Kenya (MNN) — Bob and Julie Mendonsa can’t say for certain what it was that made them leave their comfortable, happy life in the United States to minister to needy children in Kenya. They only know that God led them there.
Years later, Bob and Julie have a successful ministry called Naomi’s Village which ministers to orphans who’ve experienced hardships, traumas, and abuses.
Bob Mendonsa says, “Naomi’s Village is a children’s home located in rural Kenya in the [Great] Rift Valley.”
It’s about an hour outside of Nairobi and was founded in January of 2011. Their vision is to raise children to be equipped, empowered, and enabled to not only be adults able to navigate their world, but to be part of the solution of the larger orphan crisis in Kenya. Bob says there are about 2.4 million orphans in Kenya.
What’s different about Naomi’s Village is that unlike many orphanages, the care given to these children is individually tailored. Time and money are traded for the hope of helping each child heal.
Naomi’s Village partners with a therapist in Nairobi. She is an American that specializes in play therapy for children who have suffered various trauma. They’ve partnered with her for about a year and are seeing great results.
These children come from all sorts of backgrounds. Most have never had anyone invest in them in a healthy way. Life at Naomi’s Village is a different life from anything they’ve ever known.
Julie says, “The great thing is that they can be healed. They really can be healed: body, soul, and spirit. We’re seeing that, and it’s just a beautiful work to be a part of.”
When each child arrives at Naomi’s Village, it is up to the staff to figure out what treatment and therapy will help that child heal.
Bob says, “They come from backgrounds of being orphaned by terror attacks, by family violence where father killed mother and all their siblings, explosions, HIV/AIDS–all kinds of different variables and situations.”
One thing Bob and Julie have learned is that there’s no blanket therapy for traumatized children. That’s because each story is different. “Every child that comes in is different. They’ve not just got a chronological age, but they’ve got a developmental age,” Bob says.
Many of them have not had the necessary emotional support that helps them develop, and so many of them are behind in their development.
Bob shares the story of a four-year-old boy who had been severely sexually abused and neglected. He did not respond to the love and care at Naomi’s Village the way that a healthy four-year-old boy would. Play time activities with the other children was not exciting–it was over stimulating. He had not yet learned how to process that type of setting.
“Once we got him in to see this therapist and began to realize that he was so developmentally delayed, had been neglected and what he really needed was play therapy, [we knew] he needed to go back and experience his infant stages and his toddler stages.”
Bob explains that in many ways, the boy had been behaving like a baby, and developmentally, he was.
Projects at Naomi’s Village
For a fully-rounded upbringing, the children at Naomi’s Village need an education, as well.
Right now the ministry is working on building a school called Cornerstone Preparatory Academy. Fully funded and under construction, opening date is scheduled for early 2016.
They’ve been fund-raising for another project, as well. Bob says, “We’ve been dreaming and praying and waiting on the Lord to raise some capital to build two teenager houses.”
Initially, Bob and Julie had the goal of housing 100 children at Naomi’s Village. But at 70, they’ve realized they’re at full capacity. With the teenager houses, they will be able to help the older children develop in a more specialized environment for their age group. They will be able to focus more on preparing them for higher education and independence.
Bob estimates that it will take somewhere between $150,000 to $200,000 to build each house. So far, they’ve raised the first $30,000. They will have a better idea after they get a design drawn up.
Along with providing emotional healing and an education, Naomi’s Village introduces these children to Jesus.
The Gospel is the foundation of everything they do, says Julie. “If it wasn’t, then everything we’re doing now is really temporary.”
Bob and Julie named Naomi’s Village after Naomi of the Bible. For Naomi, the loss of family meant hopelessness and the loss of joy. The gaining of her new family through Ruth and Boaz and their child, Obed, was the restoration of her joy and hope.
“For our kids,” Julie explains, “we believe that this restoration of family will bring back their hope, and we’ve seen that happen. But the true hope came through the lineage of Obed. It came through Ruth and Boaz, and that true hope is Jesus Christ.”
She adds, “It’s our fervent prayer that these children find their true hope in Jesus Christ.”
Bob says their program includes spiritual curriculum during Sunday school and also through the children’s daily devotions.
“They really get what they’re here to do and why they were created. The way they sing songs and the way they open and close their day, these are amazing kids–how much they understand and know that God loves them,” he says.
It’s when the children embrace this love that their lives are changed.
“The transformation in these children is astounding,” says Julie. “One of my favorite things to do is to find pictures of the children when we first met them and then compare it with the picture after they’ve been with us and part of the Naomi’s Village for quite some time.
“It’s not just that now they’ve put on some weight and they’re cleaned up. It’s this joy. It’s visible. It’s all over their face. It’s in their eyes.”
One of the most significant things that changes in their lives is their understanding of their purpose. Julie says all of the children desire to do something someday that can give back and minister to the people around them.
“They’re living out the Gospel. It takes my breath away, honestly,” she says.
Abandoned children, a new Father
The children’s guardians may still be alive when they come to live at Naomi’s Village. But their guardians are either unable or unwilling to take care of the children.
“For almost all of them, their image of a father is incredibly negative. Their image of a father is somebody who leaves, somebody who abuses, somebody who hates, somebody who steals, somebody who hurts. And we are replacing that with who God the Father is: this perfect Father,” Julie says.
Understanding not only that God loves them, but that He is their Father is key. “It takes some time for them to receive that as it does for all of us, but as it happens; it changes everything about who they are.”
Bob and Julie often look over the past few years in awe. They cannot comprehend how they’ve gotten from where they were in the states to where they are now.
“All this that’s happened has been like us being swept up in a wave of something God is doing. We have never been smart enough or capable enough to have done any of this, and He just keeps bringing people and resources.”
Many people who have joined their work have similar stories to their own. They lived successful and comfortable lives in the United States, but God called them to leave, and they faithfully obeyed.
“God loves these children, and He has started a work for His glory there in the Great Rift Valley that we can’t fully explain.”