For The Catholic Messenger
(A mission trip to Meru, Kenya, included Catholics from several southeast Iowa communities. It was led by Father Charles Mwongera Gituma, a Kenyan working at St. Mary parishes in Pella and Oskaloosa.)
Twenty-five people left Iowa earlier this summer for a mission trip to Kenya where they hoped to bring the Gospel alive by building a house, working at an orphanage and getting to know people of the village they visited. The experience taught them much.
The mission group included people from Pella, Oskaloosa, Danville, Sigourney and Burlington. Among their members: Father Jeff Belger, who was pastor of St. Mary parishes in Pella and in Oskaloosa at the time of the trip; his brother, Joe Belger; and Donna DeJoode, director of religious education/youth minister for the Oskaloosa parish. Father Charles Mwongera Gituma, a Kenyan working at St. Mary parishes in Pella and Oskaloosa, led the mission trip.
After arriving in Nkabune Village, the visitors split into three groups and rotated jobs. One assignment changed because the children they were going to play with at the orphanage were attending school. So the religious sisters put the volunteers to work in the banana orchard.
In the end, the visitors met their goals. An elderly woman named Julia has a new house. She also received medical care for a foot injury that occurred long ago but never healed. The mission group included some medical professionals who tended to her foot daily. They also instructed Julia and family members how to care for the foot injury. The fact that she will be living in a house that does not have a dirt floor should help in her recovery, the missioners said.
The group’s second goal, helping out at the Meru Children’s Home (an orphanage), was accomplished through helping with laundry, sun-drying millet and sorghum, shucking corn, harvesting bananas and playing with the children. It was hard for the group to leave the children. Several in the group now sponsor some children.
In the course of working on their third goal, meeting and getting to know the people of the village, the group felt blessed with hospitality.
The villagers were welcoming and offered tea along with whatever was ripe that day — mango, papaya, macadamia nuts, pomegranate, and arrowroot, among other things.
During these visits, each group also explored different schools, many of which were boarding schools. They were impressed with students’ behavior. The 30 or so students in each class were focused on their school work, which fosters better behavior, the visitors said.
A “fourth goal” for the visitors was to see an elephant. They took a day off and went on a safari, spending the day at the Sweetwater Game Reserve. They saw more than one elephant and much more wildlife, except lions and hippos.
On the last day, the group visited the sisters who run the medical center. The visitors learned about the triaging system (which is minimal compared to health care here) and saw the lab, which consisted of one trained person and a microscope. They learned of the tasks the sisters perform in their community, such as making Communion bread, providing medical assistance, orphanage assistance and much more.