When local youth ministers journeyed across the planet to stage the first Disciple Now Kenya event, they discovered teenagers in Nakuru, Kenya, aren’t terribly different from those in Conyers.
“Aside from the larger healthcare and clean water aspects, we’re dealing with the same issues as our Kenyan counterparts — kids relating to their parents, how to get the parents more involved and how to get them to stop texting during worship,” said Conyers First UMC’s Rev. Andrew Covington. “I told them if you figure that one out, please share it with me!”
DNow Conyers is a non-denominational, annual youth rally held at Heritage Hills Baptist which typically draws more than 500 teens to its weekend-long worship and activities. Over the years, participants have raised funds for multiple projects in Nakuru — clean water initiatives and filling cargo containers with books and medical supplies.
During the last two weeks, Covington along with Michael Sarvis of Smyrna Presbyterian, Josh Sweeney, formerly with Crossroads UMC and now with Marietta First UMC, and Mark Walker, formerly with Rockdale Baptist and now with Golden Springs Baptist in Anniston, Ala., and their praise band members have been working with Kenyan youth leaders to stage DNow Kenya, “The Cross Xperience” which was attended by more than 400 Kenyan teens.
Covington said, “It wasn’t the Americans coming in and directing everything...it was a partnership of us and the students leading it…we strive for that in DNow Conyers and to see it happening on the other side of the world blows you away.”
CFUMC Praise Band member Matt Tryall said the trip was “indescribable.” They were nervous, needlessly it turned out, about how the Kenyans would receive their music and because the group had only played a few times together.
“Except for the living conditions, our lives are similar, but for the most part they seem happier and more content,” said Tryall. Sarvis found one of his youth group’s member’s Kenyan doppelganger — even down to the angle they wore their hats.
Tryall said if he hadn’t been in the middle of a semester at Georgia Perimeter College, he wouldn’t have come back. After seeing how the Kenyan musicians picked up the praise team guitars every time they were put down, Tryall is on a mission to buy a few guitars and sound equipment for them — their single, old keyboard and drum set he felt were woefully inadequate.
Sarvis, who’s been involved in DNow fundraising efforts for several years, was initially reluctant to join the Kenyan bandwagon. He chalked it up to an “irrational thought process,” but said now, “It’s the best thing I’ve done in my life — I’m itching to go back.”
Initially, Sarvis thought, “Why don’t we give them something more tangible?” However, after the experience, he came to the conclusion that Kenyan residents needed the same spiritual development as anyone in Conyers. Sarvis said he came up with an analogy to drive the point home for himself. “For instance, a boy hears the gospel, makes a commitment of faith and goes home and shares it with his family. In Kenya, people die from simple things…say he gets sick and dies a month later…there’s one more person who’s spending an eternity in heaven because of what we gave him.”
Though DNow Kenya’s mission was primarily an evangelical one, there were many practical needs met. The team stayed in school rooms in Nakuru’s Tumaini Mission Centre — the Beech Foundation’s R.O.C.K. Bridge ministry compound which includes an orphanage and special needs school. Mattresses purchased will be used in the orphanage. The DNow Kenya site, which had a relatively elaborate stage and where 30-foot crosses were erected, was right where the shipping container sent from Conyers last year sits.
Covington is also developing an economic project with Pastor Joseph Ndung’u, a Kenyan Methodist minister, to sell fishing flys his congregation makes in the states. He explained the Kenyans he encountered don’t want a simple hand-out, but are looking for ways to produce what Americans are already buying and offer a high quality version — Kenyan bird feathers are sought-after fishing fly material. “They don’t just want us to build a well and dump money there, but are asking what we can bring to the table and what they can offer and how do we partner.” Covington brought back 35 dozen flies he plans on selling by word-of-mouth and setting up a website. “It’s a healthy and holistic approach to missions.”
Another is the nearly completed Tumaini Conference Centre, a multi-use facility on the compound. The group hopes to return next January to conduct an intensive youth leadership academy. Laying the groundwork with the Kenyan leadership for DNow was a five-member pilot team of recent college graduates led by Heritage High and Furman University grad Lauren Cook. The group is spending nine months in Nakuru assessing opportunities and need for long-term missions team living there to be a constant and host short-term teams.
Covington’s prayer for DNow Kenya is, “It grows the same way it’s grown in Conyers getting bigger every year…lighting a fire that will continue on.”
For more information on Nakuru and the Tumaini Mission Centre, visit www.thebeechfoundation.org.
To purchase Kenyan fishing flies, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To hear Tyrall’s music while helping to raise mission funds, attend the Chastain on Main concert on the lawn at Conyers First UMC, May 5, from 6 to 8 p.m.