For the first time in its 29-year existence, Ultimate Workout, Maranatha Volunteers International’s annual mission trip for high schoolers, made its first appearance on the African continent in Kenya. From July 10-22, 111 teen and staff volunteers served at the Kiutine Adventist School, near Meru, to build a new dormitory and classroom. 

The secondary school, which has 230 students, has long needed help in improving its campus. The classrooms are old. The dormitories have dirt floors, which turn to mud in the rainy season, and gaps in the walls, which allow animals and bugs inside. The bathrooms are primitive, with a muddy outdoor space for bucket showers. Meals are prepared over an open smokey fire, in a poorly ventilated shack. Without a dining hall, students have to eat outside, where wind is constantly blowing dust onto their food.

Students say the conditions made it difficult to thrive academically. ‘Bed bugs in the beds, it was challenging at night,’ said Teddy Charles, a student at the school. ‘It was hard to wake up in the morning and go to class when you have not slept well at night.’

Seventh-day Adventist Church leadership in Kenya approached Maranatha for help, and in 2018, Maranatha agreed to a plan that included the addition of new dorms, bathrooms, a kitchen, a cafeteria, and classrooms.

On this project, Ultimate Workout participants helped construct a second boys dorm and a new classroom. The new space has a concrete floor, glass windows, and a metal roof. Volunteers also moved in new bunk beds and bedding. The contrast between the old and the new facilities made quite an impact on the visiting teenagers. ‘It humbles me,’ said 16-year-old Shanti Slater of California. ‘It makes me feel like a spoiled brat. We’re very fortunate in America, and we take for granted what we have.’ 

Volunteers also served in the local community through children’s programs, outreach, and medical clinics. The free medical clinics served more than 2,150 patients, providing basic health care, reading glasses, medicine, food, dental education, and prayer. Teen volunteers worked alongside adult health professionals, getting valuable health care experience.

‘We hope the experience will inspire them to medical missions and a relationship with Jesus,’ said medical clinic coordinator, Joseph Osborn.

A unique component of this year’s Ultimate Workout was the wide array of cultural experiences the volunteers absorbed in Kenya. Teens worshipped with Samburu tribe congregations on the first Sabbath, visited local markets, and went on a safari in Meru National Park. They also interacted with the Kiutine students each day, coming together for joint worships, soccer games, a talent show, and a special Sabbath meal.

‘They’re really friendly,’ said Slater. ‘They smile a lot, they’re genuine, they want to know who you are. They’re really respectful and listen well. They’re good people.’

On the final Sabbath, 37 people were baptized, including Kiutine students and 26 Ultimate Workout volunteers. It culminated a transformative missions experience that left volunteers changed. ‘Everyone should have this experience,’ said 16-year old Elise Hall of Texas, who was baptized on Sabbath. ‘Before I came here, I was kind of nervous. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I will be able to make friends. I don’t know how it’s going to be.’ But I feel like everyone should be able to get out of their comfort zone and be put into a place you’re not familiar with, with people you’re not familiar with, and just learn to adapt and love and grow with people you don’t know. It’s probably the best thing that has ever happened in my life.’ 

Each year, Maranatha Volunteers International offers Ultimate Workout as an annual mission trip designed for high school teenagers. Nearly 4,000 volunteers have participated since 1990. Each project allows teenagers to experience service in construction, community outreach, and spiritual engagement.