2018 Kenya Mission Trip Reflections
“Cristo Amefufuka” ….. “Kweli Amefufuka” (“Christ is Risen” … “Truly He is Risen” in Swahili)
As we (Vivian Chelpon, Mary VanMullekom, Victoria Cherpes, and Eleni Porter) prepared for this mission trip to attend the first Diocesan Mothers’ Convention in Kenya, we were unsure how the women of Kenya would accept us and view women coming from the Western world. However, from the time we arrived in Kenya until the time we departed from this beautiful country and its people, we were greeted with the most contagious smiles and our days were filled with spiritual music, and sometimes, dance. The most exciting song we learned and sang often is “Christ is Risen” in Swahili. It goes like this:
“Cristo Amefufuka Toka Wafu,
Kwa Mauti Mauti Akaikanyanga Na,
Waliokuwa Kaburini Uzima Amewakarimu”
For the first three days, we had the honor of spending time with Bishop Neofitos, Wilson (our “go-to” guide), and John (our driver). Driving along the beautiful landscapes of unique trees with troops of baboons running in the fields and Mt. Kenya (elevation: 5,900 meters) in the background, we visited several Orthodox locations. Our first stop was at a plot of land, donated to the church, with 4 dilapidated structures (a church, an orphanage, a schoolhouse, and an out-house). The Bishop’s hope is to rebuild these structures and reopen it into an operating orphanage. We were told that the head teacher, Jen, would need approximately $500 per month to pay 3 teachers, feed the kids, and obtain school supplies.
After crossing over the Equator, we had lunch at a breath-taking waterfall resort, before visiting the Makarios Center. This is where we delivered the donated hats and gloves, knitted by women across America, onto very grateful heads of children at the orphanage. We were greeted by the beautiful children and we joined them as the Bishop blessed the cornerstones of where the first of eight new classrooms will be built. As the bishop dug (yes, you read that correctly) and blessed the corners, the children chanted psalms and songs, making it a very memorable event. The construction of each classroom will take some time and will be completed as the funds ($13,000 per classroom) become available.
The highlights of the next day were visiting the Bishop’s office at The Diocese Cathedral and watching his secretary, Sophia, hard at work with the final planning of the Women’s Conference. Here, we had the opportunity to discuss with the Bishop more details about the women who would be attending the convention and some of the issues/questions that they might have. After taking tea in the afternoon, we drove to a tin roof church where the Bishop blessed the new uniforms that the women’s group from the Diocese of Nyeri and Mt. Kenya had made for the Women’s Union. Even though the pounding rain drowned out the sound of the joyful singing within the simple plywood-structured church walls, the excitement of the event was contagious.
This contagious feeling continued for the next two days of conferencing with over 350 women from all over Kenya! They all left their homes, husbands, and children to travel, some for two days, to be there. This was a big step for most of them, who never leave their homes, mainly because they are the only members of the household who can cook. Even though the theme of the Women’s Conference started off being called “Arise and Walk”, by the end of the week, it had been transformed into “Arise, Shake it Off, Walk, and Take Your Position”.
The energy in the room for 3 days cannot be described with words. It must be experienced! It was uplifting from 6:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. The topics of the many inspirational speakers varied from nutrition to spirituality, parenting to financing, and leadership roles of the women in their communities, churches, and home. They talked about being a positive woman and what it means to “arise, walk, and take their position”. We were welcomed repeatedly through the expression of song and dance. By the end of our trip, we were “inducted” into the Women’s Group. We were given several gifts to represent our acceptance into their group. We received a green Diocese of Nyeri and Mt. Kenya bandana headwrap, a women’s apron used when cooking in the kitchen, and a traditional Kenyan food gathering basket, which is supported from the forehead, all symbolic of a complete Kenyan woman. We felt Kenyan, to say the least! Our farewell is one that we will always remember as we were showered with song and dance.
Since we were accepted into the Women’s Group, we were made aware of a need and income opportunity for the women to purchase outdoor tents that have a dual-purpose. They can be used for church services to minister to those who live far from available churches and they can serve as rentals for events, ensuring an income for the women’s group. This venture has been blessed by the Bishop. The cost for each tent is approximately $1,000 and the hope is that the group may acquire 5 of these tents.
Just as we thought that we experienced the highlight of our trip, we were again blessed with meeting and having Liturgy with Archbishop Makarios of Kenya, who was assigned to this position in 2001 and who celebrated his 73rd birthday while we were there. The women baked him a birthday cake and celebrated with the tradition of the Archbishop feeding a bite of cake to all attendees (well, at least to most of the 400 people who were present!). We were pleasantly surprised to see the comfort and yet utter respect that the people feel towards their bishops.
In the end, as we departed Kenya, we realized how renewed and energized we felt to have been a part of the first Diocesan Mothers’ Convention. We have left a part of our hearts to our sisters in Kenya and look forward to the next time that we can reunite with them in celebrating life and each other.
We would like to thank Father Costa and the St. Katherine’s community for their support and prayers.