Proud to be “Kayla’s Daddy”

During a recent trip to Africa, I had the privilege of following in my daughter’s footsteps, often being introduced as “Kayla’s Daddy.”

Kayla and Rick Shallenberger under umbrellas
Kayla teaching children outside
Kayla with a small group and a computer
Kayla at the Naminjale property
Kayla teaching a group sitting on the floor
Kayla with three children at the orphanage

It started the day after I arrived. I was standing in front of almost 400 primary students. When the Director of the school introduced me as Kayla’s Daddy, the children cheered. I felt an immediate bond with them because they knew and loved my daughter. I looked at my daughter and my heart swelled with pride. It was the first of many “heart swellings” that would occur during my two-week visit to Africa.

Kayla and a friend, Carrie Smith, have spent the past five months teaching at a private school in Blantyre, Malawi. I was able to watch my daughter teach her class of 67 (yes, you read that correctly – 67) students and my heart swelled with pride at her professionalism and the way she handled the class, which was almost three times the size of a normal class in the US. My heart swelled with pride again at church when Kayla and two other women sang special music in Chichewa, the national language of Malawi. And again as I watched Kayla and her friend join the women’s choir, singing and dancing for special music.

My heart continued to swell whenever I watched Kayla take small groups of children who were behind in their lessons, and give them personal attention.  And again, as I watched the children swarm around my daughter, as she sang them songs and played games.

On more than one occasion I felt God prompting me, “This is how I often feel about my children. This is how I often feel about you.” It was (and is) a very good feeling. I was watching my daughter do what she is gifted to do—teach and love children. I was reminded that God often feels the same Fatherly pride when he watches us use the gifts he gave us to share his love with others.

Kayla has desired to go to Africa since she was a young girl. She had read a few articles in National Geographic about the special needs of the children in several African countries and she determined then and there to go to Africa and make a difference. She put several pictures on her bedroom wall to keep her dream in her heart and mind. Through her teen years she decided her life goal was to make a positive difference in the lives of others, and she has been doing just that for a number of years through music, teaching, drama and using her God-given gifts to love others.

Kayla’s first real opportunity to go to Africa came during her junior year of University. I was asked to put together a proposal to send two women to teach at Young Ambassadors Private Primary School (YAPPS). When I first mentioned it to Kayla, who was in the third year of her Elementary Education degree program, she jumped at the opportunity. She went with two other women, Carrie Smith from Pittsburgh, PA, and Alberta Gibbs from England.

It took only a couple days for Kayla to fall in love with Africa and with the children she was there to teach. The children would swarm Kayla and Carrie, playing with their soft hair, begging for their hugs and asking them to play games with them and teach them songs. Kayla spent much of her free time hanging out with the children and planning more and more ways to reach them. Kayla and Carrie were affectionately referred to as the two azungas (white people).

During that seven weeks, Kayla kept asking God “Why am I here? What can I do to make a difference?” and God kept responding through the children, through the members at the churches she visited, and through the school officials. Here’s a comment from her blog:

“Word has been spreading rapidly that Young Ambassadors has teachers from America and the UK.… Only one other primary school in Blantyre (which is the 2nd largest city in Malawi) has “azungas” (white people) teaching, so now Young Ambassadors’ reputation is 1 of the top 2 schools in the district! How amazing is that?! I finally understand why they told us that they need us here and why they think it’s a blessing that we’re here. We truly are making a difference!”

The two weeks I spent with my daughter made up one of the greatest highlights of my life. I was able to watch my child share her gifts and her love with the children, staff and church members in Malawi. Watching her filled me with love and pride. I know now that God was giving me just a glimpse of what he feels when he sees us, his children, use our talents and gifts to share his love and his life with others.

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