MORF had the privilege of talking with five students from Kenya. The students, members of Compassion International’s Leadership Development Program, spent last summer speaking to kids and teens at Student Life camps about how they can change a child’s life through Compassion.
This was the first trip to the U.S. for all but David.
MORF: What was the biggest surprise for you coming to the States?
Stella Masese: My first surprise was seeing a place with no dust. In Kenya, I see dust everywhere blowing up and mud. The cars were big. The houses were big. Everything was big.
David Wangaka: In Kenya, there are so many people walking, maybe to work or to wherever, but here in the U.S., you go to a city like Birmingham and sometimes there is no one in the street. It’s like an ancient city that’s just there for people to visit or something like that. For us in Kenya, we have millions of people walking.
Nelly Njoki Kagoro: The extreme differences in temperature. Outside it’s really hot, but inside it’s really cold. So it took us a while to adapt to the changes.
Seleina Shurake: It’s different how we worship God. In Africa, if you are a girl you put on a skirt and it must be very long. If you are a boy you dress up decently. Here, it’s really different.
MORF: What other differences did you notice with worship?
Nelly: The prayers are short. I would say a prayer and that prayer would be so long compared to another person’s.
David: When you take African worship, people have a great faith because of lack of choices. If you are sick, you have to pray to get healed. You don’t have an alternative of going to the hospital. I think that’s the difference because here in the U.S., if it happens that I pray and get healed, it’s OK, but even if it doesn’t happen, I am going to get healed in the hospital.
Tony Njambi: I understand, because for an American, your child met you in a big house. They found you with a big car. You have to convince that child it came from God before it came to you.
David: Even in worship time, people just stare at the band and their pockets. That’s something that cannot happen at most of African churches. Someone is just staring at the band and yet, you can feel the presence of God in that place. You just want to go and tell them “Can’t you feel that?”
I realize that the one thing about Americans is that you have to be led to do something sometimes. You have to be shown. When there is someone that is showing you, people obey.
MORF: Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Kenya, it seems like prayer is more like a cycle. You see the need, there is a prayer for the need, there’s prayer during it and there’s thanksgiving afterwards.
Nelly: It’s based more on faith. We pray to God for food and even sometimes give thanks for the food that’s even not here. I’m praying, but I believe that already God is doing something about what I’m praying for. So I also give thanks.
MORF: Is there anything that you saw in American churches or worship that you were inspired by?
Stella: I’ve learned they open up a lot. I’ve never seen even my pastor opening up the way these youth ministers were opening up. The transparency was good. I learned that there is nothing to hide before God and before men.
Tony: One of the most incredible things I have seen about the American church is the willingness to give. People are so generous if they know really what you are suffering from or your problem.
MORF: If you could go to every church, to people your age around the U.S., and tell them one thing that they could do to make their connection to God stronger, what would that be?
Nelly: I would encourage them to make a relationship with God more personal. It’s not a church issue. It’s about my heart and God and how they relate to each other. They should just try to understand that when God says He is our Father, that’s how we should relate to Him. We may want them to pray the way we pray, but sometimes it may be hard until you get to that level where God is your Father. To a point of understanding where if you have something, it’s not yours, but God has provided it because He is in charge of your life and in control of everything.
Stella: I would tell them that God is everywhere, not just when you go to church or when you want to eat or when you have a problem. You can pray to God anywhere, anytime. I would also encourage them to pray with expectancy.
Seleina: I think I would just move everybody here and put them in a desperate position. If they are desperate for basic needs like food, their prayers would automatically change.
Tony: I would tell them to appreciate and go beyond borders. Go beyond America and see other parts of the world. They have a lot and that’s why sometimes they are not quick to realize how much they are blessed with. If they only appreciate the meal they have, that they have a car, appreciate your parents, appreciate America isn’t fighting itself. We have to go through war after every election. For us, a “miracle” is different. Every day I have to pray, “God, I don’t know what I am going to have for dinner today,” so whenever I have that dinner, for me, it’s a miracle. My house is barely bigger than this table but you should see how proud I am in my village. I really appreciate, “God I thank you for this house. It has electricity.” I grew up in a mud house. People are dying of famine back at home.
MORF: Spiritually, what are you going to take back with you from this summer?
Nelly: I used to think that the U.S. is the perfect place where you don’t have to work hard for anything and these people are so happy all the time. They don’t have problems because they have food. They have houses to live in and they have cars they can drive.
But you also have children here in America who need God. They have funny addictions, like people will just cut themselves because they are mad. I just realize that even when I’m praying for that child who doesn’t have food, there is a child who is going through abuse in America. There is a child who is seeing their parents divorce. He’s 8 years old, and he’s trying to understand, “if God is all-powerful, if God is loving and caring, why do I have to go through this?” God is still real and He can still change the situation.
I moved from a point where I didn’t know what it is to have three meals. They can be people who are going to change what is going on in their countries. So that is a prayer that I am going to carry with me.
David: I have learned so much about obedience, because that’s one thing I have realized about people in the U.S. They obey when they realize that something is right and something is beneficial. They obey to receive salvation because they know it’s the only thing that can give you peace in your heart.
MORF: So what happens next for you guys?
David: We have been equipped so well for the last four years in college and also in the Leadership Development Program. When we get back to Kenya after graduation, we can start serving immediately. We can start helping people who are living in slums, not because we have money or anything, but because there is a lot to be done. In the slums we grew up in, we are able to go back and help them write letters to their sponsors. We will be using our skills back in our country. For me, I’m planning on doing an international relations degree, master’s studies in peacekeeping and conflict resolution, because I believe that’s one area that affects Africa so much. The poverty in Africa has so many factors that cause it like war, corruption, disaster. That’s why God gave me the desire to know what is happening there, so that I am able to help.
To find out more about how your church can help children around the world, please visit studentlife.com/compassion.