Would you travel 9,500 miles – each way – at your own expense – to have your heart wrecked by some Belwop kids? That’s what happened to eight volunteers from Canvas, a San Francisco-area church, when a team led by lead pastor Travis Clark and his wife Jena visited Belwop Rescue Centre.
And get this…they want to go back.
When the Canvas team traveled to Nyeri, Kenya, to visit the kids a Belwop, they intended to do some projects and spend time with the kids. But they got way more than they bargained for.
“We definitely saw the lives of our team changed,” Travis said. “Their lives were impacted in a way that only hands-on missions can do. When you get a hug from one of these kids, it’s not just a ding; it wrecks your heart.
“The trip really filled our tanks with compassion and generosity. It helped us meet physical needs and love our neighbors in another country. It allowed us to connect personally to Belwop and its mission of rescuing kids.”
The Clarks first encountered Belwop while Travis was serving as a young adults pastor in Arizona. He joined a team that traveled to visit Belwop in 2012. During that first visit, Travis learned that building relationships could be more powerful than meeting physical needs.
“Every human should be able to sleep on a mattress.” – Travis Clark
Peter Impacts Team Leader
“I was personally impacted by a little boy named Peter. I met him the first time I was at Belwop when he was in second grade. He’s now in sixth grade and we picked up where we left off. He’s my guy there.
“We had so many good moments. I asked Peter if he could go anywhere in the world, where would he choose to go. He said he wanted to visit me in my home.
“Saying goodbye was another special moment. Peter tried to act tough. He stared at the ground. But then I bear-hugged him and the floodgates opened. We experienced a deep love for each other. It was the second time I said goodbye to Peter and it was definitely harder because our relationship was deeper.”
Travis also shared a special relationship between a Canvas team member, Angelique, and a Belwop girl named Judy.
“Angelique really connected with Judy because they shared some of the same things. Judy was struggling with loneliness and isolation and Angelique was able to identify with that and speak into her life. Judy was very quiet when we first arrived, but not when we left.
“Kids like Peter and Judy break your heart in a good way.”
The January 2016 Canvas trip to Belwop was the fulfillment of a passion the Clarks have carried since their first trip where they met Veronica Mumbi, who oversees the children’s home. Travis started sharing Belwop’s story soon after joining Canvas in 2013.
Travis said the team had goals that went beyond doing good works.
“First, we wanted to accomplish the practical by meeting tangible needs, those we knew about and those we didn’t. We wanted to leave Belwop better than we found it.
“Second, we wanted to build relationships. Our approach is to support a few key relationships but with deeper impact. So we brought Veronica to Canvas for some pre-trip meetings to build rapport.
“Our team now has faces to associate with names. We can tell stories about the kids by name. Most of our team had never traveled outside the U.S., except maybe to Mexico for vacation. It created a bit of shock when they saw how the kids at Belwop live. It brought about the realities.
Belwop Kids’ Joy is Rich
“The kids a Belwop don’t have much, but their joy is rich,” Travis added. “It was convicting to the team and caused us to re-evaluate our priorities.”
One particular situation created a wonderful opportunity for the Canvas team to be generous.
“We did not know about the need for beds before getting to Belwop. While we were there Nick Carnill (ER Africa Team Leader) asked Veronica to name a big need at Belwop. She mentioned the kids’ mattresses. The kids were sleeping on one-inch-thick foam and cardboard. Once we saw that, we knew we wanted to supply not just the mattresses, but new sheets, blankets and bedframes too.”
The sight of new beds and bedding sent the kids into a frenzy of joy.
“It was a huge win for the kids,” Travis said.
“They share everything, but their beds are special, something they can call their own and be proud of. Every human should be able to sleep on a mattress.”
The Clarks and the Canvas community hope to return to Belwop, perhaps as early as this summer.
“People definitely came back from the trip on fire. We pitched a second trip for August and more than 20 people said they want to go.
“We’d love to do two trips a year, one that is more relationship-focused and another that is more work-focused like a building project. We’d like to find a way to get both men and women engaged.”
Interested in sending a volunteer team to a place like Belwop? Click here.