English service. If you haven’t heard God praised in Swahili, then you are missing out. I was overwhelmed, and tried my hardest to fight back the tears that so desperately wanted to be let out. To be thousands of miles from home, and when you wake up the next morning, God is there. I know that we all know that God is everywhere all the time, but sometimes it takes seeing something for it to really materialize for you. And that was the case with me. It was such an incredible feeling to know that my God was here in Africa. And that the same God was being praised by the people here in the same way that I praise Him back home. That was the first time that I was really able to grasp the concept of God existing everywhere at once, as childish as that may be.
As church drew to a close we made the trek from Nairobi to the mountain town of Kijabe about 30 minutes north. As we drove, I began to see “real Africa.” I saw the poor. I saw the poverty. I saw the homelessness. The sadness. The filth. But it was nothing that I expected. I expected I would have a sense of helplessness and that I would be overwhelmed with what I saw. But it was different. Because in all that devastation, and in all that poverty I think I experienced true joy. In the faces of the little boys talking and laughing on the side of the road, or the little girls that were chasing one another in the field, I saw that raw, unadulterated joy. There weren’t complaints. There weren’t distractions from what was making them happy. They were in the moment, grateful to be alive. With nothing, they were happier than most of us who have everything. This wouldn’t be the last time that I noticed this.
The sun was beginning to set as we drove to the top of the ridge. The road veered to the left and people on either side stared as the bus full of Americans turned into the Kijabe station road. At the turn off, the locals had their shops set up selling fruits and vegetables, shoes, souvenirs, crafts, and whatever else that they had to keep themselves afloat. We made our way down the dirt road, weaving back and forth to miss the potholes, big ones at least, the brakes were hot enough on the bus that you could feel them through the floor board and smell them with every breath. When we pulled into the CURE International hospital mission I could tell that there was a different atmosphere. The people started to wave, the kids started to smile and make excited waves back rather than the cold stares that we had been used to in the city from the night before and the ride that morning. So as the van came to a stop at the bottom of the hill, parked on the side of the mountain that had been terraced out to fit the building on, and there was a moment of silence before the doors slammed open and people began talking about how excited that they were to be there. In that moment, I could tell God was there.
As I looked out through the top of the half tinted bus window I was drawn into the sunset, sliding down right over the mountains in front of us. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. Here come the tears. I was overwhelmed by the beauty. It screamed God’s signature. The most beautiful scenery that I had ever seen, in the place that I would have least expected it. Wasn’t Africa grasslands and dessert? No. Africa was beautiful. From the moment we pulled in, I knew that I would never be the same. And it was only day one.