Saying Goodbye to Neema House

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.”

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22 Comments

  1. Kathryn Worrall 05/06/2017 at 12:37 pm #

    Blessings of peace and encouragement during this transition and bountiful blessings….spiritual and temporal for your new adventure! I doubt you realize how many people lift you up to the Father every day!
    Kathryn Worrall

  2. Dianne Massey 05/06/2017 at 12:48 pm #

    Your faith is a testimony to all. I really feel that God has rescued you . I have seen him do similar things on other occasions. We love you all !

  3. Margie McLoud 05/06/2017 at 12:50 pm #

    I am so sad that this dream has?been dashed but pray fervently that the next dream will bring forth much fruit for your family and the people of Tanzania…..

  4. Rachel 05/06/2017 at 1:05 pm #

    You did well. I love you so much.

  5. Aqua 05/06/2017 at 2:54 pm #

    I am heartbroken that your ministry was ripped from your hands by people so out of touch with the reality of your situation. Your work does indeed speak for itself and I know your future project wherever that lies will be as fruitful. God speed in this new direction and remember that just because your pearls were cast before swine doesn’t make the pearls any less valuable. You are and remain a valuable asset to the land and people you call home.

  6. Katy 05/06/2017 at 3:24 pm #

    You are an inspiration in faith and action. Neema’s loss is Tanzania’s gain. May god continue to bless you in ways only He understands.

  7. Jennifer williams 05/06/2017 at 3:41 pm #

    Wonderful blog post!! I love you.

  8. Katie powell 05/06/2017 at 3:53 pm #

    God knows the truth Kelly, none of us doubt your faithfulness to HIS work and the children. I am sorry you have suffered this horrid affair; God is not the author of confusion or discord so we know the source of this attack. You have been and will continue to be HIS faithful, loving servants. God is your defense, your strong tower, your rock; be encouraged that we do not doubt the work nor the motives of your heart. Love you guys and look forward to hearing all about this adventure and the ones to come

  9. Karen Summers 05/06/2017 at 4:12 pm #

    Kelly,
    You are so very precious to a merciful God who created the universe and then called you throughout the ages (or perhaps blink of the eye) to be His possession.

    Can not wait to see the next chapter unfold for you, Matt, and the girls.

  10. Marilyn Wigen 05/06/2017 at 4:22 pm #

    I am sad that you will not be at Neema when/if I return. I certainly felt nothing but wonderful support from you and Matt while Katy, Theresa and I were there in 2015. I was so taken by your work in the Memusi Project and hope that you will be able to continue your work on that. I will be keeping up with the transition at Neema as I have been longing to return… it certainly will not be the same without your family there. I know that God continues to have big plans and big blessings for you and your family… and I will be adding my prayers to His blessings.

  11. laurie 05/06/2017 at 4:33 pm #

    Kelly we continue to support you and your family and your mom and dad. My mom was just reminding me of the work they had in Indonesia Singapore and China. Only God knew that a young machinist, a new Christian and a $500 dollars would start a 35 year ministry that opened a million+ doors to the people in Asia. Some of those churches are still strong and thriving 47 yrs later. If you get a chance while here maybe mom can give you some encouragement from “the been there-done that” point of view. Safe travels see you soon!

  12. Pam Bonneau 05/06/2017 at 5:51 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing. I can identify with you somewhat in the hurt of being fired by christians and not given a chance to hear my side. It definitely hurts. But I also agree that God never leaves and doors open up that you never dream would have otherwise. I hold no hard feelings. And my life is good. I pray for you and your family and anxiously wait to hear about your new adventure in missions serving God. Much love to you!

  13. Jamie 05/06/2017 at 6:36 pm #

    What a beautiful, gracious, vulnerable, and wonderful testimony, of a horrible, unjust, poorly executed situation. I have rarely seen such a balanced review of such a hard experience, which only makes me more proud of you. I’m so sorry. I am heartbroken you’ve had to endure this kind of strife and that those in place to stand by you were unable (for whatever reasons) to listen, hear, see, or support you as this role demands. I am THRILLED about your new opportunity and so thankful that you are in the hands of the Great leader, Who isn’t about to see your commitment to Love and to bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth miss a beat. You go girl. Love to you and your precious family and I look forward to seeing you soon!

  14. Emily 05/06/2017 at 7:00 pm #

    Love you. Get.Here.Soon.

  15. Karla 05/06/2017 at 7:08 pm #

    Kelly,
    I have watched you and your precious family work tirelessly over the past 3 years to serve the staff, children, volunteers and community members with incredible compassion. I am so sad. My heart hurts as I read your story and yet am so grateful you had the courage to share it. Thank you.
    I am in your court and want to support the work God has for you next. I want to see you when you are in CO.
    You all have loved well and loved deeply all He has called you to. Rest easy…He is near.

  16. Marena 05/06/2017 at 7:54 pm #

    Wow! What a well thought out, well written letter. I know your character and it is you I support! I am so grieved by the way fellow “Christians” treat others who are not only part of the same faith but also part of the same ministry. I am so proud of you for taking these lemons and making some sweet lemonadeI I’m so proud of you!

  17. Joy Erdman 05/06/2017 at 11:18 pm #

    This whole thing looks like an awful mistake, but God wouldn’t have allowed it if it were. He would have put His foot down. Soooo we will leave it up to Him to straighten out the situations and people that were not right. We are praying for the new ministry to be God-directed and that you will be able to feel the same love, passion and presence of God in this new vision that you had for the babies and workers at Neema Village. Also praying for healing, faith, and God’s provision for you during this tough time. We love you so much!

  18. Jon 05/07/2017 at 12:32 pm #

    From my limited experience of volunteering in the Arusha area, there are myriad problems with white westerners who sit on boards and make decisions thousands of miles and oceans away from the on-the-ground operations. It’s an inherently destabilizing situation fraught with problems. The good news is that in any new venture that you may start, you can learn from this experience and perhaps set up a more sustainable and healthy organizational structure that ensures accountability while avoiding the kinds of rash and ridiculous actions of mzungus who decide to fire dedicated and talented people based on hear-say.

    I can’t imagine having to process everything, but I’m glad to hear that you are continuing to follow your sense of calling. You’re in our prayers. It will be exciting to see where things go from here….and big things are already happening: an upstairs room! Woohoo! =)

    Love to you all. See you soon.

  19. Starr 05/09/2017 at 1:49 am #

    Kelly, I wish you and Matt best. I’ve been in same position as you are. The best advice I receive and turned to be true is “walk away with grace” , always be supportive of Neema, always have gratitude. People will ALWAYS REMEMBER HOW you handle the situation and not the actual situationit self. Things will fall in place. gods hands are all over this. This is your next chapter in life. Something God has to nudge you to take that risk. It is not a punishment, it is a push. GOd needs you somewhere else doing something he needs to do.,Using your own personal gifts. The lessons and experience at Neema are valuable . Maybe right now you might see it , but God sends you on paths to learn and gain knowledge and experience . He will reveal what he needs from you. maybe Neema was a training camp for experience for some bigger and greater. You will go though the cycles of grief but one day you will wake up and realize that this Neema is just one stopping place for your life’s ministry. You and your family is loved. Praying for you. Starr

  20. Theresa 05/09/2017 at 9:35 pm #

    Kelly, I just want you to know we love you and Matt and the girls. I admire you so much. You live your life daring greatly, not afraid to follow where the Lord leads. I’m looking forward to seeing you on your leave. You remain in our prayers.

  21. Val Stansfield 05/10/2017 at 5:55 pm #

    Many times I wondered at your amazing ability to juggle so many things at Neema – publicly and behind the scenes. It never failed to impress this grateful return volunteer and I am just as impressed now, with your determination to be positive and embark on a new, if scary, adventure. Have a beautiful, well-earned rest with your family and friends in the US so that you can return to Arusha, with your batteries recharged and ready to go, go, go …. Wishing you, Matt and the girls all the very best for an exciting future! I hope we can connect when I return to Tanzania. Take care, love and hugs, Val

  22. Brandon Stiver 05/11/2017 at 11:50 am #

    We’re glad for your continued work to impact families in Arusha. We hope to connect again sometime after your furlough. All the best to your family and grace over your travels and transitions.