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.