Our guest blogger, Holly Kehlenbeck, has been a part of the 58ten community since the beginning and has played a vital role in 58ten’s partnership with Kitui Baby Home. In this blog she shares about her first visit to Kenya.
So many ideas initially come to mind with the mention of this continent, right? Usually it’s the stereotypical descriptions of lions and tigers and bears, hot savannahs, colorful clothing…not to mention hunger, poverty and violence. While many of those characterizations are accurate, I’m here to shed just a little bit of light on a deeper, possibly less known part of Africa. A part involving real people, and their very real stories…many of which I heard for myself just over two months ago in the beautiful country of Kenya.
My African adventure began on August 24th, 2016. Thirteen members of our 58ten team sat at a gate in Philly waiting to board our first flight. In case you were unaware, 58ten is a community of Christians who act on behalf of orphans in Kenya, Africa. Our group included a variety of ages, backgrounds and experiences, but we were all unified in our desire to experience what God intended for us through this trip. I was especially excited to journey alongside my brother, Jeremy, who helped launch the ministry of 58ten and was our team lead (shout-out!) As I sat in the airport sharing surface small talk with many of the team members I had just met for the first time, so many thoughts were racing through my head. Is it ridiculously crazy to leave my husband and babies and travel so far for nearly 2 weeks? Did I really pack everything I’ll need? I know I won’t be able to run to Target on a whim. How will I feel when I look into the faces of these fatherless children? Can my heart handle it?
22 hours, 2 flights, 7 movies and 1 pair of compression stockings later, we arrived in Nairobi with all of our luggage. (Praise Jesus!) As we gathered as a team that night before heading to bed, we felt an obvious sense of unity and excitement. We didn’t know exactly what was coming, but we knew God was in it and we were each exactly where He wanted us.
The next morning we, along with our exceptional drivers Elijah and Sammy, set out bright and early in two vans to make our way toward the Mulango Children’s Home. That bumpy three hour drive provided my first glimpses of Africa laid bare…the unique red soil covering much of the ground, people and more people walking alongside the road, brave (or crazy) motorcyclists veering in and out of traffic. There were busy markets selling a variety of goods and mommas carrying babies slung over their backs. Many of the living quarters we passed were made of cardboard and tarps, sometimes with newspaper for walls or sticks tied together to make a type of roof.
I didn’t know what to expect as we turned onto the long, pitted road leading to the Mulango Children’s Home. And I’m not sure I will ever forget the welcome we received! Festus, the home’s manager, along with several of the older children, met us at the vans with songs, dancing, signs, and gifts. They then walked us into the courtyard of the home, and I think that’s the first time I had the distinct feeling that two worlds were truly coming together. The entire group of 150+ children were singing “Be welcomed, be welcomed, be welcomed on this day!” at the top of their lungs. Most of our team members were about to meet their very own sponsored child for the first time, and you could sense the weight of the moment. One of the guys in our group told us later that though he is not a very emotional person, he struggled to hold back the tears when he saw his “son” in the crowd. The huge brown eyes staring back at us were full of anticipation and joy.
Some of us took off work, we left family members for a couple weeks, we traveled for two days. Yep. This is why we came. I couldn’t wait to learn from and love on these beautiful brown faces over the coming days.