.. at the tender age of 17 years old, I stepped onto the property that would change my life. After travelling for 8 hours on long, dusty, bumpy roads, crying the whole way and then getting into a city where I didn't know anyone or any place or what to do, I found someone who knew someone who knew someone who took me to Empowering Lives International Children's Home in Ilula, Kenya. December 6, 2005 was the first time I went to my 'home' in Kenya. I showed up in pants which, I was quickly told, was a no-no. I was crying with no idea where I was and wanting to go home. I was greeted with such incredible warmth and love and acceptance. I was astounded that the children's home was so 'luxurious'. I had braced myself for much worse. I remember being put into a dorm with some ladies I didn't know. I had supper with a team from America who was there.
And then I was brought to the other side where the children slept. It was dark and they were just getting ready for bed. However, they knew that a visitor was coming and they all scurried out of their rooms. Within seconds my waist was full of tiny little arms, hugging me tightly and welcoming me home. It was the most incredible night. I had dreamt since I was a little girl of coming to an orphanage in Africa and I was finally there.
Little did I know that it would be the first of a bajillion hugs from these children. Since then, I have visited Ilula more than 10 times. I have been so blessed to be apart of the children's lives and watch them grow up into the amazing young people they are. Some of them are now almost 17 years old which was how old I was when I first met them. The staff have become some of my greatest friends and supporters of my ministry in Kenya. And the director and his family, the Ronos, are like my own family. When I sit in their living room, I know that I am home.
I AM SO GRATEFUL that God brought me to Ilula. It was an extremely rocky journey, but God has an amazing plan and nothing can hinder His purpose.
I have a 'home' in Kenya filled with a family and siblings who love me like one of their own.
Here are only a few of the hundreds (possibly thousands) of photos I have taken over the past 5 years.
John, Emmanuel, and Esther made me feel so welcome. They are now some of my greatest friends. Emmanuel(far right) is now a giant and towers over me. Esther (with the bandana) is in the US fulfilling her dream of entering the medical field. And John (behind) is studying engineering in a local university. My brothers and sister!
Leah (right) and I go back to my first night in Ilula. When I arrived, they put me in a dorm with some other ladies who were there for a pastor's conference. One of the ladies just happened to be Leah and her daughter. I didn't remember her until she was hired on as staff about 2 years ago. She quickly reminded me who she was and our connection and we laughed! She is teaching me to make mandazi.
In 2005, I spent my first Christmas away from home. I remember us waking up at around 6am and being summoned to the kitchen to cook a special meal for the children. We worked so hard for these precious children. I remember the satisfaction I felt treating the kids to something special when I am so used to being spoilt on Christmas morning. I have now almost mastered cooking the local food.
One thing I love about going to Ilula is that I always end up meeting some cool people who have come to serve for a short time. This is Jamie who I met in May this year. She had such a gentle spirit and loved to treat the kids to her special baked treats. There are so many others that I still love to keep in contact with. Such cool people.
This is Valentine. I love her. She is my sponsor child. It is rare for someone to actually know their sponsor child but I have had the privilege to actually see her grow and be a part of her life. I get to know what her personality is like. I get to see her giggle and play and cry and go to school. I get to see where my money goes. It is so special.
I have learned to dig. Or at least I try.
The girls are my fav. I ABSOLUTELY ADORE them. My fav is spending my nights with them laughing and singing and answering their questions about life, God and everything in between.
LOVE LOVE LOVE <3
I love when they play with my hair and touch my arms and wrap themselves around my waist.
These are just some of the parents. This is when they only had 1 child. Now they have 3 beautiful boys. The boy in this picture is now 5 years old and plays a mean game of UNO.
My Kenyan family. I know I look different, but when I am in their house I feel no different.
I will never get tired of their welcome ceremonies. I always get teary-eyed even if it is not me being welcomed.
These 4 are siblings who watched their mother get struck by lightening and die. I remember the oldest, Mercy(far right) explaining to me the whole story during a thunder storm one day. She broke down in tears as she feared the lightening.
I had no idea when I ended up in Ilula on December 6, 2005 that my life would change. I had no idea that I would encounter God the way that I did and the way I do every time I go up there. I have learned so much from these beautiful people. I almost forget they are orphans now. To me they are just kids. God's kids.