Meeting young women who had just given birth in a small-town hospital in Kenya weighed heavily on Kaylee Stoops of Fort Wayne.
Here they were, just about her own age, in a small room, talking about how they feared for their babies’ futures.
A common theme was that the guy who had gotten them pregnant would just ditch out, says Stoops, 21. It was very hard for me to see these women with these beautiful babies. It made my heart hurt, really, because I couldn’t give them anything – money or food or a place to stay.
That was last summer, when Stoops went on a two-month mission trip with Adventures in Mission, a multidenominational organization from Gainesville, Ga., that specializes in introducing Christians to the world’s needs.
This summer, Stoops is about to leave for an 11-month, 11-country trip that will take her not only back to Africa but also to developing countries in Europe and Asia.
When I was (in Africa) last year, I completely fell in love with overseas missions, says Stoops, a member of St. Joe United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne and daughter of a United Methodist Church pastor, the Rev. Eric Stoops.
I want to be a mobilizer. I want to help send other people on trips so they understand what the world is like.
Stoops says she was searching for options after leaving Ivy Tech, where she had been studying elementary education, when she found the AIM organization online. She says she often participated in activities to help others while growing up.
But, she adds, I kind of wanted to get away to figure out who I was.
That, she says, happened in Africa, where AIM assists local congregations with whatever they need, whether that’s building a church or painting a school or working in an orphanage.
Stoops taught preschool classes in a church-affiliated school in Uganda and visited children with disabilities in Tanzania, where, she says, such children are apt to be abandoned on the street.
She went door-to-door, evangelizing and members of her group preached at worship services.
We’re very open to doing anything they need, she says.
In Tanzania, that included ministering to families in a village where two children died during the two weeks of her stay.
The whole town was in such unrest. The town just basically mourned while we were there, she says, adding that she visited with bereaved family members in their home, a custom that she says is important in Africa.
On her upcoming trip, for which she will leave on July 4, Stoops will go to Turkey, Romania, the Ukraine, Nepal, India, South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Taiwan, Thailand and Cambodia.
She just returned from a pre-trip boot camp designed to prepare participants for Third World conditions.
Participants must get vaccinated for several diseases, including yellow fever and typhoid, before leaving and be sure that other inoculations, including polio and tetanus, are up to date, she says. They also must be prepared to live out of a backpack and carry a sleeping bag for their entire trip.
But the trip’s organizers are good about making sure we’re getting good food and clean water, she says, and she didn’t have any health problems from her last journey, although she did suffer an allergy attack while in Tanzania.
Participants also have to pay their own way – in Stoops’ case that means coming up with $15,500. She says she’s been saving money from jobs, doing fundraisers and trying to find donors to contribute $10 a month for each of the 11 months she will be away.
Stoops says her last trip did include some sightseeing – a grueling 48-hour bus trip from northern Kenya to southern Tanzania included pass through a game preserve where she saw giraffes and baboons in the wild.
But what surprised her most about Africa was how open people were when team members made evangelistic visits.
People just welcome you into their house. They don’t hesitate, says Stoops, who plans to enroll in a cross-cultural studies program at Toccoa Falls College in Stephens, Ga., when she returns.
Her career goal now is set – she wants to become a full-time missionary.
My biggest thing I think I can give them now is hope that there is a better life even though they’re struggling right now, she says, and some joy in just spending time together and having a new friend.