Back to her roots

Growing up as a child of missionaries, Barbara (Gration) Harbert ’76 never thought that God would someday call her back. “I didn’t want to be a missionary,” she says. “But God, in his very loving and patient way, started turning my heart. It was through learning his heart that I began to understand his heart is for the [whole] world and not just my little corner of it. His heart beats for the world, from Genesis all the way to Revelation.” 

As Harbert’s heart began to open to the possibility of missionary work, she says, “I knew Gordon was the place to continue that journey and grow.” After graduating from Gordon in 1976, Harbert taught in Virginia for three years before joining InterVarsity and the Urbana Missions Conference. After leading a Kenyan team with InterVarsity, Harbert’s focus shifted. Along with her husband she applied to Africa Inland Mission (AIM) and entered a ministry life in Kenya. She returned to the mission field ready to serve, but never expected the change that would happen in her heart.

Harbert became involved in two feeding programs run by a local woman named Josephine Kiarii. She says, “Josephine’s a remarkable woman. She used to work in a government office in adult education, and God laid on her heart that she was to be a shepherd of the sheep, as in [Christ’s command in] 1 Peter [to] feed my sheep.” As a Sunday school teacher Josephine noticed some students seemed listless and needed the energy to participate. “[Josephine] started bringing in a thermos of chai to church every Sunday, and it started the feeding program that eventually started feeding 25 and then 50. Now she feeds about 135 kids every day. So that just started [slow], building and building.”

After many years of building the pandemic hit, and through it Harbert watched Josephine lead sacrificially as she continued to faithfully provide food to those who needed it, now by delivery. “Every week after week she delivered food to the hungry, and people she didn’t know would come and say, ‘Who are you? What is your God? I want to know more about your God.'”

Harbert says, “Josephine pours her life into the vulnerable, and [in turn] she has huge respect from everybody,” she says. “So many people have come to Christ because they watch her serve.” Servant leadership is vital to development that transforms. “One of the big principles of transformational development is understanding that we’re all made in God’s image, and we are to give each other dignity because we are made in God’s image.”

Although she was raised in the mission field and has spent the past 34 years serving in Kenya, Harbert acknowledges that service doesn’t only happen overseas. “I think we all need a mission heart,” she says. “You need to be available to do anything, and it took me a while to get to that point. When you can say yes to God, you know that he will take whatever you [can do] to do big things for him.”