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NEWS | June 26, 2013

Equipped to serve by the service

By Col. Justin Davey 628th Mission Support Group commander

After an official trip through the war-devastated nations of Sierra Leone and Liberia in 2011, I was struck by the staggering challenges: corruption, morally-bankrupt leadership, lack of clean water, failed transportation systems and undeveloped resources, but all the while "knowing" my time in the Air Force had equipped me to help. I felt a call ... I still feel a call, to Africa.

Later that year, on a trip to Florida, my wife, MaryBeth, and I ended up touring the headquarters of the Rafiki Foundation. Founded 25 years ago, Rafiki (Swahili for "friend") has built 10 orphan villages and schools in 10 African countries. Their mission to orphans is not to adopt them out, but raise them in their homeland with a solid education and morally-centered world-view to be the next generation of business and political leaders. During our tour of the headquarters, we met the director of operations. Her first question was, "Do you want to go to Africa?" Our answer was an emphatic, "Yes!"

We arrived in Nairobi, Kenya earlier this year. The Rafiki Village is about 15 miles east of the city. Riding in a van to the village was like living in a "Where's Waldo?" picture. People everywhere! You could just stare at the scene and never get bored. The roads leaving Nairobi were rough: made of dirt, littered with large potholes and had no traffic controls. Cars and busses pressed in on all sides, weaving in and out. The neighboring villages looked bleak - no green grass, trees, or sidewalks. Shops, houses and buildings crowded against each other and spilled onto the edge of the streets. However, inside the walls of the Rafiki Village we were suddenly in an oasis. Lush green plants, trees, tidy houses and buildings spread out with walkways and neatly tended gardens.

For two weeks we served where needed throughout the village and school, along with six long-term foreign missionaries and about 75 Kenyan staff, working diligently to raise and educate 100 orphan children and also provide schooling to another 100 Kenyan day students from the local area. I worked with the plant manager making repairs to the facilities and assisted the village director and social workers.

MaryBeth spent her days as a substitute teacher in high school English and preschool or helping in the kitchen. It was working alongside the Kenyan staff doing the small chores like laundry, dishes and grass-cutting that was the most satisfying. It allowed time for sharing, teasing and laughing. It was a blessing to be useful, to be appreciated by the staff and to hear them joyfully sing hymns as they worked.

While teaching school in Kenya, the lights would often go off and on several times; power outages occurred every day and people figured ways to work around them. The students didn't seem to notice. It happened so often, it wasn't notable. Fast forward to a Sunday service at church in Charleston - a storm knocked out the power and we had to make do with candlelight and a cappella singing. When suddenly electricity returned, there was a big commotion. It made us realize that Americans are so materially blessed, that to be without, for even a short time, is noteworthy. In Kenya, nothing is taken for granted. The joy in the simplest things shone through the entire trip.

Travelling the world with the Air Force has been great preparation for living in Africa (something we plan to do full-time after retirement). Unusual sights and sounds, strange languages and culture and unsettling situations are exciting, not frightening. Our hearts are meant for big things - glorious things in service to others. The military lifestyle has taught us to refuse "normal" life. Take advantage of the opportunities for travel and exposure to new things that military service provides. Don't choose what is safe; choose what is best.

If you want to learn more about sponsoring a child in a Rafiki village or supporting the Rafiki Foundation, please go to