From the April 2012 magazine.

April 2012: Delivering Big Books to Kenya

A doctor discovers joy helping alcoholics in Africa

A good friend of mine in AA tells the story of how, when faced with the prospect of surrendering his will and his life to the care of God, he was afraid God would ask him to give away all his possessions and move to Africa to be a missionary. The first time I heard him tell his story, I identified with his thinking—I had had that exact fear when taking the Third Step. I worried that God would choose for me some life of great sacrifice, one in which I would be resigned to quiet misery. God, it appears, is not without a sense of humor.

I got sober in August 1994, during the orientation week at my medical school. I was 23, full of arrogance and self-pity, and was motivated only to ease my own internal suffering. Thankfully, through God’s grace, good sponsorship and lots of Step work, I stayed sober and completed my degree. During my residency, I had the opportunity to volunteer in the Amazon jungle in Peru, delivering care to local villagers. Still largely motivated by self, I imagined an amazing vacation with some volunteering in the clinic to justify my presence there. I have found in sobriety that God uses my defects to lead me to where I can be useful. I was surprised to discover that the moments I enjoyed most involved interacting with and helping the local people, whether in the clinic, at meals, or watching the pick-up soccer games that were the highlight of the social calendar of the village. The seed was planted—I wanted to pursue more opportunities to bring free medical care abroad.

Due, at first, to financial constraints, and subsequently a life becoming more and more centered on selfish pursuits, my desire to repeat my experience in the Amazon remained unfulfilled. I reached another bottom in sobriety, nine years away from my last drink. At some point I had made the decision to devote my energy toward finding a relationship that would “complete me” in lieu of service work, Step work and regular meeting attendance. Spiritual and emotional pain are wonderful motivators: As my 18-month-old marriage crumbled, I crawled back to AA, and under the direction of a friend (the same friend mentioned earlier in this story), launched into vigorous action on the Twelve Steps. The effect was nearly immediate, and after cleaning up the wrongs I had done others, I commenced to work with newcomers. The Ninth and Tenth Step Promises materialized in my life. In the face of the “certain trials and low spots” in life, I was able to see them as opportunities for spiritual growth rather than excuses for wallowing in self-pity. I began to imagine, and talk openly about, resuming my passion for medical mission work, but took no action.

One day, I was talking with a social worker at one of the hospitals I work in, and she was recounting her adventures in Africa doing mission work. I mentioned my desire to resume medical volunteer work, and she proposed a trip to Africa to deliver care to areas where access to medical care was limited. I found myself in Tanzania nine months later with a team of eight others, and we delivered care and medicine to 750 people in one week. While on the trip, I met the bishop who was coordinating our trip from the African side, and one night I shared the story of my recovery from alcoholism with him and his wife. They were moved and asked me to return to their home country of Kenya to share my experience. Six months later, I returned to Africa.

The week-long trip involved scouting sites and making contacts for another medical trip. While there, I was asked to share my recovery experience with some men from the bishop’s church. Afterward, many shared with me the huge scope of the problem of alcoholism in Kenya, and asked me to help. On returning home, I was introduced to a fellow AA who had been to Kenya, and was returning in a few months. I shared with her a vision of bringing copies of the Big Book in Swahili, and when she departed, she took a dozen copies with her and started a meeting in the town of Njabini where she was staying.

The following spring, I helped lead a team of 19 people to Nairobi to put on a free medical camp for two weeks. With such a large group, we were able to serve 2000 people with free care and medicine. I had broken my anonymity to the group prior to the trip—I was bringing 60 copies of the Swahili Big Book, and since they weighed two pounds each, I needed help transporting them to Africa. During the medical camp, I noticed that I was seeing a significant number of men who couldn’t stop drinking, and they wanted help. I provided them with copies of the Swahili Big Book and the Kenya AA website. One night at dinner, I was sharing my excitement over this opportunity with some of the team members, and they smiled and laughed. I asked what was funny. They admitted they had been screening for alcoholism and sending potential candidates in my direction. I was, and still am, deeply touched that these individuals, who have no direct experience with alcoholism, would jump in of their own accord and help afflicted alcoholics.

I stayed on in Africa an extra week after the team departed, with the hope of carrying AA’s message in Kenya. I made contact with the Nairobi intergroup and donated 24 Big Books. My bishop friend had me share my experience with two groups of men in his town. I had the opportunity to visit the group started in Njabini by my friend from home and drop off some Big Books. Two men had remained sober since the meeting had started. Because of the local outreach work he does through his church, my bishop friend has close contact with the officer in charge at the Naivasha Maximum Security Prison. He arranged for an appointment with the man, and I briefly shared my story with him, explained the physical allergy and the mental obsession, and alluded to the spiritual solution contained in our basic text. He had never heard of AA. I gave him 12 copies of the Swahili Big Book for the prison library. He was very excited about the hope our program offers and asked that I return to speak with his guards. I admit that my ego was bruised; I had imagined speaking to the 3000 prisoners, but as usual, God had a plan, and it was far better than my own.

Two days later, I shared my story with 350 guards from the largest maximum security prison in Kenya. None had ever heard of Alcoholics Anonymous. I donated another dozen Big Books and answered questions. Before leaving, I passed the contact information for intergroup in Nairobi on to the officer in charge, so that he could arrange to have an AA meeting brought into the prison. When I phoned my contact in Nairobi, he was excited and jumped at the chance to bring a meeting in, despite the hour-long drive each way. Before leaving Naivasha, I left my last two copies of the Swahili Big Book in the local library.

I am already planning my next trip to Kenya and just received 54 Swahili Big Books from my district literature chair yesterday. I can’t wait to see the ways God will use me as his instrument. My fear of living a life resigned to quiet misery was unfounded. Never before have I known such joy and purpose, and I owe it all to AA. “Whenever anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there, and for that: I am responsible.”

-- Mike S.

Clifton Park, New York

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