This will be the most vulnerable blog I have ever written. We are in a place right now where we are leaning into the uncertainty and vulnerability of our story. Brene Brown defines courage as telling your story with your whole heart. The thing about telling your story, is that you cannot control how people respond. All you can do is tell the truth as you have experienced it and hope that you are met with compassion. I hope with everything in me that we are being a reflection of Jesus as we walk through this difficult time. Here is our story:
We arrived in Arusha, Tanzania on December 13th, 2013. We rode the wave of selling everything we owned and raising support to come serve as the directors of Neema House. At the time we arrived, Neema House was operating in a single large house. There were 23 kids and 20 staff members. We had 36 hours of initiation from the interim director, and then we jumped in with both feet. We did not know the language, we did not know the culture, we did not know the names of the staff or the babies. We did not know anything! That first year was really hard because we were experiencing the steepest learning curve of our lives. We were so committed to the work of Neema.
Over the years, we have learned, and learned, and learned. Neema House has grown steadily. We forged relationships with the kids, the staff, government officials, bank workers and immigration officers. We learned the language (poorly!), the currency, how to drive on the ‘wrong side of the road’ and where to buy the cheapest mangos. We also worked hand in hand with a great contractor to build Neema Village. Building in a developing country is not an easy task. It takes constant supervision, innovation and intervention. Matt did that faithfully and with great skill, while continuing to manage Neema House at the original location. In July of 2016, that dream became a reality as we moved out to the new facility. We have welcomed countless volunteers. We have had many, many babies be admitted and discharged to new families through adoption or reintegration with their biological families. We have always been completely committed to the work of Neema House.
As good as the work has been, there have been struggles. As much as we love the work here, and as much as we believe in the vision, at times found ourselves in conflict with the board. This conflict grew from differing opinions on how things should be run. This situation become more difficult as time passed. We asked for help from six different board members on multiple occasions. However, what we thought were conversations pleading for assistance, was misinterpreted as divisive. We were hoping to come back to the States in June to engage the board in discussion about how the situation was unsustainable and discuss solutions. We were completely committed to being part of the solution. We were hopeful that the addition of the Striclyn family as team members would be a turning point. Unfortunately, we were never, nor have we ever, been given the opportunity to meet with the board.
On Easter Sunday, two board members arrived in Arusha unannounced and unexpected. The day they arrived they called Matt and I into a meeting and fired us on the spot, effective immediately. There has been a lot of discussion about our use of the word ‘fired’. True, they did ask for our immediate resignation, but we did not resign. The reasons that they gave for our dismissal were many. They had had complaints from volunteers about our performance, saying we were not supportive enough of the volunteers during their stay. They had heard that we had spoken badly about some board members. They had a report of a specific instance where I personally divulged privileged information to a volunteer. They said we were disrespectful of the board, and had refused to comply with board directives. They said they thought we had been burnt out for the past two years, but had nothing to say when we asked what the board had done to help us with that.
As with any story of this nature, there are always two sides. We feel that we were misrepresented to the board, many of whom have never met us, or been to Tanzania. We feel that many instances were taken out of context and or contorted to put us in a bad light. We feel that those who we trusted with our struggles, turned them around to use as a weapon against us. The hardest thing was that we were not even given the opportunity to defend ourselves prior to judgment being passed. Before being dismissed, we had never been given a single warning or instruction for specific improvements needed to keep this drastic action from happening. We had been given verbal suggestions from board members who visited on things that they felt needed improvement. However we felt like we took those suggestions and responded with actions in a way to fix the problems mentioned. We had always been highly praised for our work by board members, volunteers, local government, and citizens. We have been praised publicly and privately. We have been told that we were doing a great job, and they could not expect us to do any more. This year we won an award for the best childcare facility in the whole Arusha region. Under our direction, Neema House was honored with being one of only two organizations in the country to be invited to participate in the Ministry of Social Welfares five year planning session. We feel like our work should speak loudly of our commitment and character. We were completely blindsided by being let go. This experience has been incredibly traumatic for Matt and me, for our kids, for the staff at Neema house, and for the babies who considered us family. We have not been the only ones to suffer in this decision. A few weeks after firing us, the Striclyn family, who had just moved to Arusha to start their work at Neema Village, was encouraged by the board to leave as well.
It has now been three full weeks since that fateful day. We are recovering. We are still hurt, at times angry and grieving, but we are recovering. We see so many ways that God was working before, during and especially afterwards to keep us in His way. He has raised up so much support, both here in Tanzanian, and back in the States through our friends and family. He has poured out his comfort, peace and strength in a way that I would not have believed possible. Our faith is stronger now, because of this trial, as we see that He has indeed fought for us and made a way where we saw none. He has thrown open doors and provided us a new ministry opportunity that we are very, very excited about (more on that later!). We are eager (and a little terrified) to see what God has in store for us as we continue our ministry in Arusha, Tanzania. The girls have been praying for a house with an upstairs room, and yesterday He provided a two story house right where we needed it for half the cost of our current house. He gives good gifts to His children.
He has given us many verses for this time, but the one I keep coming back to is this from Psalms 23:3 which says He guides me in paths of righteousness for HIS NAMES SAKE. Even though we have lost sight of it at times, this (working at Neema House, not being fired) has always been HIS path. We were serving HIM as we served Neema House. We were not perfect. There were many things we could have done better. There are some things that I did that looking back, I know were wrong and I take full responsibility for my own sins and grieve over them. I also know that we are walking this path, doing these things, because we want to bring glory to HIS name. Not our name, not Neema House’s name, our only desire is to bring HIM glory as we walk the path of righteousness that He is guiding us down. The very next verse is, “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are with me.” We have felt His presence at every step. We would not choose to walk through this, but we know that God is with us and that He is leading us through.
I hope that I have told our story with courage. I pray that you read it with compassion. We welcome any questions and encourage you to respond or email us at Kelly@tzorphan.com or Matt@tzorphan.com. I am excited that our adventure in Arusha is not over yet. We eagerly look forward to seeing our friends and family as we arrive back in the States for our furlough which is May 28 – August 29. We are very enthusiastic to speak with as many people as possible about our new project. We need your support now more than ever! I will blog about the project very soon. We want you to join with us as we jump off the deep end of community outreach in Arusha.
I want to leave you with more words that have been very meaningful to me in this time, it is the Man in the Arena quote by Theodore Roosevelt
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”