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Out of Africa: Kellens see God at work on mission trip

Gary and Candy Kellen peer out from a safari excursion vehicle during their trip to Africa.

WORTHINGTON -- Gary and Candy Kellen have been blessed to travel before -- past trips included sojourns in Europe, Mexico and Canada -- but from Aug. 14 to Sept. 1 they left not only the Central Time Zone but also their comfort zones behind in a major way.

"We both like helping people, we both enjoy sharing what's on our hearts, we've both taught Sunday School before, but there we were, in Africa, serving as the warm-up act for a gifted evangelist at an opening ceremony with a crowd of about 4,500 people," marveled Candy.

"We saw God's hand at work in what we shared and how He used that," expressed Gary.

The couple, members of Worthington's Grace Community Church and local residents for the past four and a half years, were inspired to take this adventurous mission trip by Sammy Wanyonyi, a native of Kenya who heads Shine in the World Ministries (SWIM) based in Victoria, Minn.

"Sammy responded to God's call to reach out and preach the Gospel and came to the United States 13 years ago with literally nothing," detailed Candy. "We have known him now for several years, since he came to teach Vacation Bible School at our church in Cottonwood, where we attended when we lived in Marshall."

The Kellens, who have three adult daughters and two granddaughters, remained in touch with Wanyonyi and his ministry. When he encouraged them to join him on the mission trip to Kenya and Rwanda this summer, their hearts were ready to take the plunge.

"God provided," attested Candy, and Gary said of their success in raising the necessary $14,000 for trip expenses in only five weeks, "When people walk in the door and hand you a check to support your effort, it's touching, you really sense people are making an investment in you."

Their adventure began with a stop in Wanyonyi's home village in Kenya, where the Kellens met his parents and siblings and participated in a large community celebration that encompassed the congregations of seven area churches.

"We walked down the road to their church in the country and were stunned to see it had only about one-quarter of a roof in place," witnessed Candy.

"They'd started building the roof about 10 years ago but never had enough money to complete it," explained Gary. "We gave them the funds to finish the roof, and Sammy said that when he returned there only three weeks later, they had finished it."

"They literally had nothing, but they were so giving," related Candy, saying that while they addressed the assembled congregations, some ladies stayed behind to prepare a feast.

"They all walk everywhere, so it's very rare to see anybody who is overweight," she added, saying their diet while in Africa included grass-fed chicken or beef, rice and fruit of all kinds, including passion fruits, kiwi and pineapple.

The bulk of the time was spent in Butare, Rwanda, where the Kellens offered two, two-hour seminars on different days -- one on leadership and one on marriage in conjunction with a minister from Minneapolis -- to a group of 350 people.

"We also did street preaching every night in different locations, visited an orphanage and preached at a couple of churches," noted Gary.

Their mission effort included three different groups: SWIM, of which they were a part, African Evangelical Enterprises and a pastoral association of 35 churches.

The ministry involved speaking to students at the University of Rwanda for one week, both during the students' lunch hour and in the evening.

"Fifty percent of Rwanda's population is under 18 years of age due to the 1994 genocide," detailed Gary. "These students are literally the future of that country, and we challenged them to make something of themselves."

"There were 600 to 1,000 students who came to hear us during their noon hour, during their finals week," recalled Candy. "They definitely know how to worship God. We put God in a box, but they don't do that there; they let their fervor show."

Confirmed Gary, "They have a passion and a hunger for God; here, we have the knowledge but not always the passion. It makes me feel so humble, to see how little they have, and yet their outlook on life is so bright and their love for the Lord is so strong.

"They have so little in material terms, but they think they have a lot because they have what really matters, a real relationship with God."

An interpreter accompanied the Kellens everywhere they went, although they managed to learn some basic words in the native language.

"We shared our faith, our experiences and how God has always been faithful and worked in our lives," listed Candy.

The Kellens look forward to sharing more about their time in Africa with all interested people this Saturday evening at Grace Community Church, and they are excited that Wanyonyi will join them in that presentation.

"Sammy is an amazing speaker, and we never get tired of hearing him," assured Gary.

Throughout their mission trip, the Kellens felt God using them as His instruments, and they returned with new insights.

"As Christians, people are watching us, so we need to make sure that no matter what we do or what we say, we are portraying Christ and loving as God wants us to love," reflected Candy. "Thinking about the love and hospitality we experienced in Africa brings tears to my eyes. It's hard to put into words everything we were able to be a part of, but we want to share about it. We knew a lot of people were praying for us."

Sammy Wanyonyi, along with Candy and Gary Kellen, will speak and show slides at 7 p.m. Saturday at Grace Community Church, 2011 Nobles St., Worthington. The event is free and open to the public.