In to Africa
Lois and Alisha Drexler went to Africa to build a relationship with others. In turn, they strengthened their own relationship with God.
"The people over there have such faith in God that we take for granted here," said Lois, a Carlos resident. "They are so rich in faith."
Mother and daughter recently returned from a two-week journey to Kenya, where their mission was to strengthen the ties between the Catholic Diocese of St. Cloud and the diocese of Homa Bay, Kenya.
The trip was also an opportunity for the Drexlers to experience rural African life, seeing both the impact of poverty and the inspiration of spiritual wealth.
Out of 40 people who applied, Lois and Alisha, a student at the University of Minnesota-Morris, were two of 20 chosen to make the journey to "strengthen the global solidarity of the Catholic church." This was the sixth delegate trip that has traveled to Kenya.
The duo spent the first week at a parish near the Tanzanian border, where they went out every day to visit schools, hospitals and clinics. They spoke of what life is like in the United States, and in turn, learned about the plight of the residents in Kenya, where 50 percent of the population lives far below the poverty level.
Many houses there were a pile of branches held together with clay. One cook they met made 2,000 schillings a month, which is about $25 - for working seven days a week all day with no benefits, no vacation and no health insurance.
At the primary schools they visited, the Drexlers witnessed about 90 students in each classroom - with only one teacher, no electricity and no textbooks.
"But they were so excited to be there," Alisha noted.
Part of Alisha's job was to speak to the girls and encourage them to stay in school.
"Women don't have rights over there. Girls are property. They are being married off as young as 10 years old. It's all arranged by the dowry system," Lois explained. "Everywhere we went we heard about how girls don't get educated."
The Drexlers also learned of how devastating HIV and AIDS have been to the African people. About 7 percent of the population has the disease, and thousands of orphans have been left in its wake. At the parish the Drexlers visited, there were 250 orphans.
And the hospitals aren't equipped to handle the sick.
"The hardest part for me was visiting the hospitals," Alisha said. "They had six people in one room. Sometimes they had two people in a bed, or on the floor. It was just crazy."
Despite witnessing such poverty and hardship, both Alisha and her mother were amazed at how happy the Kenyans they met were.
"It was very humbling. They don't have anything," Alisha said. "As little as they had - these people who had nothing - they wanted to give us something."
What struck a chord with Lois was the unwavering faith the people in the parish had.
"The kids would get up at 6 every day and go to church," she said. "Here in the land of plenty we take our faith for granted. There that's all they have. They were so happy."
"For us, if we have poverty, we think, maybe there isn't a God," Alisha agreed. "They don't feel that way at all. They have faith that He will help them."
As part of their goal to strengthen ties between the two dioceses, the Drexlers also visited the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, to try to ensure that in the future, delegates from Homa Bay will be able to obtain visas to visit the St. Cloud Diocese.
And they even had time for a little fun, including attending a tribal dance, a market, a national game park, and a visit to the cathedral.
Both consider their journey to be successful - both in what they brought to the African people, and the lessons they brought home.
"I guess we just want people to be a little more aware," Alisha said. "It's a totally different world over there.
"It was a really good experience," she said. "I'm really glad I went."
"Oh yeah, I would go back," Lois agreed, enumerating the lessons they learned and the work that must be done to help those less fortunate.
"We should appreciate what we have," she concluded. "We should think about others, and not just ourselves."