Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are some of the best around at evaluating situations.
They routinely clear roads, patch roofs and feed hundreds.
But four men who volunteered for a project in Kenya didn’t have to do any of that. They were tasked with training the local believers on motorcycle repair and maintenance and do some traditional Bible storytelling during a two-week stay more than 8,000 miles away.
Why motorcycles? Because they are the mode of transportation with an estimated 600,000 commercial motorcycles going over Kenyan roads. The drivers of those bikes make on average about 1,000 schillings a day, which is equal to $1 in U.S. currency.
The mechanics – Bobby Woods of Paducah and Robert Puttoff – had to get creative with some rudimentary tools as used the bikes of the trainees, both men and women, as examples of how to maintain them. More than two dozen participated in a pair of three-day sessions.
The other two men – Roger Whitehead of Grayson and Wayne Terry of Ashland – were the Bible storytellers. They were given material through Baptist Global Response, a partnering organization, beforehand. They shared stories with the men who came to learn about motorcycle maintenance and then went into downtown Narobi with the church pastor to witness.
Whitehead and Terry, who were more comfortable with chainsaws and shovels, admitted to being uneasy about witnessing. But before the trip was over, they had fallen in love with the idea.
“Roger (Whitehead) and I both openly admitted we’ve not been forthcoming in witnessing, especially myself,” said Terry. “It’s given me a zeal and desire to be involved (in witnessing at home).”
They witnessed to 160, according to records from the pastor, but Terry said it may have been much more. “We’d start out with three or four people and before you knew it, there’d be 16 surrounding us. They were hungry to hear the Word.”
Whitehead said he volunteered for the trip knowing that motorcycle repair wasn’t his strength.
“I said, ‘Well, I’m not qualified to work on motorcycles. The Lord prepared me to tell Bible stories. I didn’t understand then (before the trip) but when I got that it became much clearer.”
Whitehead saw the power of God’s Word begin to work in hearts on the streets of Narobi and it energized him. “After the first day, I told the missionary there, ‘You’re fishing for men and I’m the bait!’ We walked through town and told Bible stories. People were getting saved all around us.”
Woods said watching his partners with the Bible stories was inspiring. “It was like God was working through them,” he said.
Terry was able to witness to a local young man who was contemplating suicide. He prayed with him, telling him he had value and to please not hurt himself. “I prayed God would intervene in this young man’s life and to open avenues (of work) for him. That young man stood up, grabbed me and hugged me.”
Bernard, who is 23, came to the motorcycle training two days later, Terry said. “As soon as he saw me, he sprang into my arms. He said, ‘I want to thank you. I have no more desire to hurt myself. That has all left me. I believe this is how I can make a living.’’’
Meanwhile, the mechanics worked with those who came to the training and 25 graduated, complete with a ceremony and certificate. More importantly, they learned how to take care of their motorcycles for longer use, which would eventually add up to a better living.
They also heard the gospel twice daily from the Bible storytellers and the mechanics, who had their time to share as well.
“Some of the bikes we were working on were on their third or fourth lives,” Puttoff said. “They were very good at patching and putting it back together. The financial situation is a big obstacle. We were able to relieve some of that with preparation done prior to us getting on the ground from BGR.”
Mark and Susan Hatfield, BGR Area Directors for Sub-Saharan Africa, did assessments prior to the team arriving to make sure several would be there for training. They did the sessions in the church, Puttoff inside.
“One thing that was a little overwhelming was their lack of understanding for mechanical concepts,” Puttoff said.
Woods said they showed the men and women how to take care of every part of the motorcycle and how to make their own chain lube and change sparkplugs. “A can of chain lube in Narobi was a little over $18. That’s more than they make in a week.”
Most of the the local men and women who had the motorcycles used them for taxi services to transport people from main roads and onto dirt roads and paths to the rider’s home. The ride can be hard on the motorcycles. Good maintenance can make a difference in the longevity of the machine, Woods said.
“One thing I did learn real quick is they knew how to take a tire off their bike because of the many flats,” Woods said. “We showed them how they could patch their own tires and we swapped out several tires.”
The team started each morning with song and praise then a Bible story. There were six student’s bodaboda (motorcycles) available to service or repair. Only one boda had been properly maintained. The others had chains and sprockets worn out, no front brakes, bad cables, and two with bad clutches.
“When you come home and try to share with others, they just don’t understand the perspective that you’re trying to explain to them,” Puttoff said. “When someone has absolutely nothing, it’s difficult for someone who hasn’t seen that level of poverty. With that being said, all the people I experienced were happy, content, loving and giving.”
The assistant pastor and a deacon watched the training closely and hope to have more classes in the future.