Even though he has a long record of ministering to the needs of Kenyans, State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) believes he would not likely be considered for an ambassadorship to the East African nation if not for the eight years' learning experience he's had in Springfield.
McCarter, who serves as international director of the Christian-based ministry Each One Feed One, has been recommended for appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Kenya by Republican members of the Illinois congressional delegation.
Congressmen Mike Bost, John Shimkus, Rodney Davis, Darin LaHood, Randy Hultgren, Adam Kinzinger and Peter Roskam made their recommendation in a letter to President Donald Trump on May 11.
"I probably would not be prepared for this next position if not for what I have learned in the Illinois Senate," said McCarter, one of the most conservative members of the chamber.
"Just the challenge of being in the minority has been good training, and I think it has equipped me to handle even bigger challenges," he said. "I've learned a lot about dealing with people who come from completely different backgrounds and a completely different set of political values, and I have learned that I can still get things done."
McCarter said he has actively sought a position in the Trump administration.
"I wanted to serve our president in some way," he said. "How could I be of greatest value to the citizens of this country and others? That's how this is the right place."
He has 30 years experience in Kenya. After graduating from college, he and his wife Victoria operated Each One Feed One from 1986 to 1989 in Tharaka-Nithi County, northeast of Nairobi, and again from 2011 to present.
Among other things, the ministry operates a kindergarten through eighth grade school for 200 students, 40 of whom are housed at the schoool, and it also operates a medical clinic that was established by the McCarters in the late '80s.
"Through his work in Kenya, he has experience negotiating with tribal chiefs and other dignitaries, along with logistical and other administrative experience working with the Kenyan government," the congressmen wrote in the letter to Trump.
"Additionally, he has experience working with USAID and other organizations, including Compassion International within Kenya to provide health care for over 3,000 Kenyan children."
The letter goes on to state that McCarter has a "heightened insight" into the Kenyan government and other local realities and in the larger region of East Africa.
"He has outlined specific ideas for reforms of USAID spending, including curtailing waste, fraud and abuse within the program. He has also identified ways to support your Administration's 'Buy American' strategy in Kenya and boost the American economy through Kenyan investment and additional support for American companies in the African marketplace."
Outside his duties as state legislator and with Each One Feed One, McCarter also is a small business owner, operating the manufacturing firms Custom Product Innovations and Custom Coating Innovations in Lebanon.
As the congressmens' letter notes, McCarter is "the only businessman/entrepreneur from the manufacturing sector" in the state legislature.
McCarter said he travels to Kenya about twice a year, whereas Victoria, who serves as the mission's director of education, spends a total of three months of the year in Kenya in four to five trips.
"We have put a lot of our lives there," he said. "They were a forgotten group. No one thought much about them, cared for them. We have come to love them and serve them and the children... they consider us their family. It's easy to serve people when you really love them."
Over time, they have seen some of their children go on to college, graduate, get married and have children.
"We have always said we are raising up the next generaion of young men and women," he said. "They learn to honor God and serve others, and to be excellent citizens of Kenya. The emphasis is that they need to be responsible, giving citizens to their country."