0213 Until his nets are full
In 2009, Laura Kelly was happily employed at the Wynfrey Hotel and looking forward to a two-week adventure in Kenya with her brother. She was clueless that a trip she’d chalked up to nothing more than sibling bonding would forever change her.
“My brother and I backpacked for two weeks, then spent a week in Kibera – the second largest slum in the world,” she said, recalling how the experiences and images of that trip stayed with her long after she’d returned. “When I came back to America and to my three bedroom, two bath house, my luxury car and this great corporate job, I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling I had knowing there was such a great need out there, and I was totally living for myself here.”
That notion propelled Kelly to connect with Church of the Highlands, through which she volunteered for mission trips in Ghana and then Niger, respectively in 2010 and 2011.
“I felt called to serve there long term,” said Kelly. “In the short term, you accomplish a lot, but relationships are only taken to a certain level. I felt like we were just putting Band-Aids on a problem.”
Despite her best efforts to ignore the feeling urging her to go, Kelly ultimately answered the call.
“Chief among my reasons not to go was finances,” Kelly said. “I felt very bound here because of the amount of debt I was in, quite honestly. But then, I started thinking, ‘I’m about to be 30. I’m single. Life is not supposed to be work and self, self, self. Maybe I’m single and this age for a reason.’”
And so, Kelly made the bold decision to sell almost every material item in her possession.
“If I owned something worth more than $10, I put it on Craig’s List or eBay,” she said. And so, $10 at a time, she worked herself out of debt.
Through previous mission work connections, Kelly reunited with Suzanne Owens and Allen Nunnelly of Sozo Children, and in March 2012, she boarded a Uganda-bound plane to begin long-term mission work in earnest.
She lives in the first house that Sozo opened, where she interacts as a positive role model for the 24 children, ages four to 16, who live there.
“My primary role is to love on and take care of the kids we have in the house,” she said. “I do everything from wiping runny noses to teaching a women’s Bible study on Wednesday nights in the slum of Kabalagala.”
And it is this that marks the highlight of Kelly’s almost one year of in-field mission work.
“For that first class, we had about 12 ladies show up – they had one Ugandan Bible between them. By the end of summer, we had almost 60 women and men coming each week.”
Through her website, Until His Nets are Full (untilhisnetsarefull.com), Kelly recently raised enough money to gift each of the women in her study with their own Bible in their native language.
“Culturally speaking, it is a fend-for-yourself mindset there,” she said. “To see the ladies form this community, to share their struggles or their successes – just to have a women’s group like that and to watch that trust build was just incredible.”
This past fall, Kelly returned stateside for fundraising and spoke to several groups in the community, including her high school alma mater (she is a 2000 graduate of Hoover High School) and the Hoover Rotary about her work in Uganda.
“It was so cool to tell them that just recently I’d sat right where they were sitting, and that they are not too young to become leaders and make a difference. You can’t tuck tail and quit just because the problem looms large. Even if it’s just one child we are able to rescue, that is a huge thing. These are lives we are forever changing.”