“Train. Launch. Mentor. Grow.” We want this for our kids! Thanks to you, this is the kind of opportunity Empowering Lives International is able to offer the orphans in our Children’s Homes.
Just last week, a third group of our kids graduated from a Business for Life course. Business for Life is a month-long business course started by ELI missionary and BFL Project Director Wendy Twycross with the motto: “Train. Launch. Mentor. Grow.” She and her team are passionate about empowering people with tools to become self-sustainable. In doing so, they restore dignity and help break the cycle of poverty.
We are so proud of our kids’ hard work this past month!
When each student arrived, they began with 500 Kenyan shillings (about $5) to start their businesses. They researched the needs around them and analyzed how they could meet those needs with the resources available to them.
Some children made food such as samosas (fried pastry with a savory filling) and sold it in the community. They could earn up to 1,500 shillings by the end of the course—a 200 percent profit! They were shocked at how they turned something little into something much bigger.
Students making samosas.
These are our children, and we want to see them flourish.
What is unique about ELI’s Children’s Homes is that we adopt orphans into families. Just like any good parent, we want each of our children to thrive and succeed into adulthood.
As our first group of children graduated from high school in 2013, we prepared for their next steps outside of the Children’s Home. We always ask the question, “How can we best equip our children?”
Now, all of our high school graduates are sponsored to attend Business for Life. They learn business principles in light of the Kingdom of God and then put the theories into practice. Each student comes up with and implements a business venture for their community.
With the proper tools, motivation and hard work, we see how equipping our children with business skills helps them now and into their futures. They not only learn how to start a business, but they also learn how to manage money and develop healthy relationships with others.
Through your donations, you make this possible. You equip our children with skills that will help them become more responsible, creative and self-sustainable. Thank you!
Empowering Lives Together,
Diana Coombs Vulnerable Children Program Manager
Empowering Lives International
Because Grace was always angry and she brewed and sold alcohol illegally, her neighbors would avoid her as much as possible. No one dared cross her path except her children, who also became more and more distant.
But when she came for a week to the Ukweli Training and Development Center in Ilula, Kenya, Grace found more than ideas for an alternative business—she found Christ as her Savior. She built relationships with other former alcohol brewers who have now become like family. Grace’s feelings of isolation are gone. She knows that she belongs to God and to a community of supportive friends in Kenya and the USA who helped make her training possible.
As we empower lives, new circles of community are born. New relationships, growing churches and expanding connections bring people together from around the world. It is the kind of community that creates multinational families for orphans and connects women like Grace to networks of prayer and support.
When you give and pray, you become part of a worldwide community of connected people who care. You change the world for people without hope.
I see this community vividly from where I stand right now in Kenya.
Today, Matt and Porter from central California build relationships with Children’s Home graduates as they mentor them on topics such as character and esteem building. Sarah from Texas spent the day playing with and capturing photos of children at the home so that sponsors can celebrate what God is doing in the kids’ lives. Ken is here from Sacramento, California, helping strengthen the overall organization as he guides the Kenya board and other ELI leaders through strategic questions, discussions and decisions. Pastor Chris and the four men who traveled with him from Cedar Springs Church in Washington are using their gifts to serve in Kipkaren, making cabinets in the woodshop. They also reach out to the community to share the hope of Christ with alcoholics and invite them to join the ELI rehab program.
Together we work, worship, serve and pray side by side with our community here in Kenya.
Your care provides a way out of poverty and into this global, empowered community. Together we are a community that equips the poor to live sustainable lives that honor God. Together we are empowering lives.
– Don Rogers Founder and International Director
Empowering Lives International
This is the story of Elkanah, a recovering alcoholic who lives in Kimogoch village. He came to our facility in Kipkaren, Kenya for rehabilitation in the year 2013. He started drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes when he was still in primary school. This is because drinking was so common, and everyone could drink or smoke in that area.
Elkanah is the last-born brother of Ruth, the successful recovering alcoholic among others. When Ruth recovered, Elkanah saw how his sister’s life was changed, and he decided to stop drinking alcohol and said, “I must also go for rehabilitation.”
After the death of his parents, and because he was already an addict, he started selling his piece of land little by little only for drinking. Elkanah got married, and he kept on drinking. His wife passed through many challenges, and she would go back to her parents because life was becoming so hard.
After rehabilitation, Elkanah’s life changed. He stopped selling his land and began working hard to earn a living. He is not doing any business, but he is only going to labor. Because he is now sober, he managed to save the little amount that he was getting, which he used to plant his maize instead of buying alcohol.
This is Elkanah standing in his maize farm. He looks healthy and clean: “This is because there is enough food for the family.”
Alongside standing before their house are Elkanah and his wife. She said, “I am now having peace in my mind and in my heart. I nowadays sleep like a small baby, unlike the other days that my husband was beating me and chasing me outside during the night, and I could stay in the cold overnight. I praise God for the transformation he has done in the life of my husband and that now I and my husband, together with our children are staying in peace.”
These are Elkanah’s three children: two girls and one boy. The children are looking very happy, healthy and clean. This also shows that there is peace in the family and the father is now responsible and caring.
Elkanah has finished baptism class, and he is now waiting for the second group to finish so that they will be baptized together as a group.
The community is very happy for the transformation of Elkanah’s life, and they said they still need more alcoholics to be reached because a lot of alcohol is still being brewed in the area, and young men and women are alcoholics.
Above is Elkanah’s cow. He said he bought the cow immediately when he arrived from rehab. “I did not know that one day I will own a cow,” he said. His wife also said, “We nowadays have milk in our home that we can sell in the morning and our children can drink in the evening.” They thank God for the great things He has done for us within this short period.
Text and photos by Samuel Teimuge, ELI Kenya Director
The homecoming of reformed brewers to their home in Kaptarakwa, Kenya was fantastic. We did not expect to meet such a large crowd. The reformed brewers have already formed three groups of 15 each. The umbrella name is Kaptarakwa About Turn Group, with a woman named Jane as their leader. They have three leaders: Everlyn, Lucy and Christina. The three leaders spoke powerfully and with full confidence of who they are after training.
Everlyn said, “We found life.” She quoted Amy Rogers who told them, “Let your minds rest.” This was quoted by all of the leaders, and they said that they truly rested.
Everlyn left brewing completely and confessed that she has killed many through her illicit brews. She said the group took an oath to never brew again and that they are now Christians. They have crossed to Canaan. She said that they are being threatened and told to brew; yet they will never go back. Her group plans to pursue agroforestry, dairy farming and horticulture.
Lucy said, “When we started our journey to Ilula, we were told that we had been arrested. But Jesus arrested us in Ilula.” She said that Jesus is her personal savior and that light and darkness don’t meet. Her former fellow brewers no longer greet her, but her graduating class greets her with joy. Her group wants to pursue tree tomatoes, kitchen gardening, tea seedlings and greenhouses for horticulture.
Christina said she has started raising chickens. Her group planned to raise sheep, make bread and manage poultry.
The brewing pots are all gone. The leaders also said that they are now the local chief’s “soldiers”. One of the former brewers encouraged the group to always run to Jesus because He is not poor.
The group said that they are now preaching the word of God, and they don’t want to keep quiet lest they will be condemned. They also vowed before the Deputy Governor of Elgeyo-Marakwet County that they would never return to brewing again.
In closing prayer, one of the reformed brewers named Jennifer prayed, “Let this change remain until the coming of Jesus Christ.”
Enock Bizimana and Joan Louise are Extension Training coordinators in Rwanda. They completed their training on sustainable agriculture and community development In Kenya under Empowering Lives’ International Extension Training program in July of this year.
The two coordinators have been training local farmers in Rwanda on sustainable agriculture, local chickens, dairy goats, dairy cows, kitchen gardens, ELITE grain storage bags (a chemical-free way of storing and protecting grains from pests), pig keeping, coffee farming and climbing beans. They have trained 37 pastors and 27 government officers for three months on sustainable agriculture.
Through ELI’s Extension Training program, we have been able train over 300 farmers to date in Rwanda. A one-year training program on sustainable agriculture is already underway there and will go through July 2016.
Early November, three of us from the ELI Tanzania team traveled to Salima, Malawi to attend a two-week training facilitated by the organization Water4 for professionalizing manual borehole drilling in Africa and building capacity for small drilling enterprises throughout the continent. However, it ended up being three weeks, since it took three days by bus to get there and three days to return. But it was definitely worth it. We were accompanied by drilling enterprises from Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and a trainer from the USA. It was a wonderful experience with wonderful people.
I tried to capture what we learned in this video so we don’t forget it. Hopefully, you’ll learn something as well. During the training we drilled two boreholes. The borehole in this video was located just in front of a local Baptist church, and the other was in a nearby village. We are very excited to begin implementing what we learned. We are fabricating some tools that should help us dig deeper on our test hole we are digging at our home in Karemela, Tanzania. I have high hopes for this technology because I see that it can reach and spread to places machine drilling rigs would never reach. Also, it is much cheaper than machine drilling, which is obviously quite helpful when working in poor areas.
The music from the video is from our praise and worship after the hard work days. It is in the Malawian language called Chichewa. So while you may not understand the words, don’t worry, God understands all languages.
Text and photo by Samuel Teimuge, ELI Kenya Director
I met Pauline on the street in Iten, Kenya, and she greeted me with a smile. I asked her who she was, and she said,” I am a reformed brewer from Iten.”
Then I asked, “What happened?” Then she told me of how she got delivered and now she is living a wonderful life.
Pauline used to brew 60 liters (almost 16 gallons) of changaa (locally brewed alcohol) per week. She has seven children, and she is a widow.
Her children were very happy to see her totally reformed.
The following year, since she had reconciled with her children, they talked and the children teamed up with her to rent land to farm wheat and maize. She had planted finger millet, and so she sold and used the money to plant maize and wheat. They have now done this three times.
The children organized a thanksgiving service for Pauline because she has reformed. They bought her house items and a pick-up vehicle so that she can do her maize business of buying and taking to sell in Eldoret, Kenya.
Pauline goes to a church in Iten. She is the chairperson of a group of other reformed brewers called Chebaibai (which means “smiling” or “always happy” in the language of the local tribe, Kalenjin). She planted 300 passion fruit seedlings, and she now sells 20 kilograms (about 44 pounds) per week.
She cannot hide her joy and she is so thankful for what ELI has done for her.
Thank you for praying for our children as they took their national exams: the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam for Grade 8 students and the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam for Grade 12 students. Results are expected in February 2016.
Here is a message from the Kipkaren Children’s Home:
We are very much thankful to the Lord for His faithfulness that 14 children completed their primary national examination. We much appreciate the sponsors for their great support and everyone who participated in any way to make this day a success. God bless you all in abundance.
Stanley Baroret, a graduate of ELI’s Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development Program (SACDP) of 2012 to 2013, has passed through a lot of trials and tribulations of life, but God—who is the author and finisher of our faith—has remained faithful.
Growing up with hardships
Life started to take a hard path 20 years ago when his father took in Stanley’s mother as a second wife, who gave birth to five other siblings of Stanley. The father deserted the young family and even sold the land where they were living without their knowledge. They only came to know they were squatters when the new owner came to evict them. His mother decided to seek justice from the local chief. Thank God he managed to stop the transfer of land, cancel the transaction and order a division of land between the two families.
Peacefully, they settled on their own family land, but another challenge came knocking on their doorstep: lack of income. Life became hard because of lack of meals, education and proper housing that led the young family to work in a stone quarry to earn money for the education of their elder sister, in whom they placed all their hope. God answered their prayers when she finished Form Four (Grade 12) and got employed as an untrained teacher at a nearby primary school. There was some reprieve in that the wages earned enabled the family to afford three meals a day. After two years of working, God blessed their sister with a husband who offered to pay for her college fees at a teacher training college. This came as a blessing, but a problem was lack of income again. Stanley’s elder brother and Stanley (who was eight years old at the time) decided to look for a job at a nearby farm to herd cows while his mother decided to brew alcohol.
Pursuing education—and a better life
With the little income he earned, Stanley went through primary education and then joined high school, where his attendance was on and off. In Form Two (Grade 10), he completed one term, and in Form Three (Grade 11), he completed one term. In Form Four, he did a full term of hide and seek, especially when he was being sent home for lack of school fees.
The turning point began when he met a former SACDP student named Sosten Kimeli, who told him about the Training Center in Kipkaren, Kenya. That was the period when he was also scouting for a college to join. One of his uncles informed him that his grandfather had left a cow for him as a present, and it sold. He used the funds from the sale to pay fees at the Training Center.
Empowered to empower others
In 2013, because of his passion for God’s work, Stanley was selected to be church clerk and secretary as well as sales and marketing director of his home church. Glory be to God for what He has done for his family, too, because their father is back home, and all of them have gone back to church again.
God lifts His faithful children from grass to grace. In November 2014, Stanley was employed as an assistant administrator and parent at World Hope Children’s Home in Lemoru, Kenya. The current position has enabled him to minster to children, form a prayer band to pray for others in the community and lead staff devotions. It has also allowed him to support two of his sisters’ school fees, one in Form Two and another who has joined college. In addition, he is contributing 10 percent of his salary to pay for different motivational speakers, who he invites to encourage the children to grow spiritually and morally.
Stanley is grateful that the Lord God Almighty has enabled him to reach this far, and he is longing to do more to help those who are oppressed and don’t know Christ Jesus to come to the Kingdom.
This year, our children from the Kipkaren and Ilula Children’s Homes will have a joint Christmas and New Year’s celebration. You can help make this celebration possible as all the children will gather for a time of rejoicing in Jesus’ birth and welcoming in the New Year in Kipkaren.
$40 will provide one child with the following:
• A new outfit
• Food for the day
• Transportation for the day
If you would like to contribute and help give the gift of Christmas, click here.
Val with Children’s Coordinator, Cathy, and Fam in Ono, PA
Church Visits 2015
Val and her husband, Rick, spent part of their family vacation this summer visiting and thanking churches who partnered with Empowering Lives through their Vacation Bible School programs this year.
Have you ever experienced a moment when you remember there are others out there on your same team? A moment when you realize your team members may have different backgrounds, different languages and cultures, but foundationally you are the same, bound by the same belief, purpose and hope? My husband and I had the joy of experiencing some of these precious moments this summer. It all started with a list of churches that had requested mini-grain sacks from Empowering Lives International for their 2015 Vacation Bible School Mission Project. Our task was to contact the churches to share more information about ELI, take prayer requests and simply say, “Thank you!”
What a privilege to talk to so many inspiring people! One was the VBS director at a Vietnamese church in California. As I listened to her heart, I couldn’t help but picture precious Vietnamese children bringing coin donations to benefit African children. Imagining each church and its setting was exciting as I talked with people from all corners of our country and everywhere in between. I loved the variety of voices and accents as well as the similarities. Our teams have similar needs – for more workers and renewed energy, as well as a deep desire for children to come and find Jesus.
More moments came when my husband and I had the joy of making a cross-country trip this summer. During the course of our travels, we had the pleasure of stopping at a few of the churches on our list.
August 5: Illinois and Indiana
Geneseo, Illinois is a beautiful farm town surrounded by cornfields, not far from the Mississippi River/Quad-City area. We admired the quaint town as we made our way to the First United Methodist Church. Visiting with Jan, we learned that their VBS had been a great success, and the kids loved the mini-grain sacks!
Our next stop was at William Chapel Church of God in Christ in Gary, Indiana. Across the street from this little church stood the burnt-out shell of a house, marking the struggling state of the neighborhood. The church itself stood as a light amid the darkness of this depressed inner city. Although we were unable to meet with anyone, we were reminded of the real ministry battles many on our team face.
August 9: Ohio
Donna, Collins, OH
We had the privilege to stop at three churches in Ohio. We visited Collins United Methodist and talked to Donna, Chicky and Pastor Josh. Excited about our visit, they shared that Pastor Josh had only been at the church since July. He, like many on our team, finds himself amidst the challenges of transition. Our “thank you” came at a time when a thank you was refreshing to hear.
Shannon, Lakewood, OH
The next stop was at Lakewood United Methodist Church, which sits in a suburb of Cleveland. Shannon, the Children’s Director, was busily checking on Sunday school classrooms and helping in a class, like other dedicated children’s workers I know. My heart was struck by the need to lift up our team members around the world in prayer.
In Andover, we found the First Baptist Church of Dorset. A little white country church stood tall amid the fields of the small farming community, and I was reminded of another small church outside Ilula, Kenya that also stands alone in the countryside.
August 29: New York and Pennsylvania
Milton, Shrub Oak, NY
We met Pastor Milton Cruz at the Memorial Park in Shrub Oak, New York. His congregation at the Taconic Christian Church has a heart for missions and desire to give. Listening to Milton’s heart for his people and for teaching the truth of God’s Word was humbling. After sharing gifts and praying together, we realized that our visit to say thanks had stirred our own hearts.
Cathy’s VBS Display
We drove west across the Hudson River through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania. We arrived in Ono where we met Mark, Cathy and their daughter, Abby, at the Ono United Methodist Church. Cathy is the Children’s Coordinator for the church. She showed us a VBS display board made for the church that highlighted children involved in various activities and highlighted the ELI 2015 VBS Mini-Grain Sack project. Her joy and enthusiasm were infectious, and when we saw her interact with some local children riding bikes in the parking lot, we knew the kids felt her love! We visited with her family and heard their prayer request for the church to carry on the work while their bi-vocational pastor was away ministering to military families. We drove away with thanksgiving in our hearts for fellow believers who work with faithfulness and passion, so grateful to know we have a Father who makes us all one.
There are so many more stories and bodies of believers to thank for the moments that have reminded us we are part of something big, and we are on the same team.
Your gifts strengthen children and families in East Africa, and your hearts of service impact every visitor who gets the chance to knock on your door. Keep a lookout for updates on our 2016 VBS missions program early in the New Year. If you are interested in receiving these updates or more information, please contact Tori Greaves at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ELI International Director Don Rogers presents Ishara’s Journey at Christbridge Academy on October 14, 2015.
Text and photos by Tori Greaves, ELI U.S.
Ishara lives with her brothers and sister in a rural village in the Congo. After their mother passed away due to the violence of raiding militias, Ishara became the main decision-maker of the family. Will she sell everything to take her siblings to the city? Perhaps there, she will find some support. Or will she try to farm their land on her own? What challenges will she face on the road ahead?
Now, imagine you are Ishara. What decisions will you make?
Ishara’s Journey is a choose-your-own-adventure story that reflects the real lives and decisions of children who have come to Empowering Lives’ school in the slums of Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo. In schools, classrooms and church programs, we present Ishara’s Journey so that children in the U.S. can learn what it is like for kids living in countries that suffer from poverty and violence. It is a significant way to engage the younger generation in the lives of others, as well as to invite them to be part of God’s transforming work in East Africa.
Christbridge Academy’s guiding verse for the year.
One school, Christbridge Academy in Azusa, California, has partnered with Empowering Lives for over nine years now. Students, teachers and administrators at Christbridge Academy seek to reflect God through spirit, knowledge and service. For the past several years, Christbridge students have created their own projects to raise awareness and funds for the ministry of Empowering Lives. Their hard work empowers their community and our ministry to continue participating in God’s incredible work. Thank you for welcoming us, Christbridge, and for your courage to lead although you are young!
Through partnership with Christbridge Academy and others, we are privileged to offer a safe place and opportunity for Congolese children on a very difficult journey. Making the decision to enroll in our school in Bukavu may be the one easy decision that Ishara has to make, but it is a decision that will equip and support her through the rest of her life.
If your school or classroom would like to partner with Empowering Lives, let us know at email@example.com. We would love to present or equip you with Ishara’s Journey and other resources to help your students learn and grow in service and generosity. Your kids can make a difference in the lives of children in DR Congo!
This month, high school seniors across Kenya will be taking the written portion of their national comprehensive exams for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) on October 12 through the end of the month. Practical exams for the KCSE began on September 28 for subjects such as foreign language and music.
Additionally, eighth grade students will be taking their exams for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) on November 10 to 13.
Students work hard and study long hours in order to test well and be accepted into quality schools. Please join us in prayer for our eighth grade students and high school seniors at the Ilula and Kipkaren Children’s Homes during this important time.
Thank you for your faithfulness in supporting the ministry of Empowering Lives!
To learn more about Empowering Lives International’s ministry to orphans and vulnerable children and how you can be a part of it, click here.
The following video was created by Azusa Pacific University student Rachel Mallasch (firstname.lastname@example.org). She, with two other APU students, came and served alongside Empowering Lives International in Ilula and Kipkaren, Kenya at the beginning of the summer.
Here is an update from Joyce, one of the first of our children to graduate high school. She is currently attending nursing school. We are proud of her hard work and wanted to share her words with you. She was featured in the Winter 2014 issue of Cultivate.
I am really grateful for joining college first of all, this nursing school of which I really dreamed for after my high school life. I started my nursing career last year and now am in my second year, still doing great. It is the best and one of the teaching career in life. First, you must be patient, hardworking and willing to make it.
We take our lessons per block so in the first block, we hear about the human anatomy, physiology, medical surgical, pharmacology, fundamentals in nursing, first aid and accident and emergency care.
I love everything about nursing: the learning and the practical part. In practicals, we learn of dressing wounds, care of critical patients, cleaning of patients and making them comfortable. We rotate in the clinical wards, medical wards, pediatrics wards and health and reproductive wards. I like the pediatric ward, because children are so gentle to handle. The most challenging thing is we have started our night shifts. Sometimes you find yourself sleeping on the bench, but we are coping up.
For now, I am trying to be perfect with the practical skills, and on my day off, I watch movies, play basketball games and go out for picnics with friends at the caves and waterfalls, watching the beautiful creation adventure that is.
I am looking forward to finishing my college school and start working while reading and helping people just like I have been helped. I would also like to start a dispensary around my village to help the sick and also work outside of Kenya.
ELI is one of the best organizations I have seen so far. When we left, they brought other little brothers and sisters. This is so amazing at least they have a future just like me. It’s ELI that has kept me moving through support of our sponsors, friends and prayers. I am also grateful for the gift of good health God has given.
Continue praying for us as we also pray. Thank you all, and I love you.
Raphael Ovesi is a former student of Empowering Lives’ Sustainable Agriculture and Community Development Program (SACDP) from 2011 to 2012. He comes from a family of eight siblings, plus his father and mother. He came to know the Kipkaren River Training and Development Center through his sister Lilian, also a former SACDP student of class 2010 to 2011, who spoke to him about how someone is empowered socially, religiously and economically if he joins the institution.
In 2011, he joined the institution as one of the students. From the beginning, he displayed the qualities of working hard both in class and in the field. Against this backdrop of empowerment and success at the institution, it was amazing to discover how he used to raise fees to fund his education to ease the burden from his parents, who were educating his younger siblings. Raphael decided to help shoulder the burden of school fees by doing manual jobs like weeding people’s farms; harvesting and shelling maize; and feeding people’s livestock during school holidays. Despite the challenge of fees, he managed to graduate from SACDP in 2012.
He continued to believe in God, whom he came to know here at the Training Center, and was blessed with a job at Nebert Ventures in Kipkaren as a farm manager. Upon visiting him on the farm, I discovered that he was in charge of crop and vegetable production and marketing. With the gifting of being a good mobilizer and a skilled farmer, he has managed to attract customers from the surrounding local community, schools and nearby market. On average, he supplies a total of 200 kilograms of vegetables a week with 10 different customers visiting the farm every day, each making an order of between 50 to 100 Kenyan shillings (approximately 48 to 95 cents). This translates into enormous economic transformation for both the company and himself. This economic transformation is seen through him where he is supporting his young brother by paying fees for Kisii University in Eldoret, where his young brother is pursuing a degree in education.
Also from the little savings from his monthly salary of 8,000 Kenyan shillings ($76.11), he has managed to start a mini bakery to make mandazi (doughnuts) with the knowledge acquired from the center taught by the late Theresa Ngetich Bett. The business is at infant stage but doing well in the nearby Kipkaren market. He has employed three youths to assist with the production process, and he believes one day, he is going to have a full time bakery as well as be able to go back to school to further his education.
Raphael said, “God had a purpose of placing me in the hands of training center, which transformed my life and made me believe in myself.”
The days were dwindling. I couldn’t accept that in my heart, I couldn’t allow myself to even think about leaving this haven. I thought back to our very first day when all the faces were unfamiliar, but I remember the moment with clarity as we stood before an assembly of 70 kids and staff, when Laban said with confidence, “Welcome home.” And truly, that is what it has become.
Not a single day passed when I did not encounter a moment where I felt truly full. That is the only word I can use to describe the emotion that flooded my heart when I spent time with these kids. Full of joy, compassion, adoration, gratitude and love. These kids have invited me into their lives with a wholeheartedness that astounds me. I will always cherish the moments I spent in the late afternoons on a concrete step with a little exuberant boy occupying my lap, four sweet girls braiding my “exciting” blonde hair and seven other kids climbing in the tree high above me while joyfully calling out my name. Or the times that we spent each evening, prompted by the 6 p.m. bell, praising God and reciting His word together, our voices rising in unity to the one true King. Or walking the youth down the red dirt path to “preps” (their study time) at school each evening, joking and giggling together, arm in arm. These simple moments of daily life are forever impressed on my heart.
I’m so grateful for the lifelong relationships formed but also for the encouragement of witnessing the beauty of what the ministry of ELI does. I have seen the poverty of this nation. I have seen barefoot children with protruding bellies peer longingly through the chain link school yard fence. I have seen makeshift one-room mud huts. I have seen eight-year-olds driving the family’s herd of cows, not being able to attend school. I have heard the stories of those my age who have lost parents in tragic ways or who feel abandoned but yet shrug and say, “That’s just the way life is.”
It is undeniable that the kids served by Empowering Lives have seen tragedy. They have, and it breaks my heart. But I am overjoyed by the utter hope they have because of this ministry. Each of these kids now has stability in their lives like they never had before. They now not only get their earthly needs met such as three meals a day, clean water, shelter and an education, but their spiritual needs are also being met. They are growing up in a home under two loving house parents who are instilling in them the Word of God. There is nothing more beautiful than rejoicing joyfully in a room full of these kids, knowing that if they weren’t here at this very moment, they would likely be very far from God. But instead I look into the faces of the young leaders leading worship with confidence and care, and my heart rejoices as the youngest of them, the three- and four-year-olds, dance and clap energetically for the Lord.
This is what redemption looks like. This is what love is. There is not a single fraction of doubt in my mind that God is holding each of these kids in the palm of His hand. I know that He has great big plans for each of them, and I am so excited to see them grow into the sons and daughters of Christ that they are.
Shayla, who is 15, traveled to Kenya with her parents, Barry and Christy, and her 12-year-old brother, Trevor, earlier in 2015.