PLAINVIEW – Dr. David Howle sits at his desk a few days after returning from Africa, recounting the events that took place over the previous two weeks. Leading a group of 14 people on a mission trip to help construct a women’s dorm is tiring, but Howle said it was well worth the hard work.
The project, which will provide housing for female students attending Kenya Baptist Theological College, was funded by First Baptist Church in Plainview at a cost of more than $50,000.
“I said to the team, we are going there to work on the building, but we are primarily going there to build relationships,” Howle explained. “That is what’s most important.”
And that is what they did.
Howle, who is the director of Wayland Baptist University’s virtual campus, has been working closely with KBTC through their relationship with Wayland over the last several years. Howle, who teaches Sunday school at FBC-Plainview, approached Charles Mbugua of KBTC concerning needs for the college. Howle said his Sunday school class had expressed interest in the work going on in Kenya through Wayland and wanted to find a way to help.
“(Mbugua) said that they really needed a building for women students to stay in while they are taking courses,” Howle explained. Female students currently stay at the Baptist conference center that is adjacent to KBTC, not knowing if they will have lodging from night-to-night due to availability.
Howle approached his class and the missions committee at his church about the project. The missions committee agreed that it was a good idea and brought the plans before the church who voted to purchase the necessary supplies, pay for labor and absorb the cost of sending a team to Kenya to help with the project.
The money came from a special mission fund set up by the church with money donated by the late Dr. Dorothy McCoy, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Wayland.
The building was designed as a duplex with two bedrooms, two bath and shower areas, a living area, kitchen and washroom on either side. One side will be used to house visiting professors who are there to teach. The other will house female students. Right now only four female students attend KBTC, but the building will accommodate up to eight comfortably. Students attend the school for only three weeks at a time.
A representative from KBCT who handles the Wayland affairs told Howle that the symbolism of what they were doing will mean more than they can ever understand.
“This states clearly that they are very interested in women understanding leadership,” Howle said. “That is primarily what KBTC is about – training leaders. For them this is a significant step in saying they are about not just training men, but training women as leaders in the country.”
The group left for Kenya on May 28 loaded down with painting supplies and a few other tools that they intended to leave with the local workers. Howle, who had been in contact with the construction group in Kenya, was under the impression that they would be spending much of their time painting the facility. His plans changed, however, after receiving a letter from Mbugua two days before departure with a list of projects that needed to be completed.
“He listed a number of items that included painting, but a number of things that we really hadn’t planned for,” Howle said. “He used the word ‘fix’ the doors and cabinets. I though he meant attach the doors and attach the cabinets that were already built, but that wasn’t entirely what he meant.”
Upon arrival, Howle and the FBC team found that the building had doors, but they had not been cut to size and did not have hinges or handles attached. As for the cabinets, Howle was pointed to a stack of lumber on the floor.
“I had been cabinet maker earlier in life, but it’s a little bit of a challenge to make cabinets using a skill saw and pocket knife,” Howle said.
Still, the team dove in head first.
“There were 14 of us and 14 Kenya workers,” Howle said. “We just kind of worked together. We got all of the kitchen cabinets put in, the wardrobes or closets built, all of the doors put on, all of the ceiling panels put in place and the crown molding up.”
As the groups worked together, Howle said the learned from each other.
“Their attitude is that whatever you are trained in, that is what you do. If there is something else that needs attention, you are not trained to do that, so you just leave it alone,” Howle said of the Kenyan culture. “We ask, how can I learn to do whatever it is that needs to be done? We have Stan DeMerritt, the university registrar, learning how to glaze windows. We have George Merriweather, an accountant, learning how to put in the ceiling panels.”
After watching the group work, the crew foreman told Howle that from their example, his workers could learn how to expand and not just focus on one thing.
“It was a good experience for them and a good experience for us to better understand their situation and their conditions,” Howle said. “By the third day, we had people who were feeling guilty because we were there working for free. That meant we were taking work away from these men who were paid only $3 to $5 a day.
“Some really close bonds were formed in the process. When we got ready to go home, it was hard.”
The building is all but finished with a few small jobs and the painting remaining. One more thing the FBC group will do, however, is have a plaque placed on the building in honor of Dr. McCoy.“It will give a little history of who she was and her interest in missions and a statement or two of how that house came to be so that later students and other visitors will have some sense of the involvement there – that there is a bigger community that cares about their education,” Howle said.