When Gwen Bohlke was a little girl she had a dream.
“As a child growing up at Middle Creek Church we would have missionaries come to speak,” said Bohlke.
Among those missionaries were those from Africa.
“I have always wanted to go to Africa,” Bohlke said, and in 2014 that dream finally came true. From July 27 through Aug. 28 of that year, Bohlke visited Kenya in east Africa spending time with Karen Setterberg, who has served for decades as a missionary in Nairobi, Kenya.
Bohlke talked about her time in Kenya during a travel series program through the Redwood Falls library.
Being Bohlke was there in July and August she experienced winter in Kenya, which meant the East African nation that exists along the equator, had temperatures in the 75 degree range most of the time.
Kenya, said Bohlke, is beautiful, whether one is talking about the landscape or the people, and during the days she was in Africa Bohlke was able to experience both. Bohlke said she arrived in Kenya at 1:30 in the morning several hours later than was scheduled, but she said the people who came to greet her waited until she arrived, adding the people she met in Kenya are some the most hospitable she has ever met. The people, said Bohlke, exude a joy, especially those who are Christians.
During her visit, she was able to stop by several schools to meet with the teachers and the children.
Most of the schools she visited were in the slum areas around Nairobi.
“The kids were always excited to see us,” said Bohlke, adding the schools were operated by Christian organizations simply because the government did not offer education in the slums of the country.
“The children are required to wear uniforms,” said Bohlke, adding those children demonstrate a high level of respect for adults. “When the teacher entered the classroom the children all stood up and stayed standing until the teacher told them to sit down.”
Those children speak three languages, including Swahili, their tribal tongue and English. As the nation was ruled by England for many years, the British English influence is very apparent, said Bohlke.
“The children love to sing and dance,” said Bohlke, adding each time they visited a school the children would present something for the visitors.
During the time she spent in Kenya, Bohlke was able to help with a Vacation Bible School and worked at a camp, adding the VBS was very similar to a program one might see in the United States.
Bohlke said she was able to meet many pastors in Kenya, adding women have been accepted as pastors for a very long time.
Now a retired pastor, Bohlke said she had the chance to preach one Sunday in Kenya, adding it is a very unique experience to preach with a translator. Bohlke added with a smile that she heard more “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” there then she ever had – wondering in the end what the translator was really telling them.
When Bohlke would visit there was always time set aside to eat, adding she ate a lot of rice with beans, kale or cabbage in Kenya. Bohlke said she was able to enjoy Chai tea regularly, adding Kenya is a major exporter of tea on a global level. There is more tea exported from Kenya than from India, Sri Lanka and China, she added.
Bohlke said she never got sick when she was in Kenya, However, she did get sick of eating rice, but a pastor named Joseph took her and Karen to a Galleria mall in Nairobi where Bohlke was able to enjoy a little bit of home – Kentucky Fried Chicken. That, said Bohlke, never tasted so good.
For much of their existence, the slums of Kenya were never placed on maps and therefore as far as the government was concerned did not exist. It was in 2009 that the attention paid to those living in slums began to increase.
In the background of some of Bohlke’s photos were large shipping containers, which she said were full of items that had been donated. Seeing a man wearing a Minnesota Vikings short showed Bohlke that the items being donated were actually being used. Bohlke encouraged those who came to her presentation to continue to donate to those in need around the world, adding, however, that people need to send quality items not just the junk they don’t want.
Bohlke said she had a great experience during Sunday morning worship times in Kenya. She participated in services at a variety of churches, adding the services there often lasted three hours or even longer.
While Bohlke was in Kenya to help serve the people, she also spent some time taking in that which makes Kenya a tourist attraction – the wildlife. She said she saw everything from giraffes and crocodiles to elephants and cape buffalo. She even got close enough to a male lion that she said she could hear it breathing. Those, she added, are travel experiences she will never forget.
Bohlke’s experience in Kenya was a very positive one, adding the people she met have left a lasting impression.