Closing Thoughts

As I write this, it is 5am and I have been wide awake for almost an hour, and here, on my own bed for the first time in 15 days, I can finally process the impact that the Baylor Men’s Choir’s trip to Kenya had on myself, on the group as a whole, and on the people of Kenya we had the privilege of interacting with.

The last couple of days have been a blur, we began Sunday morning with a beautiful worship service planned and led by one of our graduate students, David Warren, and were blessed by the music, the testimonies shared, and by getting the opportunity to reflect on the end of our time here in Kenya. We then ate breakfast, loaded the busses, and headed to the airport. From there we flew out of Nairobi in the late afternoon, arrived at Dubai in the late evening, and flew out at 2am to go back to the U.S. We arrived back in the States safely at 9:30am on Monday morning, feeling tired, yet so thankful for all the Lord had done.

Over the past two weeks, I have seen the value of putting yourself in an uncomfortable position. Through the many conversations I have had, the stories I have heard, and my own experience, I have learned the importance of leaving your comfort zone for the sake of personal growth, impacting others, and serving the Kingdom of God. Over the last two weeks, I saw my brothers in the Baylor Men’s Choir sacrifice the comfort of their own homes and give of their time, sweat, money, blood (literally), and energy to serve the each other and the beautiful people of Kenya. I saw men who built tables, created a garden, and handed out shirts and shoes for the people of the Pokot village. I saw men who spent their money, not because they simply wanted to bring back the perfect souvenir, but because they desired to invest their resources in people whose lives could be transformed by their few dollars. I saw men who consoled and prayed for each other as individuals in the group faced loss, culture shock, and difficult emotional moments. I even saw men who, despite having sung the same songs for what felt like a million times, sang each time with enthusiasm and intentionality, knowing that these songs had the potential of bringing joy and the message of the Gospel to those who heard them.

Throughout this trip to Kenya, I saw men who were willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of others, and as we arrive back to the United States, I cannot help but crave the continuation of this discomfort. As we arrive back home, as a whole we are convicted to continue putting others before ourselves, using our talents to glorify God, and being the hands and feet of Christ even when that means sacrificing our own time and energy.

Thank you for taking the time to read these blogs. My hope is that everyone who has read them can also share in seeing the value of being uncomfortable, and that together, we can make a lasting impact on the world for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

-Alex Ubiera

We would like to thank the following team members for the use of their photographs…

Hunter Anderson
Isaac Bradley
Chris Clifford
Adam Cogliano
Reed Cooper
Wolfgang Draving
Chris Helms
Bryce Reed
Cole Riel
James Worsham
Esrael Yohannes

and the blog team for their work during the trip…

Hunter Anderson
Matt Arnold
Bryce Reed
Esrael Yohannes

and the authors of the blog posts.

Adam Cogliano
Andrew Eshbaugh
Andrew Kronser
Waldo Villarreal
Gus Holdrich
Nathan Eggen
Lucas Eaton
Ross Tarpley
Caleb Huff
Marcus Hollingsworth
Joshua Turpin
Ben Fountain
Wolfgang Draving
Evan Moynihan
Alex Ubiera

Endings and Beginnings

After over 2 weeks in this beautiful country, the Baylor Men’s Choir has completed its last full day in Kenya. We cannot believe that the time has flown by so quickly, and are collectively filled with an excitement to see friends and family, coupled with a certain preemptive sentimentality for the country, and the people, we are saying goodbye to.

The day began with a late breakfast, followed by our departure to a Maasai church where we would spend the morning worshipping and fellowshipping with the congregation there. We travelled for about an hour, and upon our arrival, were greeted by the song of several young girls singing a sort of welcome processional song. They danced out of the church door and came to meet us at the buses, all the while singing in the energetic, call-and-response style of song that we have become so accustomed to here. This was a surreal experience, and one that both welcomed us into their congregation and showed their acceptance for us. Following behind the girls were women whose hands we shook with greetings of “Jambo” and “Habari.”

The unassuming church building itself was constructed upon a hill that gave a breathtaking view of the Great Rift Valley. That, coupled with the heartwarming welcome of the people there, gave us all a sense of comfort and joy for the church service we were about to experience.

The service itself was a mixture of Swahili, Maasai dialect, and English, all translated for both parties by a very talented and smart Kenyan woman who was a member of the congregation. Her skills as a translator were professional quality, and it was quite surprising to learn that she was in fact a volunteer who attended church there. The sermon was given by our own Rev. John Wheatley, who spoke a wonderful word about the universal nature of God, and the fact that the God of Kenya is the God of America. It was a message of peace that gave us, as well as the Maasai members, a sense of joy and gratefulness to be together.

Following the service, we spent a short time outside of the church in a small makeshift “market,” surveying the wares that the Maasai women had made to sell to us. While some of us had only some money left, those that did buy something were happy to help the gracious members of the congregation. From the worship, to the sermon, to the market amidst beautiful scenery, it was certainly a very rewarding experience.

What followed was a celebration of our visit that took place at Zippy and Daniel Sindiyo’s home. Among those invited, in addition to the Baylor Men’s Choir, were most of Zippy and Daniel’s extended family and other elders from the church and the surrounding community. After a delicious lunch, and a few short tours of the Sindiyo’s lovely home, we moved to a time of recognition of the work that the Men’s Choir and the Sindiyo’s had done for these past two weeks. We sang a few songs, were introduced to most of Zippy and Daniel’s extended family, and then were given many words of thanks and encouragement by the family members. They thanked us for our work in Komolion, and recognized the legacy that Men’s Choir has had, and will continue to have, in Kenya. It was a wonderful mixture of celebration, good food, and community with the Sindiyos, the very people who have been behind so much of what we’ve been able to do here.

The day concluded with a return to Kijiji guesthouse, a short free time, and a wonderful dinner followed by reflection. It is hard to believe that the time we’ve spent here is coming to a close, but we know that while we will not physically be in this country anymore, the people we’ve met, and the ministries we’ve come into contact with, will continue on. One of the silver linings of the trip ending is that it’s given us all an opportunity to reflect on what this trip has meant for the people of Kenya, and for us. We know that there will always be more work to do here, but we also have faith that God will take the work we have done and multiply it. Our time here is just about over, but this time goes far beyond just spending 2 weeks in another country; it means a new beginning for some of the people we’ve had the opportunity to work with and minister to, and perhaps in the process, a new beginning for ourselves.

With Love and Thankfulness,

-Evan Moynihan

Bracelets, Quilts, and Drums: Hope for Kenya’s People

The Amani ya Juu is a shop in downtown Nairobi that produces and sells hand-made textiles.  Translated as “Peace from Above,” Amani ya Juu provides a place for women fleeing hardships in nations across Africa to learn and utilize skills that benefit both themselves and their community.  Each exquisitely beautiful that item they sell – handbags, quilts, etc. – is prayed over and marked with the name of the woman who made it.  The organization provides not only shelter and a four-year training program for these women, but also a caring Christian community in which they learn to love one another.  The women at the Amani ya Juu come from nations across Africa and their work is exported as far as the United States.

This morning, the hard-working women of the Amani ya Juu began their craft knowing today was a special day, because they would once again be visited by the Baylor University Men’s Choir from far-off Texas.  They prepared signs to greet the sixty-nine young men, and upon their arrival welcomed them personally, sang for them, and gave them a guided tour of the facilities and carefully explained the process of creating the textiles.  The women of Amani ya Juu were deeply touched by the offerings of these visitors (and told them that the kindest and best people come from Texas.)  The Men’s Choir sang in return – both in English and Swahili – and then spent the afternoon browsing the wares; they purchased clothes for girlfriends, ties for dad, an apron for mom, or a laptop case for themselves.  With each craft being of the highest quality and sporting the vibrant colors and patterns of Kenya, the choices were far from easy.

Following our wonderful stay at Amani ya Juu, we – the Baylor Men’s Choir – made our way across town to the Kazuri (“something small and beautiful”) bead factory.  As before, we were cordially greeted and given a tour of the facilities.  The beads were made from clay mined from the heart of Mount Kenya, which was then heated and wet to form a softer clay to be molded into beads of various sizes.  After the beads were shaped by hand, they were left to dry and then painted and strung, again by hand.  The final products were numerous and diverse, with thousands of bracelets, necklaces, and earrings; no two were identical.  This particular location was also the first place we heard “Injili” – now one of our favorite Men’s Choir standards – on a past trip to Kenya.

This fantastic Friday concluded with a visit from a local Kenyan percussion group led by Mike Wachira, a key member of the Kenyan artistic community and the man who helped secure Djembes for many of our guys to bring home with them.  They arrived well before dinner to heat their drums by a wood-burning fire to achieve maximum tension in the skins of the drums.  Their interactive performance featured dancing, marching, and singing, all to the ever-present rhythm of their drums.  The members of our choir participated wholeheartedly, dancing with the group and solo and even assisting the percussionists.  This exciting evening was a wonderful opportunity for many of the guys to engage with one another while releasing some of the tension from our travel.  We have shared many experiences in this country, and our bonds grow closer with each passing day.

The work of places such as the Amani ya Juu or the Kazuri bead factory is critical to the development of the Kenyan economy.  While a fully automated fabrication plant would ultimately mean fewer and less accessible jobs, these shops empower Kenyan people of all ages (there was a family of three generations working at Kazuri) to contribute back to the economy by manufacturing goods that can be exported or sold to tourist.  In a land with so much poverty and unemployment, it was encouraging to see people making a lasting difference in their community.

It has been a fantastic twelve days in Kenya for the Men’s Choir.  Each of us has had life-changing experiences and formed long-term friendships.  Yet, our hearts and thoughts turn homeward as we begin to plan our return and miss our friends and loved ones in America.  After the excitement of our day today, we are fully ready to engage in whatever God has planned for us in our final days in this amazing country.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

-Wolfgang Forbes Draving

Visiting Schools in Kajiado

Waking up after a day like yesterday left many of us hoping that today would be less of a hassle. From the long bus rides to the power going out yesterday it was safe to say we were a little on edge. However, the day ended up going incredibly smoothly. Starting with our bus ride to the AIC Girls School in Kajiado, we passed one of the largest slums in the world with almost 300,000 people living in poverty.  Filling me with awe at how little a person can live and be content. At the school we sang our concert and gave out shirts with the help of the Baylor Women’s Leadership Team. From there we went on to sing at a school with special needs and a school started by Zippi’s sister that helped rescued girls from FGM (female genital mutilation).  It was a good day full of work for the Kingdom of God which gave energy to our exhausted group.

God was seen in many places throughout our day, but interacting with the children at the special needs school truly turned my world inside out. God does not make mistakes. I say this because in many cultures children with special needs are seen as blotches on the canvas of our society or stains that need to be removed. I grew up with an aunt who was mentally retarded and whenever I would interact with her she would always have a smile. She was a light in my families’ life, and when she died it was heart wrenching. Seeing those children today, children that many people would call broken or be repulsed by, I saw God’s incredible beauty. I saw the face of our Creator radiating out of creation from the smile of a little girl patting my hand over and over again. God often uses the people we tend to not notice to teach us the biggest lessons. I believe that today was a day that God showed us that joy is not only found in a healthy comfortable life, but joy can be found even in the darkest of places. That when we look close enough we can find beauty in negative spaces. May we find joy in our lives, just as the children have found joy in theirs.

-Ben Fountain

From Safari to Worship

We woke up in our extravagant resort-style tents to the sounds of the Serengeti humming in the cold morning air. We gathered in our safari vans before dawn for a pre-breakfast safari ride. The air was uncomfortably crisp as we bounded out into the sea of grass in our land rover, lovingly named “Greece Lion” because of imposing size and dramatically slashed tire on the back, driven by the fearless “John the Baptist” (the name our driver introduced himself as). It did not take long for the sun to clear the surrounding hills and to flood the fields spotted with zebra, cape buffalo, giraffe, and elephants. Sooner than we expected, we were pulling back into the compound for breakfast. The food was superb as we had come to expect with unique items such as passion fruit juice and local honey.  We loaded up our bags and set out for our final ride through to the edge and out of the Massai Mara. We said goodbye to the azure skies and wild plains of this magical reserve, stopping only long enough to see a lone male lion keeping watch over his recent kill of a young buffalo.

As we moved through the gate into the town of Secenanri, we were greeted by our friends, the determined Massai tradeswomen of the town who had met us on our way in to the Mara. We were held up with car trouble, which gave us plenty of time to bargain for their wares. We were given refuge in a hot air balloon office, where we enjoyed a leisurely lunch. Our vehicle issues were enough for us to have to leave two of our ten vans; leaving us heading out for our destination, Nairobi, in more confined quarters. We passed cities of dusty streets, vibrant small businesses, and jockeying vehicles of all sizes, and country sides of scruff-covered hills, verdant fields, and scattered rural settlements. Our journey finally took us up out of the Great Rift Valley, which had been our home for the past week. Our final view of the valley was perfected by the golden light of the setting African sun.

After over seven hours of travel, we arrived at the Kijiji Guest House. We immediately rushed to the concert hall of the adjoining African International University to give a concert which we were supposed to have begun more than an hour before. The audience members were singing a praise song as we filled in, hungry, unkempt, and terribly tired. We soon took to the stage and began our concert, a stream of students and residents filling out the seats. The response to our singing was visceral – audience members standing and dancing along to our African music, women giving encouraging calls, and children coming up to get high-fives from our soloists. Their reaction to our singing was particularly natural and joyful, even for Kenya, giving us energy to continue singing despite our fatigue. Our seven songs were not enough them; they asked first for one more song, and then two more after that.

After literally feeling like we might pass out we were finally able to return to the dining room to eat a very delayed dinner. After noodles, spaghetti, and steamed vegetables, we received marching order for the next day and were dismissed to our rooms.

-Joshua Turpin

An All-Day Safari

Our wake-up call came at about 5:30 a.m. this morning, along with the sounds of wildlife stirring and birds singing. It was another early one, but last night we enjoyed hot showers and comfortable rest in our wonderful hotel. We began the day with an impressive buffet breakfast, which included made-to-order omelets and French toast! At 7:00 a.m. we loaded up the vans and headed out for a full day in the Maasai Mara.

As our caravan entered the game park, we poked our heads through the tops of our safari vans and felt the cool morning breeze. Our guides drove us down dirt roads and across steep ravines and deep puddles to bring us closer to the wildlife. Peering across the endless landscape, we saw dozens of elephants, zebras, and gazelle. As we encountered new species of animals, birds, and plant life, our guides shared their expertise on each one. After some time, we took a few minutes to stretch and snap photos at the highest point in the Maasai Mara, where the view was breathtaking. Later we shared a packed lunch of roasted chicken beneath the shade of a “sausage tree” before continuing our safari. Highlights of our experience included spotting a family of lions nearby and a leopard perched in a tree.

Another stop on our journey today was a Maasai village, who shared their culture with us. When we arrived in the village, we watched as men and women in colorful clothing, jewelry, and headdresses filed past us, dancing and singing a traditional song of welcome. They proceeded to invite us into their homes – small, mud huts like those in Komolion – and described the life of a Maasai family. Our guides demonstrated how they create fire for the entire village by adding hot ash produced by friction to dry grass and cow dung. Finally, they showcased their traditional crafts and offered them for sale. As we departed, we offered them our music in return.

After a full day on the Mara, we returned to our hotel to rest in our rooms and around the pool. After an hour or two, we met to share dinner and fellowship before celebrating Walker’s birthday with cake and singing and dancing (with the full participation of our hotel’s dining staff). We concluded the day with a brief concert for other hotel guests, staff, and our safari guides. Another day has drawn to a close, and we are grateful for more incredible encounters with God’s beautiful creations.

-Marcus Hollingsworth

Maasai Mara Monday

I would like to say that the Men’s Choir was up at 6 a.m. with a smile on every face and a song in every heart, but I would be lying. However, there was a shared sense of quiet excitement for the events of the day to follow: THE SAFARI! Finally, we would get to see the animals we have seen so often depicted in artwork and on Animal Planet. The Toccos sent us from their compound with a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, and toast. We set off to meet the vans which would carry us through the Maasai Mara Park, the largest game park in Kenya. The buses took us through beautiful valleys, with the morning sun casting long shadows on the mighty hills surrounding us on either side. The two hour bus ride flew up and before we knew it we were jumping from bus to van, seven to eight people apiece. Excitement grew as we near the Maasai Mara, but the trip had been far too uneventful for fate not to intervene. A busted coolant pipe and broken suspension system caused two vans to stop, halting the whole caravan. But at both rests moral stayed high and what could have been a frustrating situation turned into an opportunity to play cards, throw a frisbee, and do a bit more shopping.

Headed towards the park the climate changed from a temperate rainforest to an arid climate. Worn roads gave way to dirt roads, giving us a bumpy ride. Slowly the landscape started to change into something straight from National Geographic. The caravan rolled into the entrance to the park at four o’clock, just a few hours later than we had planned. As soon as we rolled into the park, there was no denying the power and majesty of the one who made it.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

Never will this verse be more true than when entering the Maasai Mara. A whole collection of antelope greeted us not but three minutes into the park. There were the elegant elan, the inspiring impala, and the graceful gazelle. Looking straight ahead, the horizon spread straight, being broken only by Africa’s characteristic baranite trees. Zebras not but twenty feet away stared back at the vans with passive annoyance filling their huge eyes. Continuing down the path, giraffes could be spotted munching on shrubs. Soon after, a family of elephants twenty strong could be seen making their way slowly but surely through the bush on a near hill. Those without binoculars were soon accommodated by another family crossing the path not two miles later. Mother elephants with their babies passed by the vans as if they didn’t exist. As the sun started to fall faster in the sky a few ostriches were spotted, quietly grazing in the fields. One van was lucky enough to see a male and female lion strolling through the bush. As if all of this was not great enough, a lone cheetah strutted past the vans, spots shining.

I believed that the great country of Texas had the best sunsets in the world for many years, but no longer do I hold that belief. The sun setting over the Maasai Mara cast an orange and pink hue over all one could see. The clouds hung gorgeous in the sky, as one might see on the ceiling of a famous Italian chapel. Looking backwards away from the sunset I was shocked to see that there were rays shooting from a blank spot in the sky where another sun should have been. The knowledgeable and friendly van driver Moses informed us that the refraction of the sun rays created a reflection of the sunset on the sky across from it. It was breathtaking. Each animal and ray of sun was a testament to the beauty of God. The awe this stage creates challenges any who sees to grow closer to him who made it. “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 19:1

As I write this from the patio of our gorgeous hotel, I hear the crickets singing and hippos grunting, waiting expectantly for another amazing day on the Maasai Mara.

-Caleb Huff