Going native

TUPELO – Going through customs in an African airport can be pretty intimidating, but Wednesday area third- and fourth-graders handled it just fine.

The children made their way through airports, model villages and Masai pasturelands set up inside the Tupelo Furniture Market by Global Outreach International, a Tupelo-based Christian missions organization.

The project, called “GO East Africa Expedition” was designed to show children what life is like for kids in the developing world. Students from schools in Union, Lee and Pontotoc counties took the expedition as a prelude to Global Outreach’s 40th anniversary celebration Friday.

At the entrance to the Kenyan airport, volunteers George and Ruby Martin of Baldwyn stood like sentinels above the wide-eyed youngsters.

“No electronic devices, tobacco products or drugs allowed,” said Ruby, who spent time as a missionary in the Republic of Ivory Coast.

The children produced imitation passports with their pictures inside that they’d made at school.

“They’re taking this very seriously,” said George.

At the next station, Holly Priest and her sister, Dixie, taught the children a few useful phrases in Swahili, a language spoken throughout eastern Africa.

“Jambo!” Holly said, greeting Amy Stanford’s fourth-grade class from Ingomar Elementary School.

The thumping of conga and djembe drums filled the air as Rhonda Baxter, a missionary who lives among the Masai people in Kenya, described how native children as young as 4 are responsible for shepherding goats.

James Jones, a third-grader from Pierce Street Elementary School, was quick on the draw answering questions about Kenya’s native wildlife.

“The lion,” he exclaimed, then shuffled forward to get his passport stamped at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda.

Global Outreach started in 1970 as a collaborative ministry among several Mississippi businessmen, including L.D. Hancock and comedian Jerry Clower. Sammy Simpson, who still serves as the organization’s chief operating officer, brought the men together to help implement sustainable agricultural techniques among the poor in central America.

Forty years later Global Outreach supports more than 200 missionaries in 38 countries and on five continents.

The organization’s mission is to spread the Christian gospel but, as was the case with the original founders, the means by which it does so are often practical.

One of the final stops of the children’s tour was a Ugandan village where missionary Mark Gwartney and three of his daughters talked about the daily work done by a native girl named Alana. The Gwartneys, who work at orphanages and medical facilities in Uganda, showed the girl’s smiling picture as they spoke of her arduous daily tasks.

Sincere Grice, 9, a student at Pierce Street, said carrying water and picking vegetables seemed a lot harder than her own daily chores, which include washing dishes and feeding her dog, Diamond.

“It teaches kids to be respectful,” said Grice, adding that she’d gained a newfound respect for how hard some kids lives are.

“It makes me happy for what I’ve got,” said Alexandria Kay Taylor, 10, a fourth-grader at South Pontotoc Elementary School.

Her teacher, Marsha Murphree, said the class will follow up with more classroom lessons about Africa in the weeks to come.

On their way out the children filled care packages for Ugandan orphans, many repeating the phrases they’d learned on arrival.

“Asante sana,” they said, meaning, “thank you very much.” And, “Kwaheri,” or, “goodbye.”

Contact Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com.

Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

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