When confronted with the needs of countless children suffering from AIDS, poverty and the death of parents, what can one do? Isn't the need to large and overwhelming to address? Wouldn't it require too much time, energy and resources to reach out to such a helpless multitude of little ones? Not according to Stephen and Beatrice Njau, founders of El Shaddai Children's Home. Over breakfast one morning, I overheard a conversation about orphans in Kenya. Inquiring further I met Mary and learned that she was volunteering at a children's home. As she described the work of El Shaddai, it sounded like the kind of place that we would want to film. Touching base with Stephen over the phone, we scheduled a time to visit upon our return to Kenya.
Alighting in Githange, we grabbed a soda and then set off in the direction that the locals pointed us. Children's clothing lined the fences and the sound of children playing gave the spot away. We were immediately surrounded by curious and excited little ones, all eager to get close and shake our hands. I was immediately struck by the beauty and joy of these wonderful little children. Stephen welcomed us warmly, leading us into a small room that served as a reception area. Over a cup of tea, he described to us how El Shaddai got started.
Back in 1998, Stephen and his wife, Beatrice, sensed a call from God to start a home for orphaned children. Being committed Christians, they both left their jobs and launched into full time ministry. Stephen served as a pastor for several years but the call to care for orphans remained on their hearts. In 2002, they finally left pastoral work and brought the first eleven children into their home in order to care for them. They have since moved into a larger facility that they rent to accommodate the 70 children under their care. With many more children in need of help, they hope to acquire land and build their own place to respond to the need.
As we talked, the three youngest children were brought in to see us. Mercy and Milcah were two adorable one year-old girls. Their little boy, Gibson, was only 11 months old and the youngest child at El Shaddai. The three of them adored Stephen and his wife, laughing at their games and soaking in the attention when they could sit on their laps.
Mercy's father died of AIDS and while her mother was dying, she managed to arrange for her to go the Children's Home. She died one month later, leaving precious little Mercy an orphan. Milcah was abandoned as a newborn and left outside overnight. She was nearly dead when she was discovered the following morning and taken to El Shaddai. Gibson's parents have also died. All three of these precious children are infected with HIV and without the loving care that they receive from Stephen and Beatrice, they would likely be dead.
It was beautiful to see how this couple treated these three little ones like their own children. Stephen showed me how they fit each of the three babies into their bed with them so that they don't wake the orphanage's workers in the night. Their love for these children is apparent.
As I stepped outside with the camera, a crowd of children gathered around and began to sing songs for me. Beautiful songs of worship poured from their little hearts to the Lord. Others laughed and played with Ben by the playground. Older ones held the babies, caring for them like younger siblings. Others helped the workers to prepare food in the kitchen, stoking the wood fire under the stove. Grabbing their drums, several boys played for us while others giggled and danced for the cameras. Looking back over my shoulder, I spotted Stephen standing in a doorway, holding baby Gibson in his arms. He tickled him, playing baby games with little "Gibo" as they laughed together.
Leading me around their compound, Stephen showed me the kitchen, the well and the cow that had been donated to provide milk for the children. We could barely walk into he and his wife's small bedroom because it was lined with children's clothing that they had nowhere else to store. All of the seventy children stayed in a combined total of about five rooms. Although it is cramped, they do their best with the space that they have.
While many of the children lost their parents as a result of AIDS and suffer from the virus themselves, there was one whose story was particularly compelling. Faith is an adorable 5 year-old girl with a beautiful smile. As you take a closer look you begin to see unmistakable signs of physical abuse. Two of her front teeth have been ripped out, a small part of her ear is lopped off, and there are scars on her forehead and cheeks. Stephen told me that after her parents died, Faith's relatives did not want to care for her. They wanted her to die as well so they abused and injured this precious little girl.
Faith came to El-Shaddai in desperate condition. She was not only HIV positive but also very sickly. With loving care and personal attention, her health began to improve. A year later, she was tested again for HIV and found negative. Now at age 5 she has again tested negative. There is no medical explanation for this change. God is doing more than one miracle in this little girl's life.
As I took pictures of Faith and then held her in my arms for a few moments, I realized that Stephen and Beatrice have figured out what life is all about. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like unto a little child. He enjoined us to bring children unto Him and declares a special reward for those who would do so little as to provide a drink of water for a child. Caring for orphans, He declares to be at the core of true religion. May we as a Church take special care not only to help children in need but also to assist those who are engaged in this vital work all around the world.