Ben Bahati of Africa, speaking in broken English, told students in art classes at Vilonia Junior High, last week that he was born on a floor of a mud house in Kenya in the "village of misfortunes."
His mother had eight children and he is number four among his siblings. His mother, he said, used to sell "local brew," that is referred to as moonshine in the United States to pay for her children to attend school. To do so is illegal, he said, and she was arrested and sent to jail. At the age of 9, he said, he was "on the streets."
"I hated poverty when I was young," he added. "I always said, ‘If I grow up, I don’t want other children to live like I did.’"
The brightly clad missionary spent the biggest part of an hour Wednesday comparing the life in Africa with life in the U.S. Motioning to the boots on his feet, he said, most children in Africa do not have shoes.
"I put on shoes (for the first time) when I was 20 and now I’m 49," he said.
A missionary to Africa, he said, changed his life. That missionary not only introduced him to Christianity but also paid his fees allowing him to continue his education and eventually become a mechanic. In 1989, he gave up his job and established Global Field Evangelism and began preaching.
He told students a humorous story about marrying his wife Mary "on the installment plan" in 1993. At the time, he said, he had nothing but his Bible and they were from different tribes. Her extended family and tribe were hesitant to approve the marriage when they learned he didn’t have a dowry of 100 goats as requested.
Now, he and his wife have three daughters. They have also "planted" more than 70 churches and established four orphanages and six schools.
"We not only teach but feed many children every day," he added. Many of the children in the orphanages, he said, have no parents and were found surviving on the streets eating whatever they could find including weeds.
Arriving in Vilonia last week, Bahati is a guest in the home of Greg Hogan, art teacher at the junior high. Hogan met Bahati about eight years ago. He was also Bahati’s guest during the summer when he traveled to Africa.
"He’s an amazing man," Hogan offered.
Bahati shared his shock when he first came to the United States and was introduced to "luxuries," such as washers, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, microwaves and vacuum cleaners.
"These are miracles to us," he said, a grin on his face. A majority of African families, he said, live in poverty. In the slums, he said, a couple with seven or eight children may live in a 10 by 10 feet mud house. Most sleep on the floor and the kitchen consists of a hotplate. Many, he said, work for $3 to $4 per day.
Education there, he said, includes eight years of primary school, four years of high school and four years of college. Students wear uniforms to school; there are no school buses and many walk two or more hours both to school, arriving before 7:30 a.m. and leaving at 4 p.m., to go back to their houses. Supplies are limited. Some children, he said, use a stick for a pencil and write in the sand.
On the flip side, he said, his country has beautiful scenery with many wild and dangerous animals. One student inquired about hunting.
"There, guns are illegal," he said. "Only the police or robbers have guns."
He invited the students to visit his country saying one of the orphanages has electricity and "good toilets."
A class project, the Vilonia art students are making more than 100 pieces of artwork for him to take back to Kenya with him which will be displayed on the walls in the orphanages. The Vilonia students also plan to have an art show open to the public, Hogan said, where they will sell their work and send the proceeds to Bahati to go to school supplies and uniforms for the students in the orphanages.