HUNTINGTON, IN – As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, people across the nation are giving thanks for our country, their families, and the love of God. One young man from Kisimu, Kenya is grateful for life-saving surgery, made possible by an international network of friends, including one extraordinary Huntington College alumna.
For Jennie Mach, following God’s calling meant leaving the comfort of a certain future. Preparing to graduate from Huntington College in 2001 with a degree in exercise science, Mach was well on her way to physical therapy school. But God had other immediate plans.
During her senior year at Huntington, God began nudging Mach in a decidedly different direction. During January of 2001, Mach traveled to Kenya with a Huntington College group led by Rev. Bill Fisher, Dean of Christian Faith and Life. “During our stay at a home for street boys, God began to challenge me," said Mach. "I was impressed with the missionaries there. I felt God was asking me, ‘Could you do this?’”
"I pondered that question for a while and ultimately came to the conclusion that yes, I could," she said. "After that, I felt God asking me, 'Then why don’t you?'”
The change of plans was not easy for Mach. "If God was leading me to Kenya after graduation, I would have to put off physical therapy school, make some big decisions in my personal life, and find an organization that supported ministry for street children," she said.
After a few months of searching and waiting, Mach received a call from Bill Fisher. He had learned that Agape Children’s Ministry was seeking qualified persons to devote a year to working with the street boys of Kenya.
Agape Children's Ministry, founded in 1993 by Darla Calhoun, was formed to provide a Christian family atmosphere of love and acceptance for street children in Kisumu, Kenya. Agape offers abandoned children Christian discipleship and vocational training that will prepare them to become responsible, productive members of society.
Mach became one of only two Americans serving at the mission that year. She arrived in September 2001 to a home with about 100 kids – probably ten too many, according to Mach. Many of the boys had no schooling, didn’t know how to write their names, and were addicted to glue.
One of the boys made a distinct impression on Mach. Shadrack Opiayo Apongo had been among the first boys brought into the ministry off the street when it was founded. Now in his early twenties, Apongo had become an outgoing leader and role model for the younger boys. He led all the praise and worship songs and translated the pastor’s English sermons into Swahili.
In many ways, Apongo embodied the hope Agape Children's Ministry offered to all the street boys. But since 1998, Apongo had battled a constant illness. Doctors diagnosed his shortness of breath as asthma. They also diagnosed him with tuberculosis and malaria.
“Anyone sick in Kenya is diagnosed with malaria,” recalled Mach. “Things got to be really bad for a few months. Shadrack’s feet were swelling and he had a bad cough. Because of my education in exercise science at Huntington College, I thought his condition possibly looked like congestive heart failure.”
Mach completed her year of service and began making plans to return to South Dakota. Before leaving, she urged a mission administrator to discuss Apongo’s condition with a heart specialist in Nairobi. The day she was to leave for America, Mach learned that the specialist had reviewed Apongo's medical charts and suspected rheumatic heart disease. Without open-heart surgery to replace a valve, he would die within months.
Four hours later, Mach was on a plane heading home to South Dakota dealing not only with tough feelings about leaving Agape Children's Ministry, but also worried that Apongo may not have much longer to live. When she arrived home, she shared her stories with family and friends, including her family doctor, Dr. Peter Reynen.
Reynen asked colleagues at North Central Heart Institute and the Heart Hospital of South Dakota in Sioux Falls if they could provide free heart surgery. The answer was almost an immediate yes. The lengthy process of bringing Apongo to the United States then began.
“God’s timing can work wonders,” said Mach. “Our whole process in getting Shadrack to the States was an absolute miracle. Usually it would take years for a Kenyan to obtain a passport and visa. We were able to work it out so that Shadrack had his passport within days.”
Obtaining a visa took a bit more work, but God continued to pave the way for Apongo. Mach flew back to Kenya, much sooner than she ever expected, to help get the visa and bring Apongo to the United States.
Authorities would not let Apongo obtain the visa until he was thoroughly interviewed by the United States Embassy. Apongo, who had never flown before, boarded a small plane by himself from Kisimu to Nairobi and went through the strenuous interview process.
“Shadrack did so well through everything,” remembered Mach. “When we got to South Dakota, he knew that God had brought him this far and has a plan for his life. He has such a strong faith.”
Apongo underwent surgery in October 2002 and recovered quickly. Mach reports that he can now breathe much more easily.
While undergoing cardiac rehab, Apongo visited many churches and schools in South Dakota, speaking about his experience and describing how God had helped him. Before leaving for Kenya in December, Apongo will travel to California to visit with Agape Children's Ministry founder Darla Calhoun. He will describe his experiences with Agape and how God paved the way to extend his life to impact his world for Christ.
“It’s great to see Shadrack spread the word about God and the Agape Children’s Ministry to the people around the state and country,” said Mach.
Many times, Mach thinks back to her senior year in college when she felt God's prompting to put her immediate plans on hold. "Though I am still undecided about what the next step in my future is, each day God reminds me, 'I am faithful when you are obedient.'”
Huntington College is a comprehensive Christian college of the liberal arts offering graduate and undergraduate programs in more than 60 academic concentrations. US News & World Report ranks Huntington among the Top 10 comprehensive colleges in the Midwest. Founded in 1897 by the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, Huntington College is located on a contemporary, lakeside campus in Huntington, Indiana.
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