Lydia shares about some more powerful, defining moments during the Venter family’s missionary journey in Kenya
Initially, when we came to Kenya, I became overwhelmed with compassion every time I saw a child living on the street. Because we were also surrounded with needs, poverty and hopelessness in our ordinary day-to-day lives, my emotional state became greatly affected by this as we simply could not help everybody who had a need.
Then, one day I stumbled upon Ezekiel 3:9a and this Scripture inspired a conversation between Father and me. I asked Him whether — unless He specifically wanted us to help somebody (whether spiritually, practically or physically) — he would please make my forehead “like the hardest stone, harder than flint” and not allow me to feel His compassion. The Lord literally answered me immediately and so many years after uttering that prayer I’m still grateful for that moment. In the years to follow I could trust God’s Heart of compassion to guide me whenever He had a task for me, and even my hubby – a practical hands-on guy – has learned to appreciate this, especially when it involves us or our family.
One day, during a staff meeting at YASHA Mission Academy, I heard myself talking about the growing number of kids on the streets. And what I heard myself say shocked me: I said that any ministry that was not involved with the rescue of street children within the next five years would miss the mark. I wanted someone to kick my behind, because apart from sharing an occasional meal as I felt the Lord lead, I was not particularly eager to work with street kids. Although I somehow forgot about those words, they did become an icon on the home page of my heart and when I found myself a few years later in a very specific situation, I knew it was time to hit the icon.
Wednesday, the 30th of May, 2012, started off as any other day. Wilco, at that time, was in South Africa, while our friends, Etrisia Lilly and Jacques Barnard, were visiting us here in Kenya. Etrisia’s Blackberry was giving problems, so before leaving for school that morning, we handed it in at the Safaricom shop in Nakuru town. Before heading home after a long and tiring day, we returned to Safaricom to collect Etrisia’s phone. I couldn’t get a parking spot, so as I double parked the vehicle in front of Safaricom I put on the hazards. While Etrisia went into the shop and Jacques and I were making small talk, something at my side window caught my eyes — two boys were staring at me from outside. Now this had happened a thousand times before. Usually I would wind my window down, share a few words and then, when they asked for money, I’d either buy them something to eat or conclude with the words ‘Hapana leo’ (which means ‘not today’).
This day however, I saw them — I truly SAW them. I saw their hopes and fears and dreams and disappointments. I saw their sadness and their desire to belong. Joseph and Martin were not asking for food that day. They asked to be taken to school and as we were still talking, four more boys came towards us, echoing the same. Within five minutes there were six boys in our Toyata Surf with Jacques’ eyes as big as saucers. Etrisia came back and of course she couldn’t believe what she saw — and neither could our own kids. Kevin Mwangi, Simon Macharia, Kelvin Kemboi, Joseph Lokapel, Martin Nyangwesa and Oscar Matea were coming home with us. We suddenly had 11 children.
The next day I was happily going to court to organize the committal forms (usually I hate doing any legal stuff due to the bureaucracy) and although our case was the very last one, we sat joyfully outside in the sun talking and getting to know one another. YASHA Hope Centre was born that day. We also had the opportunity afterwards to go and buy some clothes and shoes for the boys. They were super excited of course and so was I. At some point Etrisia had sent me photos of the boys’ clothes via WhatsApp, showing how dirty the water still was even after the 8th wash. We decided to burn them.
For the first couple of months, they constantly stole food from the pantry, and if you put out food on the table, it would be all gone before you knew it. Their minds were conditioned to “eat now, because you don’t know if you’ll have any food later”. We did not lock anything in the house, as we refused to stay in a prison. We kept on challenging them, saying that we’d love them until they change. They slowly had to learn to ask permission if they want something, to leave left-overs and to respect other people’s stuff. Our own children sacrificed a lot, especially during those first months, as they had to submit to the same rules in order not to bring confusion to these kids. Four of the boys couldn’t read or write, and so although they were older, we had to put them through a Class One reading programme. Once they caught up, we placed them in Lerwa School of Excellence near our home. They were not only street smart, but also really intelligent. We were so proud of them!
Kelvin, Joseph and Oscar ran back to the streets several times, claiming the streets were “calling them”. They always came back though, until one day, when Oscar didn’t return. Our hearts were broken . Although he came back later, he would always disappear whenever he didn’t want to face responsibility. Good news is that he’s currently in a school in Naivasha and doing quite well.
We also discovered that Kevin Mwangi was17 years old, and not 13 as he had claimed. He stayed with us until he turned 18 and today I’m happy to say that he is a mechanic and is doing well.
After two years of having the boys in our home, the Lord challenged us to look for their families, restore their relationships and finally return them to their homes. Of course, we were still paying their school-fees, buying their school uniforms and other supplies, and helping with food, as a lack of money was the number one reason for these kids running away in the first place.
This operation proved to be very successful, except in the case of Joseph. He always talked with so much love of his grandparents as they were the ones raising him. How devastating it was when we finally reached his home, just to find out that both of them had passed away. It traumatised him to the extent that he saw only one viable option remaining and that was to run away again — the streets claimed back another one of its victims.
Over the years we had several more children who became part of the YASHA Hope Centre, but those boys we picked up that day, remained special. Simon now works in the public taxi industry. Martin is very artistic and became a carpenter — we’re currently helping him to open up his own carpentry business. Kemboi is a true leader and is currently doing his final year in high school. He has hopes of becoming an electrician. Wilco clearly had a great impact on his life.
Our journey as foster parents of traumatised children proved to be both challenging and rewarding. Psalm 9:18 declares that the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever. Although having probably about 60% success with these kids, it significantly changed our perspectives in life, and we thank the Lord for His abundant grace over His children. Our prayer is that Jesus will continue to reveal Himself to “the least of these” and that we – His Church – will be obedient whenever He calls us to action.
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