Little did Gary Cowman know that a place he had no intention of visiting would become his home.
The Laguna Beach native moved to Kenya 24 years ago with his wife, Lori, to work for an organization dedicated to translating the Bible into different languages.
First, he had to rid his mind of stereotypes.
"I had no interest in Africa when I was in college [at Cal State Fullerton]," Cowman, 50, said Thursday afternoon, just four days before he and Lori would fly back to Kenya after spending seven months in Orange County.
"I always thought Africa was hot with a lot of mosquitoes, but there are a lot of interesting places to visit," he said. "[Lori] fell in love with the Kenyan people."
Lori, 48, actually played a key role in swaying Gary, who attended Top of the World Elementary, Thurston Middle and Laguna Beach High (class of 1981), to consider the move overseas.
Lori and Gary met in college — both studied business at Cal State Fullerton — via InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical campus missions organization.
Through Bible studies, Gary strengthened his relationship with God.
"We talked about Scripture openly," he said. "That was groundbreaking with me, that the Bible was so much more meaningful than what I valued."
Gary seemingly had a path. He thought that his business courses would lead to a career as an accountant.
But then he felt God tug on his heart.
During his junior year at Cal State Fullerton, Gary attended an InterVarsity conference that altered his outlook.
"It really challenged me to ask, 'Where is God in my thinking?'" he said. "I was at the heart of all of my decisions."
Gary and Lori married in 1988, and both worked toward administrative roles with Wycliffe Bible Translators Inc. — he in management, she in accounting. Wycliffe has translated the Scriptures into more than 700 languages since its founding in 1942, according to the nonprofit's website.
When the couple took their new jobs, they didn't know where they would end up living.
During college, Lori had spent a couple of months in Kenya, home-schooling a 6-year-old girl.
"It was perfect for me to see firsthand how I might contribute," Lori said. "It was a phenomenal experience."
When Wycliffe offered the Cowmans a two-year stint in Kenya beginning in 1990, they embraced the opportunity.
Two years morphed into 24, and the Cowmans, who raised two daughters, both of whom attend USC, still call Nairobi home.
"The thing we missed about leaving [Laguna] was the people — family and friends," Gary said. "But the Lord gave us amazing friends in Kenya."