Thirty-four years ago in 1981 I made my first trip to Kenya as a summer volunteer while still in college. It's honestly a wonder I actually got on the plane with the 4 other volunteers. Not because of international travel jitters or anything like that. No, it was because after our time of orientation at WGM's Headquarters in Marion, Indiana the flight tickets for all 5 of us venturing to Kenya were given to THE GUY. There were 4 of us women and one guy and all 5 tickets were handed to the guy. Can you imagine?! I don't remember very much from that orientation but I do remember that that move didn't go over too well with me. I'm pretty independent now and I was independent then!
Somehow God's spirit got ahold of me and told me to be patient - He must have whispered to me that I'd get to hold my own ticket soon enough and lots of them! If He did whisper that in my ear He has abundantly fulfilled my desire as I have had the rich opportunity to travel a lot and I love it - paper ticket, E-ticket, and / or digital ticket! I did get on that PamAm flight from JFK direct to Nairobi - something like 20 hours of travel - with a few stops in the airports of several West African capital cities.
What a trip! I'd like to take a moment and thank Orville and Wilbur Wright for their fantastic invention of the airplane. What would we do without airplanes in missions today? That's not to say that God can't draw people to himself even without those of us who call ourselves missionaries or if we had to travel by camel or ship. But air travel has certainly made things a lot easier and for that I'm thankful.
But back to my summer missions trip in college. While spending 6 weeks at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya God spoke into my heart a desire to contribute to a cause that was much greater and bigger than anything I had imagined up to that point. He challenged me to join a movement of declaring His Lordship to the people's of southwestern Kenya through medical missions at Tenwek Hospital.
So it was that almost 30 years ago, in October of 1985 that I returned to JFK airport. This time with 12 pieces of luggage, ready to serve at Tenwek for two years.
Joy at JFK airport - year unknown
For many years JFK airport in New York City was the airport I flew in and out of. How did we ever survive without cell phones? I'll tell you it wasn't always convenient. One time my sister and I got our meeting point confused. JFK is a BIG airport!! We both walked around for several hours looking for the other - and I was pushing 150 pounds of luggage! Remember the days when each piece of luggage could weigh up to 70 pounds?!
These days it's a quick trip up to Philly from South Jersey. A drop-off almost always ends with sitting on the floor in the International Terminal (no chairs this side of security!) enjoying a Wawa hoagie with family one last time!
Modern aviation allows much more frequent travel than our predecessors could have ever imagined. I was able to fly back to the US from Kenya for meetings in June and July held at World Gospel Mission's HQ.
One really fun event was organizing WGM's first Compassionate Ministries Workshop held the day before WGM's Celebration of Missions started. Dr. Phil Renfroe MC'd the day and WGM missionaries David Hawk, John Muehleisen, and Billy Coppedge all shared about their personal experiences in transformational ministry. Stan Rowland, Joyce Chiles and the Lengacher's also shared from their experiences.
It was a great day of learning and challenge! And a good time to catch up with many in WGM who are on the front lines of Transformational Ministry.
The workshop led into WGM's 105th International Celebration of Missions. What a great time catching up with retired missionaries (like Mariam Joseph pictured below - she was the first one to introduce me to great Indian cuisine in Kenya - thank you Mariam!!), volunteers, fellow missionaries working in other parts of the world, champions, and so many more.
I was given the opportunity to share during this special event. A big honor! I shared about the fast changing landscape of missions and touched on these four topics: globalization, the diaspora movement, personal brokenness leading to a Biblical Worldview, and lastly looking at when helping actually hurts rather than helps. It was a great experience and I love sharing and dialoguing about what God is teaching me.
Speaking of Globalization, medical missions is not just about taking trips overseas. This summer I visited my friends and former colleagues from Kenya, Dr. Michael and Kay Johnson. They have started a medical ministry called Miriam Medical Clinics in Philadelphia.
Jackie, Kay, Dr. Neil, Dr. Michael and Joy at Miriam Medical Clinics, Phila.
Did you know that a few years ago the world's population changed from being dominated by rural dwellers to over 50% city dwellers? That should have a few implications on how we do missions.
A few years ago Michael accompanied me on a trip to South Sudan. Whether he's treating patients who live in a villeage on the Nile River or in a big city on the Schukill River in Philadelphia, one thing is evident.
His love for people! He wrote this recently, "I spent an hour with homeless addicts yesterday, just a few blocks from the clinic. As I sat in the middle of the room I noticed the smell became a fragrance. Odd." Isn't it odd how, when we are in the absolute middle of God's will and do the hard stuff, the smells of this broken world become a sweet smelling aroma.
My colleague, Adhanom, has been doing the hard stuff in South Sudan. He's been pouring his life into pastors and community leaders in neglected parts of this broken country. But again, when we do the hard stuff Jesus blesses us with sweet smelling rewards. Pastor Joseph, pictured on the right, has been mentored by Adhanom for the past several years. This is what he said to Adhanom last week.
"When Joy came here, we met under the mango tree; she asked me if I had attended any trainings in the past. I said, 'yes, many." Then she asked me which one I liked most. I was not sure which one I liked most. But if you ask me the same question today I know which ones I like most. There is none that I like more than CHE and STS. And there is none which is reflected in my life and the life of my family like these two trainings. My family members are more healthy, and I am better economically mainly due to the insight I got from CHE. My interaction with the word of God and the spiritual situation of our diocese is improved due to STS. Now you don't find a diocese in this area which is empowered like ours. Let other pastors say what they think, but for me I know I became different because of Mango Ministries....." That's sweet, isn't it!?
Pastor Joseph teaching a lesson
Our ministry in South Sudan has benefitted from the airplane. Getting in and out of South Sudan would be very hard, if not impossible during the rainy season. The Tenwek Eye Team has made 8 trips to South Sudan over the past 5 years.
Tenwek Eye team's first clinic to South Sudan in 2010
Their last trip in August was the most productive yet with 401 people receiving sight from cataract surgery! Here is the tired team after a week of doing the hard stuff. Tired but fulfilled!
Over the past 30 years I've spent a considerable amount of time in airports or just waiting on the tarmac or on a dirt airstrip of a remote airfield in South Sudan.
Where God will take me in the coming months and years I'm eager to find out! The miracle of air travel has indeed made this a small world after all. I'm thankful for the ability it gives us to get to know our neighbors around the world. As I continue making the transition from working in South Sudan to my responsibilities as WGM's Compassionate Ministries Coordinator you will see the focus of my blog becoming more global. Thanks for flying with me on Joy's Journey all these years. Pray with me for wisdom and boldness as I continue facilitating transformation of individuals, families, communities and churches, not only in East Africa, but around the world!
PS - this Airbus A380 is the largest plane I've flown on ~ imagine, 3 jetways for 1 plane! Wouldn't Orville and Wilbur be amazed if they could fly this baby. How are you using your God-given creativity?