“You have a beautiful smile!”

The words came from an eighth-grade girl whose own smile spread brightly across her face. I was sitting very still on a wooden bench, completely surrounded by girls with matching green jumpers and excited hands running through my hair. They were fascinated by this light-brown, thin hair of mine that looked so different from their own.

I smiled and said thank you as they continued to compliment me. These girls loved to love.

And it was in those smiles and those laughter-filled conversations I learned that sometimes simply loving another is the greatest purpose you can have.

What’s My Purpose?

When I decided to go to Kenya with a group from my church, I had no idea why God directed me to take the journey. I struggled with trying to figure out my purpose in going. I didn’t have much to offer besides able hands and a willing heart.

Our mission for the week was to visit with the people at Spring Valley Baptist School. This organization feeds and educates little ones from pre-kindergarten (affectionately called “baby class”) to eighth grade. Without Spring Valley, these kids might live on the streets or even die of starvation or disease.

It’s also where they learn about Jesus.

This trip differed greatly from other mission trips I’ve done. We weren’t there to accomplish a project or host a camp for the kids. We were there to love, pray for and encourage the people we met.

So, as I departed the plane and set foot in Nairobi for the first time in my life, I prayed, “God, reveal yourself in ways I don’t even expect. Use me in any way you see fit.” The next day I met Emily.

She giggled shyly as her friend brought her over to meet me, the American with her same name. And even though she acted embarrassed, that one introduction was all it took for her to be by my side the rest of the week.

Despite meeting Emily that first day — and soon after that Elizabeth, another quiet, sweet girl who stayed close to me all week — I still was unsure of my purpose for the trip. I was waiting for God to reveal Himself in some extraordinary way. But that just didn’t happen.

Instead, He revealed Himself through a catwalk.

On the Runway

Eventually, the novelty of my American hair wore off, and the girls dispersed from braiding my hair so tightly my eyes watered. It wasn’t long, though, before I saw Emily and Elizabeth walking back over to me. Emily grabbed my hand and told me and a few other women from my team to come with her. Her class wanted to entertain us.

I had no idea what to expect. I heard through her thick accent something about songs and a catwalk. I hesitantly followed, remembering my prayer to have God use me any way He saw fit.

When my teammates and I entered the room, full of around 40 young girls and their teachers, all eyes looked expectantly at us. I had to remind myself of that prayer again and again.

Any way He saw fit.

For the next few hours, we taught the girls a worship song, showed them how to waltz (what dance would you teach if asked for the staple American dance?) and learned some African dances. But what I will never, ever forget about those hours was the catwalk.

Oh, yes, we strutted like models down our invisible runway!

The girls all wanted to see our best model impressions, so we set aside the pride that keeps you from doing all things goofy or ridiculous, and we walked down that runway. Pretty soon they were all in on it. One by one, nearly all the girls and the teachers strutted across the room, showing off their best moves.

I’ll never forget the squeals of laughter, the stomping of feet and clapping of hands, the cheering. It was genuine, and it was beautiful. They cheered for each other. They loved every moment of clapping and whistling for their friends. They soaked in the applause as they took their own turns on the runway.

And that’s when God revealed Himself to me.

The Greatest Joy

I saw God’s love that afternoon through Emily and Elizabeth and each girl as they took their stand. These young ladies craved love. They desired to be seen, to be cheered on, to be known. Not in a selfish way as many of us desire to be noticed. But in a way of knowing God is their Father, and they are His daughters. In a way of knowing they were made for more than the slums of Nairobi.

My purpose that week was to love.

I never fully understood why God placed me in the hands of Emily and Elizabeth. Someone from another church on another trip could love them just like I did. Probably even more so. But God chose me for this purpose. He taught me that loving another soul is one of the greatest purposes and the greatest joys one can have.

It wasn’t until my feet stood on American soil again that I read the letter Emily and Elizabeth handed to me before my team left Spring Valley. Their words, telling me how much they loved me and looked up to me, cemented in me God’s purpose was to love these sweet girls.

I knew then that even if I never see the full picture of why God brought me to Kenya, I know part of the image was to lose some hair as excited hands braided and pulled and stroked. To give into silliness and strut across an invisible catwalk. To hold hands — despite the sweaty palms — of two girls who loved to love.

And to love them without restraint.