It was the week off for Christmas vacation. Only a couple of the children were supposed to be there. At the most, a handful. It was the week that the children would get to be with family members, perhaps at an uncle or aunt’s home, or a host family or friends of the family or to someone’s house, away from here. Not that “here” was a bad place. In fact, “here” was a beautiful warm welcoming loving place. It was the Children’s home that was part of the Diguna Mission in rural Kenya where my daughter’s husband’s best friend Markus serves as a missionary fixing old cars.
We walked down to the place where the Children’s Home was housed, and when the children heard us they pulled back curtains to peak out of the windows, and they beamed with their big grins and some of them had toothless smiles and others were pre-teens, and then moments later they showed up to say hello. They smiled wider than the ocean, and I asked them what their names were and I snapped photographs of them and then showed the photos to them and they pointed and laughed at themselves.
Then they went on to pose for additional photographs and wanted to see themselves in the photos. They grinned and smiled and laughed and made funny faces and asked to take additional photos with goofy smiles.
There were at least 15 children. They each have names and histories and lives and precious little souls. Grace, Mary, Stephen, Sam. Julia. But, no mom or dad. And, nowhere to go during this week of Christmas vacation.
Markus, who serves in a different area of the mission, had thought there might be a handful of children there, not two dozen. And my twins were talking with them and laughing and I just had to capture the moments. To remember.
As we got ready to leave, the children asked me if we would be coming to church the next day, to which I replied without hesitation, “Yes.”
And that you would know when church started by the singing, that you would hear the children singing, and I told him that I did not want to miss out on the singing; so when our breakfast went late, I was a bit concerned about missing the singing. Markus told us we would be fine and that I should not worry, and that we would not miss the singing.
We were a distance from where the children’s church was located, and indeed, we began to hear the singing at just a little bit past 10 a.m.
I waited anxiously for my daughter and her husband and my twins to walk with me to the children’s church service, as was the plan.
Children’s singing in our church in the States lasts only a short time, two maybe three songs, so I had that mind set.
But, this was different, in this African village Children’s church.
We finally arrived at children’s church, and the children were indeed still singing, just as Markus had assured us they would be. And there were more than a handful of children and more than the 15 or so from the night before. There were maybe 35 or 40 or so children singing their heart out. They were dressed up beautifully, in their Sunday best.
The boys wearing their button down plaid shirts that had some missing buttons and khaki pants or clean blue jeans; and the girls were wearing dresses, bright orange and pink and turquoise, and they had their hair decorated with colorful ribbons and barrettes. And some of the children held bibles in their hands. Up front, there were a few of the older children leading the songs, and they had the microphone turned up really loudly, beaming, and they were swaying back and forth.
“The children like it that way, to have the music turned up really loud. They want others to hear them so they will come to church as well,” explained Markus.
When we sat down to join them in their church service, a little girl named Grace came over to sit by me, and she wore a white shirt and a denim skirt and the denim skirt had a little ruffle on the rim around it, and the dress had a little rip in it. Grace held my hand and sat on my lap the entire time and she kept looking up at me, and I’d smile at her and she’d smile back. And Grace’s smile was warm and beautiful and yet a bit timid. She was about 4 or 5 years old and she had no hair and your heart just melted being around her, and I get teary eyed just thinking about her; and other children were sitting with my twins and my daughter and son-in-law and our friend Markus and his girlfriend, and I did not want this church service to ever end and I did not want to leave these children and I kept thinking that this was Christmas vacation week that the children were to go to a family friend or relative who lived away from the Children’s Home, but these children here had no one that would take them in for the week off during the Christmas break.
After the singing time, a woman in a bright pink dress got up to share in Swahili language; Markus and Stefan interpreted for us, saying that individual groups would next be sharing songs for the entire church. At her instruction, a group of 7 or 8 children moved toward the front to sing their prepared song.
And then they had a time when all the boys went up there to sing a song together, and some of the children in the home held my twins’ hands to guide them to the front with the other boys, so they did as did Stefan, my son-in-law. And then it was the girls’ turn to go up and sing a song, so my daughter Rachel went up to sing with the girls, and Grace took my hand to lead me to the front to join with the other girls as well. And, I held her hand while another little girl came over and put her arms up as if to indicate that she wanted me to hold her so I did.
They tugged on my hand. And my heart. And it was pure beauty listening to these children singing to the Lord, all dressed up in their Sunday best, and I singing along with them, songs of praise to the Lord.
When a little girl starts crying there are no mothers to comfort the little girl, so another girl who is a bit older runs over to console the younger girl.
And, I look out at the boys in the audience watching the girls and I see a little boy holding a toddler boy and I think, how precious is that.
And I also wonder and ponder, where is that little boy’s mommy or daddy? Where are all of these children’s parents? I weep inside.
After our group of girls is done singing, a young gentleman in his early 20’s comes up to the front of the church with a bible in his hand and he begins preaching a sermon from Galatians 5:22 about being filled with the Holy Spirit and living a life of the Spirit and letting the Spirit take full control of your life.
And I think, wow, this is intense and sincere and the children are soaking it up, looking up bible verse after bible verse and I wonder, could the children back home sit this still in church for a sermon like this.
After the sermon, there is a greeting time where they go around in a circle to say hello to every single person, and I get to meet one of the “House parents” whose name is Samuel who has 24 kids in his care. He lives with them in “Home Number 6.” I ask him if it is hard to have 24 kids in his care, and he says it is not hard, sure there are challenges, and he enjoys it; yet he acknowledges that it would be hard if you were not called to this ministry. A sign on a door in the home where he is the housefather quotes Luke in the Bible: “Nothing is impossible with God.” His smile and warmth are infectious.
Samuel, during this week of Christmas break, had “only” had 6 boys in his care. “Only.” I ask to see Home Number 6 where he is the housefather and he gives me a tour of the rooms which each had two bunk beds in them so that four children shared one room. And Samuel explains that the older kids sleep on the top bunks and the younger ones on the bottom. He shares these things with me and his eyes reveal a tender and gentle and compassionate soul, and I think that these little boys are so blessed to have Samuel as their housefather. I gave him the two soccer balls we had brought from the States, one donated by our friends from church. Before coming to Kenya I hadn’t realized that there would be this many children at the Children’s home because Markus had said the children would be with their extended families during this Christmas break. But I was wrong. I had brought 6 candy canes from our Christmas tree at home, and I could not divide them up with 40 or so kids there, so I gave them to Samuel to distribute. Perfect number for the 6 kids in Home Number 6 who had no place to go this vacation.
Did Samuel ever get a vacation, I wondered?
My twins played soccer with the children using the new soccer balls we had brought. It was a large field and incredibly hot and I kept thinking this was giving Samuel a break for a moment while my twins were playing with the children. And it was beautiful to see and I did not want them to stop playing soccer with the children. The spirit in this place was so peaceful.
Samuel beamed watching the boys play soccer and he was fine not having a break from his job, even though it was Christmas vacation.
You got the feeling he knew that this was more than a job. This was the children’s only home and they were with their housefather. The “outside home” with extended family that they were supposed to go to was not there for them. There is no home beyond this Diguna Children’s home for so so many of these sweet, orphaned children.
Through these wonderful people who are there for these children, even during Christmas vacations, when there is no vacation.
Because, there is no one else for these children, and Thomas and the others know that and they feel that and they remain there for them. They are family. The children have each other. And God. And the other house parents. And Thomas.