I sit and reflect on how to tell you all this story as I listen to K-Love play, Healing Begins…
On past mission trips to Kenya, our teammate, Britney, supports and has cared for a 12yr old girl Irene and her 6 year old sister, Mercy, for the past 4 years in a slum in Kayole called, Spring Valley. The girls live and attend school in this slum and Britney treats and thinks of them as her own. These two girls lost both their parents and lived in a home constructed of mud and tin and slept on the floor with their grandmother. You can touch both walls of her home by just extending your arms. When Britney first met Irene, her head hung low and she spoke in a whisper as most do there. Now, she smiles with her head high and speaks to be heard. When we were there in July we spoke to 6th-8th graders about loving with respect, what to do should they be raped or abused and how to value themselves as special human beings deserving of real love.
7 months later we arrived back in Kayole to follow up on that mission as well as worship with them that Sunday Jan 22, 2012.
We could hardly sleep the night before so anxious to see our family, as we think of them, again. As we pull in and jump out of the car we are greeted by children running to hug us shouting, “How are YOU!!?” and Pastor Alice looking radiant in tribal garments with her hair wrapped in hot pink fabric and arms extended to welcome us home.
Britney immediately asks for Irene and Mercy and Pastor Alice’s eyes slant to the ground with hands folded and explains that Irene and Mercy have been taken by the government. We all pause in our tracks prodding for more information. Pastor explains she knows very little and is unsure of their whereabouts and no one would tell them any other information other than the grandmother was put in prison and Irene and Mercy were taken.
I looked to Britney and saw tears streaming down her face from under her sunglasses. I saw her heart completely shatter and the hope of seeing her little girls seep out of her body. Despair had joined us and placed his hand around our shoulders. But, despair was not welcome here, as we immediately joined hands forming a tiny circle of 4, as our teammate, Adam, prayed,
“Lord please help us.. .Please place people in our path to help us find Irene and Mercy. Please guide us, Lord. Please be our strength during this time and protect these two little girls as they are filled with fear and are all alone. Be their strength to stay strong and our strength to persevere in finding them. We put this in your hands, Lord.”
In your name…
We looked at each other and decided we were not going down without a fight. These girls were not lost.. We would find them and were prepared to search for them even if it took us the rest of the trip. The story of Jesus and the lost lamb came into my head during this time. He left the entire flock to find the one that was lost. If we had to leave our mission to find these two lost lambs then that is what we would do. They needed us and they were Britney’s family which meant they were ours too.
We went to our class to see the other girls and had previously decided to follow up our self-esteem talk with a lesson on encouragement. How ironic it struck me. It was so hard for Britney to be positive after what she had discovered, but here was Jesus comforting her through the message she had decided to teach these girls today. Little did she know this message would really be for her instead. His hands were on us now. I could feel it. It is mind-blowing how He knows exactly what we are going to face, and sends comfort to be there at the perfect time when the wind gets knocked out of our wings.
After the lesson, we asked and interviewed several people trying to find clues about the girls, and kept running into dead-ends. We learned the grandmother got out of prison and ran away upcountry so we would not be able to talk to her… Dead-end… We found a cousin who knew she got taken to an orphanage but unsure where it was…Dead-end…We talked to the head teacher who told us she had become rebellious when we left last time in July, and she ran away at one point before getting swiped by the government. This did not add up for Britney. That was not the Irene she knew and we kept running into a dead-end.
After exhausting all options and feeling defeated we walked the dirt path to our cars to see despair waiting to infect our hearts again… “Britney WAIT!” We heard after us. The seamstress of the school stopped us informing us she knew who took Irene and Mercy AND she had her phone number…HOPE!
We called, Mama Doris, the name given to us and she came immediately to meet us. We could not believe it. God had taken the wheel from us right there. Hope was returning to Britney’s body as Jesus Christ defeated despair and was now standing beside us instead.
Mama Doris hops in the car with us and takes us to another slum almost next door to Kayole. We couldn’t believe it. She said Irene and Mercy had been in an orphanage for over 6 months, alone! No one came for them, no one visited them and they spent the holidays all alone. We discovered that Irene’s grandmother tried to force Irene to have sex with her uncle. She stood up for herself and said, No. She, in turn, got raped by her own blood. Yes, you read that correctly. 12 year old little girl got raped by her own uncle. Irene then took her sister and ran away to find safety. As tears streamed down all of our faces thinking of all the pain she has endured since we left, how alone they are and completely unloved they must feel. Our hearts broke hearing of all Irene went through, but there was this overwhelming sense of pride because she stood up for herself and knew her worth, said no and tried to run to find safety. She knows she is special and her value and that made us proud.
After we arrived at this organization that placed Irene and Mercy in an orphanage, they told us they would take us there and in hopped another stranger God placed in our path to lead us the rest of the way. We drove down dirt roads with no street signs and pot holes the size of a crater. We got lost and relied on strangers we met on the road to guide us and by the grace of God we arrived. This orphanage was literally in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing for miles.
We jumped out of the car and as soon as we opened the door to this compound there stood little Mercy. Her clothes tattered and her hair wild, she sees us and all you see is the whites of her teeth and arms extended. She knew her family was here. She ran to us and we all hugged, sobbed and told her to find her sister.
When we walked into the headmistress office, I caught a shadow over my shoulder and I turn and there she stood with holes in her clothes, no shoes on her feet with the same wild hair as her sister. She looked as if she was carrying a cross that weighed a thousand pounds. The pain on her face is engraved in my heart and mind forever. Despair was standing beside her, wrapped around her precious little heart.
I grab Britney’s arm and pull her outside and when Irene sees Britney… I can hardly put this moment into words… You just see the weight of this cross on her back fall to the ground and her face was full of complete relief and disbelief. Her eyes filled with exhausted tears as she fell into her mother’s arms. She has been such a strong girl beyond her years and you could feel how tired her heart was in this moment. Britney and Irene sobbed as they embraced as Irene says, “You came for me. I prayed for you last night and you are here.”
We all sat in that head mistresses office sobbing together. The headmistress was blown away as she said Irene smiles for the first time since she has been here. Britney explained her love of the girls and the hard day we had tracking them down. The headmistress is completely moved as she exclaims to Irene and Mercy, “Mama is here, Irene. Mama, is here.” I cry as I even write this part because living this moment was so extremely overwhelming. The love in the room was completely extraordinary.
We took a tour of the orphanage and saw she had clean water, food and for the first time, a bed. Everyone was nice to her she said but she only had the clothes on her back for the past 7 months and no shoes on her feet. When our teammate Kristina, heard she did not have shoes for 7 months, she immediately removed her own shoes and gave them to her and went barefoot. We all sobbed again.
Selflessness was everywhere as Jesus was standing with us comforting these two orphans in the middle of nowhere in Kenya.
Irene was able to make a list of things she needed: Soap, mosquito net, sheets.. The list continued with practical things we take for granted every day that she has gone without for so long. This girl had the game of survival down.
We leave and come back the next day with the needed items and when we see Irene, her head is high, her smile is wide and plastered across her face. She had her hair braided, uniform on and shoes on her feet. Despair was nowhere to be found as love, hope and Jesus’ angels were surrounding this place now.
She proudly held our hands as we walked around and placed her new items where they needed to be. Mercy held on to us as if she let go for even one second we would vanish into the air right there. She was starving for this love she had not had for such a long time.
Irene asked if we would visit her on Saturdays when everyone receives visitors and we were heartbroken to tell her of our departure. Our Kenyan mom, as we call her, Maggie stepped in saying she would come and she would look after the girls in Britney’s absence and be sure to visit them, take them home for holidays and be sure they were loved and looked after. We all sobbed again. Here Maggie just met these girls and is willing to step in and be there for them no matter the sacrifice on her part. Such selflessness.
This whole experience is so overwhelming for me. Here are these 2 little girls across the globe, who have seen SO much pain, suffering and despair and God knew this. God felt the hopelessness in their heart and saw despair placing this cross on their back. God had His eye on them the whole time and heard Irene’s prayer. He answered her prayer long ago by placing a woman like Britney to watch over them and stop at nothing to care for them. God knew Britney would come for them, comfort them, and fight for them no matter the circumstances.
He perfectly placed our team with Britney to give her the support and strength she needed to answer Irene’s prayer when the time came. He placed us on the path to meet the right people at the right time to guide us. God thought them so incredibly special that He sent a group of 4 Americans from Memphis, Tennessee and an amazing Kenyan woman to search high and low across the globe to find them in an orphanage off the beaten path in Nairobi, Kenya just to help carry their cross and weather this storm for them. He sent us to be His arms and wrap these 2 sweet girls in His love so they knew they were not alone. God is so astoundingly amazing in His plan. He sees everything. It wasn’t us that found her and comforted her, that was God’s hand and we were just acting for Him in His place. We were just doing His will and it is so unbelievable and we felt so blessed He chose us for such a special mission. Just when you think God is not watching or paying attention to the pain you are living, you realize He always is and He is always sending His angels through others, you just have to look around to see it. He loves us that much and shows us no soul goes unturned even in the crevices of Africa.
So there you have it… The positive and encouraging, remarkable love story of our girls, Irene and Mercy.. They were lost and now are found, safe and with their new flock and family… Us, so they never have to be alone again.
A pastor in Uganda told us while visiting that in Africa everyday is survival, so everything that happens is always a blessing and gift from above and they recognize it clearly because they have so little, and sometimes when you already have so much it is hard to see the blessings within because you are so used to them.
Something to pray about…
In His name-