Adventures on the Mission Field in Kenya
Let me make this very clear from the get go: I’m a Christian. That’s important to this story because this is about one of the greatest careers known to man. I was a missionary. Now, I don’t think you have to necessarily be a Christian to be a missionary but it certainly helps. The only reason I became a missionary was because of my faith. God was like ‘hey, you should go use your talents for me on the mission field’ and, after a good long bout of freaking, I was like ‘hey, ok.’
I have a degree in television and video production. That means I can make videos and stuff. It’s pretty cool. And pretty fun. And did you know that there is actually a need for a videographer missionary? Most people, if they’ve even heard of a missionary, think of a nun or a teacher or a doctor or something terribly important. They usually don’t think media. But really, media is utterly important. How else are we supposed to tell stories to people and get the world’s attention if not through media?
Anyway, I packed up my stuff, got the blessing of my church, and went to work in Kenya for four months. I consider it work. It was not a vacation. For four months, it was my job to make promotional materials for the various programs and missionaries.
Now, up until Kenya, I was used to having gobs of professional equipment to work with. I had functioning tri-pods with floating heads. I had nice hefty HD cams with P2 cards. I had the latest and greatest editing equipment. So on and so forth. When I got to Kenya, I was given a tiny outdated consumer camera that took SD cards and outdated glitchy editing software. I didn’t even have a tri-pod for the first month. If you’re a video producer, you’ll feel my pain. It’s kind of like taking a doctor and giving them a pair of plastic safety scissors and a band-aid and telling them to perform surgery.
But remember that opening statement? I’m a Christian. The only reason I was in Kenya was because God told me to be there. Things worked out because God was like ‘hey, I got this’. So after I stopped freaking, I started to look around me.
Let me give you a typical office day in Kenya.
First was the walk to work. I was in Nairobi, which is a city, but we were sort of on the outskirts. One of my routes had monkeys living along the side of it. I can’t tell you the address of my workplace because they don’t have an address in Kenya. The closest thing to an address is that my building is off of Tigoni road, off of Ardwings Kodek, next to Yaya Center.
Walking to work was like a spectator sport. They don’t have many stop signs in Nairobi. Crossing the street takes guts and courage and a good deal of crazy. It’s all about timing. You cross the first lane, wait in the middle of the road as cars wiz past you, and then you cross the second lane. More often than not, I found myself asking God to open up a space in which I could cross without getting smashed by a matatu.
After walking to work, which involved a dirt path at one point, I had morning devotion time with the rest of the office. It’s a nice ritual in which we all pause and acknowledge each other and God before we all scatter and ignore each other for the rest of the day. After devotions, we took chai. Kenyan chai is black tea which has been steeped in a mix of water and milk. After it’s finished, you add tea masala to it which gives it the spicy chai flavor that we all know and love. With the chai, you can also get a piece of bread with Blue Band on it (which is a sort of butter spread).
Armed with caffeine and carbs, I headed up to my tiny little media office which I shared with the photographer. We took turns on the good computer. You were only allowed to use the green outlets for computers at work because they were connected to a solar panel and could power the computers during a blackout (which were very common due to the outdated power grid that Kenya operates on). When it was my turn on the computer, I spent the rest of the day wrestling with the editing software until something resembling a professional video appeared. And then I left, usually stopping at the market for fresh meat or veggies on my way home.
And then there were days that I spent shooting. These were never typical.
As it was my job to follow the missionaries around, I got to see many interesting things. I’ve walked in some of the most dangerous urban spaces on the planet. Places where I wasn’t even allowed to have any sort of technology showing or else someone would mug me for it. I’ve walked in places where people were so used to violence that they thought my tri-pod was a gun.
I captured a man on camera who was dying of cancer and sobbing because he wouldn’t be able to care for his children anymore. I had a woman tell me about a missionary who prayed with her through the night when some thugs kidnapped her father. I had a goat walk in on an interview. I’ve stood in front of six hundred children who were screaming in excitement. I’ve seen sad children instantly become happy when they get to see themselves on camera. I’ve had the privilege of seeing one of the very rare homes for mentally disabled children in Kenya who are often abandoned because of their disabilities (developmental disabilities are largely misunderstood in Kenya).
I’ve had to shoot footage in places where electricity is a luxury and toilets were holes dug in the ground with tiny little shacks over top of them. I’ve driven out to shoot in places so remote that we made our driver stop so we could chase the giraffe and zebra that were just a handful of yards away. This was the same place where Maasai hunters had just recently killed a mischievous pride of lions. With spears.
I’ve taken chai in the mountains, with orphans, and with pastors in homes so small you couldn’t fit the average American tool shed in it. Living the life of a missionary is not easy. I lived with my co-workers. One of the fellow missionaries seemed to think I was a very terrible person. She lived two flats down from me. When she was sick, I brought her soup. We had to not only work with one another but live with one another. We had to become family. It’s not easy. But it’s certainly rewarding.
If you ever find yourself looking for a job to satisfy your spirit and fill you with joy, look at the Mission field. The Peace Corps is sort of the same thing for those of you without a religious affiliation. There is something very special in taking even a few months of your time to work for others. It’s not a job that pays in wealth. It’s a job that pays in kick-ass experiences.
The takeaway here is this: next time you have a spat with a coworker, be thankful that you don’t have to live with them. The next time your computer glitches, be thankful that you have an IT department. The next time you deal with difficult customers, be thankful they speak fluent English. The next time you complain about having to drive long distances for work, be thankful…well, ok, no. Be sad. Be sad that you don’t have any wild giraffe to chase. This is a taste of what it is like of my adventures on the mission field in Kenya.
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