To be perfectly honest, my stomach does flip-flops at the thought of blogging about Naomi’s Village. It is a phenomenal place, and my writing skills are no match for the magnitude of the work being done there. But then, I am just an ordinary woman who loves to write about what God does. I can rest knowing that I can never truly do justice to His work, but He is generous and kind to let me in and let me play this little part.
In 2003, Bob and Julie Mendonsa made their first trip to visit Kenya. Bob is an orthopedic surgeon who intended to offer his skills as a medical missionary for a limited amount of time to the hospital in Kijabe. Their plans shifted wildly when the Mendonsa’s laid eyes on the orphan crisis in nearby Maai Mahiu. A trucking town along the Trans-African highway, Maai Mahiu boasts a population of about 5,000 people, and an estimated 800 prostitutes are among them. Bob and Julie saw children who were abandoned, or left orphaned by AIDS, without a home or a hope in the world. And they knew that God was asking them to do something about it. Read and watch more here on the Mendonsa’s journey to Naomi’s Village.
“Much of the Western world has yet to grasp the severity of Africa’s orphan crisis, remaining largely unaware of the cries of 60 million children in dire need of help. In Kenya alone, Unicef reports 2.6 million orphans, more than the total population of Dallas and Fort Worth combined. There are seven hundred Kenyan children every day who hug their parent for the last time – one every two minutes.” (naomisvillage.org)
“We believe the solution to this crisis lies within Kenya. Our vision is to empower a group of children to grow up to be part of the answer to the cries of their orphaned peers. To this end, our children need more than just the basics, the subsistence life normally provided in a typical African orphanage. At Naomi’s Village, we provide nurturing love, healthcare, proper nutrition, excellent education, leadership training, spiritual care, and individual counseling to each child. Our children receive all that a child needs to develop fully, and to dream unhindered by limits. Our home is the kind of home your own child could live in. As our kids heal and grow, we then engage them in serving the needy along with us. By doing so, we are field-training a core group of empathetic leaders to grow up and multiply God’s redemptive work in Kenya through similar ministries of their own. Only then, when Kenyans are catalyzed to solve their own crisis, will the number of orphans begin to decline.” (naomisvillage.org)
I’d like to share some of the experiences, thoughts, and impressions that stood out to me during my short, four-day stay at NV. We arrived on Monday evening, still weary from our travels. We immediately got settled into the guest house and my thoughts began swirling.
The orphanage is currently home to 68 children, ranging in age from two months to 15 years. NV is completely funded through sponsorships and other donations. The property has a beauty all its own. It is also gated, surrounded by tall, electrified concrete walls and guarded all throughout the night by security guards armed with machetes. Rumor has it, Bob Mendonsa makes it clear: no one is going to mess with his kids. If you happen to pull the alarm in the guest house, even by accident, a terrifying screech fills the air and the men with machetes will come running. Don’t ask me how I know. Don’t open your mouth in the shower. Only drink the filtered water, which is brown from copper deposits, I was told. It’s a bit of a mental block to get past.
The guesthouse includes a main living and kitchen area, male and female dorms on each side, and a small family apartment in the back, for a total of 29 visitors. The Naomi’s Village chef prepared dinner for us and we learned that the housekeeper would take care the cleaning and would do laundry on Tuesdays and Fridays. Wait a minute. I’m on a mission trip. I’m here to serve, but a staff member has to take their time to clean up after ME? Oh, yes. I quickly realized that because of my visit, and the many other teams who visit NV throughout the year, and the money I paid to stay in the guesthouse, there are more Kenyans who have steady employment at a fair wage. To do my own laundry or prepare my own food would not actually be helpful to anyone. These wonderful people would not have a job, and I would be spending less time learning about Kenya and her people, and God’s work there.
Naomi’s Village is mainly staffed by Kenyans, from the house moms or “aunties”, to the teachers, social workers, and directors. Not only are they caring for orphans and raising up a cohort of future leaders for the country, NV is currently contributing to the local economy through employment opportunities and their own purchasing power.
It is a grave and difficult thing to know that this wonderful place was painfully birthed from such great tragedy. Some of the stories that these children own are absolutely heartbreaking. Here’s what I found: with the heartbreak comes the beauty of God at work; it is where you can find Him. In fact, it is impossible to miss Jesus here. His presence is practically palpable. There is something indescribably sacred about cradling a baby named Beloved in your arms who God just rescued from the depths of a pit latrine. It is good to weep over stories like Joshua’s, the very first child to reside at NV, who was the only member of his family to survive an act of domestic violence. A pair of siblings, John and Ruth, also lost their parents in a horrific homicide. So many stories well worth the time to read. Stories of God saving a remnant unto Himself.
Right before I left for my trip to Kenya, I happened upon a blog post, shared by a popular Christian writer. If that post made me angry then, it absolutely infuriates me now. In short, the blogger wanted to strongly discourage Christians from visiting orphanages and causing further attachment issues to children who have experienced a lot of loss and trauma. Because this blog is intended to be a space of grace, I will simply say that the advice given was anti-biblical and no statistical evidence whatsoever was provided. It was written from a position of judgment and elitism caused by a perspective of peering down one’s nose. It happens to the best of us.
Related, there has been some chatter recently in the Christian culture that, for lack of more sophisticated vernacular, poo-poos on the concept of the Christian short-term mission trip. There are valid concerns here. It is really, awfully ridiculous for a mission team to visit a place every year where the locals have to actually dirty up their own walls so that the Americans can come repaint them and feel good about having served those in need. In Kenya, if a church needs a paint job, a ministry leader will hire a local individual to take care of that need, pay them a fair wage to do it, and talk to them about Jesus while they work. I can’t recommend the eye-opening book, When Helping Hurts enough. I also can’t wait to read Chris Marlow’s new book, Doing Good is Simple.
I share the previous two paragraphs because I absolutely cannot imagine what the situation in Maai Mahiu would look like right now if it were not for short-term missions. All the supplies and donations that could not be delivered. (Things that cannot be purchased in-country, and because mail is not possible.) All the encouragement not received by the full-time missionaries. All of the children without sponsors. (International adoptions are not legal without first maintaining residency in-country for one year.) All of the people who would never go and see and all of the people who might never care and contribute.
I think what quietly struck me the most during my time at NV, aside from all the beautiful children with their beauty-from-ashes stories, and the precious staff members, was that God birthed the entire glorious story from one act of obedience. I know it was a fearsome thing to load up and get on a plane to Africa. But they said yes to God and set out on a “short-term mission trip” anyway. I can’t imagine how devastating and insurmountable the need appeared that first time the Mendonsas laid eyes on Maai Mahiu. Friends and churches began to visit. New ministries formed to meet needs in the outlying communities. Ministries are being funded through new relationships. And the threads that He has woven through their obedience now radiate out into a story that no one could have imagined.