“CHEBIWYO! CRAZY WOMAN!” People would scatter to avoid her and others would beat her openly. Her life was hard even before her husband died. His weekly beatings crushed her self-worth and when he passed on, her brokenness turned to so much anger that she would wander and wail loudly through her village in unending drunkenness. Her five small children suffered from constant neglect and preferred not to see her. They begged her to stop brewing and selling illegal alcohol which had turned their mud home into an illegal brewing den filled daily with dozens of alcoholics.
Peris, a reformed brewer, showed Emmy a door of hope that eventually led her to a week-long ELI training. The transition out of drinking and poverty was not easy for Emmy but her new relationship with God and other Women of Change (Reformed Brewers) helped her step by step until her renewed concern for her own children led her to start a Sunday School outreach! Now she is not only planting food with her new skills but planting a church with her new found friends and love of God.
Last year there were a handful of children who use to walk with her over 5 miles up the mountain to the closest church. Now over 50 children gather near the roadside to hear her lessons. Around a dozen adults are now coming and they often bring corn cobs as a tithe. Emmy was even recently given by election the high honor of being one of the community elders – a person of wisdom and positive influence. People are still amazed at the miracle of change they see in her life, children, and leadership. She is no longer “Chebiwyo!” Today they call her “Mchungaji” which means “Pastor.”
Your gifts and prayers helped make this possible. You are the catalyst in this process to provide life-changing programs to thousands of people who, like Emmy, had lost hope. Thank you! We celebrate the new life that she has found and invite you to help reach others hoping for the chance to discover New Skills and the love of God.
Your care makes all the difference for people like Emmy.
Can one life impact another life so profoundly that each person is forever changed, even if an ocean lies between them?
This kind of transformation happened to DiAnne and Melissa Drachand through their relationship with a group of children at the Ilula Children’s Home in Kenya.
DiAnne first met her sponsor child Benson and his brothers in the Children’s Home, Vincent, Hillary, Gabriel and Joshua in 2005 when she traveled to Kenya with ELI. The five boys had been in the Children’s Home for a year, and they completely won DiAnne’s heart. After returning to the US, DiAnne kept up with the boys, tracking with them as they grew. She saved their letters and drawings in a special file, and prayed for them and their futures.
DiAnne returned to Kenya with her daughter Melissa in 2010 and again in 2013. Both years were big transition years for the boys in the Children’s Home, and DiAnne and Melissa got to be there to support them and encourage them. In 2010, the boys were moving away to boarding school and in 2013 they were graduating and heading off to college. DiAnne and Melissa became like a mother and older sister to the boys, and the relationship across an ocean grew.
This August, one of the boys, Vincent (now 22 and in college) came to the US to share with ELI friends and supporters about his experience growing up in the Children’s Home. He paid a special visit to DiAnne and Melissa, and the love and joy shared between them was evident.Vincent gave them his heartfelt appreciation, and Melissa and DiAnne shared about how they were also affected, and their spiritual lives deepened by the relationship with Vincent and his brothers even though they were halfway across the world.
This is the kind of all encompassing transformation that truly empowers lives. Lives in Africa and lives in the US. Whether you are a child sponsor, or involved in another ministry area, our prayer is that your life will be deeply impacted as your love and care in turn impacts another life. Thank you for being a part of the journey!
A quality education can offer hope for the future in Kenya, but sadly much of the country’s population lacks access to good schools. Paying school fees is a constant challenge, and education is often the first thing to go when a family is struggling.
We want to take a minute to highlight the two elementary schools where all of the ELI kids in Kenya attend Pre-K through the 8th grade. We are very blessed by Brook of Faith Academy and Samro School, and the way they are equipping the next generation in Kenya.
Brook of Faith Academy in Kipkaren and Samro School in Ilula
The children at the Kipkaren and Ilula Children’s Homes wake up every morning, put on their navy blue uniforms, and take a brief walk next door to their school. In Kipkaren, the kids attend Brook of Faith Academy, and in Ilula, they attend Samro School.
The children arrive at the two schools in a few minutes’ time, no small luxury in Kenya where many children have to walk several miles to school each day.
The students spend the day in bilingual studies, learning in both English and Swahili. Stand outside of “Baby Class” (Pre-K) and you will here a chorus of voices reciting “A-A-Apple, B-B-Ball” as the three and four-year-old students practice their first English words. Listen in on an 8th grade lesson and you might wonder how the kids are able to retain all of the information they are learning. 8th grade is a big year in Kenya, as students must take an exit exam that will determine their acceptance and placement in a high school.
Both schools take annual class field trips to various places throughout the country. From safari excursions to tours of historic sights, the students are able to leave the classroom and learn in a new environment. They look forward to their field trip all year!
Play is important, and both schools have a set time for games. The students change from their uniforms to bright colored red, yellow and blue track clothes and play games like soccer and volleyball.
It takes a village
It is through the commitment of sponsors that all 244 kids at the Homes are able to receive a quality education beyond high school and into college. We believe that seeing the kids through college will give them the most opportunities to succeed in life outside of the Homes, and builds them into strong leaders for the nation of Kenya.
It really does take a village to raise a child, and we are thankful to the ELI village in both Kenya and the US for the care these kids receive each day. Thank you for being a part of the family!
We’ve said it time and time again. Poverty is complex. The issues behind poverty are complex. The problem of brewing illegal alcohol is complex, and it is our mission to address the whole problem, and not just part of it.
We are doing this in many ways: through follow-ups with brewers who have been through the ELI training, through support groups amongst these former brewers, and through community outreach programs like Give a Child a Chance.
Give a Child a Chance is an event where reformed brewers and their families gather to continue the healing process that has begun in their lives. Hundreds come together to play games, share testimonies, and engage in community building activities.
How does this help the issue of brewing illegal alcohol and the growing problem of alcoholism in Kenya? Our Training Center Manager, Dennis Kiprop, shares:
“You can’t change an entire community by only changing the mom. A community is a collection of families. You change the community by changing the family, and you access the family through that one member.”
The Give a Child a Chance events are whole-family and whole-community events. The goal of Give a Child a Chance is healthy homes that help build a healthy community.
“We want to multiply impact,” says Dennis. “For change to be sustainable, there must be unity. A changed family can change another family. Train a husband, a wife and a child and the three of them together will now show others the new way forward.”
Thank you for being a part of the mission to bring healing to families and communities that have been broken by alcohol. It takes many hands to bring about transformation, and we are grateful for your partnership!
Hillary was the very first child brought to the Ilula Children’s Home in 2004 when he was seven years old. There were no relatives who were able to care for Hillary and his siblings when his mother passed away in 2003. They were without hope until they learned about the Children’s Home through Laban and Angelina Rono, the Directors of the Home.
When Hillary arrived at Ilula, he came barefooted with only the clothes on his back. At first he was scared and uncertain of his new environment, but over time it became home, and his foster parents and adopted brothers and sisters became family.
“When Laban, the Director, told me that these are going to be your parents, I heard it like a voice from God. God was saying, ‘Now this is going to be your mother and father.’ And that voice has never stopped. When I think of a mother and father, I always think of them. I still feel that connection.”
Today, Hillary is thriving. He studied journalism and mass media at Kisii University, and is currently working for the government. He visits the Home frequently and stays in contact with the family he has there.
His life has been deeply impacted by Empowering Lives.
We are currently in the process of bringing sixteen new children to the Ilula Children’s Home! Nine are still awaiting sponsors. Help bring these nine remaining kids into the Home where they will be adopted into a forever family just like Hillary. $35 a month will transform the life of a child in need! Click here to learn more about how you can help give a child a home.
In February, my team and I went on a follow-up visit to meet Sikuku, one of the hundreds of men who has gone through the Kenya Anti-Alcohol Training provided at Empowering LivesInternational. I would like to share with you some of his story.
Drinking from the age of 10
Sikuku’s family used to brew alcohol, and he began drinking at the age of 10. He made it to grade 7 in school, but did not continue because of his addiction to alcohol. Sikuku continued to drink illicit brew until 2007, when alcoholism drove him to madness. He began hallucinating and thought people were chasing him, trying to kill him with machetes. At one point while intoxicated, he jumped down a deep quarry thinking it was shallow. He could have died, but God had big plans for him!
Sober for a decade
Sikuku came in 2007 to a one-month rehabilitation program after being convinced by his friends who had gone through the same program a year before. He showed up drunk. Although he didn’t have any money to pay for the training, nobody asked him about finances and he completed the 12-step program. Sikuku has now been sober for 10 years!
Becoming a businessman
Sikuku started a small business by using a borrowed tractor to plow fields and make deliveries. In 2011, Sikuku opened his own store, called “Umoja (Unity) Workshop”. Along with his wood shop business, Sikuku also owns a large poultry business and leases farms. He puts the money that he is getting from the workshop straight into sustaining the poultry business. Sikuku’s vision and dream is to sell 4,000 hens a year at $10 each.
In the future, Sikuku desires to send others through the Kenya Anti-Alcohol program. It is due to the diligence and passion of the KAA staff, and your partnership, that I got to hear many stories from people like Sikuku who have found freedom in Christ.
Empowering Lives International
To learn more about the Kenya Anti-Alcohol program, click here.
It seems like we wake up each morning and the world is a different place–bombings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, heartbreaking famine–poverty happening all through the night, making each day a little less steady than the one before.
Even as Christians we become fatigued with the mission laying itself out before us. How can we make a difference when the darkness seems so much greater with each passing day? How can we instill hope in someone else when our hearts are themselves feeling hopeless?
The truth is, the mission laying itself out before us is hard; it’s complex. The poverty that is drowning our world is not just physical, but emotional, spiritual, and social. How can we make a difference when poverty is so deep, so entrenched in cultures, traditions, cycles, and addictions?
Isaiah 58:6 says, “Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen; to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
At Empowering Lives International, we seek to loose these chains by addressing poverty in its many different forms. It is easy to see physical poverty, but it is often connected to much deeper issues like alcoholism, witchcraft, and spiritual warfare. The answer is not to simply meet the physical needs, for those will still be there tomorrow. Instead, we seek to address poverty at its core, the foundation of pain and suffering, with the light and hope that is Jesus Christ!
As you partner alongside us, more brewers are trained, orphans are adopted, and clean water is provided to parched communities. But even more, the depths of poverty are being broken at the core as men, women and children face their own darkness, their own poverty. They begin the difficult journey towards a freedom found in Christ.
It is easy to feel hopeless in our chaotic world. We pray that you truly understand and embrace the magnitude of your partnership—the depths of poverty are being broken! And the Kingdom of Heaven is growing exponentially! Thank you for standing alongside us as we dig deep into these cores of poverty and seek to bring His light.
Two dedicated youth pastors, eight sets of loving parents, two directors, two assistant directors, one accountant and YOU.
In Kenya, the vast majority of high schools are boarding schools, so this is a big step for our kids! We asked ELI’s two youth pastors, Silas and Ezra, (who are dedicated to caring for our high schoolers) about the monumental task of preparing so many kids for school.
How do you prepare one child for boarding school?
When a child has been accepted to a high school, an admission letter comes with a list of school supplies. The house parents carefully study the list to make sure all the requirements are captured in the shopping list. When the shopping list is ready, parents or youth pastors are assigned to either purchase items or pay school fees. School fees are paid through each school’s bank account, so, we might have to visit 8-10 different banks over a course of a few days. As you can imagine, it is a lot of coordination to purchase supplies and pay school fees for 96 children.
What kind of supplies?
Eating bowl and utensils, blankets, bed sheets, mattresses, washing basins, padlocks, soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, shoe polish, sanitary towels, body lotion, uniforms, shoes, under garments, books, stationery, and a metallic trunk to store everything. This is just to name a few.
Where do you get them?
We purchase our supplies in town. For Kipkaren, we drive about 48km (about a 1-hour drive). These purchases may take more than one day because some of the items may not be available and you need to place an order and go back another day. We can spend days on end battling traffic and lines to get everything.
How often are the kids visited in school?
Follow-ups to schools are usually once a month or when the school has different functions like academic days, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Parent’s Day. During these visits we usually take gifts to the kids, like food and personal effects. Parents or youth pastors will have to do some consultation with teachers over the academic performance of the kid and general behavior. Then the parent or the youth pastor will have some time with the child for encouragement and discussion on matters of academics and general life in school.
You have seen a glimpse into what it takes to care for our 96 high school children. There are many more details that go into preparing our kids and following up with them while in school.
We are so grateful to Ezra and Silas and the rest of our staff for making it happen. And we are thankful for YOU and your partnership that provides these wonderful caregivers for our kids.
What happens when a farmer trains a farmer who trains a farmer who trains a farmer?
An entire community can change.
Most East Africans are dependent on agriculture. They produce enough to keep their families alive, but just barely. There is never quite enough to eat, and nothing left over to sell.
This is subsistence farming.
ELI Extension Training Coordinator Isaac Ruto conducts trainings that equip farmers over a period of two years to transform their farms into a business so that they are not only feeding their families, but they are also generating income. How does it work? Here are a few key ingredients to the program’s success.
Ingredient #1 What do you already have? Start there.
If you already grow vegetables on a small plot of land, start with vegetables and that small plot of land. Learn everything you can about the resources you already have. Many farmers want to head straight to big cash crops and large livestock. Isaac teaches them to start small, to start where they are, and to grow from there.
Ingredient #2 Build slowly over time.
Many subsistence farmers hope for a quick solution to their farming woes. But farming is complex, and most farmers are lacking knowledge more than resources. Over the course of the first year of training, the farmers learn which crops they are best suited to grow. They concentrate on that item until there is a surplus that can be invested in a new area, like chickens. From chickens, they can grow to sheep, and from sheep they can grow to fruit trees and cattle.
Timothy is a farmer who used the knowledge he gained from extension training to break free from subsistence farming and start operating a small business.
Ingredient #3 Train others as you are being trained.
Isaac trains and then oversees ELI coordinators who are assigned to a region. Each of these coordinators trains thirty farmers using short but powerfully practical lessons over a two-year period. After six months, these thirty farmers begin to train ten other farmers who in turn train another five farmers. After a few years of these exponential trainings, hundreds and eventually thousands of families are impacted!
This kind of practical agribusiness training is one of the key programs ELI has developed to fight the complexities of poverty in East Africa. Like Isaac Ruto, we are committed to helping people start where they are and grow over time. It is your prayers and generosity that are helping to bring an end to subsistence living for Timothy and many more families in need. Thank you for your partnership!
Meet Eliud, a quiet 19-year-old from our Ilula Children’s Home whose life honors God.
We want to share with you the story of Eliud, one of our graduates from the Ilula Children’s Home. Eilud was brought to the Home in 2004 following the death of his mother. When he arrived, he was 5 years old and very malnourished. He was so weak that his grandmother carried him tied to her back like an infant. Today, Eliud is in good health. He likes to run and help with the bread baking for the Home, and he has a constant smile on his face.
School is something that never came easy to Eliud, and over the years he struggled more and more to keep up with his classmates. His house parents, Priscah and David, became concerned that he would not be able to complete his education. Eliud was enrolled in a school for children with special needs, and he finished the 8th grade. In Kenya, it is vital that a student do well on the 8th grade final exams in order to be admitted into high school. Eliud was not able to perform well on these exams, prohibiting him from being placed in a high school.
One by one the other 8th graders at the Home received their acceptance letters from various high schools, but none came for Eliud. After months of searching and feeling like there may be no hope for further education for him, an answer came. Eliud was accepted as a student in the tailoring program at a vocational school near Ilula that has a good reputation. “His smile was so big!” said Eliud’s house mother, Priscah. “He said ‘Mom, I got a place!’ He is proud to be attending a good school.”
Children like Eliud can easily fall through the cracks in a country where there is a limited system set up for people with special needs. And they can also feel like there is no hope if they are unable to succeed in school. We are committed to giving each one of our kids a bright future. Whether they attend a top university or learn a trade, we walk with them every step of the way.
It is through the love and commitment of people like you that Eliud has been able to find a place to learn and thrive. Thank you for your dedication to these children that God has placed in our care. It is a joy to watch them grow up and to see the many ways that they are honoring God with their lives!
Pius is one of eight children and his mother, Perris, is a woman who brewed illegal alcohol in her home for many years. Perris left brewing behind after attending an Empowering Lives training in 2013. In the past four years, 882 brewers like Perris have been trained in alternate occupations. The majority of these brewers have been women. As they return home to start their new lives, a ripple effect of positive change in their households begins.
Pius described the home he lived in before his mother attended the training as embarrassing. He would come home from school during lunch break and instead of finding food he would find a line of customers waiting for his mother’s home-brewed alcohol. One day at school Pius’ teacher pointed out that his uniform was becoming too tattered and she sent him home. When he asked his mother for a new shirt, she did not provide one for him. Perris was too busy with the demands of the alcoholics in her home to properly care for her children. Some days up to 100 customers would come through the door, and there was no time for anything but brewing.
After Perris attended the ELI training, Pius said, everything changed. Perris left brewing and began a small successful business raising chickens. She was able to spend more time talking with her children, encouraging them and giving them the attention they needed. She purchased a new uniform for Pius and began providing proper meals. She started talking about God. Perris encouraged the whole family to go to church, and they continue to attend church to this day. Perris became a beacon of light in her community, encouraging many others to leave brewing. Her influence has affected countless lives well beyond her own family and village.
This is a better life, Pius shared. There is hope for the future when once there was no hope. His performance at school has improved and he is able to attend secondary school, a privilege his older siblings did not have. Thank you, Pius said, and may God bless you!
You have joined us in the journey to equip the poor to live sustainable lives that honor God. Today, we want to unpack what working with the poor looks like in Kenya by talking with Colleen Costigan. Colleen has been with Empowering Lives for the past four years at the Kipkaren Children’s Home and she also works with people living in extreme poverty in a nearby slum community.
How would you define “the poor” in Kenya? Are “the poor” different in Kenya than in the US?
I think it’s important to differentiate between physical poverty and spiritual poverty. Physical poverty is when a person does not have enough resources to get basic needs met like food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare. Spiritual poverty looks more like hopelessness and despair and is often a lack of awareness of how much a person needs God. I’ve met many people in Kenya who at some point in their lives have had to rely on God for food, water or shelter or to provide for school fees or money for an overwhelming hospital bill. There is an element of faith and trust in God that is built into the culture in order to survive. And I think this helps cultivate a reliance on God.
How have you seen physical resources not being enough to lift a person out of poverty?
I have been involved in a situation where I’ve tried everything to offer a person a way out of poverty. I’ve tried empowerment through education, empowerment through a farm project, a Christian 12-step rehabilitation program, and continuously sharing the gospel message. That person (and family) remains chained to addiction and trapped in poverty. The only thing left to do is pray and wait and pray some more and wait some more and trust that God has a plan.
Is there a way to combat poverty that you have found to be most effective?
I don’t think there is an easy or “best” solution to combat poverty. I think you have to try different combinations of things and be willing to fail. It’s important to try to be open minded and flexible. I do think education is an incredibly powerful tool to break the cycle of poverty, and education needs to be coupled with the word of God and prayer. The hope through education is that people are empowered to know their worth, value, and purpose for being on earth.
What are your hopes for equipping the poor with ELI this year?
I am very passionate about the counseling program for the Children’s Homes. Over the last two years it has been a tool to educate and equip the caregivers at the Children’s Homes to learn about the most loving ways to care for the hearts of orphans and vulnerable children. The counseling program has also served as a tool to educate the children and staff on issues related to child safety and protection and minimize risk of any potential harm.
Each of our 600+ students at the ELI Christian Academy in the Democratic Republic of Congo has a story. Today, we want to share with you the story of 13-year-old Musayi Maombi.
Musayi is the youngest of four girls. The father of the three older girls disappeared during the war, and shortly thereafter Musayi’s mother was raped by soldiers and conceived Musayi. When Musayi was born, the family rejected her, only recognizing the three older daughters. Seeing this injustice, Musayi’s maternal grandmother took her into her home and did her best to care for her. When Musayi reached primary school, her grandmother died. Having no other option, Musayi went back to her mother’s home where she was abused by her family. Her three sisters attended school, but Musayi was denied an education.
Musayi was confused by the treatment she was experiencing. She asked her mother why no one cared about her, but she did not get a response. Finally, when she could not bear her situation any longer, Musayi confided in a neighbor. The neighbor shared with Musayi the story of her conception, and explained to her why she was not considered a legitimate member of the family. Musayi wept at the news and returned home. A week later, the same neighbor brought Musayi to the ELI Christian Academy. The neighbor presented the girl’s case to the school, and a social worker was sent to her home to verify the situation.
Musayi was able to join the school and was finally treated as a person of worth and value by teachers, staff and students. It took her a long time to open up to the love and care she was not used to receiving. Musayi met other children with similar backgrounds to her own, and slowly she began to enjoy life at the school. She is now in her third year at the ELI Christian Academy, and the school has become like a second home to her. Musayi sings in the choir and is working hard at her studies.
Sadly, Musayi’s story is not an unusual one in the DRC. Our goal is to give each of the children at our school a safe haven to learn and grow, and to teach them about their intrinsic worth in the eyes of God. We believe that every child deserves a bright future. Thank you so much for your partnership in this important mission. We could not do it without you!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Empowering Lives Founder and International Director Don Rogers and his family are heading to East Africa during June and July. Your prayers are appreciated as they travel around, visiting staff and ELI sites in Kenya and Tanzania.