LAURA TYLER'S STORY OF ENCOUNTERING THE INSPIRATIONAL PEOPLE OF KENYA
One of the most exciting and inspirational parts of mission work is the people you get to encounter. It is amazing to learn about the impact God leaves in their lives, even if they are struggling or living in rough circumstances. Laura Tyler was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Kenya with Cottonwood Creek's mission team this summer and the people she met there truly touched her life.
Laura first felt the call to ministry through missions when she was young. "I loved it and always wanted to be a part of it," Laura said. "I was involved in high school and early on in my marriage." After she became a mother, Laura kept looking for opportunities but being away for almost two weeks on a trip was something she couldn't do with young children.
Six years ago was when Laura felt the prompting to go to Africa. She shared her thoughts with her husband, Keith. "At that time, my oldest daughter, McKinley, was in the sixth grade," Laura said. "She came up to me and said, 'Mom, I want to go on a mission trip and I want to go to Africa.' It was fun for me to hear that sweet confirmation that the Lord was doing the same thing in my daughter's heart that He was doing in mine." The fact that a mission trip to Africa was on McKinley's heart as well as her own made Laura want to do it even more.
Laura began looking for opportunities but nothing felt right. Then, one morning in church, Bob and Julie Mendonsa of Naomi's Village spoke at Cottonwood Creek. "I started crying and knew this is where we needed to start," Laura said. "At that same moment, McKinley leaned over from four chairs away and whispered, 'Mom, we need to go!'"
Initially, the Tylers were scheduled to go in the fall of 2013, however the trip was cancelled due to unrest and unsafe travel in the country at the time. Instead, they rescheduled for the following June. Since that first trip in 2014, Laura and the rest of her family hold a special place in their heart for Kenya.
This summer, Laura and the team were blessed to meet many people with inspirational stories. Whether they personally knew God or not, it was evident that He was still working in their lives. "Most of the days, we were just loving, ministering, and meeting people wherever they were," Laura said.
This year, the team delivered beds, writing desks, and solar lighting to families in need. With every visit to a family in need, Laura was touched by who she encountered. What was even more touching was the fact that she could already see God working within the families.
One of the inspirational people Laura met was a woman named Grace. "She was a leader in Mwi’ Hangiri," Laura said. "Mwi’ Hangiri was a village whose people were put in an IDP camp after they were forced to leave because of political unrest in 2008. That year, many villages were attacked and abandoned and many lives were lost." The government issued tents for these IDP camps and declared that everyone was taken care of. This specific group of people from Mwi’ Hangiri were so far back off the main roads, nobody knew they were there. "They were discovered four years ago in plastic tattered tents and coverings that had been issued," Laura said. "Grace is a leader and true prayer warrior of that group."
When Naomi's Village first discovered the people of Mwi’ Hangiri, the people said they needed a place to worship. Naomi's Village helped build a church for them and, over time, homes. "During this past trip, we were able to see that many families share a home or dwelling in a big rectangular concrete home," Laura said. "Grace shared her testimony and stories about God's faithfulness with us." One story Grace shared with the team was about the people not having food and fearing for their lives. "Someone gave them goats to provide, then the goats got stolen," Laura said. "It was story after story of difficulties but they remained so thankful." Grace said to the team, "The people in my own country do not come visit and you have come from across the world in the United States. You care and want to hear our story and show us your love." Laura was extremely moved by Grace's words and truly saw the importance of relationships for everyone, but especially for believers.
Laura and the team had the chance to meet another incredible woman and hear her story. One particular afternoon, the team broke up into small groups and Laura's group was given the opportunity to visit a woman named Rachel who had four children. One of the children went to Cornerstone Prep, Naomi's Village's school for the community. "The Naomi's Village children go to Cornerstone, but children who show potential in the community can go there as well," Laura said. "Rachel didn't speak much English so we had a translator with us. Ultimately, the goal for us was to show her love and also deliver a bunk bed, writing desk, chair, and solar lighting." When Laura and her team showed up, they realized that Rachel's elderly mother was living with them as well. "The family had just been given a concrete dwelling to live in," Laura said. "Prior to that, they had been sleeping in the goat pen right outside." With no man involved, Rachel would go do day labor all day and leave her elderly mother at home.
"At one point, I asked Rachel if she knew Jesus," Laura said. "She said she didn't and our hearts just sunk. So, I took a deep breath and at the moment, I heard an audible voice that said 'bracelet, bracelet, bracelet!'" Laura looked down at her wrist and saw that she was wearing her gospel bead bracelet that they had made with the children from Cornerstone four days prior. "I asked if I could share the gospel with Rachel," Laura said. "The translator said I could." Laura asked Rachel if she had seen the bracelet before and she said her daughter had brought one home from school the week before. "I said to Rachel, 'I would love to share a beautiful story with you and the bracelet helps me do that,'" Laura said. "I walked through each bead and at the end, I just left it with the hope we have in Christ. I explained to her that when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior and trust in Him, we have this hope that surpasses our daily struggles, wants, and needs." Laura didn't necessarily do anything big, she just shared the story.
Rachel started talking to the translator, smiled big, and said she wanted to accept Jesus. Laura and the team were overjoyed. Laura put the bracelet on Rachel's wrist and they all huddled together and prayed. "It was such a sweet moment and it all just started with showing up and meeting a physical need," Laura said. "We couldn't have planned that."
Laura also got to reconnect with a little boy she had met on a previous trip. The Tylers had met him before and since that initial meeting, they had been in constant prayer for him. "God brought this boy into our hearts," Laura said. "He prompted our hearts to love this little boy. I can't even begin to explain the relationship established with him just through prayer." Laura felt such a burden and connection for this child, that she really had to talk herself down at first. "He's seen so many people who ultimately mean nothing to him," Laura said. "So, there was a chance that even with our prayers and thoughts of him for the past year, it wouldn't mean anything to him. Walking in, however, and seeing the bond he had with us that God had established through faithful prayer was such a blessing."
The inspiring people Laura met made a completely lasting impact on her life. Her hope is that more of the Cottonwood Creek family will get to meet people just like the ones she met. Laura encourages everyone to just go. "Whether it's Kenya, Dominican Republic, or Rio Grande Valley, just go," Laura said. "It's easy for us to know God and know of Him here in America where we have so much privilege, freedom and opportunities. However, going elsewhere has opened my eyes wide to the power of God."