JOHNSON CITY - Mission trips not only affect natives but also the missionaries themselves, as one local graduate can attest.
Ellen Ombati attended Milligan College and graduated in 2004. Since that time she has lived and served the Lord in Africa, even marrying her husband, Elijah, a native of Narok, Kenya.
"I met Elijah on a short-term trip that my church took to Narok, and I went back probably five times to the same place," Ellen said of the 1999 journey.
She attended Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., where she lived.
"We met and just started to get knowing each other but had no intention of marrying," Elijah said.
Ellen went back in 2001 as part of an internship with Milligan College.
Elijah began the Nasha Needy Street Children's Project International, sponsored by New Mission Systems International, in Narok in 1999 and set up the Milligan internship in 2001 as part of that mission.
Their marriage followed in 2004 after a long-distance relationship that spanned the Atlantic Ocean. Now the couple work to bring about positive change for Narok.
AfricaHope is the name of the Ombatis' ministry. Their team has 18 staff members now.
"It's almost half Kenyan and half American now," Ellen said. "So I really like that about our team - it's not just non-nationals coming in and telling them (Kenyans) how to live."
Street kid gangs are a big problem in Kenya, Elijah said, and his ministry focuses on pulling them up out of poverty.
He said that poverty is so prevalent and education so sparse that children as young as 5 will roam around villages and cities with nothing to do. They usually end up stealing property and sniffing glue.
"You find all the little boys doing the begging and stealing because they're cute and maybe they can get away with it," Elijah said.
He said the biggest drug problem in Kenya is glue sniffing. A bottle of glue costs 10 shillings (about $6.90). A child can sell a sniff for one shilling and make a profit, making it an attractive option for poor youths.
AfricaHope has constructed a school that is free to children, or street kids, that will allow them to escape the poverty and crime they face.
The school now teaches 250 children. Subjects include math, English, science and other courses taught in the United States. Adults are offered classes on parenting and cleanliness. And, of course, the school teaches the word of God.
"Most (children) that we help do really, really well, but some of them end up going back (to the street)," Ellen said.
Elijah considers himself an adopted parent because of his close work with children.
"I don't think of them as my kids," he said. "I think of them as my children. I love them a lot. The children of the village have been transformed. The village has transformed."
The couple were visiting the United States recently, not only to see Ellen's family, but to contact individuals and ministries about donating to their Kenyan ministry.
"We have to raise 100 percent of our support," Elijah said.
The Ombatis hope to raise money for various projects and operating expenses before returning to Kenya.
"We are planning to construct more classrooms to help the children," Elijah said. "We want to construct more classrooms and also buy land for a shelter program. We have a shelter right now, but we are renting it."
Ellen said her internship with Milligan College really changed her life.
"Through that class God just opened my eyes and my perspective to see the world through his plan," she said. "And after the first time I went to Kenya I felt like that's really where God wants me for the rest of my life."
Find out more about the Ombatis' ministry at www.africahope.org. Or view their blogs at ombatiministries.org.