When I stepped off the plane in Nairobi, Kenya, I had no idea I would be embarking on one of the best experiences of my life.
Last summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to join two other college students to participate in a 10-week internship with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel, Sam and Melody Harrell.
Sam and Melody are the founders of Africa Exchange, an organization that partners with communities in helping build integrated child development centers (nursery schools). In Kenya, nursery schools are not funded by the government but are very crucial for a child’s development.
Because the Harrells realized that education is extremely important in order for a community to lift themselves out of poverty, they have invested much of their time and resources into building child development centers in every province in Kenya.
I was able to be a part of their sustainable, Christ-centered development work through helping initiate different projects in several of these development centers throughout the region.
During my time in Kenya, I helped construct 25 water filtration tanks for homes in a village called Sisit, built gunny-sack gardens to incorporate sustainable gardening techniques in a rural village called Loonegeiwuan, and helped teachers with curriculum development in Ruiru.
While I contributed a little bit to the work of the Harrells in Kenya, they taught me even more about how to effectively help those in need.
I learned that building relationships with communities should be the foundation of any kind of mission or development work.
It is not until we push our differences aside and let go of any preconceived notions or baggage that positive, sustainable development will result.
Sam and Melody understand that God is already in the communities in which they are serving and that they are just joining in and contributing to God’s mission in that particular community.
I have learned from the Harrells that when serving Christ in the world, we have to remember that we are a part of the larger church’s mission of building the kingdom of God.
We ourselves are not responsible for “converting” someone; that is the job of the Holy Spirit.
We can only be vessels through which the Holy Spirit works and through which our actions should speak louder than our words.
When on mission, my experience in Kenya has molded me to be a person who seeks to act as Christ to my brothers and sisters not only through speech, but also through action – the action of loving and serving others as Christ did.
Lauren Hovis is a student at the University of North Carolina. She served with CBF field personnel Sam and Melody Harrell in the summer of 2012. A version of this column first appeared on the CBF blog, and is used with permission.
Editor’s note: You can view a Skype interview between Cliff Vaughn and Sam Harrell about Africa Exchange’s development work in Nairobi, Kenya, here.