A local peace officer has returned from a mission trip to Africa with a renewed sense of how one’s life can make a profound difference.
Dana Jones, a community peace officer with the Town of Penhold, recently returned from a two-week trip with the Red Deer-based Word of Life Centre to various projects connected to the church’s Home of Hope ministries.
The trip took the team to both Kenya and Rwanda, with a four-day stint in Kenya’s poverty-wracked capital of Nairobi.
Pastor Brian Thomson, who led the group, said there are some 26 slums throughout the city and surrounding area where many are forced to go and search for food everyday.
“Everyday was similar – we would feed hundreds of children and ask the pastor of the local area to find the 10 most desperate kids in the area within a 15 kilometre walk, and we delivered pigs and goats everyday we were in these rural areas.”
Tragically, unwanted babies are often left there as well – and Home of Hope staff work hard to rescue the infants and deliver them safely to their nearby orphanage.
As to this past trip, when Jones indicated she’d be interested in joining, Thomson was considering the ways she could specifically help out.
As a peace officer, Jones is quite experienced in self-defense, and it was decided she would spend part of the trip educating young women in ways to protect themselves.
“A lot of teenage girls live with the threat of rape everyday,” explains Thomson.
Jones ultimately taught hundreds of women ways to defend themselves, and it proved to be an extremely important and empowering experience for both students and teacher.
“The last class we had in Nairobi – that was actually one of the best classes,” recalled Jones. “At first they were hesitant with practicing the moves with each other.” But they soon became more engaged. Jones also taught the women about various pressure points which can injure or weaken an attacker.
“It also helped to teach these women that they have a right to defend themselves,” said Thomson. It’s critical in a culture where women are often treated poorly – like property. Jones said she noticed many women in Nairobi with seemingly very little confidence. “When I would talk to a class, I would say walk with your head up, like you know what you are doing.”
Having a bolder stance can help ward off unwanted advances as well. Perpetrators often don’t expect any kind of aggressive, proactive ‘fight back’ attitude.
Ultimately, Jones recalls the mission, which included many different activities such as working with youth and children and helping with feeding programs, as eye-opening on many levels.
“Even before I left, I didn’t feel fear. I didn’t feel like I was going to get hurt. I didn’t have any of that. I felt we were protected, no matter what,” she said. Other times, like when curious kids would excitedly approach her, proved to be moving moments as well. Something inside was sparked indeed. “It changed the way I see things big time.
“It made me also realize that we have a lot of things others don’t have – it makes that statement real.”
There’s no hesitation when asked if she would ever return.
“I’d go back. I actually want to go to the Congo,” she said, referring to the country that Home of Hope is working to make more inroads into. Thomson said the Congo is the ‘rape capital’ of the world. So it’s not only a fight against poverty, but against violence and pervasive abuse as well.
Meanwhile, Jones found the trip to be a faith-building time as well.
“It strengthened my faith a lot, because it showed that you can make a difference – even having a little yourself, to offer it to someone else. Even though it can be something tiny to give, it can be something big to them – and it makes their world brighter.”
Several years ago, Word of Life Centre launched Home of Hope Rwanda which supports orphans by linking them with families. The ministry is now reaching 7,500 children, said Thomson.
Aside from the orphanage work, the ministry also educates people and provides job training.
As of September 2009, Word of Life Ministries, under the direction of Thomson, assumed leadership of Home of Hope India as well.
Later on, staff extended their reach to Kenya. Home of Hope Kenya began the work of receiving orphans who were abandoned as babies or small children in a Nairobi garbage dump, local slums or other remote areas.
According to Home of Hope Kenya, Kenyan slums are among the poorest in the world. Some 1.5 million children are severely underweight and in 2009, an estimated two million people have HIV/AIDS. Some 2.5 million children are orphans and about 32% of the population is malnourished.
Currently, the ministry is constructing a building to house 90-plus rescued babies and abandoned children.
As the web site points out, this is not an orphanage – the goal is to move the children into loving Kenyan foster homes. The ministry is also at work in India, Rwanda, the Congo, Uganda and as of this year Nepal.
Home of Hope is a non-profit, non-biased Christian organization dedicated to empowering people within developing nations.
“Most people that go with me just love the trip,” said Thomson, who has been leading teams for seven years now. “Albertans are a wonderful, trained group of people who are a blessing anywhere.” Thomson said mission trips are designed with people’s particular skills in mind, so they are always rewarding experiences.
Locally, anyone interested in the Home of Hope projects can certainly help out, too.
Thomson said monetary donations are always welcome to assist with the ministry, plus folks can sponsor children in Kenya, Rwanda and India through Home of Hope. They also welcome people to offer their expertise, skills or resources to help out in Kenya, India, Rwanda or Canada.
As for Jones, it’s clear her life has changed.
“In the end, this just made me realize that anything is possible. It may not come now, tomorrow or the next day – but anything is possible. You can really make a difference in other people’s lives, and your own life as well.”
Check out www.homeofhope.ca.