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Blog , Missionary Stories

With Just a Pinch of Salt, Kenya Became Home

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Written by Julia Oates

Transitioning back to life in America, my mind often wanders to memories from Kenya.

Even before moving overseas for the 13-month Bethany Global University (BGU) Global Internship, I felt called to enter the mission field. Two short-term mission trips to Uganda in high school brought confirmation of God’s calling on my life. I also believed the Lord wanted to use my love for children overseas. BGU was the perfect place for me to combine my love for children and passion to bring the Gospel to the nations.

However, acclimating to life overseas wasn’t as easy as I thought. Upon arriving in Kenya, feelings of uncertainty and discomfort rose inside of me. Nothing could have prepared me for the shock and challenge of living in a foreign land, with an unfamiliar culture and language.

Four months into my time overseas, I still felt out of place. I missed my family and friends. Why had I come here? My heart longed to be home.

At the same time, I was entering a new season of the internship. My team graduated from language school, and it was time to enter full-time ministry.

I can still remember my first day serving at a local school like it was yesterday—and I’ll never forget the simple bag of table salt that changed the trajectory of my time overseas.

The moment we walked into the school compound children ran over to greet us. Student after student came up to us with their hands extended to shake ours and said, “Teacher! How are you?”

With smiles spread across our faces, we happily shook their hands. We were given a warm welcome to the school.

For lunch, a common Kenyan meal of rice and beans was served. I had brought a small bag of salt to share with the kids. I reached into the tiny bag and looked at the child sitting next to me. Before I knew what was happening, 20 plates were in my face and the kids were yelling, “Chumvi! Teacher!” Chumvi means “salt” in Swahili. Their faces lit up as I sprinkled the seasoning onto their food. I was not expecting so much enthusiasm over what I knew as a table staple.

Once the kids finished eating, it was playtime. I went to join and asked a few students if they wanted to play “the animal game” with me. I told them the goal was to run like different animals. We started on one side of the compound, and I would yell, “Run like a cat!” We would all begin saying, “Meoowww!” and walking on all fours like a cat. Once at the other end of the compound, we would pick another animal and run back like a gorilla or a snake.

Sweat dripped down our faces. The sun kept blazing down as we ran. The number of children playing continued to grow. Here I was in the desert, experiencing the joy of the Lord.

The challenges of moving to a new country and leaving family, friends, and a familiar culture fell by the wayside. At that moment, I experienced God’s love for these children.

These Kenyan children taught me numerous lessons. First, their excitement over salt taught me to be grateful every day for what the Lord has provided. Before this moment, I had never been thankful for salt—it was something I always had on hand.

I also learned to appreciate the little things in life. Playing the animal game with the kids gave me a new perspective. I learned to love and enjoy simple moments, rather than waiting for the next exciting adventure. I began to enjoy each day, instead of waiting for the next big event.

The animal game may appear to be an insignificant moment to other people, but through it, I was able to start making friendships with the kids and enjoying the day-to-day.

Kenya, a place that was once foreign to me, became my home. Looking back through the highs and lows of my time overseas, I see God’s hand at work in both my heart and those around me. Matthew 6:10 states, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it in heaven.”

May His will be done in our lives and in the nation of Kenya.

By: Julia Oates, BGU Class of 2023

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