So, long time no see, eh? I know, I know… I’ve been a bit AWOL lately. However, I’ve been waiting for the right time, and now is finally the time to share some exciting news about Kenya Simba Scholars (KSS) that has been brewing for about 9 months or so. But first, some much-needed back-story…
My return to the US in May of 2014 – after spending another 3 months in the land of warm sun, exotic animals, African climate, and amazing little children – was long-awaited and highly welcomed… by me. To be honest, the idea of coming home early appealed to me, and was presented to me on more than one occasion by my pastor/boss. But ultimately, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I had made this commitment, and I was gonna stick with it. I’m glad I did. It was a rough 3 months, though, in which we had to let go of supporting 2 of our 4 Kenya Simba Scholars locations (the result of growing pains, Kenyan political climate, accountability measures, and other aspects combined). The KSS Advisory Board at Saint Joseph United Methodist Church was on the verge of shutting down the whole ministry due to the unforeseen problems and no immediate solutions. Our available resources were not what they needed to be in order to keep the ministry thriving, and we had no way of getting those resources any time in the imminent future. It was a huge blow, and a heavy realization for us. Despite that, the children were still in need. Moreover, we had made promises to them. We had begun to form relationships with them. How could we fulfill the need, and stay true them? How could we continue to support the kids? Was that still our mission? If not, what would become of the children we’d met and sponsored for years, who were still living in poverty and affected by the severe lack of education that loomed over the bleak horizon?
Was God telling us that this ministry was only meant for a season? Was our ministry actually helping these children? These were honest questions that needed honest answers. One of the most dangerous things to do in ministry is to keep walking along, pretending that you’re actually doing good (especially when money is involved!), when in fact your “help” could be hurting others more than anything. It was time for serious thought and a lot of prayer.
Deliberation ensued. We were in a trench hole – a much-needed one, to be sure. I feel that with any pertinent growth, there will come a point of such pain that you question if you can go on. The ultimate point of growth into wisdom comes if you can answer the questions that arise with full honesty. Thus, a decision had to be made. The idea that we could stop all sponsorship really loomed over me, and threatened everything I’d worked so hard for the previous 2 years. Had that been my mission? To see the end of it all? I spent my days in constant thought and prayer. Encouraging words from fellow mentors and friends reassured me that even if the children only had 5 years of sponsorship, that was still 5 years that they were blessed with a gift. I tried to be ok with that, but I deep down I wanted there to be something else. Ultimately, the board decided that we needed to partner with an organization who had shown the ability to be successful in child sponsorship, and who could help us manage our ministry in Kenya. If we couldn’t achieve this, then we could no longer support an international ministry in Kenya. There was just too much at stake. Too much harm that we could do. And with the potential harm we could do, we knew we would eventually hurt the children in ways that we’d never fully know. That realization was more devastating than halting the program.
The summer of 2014 was met with lots of phone calls to many different organizations around the country, in an attempt to gain wisdom, advice, partnerships, networking contacts, and anything else that would help us make the final decision for the fate of Kenya Simba Scholars. I spoke to Executive Directors, Financial Chairs, CEOs, VPs, field workers, fellow missionaries, and anyone else who would answer my phone calls or emails. I got a lot of advice for things to watch out for, things to do in our ministry, suggestions of other people to talk to instead of the person I’d called, and knowledge that would’ve been great had I received it before I’d started on this journey. I was grateful for all of it, however, the outlook was looking pretty dim. More prayer. I was seriously considering the idea that God really didn’t want this ministry to continue. Perhaps it wasn’t our place to be sponsoring children for education internationally. It was a pretty lofty mission, after all.
But one day in October of 2014, a sliver of hope appeared via an email response that I received. It was an invitation to come out to Valparaiso and have a meeting and lunch with the Senior VP and HR Director of Kids Alive International, with a side note of “What a nice surprise to find out that we have a fellow Christian worker here in N. Indiana who is serving children in similar ways that we are in Kenya!” My diminishing hope was perking up. Is this for real? I heard my realistic self speaking to me internally: Don’t get your hopes up. It could turn out to be nothing in the end. My skeptical side prevailed in an effort to hold back my potentially extreme excitement. You see, this was the first positive response I’d had. What were the odds that something good would come of it?
So I decided to find out if this was meant to be. Along with my trusty travel partner, Brie (who has spent 2 months in Kenya with me on previous occasions), we set off to Valparaiso one cold, snowy day in late October… not knowing what thoughts or feelings the end of this meeting would leave us with. Matt and Gordon greeted us at Kids Alive, listened to all of the honesty about Kenya Simba Scholars – where we were financially, resourcefully, and emotionally with the ministry, and everything that had happened within it up to that point – and at the end of it, they were still interested in further conversation with us about the potential for a partnership! With their 99 years of experience in child sponsorship around the world, and a staff of 70 on the ground in Kenya, they were in a position to expand their organization, bringing on more children. This was exactly what they were looking for. What? I had told them the nitty-gritty, the ugly parts, the stuff that I wanted to get rid of, and they just sat there calmly and said they wanted it? Who ARE these people?! Did they hear me correctly? It was still too good to be true. Realistic Jen maintained her composure. And skepticism. Sadly, I was still gearing myself up for the ultimate “pulling of the plug” if it came down to that. We all moved forward, nonetheless. Now that I was on this train, I would take it as far as I could.
The months that followed were filled with emails to and from Kenya, Valparaiso, and Fort Wayne in an effort to see what the possibility would be of a partnership between Kids Alive International and Kenya Simba Scholars. A full meeting in January of 2015 with the KSS Board and the Kids Alive Senior staff gave us yet another high voltage jolt into a sphere of hope that I hadn’t seen in a very long time. (One of the men who came to the meeting was a Kids Alive child in Lebanon in the 50s. His name is Jed. Probably in his 60s now, Jed is currently the VP of Operations for Africa & the Middle East for Kids Alive. This was encouraging beyond anything I’d felt yet. Could our kids have the same potential?) They were now talking about taking on the administration of KSS in Kenya, and eventually bringing on Lydia (our KSS Kenyan Director) to their Kenyan staff. How was this going so well? The KSS board members were stoked that we would still be able to help the children that we’d spent so many years building relationships with, and that we’d be able to offer even more to them and to our sponsors. The conversation continued. Along with that, so did my hope for KSS, the children, and everyone who has been so profoundly affected by this international ministry.
And so, months later, a Kids Alive trip to Kenya, many phone calls to Lydia, several KSS advisory board meetings, and a long story short, here we are today… over a year later, and the hope that was once nearly gone has re-surfaced, and is glowing. Realistic Jen is still here, but the reality is that this is happening! Kids Alive International and Kenya Simba Scholars are joining in partnership with one another. Moreover, Jed will be the one overseeing the KSS program in Kisii! What does this mean for “our” kids? Whereas KSS could offer only tuition for the children, Kids Alive will offer them healthy meals, basic medical care, spiritual guidance, education and extra tutoring if needed. They will still help nurture that precious relationship between sponsors and scholars via letters, pictures and occasional gifts. What does this mean for our sponsors? Well, we hope to keep them! KSS will still be a ministry of Saint Joseph UMC, but it will be under the umbrella of Kids Alive, who will see that every child is being attended to, and getting what they need via their in-country staff. St Joseph will continue to recruit sponsors for the children in Kisii, Kenya, and the relationships built between sponsors and scholars will continue to grow. I have never felt more hopeful for this international child sponsorship ministry at St Joseph! I have learned, again, that I can trust (this seems to be an ongoing lesson for me!).
And to think… a year ago some of us were preparing ourselves for the end of it all. I chose not to share any of this publicly as it was in-progress due to not really knowing much about the path forward until just recently. But I’m delighted to be able to share it now that things are progressing in a positive way. As far as my position as International Advocate to Kenya – well, that is officially over at this point. Although, I will definitely remain a huge advocate for the ministry here in the US. My heart still remains there, though. The children and families from Kenya will forever be a part of me & who I’ve become. They’ve taught me so much about life, purpose, patience, hope, and trust. They’ve taught me their culture, their languages, their way of life, and helped me know the beauty of Kenya. They’ve shown me the joy that comes from giving, and the blessed humility in receiving. They’ve shown me what it means to allow the gift of generosity to pour from those who have much less than I do, and the grace that comes from that. I am overflowing with gratitude to them. I do hope to visit again someday to see all the kids & families, and know how they’re doing. In the meantime, I rest in the fact that they are in great hands. I might even get the chance to go on a mission trip with Kids Alive at some point! And who knows… maybe one day I’ll write a book about all of this.
So, the culmination of my mission was this: I set out into the unknown, having committed 3 years of my life to this journey, clueless as to what the end would be or needed to look like (only knowing that I needed to go). I enjoyed a magical, travel-induced fairytale for a while before it turned into reality, leaving my heart broken, my faith in all of it lost, and me deciding there was little to no hope for any of it. Only, I was proven immensely wrong, and later regained my trust that God can do all things miraculous as the whole thing turned into something better than I ever could have imagined… almost 3 years later, on the dot.
To all of my sponsors who believed in me enough to financially support me in this mission, to everyone who stood by my side through all of it (or even part of it), to everyone who sent up prayers and positive thoughts on behalf of this mission… I cannot say “Thank You” enough. You have truly changed the lives of so many… for years to come. It could not have happened without you.
If you’re interested in watching the introduction of the partnership and more about Kids Alive, we broadcasted live this morning (July 19, 2015), and it’s up on YouTube for viewing here:
And don’t forget to check them out at http://www.KidsAlive.org!