I feel like, beginning with this trip, God began settling the quandary I have been placing myself in. The one where I was waiting — nail-biting and thumb-twiddling and all of that — to finally find the perfect fit for “my ministry.” Where does He want me? What am I supposed to be doing? Amid spiritual gift tests, personality profiles, bible studies, people telling me where I do and don’t belong, and good old waiting for the flashing neon sign from heaven, I was just plain old stuck. More talking about doing, than actually doing, all while waiting for the illusively perfect opportunity to arise.
Can I just say this? If God has put something in front of you, there is a reason. If He has placed one of his causes within your sphere of influence, it seems likely that He is calling you to play a part. Your part may seem small, like buying a necklace or a t-shirt, but there is purpose in that. It might be a one-time donation. And it might be jumping on a plane and traveling to only-God-knows-where, to become a part of something Big that He is doing there.
If you hear a story about something God is doing, and it stirs your heart, there is purpose in that. Pray first. Listen to the Spirit. Know that fear or anxiety is not from God and thinking about doing something uncomfortable may not generate feelings of peace for you. Then just start with the first step of obedience, one foot in front of the other. If everything begins to fall into place, and it looks like your desire is a real-life possibility, keep going! Note: I realize that some things are hard and do not come easily to us. I don’t intend that roadblocks or obstacles indicate that you are not called to something. There are always sacrifices to be made, even when He aligns all the stars and makes straight your path.
Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
I have heard some different interpretations of this verse, and while I definitely agree that because God made the ultimate desire of the human heart to be God himself, He will fulfill this promise in Himself, I have another thought I’ve found as well. When God wants me to be involved with something, He often stirs my heart toward whatever that something is, sometimes way in advance. I call this ‘a knowing.’ He has given this heart desires which it cannot understand, asked my heart to wait patiently, and then faithfully returned to seal the deal at a later time. Thus, He has given me the desires of my heart.
So then, what is next? I realized before my feet ever departed the Kenyan ground, that I would be unable not to remain involved. In fact, saying good-bye never to connect again to that place, frightened and depressed me. There are too many people in Kenya that now hold a place in my heart. And the only way to see them and demonstrate the faithfulness of the Father I love, is to go back.
I agreed to go back, Lord willing, and help recruit folks for a more extensive Vision Trip in 2017. A team of 24 will be heading out of New England, Arkansas, and Texas to tour the area, be a witness to the work of Jesus, and form lasting relationships with the people there. The dates are currently set for July 26-August 6. Please be in prayer for this trip and all those who would join! To Him be the glory, forever and ever!
I love the idea that there are several folks out there still, who have no idea that God has placed Kenya on their agenda for 2017! It is too much fun to be involved in His work.
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.
On Tuesday the 5th, our team loaded up and drove to Kijabe, a little mission town not far from Maai Mahiu, where we were staying. Our leaders took our team to meet some of the missionaries living there and hear the stories of what God is doing in their various ministries. (Sidenote: Kijabe is such a cool place. I’m hoping to describe it in better detail in a later post. Kijabe made me feel like I could move to Kenya too. *big grin*)
Our first meeting of the morning was at the home of Shane & Allyson Smith, a couple originally from Flower Mound, Texas, who spent five years in Ethiopia, and the last three years in Kenya. Allyson works as a nurse practitioner in the Labor & Delivery department of Kijabe Hospital and with Student Health at Rift Valley Academy (RVA). Shane is the director of the Kenya and Tanzania branches of a ministry called Sports Friends. They have two daughters, one in college stateside, and the other in high school at RVA, and a son, Moses, who was adopted from Zambia, also an elementary student at RVA.
Allyson graciously gave us a tour of RVA, a world-renowned private boarding school for the children of African missionaries. (I would like to take a moment to stop and admire that school. It would be a huge privilege for anyone’s children to attend there. Students come out of RVA speaking multiple languages, jumping into the mission field, and become world-changers.)
We then were able to sit down and listen to Shane share about his work with Sports Friends. As many of you are aware, I’m really not a sportsing sort of gal. I mostly just tolerate sports. As Shane began to speak, I supposed I would just listen and politely nod and smile occasionally. You know, for effect.
And then the Lord BLEW MY MIND, for the first of several instances on that fateful day in Kijabe.
Let me start with the basics. Sports Friends is a ministry that was co-founded by a Harvard MBA graduate who felt God’s leading to start a ministry based on the use of sports as a medium to present the Gospel to young people. Very simply, their mission is “to equip churches in Africa, Asia, and South America to make disciples of youth, their families, and their communities through strategic sports ministry.” This ministry now serves 15 countries on four continents. Please click on the link above for more specifics.
Shane began sharing stories of the CRAZY things God is doing in Africa. He still gives visions, appears to people in dreams, and speaks out loud. He still heals. I could hardly believe that God is still moving in ways that sounded, well, Biblical. Like miracles, signs and wonders. Somewhere along the way, I guess I assumed that God left most of that stuff behind when they closed the Canon. He somehow became a quiet, contained God. And far too small.
As we walked away from the Smith’s home, I asked (exclaimed, maybe) Charelle, “What could this mean? Why don’t we see this in America?”
Are we just so distracted? Are we so deeply enmeshed in our pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of all the comforts, that He chooses not to display His might in such overt ways…Because we don’t need Him? Would we rather be comfortable, or experience the glory of the Father?
The stories of what God is doing through pure obedience and a soccer ball overwhelmed my thoughts and perspective. He is moving in Muslim communities of Africa like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
This video on the story of David leaves me covered in chills. Short and sweet. Every believer should see this. For the follower of Christ, how we can we not jump at the invitation to be involved in His magnificence?
“Then he started to tell me, “You are my child. From now on, you are mine and you have to live for me.”
If you are a sportsing fan of any kind, or if you’ve never cared about sportsing a day in your life, this is a phenomenal ministry to contribute to and get involved with. Short-term trips are available too.
I had better start out this series of posts with a confession. I failed miserably at being a superhero missionary. I realized that up until this point, I had been one heck of a ballsy gal. I had said yes. I had written letters, emails, and blog posts. I had big faith. I had planned. I had fundraised. I had photographed and posted the journey complete with a hashtag. #goingtokenya
Somewhere standing in the line for security checks in JFK airport, I lost it. Just like the unexpectedness of a tsunami, a great fear washed over me. I could not do this. I wanted to turn around and run. I wanted to return to the comfort of my home, with my husband and children. Every time I pictured their faces, I burst into tears. I cried all over that damn airport. My poor teammates, most of whom had never met me before, had to have been really nervous about traveling all the way to Africa with a crazy woman who couldn’t dry it up.
In that moment of panic, I realized the utter failings of my heart. One of the very basic aspects of Christian theology is that our life is not our own and our God is sovereign over all of it. Including our number of days. We can’t love our own lives and still follow Him. We have to be willing to say, ‘Jesus is better’, and actually mean it. Better than living.
Well. The planes didn’t crash. I was not kidnapped, trafficked, robbed, chopped with a machete, or gunned down with an assault rifle. Post-survival, I am safely back in my home trying to make sense of my journey and the fact that I am still alive and breathing.
Over the next few days I pondered my desperate reaction to such an elementary piece of my faith. I actually redefined what ‘brave’ means to me now. I used to talk and write about bravery. That all seemed really silly when I realized I was choosing to go somewhere where my safety couldn’t be guaranteed. I listened to stories of missionaries going into hostile situations or taking trips unsure of how they would get back home. I decided it was really sassy of me to declare that someone is being brave because they talked to a stranger in Walmart or said the name of Jesus in public or shared a personal story of struggle. I was left angry at Americans for taking so many things for granted, all while maintaining a great fear of losing those same precious privileges that were being taken for granted.
The Spirit was so good to remind me of that time Jesus walked on the water. The disciples were terrified, being tossed around by wind and waves in a little boat, then they think they see a ghost, of all the things. (I mean, I would have wet my pants too.) But immediately Jesus says to them, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” He was just taking a little stroll across the water. Pretty awesome, right? Peter and I are cut from a similar cloth. Peter wanted to be great too, so he said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14)
Just like Peter, I could not find my footing. My footing, coming from my North American framework, was based on the sureness of solid ground beneath my feet. Ground that I know and can generally trust. Peter saw the wind and lost faith, just like I saw airplanes at 35,000 feet and an unknown, mysterious land full of uncertainty 8000 miles away.
I challenged Jesus to beckon me on this journey. I said to him, ‘If this is you, call me out onto the water.’ He did. Just like Peter, I set out strong. Fear sinks us every time. HE is faithful and merciful to reach down and save us.
In the fall of 2008, my husband and I happened upon a little home group through The Village Church, back during the early days of our marriage, in Flower Mound, Texas. God began weaving a story in our lives that day that changed us for the better. Josh & Charelle Raybuck are not only warm, loving friends and followers of Jesus, but they have taught me much about generosity, sacrifice, and obedience. They are bold and daring, focused and diligent on building the piece of the wall God has set before them. I am so thankful for Charelle as a friend and mentor. Here is her story of hope in Kenya.
It all began in the Fall of 2010 when Afshin Ziafat preached from the book of Jonah during Mission’s Week-End at The Village Church. The Holy Spirit used that sermon to spark a desire in my husband’s heart to go on a short term mission trip for the first time to the people of the Amazon River. Instantly, the flicker of international missions was lit in the Raybuck household. Out of obedience, Josh traveled to Brazil, ministered to broken men, and experienced God’s voice and presence on the world’s second longest, dark river. God grew his faith, and by extension my faith, during that season. At the time, we had NO IDEA just how deeply and to what extent Afshin’s missions message had impacted us.
Bob and Julie Mendonsa were a couple at The Village Church who had taken their two children to Kenya as long-term missionaries. I had gone to the sending service where we listened to the events surrounding their decision to go and sent them out as a community. It was only for a couple of years and we would see them again! Now, a few years later, they were not only staying in Kenya permanently, but they were building Naomi’s Village, a children’s home in rural Kenya as a response to the orphans crisis they witnessed in their new “home” land. That’s when I began to sense a stirring in my gut to go to Kenya – a country I knew nothing about and could not locate on a map. However, I heeded the internal mysterious yearning and submitted my application to TVC Missions Team to be a candidate for the short-term June, 2012 Kenya team. Kenya. It was so far away from my family, unlike Brazil. However, I figured if Bob and Julie could leave Flower Mound, TX with their kiddos and not return, I could go for 10 days!
Did you know, that everyday in Kenya, 700 children become orphans? [from www.naomisvillage.org]
Through a series of prayer saturated events, in faith I confidently committed to going to Kenya with a team of 18 others – all strangers being knit together by God in love and obedience to His call to “Go!”. After 20 hours of flying, we were on the ground. I found myself questioning God, “What am I doing in Africa?” I was there. I was seeing. I was hearing. But why? Was taking the good news of Jesus’s love to the orphan our family decided to sponsor at Naomi’s Village and the poor really my purpose? With a humble heart I met 8 year old Catherine. We bonded over homework, shared meals, and bedtime prayers during our 8 days together. We traded giggles, gifts, and smiles. God’s love knit our hearts together, and I would leave a piece of my heart in Kenya with an orphaned girl who was now mine!
Little did I know that sweet Catherine was not the sole purpose God had in mind as He drew me to the land of the Masai.
Near the end of our time in Kenya, our trip leaders took the team to the Lunga Lunga slum in the heart of Nairobi’s industrial center. Lunga Lunga lies just behind an impenetrable iron gate that keeps out spying eyes, while hiding the travesty of the poorest of the poor. Within this “gated-community”, shoeless school-aged children run unattended. Within this “gated-community”, drugs & alcoholism run unabated. Within this “gated-community”, live society’s unwanted. Here, hope seemed to disappear. Our team entered a small corrugated metal structure that served as Wells of Joy church on the week-ends and a school for 100 (many refugee) children Monday- Friday. They sat on the dirt floor in a room with a single light bulb as its source of illumination. How could any of these Kindergarteners learn in this environment? How could any of these third-graders be inspired to dream under these conditions? No books, no school supplies, no food! Their only provisions were porridge and the coloring books and crayons, toothbrushes and tooth paste our team brought. This was the seed of hope and the ever so dim light God was birthing in the darkness of the slums. It was in those hours spent behind the iron wall that God answered my heartfelt inquiries: THIS is why I brought you to Africa.
“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. ” (Psalm 82:3)
From that July, 2012 moment, God has cemented the plight of those 100 children in my heart, burdening me with a responsibility to tell others and to do something about their safety, their education, and their future. He brought me to Kenya to see through His eyes what He sees each day. He brought me to Kenya to act with compassion and in a faith-filled response to His word…. Go! Defend! Uphold! Look after!
Nearly four years later, my husband and I humbly serve on the board of Wells of Joy, Inc., a U.S. charitable operation devoted to supporting the work of rescuing children in the Lunga Lunga slum from sex trafficking, feeding and clothing them, in addition to meeting their healthcare needs. Our team seeks to defend, uphold, and look after the now 250 children of Wells of Joy and its staff, because “now that I have seen I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead!” – Brooke Fraser’s lyrics from her song Albertine.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look afterorphans and widows in their distress….” James 1:27
Team Raybuck has visited Kenya the last four years in a row. For three of those trips, Josh & Charelle were able to take along their two oldest boys, Ryan & John, who are now hooked for life. This July, seven-year-old Braden will join the team in Kenya for the first time!