When coronavirus cancelled my gap year

James Saunders

I’ve been back home in the UK for a month and a half now and it’s amazing how quickly I’ve settled back in.

Coming home from Kikuyu, Kenya only felt like a partial return as the country that I returned to was not the same as the one I’d left in January. Rules on social distancing, time outside and complete isolation for the vulnerable made it very difficult to process my abruptly short time in Kenya – in fact I still feel as though I’ve placed the whole experience in a sealed box to be opened and sorted through at another time. Despite this, I would like to share a bit about my experience in Kenya.

iServe Africa - Crosslinks partners in Kenya - offer a discipleship course called TransformD, which teaches students to become servant leaders. I learned an awful lot about God’s word and the Kenyan culture, plus countless smaller things that helped improve my character. One of these was regular time spent preaching the Gospel in the community. Unlike in the UK, it’s not frowned upon to speak to strangers or to share your faith and beliefs with them. So every Friday we went into the local area and struck up conversations with people about faith. We shared how Jesus Christ had changed our lives and promises to change theirs too if they will allow him. Some interactions were short and uneventful, either because the listener was uninterested or because they were already a Christian. But our confidence grew as we saw a small picture of what evangelism can look like if we go about it with boldness, courage, grace and love. 

Sadly, two months in things had to change. On Friday 13 March we were informed of the first COVID-19 patient in Kenya. We weren’t overly worried because the UK still didn’t seem too affected. But by Sunday the number of cases in Kenya had risen from one to three. The President said all learning institutions had to close immediately - which included the TransformD course. I remember hearing the broadcast live and seeing the daunted look on the face of one of the TransformD staff. 

By Wednesday, all the Kenyan students had gone to their various homes and it was just the UK team and a few older apprentices left. We tried to work out a way for us to stay in Kenya but there were concerns about our safety. If one of the security staff fell ill or was unable to get to work, we would be indirectly at risk because of the virus. The best option was for us to return home.

I didn’t struggle massively with this as I felt my family’s nervousness about the whole situation. Out of their love for me they really wanted me to get a flight back as soon as I could. However, it was exceedingly difficult and saddening to say such hasty ‘goodbyes’ to all our Kenyan friends. 

Despite this, I learned two major lessons from my experience, which I intend to memorise and commit myself to for the rest of my life. The first one is this: allow the Bible to transform your thinking rather than allowing your thinking to alter your interpretation of the Bible. This is key to being transformed by God as it allows no room for our sinful nature to continue but allows God to change us from the inside out. 

The second lesson is this: obedience! Psalm 119 is long and sometimes I found it boring… especially after reading it day in day out for twenty-two days. However, the psalmist speaks so highly of obedience to God’s word that it’s impossible to ignore the value God places on obedience. I believe these two lessons will help me renew my mind, and therefore be transformed each day to become more like Jesus (Romans 12:2).

I would like to thank everyone for your prayers for our team. It would not have been the same without your support and you’re all a testimony to the amazing work that the body of Christ can do. Please continue to pray for Ailie, Joel, Sophie and I as we work out our next steps. We don’t know yet whether that will mean another trip to Kenya in the near future, or university, or something else. 

This I am confident of though: whatever God’s will may be for each of us, we want to work at it with all of our hearts. That is my prayer for all of you too. 

Hear from Kirsty whose gap year in South Africa was cut short and Bobby who had to return from The Gambia.