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The Heart and Soul of HOPE[Kenya]
By Jan Sokoloski
While you likely have never met Josephine Kiarii in person, she has been a remarkably effective strategic partner for Wheaton Bible Church for more than a decade. In fact, that relationship dates back even before our church launched Heart for AIDS (now HOPE[Kenya]) in 2004 to bring holistic care in Jesus’ name to the vulnerable near Nakuru, central Kenya.
Who is this remarkable woman who has had an impact on the lives of hundreds of vulnerable children, directed the Hope for Life Care Center for over a decade, and endeared herself to our GO Teams over those years? Who has conducted over one hundred community development trainings and traveled hundreds of miles to remote villages—all with the goal of embedding biblically based, transformational-development thinking in the hearts of widows and single mothers, church and community leaders, and even warring tribal leaders?
A former teacher and government worker, Josephine left the marketplace in her forties because, she says, “God grabbed my heart.” As she looked around her neighborhood outside Nakuru, she was moved with compassion when she saw how HIV/AIDS was ravaging the lives of children and leaving them without hope. Children orphaned by this pandemic were raising themselves and doing poorly in school—in large part because they were hungry. Some were being abused because no one was looking out for them—and the trajectory of their lives was desperate.
In response to this need, Josephine began a small daily feeding program from her church for at-risk children. At that time, Wheaton Bible Church had a desire to become involved in the fight against AIDS in Africa, and Josephine was the perfect partner. Our missionaries serving in that area, Barb and Scott Harbert, facilitated the connection, and Heart for AIDS—now known as HOPE[Kenya]—became our first church-wide global initiative.
Supported by resources from WBC, Josephine’s feeding program grew, eventually evolving into the Hope for Life Care Center in 2006, which she has directed for more than a decade, seeing the lives of hundreds of children, ages five to eighteen, transformed.
A Thriving Ministry
Today, nearly 150 children are being served by the Hope for Life community-based center, where they receive a nutritious meal, after-school tutoring, vocational training, and character development. As a result, these children grow in leadership and responsibility in their communities. Best of all, most of the children and caregivers who connect with Hope for Life come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Friend!
Faced with the enormity of the need around her, Josephine could have focused exclusively on children, but the problems in the community were much bigger: Teenage girls were living in a dump. Widows and single moms lacked dignity, empowerment, or a way to sustain a living.
Untapped resources were available to improve the quality of life in communities, but no one was connecting those resources with those who needed them most.
Already educated as a teacher, counselor, and student of theology, Josephine built on those foundations, mentored by an American missionary who taught her the principles of community development that unleashed Josephine’s potential to have an even deeper impact on the lives of those around her.
Today, wherever she is invited to go in Kenya (and neighboring Tanzania), she teaches these transformational-development principles and methods with amazing results.
One example is her work with the Unique Mothers Project—a program that helps widows and single mothers to form microfinance co-ops using local resources to sustain themselves. As they meet, each woman contributes a small amount of money, which is then used to provide internal loans to one another as opportunities arise. The women implement the principles Josephine teaches and have begun small businesses—such as beadwork, basket making, rabbit and poultry keeping, and agroforestry—all of which have enabled these women to support their families and at the same time have elevated their self-esteem.
Another group of enterprising women recognized that local groups and churches didn’t have enough seating. To boost income, they purchased fifty resin chairs and rent them out.
Josephine has taken these principles of transformational development beyond Nakuru to other parts of Kenya—even to remote tribal areas.
Scott and Barb Harbert shared the following report on a training Josephine recently led for tribal leaders from western and northern Kenya: “Fifty-four leaders were trained to be facilitators of transformational development. Twenty warriors also came—warriors who had never slept on a mattress—men used to a lifestyle of cattle raiding and oppression of women.
“God broke through in a remarkable way,” they reported. “Eleven warriors got saved before the training was over. They vowed to respect the ideas of women, discard cultural practices that demean women, refrain from marrying young girls, educate their girls, stop killing, and begin viable businesses. Already they are making an impact and following through with their pledges.”
In October, Josephine will make her first trip to the U.S. to participate in MissionsFest at Wheaton Bible Church, where she will be officially recognized as one of our church’s supported missionaries!
Josephine—innovative, faithful, gracious, and strong—and the hundreds she has trained, are being used by God as image bearers of Christ. As a result, they are part of a movement of God to transform the spiritual and material lives of many in their communities.