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Courtesy Photo / The Lighthouse Touch of Love School staff sewed dresses for (Left to Right) Ruth Mooney, Tara Packer, and Jeanne Young.

The Lighthouse Ridgecrest: love and warfare in Africa

By LAURA QUEZADA News Review Staff Writer    Tara Packer, Founder of The Lighthouse Ridgecrest, recently returned from a two-month journey to Kenya, Africa. She has lost count of how many times she has been there; it is six or seven times, with another trip planned for April 20. Jeanne Young, her husband Jay, and Ruth Mooney joined her for two weeks.

“I went for Christmas this year, which was spectacular,” says Packer. “This was my first Christmas there, and there was such a difference between being in America and Africa. I feel that in the Western culture, we try to fit an hour into going to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.” She contrasts that with Christmas in Africa. “On Christmas Eve, we were there for six hours, and it was a delight. It was very different for me because I did not receive any tangible physical Christmas gifts, which is part of our culture. But I received the greatest gifts just by being there. The gifts were joy, love, peace, honor. There is so much acceptance. They spoil us in the way they give us their time; they wash our hands before every meal.”

Packer offers another example of the loving gift of time. When she arrived at the airport in Africa, half of the staff from The Lighthouse Touch of Love School were there to greet her. “They drove three hours to surprise me and greet me at the airport. That is no easy task in Kenya. I was shocked, and they had just driven there to welcome me. That was a huge gift and then they drove back. That was one of the priceless gifts.”

This was Young’s third trip to Africa. Her story of love is a bit more graphic. “We were traveling to different churches, and we stopped by this one very poor church that had been broken into several times, and then we were going to travel a really long way to a piece of land. I had decided to use the pit, which is just a hole, which is the toilet. I always put my phone in my little pack, but for some reason, when we were inside the church, there was a lot happening, and I had stuck it in my back pocket. So when I went in to drop my pants, it bounced and it could have bounced anywhere but, no, it bounced and then went in the pit.”

Packer interjects, “She literally said my phone just went in the pit.” “So it had landed flat, so everybody came out was looking at it.” It had landed flat. “They could see it. It hadn’t sunk or anything. It’s not like you can just go to the hardware store and get a grabber to get it out. They had to fashion different things to try to get it out, like a scoop or stick from off the tree, and they found a couple of rusty nails. They were really trying to just scoop it out. Well, what happened was when they when they went to scoop it, it sunk.” Young insisted she didn’t need it. “Please just leave it. It’s okay.”

They had to leave to continue their journey. “As we’re traveling, the pastor kept talking to the pastor that was at that church and was they were still trying to retrieve it and I was begging, ‘Please, I do not want that phone back.’” At ten o’clock that night, Packer received a message that it had been retrieved. “What they had to do was they had to bust open the concrete, then they wrapped a guy in cellophane and lowered him into the pit.” Packer says, “Talk about an act of a gift of love.”

The folks returned it immaculately clean. The phone was in good shape (although Young did replace the screen and case). And add a bit of a miracle, “It works better. And still today, three years later, it is working better than it ever has. I’ve never had one issue with it. Nothing and so I just call it my little miracle phone.” She had been planning to replace it when she returned to Ridgecrest, but it was no longer necessary.

Christians experience spiritual warfare when the enemy (Satan) attempts to thwart them when they are doing God’s work. Prior to Young’s first trip to Africa, she broke her ankle in three places. “I just remember going to the orthopedic and saying, ‘I don’t care what you do, but I’m leaving for Kenya in seven and a half weeks. And so please fix me.’” She would not be derailed.

Young encountered spiritual warfare on her second and third trips to Africa. “We were only there a couple of days, and I slipped when we were going to this place called Thompson Falls, which I didn’t get to go to the first time because of my foot and my ankle. I was so excited. I’m walking down the steps; I think there’s a like 500 steps or something. I get down to about the 10th step. They’re very rickety. I went down 10 steps, slipped and fell and I immediately knew I broke my foot.” She headed back to the hotel. “My foot swelled immediately.” She told herself, “The Enemy is not going to get me. I can do this. I had brought my brace for my ankle from the first time and just wore it on there as long as I could but you know, there are no escalators or elevators in hotels and we’re on the third floor. So I had learned how to go up steps and I learned from the first trip how to maneuver my injury and so I just walked.”

On her third visit, the enemy came via an insect. “I woke up in the middle of the night and could hear a mosquito, which is not so uncommon. He got me twice. I had taken my malaria pills, and I put on the stuff every day (repellant), but I had washed my face, and of course, it got me in a place where I didn’t have any protection. And a couple of days later, I had malaria. And it was the worst thing I’ve ever experienced with uncontrollable shaking. I mean, that was the first thing I could tell. I was really warm, vomiting, diarrhea. It cycled.” Packer recognized the symptoms and immediately acquired medicine and Young was better the next day.  Young says, “This showed me how serious that disease, that parasite is. Because it takes you down, it attacks your entire body. And medication is so easy to get. Tara went to the chemist, which is the pharmacy, got the strong medication, and I was able to take it right away. I could tell a difference by the next day.

“In American money, I think it was $3.50. In Kenyan shillings, it was 550. That $3.50 is nothing for us. 550 shillings for them is everything. They cannot afford it. They can’t afford to go to the doctor. They can’t afford to just walk into any place. It’s so available. So they die.” Before the Lighthouse group left Kenya, they purchased medication for the African pastors to dispense as needed.

As a parting gift, the teachers and staff at the Lighthouse Touch of Love School gave the three women custom-made dresses. “They honor us. They make us a dress every time we come,” said Packer. Locally, The Lighthouse Ridgecrest continues to thrive and serve.