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First Church volunteers and staff headed to Nairobi, Kenya, for mission trip and work with school

By Andy Furman
NKyTribune reporter

For Brian Heckber it’s his seventh trip. It’s number three for Joan Shope. And Sarah Sleet – well she’s a newbie.

But what they all have in common – workers and volunteers at First Church, Burlington is they’ll make the 12-hour excursion to Nairobi, the capital and largest city of Kenya.

First Church volunteers headed to Kenya. (Photo by Jake Furman/NKyTribune)

If you’re interested, the name comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nyrobi, which translates to “cool water,” a reference to the Nairobi River which flows through the city.

A group of 21 will leave Cincinnati on the 13th of this month and return 12 days later, according to Heckber, who serves as Trip Leader.

“This is my fifth-time as Trip Leader,” the 46-year-old and native of Ft. Wayne, Indiana who serves as Director of Operations for the three locations of First Church – Union, Southgate, and Burlington — told the Northern Kentucky Tribune.

“It was 2011,” recalled Heckber, a grad of Cincinnati Christian College, “that a missionary group invited us to look at the work in Kenya – and we just fell in love.”

There are 750,000 people living in about four-square miles, Heckber says. “It’s like the population of Boston living in a one-by-four-mile square.”

“We’ll be met by the mission of Mohi – Mission of Hope International – when we land,” he said. “Each member of our group had to pay, or raise their own funds. They’ll bring two suitcases each, one with their personals, the other with supplies for the school.”

Volunteers can take two suitcases — one with supplies for the school. (Photo by Jake Furman/NKyTribune)

Those supplies include pens, pencils, chalk, erasers, and even some soccer balls.

“We have a deep relationship with the people of Kenya,” he said. “We go every two years. We have 29 mission parties at First Church.”

The daily schedule is already set, Hecker notes. “There’s Vacation Bible School from 9-1 p.m.; break four lunch and an afternoon prayer walk.”

He says the Kenyans love having them visit.

Joan Shope is making her third trip.

“God was calling me for mission work,” the 80-year-old Shope, a retired teacher, told the Northern Kentucky Tribune. “I thought God called me to Africa when I was a teenager.”

Shope says she loves loving on the kids, and encourages teaching.

“And those 6-700 kids love on us,” she said.

The newbie is Sarah Sleet.

First Church in Burlington (Photo by Jake Furman/NKyTribune)

“Yes, this will be my first trip,” said Sleet, who serves as Children’s Ministry Director for First Church. “I love children, and my passion is teaching children to follow Jesus.” Sleet is a five-year First Church staffer, but has been in Child Ministry for 18 years.

“Our purpose,” she added, “Is to help the Vacation Bible School (VBS) in Kenya. “In preparation for our trip, each of us had to raise our own funds and request a prayer team of friends and family. I recruited children from First Church to pray for this team. We staged a breakfast last Sunday with both children and family and had Kenyon flags, maps, a prayer calendar, journal and stickers.”

Sleet says the ultimate goal is sharing the gospel with people, and encouraging leaders and teachers at Mohi.

The traveling party ranges from 18-year-old Aaron Shehan to 80-year-old Joan Shope.

“I want to see how other people worship,” Shehan said. “I want to see how they can still love the Lord; they’re spiritually rich there.”

As for school, he said he’s quite flexible – he’s home schooled.

First Church is a multi-campus non-denominational church with three locations. They exist to lead people, to Know, Worship and Serve Jesus Christ. In Kentucky — and in Kenya.

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