Already Begun

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Mt. Meru viewed from Neema House

The countdown has begun, we are moving to Arusha, Tanzania to become the on-sight directors of Neema Baby Home in three months!! Let me first tell you the history, before I tell you the plans. A long time ago (2007), in a land far away (South Lake Tahoe, California), Matt and I decided that we both felt a strong pull on our hearts to work with orphans, hopefully in a foreign country. My vote was someplace Latin and beautiful, his vote was someplace warm, regardless of the location, we both knew that God had placed abandoned children on our heart. We talked often about the logistics of starting our own orphanage, and how in the world could we ever do such a thing when we did not have any connections. I truly believe that God was listening with laughter in His eyes to these naive conversations of a couple of dreamers.
A seed was planted and then 2008 came and we followed an unlikely path of “I will nevers…” I said I would never have children, but in 2008, Camille Hope was born in South Lake Tahoe. We were excited and scared and living in a land of extreme prices and little work for Matt, so we crossed another “I will never” off our list, and moved back to Temple, Texas. I said I would never have kids, and I said I would never live in Temple, Texas, but I have found that both things have been such a blessing to me and have been instrumental in our road to Africa. After having Camille and moving to Temple, my lovely mother suggested that we check out Canyon Creek Church of Christ, another “I will never,” as I had said I would never go to another Church of Christ, but God does have a sense of humor, and in October of 2008, we landed at Canyon Creek Church of Christ, now The Vine, and have been there ever since.
Not long after settling down at The Vine, we met Dorris and Michael Fortson, who at that time were just starting to transition from pastoring ministry to opening an orphanage in Tanzania, which would become Neema Baby house. Dorris and I have laughed about the time, after our first hearing of their plans, that I came to her and said that I knew Matt and I were meant to work with them on this dream. She states that since she barely knew us, and that we had one small child and another on the way, she did not give our offer much thought. To be truthful, the timing caught us off guard too, as God’s timing often does. Since the time of my initial conversation with Dorris, Neema house has become a thriving baby orphanage in Arusha, Tanzania offering abandoned, orphaned and at-risk babies a safe haven until they move on to their forever families, either biological extended family or newly adopted family.
Matt and my plan for our family this year WAS to build a house out in the country. We were actively looking for land and dreaming about house designs, when we went to church on the second Sunday in January to hear Michael and Dorris speak about their upcoming trip to Tanzania to continue to grow Neema House. At the time, Neema House had an on-sight director and Michael and Dorris functioned as the state-side directors with their primary job being all-important fund-raising. They talked about how their dream was to build a permanent facility, since Neema currently resides in a rented house, where they could grow to include a mothering center, school and possible expand to include a widows ministry. At the speaking of their dream, my heart raced and my eyes flooded. The seed of desire for being a part of God’s plan for increasing justice and decreasing suffering for abandoned children that had been planted and slowly growing, exploded, at that moment Matt and my eyes met and we knew our house in the country was not to be.
It is impossible to put into words the conviction and certainty both Matt and I felt for joining with this ministry. We had been hearing about it, praying for it, supporting it and watching God do great and marvelous things to grow Neema house. We knew that many years ago He had put into our heart a crazy, random desire to serve orphaned children. He had led us to this place, to these people, and at this time when we were getting ready to sell everything for building a new home, but instead were going to sell everything for Africa. We went home and thought and prayed and talked and googled and tried to figure out what was the next step, and we took that step, and the next and the next.
When we first committed in our hearts and privately to Michael and Dorris, we thought that the primary reason we would join them would be so that Matt could be involved with the building of the new facility. This is still a large part of our plan. What we did not know at the time, but know now, is that Neema House would undergo an upheaval of sorts and that a need for an on-sight director would emerge. Michal and Dorris feel, and Matt and I agree, that God has brought us to this time and put Neema House, Africa and the vision of all that could be, in our hearts for just this reason. Which brings us to the count down, three months until Matt and I, with our beautiful girls move to Tanzania to become the on-sight directors and eventually the building coordinator of Neema House Baby Orphanage.

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5 Comments

  1. Stacey 09/23/2013 at 12:24 pm #

    What a beautiful description of the journey to Africa.

  2. Jennifer 09/23/2013 at 3:52 pm #

    Great blog Kelly and Matt! I look forward to reading more and more about your adventure!
    Love Gigi

  3. Erica (and Madi) Knight 09/23/2013 at 7:10 pm #

    Hi guys! I was just sharing your story with my daughter Madi, who is 8. She is curious how you/the orphanage find the babies who will live in Neema house. Thanks! (and can I just say how excited/in awe I am of you….being obedient to His call is phenomenal and may He bless you and the house greatly)

    • Kelly 09/24/2013 at 8:00 am #

      Hi Erica and Madi! So good to hear from you. That is a great question, one of my next posts is going to be a Frequently Asked Question blog, and I will put this one on the list. To answer it for you now, most of our babies come to us through the hospital system. Arusha is a large city of about 500,000 people and people come from all over to have babies at the hospital there. I would say that 50% of our babies come to Neema after their mother has died, usually in childbirth. Formula is very expensive in Africa, and so when the mother dies, the father rarely can afford formula nor can he take time off of work to care for the baby, so that baby will live at neema until they are weaned or there is anoth family member available to take care of the baby and we can just provide the formula. More on this and the ultimate outcome in another post. The other 50% are abandoned babies, most are abandoned at the hospital, some in other locations like bus stops, bathrooms, doorsteps, these babies come to us through the hospital or social services. There are many reasons why there are so many abandoned babies in Africa, the economic situation of many families, the stigma if being an unwed mother, it is a sad situation, one we hope to be able to at least curb with more pre-birth mother support.

  4. Kim 09/23/2013 at 9:11 pm #

    Wow. Just wow. I love you and I love that you’re stepping out in faith like this.