There’s nothing like 500 orphans singing “Happy Birthday” to you. Yes, the Ring Road Orphan’s Day School had a surprise birthday party for me. They called me to stand in the school ground by the flagpole supporting the Kenyan flag. Then their goal was to sing it so loudly that it could be heard in the next city. I think they succeeded. (more…)
If there was ever a person I was destined to meet, it was Jared Odhiambo. Some years ago, I gave my life to helping AIDS orphans in Africa. When I made this commitment, I didn’t know how to do it. In fact, I didn’t even know any AIDS orphans. As a result I started sending emails and searching the internet to find someone who could help me. A person at our church in Seattle told me about a missionary in Kenya whom she had been helping. She said that she thought he had a Kenyan in his ministry who might be able to help. She didn’t know his name. Then I asked another friend if he knew somebody who could help. He told me that he had met a young African who was visiting Abilene Christian University. This young man was Kenyan and wanted to help AIDS orphans in a slum in Kisumu. Somehow I didn’t get all the information about him, but he sounded like the kind of person I wanted to meet. Then another friend told me that he had heard of a young man named Jared Odhiambo who had a vision of doing something big to help orphans. I got the information and emailed him. It turned out that all three of the people that I was searching for were really only one. Every person that I asked was leading me to the same person—Jared Odhiambo. (more…)
Haggai. It’s one of those books in the Bible that is seldom read. Maybe we should read it more. This minor prophet reminds God’s people that all the silver and gold belongs to Him not them. It’s a pretty good message. We so often think that all of the money that we have really belongs to us. No, it belongs to God. He lets us use it. And when I walk on the streets of Africa among the orphans, I often wonder if I am using His money like He wants it used. It seems that I am always convicted that He wants His money spent more on the poor and needy than upon all the stuff I buy for myself when I really already have what I need.
But these days when I hear about “Haggai,” I usually think of my friend. Haggai Khadiri is our accountant at CRF in Kisumu. He tries his best to make sure we spend our money in a way that helps us remember that it is truly God’s money. Haggai is the eighth child born into his family—but the first boy. Yes, he had seven older sisters. Haggai is now on the last year of his law degree. He is specializing in women and children’s rights. I could write for hours on how that is being neglected in this area. But what moves me most about Haggai is what he has done at Oasis of Hope.
Music moves Africa. There is nothing else quite like it that shapes the mood and spirit of this continent, and if you want to hear the best music that you will probably ever hear—it will be at Oasis of Hope. The children here can sing! Oasis of Hope is a high school in Kisumu helping orphaned and neglected children in the name of Christ. And it is Haggai’s passion.
If I evaluated our situation here, I would conclude that our biggest problem is our success. We have saved so many children in the slums who would have otherwise died. And we have educated them well. In fact, they are so smart that they are getting accepted into great secondary schools. And we didn’t have a good plan for the success of raising so many orphans to have incredible minds and who would desire further education. In Kenya, they say that school is free—you just have to pay school fees. And we simply can’t afford school fees for all of our children. In most cases we have our own primary schools and the sponsorship fees from CRF pay for the bulk of the children’s education. But when they get older, we don’t have secondary schools, and the cost of education is more than we can afford. It seems like one of the best answers is to have our own secondary schools that are more affordable and in line with what we can manage to pay for our children.
Obviously, we will have to build some schools to do this. But another idea came from Haggai. He has offered to let us buy part of his school. We would be partial owners. He would guarantee that all of our CRF children got into school, and he would reduce the tuition for all of our CRF children. This seems like such a good way to start solving some of our educational problems.
Would you start praying with me about Oasis of Hope? I like the name, don’t you? It seems to fit us. We don’t have the money yet to become an owner of Oasis of Hope. But money isn’t our biggest problem, is it? Didn’t Haggai tell us that it all belongs to God anyway (the Haggai in the Bible)? I think finding a good man like Haggai is harder to find than money. If I could get you praying about anything right now, it would be to help us finish the course in the training of these thousands of orphans over here. So many good things have happened. But our children are growing up. We are not ready to stop the training. They need a few more years in their education. I want these kids to grow up being like Haggai who is changing the social and spiritual structure of a slum out a love for the Lord.
This is a guest post from CRF President Milton Jones’ blog, Through Orange Colored Glasses.
There is no other way to describe the Ring Road Orphan’s Day School except for a light in the darkness. When you walk through the dreariness of the Nyalenda slum in Kisumu, there is a sense of poverty, disease, and filthiness that is reflected in the lack of color. In other words, the slum is dirt colored and rather dark. But as you wind your way through the maze of paths that some would call roads, you finally arrive at the Ring Road complex. The most striking aspect about it is the bright turquoise color that absolutely sets itself off from the rest of the slum. And the color is simply symbolic that this place is truly a light in the darkness.
Outsiders have not always seen the Ring Road school as a bright place. In fact, it is hard to believe that it has survived. I can remember when the school building was not even there. I can recall getting on my knees and praying over this piece of land with Jared Odhiambo and Shawn Tyler as we hoped that there would someday be a school building here. And then it was built. It appeared that our dreams had come true. But the government didn’t share our vision. The stigma of AIDS orphans overpowered the objective reality of what they could actually do. Our kids were called “stupid.” The powers that be tried to shut us down. There was always one more hoop to jump through to keep the doors open. We were told our building wasn’t good enough. So floors were changed. We were told our building wasn’t secure enough. So a fence was added. We were told our school was unsanitary. So new latrines emerged. But the ultimate argument was always that our children were not smart enough.
In order to shut down the school, the government was going to prove their point by making our children take a standardized achievement test. This would finally give the measurable proof of our children’s lack of knowledge. Or so they thought. When all was said and done, they didn’t know about Elvis. Elvis in the world of Ring Road is as legendary to us as the Elvis of Graceland. Yes, Elvis scored the highest score in the country. And he saved the school. The very people who tried to shut down our school had to accredit it because it was now a fact—our children were smart. They only had to be given a chance.
But was the Elvis story some kind of a fluke or a once in a lifetime tale? No, our children just keep getting smarter. Mick Davis, who helps with the training and encouragement of children at Ring Road, explained to me that students there are now testing in the top 1% of the entire country. And can you imagine what they could do if they had a library or a lab? What could they do if they had all the same things that other students take for granted in their education? I can’t even imagine what the students would accomplish if they had better resources. How do they do it? It is the gratitude that they have for being given a chance. It is the esteem that they have because they know that some sponsor out there believes in them.
And when you look at things today, it keeps getting better and better. For instance, there is Oscar. He seemed to have so many strikes against him. His only option for education was a school designed for AIDS orphans. His life was a history of abuse, and he had the burns to prove it. But you would never know of his pain. He wears the biggest smile at Ring Road. And his bright countenance is even overshadowed by his bright mind. Our students just took the preliminary part of the national achievement test again. To say that Oscar did well is an understatement. Oscar scored twenty points higher than the highest score ever recorded. One could say that Oscar is the smartest child in the country. You would never know it when you walked around Ring Road. His beautiful smile and spirit simply blend into the glory of the atmosphere reflected between the turquoise buildings. Oscar’s story is a story of resilience. It shows what God can do with a child who is given a chance. The possibilities can’t be measured.
In a new book called Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, we encounter a very good question—“How can a continent so fluent in famine, genocide and torture so consistently serve up irrepressible optimism and undying hope?”
We finished painting the inside of the new school in the Palos Negros barrio in Rivas…we painted the tin roof, and we painted the wrought iron window and door guards. We cleaned up the floors of all the spilled paint, and left a special gift to the congregation that worships there to help them paint the outside…now it’s time to kick it and relax, right? Not with this group. Finishing a day early doesn’t mean they have an extra day to relax and hit the beach, they asked me, “What else can we do while we are here?” Such great attitudes, such great young people.
Freddy and I asked our hotel owner, Onedia, and her nephew, Eddy if they knew of a family near the hotel that could use some help. Onedia immediately told us of an older woman and her two daughters living on a plot with a dry well and two shacks that serve as their living quarters. We went out to check it out and to visit with the family. When we told them what we wanted to do, the woman asked us, “What is this going to cost me?” She didn’t think anyone would want to help her for nothing. We explained that our gift to her was to help repair her home because Christ compels us to love our neighbor. She was very appreciative and told us that we could do anything we wanted. We noticed that most of the walls in their shack were termite-eaten and were not providing any protection from the elements. So we decided to replace that rotted wood with cement board, which is impervious to termites and water; the main cause of damage to homes in this part of Nicaragua.
As we got back to the hotel to discuss our plans, Onedia came up to Freddy and told him that she was very impressed with our team. She is Catholic, and was very moved by our devotionals, singing, politeness, and friendliness that had been shown to her and Eddy. Eddy loves hanging out with us, and has become one of our group. Onedia wanted to do something nice for us, and told us that she would make a special Nicaraguan snack for us for our workday at the neighbor’s home.
I think this is what mission trips are for; cross-cultural opportunities to share our faith, show our love, and make new friends. This group from New Mexico State University is really showing what the love of Christ is.
Maybe you will want to join us next year as we have already made plans to build a house for a family here!