Doug Neve and the Rev. Roger Lokker met the poor, elderly women who were the recipients of goats provided by the youth of Greenleafton Reformed Church.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
Doug Neve and the Rev. Roger Lokker met the poor, elderly women who were the recipients of goats provided by the youth of Greenleafton Reformed Church. SUBMITTED PHOTO
"A mission doesn't have to be long or far away," shared the Rev. Roger Lokker, who has directed worship and ministry at Greenleafton Reformed Church since 2004. Lokker's mission has largely been, in his own words, meeting people and taking the Gospel message to Fillmore County.

"Now I realize there is a distant calling," he explained. That understanding came from a mission trip he and church member Doug Neve made to Kenya this summer, from June 28 to July 8.

Neve, who is the co-chair of the missions committee at the church, was the one through whom the opportunity to serve was made available. He is responsible for directing funding to church missionaries serving in foreign countries. Alongside his church service, Neve also has been active on the advisory board of an Evangelical Mission agency named Share International, Inc., (SI). He joined the agency two years ago after he found out his home church in Iowa supported it. After praying about their involvement, Neve presented the opportunity to the Greenleafton missions committee, which also decided to support SI.

SI was started by Sammy and Mary Murimi in 1995, who were Kenyan nationals looking for a way to reach out to the people of Kenya through missionary service. The organization's name came from Biblical verse 1 Thessalonians 2:8 which encourages people to share not only the Gospel, but also their lives through a mission. SI focuses on training indigenous pastors and missionaries to assist in spiritual, physical, cognitive and economic needs of the people. Any church that wants to support SI can.

The specific mission trip Lokker and Neve went on was a Short-Term Outreach and Relief Mission (STORM) with other people from Galena, Ill. It was the first time for both of them.

Having been a part of mission work throughout much of his life, Neve noted his efforts had always been focused at the board level with strategic, efficient management. He has worked with Special Olympics and Youth for Christ among other groups. Recently retired, he felt it was a good time to be more hands-on.

"Finding two weeks was easier to do," he remarked saying he had never done a mission overseas. For Lokker, the trip marked his first time doing mission work abroad as well. In fact, the original mission plan didn't include Lokker at all. Neve had planned on going to Kenya with his wife. After that plan fell through, Neve considered his options and prayed about who should go with him. Lokker's name came to his mind.

"I looked at the calendar and those 10 days were open, so I didn't have an excuse," explained Lokker. Once he considered it more, he realized, "It was another plan of God."

The church allows Lokker to take one week every year for educational purposes. Two years ago, he took a trip to the Holy Land. Last year, he had foregone his week. "I'm not a big traveler," he mentioned. This mission, however, was something different. "I had a calmness of heart and felt the Spirit say 'This is an opportunity that will bless you,'" he described.

Even though he knew he should go, it still wasn't an easy decision for Lokker. The travel would be grueling. "I'm not wired that way," he explained.

Neve mentioned it had been his prayer that Lokker would be able to handle it. There were many logistics to iron out before leaving. Shots for typhoid, yellow fever and malaria were required. Emails from SI explaining their responsibilities filled both guys' inboxes. Lessons needed to be prepared.

"We felt a lot of pressure," described Neve. "Satan does that to you. When you have something spiritual he tried hard to get you."

Both the physical and spiritual challenges greeting Lokker and Neve during six weeks of preparation came to head during their travel out to Kenya.

Each carrying with them two 50-pound bags of equipment for the mission, getting through the airport was looking to be a nightmare.

"You feel like a pack mule," said Neve.

They both realized their luggage would most likely be overweight. It would cost them more time and money, which were things neither could afford in making their plane.

"I told Roger that we needed to pray that the first thing would go smoothly," shared Neve. Explaining their situation and mission trip to Kenya to the lady handling tickets, they were surprised to be allowed through without so much as a glance at their luggage.

"She could have dinged us on each of them. God took that stress away from the beginning," explained Neve.

The stress in traveling was unavoidable, but once the group of 10 reached Kenya, comfort came. "To me, there was almost no stress when we were there. The time there was enriching," shared Lokker.

Enriching, but still physically demanding. "I never did recover," laughed Lokker, speaking about the jet lag. "By the time I started to recover, we were on our way home." Being tired still didn't stop the group from reaching out to many Kenyans.

First impressions of Kenya didn't meet or exceed expectations for the two as they had little ideas of what they would see. "I thought it would be more difficult and more rustic," explained Lokker sharing details on the accommodations they received. "I don't think they wanted to put us on dirt floors."

The group stayed in a compound with cooking and sleeping facilities during the night and made their visits during the day. The villages they visited were "out in the bush."

Lokker noted how villages in Kenya were very different than a village like Greenleafton. Family units live together with their neighbors located farther away. Churches are usually located by themselves and sometimes aren't even a physical structure, instead perhaps a cluster of trees. Their indigent circumstances only served to strengthen their great spirituality.

Neve remarked on how he felt like he had stepped back in time to the time when Jesus Christ lived on the earth. "I was meeting first generation believers. It was awesome to think that the experience I was having was something I could have experienced in the first century," he shared.

Through SI, pastors have been planted in many of the villages and they shouldered most of the spiritual work of the mission. Lokker and Neve presented spiritual lessons at each village, but needed to speak through translators. Many people they taught were already Christian, but had never heard the Gospel from an American. They were able to share their faith with the STORM group.

Lokker described the Kenyans' worship as more animated with dancing and singing. "We tend to be more stoical in America," he remarked while also stating that it was clear everyone was still worshipping the same God.

Neve said he noticed how more reliant on God the people were for physical things. "We take it for granted, but there they have one Bible to share among three families."

He also shared, "Here we don't wonder where our food is coming from. There, they are seeking out a living to survive."

Ironically, one of the lessons Neve gave to the people was how to give. "I questioned why we were teaching people who have nothing how to give, but we all need to be givers."

Beside the Gospel message, Lokker and Neve helped distribute food, immunizations, and other medications to four villages in Kenya.

They were able to meet the child who the church was sponsoring as well as the elderly women who received goats through the Vacation Bible School Goat Ministry in Greenleafton. For $100, kids donated four goats to women who were, as Neve said, "the poorest of the poor."

Educators from Texas Tech University were also on hand to teach the villagers how to raise crops and take care of their goats. The physical support helped the Kenyans while Lokker and Neve felt spiritually supported in return.

With the Greenleafton congregation praying for them at home, the Kenyans also poured out prayers the likes of which Lokker and Neve had never experienced before. "I had the most amazing 10 minutes of my life underneath a tin roof, sweating in 95 degree heat, as they prayed for America on the Fourth of July."

The people prayed for the country and the church. "When they prayed, it was moving," remarked Lokker. "Spiritually, I was most refreshed there."

The Kenyans' happiness was also infectious. "They are so happy," said Lokker.

The people in Kenya's villages have little, but they are able to smile no matter what. "We in America tend to measure our happiness by what we have. I was impressed with how happy and gracious they were in spite of difficulties," explained Neve.

The 10 days flew by. During a recovery day at the end of their mission, the group went on a safari. In a surreal experience which capped off a surreal mission, they witnessed hundreds of thousands of animals migrating across the plains.

Taking humbling experiences from nature and human interaction, Lokker and Neve found themselves back in southeast Minnesota with a challenge to use their experiences for good.

"I think the greatest impact on a pastoral level was knowing our responsibility to reach people with the Gospel. There is a need here too," Lokker said.

Neve agreed saying the trip helped him understand how missions can be most effective with indigenous people leading.

On a personal level, Lokker said being grateful for what he has was big. "It makes you more aware of the needs out there in third world countries."

Neve said he would like to go again within two years, while recommending others to go. "I think most would have an eye-opening experience," he added.

Lokker admitted the trip took him out of his comfort zone, but ultimately, "We received more than we gave."

Part of that receiving was, as Neve realized, "God opening doors for us."

More of Lokker and Neve's experiences will be shared at the 10 a.m. worship service at the Greenleafton Reformed Church on Sunday, Sept. 1.