“Good morning to my white mother.”
“Good morning to my half-black daughter!”
Already awakened by the siren call of a full bladder, I did a double take.
Looking up from the bunk I saw Gina, a pint sized mom, and her fabulous daughter Bria, giving each other a morning hug. “Well, that’s an interesting way to start the day,” I quipped. The ladies started laughing, plucky Bria explained, “yeah, I like referring to her as my white mother, you’re always guaranteed a reaction.”
Not even out of bed yet, and I was already happy, these two had managed to summons a rare pre-coffee laugh. I settled into a pleasant realization, missionaries can be hilarious.
Loosened up from my chuckle session, I rose once more from my rock solid bed. Like all days at Haven, it was going to be a very busy one. Having finished our business at Nduchi Primary School the day before, today we would be hosting an orphanage at Haven on The Hill. Like the days before, Lover Fo Life and I were in charge of teaching, today’s lesson focus was simple: Let these orphans know just how much they are LOVED.
“Good Morning Muffin,” L4L chirped as I sat on the porch floor and sipped on my coffee which was more important than oxygen at the moment.
“Good morning, sweets! How was the rooster?”
“Horrible. He started crowing at 2:30 this morning. Y’all really can’t hear him!?”
“Nope, its stone silent in our room, maybe Jesus loves us more.”
“Ha! That’s rich, I highly doubt it.”
Over breakfast, our lively group discussed the last minute details before the kids from the visiting children’s home arrived, instead of uniforms, each child would be personally fitted for a new outfit, coat, and they would be given a backpack with the same school supplies we handed out to the village school. FabBab and her saintly sister Cindy would be spearheading the large task. We were expecting anywhere from 25-50 children.
Seeing as these kids were from an orphanage I braced myself for maximum devastation. The boys at Haven are so loved, and well taken care of that your brain ceases to process that their biological families abandoned them. The Haven boys are adopted and WELL LOVED at the compound, other children’s homes? Not so lucky. The Maestro told of children in near rags from other orphanages that had visited, teaching would be tough.
“LORD, make me a means of your peace, let our lesson today help these poor kids see just how special and LOVED they are.”
The Familia Moja Children’s home is located an hour away from Haven in the outskirts of Thika. Founded by Wambui Muiru in 2007, Familia Moja means “One Family,” in Swahili. Wambui’s mission, is not just to clothe, feed, and shelter abandoned/orphaned children, she also is dedicated to educating them and teaching them what it feels like to belong to an actual loving family. Of the 50 children at the home, 20 of them are in the process of being adopted back by family, unfortunately in Kenya, if you take a sick child to the hospital and can’t immediately pay the bill, they keep your child. After a period of time, the children are taken to rescue centers where they are fed, and either find a way to a children’s home, or hit the streets. The 20 children in contact and in process of adoption stayed behind; today we would host 30 kids with no connection or adoption in sight.
I slipped my heart into armor, anticipating the saddest day of my travels in Kenya.
“THE MATATU IS HERE, EVERYONE! THE CHILDREN FROM FAMILIA MOJA HAVE ARRIVED!”
As usual, Beatrice, the boisterous and LOUD kindred spirit of mine, served as Haven’s town crier. L4L and I set up our outside classroom and waited to begin. Like before, Beatrice would interpret our words for the little ones and those not as comfortable with English. I surveyed the Matatu below; it was no bigger than a US 10-passenger van. “Where’s the other bus?”
My silent question was quickly answered. There was no other Matatu, all 30 children and 3 adults (plus a driver,) filed out of a teensy-tinyl van.
I gazed at the kids as they filed out. Not only did they help each other out of the BEYOND cramped matatu, they were bursting with excitement. The boys of Haven on the Hill mingled within, smiling, helping, and instantly befriending our visitors.
Much to my surprise, the children were healthy, dressed in good clothing and most importantly, they were HAPPY. As usual, the Maestro and FabBab erred on the side of caution and prepared us for the worst.
Rather than gaze upon a sea of sorrow with no hope for a future, the kids of Familia Moja were shiny and brilliant, loving, and grateful to God. Unlike Haven, there were a lot of teenagers, normally, I would revile the thought of having to teach and care for teens, but these kiddos were special.
We had a welcome reception for the guests, introduced ourselves, and explained what we were going to do with them today. You would have thought they were in the midst of Christmas morning when they found out that they would be getting backpacks filled with supplies. Ms. Wambui explained that they had been praying for a way for the kids to take their books to school, as the flour sacks and various other repurposed items were starting to deteriorate.
I had goosebumps, what were the chances? Of course, like so many other coincidences I had experienced in Kenya, this wasn’t chance, it was Divine providence.
The moment you give yourself over to being a vessel for doing good, amazing stuff starts to happen. Plans come together beautifully, happy accidents work out marvelously, and you find yourself doing incredible things. It’s as if you’re walking along this golden path that only illuminates what you need, when you need it. With pure intentions and abandonment of Ego, you find yourself not only safe, but well-equipped when met with issues. Basically, it feels like you ate a Mario Brothers invincibility star.
It was time to teach our first rotation, the eldest children of Moja. Quiet, and attentive, these teenagers were nothing like their counterparts in the states. We conveyed our lesson of Love and validation, the kids giggled at the newly introduced stickers. Like the children at Nduchi, Beatrice had to explain what stickers were and demonstrate, such a frivolity was never witnessed by these orphans. 17 year olds melted into 7 year olds as they laughed and stuck stickers on themselves; the teens also made sure to save the heart shaped pieces of paper backing as a keepsake. Our lesson concluded, and we taught 2 more rotations, all impeccably mannered.
Once our VBS was over, we broke for lunch where everyone was treated to a sumptuous meal provided by the choir of perfection that is Haven’s kitchen ladies. After lunch, the kids were on their own to play on the playground and visit with everyone, while one by one the orphans were treated to a personal fashion spree in Haven’s bounty of clothing.
Between the songs, dancing, cheers, laughs and hugs, I found the scene beautiful but overwhelming. I sought out L4L who was cooling his jets in his bunk.
“How’s it going, sweets? Want some beef jerky?”
“Again, you really know just what to say to make me re-fall in love with you every day!”
We gnawed on dehydrated cow muscle and recalled our day so far.
“Man, these kids are in much better shape than I was thinking, it makes my heart sing, but I feel bad for the kids at Nduchi. Turns out the children in most need, are the kids in the village with their families.”
“No kidding,” L4L wisely replied, “This trip has definitely changed my perspective. Who would have thought the children in orphanages, were the fortunate ones?” Our thoughts drifted back to the 300 school children we taught and loved on for 3 days.
“I promise, even if we have to pay for it ourselves, I want those kids to have new school shoes when we come back next year.”
“Slow your roll, hoss,” Lover Fo Life cautioned, “We’re guests of Robert and Barb’s organization, we can’t just start deciding the mission for next year, we’ve got to run stuff by them first.” As usual, the Eagle Scout was right.
After consuming a giant chaw of beef jerky, I dusted myself off and decided to mingle with the visiting children.
With no particular child to seek out, I decided to observe and let the kids come to me. I had no idea what to say to these sweet children, but something told me that when the moment presented itself, the right words would spill forth.
Within moments of joining the group on the play yard, I was approached by a group of teen girls. They wanted to know everything about my life in America, including if I had any pictures. I pulled out my phone, and unlike with the younger kids who had fun fooling with the camera, these girls wanted to see my life.
“Do you have any children?” a well-assured and friendly girl asked me. At our welcome ceremony she spoke briefly and introduced herself as Margaret. She was 15 and wanted to open her own Children’s Home one day. “I’ve been so blessed to have this family; I want to help kids just as I have been taken care of.”
Now, Margaret and 7 other girls were gazing at pictures of my nutty 5 year old daughter, Valor. They clicked on a video I shot the week prior where Val spent the better part of 50 seconds shaking her hiney and making elaborate farting noises. The girls roared with laughter, hitting play over and over. “I love your daughter; you need to bring her next time.”
“Don’t worry Margaret, she’ll join us one trip soon.”
Margaret’s face lit up, “you know my name?”
“Of course my darling, you introduced yourself to the group this morning.”
“Yes, but I can’t believe you would remember me,” she humbly replied, all while registering genuine surprise that I recalled of her name.
“How could I forget you, you’re going to open an orphanage of your own!?”
Beaming, Margaret hugged me, “I want to take a picture of you with us, for you on your phone!”
Up until this moment, I had avoided taking photos with kids. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my devastatingly gorgeous looks; it’s that some people go on Humanitarian missions throughout the world merely for the photo opportunities. Kids in need aren’t photo props to make you look awesome, end of story.
Since it was a requested photo, I obliged, then I took a photo of the ladiesl. Here’s the gang, Margaret is the nut in the middle sticking out her tongue!
Feeling the previously described invincibility star, I felt the call to visit with Margaret for the rest of their time. We walked and talked, she told me of how the kids at Familia Moja didn’t consider themselves orphans, because they were one big family, all brothers and sisters dedicated to supporting each other no matter what. In response, I had an overwhelming pull to say some very specific things, straight from the heart.
“Margaret, you are a beautiful and brilliant child of God, you are going to do so much GOOD in this world. I’m grateful to know you, and I love you so much.”
Margaret began to tear up.
“I know you have had hardships and heartache. I’m so sorry for all that you may have been through. But all that you have overcome has made you the incredible young woman you are today. I want you to know that no matter what you have ahead, YOU ARE LOVED, AND YOU WILL SUCCEED.”
Desperate to give her something tangible, I gazed at my fitness tracker, still flashing the time from the United States.
“Here, it’s silly, but please take my tracker. Every time you look at this, just remember that I am thinking about you, and I LOVE YOU. Margaret I will pray for you every day, and when I return to Kenya, I will be visiting you.”
Margaret threw her arms around me in what could only be described as one of the most joyous hugs I’ve ever experienced. On the other side of the world, I found a teenaged daughter I never dreamed that I could love so much.
Finally came the time everyone dreaded, it was departing time for the Familia Moja, the Matatu drove through Haven’s gates, and the process of loading new supplies and 34 people into a tiny van began.
As children sat on each other’s laps 3 or 4 deep, our group became worried; these children are never going to fit with all of the new cargo we are sending them with. Panicked, we sought out Beatrice, who happened to be helping at ground zero for stacking kids.
“Beatrice, shouldn’t we get another Matatu for the visitors? There’s no way this will work.” FabBab inquired.
“Why, my dear? Look at them, they’re not even squished!”
Apparently, Kenyans have a vastly different definition of “squished.”
The truth was that a Matutu to our remote Haven on the Hill would have to have been negotiated well in advance, there were no other options. They came crammed, they would leave even more so.
“But what happens if one of the kids has to go to the bathroom on the way home?”
“Well, that’s when we hope for the best and PRAY,” Beatrice then errupted with laughter.
After quite a bit of human Tetris, the Matatu was bound for Familia Moja. The trip would most likely take double the time, as the bus could barely crawl up the mountains with all the extra bulk. I waved to Margaret and blew her a kiss that she caught and reciprocated. “I’ll see you again soon!,” I cried out.
After dinner that night, we gathered in the boy’s living room at the main house. As customary, our nights were spent playing and hanging out with the boys and reviewing their day. We talked about our visiting guests, how much fun we had, what they learned, and what we can do for the next group that visits. Fred, one of the liveliest and outgoing of the boys, was uncharacteristically drawn, where his usual peals of laughter filled our ears, tonight he was silent. I instinctively called him over and hugged him. To my surprise, Fred not only continued to hug me, he started softly crying. “No matter why you’re crying my dear Fred, there’s nothing you can say or do that will stop us or God from loving you.”
Fred’s tiny body calmed down and began to relax, once he gained his composure, I sent him on his way. While I was consoling Fred, I noticed another boy getting increasingly lower in his posture and morose in his affect.
Ayub is one of the biggest kids at Haven, not even 13; he’s a gentle giant who often chooses to be in the back or hidden shadows. From the moment I met him, we had a connection, though he’s stoic and reserved, each day Ayub greeted me with a beaming smile. I saw the stark contrast with his unsual demeanor, and joined him on the floor.
“I’ll bet you think you’re too old for me to hold you, huh?”
Ayub managed a small smile and nod.
“Well you’re not, come here and give me a hug, kiddo.”
For the next few minutes, I held this impossibly tall kid and rocked him. “I love you, Ayub, whatever you are upset about, it’s ok.” He began to sob.
It was clear that spending a day with the orphans dug up some tough memories of the boy’s time before Haven. Going with my mom genes, I simply held him kissed him on the side of his head, and told Ayub how much he was loved.
Overcome with emotion, I silently cried and lifted my gaze up to the ceiling, “Please Lord,” I mouthed, “please free this child of his sorrow and let him see just how special and LOVED he is.” I finished my plea only to lock eyes with Beatrice, who gave me a warm, wizened smile. After about an hour, Ayub was feeling much better, and got up to brush his teeth without saying a word.
Most of the other boys had already retired to their bunks, I sat with Beatrice in a bit of silence, reeling from the instinctive love I felt for this hurting child.
“Lauren, I’ve never seen Ayub open up like that. In all of his time here, I’ve never witnessed such a moment.”
“Well, I’m happy to be here to comfort him; obviously something was stirred up seeing all the orphans today.”
Beatrice paused for a moment, and then proceeded to tell me Ayub’s story.
Being at Haven on the Hill, where the boys are so happy and thriving, it’s hard to imagine the horrible tragedies many of them had witnessed prior to arriving. Unfortunately, every story is heartbreaking and there are so many more out there like them.
She explained: “Ayub means Job in Swahili, and it’s a very fitting name for him.” Job, as many of you might have heard, was the dude who endured a bunch of hardships in his life, yet held strong to his faith in God.
“Ayub was brought to Haven after neighbors took him to the police out of concern for his well-being. He had lived with his uncle who beat him with a 2X4 whenever he thought Ayub had messed up. The beatings were so regular, that he has permanent scarring on his shoulders that prevent him from fully relaxing them.”
Shocked at the horrific details, I teared up. “The night he came to Haven, he became very upset when he saw he had a bed to sleep in. It took us awhile to calm him down. Apparently, his uncle would tie Ayub to his bed every night so he wouldn’t be a bother while his uncle got drunk.”
My heart was shattered into a million pieces thinking about this sweet child who had been through so much. I decided on the spot that we would be sponsoring Ayub; he would forever be our Kenyan son.
Upon hearing the good news in the morning, Ms. Janice, the woman who made Haven possible, confided in me that Ayub was special, and one of her husband Phil’s favorites. She shared a letter Ayub wrote the previous year, one passage particularly gutted me:
“I have seen a lot of darkness in my life. But I love to sing. As long as I have a song in my heart, the darkness will never win.”
END OF PART 8
Until Next time my darlings! By the way we’ve only got TWO MORE POSTS IN THIS SERIES, stay tuned!