Guest Post: The Depth of Hope

Guest Post by Kristel

Kristel is a life-long member of the church living in Australia.  She served a mission in New Mexico, and is wide open for life to bring her adventure.  She is one of six children, enjoys landscape photography, fishing and travelling.

 

Growing up I had always heard words to the effect of, “if you are struggling, find ways to serve others”.  Thinking about those words when I was in a period of hopelessness and emptiness bugged me a little – those words were not what I wanted to hear – how could I possibly motivate myself to find ways to do something for someone else! What about ME?? If I’m the one struggling – people need to help me….right?

These words eventually rang true to me when I served an LDS mission. On my mission in New Mexico, I came to know of the joy of helping, sharing and supporting others in need. Ultimately, I learnt that I am truly the one that benefits most from doing something for someone else.

And then… In 2011, after 2 1/2 years of my own personal “to hell and back” painful divorce experience, I found myself in a position to take advantage of a long life dream to travel through Africa. After some time, I decided to specifically travel through Kenya and Uganda. In flicking through travel magazines, I learnt of opportunities to volunteer whilst travelling. Wanting to have some kind of ‘feeling’ back again, I decided to volunteer for 6 weeks, and then go on Safari.

This volunteer opportunity was nothing short of incredible. I was placed with a home-stay family in Naivasha (approx 1 1/2 hours north-west of Nairobi). For 6 weeks I travelled Monday-Friday to and from a slum 20 mins out of Naivasha where I helped at the small non-government primary school for the slum children.  

I knew that I would experience the biggest culture shock of my life, especially considering that as an Australian, serving a mission in New Mexico was culture shock enough. But the journal I kept leading-up to my time in Kenya helps me recall my feelings of excitement to learn of Kenyan culture and traditions, and to learn of the ways I would grow from this adventure.

My first day at the school brought so many emotions.  I saw children as young as 3 years old walk 20 minutes alone or with other students along a rocky road, many with no shoes on (it was crazy that many walked as if they DID have shoes on….shows that they have never owned a pair), clothes in tatters, many clearly hadn’t bathed for days, weeks or longer. I also saw the slum for the first time…. tiny shacks made of sheet metal with nothing but dirt floors and cardboard boxes to sleep on. This is what the children/woman/men called ‘home’. I learnt that the 140 children that attended the small primary school mainly attended because they wanted at least one meal a day. All of these things literally made my heart sink.  It is one thing to see these dire situations on TV or read about them – but it is extremely confronting and thought-provoking seeing it first-hand.

I instantly loved these people and desired so much to help them. After a week of helping any way I could (prep-work for lunches, reading/playing/teaching children at the school or helping to make beads for jewelry out of magazine paper at the “woman’s group” in the slum),  I sat on my own in the backyard to do some of my laundry in a bucket of ice cold water.  It was a good chance to try and make sense of feelings and thoughts I was having.  Thoughts like, “how can God allow His children to live in these conditions? How is this fair?” I started to feel guilty for having lived such a sheltered life – with electricity, clean running water, a bed, toothbrush, shower, flush toilet, 3 meals a day, more than one set of clothes in very good condition, shoes, writing materials, transport, free education, good health care system, parents who loved me, living in a safe country/community etc…. the list is endless.

In Kenya, I heard numerous stories of women and children being raped and beaten and women prostituting for as little as 10 Kenyan Shillings (about 10 cents) in order to in some small way, provide for their families. To be honest, my faith was really tested.  At times I felt silly for having doubt and questioning the goodness of God – the questions I was asking myself were similar to the questions I was the one answering as a missionary time and time again. There were some nights I remember pondering what I was seeing or experiences I was having and crying as I reflected on the lives of the people I loved in the slum.  The fact that this was just “how it is” for these people – could not ever settle well with me. One night a quote came to mind, though I cannot recall who said it (Sheri Dew? President Hinckley?), “we know enough about the gospel to feel the guilt, but not enough to feel the hope”.

HOPE – that is what I had struggled with for the past 2 1/2 years through my painful divorce, and being in a third world country had at first intensified my doubts, fears and feelings of hopelessness.  I kept thinking over and over on those 6 words, “but not enough to feel the hope”.  In that moment, I felt the love of God for the people in these circumstances and an overwhelming feeling of hope. Because of my testimony of the Atonement of my Saviour -that I had developed mostly as a missionary – but had been clouded over for some time, I was reminded and felt, for the first time in a long time, a very real surety that whilst this may be ‘how it is’ for a short time, it will not be forever! One day, these woman and children who my heart pained for would be free of their pain, poverty, fears and illnesses.  They will be free of what this world offers them.  Not only that – but I began to see the good and hope in what I felt were my small efforts.  I could in some way help lift their burdens and help them become educated, healthy and independent. Their journey can also be one of hope.

The things I learnt and the way I changed because of the seemingly insignificant service I gave to the people in the KCC Slum will impact who I am forever. I don’t think that I will ever complain about my shower running cold for a whole 5 seconds because someone else is using the water in the kitchen at the same time; “having nothing to wear”; the power going out in a storm; or having ‘no food in the house”- when there is really plenty there and I am being too lazy to cook a meal.

So, in saying all of this – I have booked my flight to return in August of this year for seven weeks. I want to go back to continue to help empower these people that helped me understand what I needed most. For me, Kenya is one of my “places of happiness” that I hope to return to as often as I can. I can’t say that I am looking forward to having bird baths from a bucket of ice cold water, having no flush toilet, or feeling dirty as soon as I’ve bathed, but I am excited to reconnect with the people in the slum. Seeing the children excited about something as simple as a new pencil; the children fighting to hold your hand, then you and they settling on your towing ten children as each of them holding one finger; the children running to you when you walk into town; visiting a family of 8 living in a shack and being offered the last of their food because they want to be hospitable…- these are things that not only surprised me, but humbled me and make me want to return.

Ethel Percy Andrus said, “The human contribution is the essential ingredient. It is only in the giving of oneself to others that we truly live”. In Kenya – I began to see hope in my life again the lives of others, and I started to live again.

My personal airfare and travel expenses for the trip are completely self-funded. But if you would like to make a donation, please click on this link which explains more of where the money raised will go. Any donation is very much appreciated and will be put to very good use.

 

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10 Responses

  1. EM says:

    I am so privileged and yet I complain. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Bradley says:

    This is wonderful, thank you so much! It’s so ironic that where there is the most need, there is the most hope. The most fertile ground for love to be expressed, the most likely place to find the meaning of being alive.

    We think of the creation of something long past, when it’s really something we are in the thick of right now. “Doing love” as co-creator with God is as good as it gets. What if we are the authors of the lamb’s book of life?

  3. Caroline says:

    Wow, what a powerful experience. Kristel, how I admire you for seeking out this opportunity to help the people of Kenya and Uganda. Sometimes I think that I would like to do something similar someday, but I know it would be so difficult to see the pain, the poverty, the malnutrition of little kids. I’m afraid I might break down over and over again when I see awful situations I just can’t fix. But I do love how you’ve moved past that feeling of hopelessness and see the good in the small things you can do there. Best of luck with your next journey there!

  4. EmilyCC says:

    I’m so glad you shared your experience here, Kristel. I’ve never done something like this but the theological implications of seeing such poverty face-to-face are startling to contemplate.

    Best wishes and success on your upcoming trip!

  5. CS Eric says:

    As I have struggled through my wife’s death just over a year ago, one of my pity parties focused on the fact that I am no longer anyone’s top priority. Then I got a bit of perspective and understood that I don’t have anyone who is my top priority any more either. I need to find a way I can serve beyond my once-a-week church calling. This post inspires me.

    • christer1979 says:

      I don’t know if this is something you’re looking for / something that will help, but have you ever read C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, or seen the play / film Shadowlands? Both deal with Lewis grieving after he lost his wife to cancer. For what it’s worth, prayers and positive thoughts are being sent your way, Eric.

  6. Whoa-man says:

    Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story! Sometimes things are complicated and I’m glad you didn’t shy away from those entangled issues. The world is a better place because you are here and you ACT!

  7. Rachel says:

    Thank you for your post! In this last year I spent my first stint abroad. It was nothing like your experience (as it was just in Vienna for 6 months of studying), but even that culture shock was enough to shock me and humble me.

    I love your focus on hope and your focus on “empower”ing the people there. My husband lived in Africa (in Uganda) for a time before we were married and so I have heard many a story about the complications of being an outsider and going into such spaces and trying to help people help themselves. I would be interested in hearing more of your insights on that tricky issue.

  8. amelia says:

    I love that this is a story of hope, not just one of suffering. Both for you personally, Kristel, and for the people you’ve served. And I really like the quote about knowing enough about the gospel to feel the guilt, but not the hope. So often life gives us reason to feel hopeless or guilty or like we’ve fallen short, but I think the gospel is all about learning to see as God does–to see all the reasons for the hopelessness and the guilt and the sorrow, but to also see all the reasons and potential for hope and joy and love. That’s not an easy way to see the world, whether we’re talking about just day-to-day life or big, global problems. Not easy, but so worth it. Thanks for sharing your story.

  1. January 24, 2016

    […] This guest post by Kristel, wherein she chose to go and serve in Kenya, just […]

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