Guest column: “Luther” Trip to Kenya

Bison Blinds

Editor’s Note: I have had the privilege to get to know Stephen Kearby at my part-time job at The 116 Farmstead, Market & Table on Main Street in Luther. He likes our decaf coffee and breakfast parfait. Stephen is the Outreach Minister at the Luther Church of Christ and the Community Service Center. When we learned he was taking a missionary trip to Kenya in October, I asked him whether he would PLEASE take a picture of himself wearing my favorite Luther t-shirt IN NAIROBI. He did! And he also obliged my request to write a guest piece about his first trip to Africa. Enjoy and if you want to read Part Two, please comment. This might end up being a regular Luther Register News feature where we can read about our neighbors – our adventures, our careers and our dreams. Thanks Stephen!

Two travelers found their way from Oklahoma all the way to Nairobi, Kenya, earlier this year. One was from the city. But the other lives in a small, country town known as Luther.

“We’re gonna be in the air for 19 hours with two layovers,” said OKC, to which Luther replied, “Well … crap!”

They arrived in Nairobi at the national airport to a customs line where, if the agent wasn’t at the counter, it would have seemed that there was a roadblock of travelers in front of the customs desk that evening. If that wasn’t enough, there were several signs posted saying, “No Idle Standing.” After about an hour, the travelers made their way from customs to baggage claim to meet the missionary they came to visit, named Texas. Texas promptly welcomed them to Kenya as they made their way past the police officers carrying machine rifles, on their way to the car. The nighttime sky didn’t allow them to see this new countryside they found themselves in, except for the other cars weaving in and out and around the light coming from the street lights above.

“We’re gonna stay at my place tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll head out to the M.I.T.S program!” exclaimed Texas.

The two travelers came on behalf of their church congregation to visit Texas, who is their missionary to Nairobi for the MITS program. MITS is short for Made in the Streets, a church organization in Nairobi, formed to help kids who live on the streets to turn their lives around for a better future, both spiritually and physically. The kids are in the streets for various reasons: they are either sent away by parents who are physically or financially unable to care for them, or are driven away by domestic issues such as abuse from a parent or step-parent.  They could be orphaned or are lured into prostitution or crime by the promise of money or social acceptance. Any one or multiple of those reasons usually lands them on the streets. This is where the MITS program comes into play. MITS starts by building a relationship with the kids where the kids are. The kids spread the word well enough – they know what the MITS program is and they have the option to be a part of it. If they choose the program, MITS not only provides them with a Christian education but also a secular education to the same level afforded to middle-class kids in Nairobi. Computer training is also provided which is more than what most in the country get! If that isn’t enough, MITS trains each child in a profession, of which they offer several, so that they have a means of employment when they graduate from the program. And, when they do complete the program and get out on their own, MITS provides them with funds to survive on for several months, each successive month stepping back that amount until the kid stops receiving funds with the idea that the kid is employed, making his or her own money, and now has a savings built up for a rainy day.

MITS cares about the relationships they make. Those kids aren’t kids anymore – they’re adults. They’re productive members of society. They are trained for their well-being, both spiritually and physically. And they know they are a part of a family. MITS was started by a couple of Americans. But now it’s run almost exclusively by former street kids.

“We will be at the facility in just a few minutes. Today, you’ll head on out to the skills center. OKC and I will be at another location teaching a class,” Texas informed me. The skills center is where computer and trade courses are taught. They offer catering (cooking class) and a salon, (hairdressing class) – their highest paid skill. They also offer an auto mechanics and woodworking class, which is where Luther found himself. And what he found there was a place with five guys with whom he could relate, even if it was just about making stuff.

After a while,  the shop teacher said, “OK, now you can teach the class.” Luther stopped dead in his tracks thinking in his mind, “come again,” but actually replying, “Okay, what do you want me to teach them?” The shop teacher, without missing a beat, recommended, “Just teach them what you know about woodworking.,” to which Luther replied firmly but with a quick swallow, “Sure, no problem. Can we start that after lunch?”

With lunch passing by, OKC and Texas turned up and announced special class sessions on finances and relationships for the afternoon for all the skills groups, much to the delight of Luther, who had nothing come to mind for his part of the class. Upon learning of the reprieve, Luther stumbles into another classroom to meet with the computer skills teacher, who is a former street kid. Luther had only pieced together parts of the history of this program. So now, because there’s an abundance of time and the computer skills teacher, whose English is very good, loves talking about this subject, this is the time to get the complete story!

Would you like to hear more of the story? Stephen is a reluctant writer but he has many stories to tell. Let us know in the comments if you’d like part two of  “Luther’s Trip to Kenya.” 

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