From Mickey Mouse to Mathare Valley

It was all set. I was moving to Florida and returning to my roots in the tourism/hospitality industry by going back to work at Walt Disney World. I had discussed it ad nauseam with close friends and family members. I gave notice to CMF International, where I’ve been working for the past two years. I made a big announcement via social media. I even bought my SunPass for those pesky Central Florida toll roads. It was a go, and nothing was going to stop me this time.

Seven weeks after I had met with a recruiter at Disney to discuss my future employment at the company, I was still on a waiting list for full-time employment, but had the option to take a part-time position anytime. But things appeared to have stalled, and I was feeling discouraged. I’m not big on self-promotion, but I feel as though I’m an accomplished customer service and operations management professional. Why is it so hard for me to even get a full-time entry level job at Disney? Something just didn’t feel right. In a moment of despair, I prayed for some direction. I prayed to keep an open mind and open heart. I prayed that if there is something better that I should be doing, that it would be revealed to me.

The next week, I heard from my Disney recruiter, and the news was not good. Not only did they still not have full-time positions available, but they also filled all of the part-times jobs that I was interested in. As some sort of consolation, I was offered a spot on another waiting list for part-time jobs. I ultimately declined.

You see, that was the sign I needed. The “kick in the pants,” if you will. I realized that, while it was difficult to accept, that was a door closing. Maybe not for good, but at least for now.

People who’ve known me for a long time know that I’ve always had a passion for the theme park/attractions industry – specifically Disney. It came as no surprise to any of them that I would look into returning to that industry. But, in the last few years, I’ve had another passion bubble up inside of me – helping the hopeless living in extreme poverty, specifically in a slum called Mathare Valley in Nairobi, Kenya. (For those who don’t know, Mathare is pronounced ma-THAR-ee)

My passion for the people of Mathare stems from a visit I made there in 2012. I saw first hand the extreme poverty of the people living there, and I met a little boy named David who I started sponsoring. I didn’t sponsor a child before that trip, nor had I ever really considered doing it before. But, after just two days in Nairobi, my thoughts changed from “should I sponsor” to “how many can I afford.”

I think most people know that it was this trip in 2012 that led me to leave my 12-year career in the tourism/attractions industry to go and work for CMF International to help with this important work. And, it’s been an amazing, yet challenging, two years working there. Ultimately, I learned that I get my motivation from being near the action, and my past jobs had all provided that motivation. But, when the “action” is in another country on the other side of the world, I struggled. I struggled with sitting at a desk all day and being so far away from what was happening. And, this is what led me to start thinking about something else I could do – which was return to Disney.

But, with Disney now out of the picture, I was forced to look at other options. Well, if I’m not going to be doing a job related to one of my passions (Disney), then it was only natural for me to consider doing something with my other passion (Kenya). Granted, this didn’t happen right away. It took a very long conversation to convince me that I should even LOOK INTO serving in the field in Kenya. But, once I did, things started falling into place.

The more I talked with people, the more encouraged I felt. There is a need for someone with my skills and abilities on the field, and people were excited about the possibility of me going. I’ll be honest – after feeling like a nobody at Disney, it was good to feel needed and wanted! I met with another couple who is preparing to head over to Kenya, alongside whom I will be serving, and we had a wonderful conversation about the various talents that are being assembled on the team in Nairobi. There’s no denying it… Something big is happening there.

So, I started the application process to serve in the field, which normally takes a month or two to complete. I did it in about two weeks. I had to get a complete physical and medical evaluation, had to take a 500-some question psychological test (the MMPI for those who are knowledgeable of these things), I took the Myers-Briggs personality test and a cultural readiness test, I completed a 30-something open-ended question “life history questionnaire,” and provided five references – including the very busy lead pastor of my church – on extremely short notice. But, all of this happened with relatively simple ease.

Then there’s all the other random things like how most people who do this need to sell their house and reduce their debt, etc. I’ve already done that. I’ll eventually need to sell my car. But, I have some friends whose car died recently and are possibly interested in buying mine from me. (Not to mention two other people who have expressed an interest in buying it!) I’m not heading to Kenya tomorrow, so I’ll need to find some other employment on an interim basis. Conveniently, there’s a position that just became available elsewhere within CMF that I’ll be able to move into, and that will allow the flexibility I’ll need as I prepare for this move. These are just a few examples, but it has become obvious to me now that this path is being cleared for me for a reason. Things are happening too easily. And I would be a fool not to pursue this.

So, I’m going to be a missionary to Kenya. That’s the technical term, at least. That doesn’t mean I’ll be knocking on doors and talking about Jesus, or preaching under a tree. I’ll be working with the largest NGO (non-government organization/charitable organization) in Nairobi helping them to build some capacity into their programs so we can reach even more children who are in need. At this time, I’ve made a three year commitment to serve there.

Yes, the thought of living in another country is pretty scary. It will definitely be outside of my comfort zone. But, there is a fantastic team of people there, and the work we will be doing together is good work. It’s important work. It will definitely allow me to be “close to the action,” more so than I expected! You might even have noticed that the tag line for this website is “On the Front Lines.” I thought that seemed appropriate.

So, what happens next? Well, this past week, I completed a training program called LAUNCH. LAUNCH is the initial training where we learn about many of the financial aspects and needs of serving in the field. This isn’t a salaried position, folks. I get to raise my own support! But, the financial aspect isn’t what concerns me the most. Really, I hope to find a solid group of people who will partner with me and share this journey with me. (And, to be quite honest, there is something that scares me even more than the thought of fundraising… Learning to drive in Nairobi!)

The timeline for all of this is fluid at this point. I would like to say that I could be heading over to begin my term in Nairobi sometime between the first of the year and the Spring, but it all will depend on when I get support raised and when I can schedule a few trainings that I’ll need to attend. But, I’m highly motivated and excited to get started!

This has been a long, emotional, and spiritual journey. It really started almost seven years ago when I returned from Florida the first time. I was in a bad spot back then, and through the invitation of a friend, I started attending Traders Point Christian Church. That really started me down this path of self-exploration, spiritual renewal and really trying to figure out what God wants me to do with my life. When I take a step back and just look at everything that has happened up to this point, this all just makes perfect sense.

So, I’m excited to share this news, and I hope it makes sense to you. Of course, I’m happy to talk with anyone in more detail about how this all came about, what I’ll be doing, how you can be a part of it, etc. This website is still somewhat of a work in progress, and I’m sure I’ll add more content and/or features as time moves on. It’s really a way for people to stay connected with how I’m doing, what I’m doing, and when I’ll be doing it.

The last thing I’ll say is this: I’m not mad at Disney. I’m still just as passionate about that company and the kind of entertainment they provide as I ever have been. And, I may go back to work there again someday. I’m pretty sure they aren’t going anywhere. But, this is just something I have to do right now. I went to Kenya that first time two years ago, and had no idea what I was doing there. What I’ve realized now is that God has been preparing me for this work for many years without me knowing it. And I never would have come to this place if things had happened any other way.

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