Brought to you by dedicated students and leaders at East Stroudsburg University, PA.
A child in the D.R. Congo…
Born into a land of great natural beauty, a farm, a home.
Yet the child’s path winds quickly through dangerous and unexpected turns.
Through war and the death of a father,
Sickness and the death of a mother,
Poverty and the loss of her home.
She makes her way to an urban slum.
Her path continues downward.
Her siblings split up among relatives,
Her uncle and caretaker is the most abusive.
Perhaps it is better to live on the streets?
It is a scary, uncertain, and treacherous path,
Yet it is all too common in the D.R. Congo.
Can these children find hope again?
We believe that they can! This is the work of the ELI school in the slum of Bukavu, D.R. Congo – to provide hope, food, health, and opportunities to those who thought they had lost it all.
Thanks to wonderful partners in the United States, the reality of life in the D.R. Congo is being shared. The photos you see here were created for a demonstration at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. Students in the art class of Dr. Darlene Farris-Labarr and in the Social work with Communities and Organizations class of Dr. Laurene Clossey worked together to help spread awareness on their campus. Together, these students decided to take a stand for justice and for hope in the D.R. Congo by supporting Empowering Lives and sharing with their community. Thank you, ESU!
Share the stories, support leaders who are making a difference in communities on the ground, learn more, and stand up for justice and hope in our world. These are ways you can be a part of the ELI Community today!
Thank you for spreading the hope of God’s community! You are building community, both locally and globally.
Mary grew up in a family of brewers. Everyone she knew brewed alcohol illegally. She married an alcoholic who came from a chaotic family. It was not long until he abandoned Mary and the children.
Without any other example to follow, Mary began brewing and drinking alcohol. Soon, she was drowning in the dangers, violence, and poverty of her career. She felt rejected and alone.
When Mary came to the ELI Ukweli Training Center in 2013, her life changed. She described feeling so much peace as she entered the grounds and began to learn to cook, farm, and start a business. With the knowledge and skills she learned, Mary farmed and saved up to buy a house – the first home for her family.
But when Mary’s husband returned, he hated all that she had built. He burned the house down.
This time, Mary was not alone. The friends she had formed in her community and through the brewers’ training at ELI rallied together to help rebuild her home.
Life is still not easy for Mary, but she can feed her kids well and send them to school. Most importantly, she belongs to a loving, God-seeking community, which supports her and reminds her that she is never alone.
This beautiful outpouring of community occurs as God moves through and empowers people. We see the same dedication and love now pouring out by groups of women in the USA. Many have volunteered to join together to become 100 Women of Change. As they meet, they support one another and give to impact communities of brewers in East Africa. Their stories and Mary’s remind us that as one community, we join together to make a great impact on this world. To God be the glory!
By Tori Greaves Development Manager
Empowering Lives International
It was around this time last year that we sent Jacob, Calvince and Peter to India for a bone marrow transplant. It is with such joyful hearts that we can report to you that Jacob is back in school and doing well! He has regained strength and his smile is as radiant as ever!
Though a man of few words, his smile and strength expresses his gratefulness for the ways he saw you come together to see his healing.
Jacob is not the only child in our Children’s Homes who has received medical attention with the help of donations from friends like you. Recently, Kevin, one of the boys who was welcomed into the Kipkaren Children’s Home in 2014, received surgery to correct his left leg and foot. His left leg was bowed and his foot turned upwards, making it difficult to walk. This February 2016, donations allowed him to receive surgery. He is currently healing and can’t wait to run and play soccer with his friends.
Special gifts have made it possible for us to address the extra medical needs of our orphaned children. And we are seeing God heal them!
We still have other children in need of special medical attention and ongoing medical needs. For example:
David, 10 years old, needs surgery to correct his knees as they face inwards, making it difficult to walk.
Enock, 10 years old, has one leg that protrudes outwards, making one leg shorter than the other and very difficult to walk.
If you would like to donate a one-time or monthly gift towards special medical needs of our kids:
CLICK HERE to be directed to our online giving page
Under “Gift Information” choose “Orphans and Vulnerable Children”
From the drop down, select “Help vulnerable children”
In the “Comments” section, type in “Child Healthcare”
Because of your prayers and support, we at Empowering Lives witness communities as they experience complete transformation and learn to seek and honor God.
In January, 2015, I sat with Pastor Boaz from the community of Kapsoo as he shared his struggles with me. His church only had 17 regular attendees. His community had an 85% alcoholism rate, and the people were entrenched in tribal sacrifices and other harmful ways. Poverty was rampant, and there was little joy. However, Pastor Boaz had hope because knew that God was faithful. He was very thankful for the partnership with ELI which shares his passion for community development that honors God.
Over the course of a year, alongside Pastor Boaz, ELI staff attended community meetings and visited people in their homes. They developed a demonstration farm, and teams from the US encouraged and preached the gospel to both children and adults. Women alcohol brewers attended a week-long training to gain alternative ideas for business. Gradually, people began to see a way out of their poverty and hopelessness.
Then, just last week, I had the privilege of sitting with Pastor Boaz again. He shared his testimony of the past year. He now has over 100 people attending church on a regular basis. The number of women brewing alcohol has decreased. Men are beginning to spend more time farming their land and earning money for their families instead of spending the day drinking alcohol. The tribal sacrifices have ceased and have been replaced with prayers to God.
Pastor Boaz said, “The people in this community were once harsh towards God and towards me. But thanks to the support of ELI and the prayers of many, the people are no longer harsh and lives are being changed.”
Thank you for being an important part of our ministry as we equip people to live lives that honor God. Your support and prayers are what make it possible for communities like Kapsoo to have hope and experience God’s life-changing power.
God uses you to bring people dignity! Through your prayers and support, you empower sustainable lives. But what does this look like?
As I walked by Leah, I reached into my pocket to hand her a dollar for a loaf of bread. This was the fourth day in a row.
Battered and abandoned by an abusive husband, Leah had taken refuge in our church. Though her wounds healed and we could offer her a small hut for shelter, she still had to beg in order to eat.
It hit me that in my attempt to solve her problem I was actually creating one.
By handing her a daily dollar I was: Creating and encouraging her dependency. Robbing her of the joy of developing her own skills. Removing her responsibility to solve her problems. And supporting an unsustainable solution.
I’ve learned from experience and from God’s Word that God is more interested in building our lives than simply solving our problems. Jesus tells his disciples “Go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
The solutions to poverty are certainly not simple. However, by guiding people to attain skills and find sustainable solutions, we equip them to build their lives and achieve God’s purposes for them. Then they, too, become teachers and role models of the holistic life to which God calls us all.
Two months later, Leah was selling bread. A Tanzanian comrade and I built a steel drum oven to give to her. I’ll never forget the day that she walked forward during a church service with coins in her hands for an offering. Her face filled with a smile. The fruits of her own labor she was now able to give to God!
The first day of school can be full of uncertainty, excitement and anticipation. Apollo, from the Ilula Children’s Home, wears all of these emotions on his face as he stands in the parking lot of his new high school. His belongings sit on the ground around his feet: two thick blankets in plastic grocery bags, a green trunk, a bright pink lidded bin, a foam mattress.
Arms tightly crossed across his chest, he laughs self-consciously when asked to pose for a photo. He casts a quick glance over toward the classrooms—presumably to see if anyone is watching—and obliges.
Nickson, an Ilula Children’s Home parent, emerges from the front office. It’s time to get registered as a Form 1 (high school freshman). The two pick up Apollo’s things and head over to an empty classroom to get underway.
Apollo (far left) is accompanied by Nickson (middle), who helps him go through the Form 1 registration and check-in process. This includes paying fees, obtaining a student number, making sure all supplies are in order and reviewing and signing forms.
A large message is left on the chalkboard in the registration room. Tumewaongoja sana roughly translates to “We have very much waited for you.”
New students need to come prepared with all of the required school supplies, such as reams of paper, notebooks, a calculator, pens and textbooks.
Students must also come with their own personal supplies: a mattress, a trunk with locks, blankets, shower slippers, a bowl, a spoon, a mug, a flashlight, shoe polish with brush, laundry detergent and a number of toiletries (shown below).
Nickson and Apollo review a document of the school’s rules and policies as a school employee screen prints Apollo’s student number onto his uniform.
Every article of clothing—shirts, tie, socks, blazer, trousers, pajamas, gym shorts and even underwear—as well as bed sheets and towels must be printed with one’s student number.
After a careful reading, Nickson and Apollo sign the document on the school’s rules and policies, acknowledging their understanding of the contents.
A faculty member arrives with more papers. It’s an intake survey. She and Apollo work through the questions one by one: what he wants to be when he grows up (a banker), what church he’d like to attend, what clubs he’d like to participate in and so on.
Brian, a Form 2 (high school sophomore) from the Ilula Children’s Home, stops by the registration room to greet Apollo. The two boys chat and share some laughs as Apollo puts on his dress shirt, which now bears his student number in bright yellow paint. Nickson sees that he is fumbling with his tie and walks over to assist.
The man screen printing numbers onto Apollo’s clothes and linens asks for his shoes and dress socks for labeling. Nickson grabs Apollo’s shower slippers for him to wear and notices that the boy’s trousers are a bit too large. Apollo has not packed a belt. Without hesitation, Nickson removes his own belt and gives it to him.
Outside of the registration room, older students chat and get some fresh air in between classes.
A fresh batch of Form 1 boys await their instructor.
With registration completed and the comfort of knowing Brian is around, Apollo relaxes. “Brian is here. He can take care of him,” Nickson says. He play boxes with the two boys, landing soft punches on their arms. He gives them hugs and firm handshakes as they exchange byes. Brian returns to class, and Apollo goes to join his own class as an official Form 1.
Do you know that you bring light into the darkest places?
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been called a place of great darkness. Poverty is rampant, and recent wars ravaged its people, body and spirit.
Mugisho Basomire and his family lost their father in 1996 when war broke out. Shortly after his father’s passing, his mother became blind due to advanced cataracts. Mugisho’s four younger siblings looked to him to provide food and basic needs. The pastors in the local area saw that this family desperately needed help, but they did not know what to do. The pastors then reached out to Empowering Lives International, and God intervened.
Mugisho in his ELI Academy uniform, 2010
ELI assisted Mugisho’s family by providing education and food every day for three of the fove children through the ELI Academy in the Keredi slum of Bukavu, DR Congo.
Since then, Mugisho has graduated from high school and now works for a security agency to help provide for his family. Because of you, the Basomire family has been transformed.
Mugisho can now provide tuition fees for his younger siblings. He was able to move his family into a better home, for which he pays rent every month. He even paid for corrective eye surgery for his mother, and she regained her vision!
We witness stories like Mugisho’s daily. Because you invest in the ministry of ELI, you provide care and education for children who would otherwise have none. Education means hope and self-sustainability for the poor.
The locals of the Keredi slum named the ELI Academy “the jewel that has dropped from heaven” because of the hope it provides for the people who call the slum their home. It brings sight to the blind and light to the darkest places.
Sarah O’Connor Child Sponsorships/Office Assistant Empowering Lives International
“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 email@example.com.