CHEER UP MISSIONS
By Teena Myers
Kenneth Landriault questioned the spiritual path he choose when Jesus repeatedly interrupted his yoga meditations. He sold all his possessions and departed on a trip around the world in a quest to find the truth. His journey ended a mere 125 miles from home when he encountered Christians on a college campus and experienced a spiritual rebirth. Ken abandoned his trip and volunteered to work at a Christian rehabilitation center for addicts. While working at the center, Ken learned missionaries in Puerto Rico needed help evangelizing in the prisons.
Ken traveled to Puerto Rico, where he worked at the mission school during the day and evangelized during his free time. During his time in Puerto Rico, he discovered a love for teaching and read extensively about education. The following year, the missionaries suggested Ken apply for a home-schooling job with a group of musicians. The group of fifty-six musicians were in Puerto Rico recording Musica Con Sentido (Music With Meaning). They were on the way to Peru to record authentic Latin American music and needed a tutor for their twenty-six children.
“I loved teaching their children,” said Ken. When the job ended, I obtained a position at a school sponsored by Alejandro. In Peru, the people are extremely poor or extremely wealthy. Alejandro was extremely wealthy. God used him to change the course of my life.”
After watching Ken play games with students that taught them taught math and spelling, Alejandro approached Ken with an odd request. “I’d like you to run my kid’s Birthday party.”
Birthday parties are a significant event in Peru often including clowns, magicians and bands. Ken had confidence in his ability to teach but was not sure about performing. “What do you want me to do?”
“Just do those games I see you playing with the kids.”
Two weeks before the party, Alejandro approached Ken again. “Did I fail to mention that I want you to come as a clown?”
“Yes, you did,” said Ken. “I’ve never been a clown. I don’t think I can do that.”
“Ken, with God all things are possible.” Alejandro scribbled on a card. “This is the address to my seamstress. She will make you a costume.”
Ken reluctantly took the card. “What am I suppose to do as a clown?”
“You are a smart man. You will figure it out,” said Alejandro as he walked away.
Ken had his costume, but he spoke limited Spanish and did not have clown make-up. His girlfriend solved the make-up problem with a tube of Desitin Diaper Rash Cream and her red lipstick. Ken covered his face with the bright white cream, accented his lips and eyes with the lipstick and presented himself to Alejandro for approval.
“I don’t want your first performance to be at my birthday party,” said Alejandro. “You can practice at a Christmas party for an orphanage I sponsor first.”
Ken walked onto the stage at the orphanage with his Desitin covered face and heard kids shout, “You are the ugliest clown in the world.” Taken back by that first comment, Ken realized he had a “fight on his hands” to win their affections. With enthusiasm and some hilarious “monkey business”, Ken won their hearts.
Satisfied with Ken’s performance Alejandro scheduled his daughter’s birthday party. The parents loved Ken as much as their children did and gathered around him after the party.
“Do you have a business card,” said one of the women.
“No, I don’t do this,” said Ken.
“But you were great,” said another woman. “I would hire you for my party.”
“I don’t do this,” Ken repeated. “I’m a teacher, not a clown.”
“I will pay you $100 an hour.”
“I was way out in the jungles of Peru where people made $80 a month,” said Ken. “I could do one party a month and live comfortably. The offer was too good to turn down.”
Ajehando’s party created a lucrative side business for Ken. To meet the commitments of his flourishing side business he partnered with David, a teacher from the school. David witnessed an impressive performance by a magician at a small circus in the jungle. Believing magic would add another venue to make money, he asked the magician if he gave magic lessons. “Yes, bring $100 and a lot of alcohol,” said the magician.
Ken and David arrived at the magician home as excited as two kids attending their first Saints game to discover the magician was drunk. They politely sat in the living room for their first lesson. The magician instructed Ken to cut a piece of rope in half. He then took the rope from Ken and tied it together. “Just like God heals us, I’m going to heal this rope,” said the magician. He wrapped the rope around his hand and blew on it. “You are healed.” The magician unwrapped the rope from his hand; it was still knotted together. Ken frowned at his partner, disappointed by the performance.
“I’m sorry,” said the magician. “I didn’t say the right words. Give me another chance. “In Jesus name you are healed.” This time the rope was whole. Missing the trick was part of the magicians act, but he did it so well Ken and David thought they had been duped.
Ken, the blue-eyed gringo clown who did magic became a phenomenon. He traveled all over South America performing for corporations and making commercials. His new career enabled him to pursue his first love – missionary work. He often visited hospitals in deplorable conditions. The sick slept on the floor. Children lay on tattered blood- stained sheets. The laughter his “clown antics” produced made him glad. He prayed for all who gave him permission but often left the hospital wishing he could help them in a physical way.
An encounter with a printer in Russia set in motion a series of events that fulfilled Ken’s desire. He was smuggling Bibles into Russia in the mid 1980’s when he met Jairo, who printed gospel tracts in Asian languages. Ken worked with him for a season spreading the gospel in communist countries. After the Berlin Wall fell, Jairo and his wife, Anna, moved to New Orleans.
Anna was in the audience when Ken came to New Orleans to perform at Hope Haven Manor, a home for vulnerable children. She observed that clowning and magic were an effective way to spread the gospel, and asked to Ken to teach her and a group of friends. Halfway through their instruction Hurricane Mitch destroyed Honduras. Anna made plans to encourage the people of Honduras with their newly acquired clowning skills. Ken was scheduled to return to Bosnia, so he referred Anna to Patrick Ferrell, his long-time associate and friend, to assist them with the Honduras mission trip.
During an appointment at Children’s Hospital, Anna’s son told the staff his mother had become a clown and was going to help the people of Honduras. A nun working at the hospital learned of Anna’s trip and gave her medical supplies. Doctors added to the gift, and Anna soon had forty-eight duffel bags full of supplies.
Anna and Patrick decided to delay the trip to Honduras until Ken returned from Bosnia. During this time, medical supplies continued to pour in. Duffel bags of medical supplies grew into truckloads of supplies. They lacked the finances to pay for shipping, so Anna called the airlines. They agreed to waive the shipping cost for 300 pounds.
Ken, Anna, and Patrick arrived at the New Orleans International airport to learn Anna’s estimated 300 pounds was 2700 pounds short of the actual shipping weight. A flurry of negotiations later, an airline official decided the flight could handle the extra weight.
The missionaries and their supplies boarded the airplane for an uncertain destination. No one had responded to the messages Anna sent to government officials before they departed. A secretary greeted the missionaries as they exited the plane. The secretary had a van and list of orphanages and hospitals in need of their help. Mary Flake de Flores, the First Lady of Honduras had received one of Anna’s messages.
They delivered six duffel bags to the first hospital. The hospital director looked through the supplies and named children who could now receive operations. Then she took Ken’s hand and kissed it saying, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“In all the years I had performed, people applauded but never had a beautiful doctor kissed my hand with such gratitude,” said Ken.
The morning after the missionaries returned to New Orleans, Ken opened the Times Picayune to an article about the closing of a local hospital. Anna called Jo Ellen Smith hospital. Her request for donations yielded thirty medical beds, forty wheel chairs, EKG machines, ultra-sound machines and items too numerous to count that were marked for disposal. They had five days to remove the items. Ken called a friend who agreed to provide warehouse space for three weeks, but medical supplies continued to pour in. They used the warehouse for five years.
“I didn’t plan to start a ministry,” said Ken. “Cheer Up Missions just happened. The first trip to Honduras touched Patrick deeply. He moved his family to Louisiana, and we traveled to Honduras with medical supplies for the next three years. Then opportunities in other nations opened. We have made sixty trips to impoverished nations. I continue to work professionally as a clown and magician to pay bills. My heart belongs to missions.”
Cheer Up Missions recently acquired a new warehouse. The ministry is in need of volunteers to repair wheelchairs, package medical supplies and sort clothes. If you can be of assistance, contact Kenneth Landriault at 504-421-0266 or 504-421-0348 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org