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Mombasa 2019: New Horizons

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The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.

St. Augustine of Hippo

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Weeks of planning, prayer, and preparations finally ended on Monday, Nov 25, 2019. At 3:30 a.m., lights flickered on, and 62 groggy but excited children began dressing, washing faces, brushing teeth, and boarding Naomi’s Village buses. Within half an hour, 82 people, adults included, were headed southeast from the Great Rift Valley towards Nairobi. Two hours later, the ebullient crowd settled in seats aboard Kenya’s Nairobi–Mombasa Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), also known as the Madaraka Express.

The SGR got this moniker when its first fare-paying passengers rode in its speedy electric train cars on June 1, 2017 (Madaraka Day), the 54th anniversary of Kenya’s attainment of self-rule from Great Britain.1 Since then, millions of Kenyans have safely traversed Kenya using the new railway, which boasts a 5-hour transit time between the country’s capital Nairobi and the large Indian Ocean city of Mombasa (roughly half the normal driving time).

The SGR runs beside the now obsolete narrow-gauge Kenya–Uganda Railway, once known as the “Lunatic Express” for the colossal waste of resources and human life suffered during its construction. Completed for $9M from 1896 -1901 under British colonial rule, the railroad was constructed by 37,000 British Indian laborers and skilled artisans who immigrated solely for the project. Over 2,500 of them died from diseases, animal attacks, work injuries, and violent encounters with Kenyan tribesmen displeased with the passage of the railway through their land. On the other hand, the Nandi tribe lost thousands of men fighting against the advance of this “iron snake” before they finally laid down their arms. On completion, the Kenya–Uganda Railway stretched from the port at Mombasa to the eastern shore of Lake Victoria, the source of the Nile River. This helped connect commerce between the Indian Ocean and Uganda and also gave strategic control of the Nile River to the Brits.2

Today, the East African Railway Master Plan calls for Kenya’s modern SGR to link with other SGRs being built in neighboring countries in East Africa. At $3.6 billion, the SGR is Kenya’s most expensive infrastructure project since its independence from Britain in 1963. China Road and Bridge Corporation, the primary contractor this time, hired 25,000 Kenyans to complete the railway.3

Our children watched the beauty of their nation’s countryside roll past from the comfort of coach seats costing $10 apiece, a small price to pay for the experience of seeing elephants and other wildlife. None had ever ridden a train before, and most had not seen elephants in their natural habitat. Had they been told the sad and colorful history of how the first railroad had torn a terrible swath of destruction and death across their land just 120 years before?

By midafternoon, the happy throng pulled up in front of the sprawling Flamingo resort in Mombasa, a city now known as much for its tourism as for the still vital port it surrounds.

Because of careful planning and discussions with the kids to prepare them, they adapted quickly to their room assignments and roommates. Each received loving supervision, a comfortable bed, warm showers, plenty of clean clothes for the 4-night stay, new swimsuits, and a daily devotion time including worship and a short lesson. The resort was all-inclusive, with hearty buffet meals including lots of fun new foods, a variety of tropical fruits and desserts, sodas, and twice daily snack times. But the biggest draw, according to almost every child, was the swimming. Flamingo sports a huge pool with slides and a waterfall, an activities staff, and music pumping from poolside speakers. The white sandy beach and warm tropical water of the ocean provided a second place to swim, play games, and search for seashells. For some of our children, this was their first time to see an ocean, and the excitement was palpable.

Some small ones started out with floaties and stayed on the pool steps in the shallow water at first. But little by little, day by day, they grew braver, gaining confidence as they learned to stay afloat, put their heads under water, and ultimately swim independently. Squeals of “Uncle Wamai!” or “Auntie Allison!” preceded demonstrations of newly gained levels of skill, feats of bravery, or just plain silliness.

Uncle Wamai with Robbie; Auntie Allison with Virginia & Richie

Special things happen at eye level between an adult and child in a pool that don’t happen elsewhere. Buoyancy equalizes heights, we tune out everyone else for a time, and we see each other more clearly somehow. Adults bond with children and gain their trust while supporting them in water – in the process imparting love, exhibiting faith in their ability to succeed, and showering them with joy over small but not insignificant victories. It shouldn’t surprise us that the water is an ideal place for healthy bonding, considering a baby’s attachment to its mother begins underwater during a 42-week long gestation in the womb. A preborn infant feels her movements, smells her, and even hears her voice, beginning the critical process of brain wiring.

For previously traumatized, neglected, and developmentally delayed children, healthy play and safe relationships with nurturing adults can make a world of difference in helping them to heal, to catch up, and to reach milestones they might otherwise never attain.

Seven-year-old James Kibet lives with a significant shortening of his left femur bone, the result of a prior infection that destroyed the growth center near his hip and fused the hip joint. These differences mean a leg length discrepancy of about 4 inches, a severe limp, and a compensatory curvature of his lower back. Despite his challenges, James never complains or avoids opportunities to gain new skills. Watching him fight with his whole heart to learn to swim, grimacing at times and grinning at others, made us all stronger and more resolute. He embodies the words of former polio sufferer and later Olympic athlete Wilma Rudolph, who said, “The triumph cannot be had without the struggle.”4 If James has that kind of fight, then we shall never give up until every stepping stone has been placed in front of his eager feet and a road is laid to the doorstep of his success.

James Kibet with Auntie Florence & Auntie Magdalene

On the last day, we rented out 5 glass bottomed boats for a short cruise around the bay and a visit to an offshore sandbar near a coral reef. The kids saw dozens of exotic species of fish and other tropical wildlife, swam in the perfectly azure waters of the Indian Ocean, and made memories that will last a lifetime.

Christine Rebecca somehow managed to catch a tiny clownfish, not unlike the Nemo character in the Disney film. She proudly carried it around in a small bit of water for an hour or so, showing everyone its gorgeous colors before setting it free again as we headed up the beach for lunch. Later, she said wistfully to Julie, “This has been the best day I’ve ever had” with a twinkle of sincerity and soft smile that made all of our love efforts worthwhile.

Christine and her clownfish

For didn’t we all say such things when we were young and innocent, and not just once? To be there for one of those unadulterated moments in time, a snapshot reminding us that Eden once was and will be again, was to take in a fresh breath of new life.

The days passed quickly, the tide coming in and out each morning, inexorably and beautifully, welcoming new horizons with it. We all grew closer, like grains of sand clumped together, His thoughts of love for us too many to count. I suppose my days and my years are lessening in number while theirs blossom and take preeminence. Yet I have so much left to impart to them before they take off into the world. Precious times away from school and work, opportunities to see and learn new things, and to be with each other like we have been on these trips…these are the vital cords that bind families and childhoods together, substantiating them as more than the sum of their parts.

Julia & Auntie Faith

Julie and I had planned to stay on another day after they left for home. As they loaded in buses headed for the SGR station, I marveled again at the glory of it all. God has given us a rich and colorful family, full of life and excitement, challenges and blessings, and enough love to last a lifetime.

As you and yours celebrate this coming Christmas season, may you slow down to see in the faces of your children and grandchildren the things that remind you that life is precious, wonderful, and worth swimming in. And may you draw closer to them and to the God who invented joy and perhaps remember at least one of those “best days you ever had”. I’m thinking of at least one right now and it has already made my heart feel lighter.

Thank you, Christine Rebecca, James Kibet, and the rest of my kids at Naomi’s Village. For in your inimitable way, you have taught us all something deeply valuable once again.

 

By Bob Mendonsa

Founder and E.D. – Naomi’s Village, Inc

www.naomisvillage.org

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Bibliography

1Wikipedia contributors. (2019, December 2). Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:58, December 2, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mombasa%E2%80%93Nairobi_Standard_Gauge_Railway&oldid=928825347

2Patowary, Kaushik. Lunatic Express: The Railway that Gave Birth to Kenya (Feb 2019), Retrieved from https://www.amusingplanet.com/2019/03/lunatic-express-train-that-gave-birth.html

3Wikipedia contributors, ibid.

4Keenan, Marney Rich. Wilma Rudolph (from an essay by Wilma Rudolph edited by Keenan in the Chicago Tribune, Jan 8, 1989). Retrieved from https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1989-01-08-8902230553-story.html

Up and Down

These are the days of miracle and wonder. And don’t cry baby, don’t cry, don’t cry.

Paul Simon, The Boy in The Bubble (Graceland, Warner Bros. Records, 1986)

Our memorable and dichotomous day began on the winding mountain road up to Eburru, a remote town perched above Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Potholes and dust, ruts and rocks, and the occasional darting wild animal made driving seem more like an arcade game. My Land Cruiser lurched and roared, swerving around obstacles and bouncing its passengers like popcorn in a pan. Despite that, happy chatter filtered forward from the back. Our son Will had arrived home in Kenya just 3 days before, fresh from an internship with the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. Naomi’s Village administrator Veronica and boys’ teen house parent Patrick had also joined us, adding to the fun. They were all catching up after a year apart.

Yet uncertainty dampened our mood, mixed with a tinge of heaviness and fear. We felt uneasy about what was coming, as when distant rumbles sometimes portend a gathering storm.

We were headed to two of our boys’ grandmother’s home to visit, unsure of how we’d be received. The younger of the two had been relocated there in June because of some unhealthy behavior dynamics between him and some other Naomi’s Village children. His older brother, now 18, left in anger and hurt a week after his brother. The whole matter had been heartbreaking, because these two had been living at Naomi’s Village since 2011. Our family seemed incomplete with them gone. We were still trying to pick up the pieces and ensure that all our beloved children were being cared for properly. It felt at times like sifting through the aftermath of a sudden accident, trying to salvage what had been shattered.

After miles of climbing and a few missed turns, we finally located the boys’ rural family homestead, a cluster of modestly built wood and metal houses set in the verdant hills near Eburru’s iconic peak. Sadly, we discovered the older boy had absconded the day before. The younger one and his relatives were more receptive than expected. We hugged the 16-year-old boy, greeted the others, then sat and took turns sharing our news. He had been doing chores, herding livestock, and helping harvest his family’s crops. Humorously, he casually mentioned toting a large machete around to defend himself against lions and cheetahs in the surrounding forest. This typified our young man, who had always been strong and unbowed in the face of danger. We chuckled, imagining lions would be no match for him.

His older brother, however, had been taking actions that indicated he was running away from his issues and reacting out of fear and pain. After talking with his family, Patrick learned that he had been getting some unwise counsel from a disgruntled former NV employee and his wife, who had even come there recently to visit.

Over a hearty bowl of rice and potatoes and a hot cup of chai, we encouraged the younger boy with the news that we were considering building some housing for him closer to NV so that he could come back to school soon. His countenance brightened even further at hearing this. We also passed off some new athletic shoes for him and his brother, gifts from some dear friends in Wilmington, NC. Rebuilding trust with him after the tough decision we had to make will be like this – one crucial stone at a time, laid in love.

After promising to return in a week and leaving a phone number for the older boy to call us, we said our goodbyes. We left in a hurry, because we had a second major purpose to fulfill by day’s end.

Reversing course, I dropped the nose of the Toyota hardtop downhill, reaching almost twice the speed at which we had ascended. Navigating consisted of mostly controlling its momentum on turns and harnessing gravity’s power on straightaways. Julie held on for dear life and lobbed her usual warnings, but they went hopelessly unheeded. I had a glimmer in my heart’s eye for what lay ahead. Less than an hour later, I practically skidded the truck sideways into the dirt lot outside the Safe House, a festively painted transition home for abandoned children in central Naivasha.

Everyone piled out and the fun began. Violet Najuma (meaning “flower” and “abounding in joy”), a pinch sweet, undersized 2-year old came first. A team of housemothers and our social worker Peris had already arrived, beating us to her. She got plenty of kisses and passing around, despite her sleepiness. We heard how she had been abandoned near Mount Suswa, and was battling tuberculosis. Having been on anti-TB meds for 2 months already, she was not contagious.

Kim Ramsey had sent us a photo the night before of a 3-year-old girl named Stella (meaning “star”), left by her aunt at the Safe House 6 months back. We were told that Stella’s mentally incapacitated mother kept dropping her off at her sister’s, then returning later to reclaim her for short periods. After dealing with this disruptive pattern for almost 3 years, Stella’s aunt finally brought her to the Safe House, hoping that a more stable home could be found.

After inquiring, not only did we get to meet and spend time with Stella, but we were offered the opportunity to take her home to Naomi’s Village too. Nobody batted an eye about saying yes after spending a minute with her, marveling at her sparkling eyes, soft features, and tender personality. Whoever characterized love as something you fall into had it dead right.

As we stood there marveling at this blessing, a caregiver walked by carrying a sad faced baby boy with a big chubby head. As a chorus of “awwww’s” filled the courtyard, we began to murmur the same questions simultaneously. “How old is he?” “What is his story?” “Do we have enough cribs in the baby room?”

We were informed that his name was Leon Taji (meaning “Lion” and “Crown”). Leon was 18 months old and had been abandoned by both his mother and father in a nearby rental apartment. The landlord found him alone and crying in an empty room, with no clues as to the whereabouts of either parent. After a month of fruitless attempts to reach both parents’ cell phones, Leon had been officially declared an orphan.

I know right then that God spoke to me, because the day’s date suddenly entered my mind – August 8. Taking all three children home that day meant we would have 88 kids living at Naomi’s Village. God isn’t random, and the Bible contains numerous examples of Him giving incredibly specific instructions to His children. But I rarely get to understand His will quite so clearly. When I do, obedience follows with much more confidence and joy. Secondary confirmation came from the fact that the Bedwell family from Grace Community had been praying for months for a baby to arrive during their trip. All three Bedwells were standing there in that courtyard at the Safe House as God fulfilled their prayers in triplicate – a baby for each Bedwell!

Passing these simple little nudges from God on to the rest only validated their collective desires. Everyone wanted Leon Taji with a holy kind of ache that didn’t need but a whiff of confirmation to fan it into action. After that the excitement became even more palpable, because we all knew the surprise the other 85 were in for. They had been preparing fervently for Violet Najuma all afternoon, and we were about to roll in with triple the blessing.

However, once again the reality of this perfectly beautiful and terribly violent world came crisply into focus again, catching us all by surprise. In retrospect, we should have expected a reminder that this isn’t Heaven and the work of love will never be enough to shed the undercurrent of pain and death here on Earth.

She came wandering up, all of 3 years old, broken. Her mother had only departed from a short visit a few hours ago, and her face told us she had been hurt deeply. She wore a vibrant red dress and her sad frown did a poor job of hiding her innocent beauty. Jane, the administrator, recounted her story, filling our eyes with bitter, even angry tears. We heard that the little girl could never safely return home to her family again after what had happened. A court case loomed, limiting her release from the Safe House for the meantime. We hugged her, held her, and gave her some candy. Nothing we did melted that pain mask she wore.

As we filed out with our 3 new children a half hour later, she began to wail. Jane said that her tears were over seeing her friend Stella leaving. All of us vowed to come back for her, to take her hand and her heart, to make her life and ours one. Scanning the fields flanking the Children’s Department Office, the Judicial Law Courts, and the Safe House, I remarked that this section of Naivasha always reminded me of the word “bittersweet”. Several of our babies had been abandoned within a mile of this lot over the last 6 years. Each one had been both a sad reminder of the fallen state of this planet and a joyous gift that alluded to a better Place beyond the pale. Daniel had been plucked near nightfall from the field across the road last year, his placenta still attached. His name means “justice”, a reminder to press on with this work that is so near to God’s heart. As St. Augustine once said, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”

The crowd of 15, new tots included, began celebrating early as we streaked across the floor of the Great Rift Valley on the Trans-African Highway back to Naomi’s Village. Thirty minutes later our gates swung wide in welcome and the three little ones trickled down that long and scenic driveway for the first time. Under a serenade of horns, drums, and cheers, they fell into the arms of a loving new family, never to be unwanted again. We could not have been prepared for the eruption of joyful worship triggered by the arrival of three children when just one had been expected.

The party went on for over an hour – singing in Swahili and English, jumping, dancing, high fives, hugs, cake, prayers, and blessings spoken over the three. Standing in the din of the assembly hall, with all five of my senses set on happy, I looked up again at that cypress ceiling, imagining God in the heavens beyond. Was He speaking to us, drawing back the curtain slightly to give us a glimpse of our own arrival day in the Place He has prepared for us? I can say for sure that after 53 years of vibrant living – including visiting 30 countries on 5 continents – being in that room on homecoming days has no comparison.

Abounding in Joy, Star, and Lion now belong in our family, each made in the image of God. The meaning of each child’s name reminds us of the Savior and His coming for them and for us. God loves them, loves me, and loves you. Despite our hurts and our failures, he isn’t finished yet. He is a God who chases the lost, changes sad tales to fairy tales, and allows both joy and sorrow to weave a brilliant fabric all around us. We might wish it otherwise, but He hasn’t ordained another plan. The Gospel is about redeeming what is broken, and we all qualify. Until every hill is climbed (or descended), the last child comes home, or we take in our final breath, there will be love to give and work to do. Let us not be discouraged.

Oh, and little girl. We are coming for you too, very soon. Count on it, sweetheart.

 

By Bob Mendonsa

Rising From the Ashes: One Mother’s Story of Courage and Hope

-By Steve Sisler, Director Maendeleo Initiative

What is courage? Sometimes a word just can’t capture the essence of the reality. Courage is the choice and willingness to confront emotional agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.

I’m sharing a story with you of what I consider true courage. I have never needed to be, and hopefully will never need to be as truly brave as Mama Kahato.

Life in rural Kenya is full of difficulties, but there may not be anything more intimidating than life here as a woman with little to no education. Prevailing culture makes having a husband necessary for survival because you have few opportunities or rights of your own, and often, little to no help from your birth family after you become an adult. So what happens when this very life support turns against you? When it turns against your child? Circumstances require a choice: stay and be beaten, abused, humiliated and demeaned, or throw yourself into the emptiness of uncertainty, knowing only that failure could literally mean death.

This is where we found Mama Kahato – taking a courageous step away from domestic abuse and her cultural “safety net”. She left knowing that with her fourth grade education, no family to rely on, and no marketable skills, she was stepping off into a void without anyone to catch her fall. Mama Kahato and her son traveled to Longonot, a small, run-down truck stop town along the 500-mile stretch of highway from the coast of Kenya into Uganda.

When our social workers found her, she was struggling to earn the few shillings needed for their daily bread. Relying on the occasional manual labor job, usually working a field, she had managed to rent a small shack for $10 a month. But even then, she refused to give up hope.

Her son, Samuel Kahato, was admitted into Cornerstone Preparatory Academy. This meant the assurance of both an education through high school, and a holistic support system to allow Samuel to blossom into his full potential. Suddenly breakfast, lunch, and two snacks a day filled Samuel’s shrunken belly 6 days a week. Laughter with his fellow classmates filled his days as he embraced this new environment, learning character traits that will shape his future self.

Through Cornerstone’s community development project, Mama Kahato was given the opportunity to secure a better safety net for her family. She joined Cornerstone’s local table banking group, contributing $1 a week from her manual labor jobs. These groups, guided by Cornerstone’s Maendeleo team, create a savings and loan system in which contributing members build a group capital that can be loaned to the same members for various purposes. Mama Kahato applied for, and received, a $50 loan to start a business. Startup capital in hand, she purchased large sacks and a hanging scale with a hook. She ventured out on foot to knock on doors in Longonot and the surrounding villages. At every stop, she would inquire if the house had any scrap metal she could purchase for 5 cents/pound. No amount of metal was too small, and eventually, as the days and miles passed, one sack would fill, and then another. Carrying several full sacks of metal, she boarded public transportation on the crowded, hour-long trip to Nairobi. Her destination? A scrap metal market where her scrap metal would be purchased for 13 cents/pound.

Now, because of her perseverance and true courage, Mama Kahato earns $70 to $100 each month. She is excited about growing her business and is already looking into renting storage space and sharing the expense of hiring a pickup truck for transporting scrap metal to Nairobi. She is creating a sustainable future and watching her dreams for her family become a reality.

For more information about Maendeleo and how you can be involved with our community development projects, click here or contact Steve Sisler at Ssisler@naomisvillage.org.

Joy Surrendered

We may never know her reason for leaving. Did her mother run in fear, in desperation, or simply out of selfishness? In the end, it doesn’t matter anymore.

Found crying, hungry, and alone in a vacant rental in Naivasha, the 6-week-old beauty needed a home and a name. Staff at the local hospital in town fed her and held her regularly for 10 days and had begun to see her as one of their own, according to Stacy, the young Kenyan nurse on duty when we arrived. Seeing her for the first time, we understood what all the fuss was about.

Eyes bright and purposeful, cheeks full of chub, and soft downy hair crowning a forehead made of silk…she had a look that makes one gasp at first sight. We were in love. Her name came easily – Trinity Joy Dhahabu, the last of the monikers meaning “gold”.

Treasures may be built, bought, received, or given. But the best ones are those we stumble upon unexpectedly, and joyfully claim before someone else does first. We simply couldn’t understand how such a valuable and matchless prize had been surrendered for the taking. At times like these, it feels like the best kind of grace to be sitting on a well-prepared baby room and a loving cadre of trained baby moms, like holding a handful of aces at a poker table.

She really was going home to Naomi’s Village with us! Michael and Mary Bennett Pickens had come along for the ride, as had a few of our staff. Notably, so had Evelyn Mbugua, our dear friend and NV Board member. But most importantly, 16-year-old Millicent rode along, the first child to ever attend a baby pick up. Seeing Joy’s rescue through their varied perspectives made the day all the more special.

Driving down the driveway at the end of the day, horn blaring and crowd shouting, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with the glory of it all. God loves us and He loves the unwanted and the lost. The manifestations of His glory in the colorful garden, the acacia trees, the inexplicably beautiful buildings, and the radiant faces of dozens of redeemed children made me new inside again.

The doors opened for the Lion King baby presentation moment, and the din of the loving crowd swept her in, saying in every one of the five senses, “We love you! Welcome to Naomi’s Village, sweet baby Joy! It’s going to be OK!”

And a few hours later, she settled into a warm crib and slept the first of many nights with her six new friends in a place beyond the pale of even our wildest imagination, a place God invented.

Grace is messy and it is hard to swallow sometimes, but in the end we must accept that it is good. Our Savior willingly climbed onto a cross and suffered when we ought to have, so that we could go free. And babies sometimes are left adrift and alone, that they may be discovered and treasured by others, setting them on a course to things far better in the years to come. I don’t like that Joy’s mom left her, because I love Joy already and I hate that it hurts her. But I accept that God’s grace is better than all my fist shaking and frustration, all my questions that lack His perspective, and all my humanity. I hold her and accept that He has given her to us to love as a treasure and a joy, and I settle into the blessing once again.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” – Matthew 13:44

By Bob Mendonsa

 

 

 

Love Planted Deeply

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.

It Takes A Village

Hope Begins Now

For those who haven’t visited us in rural Kenya lately, the next five posts will update and inform you about our ministry’s incredible expansion over the last few years. Please tune in daily as we highlight one of our five key ministries in Kenya. Today we begin with a brief review of who we are as a whole.

What started as a humble children’s home in 2011 has grown into a holistic care organization that positively impacts every stage of life. From seed to thriving branches, this is our family tree – a series of ministries, programs, and initiatives led
by an all-Kenyan staff that works together to bring change and redemption to children, mothers, and the community.

 

 

The old African proverb wisely says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Founded by Bob and Julie Mendonsa, Naomi’s Village is a dream God made possible – a community in rural Kenya that empowers marginalized children to rewrite their own futures. From early childhood development to college graduation and beyond, we provide children of all ages the resources necessary to live a bright and fruitful life.

At the heart of it all is a network of compassionate donors and volunteers sharing our love for empowering children in need. Their sponsorship provides housing, education, food, water, healthcare, counseling, spiritual care, leadership training, and more importantly, personal love and support for each child. Together we are raising a generation of leaders that will help bring an end to the orphan and education crises in Kenya.

With your help, we can continue to provide holistic, intentional, and loving care for Kenyan children in need.

 

In Home We Find Redemption

Hope Begins When A Child Belongs

For those who haven’t visited us in rural Kenya lately, this post is the second of a six-part series that will update and inform you about our ministry’s incredible expansion over the last few years. Please tune in daily as we highlight our work in Kenya. Today’s focus is Naomi’s Village Home.

Naomi’s Village Home is the foundation of our community – providing complete care for almost 100 Kenyan children left parentless by terrorism, AIDS, disasters, and domestic violence.

But sadly, our kids are not alone. According to UNICEF, Kenya has over 2.6 million orphans. Our vision is to lovingly raise a group of children as leaders to help end this orphan crisis through similar work of their own one day, creating a compassionate ripple effect. To do so, we must give each of them the intentional nurturing and care needed to develop fully and dream unhindered by limits.

 

 

Our Home provides more than just basics – we give great healthcare, balanced nutrition, a rich education at LEAP Preschool and Cornerstone Preparatory Academy, leadership training, spiritual care, and counseling to every child. We’ve made Naomi’s Village a love-filled place, the kind where broken children heal and thrive. Our team immerses older children in community outreach to the needy, shaping leaders who value both empathy and planning. We do all this believing our kids will one day rise up and multiply the power of active love for Kenya’s marginalized, and help bring lasting solutions to its orphan and education crises.

 

 

Hope Begins When A Child Belongs

Nurturing Mother and Child

Hope Begins With Each New Life

For those who haven’t visited us in rural Kenya lately, this post is the third of a six-part series that will update and inform you about our ministry’s incredible expansion over the last few years. Please tune in daily as we highlight our work in Kenya. Today’s focus is our MTOTO Early Childhood Program.

mtoto /m‘tō tō / (noun); Swahili – baby, child

For real change to take root in Kenya, we must target ample resources at the early development of its most vulnerable citizens. Our MTOTO (Mother-Toddler-One-To-One) program links a trained nurse to newly pregnant mothers, helping to shepherd them successfully through this period via routine home visits until the baby is 2. This nurse provides valuable counsel and resources for prenatal care, normal birthing, healthy breastfeeding, infant nutrition, child developmental stages, optimal parenting, and the importance of a language-rich environment. We also include a 12-week training for new parents that covers other key childcare topics in a community group setting. Finally, our home early reading program brings literacy training and age- appropriate books to families.

 

 

In short, we believe that building leaders starts on day one, by empowering mothers with the knowledge and resources to raise healthy babies and toddlers.

“Early childhood development is one of the most cost- effective investments a country can make to build human capital and promote sustainable development.” – UNICEF

Literacy. Enrichment. Academics. Play.

Hope Begins With A Head Start

 

For those who haven’t visited us in rural Kenya lately, this post is the fourth of a six-part series that will update and inform you about our ministry’s incredible expansion over the last few years. Please tune in daily as we highlight our work in Kenya. Today’s focus is LEAP Preschool.

At age 3, thriving toddlers from Naomi’s Village Home and the community merge at LEAP Preschool, where they enter into a literacy-rich, play-focused environment daily for the next two years.

 

We believe every moment of early childhood is a precious opportunity to grow and develop life skills, whether spent in healthy play, reading circles, academics, or excursions to zoos and museums. Our approaches to preschool education are modeled after numerous successful outcomes-based programs that prepare kids to learn optimally when they advance to the kindergarten level and beyond.

“The first 5 years have so much to do with how the next 80 turn out.”  – Bill Gates

Molding Disruptive Leaders

Hope Begins With A Cultivated Mind

 

For those who haven’t visited us in rural Kenya lately, this post is the fifth of a six-part series that will update and inform you about our ministry’s incredible expansion over the last few years. Please tune in daily as we highlight our work in Kenya. Today’s focus is Cornerstone Preparatory Academy.

Cornerstone Preparatory Academy was founded in 2013 to help end Kenya’s education crisis, beginning with an innovative, research-based school strategically located in the Great Rift Valley.

We believe that provided with a transformational education, young Kenyans will learn, grow, and become the agents of necessary change in their country.

Our incredible Kenyan teachers and staff help children find their great worth and discover their own unique gifts. With state-of-the-art facilities, engaging curriculum, character training programs, and built-in community outreach initiatives, our children will emerge hopeful, confident, and equipped to impact their community and nation for good.

 

 

CORNERSTONE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 25:1 student to teacher ratio
  • Large, well-lit classrooms
  • Computer lab
  • Science lab
  • Library
  • Fully equipped kitchen provides 12 nutritious meals/week
  • Well-equipped health center staffed by RN
  • Multipurpose auditorium/gymnasium
  • Covenant relationship with community students’ parents
  • Cornerstone Endowment Fund established for future university tuitions, vocational school fees, and seed capital for graduates to start similar social impact ministries throughout Kenya