Serge interviews Nairobi intern Will Thompson
Serge: How did you decide to spend your summer in Nairobi with Serge?
Will: After taking sociology and anthropology classes, I wanted to see what everyone was talking about. “Culture” is a word that gets thrown around a lot but it’s hard to understand what that means in school. I wanted an experience outside my own culture to see the different ways of communicating and living. Since I plan to work as an occupational therapist, I will need to understand people and culture well. Working cross-culturally is a great thing to do for any kind of work with people. And the two-month internship was the perfect length for a college student on summer break.
Serge: Why Africa?
Will: I wanted to go to Africa because of the work my brother was doing there with his PhD. He also had done an internship with Serge in South Sudan. I love soccer and kids so the ministry focus in Nairobi was a great fit for my interests.
Serge: What were you doing this summer?
Will: Five days of the week I played soccer with kids in soccer camps and also helped teach Phys Ed class at the local school. Wednesdays and Thursdays I spent doing art with kids in the slums. I asked kids to draw a different animal each day. I saw a lot of different species of giraffe! On Sundays, I would play soccer with a club team.
Serge: Sounds like you were doing a lot of service work. Were you also being mentored?
Will: Every Monday evening I had a meeting with Stephen Rigby. He was also my Sonship mentor for the first week of my internship when we did the Sonship Course. The whole program was set up to grow the intern throughout the experience. I learned a lot about culture and ministry, but I probably learned the most about how I struggle relationally. This is not necessarily a big ego-boost mission trip. With Sonship on the front end you see a lot of your sin and work through that with your team and with God. The way it is set up is really helpful for a big-headed person coming in. It is not the kind of trip where you come away saying, “Hey! Look what I did this summer!” It is planting seeds that you eventually see grow. You are really there to serve the team and help the work along and experience the work yourself. I wish I had that perspective earlier in the summer, I came in thinking more about how I would make an impact on the local African people and didn’t care much about my team. I had an individual attitude. But how we connect as a team is really important to the ministry we do. If the group is not healthy, we are not going to serve very well. If the relationships on the team aren’t good, it says a lot about how helpful the gospel is.
Serge: What does “grace” mean to you now? How has your understanding of Christianity changed?
Will: (Laughing) That is the biggest thing that changed. That Sonship graph sums it up: the more you see your sin, the more you see God’s grace. With missions, I expected to see a lot of God’s grace but I didn’t expect to talk about sin. In reality, I saw more sin in two months than I have seen in my whole life! The endless slums of Nairobi. My own heart attitude toward the people I was working with. Serge people would say missions is like putting a megaphone up to sin. That makes more sense now. I started to see Scripture with real need and real hope. Instead of just seeing my weakness and stopping there, I can see there is a way to move through that and minister openly.
Serge: Can you give an example of what you mean?
Will: I lost my camera on the last day of my internship, in the airport. I had all these photos of jumping spiders and kids in the slums. Now they’re gone. For hours on the plane ride home I was seething mad. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I hated the African who took it. It’s weird to say, but I felt betrayed. And then it occurred to me to open my Bible. I never would do that before in a moment like this. I started reading and gained some perspective and calmed down. It wasn’t the end of the world. It didn’t ruin the whole experience.
Serge: What is one way your life will be different as you return home?
Will: Coming from Nairobi, I really appreciate education now. I met kids in the slums who were insanely talented but had no opportunities near what I have and take for granted. Even in soccer, the game there is so different than the West. Ashley, this 13 year old, could bring any ball down and control it perfectly – but no one had ever taught Ashley to open up space and pass the ball like we learn from a young age here. There is no way Ashley could play professionally even though the talent is there. I also noticed the churches there are pretty small. I am coming back much more grateful for my education and my church.