First United Methodist Church

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News & Devotions

Update from Our Panua Intern, Katie Cornelius

With one year passing I got onto the airplane knowing this year has brought change to my life. Within the 365 days since I last lived in Naivasha, Kenya I completed my senior year and graduated from the University of Florida, I turned 22 years old, I spent countless hours working with children in the hospital, I took the MCAT, I applied to medical school, I fundraised and attended my last Dance Marathon at the University of Florida with the sweet Miracle Children, I finished my term as President of my sorority, I was inducted into Florida Blue Key, and I finished out my college years, ready to move on to a new phase in my life and continue serving the Lord. While this past year has brought extraordinary change, accomplishment, and adjustment, I prepared my heart knowing that God would be sending me to a place where the change, adjustment, and growth in my life would be far beyond measurable.

Last year, I had the privilege of living in Naivasha, Kenya working with the Panua Partners in Hope program for 2 months. I went to Naivasha feeling strong in my faith, yet God knew I had so much room for growth. My time in the beautiful country of Kenya was lifechanging and after returning to the United States, before I could even say anything to my friends and family, they could already see on my face that I would soon be returning to the place that became so precious in my heart. One year later, I am back in Naivasha with the Panua program and it has been about a month since my arrival. In that month, I must admit it has not been the easiest adjustment, but I have seen God so clearly each and every day.

Throughout my first week in Naivasha, I spent time with a group of missioners made up of Elevate high school students and their parents. What left me in awe and showed me God’s presence so clearly was the speed at which these young people were able to cross personal, physical, and cultural barriers to truly connect and relate with the Panua youth. The Panua youth are some of the most vulnerable individuals on this earth yet they live each day with abounding joy. It was truly a privilege to experience our trippers first times in Kenya meeting the youth, seeing giraffes, and taking in all the scenery.

As the team left, I stayed behind to remain for the next 3 months working with Panua Partners in Hope. I’ve sat through meetings, talked about goals, worked through logistics, and arranged schedules, but I always find the most joy in collecting stories. Last year, I spent hours every week taking pictures and learning about the stories our youth carry with them. This summer, one year further into the program, I can see astounding changes in the positivity, confidence, and pride our youth exhibit. 365 days ago, I met a young man about my age from the Kamere group who – even though he towers above me – slouched his shoulders over, directed his eyes downward, never showed a smile, and rarely spoke a single word. I assumed this man, Agrey, did not speak English, but to my surprise, I came back this year to meet a whole new person. Agrey stands tall, smiles wide, and speaks English as well as I do. Within one year, God has used Panua Partners in Hope to change Agrey’s life, give him confidence, help him grow in his faith, and renew hope. God’s love is so incredible that not only has Agrey’s life changed entirely, the lives of the 200 other Panua youth are changing and growing every single day.

People who have heard me speak about Panua and Naivasha know that this place and these people have a permanent and special place in my life. It’s stories like Agrey’s that renew my love for this place and this program daily. I have shared my calling with anyone who will listen, I rave about the joy in this place, and I let the world know that my heart will always be in Naivasha, but it seems as if I have made my experiences sound like all fun and games when in fact, being here comes with its own set of difficulties. I struggle daily with language and cultural differences. I find myself isolated even though I am amongst many. I miss my family, my friends, my bed, my bath tub, my food. I miss having 5 different Starbucks options within 2 miles from my home. I miss the simple connections of phone data and text messaging. I miss the comfort I find in my speed talking English that no one here can understand. I miss the freedom of hopping in my car to drive anywhere I’d like, and I miss not being seen as different, someone who is out of place, someone who doesn’t belong.

You see, here in Naivasha, being a white girl draws extreme attention. Every child who passes screams “MZUNGU!!!!!” to call the other children to look and stare at the color of my skin. Even high schoolers and adults will whisper or even bluntly call me “mzungu” to my face. It’s not meant in a hurtful way, it just points out that I am different. While being different is difficult and presents new struggles each day, I also see God using these struggles to grow my heart and faith. Although I miss fitting in, God has shown me a new appreciation for those who feel left out or misunderstood. Instead of feeling as if I have been pointed out, I choose to look at the joy on the faces of young children who are so eager to greet me with “How are you? How are you?” When I think about missing my car and freedom, I feel thankful that I do not have to walk miles each day to reach water, food, or work. When I feel upset that my English speaking is difficult to understand, I feel grateful that I grew up in a place where education is free to everyone and no child is left at home because of a lack of funds. While I miss my phone, I simultaneously bask in the silence of disconnecting and the beauty that God places right in front of our faces every day, we simply miss it because we don’t take time to look. When I find myself wanting to take a trip to Starbucks, I feel grateful that I get to have a cup of instant coffee every day. When I miss my home, I feel immense gratitude. Having a home at all is an extreme privilege that we take for granted daily. Many of our Panua youth live in conditions that you are unable to imagine and having this experience has opened my eyes to the appreciation we should all have towards something as simple as a roof over our heads, a floor on the ground, and a bed to sleep on. Lastly, when I miss my family and friends I feel the Lord covering me in blessings. Here in Kenya, lifesaving technology is not nearly as available, infection is not well controlled, accidents are more frequent, and death is a common part of everyday life. Even further, there are people in this world who have no connections to others who care for them and love them unconditionally. Though I still selfishly find times that I miss my family and friends, I thank the Lord that I have such people in my life, that I am making new friendships in Kenya, and that there are people who care about me.

God knows exactly what he is doing in my life and here with the Panua Partners in Hope program. I see God working through me daily and I find Him present in every area of life. Whether I see God in the joy of a precious baby toddling by right when I needed a splash of encouragement or in the renewed hope of the Panua youth sharing their testimonies, I know His hand is on my heart and in this place.Actually the only thing that Phentermine Online stops me is that thing.

I am continuously reminded of a certain verse which applies so clearly to my life, to the lives of the Panua youth, and to the lives of each and every single one of us:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

When I find myself fretting over getting into medical school, missing home, struggling to move forward solving an issue with a youth, or feeling discontent in any way, I stop myself and almost laugh. There’s no need for worries, sorrow, fret, or struggle. God knows our life plans and I pray every day that he will guide me closer and closer to where I am meant to be. God has taken my hand and led me to Naivasha to make a difference in the lives of 200 vulnerable people through Panua Partners in Hope and I pray that you let Him guide you through the plans He has for you. This day and every day, be grateful for a God that loves us so well, let go of any fears or worries about the future, open your eyes to the little things you may be taking for granted, and know that 200 loving and joyful young people in Kenya pray for you every single day. Well, as long as I’m here, make that 201.

Much love,

Katie Cornelius