The First Step

By Bud and Sue Ozar, Lay Mission Helpers 

The following reflection is a notable entry to our annual Volunteer Story & Photo Contest. Each year, we ask our member programs to submit stories and photos of their daily life to celebrate the experiences of faith-based service.

My husband and I joined Lay Mission Helpers in 2001 and were assigned to American Samoa for three wonderful years which prepared us for our next assignment to Kenya in East Africa in 2006. We lived in Kenya for two years and returned home to open a not-for-profit organization to support orphaned and abandoned children in Kenya.  We have been returning to Kenya every year because there is a magnetic draw which pulls us back and keeps us working to support these incredible children. Below is one of the “magnets” which pull us back.

Makena, far-right, with her teacher.

I met Makena (not her real name) when I was her Life Skills teacher at the Children’s Village in Nchiru, Kenya. I was there as a volunteer; Makena was there because she was orphaned.

Makena stood out among her Form 2 (grade 10) classmates. It was evident they saw her as the class leader. She was quiet and confident; not afraid to speak up or to ask difficult questions. If she sensed a fellow classmate had a question they were afraid to ask, Makena politely did the asking: “What she is asking Madam is…”

Not a back row student, Makena chose to sit in the front. She is the type of student every teacher appreciates; bright, attentive, engaged, and eager to learn.  But above all of that, Makena is blessed with an extraordinary singing voice. Without instruments to guide her, music just flows flawlessly from her, seizing your attention.

With all that talent I never guessed she had a difficult childhood. I thought Makena was different from all the other children. Quite the opposite, I often mused she must come from a family which valued education, where she received a lot of love and affection. It was not until last month when she handed me a personal letter in which she entrusted me with the tragedy of her background.

She wrote: “Thank you Mama Sue for all you taught me. My parents died when I was 6 and I was placed with my grandmother. But she was very poor and could not feed me. I knew people liked to hear me sing so I went to the streets, placed an empty jar I found in the trash in front of me and began to sing. People stopped to listen to me and put coins in the jar. This is how I earned money for food for my grandmother and me. I could not go to school during those years.  Today I am most grateful to have this opportunity to learn and grateful for all you teach me. Thank you, Mama Sue. Love, Makena”

I recall a “journey starts with the first step.”  Our first step with Lay Mission Helpers 18 years ago has gifted us with a wonderful journey where we meet incredible young girls such as Makena. It is a journey we happily share with our children, grandchildren and family.  We thought the “first step” was a risk, we never dreamed it was a blessing. We thought we were giving, little did we realize how much we would receive.

Thank you for reading! Find more Service Stories at our blog homepage.

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