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Rescue mission: 22 men, women, teenagers will journey to Kenya

After three weeks this summer in some of the most desperate conditions on Earth, Bob Quall expects 22 Merced area residents to return home with an entirely different global perspective and a renewed vision for their own lives.

The 68-year-old retired Superior Court judge will be going to Kenya for the tenth time June 12 to July 4, heading up a medical mission which also includes building a nursing school, an orphanage, finishing a hospital and developing two fresh-water wells in the hard-scrabble East African country 9,500 miles from Merced.

While Quall has seen the overwhelming poverty and disease prevalent in the Suna-Migori region of Kenya many times, he's enthusiastic about once again making a difference in other people's lives. He also looks forward to witnessing the profound changes that will take place in his soulmates.

"It's a life-changing experience for everyone who goes -- how they see themselves in the big picture," Quall said. "Hundreds of people are alive today who wouldn't be if we hadn't gone and they lead much better lives."

Kenya is in the midst of protracted violence over a disputed presidential election that has seen more than 1,000 deaths and 300,000 people made homeless since late December. But if the Merced group waited for conditions to stabilize in Kenya, they would never go, Quall said.

Betty Gnass went to Kenya in 2002 and said life there is "really, really basic or below basic." It can't be imagined until it is experienced, the retired medical laboratory scientist said.

This time her husband, attorney Bill Gnass, will be going, along with their grandson, 14-year-old Cody Schisnewski, the youngest of the Merced entourage.

Bill Gnass jokes he can count pills, carry luggage or do whatever he is told to do. Volunteers with the Migori Maasai Africa Medical Mission team -- as it's officially titled -- are expected to treat more than 10,000 Kenyans suffering from malaria, typhoid fever, hepatitis, scabies and other common illnesses. Some even have that widespread American malady, high blood pressure.

Quall said 85 percent of the 60,000 people who live in Migori are unemployed. Over half don't have shoes, and many will travel 10 miles on foot for the medical clinics. Chronic illness, much of it attributed to unsanitary conditions, casts a pall over daily living, and malaria is a constant fact of life.

Despite these conditions, Quall said, Kenyans display an upbeat attitude, and everybody has a smiling face. He corresponds on almost a daily basis with 10 people from Kenya, including Bishop Titus Opunga, who has visited Merced churches several times in recent years.

"People should go at least once," Quall advised. "It changes your whole world view. I figured out what's important in life and it's not material possessions. Our mission is to take people from the United States to a Third World country. We spread the Gospel of Christ, and our first mission is to help reduce suffering."

Quall said Kenya's government is totally corrupt and the money never trickles down to the remote villages where it's needed. The government has never eradicated mosquitoes, which helps explain why malaria remains ever-prevalent.

Quall said the Kenyans seem relatively happy and satisfied despite having few material possessions. Their situation makes Americans "look at stuff differently," Quall said.

Without exception, Quall said, members of Merced's group will look back on their trip as a positive experience, even if they encounter troubles along the way.

While it's a Christian mission, Quall said non-believers and anyone who wants to go are welcome.

Vicki Strickland, a retired dairywoman and amateur photographer, went on an African safari in 2005, but her biggest disappointment was not getting to meet the people. This time she will have ample opportunity to learn the culture and hopes to represent Christ by caring and doing something for the Kenyan people.

"Jesus healed the sick and touched the people," Strickland said. "I hope we can help them feel Jesus physically, and not just mentally."

Her 17-year-old daughter Katie will accompany her this time and has never been on a mission trip. A number of her friends have been on missions, and she sponsored an African child through World Vision. She hopes to work with children while in Kenya.

Derek Price, a U.S. history teacher at Golden Valley High School, will be going to Kenya for the fifth time and expects to work in the medical clinics as well as interact with children. He contracted malaria during one of his previous visits to Kenya.

"I've been in remote villages where the people have never seen white people their whole lives," Price said. "I will do what they need me to do."

Kenya has the strongest democratic system on the continent and Price said the people are committed to representative government. He is confident this summer's trip should work out.

"I trust God will take us where we need to be," he said.

Price's wife Sarah will be going to Kenya for the first time. "I am looking forward to working with kids, experiencing something I've never experienced before in life and helping people who are much less fortunate than we are. It's definitely intimidating; I don't know what to expect."

It takes 19 hours' flying time to reach Kenya and four days to reach the Migori area, in bush country "about as far back as you can go," Quall said.

Twelve people from Yakima, Wash., will accompany the Merced group. Quall said completing two fresh-water wells will be a critical task this year and help reverse some of the recurring illnesses Kenyans experience.

Merced College student Jason Hague, 19, will be going to Kenya for the first time. Last year, he went on a two-week medical mission to Nicaragua and hopes to interact with Kenyan youth. Some Nicaraguans, who live on a dollar or two a day, were very appreciative of everything they have.

Rob Strickland, also a Golden Valley U.S. history teacher, is going to Kenya with his wife and daughter. He said it's a way to serve Christ in a tangible way and a good chance to spend quality time with his family and other people.

"I look forward to a chance to serve and see a different part of the world I'm not familiar with," Strickland said.

Like her husband, Sheila Quall has been to Kenya nine times. She said the people there look out for the well-being of their American visitors. A Fremont Charter School resource specialist, Sheila said she enjoys interacting with people there and seeing the small difference they can make in their lives.

She said Kenyans are trilingual, speaking fluent English, Swahili and tribal languages. They sing constantly and end up ministering to the visiting missionaries, too.

Retired teacher Wayne Hague said this will be his first visit to Africa and he's not sure what he will do there. "I'm going because Christ called me to go. This is my calling," Hague said.

Many of those going to Kenya are members of Merced's Central Presbyterian Church. The church is sponsoring a fundraising dinner at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Hoffmeister Center. Money raised from the $10 tri-tip tickets will be used to buy medicine, help build buildings and defray travel expenses, Quall said.

Quall said he would head the local team back to Kenya as long as he can.

"I feel it's my responsibility. I'm excited that other people are going," he said.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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