How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! – 1 John 3:1a
After 10 weeks away from them, it felt like taking a bath in grace just to see our Naomi’s Village kids for a few minutes on our laptop screen. The genuine fervor and innocence of their childlike love always takes me by surprise. Perhaps their love is special, partly because it has not been checked by the cynicism of a chaotic world and tainted by the hesitancy born of unmet hopes. But that love has also been cultivated as a well-watered seed should, soaking in all the right nutrients of the rich soil surrounding it, and bearing fruit and flowers that testify to its health. As Audrey Assad said, “Love planted deeply becomes what it ought to be.”
Some credit our world-class facilities and intentionally holistic programs and the loving Kenyans who care for our children every day. But the kids’ healthy love is also a reflection of the hundreds of child sponsors whose love-in-action funds the total care they need to flourish.
Our sweet kids were 8,800 miles away, yet we tried to hug them and feel their warm skin as we exclaimed aloud, saying every name with heartfelt joy. Our dear friend Allison Fassinger and the loving housemoms helped usher them into a small room in manageable numbers until we had shared time with everyone but the babies. Eighty exuberant children took turns telling us about their new bicycles, recent swimming excursions, infant Mabel and the other 5 babies, a pet cat named Precious who now lives in the girls’ teen house, and countless other anecdotes. Each individual kid responded with genuine warmth and pride to hear us speak their name, answered our questions, and then allowed the rest to receive their attention and time too. And every one of them extended affection to us in some way – with loving words, attempts to touch us through the screen, blown kisses, mimicked hugs, and promises to pray for us. Several asked about Emily and Will, who they consider as their older siblings for life.
To love another and receive love back is to find a bit of something glorious that lives in the center of God’s being, that which constitutes His heart. God is love, according to His word, but we can also know that wonderful love experientially. Although it might seem intuitive to lean into this truth and spend our lives on love, we often waste years and focus precious attention on filling barns and chasing shadows. In Ephesians 5:2, we are exhorted to, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Dearly loved earthly children, like the ones at Naomi’s Village, seem to follow this path almost naturally. Sure, they still have struggles with themselves and others at times. But perhaps the most refreshing surprise of many in our 8 years as a children’s home has been watching these children from broken backgrounds become wells of love, the kind that is infectious, life changing, and capable of impacting the world. We never could have expected to witness the shattered pieces of their lives reassemble into whole vessels, uniquely beautiful and filled with God’s love. Our beloved kids, from Joshua to Mabel, have gone from adrift to deeply and furiously wanted, from downcast to joyful, and ultimately from recipients to givers of love.
Julie and I have been here in the US for most of the past 6 months raising awareness and sponsors for Naomi’s Village, Cornerstone, and LEAP Preschool. We will have been in 16 states by the time we go back to Kenya for a few weeks in May to see the objects of our labor and affection – over 290 children in all 3 programs, not to mention 125 Kenyan staff we count as friends. They have become our extended family, a wellspring of vital love that spurs us on to finish what God has called us to do for them and for those yet to come.
Someday the Great Rift Valley will shed its mantle of generational poverty and leave it behind on the trash heap of history. When that day comes, the arbiters of that phenomenal accomplishment will be Kenyans. They will have been catalyzed and empowered by the love of God and His people, given the resources they needed, and provided with the traction that hope always provides.
If you haven’t yet visited us in Kenya and you are able, come soon. God’s handiwork cannot be overlooked, whether it is seen in the sunsets, the wildlife, or the joy of a beautiful child. We have plenty of room in our guesthouse, as long as you don’t try to book during the ever-competitive summer months. You can sit in a rocker and hold Mabel and drink in her tender smile. Or perhaps you’d rather help teach a class, serve in the community, or help with construction of our middle and high school blocks at Cornerstone. Maybe like me, you will find yourself choking back tears as the sound of children’s voices fill the chapel during Sunday morning worship. God only knows.
Along with whatever else you plan to pack, bring plenty of love with you. But expect to go home with more in your account than you came with, and maybe a new outlook on the way things ought to be.
By Bob Mendonsa
To sponsor a child, click here.