Food for the body, and soul, in Africa

Dale and Lisa Wehmeyer of Mascoutah recently returned from a short-term agricultural mission trip to Kenya, Africa, sponsored by the LCMS. There are many opportunities to serve in different types of mission activities in numerous countries. This trip just happened to be an opportunity to tie in agriculture practices with teaching God’s Word to the people of Kenya. Dale wrote the following account of the trip.

Southern Africa has a land mass that is almost equal to the size of the United States. So our experience is limited to just a small dot on a map and what we experienced here. Other trips and experiences could be similar or much different. The LCMS, like many other church bodies, is actively engaged in spreading the Gospel in the countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi, to name a few, but there are many other nations as well. To be able to add in some agricultural best-management practices was a good fit for us.

Our home base was Nyamira, about a five-hour drive from Nairobi. From Nyamira, we ranged in distance out about 20 to 30 miles in different directions, spending two days in each village teaching and demonstrating different practices. There were three team members, Lisa and I and Jacque Breman. Jacque, a retired University of Florida extension professor who now lives in Minnesota, made his fourth mission trip. Rev. Benard Okeiri, who serves in Kenya, served as our interpreter. Swahili is the main language in the area, with some limited English spoken. Rev. Okeiri is fluent in five languages, although we understand there are more than 43 tribal languages spoken in Kenya.

The area is very mountainous, perhaps somewhat similar to the Appalachians in the eastern United States. The soil is a reddish color similar to what we see in the southeast United States. Nitrogen and phosphorus are low, but the potassium is high in these soils due to volcanic activity years ago. Crops grown include maize (white corn), tea, coffee, bananas, sugar cane and vegetables. Maize is the primary crop for food purposes. When possible, the entire side of the mountain is used for growing these crops.

Property ownership

Tradition and culture require that when a son gets married, his father gives part of his land to the married couple. With several sons, his parcel can get quite small. This must be done in future generations as well. Over several generations, large families now have very little parcels from which to provide for their family. Today, many families are down to a half to maybe one acre of land that they own. As you drive along, one can see the steep hillsides being farmed and the size of each family’s plot dotting the area. Kenyans do realize the magnitude of the problem, but they are not sure how to fix the problem other than to grow more on existing land or create better storage of the harvested crop. It is not unusual to lose a quarter or more of the harvested maize to weevil damage, since there are no storage facilities or control practices.

Kenyans can grow two crops per year, but the second crop is considered a small harvest. We were fairly close to the equator, so it is warm year round. The dry season is usually December through February, and the wet season is April through June. Crops are planted in March and harvested in August and September. Families will typically run out of food during the dry months and thus have to eat less. They can also buy food at the market — if they have the funds.

There is a culture of strong family values and community support. If anyone has a need that cannot be met on their own, the community comes forward to give. Since we were there during the dry months, there also was the constant activity of people carrying five-gallon water containers on their head from a distant source to their home. Water wells were scarce in this area. In Kenya, only 21 percent of the population has electricity. No refrigeration exists to help with food preservation.

The main road to larger towns like Nyamira was a blacktop road and the only road paved in the town. All other roads are gravel and dirt, consisting of large rocks and dirt combined into an extremely rough and dusty surface. Our vehicle even broke a rear spring, which in turn, pinched a gas line which led to a gas leak. It was caught fairly quickly and makeshift repairs were done to get back to town. Many people walk, both along the main road and the dirt roads, rather than have a vehicle of some sort. At a Sunday service, the pastors said about 45 people were missing due to “the fever.” We asked what this meant, and were informed that people that breathe too much dust come down with this fever and it takes some time to get over it.

God’s Word

We began each day with devotions based on Gen. 2:15, pointing out that God appointed Adam to be the first farmer. From there, we launched into discussion on developing and preserving the top soil organic matter, maize planting and fertilizing practices and insect-control measures. We talked about increasing crop productivity without increasing input costs. We taught our students how to make their own fertilizer using a small amount of urea, wood ashes and manure. There was a lot of interest in this!

We also introduced using Napier grass (native to the area) and Desmodium (an anti-armyworm legume) for interplanting with maize to reduce insect pressure. We presented a three–layer storage bag developed by Purdue University as a much improved storage bag for maize to keep weevil out and give longer-term storage. We knew the bag had been made available in Kenya, and after much searching, we found one in an agriculture supply store. This was comforting to know that they were locally available.

Two-day presentations were given in Magwawa, Nyagokiani, Eckerbu and Kkeryo. On Sunday, we were able to attend a worship service in another village. When the congregants found out who we were, they begged us to stay and teach them after services. Even though we did not have any of our material with us, we spent 2½ hours in the afternoon with them after a vibrant church service. So it was not a day off after all, but indeed well spent. We learned at one session that an individual had walked 10 kilometers to be there!

Each lesson was ended with a devotion based on Eph. 5:25 and Matt. 7:7. At one location, we realized we would be finishing up the lesson at about noon. So rather than have them fix a meal, we said we would just get packed up and head out. We were properly informed that this was not acceptable and was told: “You are a blessing to us, and you must give us the blessing by eating with us. If you do not, the blessing departs with you and does not stay with us.” Needless to say, we joined them for a meal.

“Feed the body so you can feed the soul” was the mantra for our team. It was so appropriate!

We’re all missionaries!

There is a saying: “Some are called to go, some are called to send.” In doing so, we all become missionaries in bringing God’s Word to the entire world. If anyone would like to financially support a short-term agricultural mission trip, send a check (designate “East Africa Agriculture Consultants #61007” in the memo line) to: Mission Central, 40718 Hwy E 16, Mapleton, IA 51034.

The people in Kenya are not so much interested in a donation or gift as much as the opportunity to be taught how to improve their lives and family well-being. Perhaps the church can fulfill that role in a meaningful way. We pray God’s blessings to all missionaries!