STORIES from a missionary: Kelly Elmore

2.09.2015 |

matthew 28:19 says " go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  Kelly and her husband Matt are full-time missionaries in Nairobi, Kenya. Kelly's call to missions is not your typical story, but it's one of obedience. Read her story below:

How my husband and I were called to be full-time missionaries is a very long story, with lots of twists and turns, refusals, stubbornness, patience, and finally submission. My husband's story is very different than mine, but also very powerful. I wish I could tell them both intertwined, but I think it would be a bit too long for one blog post! And I already know this is going to be way too long. So I'll try to stick mainly to my story, though there will be some overlap. 

Growing up, my family was very active in a Southern Baptist church, where I heard a lot about missions. We went on a mission trip to Montana as a family, and in high school our youth group attended Mission Fuge camps a couple times. I have to say attending those two camps changed my life- not really to Missions so much, but to really surrendering my life to the Lord and being open to whatever/wherever he called me. 

I traveled internationally a couple times in college, both for fun and short mission trips. I quickly learned that I am home-body, and that I had no desire to live anywhere else besides the United States! I am also an introvert, and talking to anyone is scary, let alone when there are cultural or linguistic barriers. 

My senior year of college (at the excellent Florida State University), I started dating this really nice young man who would become my husband (Matt). The first summer after we started dating, he worked doing youth camps for a ministry called Global Youth Ministry, a camp where he was saved when he was 13. Global's mission is to see youth passionate about Christ- but not just in the U.S.... all over the world (hence the "Global" part). As part of the staff, he had the opportunity to do a short term missions project, and ended up spending 10 days in Kenya, East Africa. After returning, he continued working for Global each summer, and God continued to work on his heart and call him back to Kenya, to see youth reached for Christ (although I had no clue at this point!). 

I was finishing my Master's degree while he was finishing his Bachelor's (yes, I'm a cradle robber). Our last semester, we were discussing marriage, and Matt told me that he felt that God was calling him into full time ministry, specifically to Kenya, for at least one year. I had never been to any part of Africa, so naturally I thought, "Well, missions is all cool and Africa sounds exotic, so, sure... why not?". We told our parents that we felt that God wanted us to move to Kenya. Both sets hit the roof. Although all of them are believers, they thought we were crazy. One or two, who shall remain nameless, got angry, refusing to speak to us for awhile, throwing dinner plates, or making angry, snide comments about Africa. This was all followed by lots of crying. Eventually they all came around a bit. We got married, and everything was great for awhile. I was doing speech therapy for the school system in Georgia, making good money, while Matt continued working at Global and taking classes to prepare him for missions. Then in 2007, a few months after getting married, we took a trip to Kenya to check it out. And I wish I could say I fell in love with it, but I HATED it. I had never seen such poverty, it was cold and cloudy (it was winter there), there was trash and filthiness everywhere, and I was SO out of my comfort zone. I cried every night we were there, and told Matt there was "no way I was going to live in this God-forsaken country". We went back to the States and for 6 months, I stubbornly refused, saying that clearly God was not calling me to Kenya, because if he was I would WANT to go... and CLEARLY, I did not want to go (as usual, basing everything on my emotions). We were supposed to be raising money during this time, as we were planning on leaving in July of the following year. But I kept refusing. Matt knew if he pushed me I would just withdraw. So he left me alone, and fasted and prayed like he never had before. Finally, one day I came across a verse that just kind of sucker-punched me to the ground. 
Psalm 32:8-10- "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go: I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicket, but the Lord's unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him". 
I realized I was just being a donkey- I was being so incredibly stubborn... was I going to trust God and submit to Him, or was He going to have to put a bit and bridle on me? I told Matt that I was ready to go...but just for one year (which was what had been agreed upon with our ministry). Within 3 months, we had raised all the support we would need. I also found a job at a Christian International school in Nairobi. When we arrived, God gave me a supernatural love for Kenya and the Kenyan people, because I surely did not have it in myself. And 7 years later... we are still here.

In many ways, I do not feel like your stereotypical missionary. As I said before, people scare me, especially if they speak a different language. I do not like doing new things. I do not like change. Matt's job here is to mentor and train youth workers and leaders on how to reach youth for Christ, teaching them how to do small groups, and how to start a youth ministry. He works mainly with Kenyans, speaks Kiswahili fluently, eats goat-head soup, spends weeks out in the village with no electricity or running water, has no problem using long-drop toilets. I speak kidogo (a little bit) Swahili. I work mainly with expatriates at my school, where I am in charge of the Special Education department for the school and also do guidance counseling for high schoolers. I may eat goat-head soup, but I have huge issues with roaches and get stressed out by using long-drop toilets at night (the roaches, ya'll). I am not brave or courageous. I am simply obedient. Sometimes I struggle feeling like I have no ministry, that I am not "doing" enough. My dear sweet husband reminds that my job is to stay in the will of the Father, and be obedient to Him. For me, that means making sure I'm right with Him and doing the job He's called me to do here- to work at the school and help Matt with his ministry... even if it doesn't look "missionary" enough for me, or isn't always what I want to do. My school has students from over 50 different countries, many of whom are not Christians. There are so many ways to invest in the students here, in addition to the needs we're surrounded by and the demands of Matt's ministry, that it's easy to get burned out (and yet, I feel that I'm not "doing" anything- the curse of the Type A personality and our American culture of finding "salvation" or "justification" in working hard). Something I'm in the process of learning is to make time to rest, so that you can minister more effectively. 
In some ways, struggles seemed to be magnified living here. Many aspects of living are just harder here-i.e. you have not been in a real traffic jam until you've been in one in Nairobi. Everything is compounded by the fact that you are very far from your home and family. I lost my last two remaining grandparents this year... the feeling of loss is all tied up with the loss of being far away. Homesickness rears its ugly head whenever a struggle comes. On the other hand, I now have two homes... When I'm in the States, I miss Kenya. When I'm in Kenya, I miss the States. It's a constant struggle of trying to present and joyful in all circumstances.

The process of coming to Kenya, and continuing to live here, has completely changed the way I view everything. I think the biggest thing that I have learned, and continue to learn, is to trust Him. Despite my stubbornness, frailties and wimpiness, God has met every need and provided more than I could ever ask for. If He calls, He will supply. I also used to think that God's will would naturally coincide with my wishes. If he asked me to do something, I would naturally have the emotional desire to do it. Especially in the case of missions. Or vocation. Or spouse. So not always the case. But, in many cases, emotions follow obedience. 
Psalm 37:4- Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Looking back, it's amazing to see God's hand in decisions I made- my major, what jobs to take, my experiences- and how he has used those to equip me for where I am today. He will equip you with everything good for doing his will, and work in us what is pleasing to Him (Hebrews 13:21). We are all called to be ministers of the gospel, and He will equip every single one of us if we are seeking Him, but the context in which we do it may look very different

My favorite verse varies... the two I call on the most often, clichéd though they may be, are:
Romans 8:28- And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Philippians 4:6-7- Do no be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

To financially support Matt and Kelly in Nairobi, Kenya, click HERE.

To find out more about Matt and Kelly's mission field, click HERE.

up next: Megan Aucoin shares her journey to Northern Ireland with Global Expeditions as a new believer.  

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