More than 200 people, many dressed in creative safari attire, gathered at The Venue on Saturday for h.o.w? Ministry's inaugural Safari Soiree, where they enjoyed an evening of tasty delicacies, a live auction and the music of the popular local band Shades of Soul while also helping us raise funds to build a mission house/headquarters in Naivasha as we look to expand our program.
The event raised a total of $35,000 so far. Thank you to all who participated. We need to raise $150,000 for the construction of a mission house and have additional costs to develop the property, including a borehole for water (estimated at $25,000) and fencing for security (we're getting estimates).
Special guest Keziah Murugi, our in-country coordinator on her first visit to the United States, reminisced about meeting h.o.w? President Michelle Outman five years ago, and taking her to meet the widows, many of whom were heartbroken and weak. But over the years, through h.o.w? Ministry's ongoing efforts and Michelle's leadership, many of them have become strong, empowered women taking care of their families and teaching others skills that will help them do the same.
In preparing for her trip to the U.S., Keziah was asked as part of her visa application about the timing of her trip five years into her employment. Why now? "I said it's because every step that we take is guided by God. And Michelle had told me the first day we met that I wanted to come to America. And we prayed about it, and she said, 'in God's time.' And I believe this is God's time, today."
Keziah shared several success stories about the widows, including their first experience traveling outside their village to stay at tourist resort for the first h.o.w? Women's Conference in 2015, when they especially enjoyed the hotel accommodations, television, and a children's playground. "One thing that was said was that they had so much hope and belief in the ministry because for the first time, they have come out of their community and they're seeing something new. And they prayed about it and they said they trust that h.o.w? Ministry is going to grow, and that we are going to lead them the way God wants them to go."
She told about Mary, the young mother whose son was stricken with cerebral palsy from a bout with malarial menningitis. She had thought he was cursed. But through h.o.w? Ministry's support, she has not only learned her son was affected by a medical condition and how to help support him, Mary has also become a sought-after seamstress who has taught two other women to sew. h.o.w? Ministry initially helped Mary by taking her and her son to the hospital and helping to pay for the therapy that could help improve his condition. "Later on we thought why should we do this? Let's help Mary get on her feet and do all this for her son. And that was the most amazing thing that God has blessed in our minds because Mary is now taking care of her son."
Another woman, Emma, assumed she had HIV/AIDS and would soon die after her husband succumbed to the disease. "We encouraged her to go get tested, and she found she wasn't sick." Emma told Keziah, "So now what do I do? Because I was just waiting to die..."
"I told her it's time for you to stand up and take care of your children," Keziah said. "She has gained so much strength through the years. She's now taken two more people into her home, and she's opened her home to a cousin who is suffering from depression."
A third story was about another Mary, an older woman who was blinded by HIV/AIDS. "Recently, she decided, she's heard so much from Karen (Ward) and the team, 'you know a blind person is doing this and doing that,' so finally she said, 'I don't want to depend on everyone taking care of me for the rest of my life. ... I want to learn to do everything on my own.'
"That is h.o.w? Ministry," Keziah said. "We do not come and give handouts. We have encouraged our 30 widows that, yes, this is a condition we need to fight. We don't want to change the way they live. We want them to decide what's best or how best they want to live their lives. We have seen leaders come from the women who were previously oppressed. ... They have learned to fight. They have learned to stand on their own. And currently we meet them, and they look you in the eye and tell you what they want to do. So, you know, helping orphans and widows. That's what we do."
Keziah also said h.o.w? Ministry teams are making a difference at an orphanage and special schools in the area, where therapy teams from Cape Girardeau are teaching teachers better ways to interact with and support autistic children. "I have learned so much just by meeting the new people from Cape Girardeau coming to Kenya."
Doing all this work with the widows and the schools the past five years without an office or headquarters has been challenging, Keziah said, because there's nowhere to meet for followups, and no place for student interns or other team members to stay.
"So if we tell you today, that, 'Why now? We know that just by bringing two teams every year, we have accomplished so much within the five years we've been together."
Final tallies are still out, but the event should help provide us with a good start on the funding we need to secure the land, obtain utilities, and build our mission house. Keziah's visit to the U.S. with h.o.w? Ministry will include additional trips to meet with supporters in Atlanta and Hawaii.
"Being in a home called Missouri, in Swahili that means 'of good,' and I have not been disappointed from the time I came here. I've met wonderful people."
Top photo: h.o.w? President Michelle Outman presents a gift to Keziah Murugi, our in-country coordinator, at the 2016 Safari Soiree.
Inset from top: Keziah Murugi, Mary Muthoni Munga with her son, Sammy, and at the first h.o.w? Ministry women's conference.
Photos and text: Julie Wolpers