Shane Kingery was a chubby 14-year-old kid from Spring Hill when he first flew overseas to build houses in Iceland.
He was never handy with a hammer but found other talents he could use on later mission trips to the more poverty stricken neighborhoods in Jamaica and Haiti.
Last May, with his nursing degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College and experience working in hospital emergency rooms, Kingery, 26, traveled to the East African country of Kenya on a nine-week missionary internship. If he expected it to be just another mission trip, he was wrong.
He fell in love with Kenya and its people, many of whom lived simple, nomadic lives very different from his own.
This fall, Kingery returns to Kenya on a three-year assignment as part of AfricaHope Kenya's HIV/AIDS outreach in rural areas.
"I've always known that God wanted me for something bigger than just working in a hospital," said Kingery, who works part time at Brooksville Regional so he can devote more time to raising money for his assignment.
As a medical missionary with New Mission Systems International of Fort Myers, Kingery must cover his moving, living and operating expenses for the three years abroad. That's $46,000 to move and $4,400 a month while he's in Kenya.
Over the past few months, he has held fundraising events at local businesses. Last week, he spoke to nursing students at PHCC. Typically, someone hears his story and pledges a modest amount in monthly support. Understandably, some are skeptical. Why should a young person put their life on hold to serve people half a world away when we have our own problems right here?
Why should we care what happens in Kenya?
"It's really about social justice," said Kingery, who added he's undeterred by the recent political violence in Kenya.
Like many of us, Kingery believes it's immoral for people in the richest nation on earth to ignore "the needs of brothers and sisters" in places like Kenya.
And the needs are huge. Kenya is located in sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter for the global AIDS crisis — 72 percent of all AIDS deaths worldwide and two-thirds of all people infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa. One in 20 Kenyans is infected with the virus that causes AIDS, according to the World Health Organization.
Blame poverty and ignorance. Many Kenyans don't understand biology and what causes disease. They view AIDS as a curse without a cure; the stigma is deadly.
As he prepares for his assignment, Kingery will need more than just good intentions and "abstinence only" slogans. He'll have to learn to work in a culture with very different notions of polygamy and promiscuity. He must learn not to judge Kenyans by American standards.
Before he can help Kenyans heal, though, he must gain their trust. That's something he's really looking forward to.
Andrew Skerritt can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.