“I asked the Pastor if it was okay for women to wear pants to church in Kenya. He looked stunned. Flabbergasted. Even a bit embarrassed…finally he stammered in his Kenyan/British accent, ‘Well, I should hope so, madam.’ Later, I learned the word “pants” refers to panties or underwear in Kenya…There is a lot to learn when you live in a totally different culture.” Devry Coghlan
A few weeks ago, I posted an article titled, Out of Africa: What I Learned from Curtis & Devry Coghlan But the article only told a very small part of their story.
I’d like to share some more fascinating things I learned from our visit together, so I’m posting a Q&A of our interview:
Q: How have you adapted to living in Kenya?
A:Curtis: “Kenyan food is not very rich (or flavorable), so I tend to get too thin, if I am not careful.” (After he said this, he bit into a chocolate frosted doughnut, followed by a sip of a mocha latte–I enjoyed watching him take pleasure in his delicious American snack).
A: Devry: “We’re adjusting fine: we’ve learned to depend on our neighbor’s rooster rather than our alarm clock. The rooster is remarkably dependable. We are learning how to use schillings instead of dollars (after a few blunders). And we are dealing pretty well with the consistent power outages, too. When the power comes on, we automatically plug in everything in that needs a charge. It’s just how it is.”
Q: I’ve found that God often “whispers” or hints about something long before He calls you to do it. Did He whisper to you about Africa or missions earlier in your lives?
A: Curtis: “I’ve always been concerned with social justice and helping the oppressed. While the idea of serving in a remote place intrigued me, I never dreamed God would call me to be a missionary.”
A: Devry: I had no real whispers or hints. But now, I see how God prepared me for working with orphans and the mission field. I was abandoned as a child and later adopted, so I can empathize with orphans in a way most people cannot. I am a licensed counselor, a mother and a former church staff worker; God prepared me for Kenya long before He called me there.
Q: What do you love about the African culture?
A: Curtis: They are the most grateful people I’ve ever known. They’re grateful for rain, for a meal, for living another day and for anything you do for them. For people who endure such hardship, they smile a lot. Sometimes, I watch people in my rearview mirror as I’m driving by. I see them smiling, even when they’re alone. It makes you love them. It makes you want to be grateful like they are.”
A: Devry: I love how happy they are when they get together. If they have no instrument, they will just sing, dance and beat on a box. They smile and laugh a lot. I think they rejoice like that because they’re celebrating being alive. For them, life is something worth dancing and singing about.
Q: What was your biggest surprise about Africa?
A: Curtis: The prevalence of treatable diseases. Cholera and malaria are big problems. Malaria only costs about $5.00 to treat, and yet many die because they can’t afford the cure. We’ve all had malaria by now, even our daughters, Mackenzie and Cassidy. I guess that helps us relate better to those we serve.
A: Devry: I still can’t get over the depth of poverty there. The people have nothing. I thought it was impossible to live on less than $2.00 a day, but it is possible–I’ve seen it. The little food that they have can’t be preserved. They don’t even have forks or plates. They cook over open fires. Often, there is no clean, reliable water source and no power–they literally live off the land. The layers of poverty still surprise me. Every time I think I understand, something else happens I could have never predicted.
Q: Are the people there atheists?
A: Curtis: No. They believe in God, but have no concept of who Jesus Christ really is and the grace He died to give us. When they learn the Good News, they are transformed. The best, most lasting thing we can give to them is the Gospel. It’s wonderful for us to see grace take root in their lives.
A: Devry: We can’t save everybody and we can’t meet all their needs. (She tears up) Emotions there are magnified, joy is unspeakable and yet, the despair is heart-wrenching. Money alone isn’t the answer. Caring for their souls is. When their spiritual needs are met by Jesus, life changes for them.
Q: How did you first get involved with Kenya Relief/foreign missions?
A: Curtis: God worked on me for 7-8 years through different sermons, books and people. Finally, in 2010, Dr. Heather Estopinal asked me to join her medical team on a mission. As a journalist, I wasn’t sure how I could contribute, but Heather told me to write about it. I was inspired. I wrote a 7-part series for the Huntsville Times after I returned home. I joined the Kenya Relief Board the next year. When a pressing need arose for resident missionaries in 2013, I knew God was calling me to go.
A: Devry: I was very happy with my life in Huntsville. I had a great job, good friends and a great church family. But after Curtis felt God’s call, all that I loved about life here seemed to fall a bit flat. I decided to go to Kenya even though I had never even been to Africa. When God calls you, it doesn’t really matter where it is, you just have to surrender to it.
I didn’t know the Coghlans before they left Alabama. God connected us in the most unlikely way. Last spring, I wrote an article titled, Good Friday: Through the Eyes of the Thief on the Cross Somehow, Devry found it and read it to the entire orphanage at Kenya Relief. A friend told me she had shared it on her Facebook page.
It was a profound moment for me as a writer, to know something I tapped out on my little laptop in Alabama traveled thousands of miles to bless people I will never know. It was one of the best gifts God has ever given me.
I started following the Coghlans posts, requested an interview and was blessed to finally meet with them in December.
I felt an instant connection. My heart went out to them. They are doing beautiful work for the poor in Kenya. I thank God for those people who are willing to go into a world so completely different to love and serve those who need help. I hope you will say a special prayer of thankfulness to God for them, too. Perhaps, we can pray the words of Paul when we remember them:
The Coghlans are going back to Africa this week. Please encourage them by sharing your thoughts, prayers and messages below.
Donations can be made online for them at Kenyarelief.org/Coghlan.