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Enriching mission: Frankfort Square couple aid poor in Africa

Keith Wallace (front left) is pictured outside John's general store Africwith other missimembers including his wife MarquitWallace.  |

Keith Wallace (front, left) is pictured outside John's general store in Africa with other mission members, including his wife, Marquita Wallace. | Supplied photo

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Updated: July 21, 2014 2:21PM



A recent mission trip to Africa was as “life-changing” for Frankfort Square residents Keith and Marquita Wallace as for those they went to help.

“It truly was,” Marquita, 36, said. “When people ask, ‘How was Africa?’ I say. ‘Amazing,’ but ‘amazing’ is not a big enough word to describe it.”

Marquita traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, as a result of her husband’s mission trip in 2013 with other members of Parkview Christian Church in Orland Park who partnered with Mission of Hope International through the Christian Ministry Foundation.

The experience left an indelible mark on Keith that he wanted to share with his wife on a return visit.

The role for Keith last year in the 100-person group was to help bring adaptive sports to disabled persons in the Mathare Valley of Nairobi, an impoverished area where nearly 1 million people live within one square mile, according to some estimates.

“I do like to say this is my ministry. When I bring people ... the awareness of adaptive sports, that is my mission. That’s what God put me on this earth to do,” Keith said.

Keith headed up a smaller team of 14 people whose 2014 mission focused entirely on special needs.

His career as the executive director of the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association and as that organization’s former superintendent of recreation meant he knew how to put together and implement a program, but the emotional journey Keith experienced went far beyond programming for him.

Keith met disabled children and adults who were shut-ins, often in a 10-foot-by-10-foot apartment space, because of the cultural stigma that goes with being disabled. The courage and spirit of many of those people made a profound impression on him, and Keith was determined to help, especially after meeting several unforgettable individuals.

There was 37-year-old John, who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident and was unable to work to support his wife Margaret and their two children. When Keith met John in 2013, his family lived in a small room on the lowest level of the Mathare Valley. Margaret worked two jobs to make ends meet, and John’s dream was to own a small store at the higher level so he could support his family.

Keith, 37, a family man with a wife and three children — Isaiah, 13; Iriana, 10; and Indiah, 6 — understood John’s desire.

“He wanted to feel like a man. He wanted to be able to support his family and he couldn’t because he was stuck in the house,” Keith said. “The goal was to try to empower him or to move him to higher ground.”

Keith admitted that in 2013 he “broke down because I couldn’t see hope for him.” Keith said he knew John couldn’t access resources available to him because of his disability and lack of funds.

The 2013 mission team collected $200 for John, not knowing how or if it could help.

John ran with his opportunity.

This year, the team found John had become a prosperous businessman in one short year, running a fully stocked street store at a higher level of Mathare Valley, with much larger living quarters attached for the family and big dreams to own a mall in the future.

The team was astounded by what John had accomplished with so little.

“We don’t want to give anyone anything,” Keith said. “We want to empower people.”

A second success story involved 13-year-old Vincent, a boy with an undiagnosed condition which caused one leg to swell inexplicably and prevented him from walking. Vincent was mostly confined to his home since dropping out of school in third grade. To make matters worse, the only recommended course of treatment is amputation, another cultural stigma that Vincent did not want to face.

“In his culture, individuals that have amputations don’t have a great life,” Keith said. “So that was his hesitation.”

In 2013, Vincent refused amputation despite the urging of others, but during the team’s 2014 visit, Vincent asked to speak to Keith alone. Keith said Vincent “opened up and said he’s ready” for the operation.

“That will be our next project,” Keith said. “It’s going to be my mission.”

Time spent with the larger community was also rewarding, the Wallaces said.

Whenever team members visited an individual, others would remain outside in the communities of the Valley and conduct recreation programs, which drew hundreds of children. Because the team found the children especially receptive to music, music therapist and team member Amy Wilson, of New Lenox, would sing and play music, creating “a spontaneous group action.”

Marquita said adults would come out onto the balconies of their apartments and watch.

“In one community when we finished singing with the kids, the adults on the balcony began singing for us,” Marquita said. “You couldn’t help but be moved because it was almost as if they were somehow saying, ‘Thank you for loving on our kids.’ ”

Children were always at the center of the mission.

Marquita said her first “heartbreaking moment” when arriving at Mathare Valley was seeing children playing in dirt streets with no greenery for them anywhere. But even the poverty taught a rich lesson, she said.

“It could have been so easy to find a place of pity for the people we met in the valley, but I was quickly pulled away from that because they didn’t pity themselves,” Marquita said. “It was such a spirit of gratitude. Even with the lack of material possessions, their spirits were so rich that you couldn’t stay in a place of sadness for too long.”



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