In September 1998 I was blessed with the opportunity to join a volunteer program that allows church youths to participate in overseas holy work. Each year the International Assembly (IA) of the True Jesus Church sends three or four teams of workers to Africa to evangelize and pastor. I was assigned to one of these missionary trips, and my companions were Elder Hung-Dao Chen (Taiwan, IA chairperson), Pastor Joseph Shek (U.K.) and Brother T. K. Chin (U.K.). My main responsibility was to translate for Elder Chen, who can only speak Chinese.
On this one-month trip we visited Kenya, South Africa, and Ghana. Since it would be difficult for me to share all the experiences I had, Iâ€™d like to focus on some of the interesting observations and valuable lessons I learned in Kenya.
Kenya is situated on the eastern coast of Africa and is bordered by Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and the Indian Ocean. It is located on the equator, so itâ€™s very hot there all year round.
My first impression of Africa was that the people are extremely poor. Basic necessities are really lacking there. Most of our church members live in rural areas where there is often no electricity or tap water. People work hard all their lives just to provide food for themselves.
Some parents have to give their children away because they simply cannot feed them. Young girls around fifteen or sixteen years old sometimes marry much older men simply so they can eat. Children often go without food for a couple of days, and they are usually very skinny due to malnutrition.
Money for Bread
On our first day in Kenya, we rented a van to drive to our church, which was in the countryside about eight hours away. Before we started on our trip, we stopped by a grocery store to buy some mineral water. Pastor Shek and the local pastors went inside to buy water while I stayed in the van. As I waited, many people approached the van and looked inside. Everyone wanted something from us.
What left an impression on me was one thirteen-year-old boy. When he came up to my window, I heard him say, "Money for blood."
I asked, "Money for what?" My heart almost jumped out of my throat.
He repeated the same phrase. Finally, I understood. What he was actually saying was "money for bread." Relieved, I told him, "I donâ€™t have any money," because I didnâ€™t have any of their currency.
About every thirty seconds after that, the boy stretched out his open hand inside the window and asked, "Can I have your watch? Can I have your jacket? Can I have your pen?"
I didnâ€™t know what to do. I then realized that it was around noon on a Wednesday. I thought it was strange that this child wasnâ€™t in school, so I asked him, "Do you go to school?"
"Yes, I do go to schoolâ€”Jesus Mission School," he answered.
"So do you know Jesus?" I asked.
"Yes, I know Jesus," he said. "Jesus is the Son of God."
"Well, why donâ€™t you ask for Jesus instead of money?" I asked.
He said, "If I ask for money, you can give me money, but if I ask for Jesus, you canâ€™t give me Jesus."
His response really troubled me because I didnâ€™t have an answer for him. Basically he was saying that if he asked for money, it could satisfy his hunger, but if he asked for Jesus, he would remain hungry.
I sat there thinking to myself, how are we supposed to preach to them something so abstract when they canâ€™t even fill their stomachs? Would it really make a difference if I preached to him about Jesus?
Jesus Christâ€”the Living Bread
This is probably the greatest obstacle to our missionary work today, not only in Africa, but around the world. That is, what can Jesus do for people? If someone asked me, "Can you give me Jesus?" what would my answer be? Can you give me Jesus?
The Bible records that one day Peter and John went up to the temple to pray. There was a man born lame begging by the gate. When he saw Peter and John, he asked them for alms. Basically, this beggar also wanted "money for bread."
Peter said to him, "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk" (Acts 3:6). By faith and by the power of Jesus, Peter healed the lame man. This man received something above and beyond what he had asked for.
If Jesus can feed five thousand, then He can also feed this hungry boy in Kenya. If Jesus can heal the lame through Peterâ€™s hand, then He can also feed the hungry through our hands.
Love and Hospitality
The Kenyans eat mainly corn flour mixed with water. They make it into a big piece of cornbread, and during meals everyone takes small pieces and dips them in a spicy sauce to eat. The meat (which is scarce) is mainly lamb, pork, and chicken (really skinny chicken).
During spiritual convocations, there arenâ€™t enough utensils for everybody, so they use big banana leaves as plates. After service, the benches double as dining tables.
I was really touched that these members showed so much love and hospitality even though they were extremely poor. They always let us eat first, and while we ate, they stood around us. They even bought Coca-Cola and Sprite for us. For our meal, they would cook rice and one dish. They usually cooked white rice for us, which is really expensive there. On the last day of the spiritual convocation, they slaughtered a lamb for us to eat.
A Cup of Cold Water
At first this special treatment made me very uncomfortable. Why should we eat first while they stood around waiting on us? Why should we eat meat and rice while they only ate cornbread?
Later I realized that this is how they showed their love for the Lord and for us. Itâ€™s like parents who give the best to their children. They gladly sacrificed their best for me even though I wasnâ€™t even related to them. I also realized that you donâ€™t need to be rich to love and to show care. In fact, you can be as poor as these Africans and still be able to love.
Jesus says, "Whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward" (Mt 10:42). May the Lord bless these African brothers and sisters abundantly for their love and hospitality.
All of us should ask ourselves, who are the little ones in my life? Is it that brother standing by himself whom no one ever talks to? Is it that homeless person who sleeps outside the supermarket? How can I give this cup of cold water? Perhaps itâ€™s by picking up that piece of trash in the parking lot.
If you look closely enough, you will find the little ones in your own life. You donâ€™t have to be wealthy; in fact, you can even be poor. As long as youâ€™re willing to love and give, our Lord Jesus said that you shall by no means lose your reward.
Some of my most memorable experiences in Kenya involved transportation. In Kenya, the public "bus" is usually a pickup truck with doors at the back and two benches on either side of the bed. The sides and roof of the truck are lined with railing for the luggage. A director hangs outside on this railing and signals to the driver to stop or go. He also collects the fare.
The bus is meant to seat only sixteen people, but the director always accepts more passengers as long as theyâ€™re willing to pay. The people keep stuffing inside, and there are often people crouching down, half-standing, or sitting on top of each other.
During one of my rides, there was someone on top of me, someone beneath me, and both my feet were off the ground. It was like being in a human sardine can, and I could hardly breathe. I learned pretty quickly that the best seat in the house was in the luggage area. So I literally started "hanging out" with the natives.
One day we took a taxi to a hotel about one hour away for service. We pulled out of the parking lot at about five miles an hour. I thought the driver would speed up later, but it turned out that the car couldnâ€™t go any faster. When I looked at the dashboard, I discovered that none of the instruments were working, and in place of the gas pedal there was a metal rod.
The car shook violently as we went over pits and bumps. Whenever we made a turn, the doors would suddenly swing open. We sat very close to each other because we thought we would fall out of the car. The driver finally noticed our predicament, so he stopped the car and hammered the doors shut.
A New Life
During one of the services, we met an eighteen-year-old woman holding a small baby.
"Where is your husband?" Pastor Shek asked.
She shook her head.
"Do you have a husband?"
She said no.
Later, we found out that her husband had passed away three months earlier. This woman was filled with pain and sorrow.
There was a baptism that day, and this woman was also going to be baptized. She took her baby and walked to the baptismal site without saying a word. On the way there, she prayed to God, asking Him to make a change in her life. As she entered into the water during baptism, she asked the Lord to forgive her sins. She felt power come upon her as she was immersed in the water, and when she came up she saw a glorious light. The power opened her mouth and she began to speak in tongues. She walked back to the shore with her eyes closed and knelt there praying in the Spirit.
Matthew 3 records that after Jesus received baptism and came out of the water, heaven opened and the Spirit of God descended on Him like a dove. There was a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
What happened to this woman was according to Scripture. As I took a picture of this event, I couldnâ€™t hold back my tears. It was amazing to see how God grants blessings to those who really need Him. Elder Chen said that witnessing this miracle made the entire trip worthwhile.
Because of poverty, sickness, and death, many of these children are orphans. Their parents often pass away without any warning. Yet in a way, we are all like orphans. Our parents canâ€™t be with us forever. Our husbands, wives, children, and loved ones wonâ€™t always be with us. But our Lord Jesus promised that He would not leave us as orphans. He is our heavenly Father.
The children in Africa are so innocent. They would come up to me and touch my skin because it was a different color than theirs. They would touch my hair, wondering why it wasnâ€™t curly.
I wondered, what makes the children in more developed countries so different than the ones in Africa? Then I remembered that our children look much like them after a good prayer or spiritual convocation. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, our children can become as pure and innocent as these African children. I had a great time and sweet memories with them.
Toward the end of my trip, I was really happy about returning home. Yet at the same time, I was very sad that I was leaving Africa behind. Looking back, I donâ€™t regret a single second of the trip. If I ever have the chance, Iâ€™ll go back. I encourage every one of you to go and experience it for yourself.
Sometimes when I sleep, I have dreams about our African brothers and sisters. When I sing hymns here, I close my eyes and I can see them singing hymns with their eyes closed. Things in my everyday life remind me of the valuable lessons I learned and the time I spent with God.
I thank God for His guidance and mercy throughout my trip, and I thank all of you for your love, support, and prayers while I was away. May all the glory be unto Jesusâ€™ name.