By Bishop Michael Rinehart
I have always been impressed with those who give generously to charities that are making a difference in the world. There are some incredible charities out there. My own denomination produced the much-respected Lutheran World Relief (LWR), the game-changing Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS.org), and the many Lutheran Social Services affiliates. Our own churchwide body worlds through Global Mission, Companion Synods and ELCA World Hunger. I’m proud of these reputable organizations.
Every once in a while, however, an entrepreneurial follower of Christ steps out and does something new. I think of Dick Moeller who, moved by presentation during Sunday school at Triumphant Love Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas, about how clean water can turn around poverty in Africa, decided with his group to build a well, then two, then five. He started a non-profit and Water to Thrive (W2T) was born. They built 10, 100, and now 1,000 wells in Africa. It’s a remarkable thing. They have built more high-quality wells than many established organizations. 48% of people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to clean water. Every nine seconds a child dies of water borne diseases. I visited Ethiopia with him and discovered that when clean water is available, the local hospital census goes down, and school attendance goes up (because kids aren’t sick and aren’t hauling water). W2T is making a difference.
Then there’s Pastor Brad Otto of Messiah Lutheran Church in Cypress, Texas. Brad went along with Dick on one of his well-building trips to Ethiopia. His church has raised money for several wells. On his trip he encountered a village with a broken down school building and no supplies. When he came back he started gathering supplies and Acts of Wisdom was born. 2014-2019 they have delivered 5,000 school books to children in Ethiopia. School scores have risen in these areas dramatically. Dropout rates have fallen. Making a difference isn’t always easy, but it can be done with passion and commitment.
Not all life-changing ministries are started by large organizations. And even those that are, are often lead by entrepreneurial leaders with a vision. Sometimes these lead from within organizations, and other times leaders go out on their own, working without a net. Margaret Mead once famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of people can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Such is the case with David and Linda Fischer, members of Tree of Life Lutheran Church in Conroe, Texas. Before moving to Conroe, they had been supporting an orphanage in Kenya for 15 years. On one trip they visited a town called Bungoma, in western Kenya. There they noticed school-age boys roaming the streets. They asked about the glue bottles the boys held in their mouths.
Their driver and translator, David Wesonga, explained these homeless boys become addicted to glue-sniffing, because it numbs the hunger pangs and cold. It turned out this driver had worked with these kids. His brother, George, had been a street boy.
When the Fischers returned to the US, The King’s Embrace was launched, with David Wesonga as General Manager. They chose as their theme verse Matthew 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ”
They began finding foster homes for some of the boys. Seven acres were purchased in 2017, and work began on a 20,000 square foot residence to house as many as 80 boys. Some of these boys are orphans. Some have left abusive homes.
Last month Pastor Emmanuel Jackson (Living Word Lutheran Church in Katy, Texas) and I visited The King’s Embrace in Bungoma.
The building was move-in ready by April 2019. By that time, the number of boys in foster homes had grown to over a dozen. Foster care, however, was challenging. Finding and screening families is difficult and time-consuming as there is no support from the government or a social service organization. You improvise as you go. In April, the boys left their foster homes and moved to TKE, their new home.
When we arrived there were 18 boys and six staff. The friendliness and attitudes were very positive. David Wesonga and his brother George (Director of Ministry) keep an active relationship with the boys in the street through their Thursday “street boy ministry”. They distribute bread and drinks and spend time visiting with them. It was clear these boys trust David and George. When David and George see that a boy has a good attitude and a willingness to get off the glue and back into school, they make an invitation to go into foster care on a trial basis. Foster families are supported with rice and oil, making this an attractive proposition for them. George visits the foster boys on a weekly basis to ensure they are being properly cared for and attending school.
The kids are doing well. They speak three languages in most cases: Swahili, English and their local tribal dialect. Those of the right age are learning algebra and science, though some of them are behind because of their time on the street. The school is a 15-minute walk. The local clinic takes good care of them.
The vast majority of this, the property, the wells, the building, the truck and more, has come from their pockets. To be sustainable for years to come, however, TKE’s frugal $60,000 a year budget will need funding sources.
If you’d like to see for yourself, join them, and Pastor Chris Lake from Tree of Life Conroe in April. Check out the brochure below. Can’t go? That’s okay, you can donate here.
Check out lots more photos at https://bishopmike.com/2019/08/29/the-kings-embrace/.