The Big Move

Matt and I are no strangers to moving. This is saying a lot for a small town Texas girl who’s entire moving experience prior to becoming an adult consisted of relocating from one house to another across town. In the eleven years that Matt and I have been married our little family has moved nine times. This means we have lived in nine different house, not counting the few times we have squatted for a bit here or there (Hi Mom and Rachel!). We have lived in three different states and on two different continents. However all of this experience could not have prepared us for what it would be like to move Neema House from the original location into the newly built Neema Village.


To say that we had been plotting and planning the move for a while would be quite the understatement. For the past several months the Neema House management team conducted weekly meetings where we would discuss and then discuss again our moving strategy. Every day we would stand together and talk about moving this or disassembling that or which child would need extra support and care. We had plans on how to move the kitchen so we could provide for kids in both places. We had plans about which staff would work at the new facility and which staff would stay at the old place. We scheduled the guards and the cooks and the drivers to be split between the two locations. We figured out a menu to be served to make life easier during the transition. We would talk about it and think about it and dream about it and fret about it and plan about it and then look at each other and wonder how in the world the actual event was going to play out. I will let you in on a little secret about living in Tanzania, and that is that the best laid plans are NEVER what actually happens. Maybe it is like that in every corner of the world, but the adage felt particularly potent on July 15th, the Day of the BIG MOVE, Part one.


The day dawned bright and clear. The three giant moving trucks were scheduled to arrive at 8 am, 9 am, and 10 am…African time. Naturally, all three showed up at the same time. The volunteers had their tennis shoes laced up and I had my clip board in hand. The entire staff (41 people) were present and excited about a new workplace and overtime pay. We arrived with a plan and a dream. What happened after that is a blur, but I will tell you as best I can. We had decided that we would try our best to get everything moved in two days. That meant that we planned to move the big kids and toddlers and aaaaalllll their stuff as well as part of the kitchen, the store room, the office and the playground on the first day. The second day would be the rest of the kitchen, Rebekah’s apartment, laundry, the volunteer house, the crawling babies and tiny babies. I know most of my readers have never been to Neema House, so you cannot imagine how tightly we were packed into our old house. Just imagine if you wanted to move your grandmother, who happens to be a clinical hoarder, out of her giant mansion only to find out her house was filled with 46 babies and everything it takes to care for those babies. It was a lot like that, minus the grandmother.


Our plan was ambitious, but we had three trucks and a ton of people committed to the task so we decided to give it our best shot. The staff was waiting like horses ready to burst from the gate. Matt and I arrived, fired the gun, and they were off. It was like a looting, but instead of running away, everyone dropped what they were carrying in the front yard and ran back for more. Bags of clothes, twenty beds, chest of drawers, desks, boxes of toys and the random child (just kidding!) all came flying out. Anything that could be considered a container was filled with anything that needed to be contained and shuttled out to the yard. I saw our oldest nanny carry a loaded filing cabinet out of the house on her top of her head. How she got it up there probably defied the laws of physics, but out she staggered, laughing at my shocked expression. By the time the first truck arrived around 10 AM, half the contents of the house was sitting in the driveway. The first moving truck turned out to be a huge, open bed dump truck. The truck was very high and difficult to get heavy items into the bed. Tanzanians know, “many hands make light work”. In less than ten minutes a group of people, like a fire line, had the truck loaded and headed off to the new property.

Moving truck

At that point Matt and I realized our best defense was to divide and conquer. If by conquer we meant have a hazy shred of control over the way things were packed and unloaded. I sped off towards the new building to head the receiving crew, and Matt stayed at the original house to direct the loading crew. Mama Musa marched between the staff like a four star general directing her troupes. Michael and Dorris were busy not only getting their new apartment set up, but also assisting with getting things unloaded and overseeing last-minute fixes on the house.


It was an A-MA-ZING feat of team work and answered prayers!!! I am still in awe of all the work that was done in a very short amount of time. The staff, volunteers and the guys driving the trucks worked so hard and so fast that by 2 PM, everything we had planned to move that day, and MORE, was safely inside the new building.


The big kids were the first to ‘come home.’ I could not help but get teary as I watched them triumphantly run into their new sanctuary amid the cheers and claps of nannies, volunteers and construction workers. It was a worthy homecoming to a castle built in their honor. The occasion was also momentous because it culminated years of hard work, stress and prayer on the part of so many, but particularly Matt and Micheal and Dorris Fortson.

big kids come home

As the nannies would come over from the other building they would sing, laugh, and hug each other and us with congratulations and excitement. The day ended in a flurry of trying to find PJs, diapers, soap, and towels. There was much arranging of beds and hanging mosquito nets.

moving 2

There were also water leaks aplenty (one shower facet fell off the wall and sprayed water all over the crawlers), a malfunctioning hot water heater, and a few minor electrical problems. As we closed The Big Move, Part 1, we all agreed it could not have gone any better.


The second day, The Big Move, Part 2 was much harder. I think we had used up all of our excitement and anticipation on Part 1. However, even with our weary muscles and tired minds, at 3:38 pm on July 16th, I got the text from Matt that he was headed over with the very last load. Inconceivable! Two days of work and we had moved 46 babies, 40 employees, Rebekah’s apartment, a house full of volunteers with their kitchen, beds and belongings, laundry, storage, the office, and four years of accumulated baby stuff from one location to another. No one knew where the bibs were or how to turn on the light they wanted. I kept walking into the wrong room or forgetting where things were put. Looking back, the move could be described as both traumatic, and also that it could not have gone any better. Everything was moved, nothing major was broken, no babies were lost, all the staff is settled, and we all lived happily ever after….and some of us are headed to the beach to recover!

Neema steps




Be Sociable, Share!


Marilyn Wigen
08/05/2016 at 10:30 am

Great descriptive narrative of the move. I was alternately laughing and crying. I am eagerly awaiting my next visit to Neema. I want it to happen soon, but I’m not sure I can make that happen, so it might be awhile… but it WILL happen. In the meantime I live and love Neema vicariously through the Facebook page and all the glorious photos! You are in my heart and prayers.

Val Stansfield
08/05/2016 at 12:47 pm

Hi Kelly,

Lovely to read your blogs and, more importantly, to feel a connection and understanding of the meaning of adapting to different cultures. I must admit, absorbing the Tanzanian culture is not easy, but you have certainly given a tangible perspective, together with invaluable coping mechanisms and I shall certainly apply these in future. Evaluate and adjust is an excellent mantra.

A lot of confusing things about Arusha and the Tanzanians suddenly fit into place after reading your blogs: Africa Time and a habit of telling little while lies – because they want to make us happy …. Of course, it is like juggling with mercury some times, but, yes, we have to “evaluate and adjust”.

Hope to return to Neema soon – at least before the end of the year: I’m homesick for Neema, Arusha, and the Tanzanian people. Take care. Val

08/05/2016 at 3:58 pm


Tamra Stansbury
08/05/2016 at 6:05 pm

Amazing. Simply amazing. This whole adventure has been that way, though, hasn’t it? Returning to Neema is motivating my hip fix journey. As the general said, “I shall return.” May God continue to bless you all.

Bibi Tamie

08/05/2016 at 6:10 pm

You have two wonderful sentences that I have to repeat. “It was a worthy homecoming to a castle built in their honor.” That sentence made me rejoice because it is just a sliver of what the Lord has planned for our homecoming. I saw the rejoicing and I heard the hallelujah chorus all in my mind. Thank you for sharing such an incredible God filled day.
The next sentence was “and some of us are headed to the beach to recover.” This makes me happy for the success and also the family time that will take place. I love you all beyond words. I love your words in your blog. They made me laugh and rejoice so much. My heart overflows with so much love that it make my eyes water 🙂

Margie McLoud
08/05/2016 at 7:11 pm

So fun to read this my first question…was the file cabinet 4 drawer or 2 drawer and how many bad backs after the move was completed successfully? Did you have a massage therapist and/or PT to help with aches and pains?

It sounds like moving was a fun, hard and amazingly exhilarating experience….congratulations to you all from the oldest to the youngest among you…

Emily Linder
08/05/2016 at 8:08 pm

AWESOME is all I can think to say! So happy for all of you. Having seen the beginnings of Neema Village last summer I can imagine what a wonderful feeling it must be for all to come home. Prayers of blessing over all of you and this incredible ministry!

Joy Erdman
08/05/2016 at 11:21 pm

This was an amazing realization of what used to be a great big DREAM! Now it’s a dream come true! Little abandoned orphan babies now live in a palace under the direction of the KING of KINGS! who loves each one of them in a special way. God bless you and Matt! God bless all who helped make this dream come true!! Love you guys!

08/06/2016 at 6:27 am

Wow! That’s amazing! I loved your blog!

Carmen Miller
08/06/2016 at 8:31 am

The new place looks beautiful! I’m so excited that y’all finally got to move in! I really hope that before the boys get too old we can come visit. Love you and miss you!

08/07/2016 at 9:29 pm

Hey Kelly!
Thanks for the update! I am amazed that you all actually got it all moved in just two days! Wow! Your narrative is so descriptive I felt like I was watching all that was happening! Your story had me smiling and tearing up at the same time. I am overjoyed that this big dream has come to fruition by the mighty hand of GOD!! I love you guys!

08/08/2016 at 10:23 am

That is so awesome! I am just in absolute awe! So happy the exodus has happened and all went well. You all are amazing!

08/11/2016 at 9:05 am

Jennifer already said what I was going to say…WOW!!!!! I smiled and chuckled throughout the entire letter. You should write a book!!! I just shake my head in wonder. How did you possibly do all you said you did? How is it you guys are still moving? How is it you got it done in 2 days??? I wonder. I think your staff was really 42 (my lucky number , by the way) and that person was God! There is no way y’all could have pulled it off without Him and I know you know that because of all of the prayers you have prayed. Well, we will keep praying! Our God is so big and so amazing…and do are you guys to do all you do!!! We love you all!

Comments are closed.