Junior biochemistry major Ryann Hartzell had the experience of a lifetime this past summer, interning with Spread the Word Ministries, a division of Church of God Ministries, at the Kima Mission Station near Kisumu, Kenya.
During her time at the mission station, Hartzell had the opportunity to attend classes with diploma and certificate students at the Kima International School of Theology, assist in a clinic, and observe at the mission hospital.
The mission statement of KIST is that it “exists to equip the church and community with passionate Christian servant leaders that can serve with integrity in a changing world.”
In Kenya, there are 42 tribes and each has their own mother tongue, but most Kenyans speak Swahili. The main language of education is English, which allowed Hartzell to understand the lessons and talk with many of the KIST students.
She was assigned to a mentorship group at KIST through which she participated in theological discussions with other students. They discussed culturally relevant topics such as sex before marriage, why men don’t go to church, and others. Hartzell described the mentorship group discussions as “very loving,” even when the people in the group disagreed on interpretations of scripture.
“I could definitely see this mission statement lived out through the students and what they did at the school,” Hartzell said.
In her free time, Hartzell traveled into Kisumu with her hosts and passed by the equator each time. The “dukas,” meaning shops, required “dickering,” or negotiating prices for items. Kenyan duka owners often try to charge a higher price for white shoppers, because the current exchange rate is 100 shillings to $1.
In the city this summer, there were demonstrators protesting the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. The rush of demonstrators broke many shop windows and burned tires to block major roads in the city. Hartzell described the experience of walking past the shops as “much more sad than it was scary.”
While at KMS, Hartzell attended many church services and got to hear several third-year KIST students preach in front of the student body. One message in particular focused on the need to incorporate those with special needs into the church, and the speaker emphasized that everyone, no matter their abilities or needs, can have a heart for the Lord and learn of the love he has for all people.
In the areas near Kisumu, it was not uncommon to pass tea fields, with women carrying baskets of tea on their heads. Hartzell said that Kenyans have very strong necks, and her hosts witnessed a man carrying a couch on his head. Rather than a winter, spring, summer and fall, Kenya has a dry season and a rainy season.
With her hosts, Hartzell traveled five hours to go on a safari experience. “The safari was amazing, but the best part about it was that it wasn’t even the best part of my trip,” Hartzell said. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but my favorite part was meeting people and experiencing real life.”
Hartzell particularly enjoyed visiting the home of Mary, who is the housekeeper for the missionary hosts that Hartzell stayed with. Mary’s husband, Joel, works for a nonprofit organization, and the couple has four children together. Hartzell formed a special bond with their six-year-old daughter Joy, and loved to spend time with Mary and Joy while they visited the missionaries’ home daily. Hartzell described Mary as her “Kenyan mama.”
“With Joy, we didn’t speak much of each others’ languages, but we smiled in the same language,” Hartzell said. “That’s how I would describe our friendship.”
Hartzell remarked that Kenya is very technologically advanced, as most people have smartphones and there is a computer lab designed for common use at KIST. Much like AU, KIST holds chapel on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the student body, faculty and staff. Their chapel services include student speakers, guest speakers and choir performances.
While helping in the KIST health clinic, Hartzell assisted in making soap packets for washing hands, and observed her host Lori treating the water barrels with bleach. There are many mosquitos in Kenya so the risk of malaria calls for careful treatment of the water barrels.
Going into the experience, Hartzell tried to keep an open mind. “I tried to keep my expectations very vague, and I didn’t try to picture it as one certain thing, so that I wouldn’t be too shocked or disappointed.”
Spread the Word Minstries is launching a new program, A.one.8, for students who wish to travel abroad as mission interns. Over the course of three weeks, A.one.8 seeks to prepare students for living among people of a different culture and informs students on how to learn as much as possible while abroad. With A.one.8, students will be hosted at h.e.a.r.t. village in Lake Wales, Florida and will then travel to the Dominican Republic for their mission intern experience.
For those preparing to embark on a similar trip that Hartzell experienced, she recommends “being open to new cultures and new ways of doing things. Our way is not always the right way for others, and you might learn something if you go in with an open mind.”