Herald JournalHerald Journal, Feb. 3, 2003

Mission trip reminds Travis Grenke of the 'bigger picture'

By Julie Yurek

Photos serve as a reminder to Travis Grenke, 25, that even on a lousy day, his life is more blessed than the lives of many children in Burkina Faso, Africa.

Grenke recalled a touching moment he shared with a child while on his two-week mission trip to Africa last September.

"There was this one little boy, about six or seven years old, that I met when I arrived. He was with me most of the time I was in the city. We never spoke to each other the whole time I was there; he spoke French, and I didn't.

"Then, the day we were leaving, he hands me a piece of paper with something written in French on it. I took it to the interpreter who said it was an address. This little boy and I had never spoken to each other and yet he gave me his address to write to him," Grenke said.

"I have a picture of him on my desk at work," he said.

"When I look at pictures from the trip, it reminds me of the bigger picture in life," Grenke said.

Burkina Faso is considered a third world country, with extremely harsh living conditions. The temperature usually passes 100 degrees, bugs are everywhere, and clean water is scarce, Grenke said. Travelers even have to bring their own toilet paper, he said.

The trip to Africa was Grenke's first mission trip. He went with eight members of Living Word Christian Center, which is located in Brooklyn Park where Grenke lives. A friend of his told him about the church, and he has been a member for one-and-a-half-years, he said.

Grenke is the son of Lanette Grenke of Lester Prairie and Lyle Grenke of Glencoe. He works in customer service at a company in Brooklyn Park. He is 2001 graduate of the University of Minnesota -Duluth with a degree in exercise science.

Grenke's mission

While in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, and some smaller surrounding villages, group members handed out pamphlets written in French. In it was a prayer, which a person would read to accept Christ into their lives and be saved, Grenke said.

His group saved more than 2,000 people, he said.

The group also handed out stuffed animals, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, and clothes at orphanages, and put on a skit for the children. Many of the children had to be taught how to used a toothbrush, Grenke said.

"It's really sad seeing little kids with only one pair of clothes, but it's twice as hard when you realize they don't have any parent to go home to," he said.

The group also visited a children's hospital, which Grenke describes as poor and overcrowded. "I've seen porta potties that are nicer." he said. "It was hard to see and not get emotional."

The operating room was exposed to the elements. Grenke compared it to an open park shelter. "When the wind blew, the doctor and nurses would lean over the patient to protect the incision from stuff getting in it."

Cleanliness is a hard thing to come by because of contaminated water and a lack of resources, Grenke said.

Bathing was a risky activity. "I had to keep my eyes and mouth closed when I took a shower because the water contained parasites," he said.

Grenke did get ill, but it was after he returned to the United States. He was sick with malaria for about five days, he said. "Malaria was the worst sickness I've ever been cured of. After spending two weeks telling people about Jesus, I spent some time in bed shivering with a fever."

Another mishap of the trip included missing luggage. When the group arrived in Africa after a 24-hour-plus flight, their luggage was missing. All people had were their carry on bags, Grenke said. The luggage did finally show up as the group began their second week in the country.

Grenke and his church members were also able to spend about eight to 10 hours in Paris sight-seeing, Grenke. He spent his 25th birthday going to the top of the Eiffel Tower and going to museums. He saw the Mona Lisa, more than 100 statues, and went to Notre Dame, he said.

"I wouldn't hesitate to move there," Grenke said.

Future trips

The trip to Africa changed Grenke in many ways, he said. He was frustrated with the inability to communicate freely with the African people, especially his new friend, the little boy, he said. "There was only one interpreter for the whole group, so a lot of my questions to the people went unanswered."

"It motivated me to learn more languages. I'm learning French and sign language right now," he said.

Even after the bout with malaria, Grenke intends to return to Africa and also explore other areas of the world. Mission trips from Living Word Christian Center have gone to Ecuador, Mexico, Chile, Russia, China, Peru, and India, he said.

He wants to try Kenya or Tanzania where he'll have a chance to see lions, giraffes, hippos, and other exotic wildlife, he said.

There is an opportunity for Grenke to go to either South Africa or the Congo sometime in the near future, but he needs to pray on it to see where he should go next, he said. "I also hope to visit Burkina Faso again."

Burkina Faso is Grenke's second trip abroad. He spent a semester in Australia while he was at college.

"I encourage everyone to do some traveling to change their perspective on life," Grenke said.

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