February 21, 2019

The nuts and bolts of opening doors in Nairobi

Written by  Joyce Maxwell
Bud and Shari Yordy relax on the grounds of Amani Gardens Inn where they are serving as host and hostess on a short-term EMM assignment. Photos by the author, unless noted otherwise. Bud and Shari Yordy relax on the grounds of Amani Gardens Inn where they are serving as host and hostess on a short-term EMM assignment. Photos by the author, unless noted otherwise.

NAIROBI, Kenya — A little more than a decade and a half ago, Bud and Shari Yordy owned and ran a hardware store in central Illinois. Responding to an urging they felt came from God, they started to actively seek out volunteer opportunities.

Eventually, they took what amounted to early retirement and, in their late 50s, started on a winding journey of service that led first to Pennsylvania, and then to Virginia, Cambodia,  Kentucky, Cambodia again, and now to Nairobi. During this time period, the Yordys spent 9 years working with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

Currently, Bud and Shari Yordy are serving in Nairobi, Kenya, as short-term workers with Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM). Relaxing on a shady patio at Amani Gardens Inn, they recently reflected on what brought them here as hosts.

In 2018, they found this opportunity through Anabaptist Service Opportunities (ASO) Portal, ASOPortal.org. This website lists short-term, international service opportunities from both EMM and MCC that are well-suited for older adults (55+) with seasoned, professional skills or years of life experience.

The website, which began in 2017, is a collaborative effort of the two organizations to help interested older adults easily identify service opportunities.

While the Yordys say they have been stretched in many ways and have developed talents they never knew they had, the skills they honed and knowledge they accumulated from managing a thriving business also come in handy on this assignment.

For example, on one of their first days, while being shown around the guesthouse buildings, they came across a shed bursting with unorganized paraphernalia. It looked like a job that needed to be done.

“Having operated a hardware store for many years, we actually knew what most of the stuff was,” said Shari. “We spent two weeks cleaning out that shop of tools and nuts and bolts and plumbing and electrical and all sorts of maintenance kinds of things ... I would sit outside in a chair at a makeshift table and sort different sizes of screws ... this is something you fix a lamp with; this is something you use for plumbing ...”

The sorting area bordered a busy pathway traversed by staff who would stop to see what the new hosts were up to. “It gave interesting opportunities ... to chitchat and talk because they were very curious about what we were doing,” said Shari.

As host and hostess at the inn — typically a respite point for weary travelers, families and church workers — their work commonly includes providing a listening ear and an encouraging word for guests.

They regularly intermingle with guests at the traditional morning and afternoon teatimes, meeting wonderful people and hearing delightful stories.

Some guests include: an Irish couple educating girls and teaching young men Land Rover repairs, one American woman who has lived through two civil wars on the continent, another American woman is a nurse for South Sudanese students, a team of architects building a hospital equipped for heart surgery, a Finnish couple fostering a boy undergoing surgery for hydrocephaly, and many others “serving God in very challenging circumstances.”

They were excited to talk about how those early two weeks working in the hardware shed added a meaningful and totally unexpected layer to their experience. It allowed them to offer service in concrete ways and to connect with guesthouse staff.

Sorting nuts and bolts imparted a message: “We can get our hands dirty; we can do the things that aren’t the most pleasant tasks. [Sorting hardware] just made, I think, a better rapport than if we were only interacting with guests. That’s how it feels,” said Shari.

As a consequence, they have gotten to know the staff more easily. “We’ve had opportunity to pray with staff about things happening in their lives personally,” she added. “[It’s] a different sort of ministry ... than we would have imagined. It opened some doors.”