Elayne “Eleni” Goldman, of Portland, OR, is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, a member of the St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Beaverton, OR and has participated on two OCMC Mission Teams to Kenya in 2017 and 2018. Joel Pleban, of Stratford, CT, a CPA with a tax preparation practice, a member of St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Stratford, CT and participated on the OCMC Mission Team to Kenya in 2017.
What did you do in Kenya?
Elayne: Our goal was to inspire self-sufficiency and to deemphasize dependency on Christian organizations for financial support for general church operations. We traveled to numerous churches and presented practical lessons on church infrastructure including leadership, stewardship, tithing, women’s roles in the church, youth and Sunday school education, church ministries (church beautification, fund raising, clergy support), and other relative needs of the geographical area.
Joel: Our visit was divided into two segments – Kisumu in the West and Nairobi. The program centered around six key topics - Responsible Financial Accounting in Churches, Stewardship, Self-Reliance, Leadership/Empowerment, Ministries, and Roles for Women in the Church. At the Orthodox College of Kenya we discussed tapping alumni for support, reviewing scholarship needs, and physical expansion plans. In Kisumu, I gave a sermon, reviewed finance documentation, and was involved with a conference of the Orthodox Woman's Union. In Nairobi I offered lectures on accounting topics to the seminarians and spent time reviewing Diocesan accounting. We visited over 14 churches, an orphanage, monastery, college, schools, and the seminary. We attended weddings and funerals. We interacted with over 40 seminarians, over 20 priests and deacons, and hundreds of individuals and children.
How were you received?
Elayne: The people were extremely open and hospitable, taking our visit and presentations seriously. We were honored by women giving us chicken eggs (a high honor) to show their appreciation. We never really knew who our audience would be, but there was always a room full of people.
Joel: We were welcomed warmly and with enthusiasm. Our presentations were well received and generated much discussion.
Was your life changed?
Elayne: This being my third trip to Kenya, I can honestly say that the exposure to rural Kenya changed my life. The people demonstrated the definition of what trusting and believing in God really means. There is no doubt that people who live in true poverty, live their life as though God has already healed them and trust that their prayer will be answered. A longer stay offered many more opportunities for not only understanding culture but making friendships.
Joel: Being present for a longer time allowed for different types of experiences and we were more flexible to develop programs and allow them to evolve over the days and weeks. I don't think I would say my life changed; that happened after my first Team. I think it’s more accurate to say my life evolved - with a keen understanding of a daily and weekly routine of those we worked with and their everyday life and struggles. With the greater length of time and greater variety of tasks, we were representing the OCMC and the United States, while also offering ourselves as individuals, bringing our different backgrounds and styles.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Elayne: I learned not to worry about time because the concept of time is outside the culture and expectations. There is not as much anxiety about life but more prayer and acceptance. I was challenged many times with the dependency on good weather for safe travel, or bug-less nights.
Joel: The biggest challenge was adjusting the program early on and learning that you need to be flexible and trust that things will come together. It was easy to forget, looking back upon all the successes, but the first three days really caused a lot of discomfort. After we sat down with the local clergy, we had a sense of anticipation for our work.
The language barrier in the remote regions, contending with the cold I caught (lacking the medicine of the US), and accepting the commitment to the isolation in the west were also hard. If you’re looking for a real nitty gritty challenge, it may have been being absent from access to the instant gratification of fast food - but hey, that's not a bad thing, is it?
What was your most precious moment?
Elayne: When I walked out of a small rural church, not bigger than my family room at home, with light coming through the boards, a younger women grabbed my hand and lead me into a sunlit area of the grounds and pulled me to her cheek and asked that her friend take a picture of us. She was so overjoyed, and just wanted to be close to me and the love she expressed was indescribable. It was clear that simply being present is all she needed to feel God’s presence in others who are walking the path of Jesus Christ. I’ll never forget that moment.
Joel: Waking up to the rooster crowing every morning. Seriously, there are three moments that really stand out.
After the Divine Liturgy, in a small church in Nandi, I was outside playing with a group of children. We couldn't understand each other's language, but we developed our own language of hand signals and facial expressions, making each other laugh, having foot races, peeking over walls, jumping rope, and taking pictures of silly faces.
Walking through the slums of Riruta, outside the Seminary compound walls, with a seminarian named Silas. The side alleys were full of garbage, sewage, and dilapidated huts. He told me the story of his life, which made me realize how happy I was to be with him. Instead of wanting to leave the slums, it made me want to stay there and help others.
Attending the wedding of a seminarian at the Holy Trinity church in Vihiga, overlooking tea farms, and standing in the back of the church holding a sick coughing boy so his mother could have a break from holding him, and having him fall asleep on my shoulder.
If I had to, I could write 50 precious moments.
Do you recommend this type of service for others?
Elayne: Yes, having the extra time to be immersed in the Kenyan culture made it possible to experience the people’s lives and see how God manifests himself in extreme conditions. It also gave me a glimpse of the real challenges and solutions to difficult circumstances if given consistent and useful support on how to turn their problems into solutions by taking steps towards independence rather than reliance on others.
Joel: Our experience was much more challenging than a Team structure. The individual needs to be very tough mentally, needs to be able to leave behind all the cares and concerns of the United States, and have a strong support structure at home that will support the commitment to the mission. The individual needs to be open to working with others who come from different backgrounds, church upbringings and experiences. The individual needs to be humble, live day to day in a setting different than they are used to without feeling deprived and showing gratitude for what he/she is provided. Prior Team experience is recommended. The individual needs to be patient and open-minded and understand that certain cultural differences need to be accepted (the diminished role and respect of women comes to mind). But based on what I consider the immense success of our mission, yes, I certainly recommend this service to someone who wants to share their expertise and accept the commitment required.
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