Lessons learned on bumpy roads

I would like introduce one of the most outstanding 18 year-olds I’ve had the privilege of getting to know. Genny Kate Gurley has nannied for me for the last couple of years. She is one amazing young woman with incredible discipline to place herself before God and His Word. Her work ethic is beyond reproach and if her willingness to be taught is any indication of her life trajectory, she is a shooting star. Thank you, GK, for sharing your last summer “at home” with me, my family & my ministry. You really have become a part of our family.


Read on to hear about Geny Kate’s experience with Passion Partners in Kenya, in her own words… 

                          Geny Kate & Anabelle in the now infamous “safari van”

I had no idea what to expect on this trip to Kenya with Passion Partners. Not only had I never been to Africa before, but I knew very little about the Passion Partners projects we’d be working with and barely knew the other trip participants, besides Candice and her children. I was just an eighteen-year-old girl, recently re-settled from Birmingham to Nashville, who was about to start college at Mississippi State.

I was thrilled when Candice asked me to be a part of the team to help take care of her sweet kids for a few weeks. I boarded that plane open minded and ready to help in whatever capacity she needed me to. I was excited to visit Kenya and Uganda, places I had only heard of and enjoyed reading so much about. Doing mission work and babysitting? There couldn’t be a trip better suited for this girl! I was ready, open, and prepared…

…or so I thought. People, I’ll just say, there is nothing that could have prepared me for some the things I was about to experience. No amount of documentaries, travel narratives, or missionary biographies can prepare you for something like visiting the slums of Kibera and rural Africa. Sure, I had an idea what it would look like. I’d seen pictures and heard stories from those who had been, and really felt prepared. I thought I’d know how it would make me react. Yet, all of it caught me completely by surprise. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and was more in a state of shock than anything else. Shocked that this was everyday reality for some people, not a photo-shopped image a photographer took. It was a lot to take in. And I could have never really prepared for it.

Something else I was not prepared for… the beauty of Kenya. Everywhere we went was absolutely beautiful. And really, that wasn’t something I expected to find in the midst of such poverty. Even walking through the slums of Kibera, I saw it. The beauty of the people. The beauty of how different this world was from everything I was used to. The beauty of being unplugged from iPhones and internet.

At the same time, though, it was hauntingly sad to see such crime and poverty, despite the efforts of so many ministries and non-profits. The contrast to me seemed very post-Eden: the hopelessness of losing what was perfect and now living in a fallen world against the hope still visible in child’s face, a student’s dream, a ministry’s outreach, and all those worshipping Jesus’ name, content with what they have.

A student whose home we visited one day in the slums told me that she was proud to be from Kibera. She felt that all the struggles she faced had built up her faith. Her confidence and self-assurance despite her surroundings and the criticism she received from unbelieving friends inspired me…more beauty.

Obviously, the Masaai Mara Game Park we ventured into was also utterly amazing and beautiful, as well. Though, it was sometimes hard to appreciate the sights when I was in literal physical agony (a little exaggeration there) from, as the wise and clever Candice Ashburn put it, “being catapulted about in the back seat of a safari van.” (Even now, every time I see a speed bump, I instinctively cringe and brace myself for the jolting about and whiplash–it’s intense, people.)

Though I didn’t have any expectations regarding the work we were doing, I did have expectations about how I thought I would react and feel about certain things. I figured this trip would affirm and highlight the particular parts of ministry for which I’m gifted. The few things I have always been passionate about are working with kids, traveling, and spreading the Word. I also have enjoyed doing things like hurricane clean up and building Habitat for Humanity houses. You see, my heart has always been a little all over the map. There are so many places I want to go and so many different kinds of ministry opportunities to be involved in. Will I work with under privileged or impoverished kids? Special needs kids? Disaster relief teams? High school or college ministry? Will I stay at home or live in a third world country, an environment hostile to Christianity, or in spiritually barren Europe? I expected this trip would highlight my gifts and make my future path a little clearer. I expected to feel like I was on a “spiritual high,” moved by everything I saw, ready to swear off my Western consumerist ways and speak up for the under privileged.

Instead, an apathetic spirit reared its ugly head. Satan capitalized on my physical exhaustion and discomfort and really tried to mess me up. After my initial sentiment, I became numb to Kibera and those coming to the clinic in Siaya. I felt bad for them, but that was the extent of my sympathy. I’m the Geny Kate who tears up at Voice of the Martyrs articles and reads classic works of Christian literature for pleasure, shouldn’t all of this mean so much more to me?

It really was a moment of identity crisis, realizing my sins, and falling to my knees. I thought “missions” was my thing, but all I could think about was my bed at home and scrubbing my feet. I felt so incredibly guilty. And though I was, perhaps, being too hard on myself, it really was an important realization to me: What do I have to offer these people? Am I actually helping them or just asserting myself on them? What do I say?

The truth I learned is that I’m not and will never be “good at mission work.” What I am, is a temple of the Holy Spirit and one of God’s children, who He uses as He desires to see His name proclaimed. He sends me. He guides me. He teaches through me. And He draws people into His kingdom. I, in and of myself, have nothing to bring. But He gave me the Holy Spirit, who gives me willing hands, an open heart, and the words to say.

Even though I was passionate about missions, I was way too focused on my goals, my gifts, and my expectations. That was important for me to realize!

Satan kept telling me that I didn’t have anything to offer, but thankfully, God kept speaking Truth into me. Telling me that though I am a creature of dust, He cares so much for me and has incredible plans ahead for me.

So, why do I have to be anxious about college and mission work? He provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, so how much more will He provide for me? He gives me the courage, confidence, and strength I need…I can’t muster it up myself.

Just writing all of this is making me cry again. The grace and love of God totally amazes me, a girl worn from years of battling self-loathing and also nervous about my college experience. I am beyond thankful for the amazing people God has put into my life, like those on the Her Passion team and in RUF at Mississippi State. People who speak truth to me and remind me of my worth in Him.

The trip was an incredible learning experience and time of self-evaluation and offering service with a fun team, in a beautiful place, with unfortunately, many terrible roads. I definitely don’t want to end talking about those bumpy roads, so I’ll end on a happy note…Kenyan pineapple and Pineapple Fanta! I miss it so much! I still eat pineapple or watermelon every day, but it doesn’t compare. Fresh Kenyan pineapple is probably the closest thing we have to the perfection of Eden. I would’ve taken the fruit, too, Eve.

Geny Kate

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