Professor Lynn Branham Serves SLU Spirit in Kenya
Going on a mission trip was nothing new for Professor Lynn Branham. “I've rolled up my sleeves to help people in my own country, including those considered the least of the least – prisoners,” she said. But when she headed to Africa for the first time this summer, as one would expect, her experience was unlike any other she had been on. “I never served in a place where I had to use a bucket each day to bathe. And I've never served in a place where such generosity was the order of the day.”
The story of how Branham, a visiting professor at SLU LAW since 2007, made her way to Kenya began in 2005. Her vacation didn’t coincide with her family’s, so she decided to treat herself to a three-day retreat. While originally envisioning somewhere with mud baths and massages, she discovered places offering spiritual retreats and ended up at a convent in northern Indiana.
Since then she has regularly attended private retreats there. When a nun friend at the convent told her about an orphanage in Mitingu, Kenya, she was emotionally drawn into its story. Sister Germaine, an 84-year-old “dynamo,” as Branham describes her, from the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, founded the Caring Place orphanage 10 years ago, pulling homeless children off the streets into her shelter and care. Two years ago, she had to leave the country due to her health.
Looking at her busy schedule and the money needed to put her children through college, Branham never thought it’d be possible to travel there to serve.
“Then, with Lent approaching, I reflected on what I should give for my Lenten alms,” she recalled. “The thought that cropped into my head was to escort Sister Germaine to the orphanage.”
Branham called Sister Germaine, whom she had never met, and broached the idea with her. “To say she was ecstatic doesn't capture her response. I later learned that she had asked five times to return to Kenya, and her request had been denied. And I was told that if I hadn't offered to go with her to Kenya, she would not have been permitted to visit ‘her boys,’ whom she hadn't seen for two years.”
In July Branham and Sister Germaine headed to Kenya, where Branham was able to see first-hand the mission and purpose of the orphanage. One of the highlights of each day was spending time with the kids after school.
“The material deprivations endured by the people living in this rural region of Kenya are stunning. The Catholic primary school, which has 300 students, has no running water. The mosquito nets that could stave off the rampant malaria are largely absent. The toothless smiles of people confirm not only their friendliness, but the palpable lack of dental care. The children attend school six days a week, but books are a luxury. One of the treasures in the school's ‘library’ is a set of encyclopedias. It was published in the 1960s. This long list of deprivations, including suffering endured stoically at a hospital bereft of basic equipment, goes on...and on...and on.
“I would be remiss, though, if I failed to mention what I also observed in the bush country of Kenya: unparalleled joy. The people of Kenya whom I met live faith-filled lives of simplicity. Though I served a bit as a teacher at the primary school, these people were my teacher. They impressed upon me that the mission field is not just Africa. It is America.”