There comes a point when the student becomes the teacher. Ashley, a junior at Baylor University studying elementary education, had always been the student. This summer, as a Cottonwood Creek Sports Academy intern, Ashley stepped into a leadership role and began coaching kids ten years or more younger than her. Prone to being a friend, Ashley learned how to be a leader with her students, but also be relatable. They may be ten years younger than her, but Ashley's students were facing the same issues that she was or had been over the last few years. To learn more about Ashley's summer interning with CCSA, watch the video below.
Matthew 25:45, “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
In the savannah lands across Kenya, Africa, where giraffes and baboons roam freely and the scattering of Acacia trees provide relief from the sun that shines 12 months out of the year, more than 2.4 million children are labeled orphan. Disease, conflict and poverty have left most of these children to fend for themselves. Those who are lucky end up in an orphanage or shelter, hoping to be adopted, but essentially are just surviving.
Texas natives Bob and Julie Mendonsa, moved to Kenya, indefinitely, in 2008 to help care for orphans. They broke ground for Naomi’s Village in 2009 and today it serves as a home and school for 59 orphans. Naomi’s village is a safe haven for orphans that provides spiritual, physical and emotional healing in hopes that they will grow up to impact their world.
“Naomi's Village is a beacon of light to this hurting community,” Keith Tyler, Cottonwood Creek Mission’s Minister, said. “They are making a significant impact on the people of this area through the teaching of Christ, through education and through serving one another. Lives are being transformed every day!”
On June 18, 2015, Keith led his 18 member On Mission Team to Kenya, Africa, where they served alongside Naomi’s Village. The first leg of their journey was a nine-hour flight to Paris, France where they had a four-hour layover. The last leg of their trip was a direct eight-hour flight to Nairobi. They arrived in the evening and stayed there for the night as a safety precaution.
“None of the team had ever been to Kenya before,” Keith said. “Our expectations were open and the unknown added a level of excitement.”
The next morning the Team left Nairobi and made the two-hour drive to Naomi’s Village, located in Maai Mahiu. Bob and Julie met them and began their training.
“Today, Naomi’s Village houses 59 orphans,” Keith said. “Most are double orphaned, meaning that they don’t have either parent nor do they have a distant relative that could provide care. These kids are in dire need!”
Each morning the On Mission Team rose to a day full of responsibilities, from morning devotionals and getting the children ready for the day to feeding them their meals and reading bedtime stories as they tucked them in each night. The team quickly became “aunties” and “uncles” to each of the children. One child, Eric, took to Keith instantly during their first day.
“Eric was a special kid,” Keith said. “The first time that he saw me, he came right up to me and gave me a big hug. During our initial meeting with the kids we built a bonfire, made s’mores and had a time of singing. We would sing a song and then they would sing one to us. They called them presentations and they lasted for 40 minutes.”
Naomi’s Village has a social worker named Joy that the Team got to work with. Each week she presents Naomi’s Village with names of orphaned children that need help. Naomi’s Village accepts newborns to children up to seven-years-old. They provide for the children as they age, help them graduate high school and hope that they will attend college and return to the village one day. The oldest child that they are currently caring for is 13 years old.
“Their purpose is not to get these children adopted internationally,” Keith said. “These kids come here and stay. Two months ago they received a little girl named Hope. She was such a snuggle bug with our team! Hope is two years old and just now weighs ten pounds. Her features are those of a two-year-old but her body was so tiny. We were able to see Hope begin to smile and walk!”
After their morning duties around the campus, the On Mission Team ventured out into the community. They visited an Independent Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Mwi’ Hangiri, a village nearly destroyed by a political uprising in 2008. Their homes were destroyed and the villagers were left to fend for themselves. The people stood together and lived up to the Swahili meaning of their name, “We defend ourselves.” Naomi’s Village partnered with this community and wanted to provide for its immediate needs. The villager’s first request was for a church. It was completed last year after all of the funds were raised. The On Mission Team was able to worship alongside the villagers during their time there.
“These people were very poor, living a desperate lifestyle,” Keith said. “Yet, they had a hope that we’ve never seen before. Our time of worship with them was strong. We couldn’t understand a word, but we could feel their joy.”
The On Mission Team also visited a public school in Maai-Mahiu were they played games and learned about the culture. Also in Maai-Mahiu, the team met up with CTC International to learn about their LIFE Line project. This sewing project takes a group of women, Malaika Mums, and helps give them an opportunity to earn an income to support their families and children’s education.
“Many of these women have to provide for their families,” Keith said “Some have children with disabilities and they are often shunned in their communities. LIFE Line gives them a chance to survive. When we got back home I went to the Whole Foods, found their products and thought ‘I know them!’”
The theme verse for the trip was Romans 12:1-2, Lord, transform our hearts towards you. The members of the On Mission Team had a heart transformation during their time in Kenya. Keith’s wife, Laura, and their three children, Mckinley, Mitchell and Laurenkate were also members of the On Mission Team. As a dad, Keith was able to see an impact on his children’s lives even though their time in Kenya was short.
“Mckinley can’t talk about Africa without emotion,” Keith said. “It satisfies who she is as a person and she was finally able to experience something that she has wanted to do for so long. Mitchell showed such patience and joy with the children that I didn’t know was possible in a 14 year-old boy. Our youngest, LaurenKate is shy and reserved, but she broke out while in Kenya like we’ve never seen. She became a leader.”
Cottonwood Creek On Mission hopes to return to Kenya and partner with Naomi’s Village again next year. For more details on how you can support On Mission and Naomi’s Village, email
As VBS wrapped up this year, volunteers, participants and their families, headed to Hawaiian Falls to celebrate. The children that accepted Christ during Vacation Bible School had the opportunity to go through the One Way Class and get baptized that evening by Pastor John Mark in the Lazy River. It was a sight that didn't go unnoticed by the park staff working that evening. When John Mark began baptizing the children, the head lifeguard approached him with a surprising request that left the crowd cheering.
Find out what happened next:
Last year, Vacation Bible School participant Isaiah came home so excited about the week he had just had and told his parents that they needed to visit “his” church. It was because of his excitement that Isaiah’s father, David began bringing the entire family to Cottonwood Creek. They have since joined and are gearing up to help with this years VBS. Check out David’s story:
Shields of Strength dog tags have traveled with soldiers across the world in the most dangerous of situations, some to never return home again. They serve as a constant reminder of God’s word and strength. Cottonwood Creek has proudly participated in this program over the last couple of years.
Pastor John Mark Caton had the honor of delivering a back of Shields of Strength to on Monday, May 18, 2015. He traveled alongside Mike Wagers, Cottonwood Creek Deacon, to the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Among the shields being delivered were 1,600 specially made displaying the 319th Field Artillery regiment’s crest. Cottonwood adopted the 319th Field Artillery regiment.
Straight off of his early morning flight, Pastor John Mark was under the impression that he would be delivering the Shields to a chaplain. The 319th Field Artillery regiment had other ideas. When he saw that there was a podium and cake, Pastor John Mark knew he was about to experience something special. To show their appreciation of what the Cottonwood Creek family did, Chaplain Johnston presented Pastor John Mark with a plaque.
The 82nd Airborne Division Artillery was beginning their All American Week when Pastor John Mark and Mike arrived. This week allows all of the soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division Artillery and their families to celebrate being members of the All American Division. During the week soldiers participate in obstacles, runs and games. John Mark and Mike witnessed several of the events throughout the week and had the opportunity to talk with many of the soldiers. They even encountered soldiers who were already wearing their Shields of Strength.
If you would like to support the Shields of Strength program, stop by the church office and purchase a Shield for a soldier. Each Shield is $5. The plaque will be on display with the Shields of Strength in The Courts Atrium.
To hear more about Pastor John Mark’s trip delivering the Shields of Strength, watch his video testimony below.