Upside Down Worlds- Part 1: Joy in the Midst of Suffering

As I sit in the comfort of my own home on this snowy January evening, I am reminded that my world here is completely upside down from the land beyond the equator that I have just returned from- Kenya.
I’ve travelled a good chunk of the globe- been to 3 continents prior to this trip. Yet, I have never experienced as much culture shock in one day as I did our first day in Kenya. I remember having a conversation with God in my heart, “Lord, what on earth am I doing here? I really don’t think I can handle being this far out of my comfort zone for the next two weeks. Really. I don’t. I feel awful, but I think I might just need to be on the next plane out of here.” Yeah. Little missions minded Emily thought this. Little miss ‘Philippians 4:13 is her life verse’ felt this. I really felt like throwing in the towel and going back to my comfortable home in America.
Let me share with you why God did not let me give up on this trip.
(Read it in sections at a time if you need to. I know it’s a lot).

A tiny glimpse of culture shock
Driving into the bush of Africa…
this actually helped the culture shock
settle down and the excitement kick in.

Joy in the Midst of Suffering

What you don’t see on all the television commercials to help sponsor African children is their beautiful smiles. Yes, that video footage does represent much of the desperation that is present on the continent of Africa. Yet, the one thing that is not captured by most of those cameras is the joy that is found in the midst of suffering.

I can’t say that we have heard songs in America with lyrics being sung with smiles by school children exclaiming, “God can take my mother and father, because all I need is Jesus!” I heard this in Kenya, though. These kids meant it, too. Many of them are living out the realities of this song.

Let me introduce you to a couple of my new friends. First, meet a little girl who is about 6 years old. Honestly, I don’t even know her name. I do know a little bit of her story, though.

When we arrived at the Lunga village (which translates as “upside down village”), I got out my tiny little “Smile, Jesus Loves You” beach ball and started playing with some of the children. I noticed this little girl came strapped with a baby to her back. She was having fun playing with us. I couldn’t believe it, but some of the kids started hitting the ball like a volleyball. I was very surprised that they had any knowledge of the sport.

While taking a water break by our van, I saw these large sticks poking out of the ground. I could tell that it obviously used to be some sort of structure and I was curious as to what it was. I asked Christopher, the local pastor that we were partnering with, what it was. He explained that it was a place where the village had prepared a body for burial 6 months prior. I glanced over just about 10 feet away and there was a grave marked by a cross. I asked him who had passed away. He explained to me that it was the father of that young girl with the baby strapped to her back. She also had another small sibling. Her mother was around, but was so ill that she could not care for her children. So, the girl was taking care of them.

Soon after this conversation, I met Linda. I’d say she’s about 11 or 12. She has a younger sister, Beverly, and two younger brothers as well. They are orphans. One of the last times the organization we were with had come, they discovered her and her siblings living in their aunt’s small house. They had no food, so the aunt was down by the coast working as a prostitute to earn money for their food. Linda really was raising her siblings by herself. The organization helped to buy food for them before they left and also helped them be able to go to school. Christopher had since taken them under his wing to watch over them and provide a better living situation for them.

Linda had seen us playing with the beach ball earlier and came to me asking to play volleyball. The “court” she selected for our volleyball game was none other than the place where the burial preparation structure for the other little girl’s father had been. While it was way higher than a regulation “net”, the two stick poles that supported the horizontal pole served us well. We used a partially inflated soccer ball in lieu of a volleyball and had to watch for holes in the ground so as not to twist our ankles.

The thing that I did not know until we were finished with the game is that Linda and her sister both tested positive for HIV recently. I have to admit that HIV/AIDS was a huge concern for me going over there. But, God is in control. He’s bigger than my fears. He’s bigger than the sorrow and suffering these people go through every day that are more real and tangible than my fears.

Those few moments were some of the happiest of my life. I know for sure they were happy for Linda and the others who were either participating in or watching our game. There we were in a place where much sorrow had occurred and people still were suffering with every day heart aches, having the time of our lives playing make-shift volleyball. Linda’s bright white teeth glistened in the sun; the sweat sent from the near by equator drenched us all. But we were smiling…even in the midst of suffering.


Approx. 6 Years old…raising her younger siblings
Playing Volleyball with Linda
Curious little half smiles
This is just one of those beautiful smiles I’m talking about


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