It was her first time on an airplane. And, it was also her first time out of the country. Arguably, these are unforgettable moments.
But Jessica Stokely will remember the three-week mission trip to Africa for far more than the airplane ride and the crossing of continental boundaries. "I came away with so much respect for them," said Stokely, a 20-year-old education major at Emanuel College in Franklin Springs. "They are the most loving people I've ever met in my entire life."
The trip, which was organized by Emanuel College professors Paul and Beverly Oxley, included 12 disciples who flew from Miami to London and then to Nairobi, the largest city in Kenya. The team spent the entire time connecting with the people of Kenya and ministering to their needs.
"We were supposed to build a church the first week we were there, but the wife of the contractor who was supposed to go with us got deathly ill, so he wasn't able to go," said Stokely, the daughter of Ricky and Jeanette Stokely of Martinez and a 2001 graduate of Evans High School.
"So, for the first week we had no itinerary and we just said, 'God, we are here to do what you want us to do. Please guide us."'
Her desire to go to Africa has been a long time coming, according to Stokely.
"It has been on my heart to go to Africa," she said. "During my sophomore year, I took a history class and the entire course was on Africa. There were so many things that said I needed to go to Africa."
Beverly Oxley, chair of the Department of Psychology at Emanuel College, said Stokely was a trooper during the entire trip.
"She was 100 percent in there on whatever we decided to do," said Oxley. "We visited an orphanage and she really bonded with those children. I remember on our last day in Kenya, seeing tears streaming down her face, as they were all of ours."
Jessica Stokely holds some of the souvenirs she collected while on a three-week missionary trip to Kenya. Jessica is a rising senior at Emanuel College, near Athens.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Stokely is not new to mission trips. Her father, the pastor of Johnston Pentecostal Holiness Church in Johnston, S.C., has certainly instilled in his daughter a desire to help others. Her previous mission trips have been in Georgia and another to a boy and girl's home in North Carolina.
"That's when I decided I wanted to go into education," said Stokely, who is pursuing a degree in elementary education. She plans to continue her education after graduating from Emanuel College and earn a master's degree in education. "I know that I'm needed in the classroom right now," she said. "That's where God is calling me. But, I'd like to go into school counseling or administration."
One thing Stokely is certain is in her future is a return trip to Africa. "I feel it in my heart that I will be back in Africa," she said. "I don't know when it will be, but I know I'll be back."
"One of the things that impressed me most about Jessica and the other missionaries was they didn't look at all of the deficiencies the Kenyans had," said Oxley. "They looked past all of that and looked into their hearts."
The trip, meant to be a ministering experience for the Kenyans, was more powerful than Stokely could ever have imagined.
"We were there to minister," said Stokely. "But we were ministered to more. It was just an amazing opportunity."
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