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Ministry Team Making Difference in Kenya

Melissa Jones

Melissa Jones

July 12, 2011


By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

(Editor's Note: This is the first of a two-part series on the Baylor Sports Ministry Team's third trip to Nairobi, Kenya and the impact made by the group of 47 through clinics, extended visits and construction projects.)

Peter Mutisya's smile said it all.

Through the efforts of a 47-member Baylor Sports Ministry Team that was making its third annual pilgrimage to Kenya, Mutisya and his family had their house rebuilt in a single day after it was destroyed in a fire that swept through the slums outside of Nairobi.

"When the house burnt down, we had lost all hope. We lost all we had in the fire," Mutisya told a reporter, "but now we have a smile back on our faces. . . We thank all that have worked in making this day the most memorable in our lives and that of the entire community. We will live to pray for their success in whatever they do." No matter how much success they've had on their trips into Kenya, few things can compare to rebuilding a man's home.

"One of the most touching things I experienced there was to help a man put together his house," said Terrance Ganaway, a senior running back for the football team. "He lost a lot of possessions, probably photos and family things that he had for his kids, because everything is precious to them. So just to sort of piece back together some of the things he had lost was the most memorable thing I experienced when I was there."

"You knew there was a house that used to be there," said Brooke Biddle, a senior on the equestrian team, "and it was just ashes and nothingness. We went into Makuru and saw where the houses had been burned down. . . . So seeing the site where we rebuilt the house, that was a pretty big `Wow!' moment."

Baylor's return trip to Kenya (May 15-29), which included 36 current or former student-athletes, rekindled some relationships built through the first two visits, sparked some new connections and impacted their own lives as much as the ones they touched along the way.

"To get to give something that is staying while we're gone is really neat," said Baylor Athletics Chaplain Wes Yeary, who led the trip along with Kim Scott, Baylor Senior Associate Athletic Director Tom Hill and his wife, Kristin. "It was a rebuilding that brought such hope to those that were so discouraged. And then for me, it's always neat to watch our student-athletes and how they give and serve and work and love on others . . . to see the tenderness of their hearts and see them respond to the needs that are around them is just special for me."

I am starting to learn that it is better to go into each day with no expectations, but with an availability and attentiveness to whatever God has to show me and a willingness to serve wherever we find a need. I am so excited to see how God is planning on amplifying the rest of our plans in these next weeks the way that He did today. - Lisa Sliwinski (May 17)

Even before they arrive in Nairobi, one of the key words is flexibility. What was scheduled as a "light" first day of visiting the Kizito Orphanage turns into a six-hour work day of repairing the fence around the facility. "We were able to buy the supplies to rebuild an entire fence for less money than it cost to buy the supplies to make our lunches today," Sliwinski wrote in the team blog at http://kenyasports11.wordpress.com.

"This was the first fence I have ever helped to build from the ground up, and these are by far the most welcome blisters I have ever earned."

Sophomore Zoe Adom from the volleyball team got to see the importance of flexibility at a volleyball clinic during the trip.

"When they were telling us about the clinics they did last year, I was kind of surprised that they were indoors," Adom said. "But we had it all planned out, how we were going to do it to a tee. And we get to the place, and it's outside. There is no court, no net, there's nothing there. And I was like, `We can't do anything that we planned to do.' We didn't know what we were going to do, but had to help them out as best as we can. And that's what we had to do. We had no other choice."

Whether it's seasoned veterans like Lindsay Palmer, Melissa Jones and Bryan Swindoll or first-time newcomers, visits with the street children in Nairobi can be a sobering experience. Joining with local pastor Boniface Mwalimu, the Baylor group makes two early-morning trips to feed the street children - many who are addicted to sniffing glue to the mask the hunger pains.

Arriving before the crack of dawn, they intentionally try to reach them before the kids start getting high.

"I had put this wall up that I'm about to go into this thing and it's going to be bad, because they talked about everyone sniffing glue and the huge language barrier and they don't really care about the message. They just want the food," said freshman quarterback Bryce Petty from the football team.

"I went in with that whole mindset, but I got totally rocked. At least from what I saw, there were only about five of them that were on glue. And when I talked to them the first time, this kid named Robert was pretty much preaching to me. He was talking about how our world needs more peace. And without peace, we can't love. And I'm like, `Man, preach on!' I had all these walls set up where I really needed to be praying for this or that, and there were points where I was like, `Whoah, that's not it at all.' And then there were some points where it was a lot worse than I was expecting."

One of the more memorable moments on the trip came on their second visit with the street kids, when they followed it up with a sports clinic in the downtown park. For the first time, they got to see the kids acting like kids.

"Most of the time when we see them, they're high off the glue and just strung out on the streets and look so sad," said Palmer, a senior on the women's basketball team who was making her third trip along with Jones and Swindoll, a senior tight end on the football team. "But when we got to play soccer with them, it was like they got to be little kids for a minute. They were laughing and running around and having a great team. Even if it was only for an hour, it was nice to see them have that outlet. That was probably my favorite day, just because it breaks my heart that kids don't get to be kids. I didn't know anything else as a kid but fun."

Some of the tightest and hopefully most lasting connections came on the group's trip to the Mukuru slums, where they rebuilt a house that will include a community center for a team of junior league soccer players.

"Just to see that they didn't have shoes or anything, but they had hope for every day," said volleyball player Qian Zhang, a senior from Beijing, China. "They didn't know that much about God, but they believe that God will bless them to go through every difficult thing."

"It was something that I just never imagined before," said Casey Lougheed, a graduate assistant trainer who works with the soccer team. "It was crazy to see how they lived and what they didn't have and to see how faithful they were and how they considered themselves blessed. Compared to what we have, it's on a completely different scale. What we might think they would be lacking, they didn't seem to even be bothered by it."

In Mukuru, several members of the Baylor group developed friendships that will carry on through sponsorships. While local contact Walter Machio is establishing a trust fund in Kenya, the Baylor group is setting up a non-profit foundation that will send donations to the sponsored children - where a "one-time visit is becoming something that can carry on for years after that," Yeary said.

Senior volleyball player Jordan Rice, who was making her second trip to Kenya, was touched by a young boy in Mukuru named Tony.

"I just sat down next to somebody else on the team and was waiting for whatever we were doing next," Rice said. "And this little kid just ran up and sat next to me and starting talking to me. We went and saw them like two or three times throughout the trip, and he always ran to me every time the group would get there."

Palmer and Biddle are co-sponsoring a young boy named William.

"I was talking to him and asked if his house was OK and if he and his family were OK, and he was like, `Oh, yeah, we're fine,''' Biddle said. "He acted very nonchalant about the fact that the fire had wiped out the village. And then when we were handing out cleats to the (soccer) kids, Walter said he was going to have the boy who lost literally everything in the fire go first. And William stands up and walks up there. I was like, `Are you kidding me?' He acts like it's totally fine, no big deal, and he had lost literally everything."

Jones, who will play for the volleyball team this fall after having her jersey retired at the end of a four-year basketball career, connected with an 18-year-old girl named Christine.

"She was actually the sister of one of the boys who's part of Walter's soccer team. And their house was one of them that had burned down," Jones said. "And we just got into these deep conversations. We had these cool beaded bracelets that Kristin (Hill) had made ahead of time. And I ended up sharing one with (Christine). And after that moment, we just really didn't want to be apart until we had to go home for the night. No matter where we went after that, whether it was playing soccer or putting on that basketball clinic, she would literally walk an hour and a half from the slums to come and find us, just so we could talk."

In the second part of the series, we will take a look at the other projects completed by the Baylor group and a memorable trip to the men's and women's prisons.