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Meet Janice Wagner, a true trailblazer. This energetic woman from east Texas has an infectious smile that’s mimicked by the bright-eyed children who encircle her as she teaches them God’s Word. But several years ago the Lord revealed to her a much different scene when a chance to travel abroad came her way.
Here she tells in her own words what happened.
Kenya, Africa: the reveal
“The first time I went to Kenya, Africa, I was invited by a friend who was going back to visit her parents there. Soon after arriving, I was sitting in a taxi waiting for my friend. Suddenly a small child approached the car and gestured that he was hungry; his thin body and hollow eyes confirmed his hand-to-mouth gestures. He was utterly starving.
“I reached into a bag of fried chicken we had and offered him a piece, and within seconds the car was surrounded with tiny dirty faces, each begging for food. I gave all I had, and with a broken heart I told them I had no more to give.
“I cannot explain the pain and hopelessness I had seen in the eyes of the children, who were like puppies dumped out onto the streets. They were drinking out of mud puddles and eating out of dumps.
“I had always prayed that the Lord would break my heart with what broke His heart, and that is exactly what He did. I cried for three days, asking the Lord, ‘Why don’t You do something?’
“He answered, ‘I did—I sent you.’
“I remember saying, ‘Lord, they have no hope for any future.’
“The Lord whispered, ‘That is what you are here for—to give them hope and a future.’
“I have to admit that I felt a bit sorry for the Lord, thinking, Am I really the best You have for this job? Then I remembered 1 Corinthians 1:27, which talks about God choosing the simpleminded to confound the wise.”
Delivered from despair: the realization
After returning home, Janice and her husband, Phil, prayed deeply about the issue. Then she said, “OK, Lord, we will jump and trust You to catch us!”
That leap of faith propelled her into a quest to build an orphanage in Gacharage, Kenya. What were the hardest obstacles she encountered during the initial establishment?
“Self, self, and self,” she says. “When I thought it was all up to me to make it happen, the responsibility was overwhelming. Through God’s loving guidance and mercy He revealed the truth: that it was His responsibility to make it happen. It was His mission, and I was His vehicle.”
Soon monetary donations and prayers began to flow in, making the seemingly impossible mission possible. Purchasing the land came first, followed quickly by hiring help in Kenya for the construction process. Sweat rolling down their faces didn’t slow their progress as they used primitive tools to break into Africa’s hard, ancient soil.
Janice gives much credit for the orphanage—which she named Haven on the Hill—to Jemimah Marende, who gracefully helped them gain their NGO (nongovernmental organization) status for the authorization to work in Kenya. Also, Jemimah helped them in understanding the culture, customs, laws, and regulations of Kenya.
Janice’s eyes sparkle when she speaks of the faith partners, whose compassion is moved to action as they give prayers and monetary donations. She says, “No matter how small the gift, when combined with God’s blessings it becomes mighty! As they say in Kenya: ‘Little by little makes a bunch.’”
Abundantly blessed: the reason
Janice breathed a sigh of relief when the first child was released into her custody. Bubbling over with excitement, she gently embraced the thin boy. She felt his tension melt away as he allowed her into his shielded heart, her smile filling him with God’s love.
The hardship he had endured from living in an overcrowded orphanage had snuffed his spirits. Yet she watched the boy’s curiosity rise with each twist and curve of the narrow, bumpy road as they journeyed to his new home. She could almost feel his spirit being rejuvenated as the distance between them and the deplorable situation he had known grew. He never looked back.
“There it is.” At last she pointed up ahead to the brilliant red metal roof of their new brick home. Several other orphans have since taken this journey.
Janice explains that cottages are being built at the orphanage. Each cottage will provide a loving family environment for about 10 children and their caregivers. “One of our goals is to identify the talents and gifts that God has placed within each child and help them develop those talents and gifts,” she says. “This will allow them to fulfill the purpose God has for their lives.”
The first time Janice gazed upon the available land, she said, “This is where God wants us to be.” The orphanage sits on a grassy hilltop adorned by views of cascading hills dipping deep into vast valleys. The home is abundantly blessed with a well. It flows with clean, cool water, amplifying the simple pleasures of a real home life.
In addition to chickens and goats, they have a lustrous garden, or shamba, the East African term for cultivated farmland, filled with plants ranging from pineapples to tea. These plants are sold to help with partial needs of the home.
A happy ending: the revelation
It’s easy to see God’s light gleaming brightly through the eyes of these children when they play on the playground or when they eagerly gather around to learn God’s Word.
Janice relaxes peacefully in the tall, wispy grass, absorbing the beauty of God’s plan. The solace she sees on their faces as they watch a donkey-pulled cart clamber by is priceless.
At Haven on the Hill the children find refuge from the storm cloud that hung so heavy over their lives. They, along with Janice, have learned that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
Kendra Cotton is a graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature and writes from Coldspring, Texas.
In Their Shoes
Would you like to learn about the issues teens face in other cultures? Are you looking for a way to get the teens at your church or school excited about helping others? Consider doing the new ADRA program “In Their Shoes.” This program takes a group of teens through a weekend of experiential learning. Each participant will take on a new identity and learn to see the world from a fresh perspective. Through group activities, multimedia, and private reflection, you’ll learn about the lives ADRA touches around the world, the place of development work in Christianity, and God’s desire for each one of us to live out lives of love and service in His name. “In Their Shoes” is designed to be organized by a volunteer in your church or school and takes place over a 24-hour period. Contact Matt Herzel at Matthew.Herzel@ADRA.org for more information and to find out how you can receive an event kit.
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What you can do to make a big difference in the world
Often small amounts of money can do huge things to change—even save—lives. Consider sponsoring some of these projects. Information about donating to the first project can be found at www.throughthestorm.org; the rest are projects by ADRA, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (www.ADRA.org).
1 Buy a milk cow for the orphanage. Construction of an animal pen has been completed, and cows are needed to provide valuable milk and fertilizer. Visit www.throughthestorm.org to see current needs, as well as view photographs of the orphanage’s milestones and residents.
2 Save the life of a starving child. Children in some parts of Africa are literally starving to death! They receive so little food during their lifetime that their fragile bodies can no longer derive the nourishment they need from regular meals. The only way to save them is to give them special ready-to-use therapeutic food that contains the right amounts of vitamins and minerals to help them recover. Just $15 will provide this treatment for one day. Go to www.ADRA.org and click on “Gift Catalog” to sponsor this project and others, including those below.
3 Give a person clean water in Nigeria. The only water for Mgboko Umuoria is a contaminated seasonal stream and small ground pools, which vanish in the dry season. Cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, and typhoid are prevalent. With your help ADRA will dig three boreholes and install water reservoirs with tap points. A $5 gift will provide one villager with clean water.
4 Provide medical care for an Albanian child. Prejudice against Roma (Gypsies) means that most are refused medical care. Most Roma children have never seen a doctor, and three in five die before the age of 5. ADRA is providing medical care and hygiene education to Roma mothers and their children—for $20 you can help one child.
5 Give winter books and socks to a child in Armenia. In Spitak, Armenia, many children from large families don’t have any kind of shoes to protect their feet. Winters in rural Armenia can be harsh and unrelenting, so children from poor families who don’t have shoes don’t go to school in the winter. Many of them never leave their homes once the snow falls. For just $50 you can provide one pair of warm, sturdy boots and two pairs of woolen socks for a child. The family tradition is that boots are handed down from sibling to sibling, which means that more than one child will benefit from your gift!
6 Rescue a girl from female genital mutilation in Kenya. Girls as young as 10 undergo female genital mutilation (FGM), or circumcision, with crude, unhygienic tools as they are forcibly held down in the name of culture or tradition. These girls carry the trauma, pain, and increased health risks all their lives. ADRA has great success in rescuing these girls through community training and school clubs that educate girls and their parents against this practice. For $85 you can rescue a girl today!
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