Troy Mayer, a paramedic who attends Eastside Christian Church east of Hubbard, recently found himself in a village in northern Kenya, holding an underfed girl named Nancy in his arms.

It was June 27, Day 10 of a Global Compassion mission trip sponsored by the Anaheim, Calif.-based ministry in partnership with Missions of Hope International (MOHI). Mayer had joined a group going to the village at the last minute, but reluctantly, because he felt his medical team had important work to do at the clinic.

Among other stops in the village, Mayer’s group paused to “share the light” of the gospel – along with a solar-powered light – with a poor family whose 7-year-old daughter had been promised in marriage in exchange for household needs. The team made financial arrangements to break the betrothal and send the girl to a MOHI sponsored school.

Then Nancy entered the room.

“This little girl came up to me,” Mayer recalled. “You could tell there was something different about her. She didn’t walk quite right. She didn’t have full use of her hands, arms and legs. She just wanted to be held.”

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Mayer said Nancy looked at him with pleading eyes that told him she just wanted to be loved.

“I picked her up and held her,” he said, “and she nuzzled into me, and it was like velcro. I couldn’t put her down.”

Mayer said he felt the dad in him kick in. Nancy, about 6, was the same size as his 3-year-old back home. Afflicted with cerebral palsy, she had no value to her family like the sister who could be offered in marriage.

“So, she was left to get the scraps in the family, and it showed,” he said, describing a heartbreaking situation where “every morsel of energy expended almost certainly must be used just to survive…. There was not any money or spare attention or energy to work with a special needs kid. If Nancy survived, it was just God’s will.”

Now, thanks to Eastside’s mission team, that girl is sponsored through MOHI to receive attention from a social worker. Efforts are underway to place her in a special needs school.

“My time with Nancy was limited to only a few interactions over a few hours...but it made a huge impact on me,” said Mayer, who even inquired about adopting her but was told the Kenyan government would not allow it.

The last time he saw her, Mayer said, “I...embraced Nancy like she was my own daughter. She readily came and hugged me like she had known me forever. It was difficult knowing that this very well may be the last time I see her.”

Passport to compassion

Mayer was one of four members of Eastside’s Park Rapids area campus who traveled to Kenya in June, along with Debbie Yennie, Jason Condiff, Megan Galligan and folks from the 10,000-member church’s four California campuses.

Working through partners like MOHI, Eastside also sent servant groups this summer to Thailand, Ecuador, India, Mexico, Niger, Chile, Argentina, Malawi and Ukraine.

Tour participants either paid their own way or, like Condiff, fundraised for the trip. Once in Kenya, they split into teams to do a variety of projects, from medical care to education, construction work and more.

Condiff, an avionics technician at home, helped install rooftop solar panels, a backup generator and electrical wiring on a MOHI school in Kargi, Kenya. He and Mayer also helped break up concrete to prepare for the installation of playground equipment, which Yennie helped paint when it was complete.

“Primarily, what I was there to do was to love and be loved by these people through God,” said Condiff, adding that members of previous mission teams had told him, “You would not believe the grace and mercy and love...that is presented to you as you come in contact with these communities.”

He also went, he said, “for God to show his glory, through me being able to go somewhere like that.”

Condiff said he was humbled by the support he received for the trip from his brother and sister-in-law, his boss and some of his coworkers, who are no better off financially than he is. He described them as “happy and pleased and amazed with what God has done in my life.”

Six and a half years ago, Condiff was a drug addict. “My life has transformed quite a bit since then,” he said. “I never thought I would ever have a passport. I never thought that anything like this was possible.”

He put in a lot of work on the trip, but he said afterward, “I got out of it more than I gave.”

During breaks from his work, he hung out with the school kids, who found his tattoos fascinating.

“They don’t have hair on their arms,” said Condiff. “So these kids would come up to me and ... they were petting my arm.”

He said this reminded him of when his children were little and, as he held them, they would pet his arm. “At the time that they were doing that, I didn’t pay too much attention because I was an addict,” he said. “I felt like I was given that back…. To me, that was overwhelming, and it was powerful, and it was loving, and it completely pounded in, like a flag on a mountain, that...you don’t know what to expect. It just, all of a sudden, happens.”

In an emotional moment, he recalled how “a little boy, who has nothing, come up and give me his bracelet that says, ‘Be strong and courageous – Joshua 1:9,’ because I have it tattooed on my arm. This was one of the few things that he has, and he gave this to me.”

A refrain that Condiff often repeated, both in person and in his handwritten journal of the Kenya traip, was “God is good.”

Education goes both ways

Galligan, who wasn’t available for interview, shared photos of her trip to Kenya's remote Turkana County to help build homes out of sticks and mud. She and Yennie both participated in a women’s conference in Nairobi, and Yennie spent a lot of time in the Mathare Valley – a four-square-mile slum near Nairobi, said to be home to up to a million people.

“They have very little electricity, no running water. Their daily income is approximately $1 to $2 per day,” said Yennie.

Eastside, which devotes a third of its offering plate revenues to Global Compassion, supports as many as 3,500 students in the MOHI school system, which serves about 18,000 children including many in Mathare. Individual church members sponsor additional children, giving many of them an opportunity to earn the test scores needed to attend high school and, in time, work their way out of the slums.

Like many other members of the mission teams, Yennie participated in the “share the light” campaign, offering solar-powered lights to families without electrical service. The fittings included charging stations, so families can make money charging other people’s cell phones.

“It gave them a business,” she said. “It gave them the opportunity to actually make money by charging other people to come. Around there, that’s the main thing. Help these people to somehow be self-sustaining.”

After years of facilitating a youth group’s mission trips, this was Yennie’s first time going on one personally. She recalled seeing other people return “like somebody shoved a lightbulb up their butt...they’d be just beaming. That’s what I am. I’m beaming. There is nothing that I can give to these people that would ever compare to what I brought home.”

Arty Vangloof, the church’s director of global compassion, stressed that their approach through partners like MOHI is about building a long-standing relationship with people, not just smacking a Band-Aid on their problems and leaving.

Marketing director Joni Finkle correlated this with the church’s three-part mission to “pursue God, build community and unleash compassion.”

Part of studying mercy is not turning your nose up at people in need. Yennie recalls the smell of Mathare – a blend of sewage, garbage, smoke and body odor – as, at first, something repugnant and not for the weak-stomached. Yet, later, she said, it became a “comfort smell,” one that she missed afterward, because it represents the people she encountered there.

“Never once did you ever have this feeling where anyone had their hand out,” she said. “No one was ever expecting anything from you, except love.”

Every time she squatted down, Yennie said, “I would get mauled by these little kids who wanted nothing but just love. They were not asking for candy. They weren’t begging for this. I never heard a child cry, the whole time I was there. These children...don’t understand lack, because they’ve never had anything. So, what they have is just peace and joy and love.”

Condiff said his experience on the trip confirmed for him that “all these things that we read about in the Bible, and we’re like, ‘That’s a really cool story’ – all these wonderful, awesome, great things are still happening today.”

He concluded, “I was just glad to be a part of this team. It was an amazing experience. All I can say is, God is good.”