On Zebras, Donkeys and Speaking Swahili

I tried to think of a brilliant way to start this post. I desperately wanted to channel my inner Ann Voskamp and write something eloquently beautiful and poetic about all that I saw today but, honestly, all I’ve been able to come up with is…


This is a beautiful country. In every sense of the word, Tanzania encompasses the majesty and beauty of Creation. Mt. Kilimanjaro opens up to rolling hills and wide, open valleys surround plains rich and green. Cattle lumber slowly up the hillside, their shepherds walking beside. It was all so peaceful, driving through that wide open countryside.

At one point, we made out a herd of white-ish animals dotting the distant horizon. Our trip facilitator, Mary (who is fifteen shades of awesome, by the way. I’d like to adopt her…) told us they were probably just donkeys. But we felt certain they looked like Zebras so collectively we decided to tell you that WE SAW DONKEYS THAT LOOKED LIKE ZEBRAS TODAY! (Zebronks? Donkbras?)

Imagine that there are Donkeys that look like Zebras (or Zebras that look like Donkeys?) on the horizon and it'll be like you're right there with us.

In a lot of ways, today was totally refreshing and in other ways it was another glimpse into a world that has left me with eyes wide open. I fell in love with this country today and I won’t be the same.

When we stepped off the bus, we were once again swarmed by a sea of brown faces, only this time something was a little different. I could understand them. I kind of wondered for a second if I’d learned Swahili overnight while I slept. My mind automatically wandered down a rabbit trail (because it does that sometimes often) and I imagined a big computer downloading all this new information into my brain kind of like the Matrix.

Then I realized they were speaking English, which is way less cool than if I’d told you I woke up speaking Swahili fluently so you’re welcome to now imagine that I speak Swahili. There…isn’t that fun?


Look at me speaking Swahili! Oh wait...

We spent a couple of hours with these beautiful children and they so ministered to my heart. They are precious and darling and good and sweet and smart and oh so funny.

He's got the moves like Jagger

I’ve been struck often by the ease and exuberance with which everyone speaks of faith in this country. When you truly know and understand what it means to have to trust God for your daily bread, the nature of your praise to Him comes out with an authenticity that left me feeling ministered to by these children – not the other way around.

We left the center in Longido, where 244 children are currently served by Compassion, and we drove out into the countryside to visit some of the homes. But these were not just any homes. Many of the children in this particular program come from the Maasai tribe, an ages old group that has kept many of their ancient traditions.

The driver dropped us off on the side of a deeply rutted dirt road and we marched quickly through the brush to a round village settled in the African plains. The small, thatched houses stood in a circular fenced area. They are traditionally built by Maasai women and are constructed of mud, sticks, grass, cow dung, human urine and ash.

Ducking inside a low roof, (read this post that Shaun wrote a couple of years ago about why you have to duck down inside a Maasai hut. It’s well worth the read…you just have to promise to come back here and finish reading this post too, deal?) we made our way to the center of a very small, circular room. The only light came from a square in the wall no bigger than my fist and the slow burning embers of a fire. Crowding together, I tried to discreetly swat away the flies (thousands of them…I may have nightmares tonight) as I took in the sights.

Keely wasn't with our group today so I had to take my own pictures. Try not to be jealous of my mad indoor photography skillz...

The home belongs to Lema, a beautiful girl of thirteen. She was painfully shy and I found myself wondering if she was only that way at home, or if she came out of her shell more when around her schoolmates.

Lema’s mother spent the first several minutes of our visit looking desperately for the few precious sponsor letters her daughter had received. She finally pulled out two tattered pieces of paper, one torn in half, and showed them to us. Letters written long ago, but kept as a reminder of grace.

The visit was distracting, mostly due to the fact that a neighbor, who had been taken in by Lema’s mother, sat in the corner blurting out words and songs repeatedly. After the recent birth of her child two months ago, this woman had had a psychotic breakdown. Lema’s mother was looking after her, protecting both her and the baby.

The sense of community was palpable and real inside those walls.

The Maasai are good and loving people. Many have become Christian, yet they still maintain some traditions that I, in my very Western mind, cannot wrap my mind around. Girls can be married at the age of 12 and when they are chosen by a man to be his wife, they have no choice but to comply.

The Compassion Office in Longido is working hard to educate the Maasai about the dangers of some of these customs while also maintaining respect for the valuable and unique qualities of who they are. Though the conditions were primitive and a bit shocking, it did not feel wrong. Compassion recognizes the beauty of this long-standing tribe and only intervenes if the customs will interfere with the health and well-being of the child.

I love this about Compassion.

I feel like there are too many things to say and not nearly enough space or time to say them. When I agreed to come on this trip I was told from the beginning that I had complete freedom to write what I saw and felt about this ministry. I already had a love and an admiration for Compassion before I took this journey, but now I adore it so much more. I want to tell you everything I can, every way you can give, every way you can be involved.

But it would take too long so…tomorrow?

Tomorrow I will tell you some of the ins and outs of Compassion International and different ways that you can be a part of the miracle that God is working worldwide.

But today I just wanted to tell you one last story. I wanted to tell you again, thank you. Thank you for reading and encouraging me. Thank you for supporting this ministry and for helping to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name.

Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

To sponsor a child, click here or click the image below. And, as always, please follow along with the other bloggers who are here with us. Nester met her sponsored child today. You’ll want to see it.



  1. You had me at “Hot dog” – seriously I can’t think of a better way to start the post!

    It’s been so much fun to read along as you discover the beauty that is Compassion.

    • Thanks for reading along and always offering a bit of encouragement. You have no idea how much confidence everyone’s sweet comments have given me.

  2. “Zebronks” literally made me snort. Loudly. I think I scared the cat.

    The people in these pictures made my eyes spill over tears. So beautiful. So very beautiful. I feel like my heart beats in some African rhythm, so profound is my pull to Africa.

    I imagine that, at some point, it becomes hard to string along words. It is a lot to process, much less process and share with others.

    I hope you’re doing well. Again, Africa looks SO good on you. You’re glowing! (You can tell me that is the work of the African sun, but I see a glow within, too.)

    • Thank you, Michelle. You do so much for Compassion and you have definately been blessed with the gift of encouragement. Thanks for sharing that gift with me this week and for loving on children around the world!

  3. Can hardly wait to read this with my kids…. I’m going to wait until they are home so we read together!

  4. FYI – All the super awesome photos were taken by Keely Scott. All the mediocre photos were taken by me. Keely is the grand master at photos… 🙂

  5. Mel cable says

    Kelli, we too are going to read thaws with the kids. You are doing great, I am so proud of you and the words God is giving you, you are definitely doing this task justice!

  6. Beautiful post Kelli! I’m reading this while rocking my baby girl to sleep, she’s already nodded off and the picture of that sweet baby just brought me to tears. What COMPASSION that mother is showing to her neighbor by helping care for her child while she gets better (dear Lord, I hope she can get better).

    I am going to miss the compassion update posts when y’all get back. Since you have way more to say can you just write about it a free times a week for weeks? Pretty please??

    I love the donkbras and the moves like jagger!!

    I will be praying for yor flights home and that the transition will be as easy as possible once you get back to your home.

    Twitter: AshleyonIsland

  7. kelli,
    i have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts this week! today, you have won me over as a forever friend by using the word “donkbras”! i can just hear nester laughing about that one! thank you for going on this trip and for letting us see Tanzania and the work that God is doing through Compassion there. praying for you and the rest of the team as you start your travels back to the States tomorrow. well, i guess when you read this the traveling will start today 🙂

  8. Free= a few (stupid phone)

  9. Bethany says

    Your openness to share all that the Lord is showing you is an overwhelming blessing to all of us who are bivouacked far behind the front lines. Thanks for urging us to get closer to the action! Our Lord surely is moving in Africa! Love you friend :).

  10. Ok….just sitting here wishing we could meet for a an afternoon at the beach so I could hear all of your stories in person. We could laugh a lot…..and then share a whole box of tissues!

  11. “When you truly know and understand what it means to have to trust God for your daily bread, the nature of your praise to Him comes out with an authenticity that left me feeling ministered to by these children – not the other way around.” Oh to have that authenticity in my praise. Don’t ever forget that authenticity. It will drive your passion for God to new heights. You will never be the same friend.

  12. Loving reading your stories and seeing their precious faces! Thank you for sharing!

  13. Kelli, you ARE glowing! You are beautiful on the inside and out! What an amazing thing to be a vessel of God’s love, mercy and grace in a place that is so open to receive it, in Jesus’ Name. You absolutely never cease to amaze me. God gets the Glory, but I thank you for your obedience. 🙂

  14. Zebronks!!! and “…mad indoor photography skillz” and I’m sitting here cracking up! AH – it will be soooooooooo awesome to see you and hear you “glow” in person, but I am going to be in withdrawal with no daily Kelli-live-from-Tanzania to read. You have blessed us to no end.

  15. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I am so sorry it had to end. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Kelli.

  16. i love those dark faces and bright smiles! and the maasai culture amazes me… that there is a place on the earth that lives like that while i live like this… on the same page of the same calendar. and i loved how you said it… that it didn’t feel wrong.

  17. Hi Kelli, I am very late finding this post but I only recently began sponsoring kids through Compassion. One of them is a young man from Tanzania so I was ‘researching’ bloggers’ experiences there. I LOVE the picture of the boys praying…I find I also pray with my hands over my face like that so I felt an instant connection! Thanks so much for sharing.


  1. Blog says:

    With Eyes Wide Open Dreaming…

    […] a love and an admiration for Compassion before I took this journey, but now I ad […]…

  2. […] In the blink of an eye, eight days passed and I was a changed person filled with distant memories of sitting in a Maasai hut, helping a Tanzanian family prepare dinner and slamming Cokes with tiny Tanzanian […]

  3. […] On Zebras, Donkeys and Speaking Swahili […]