By Janet C. Smith
If you’re looking for a way to motivate people to use their gifts and talents for God, CMF International has a suggestion: Get them interested in missions!
Since the Indianapolis, Indiana, mission organization launched its partnership with Missions of Hope International (MOHI) in the Mathare Valley slums of Nairobi, Kenya, in 2005, scores of churches across the country have sent teams of people with all kinds of jobs, connections, interests, and abilities there to provide medical clinics, training, education, sponsorship, and more.
Most people come back saying the experience changed them. But some—like those in the inspiring stories below—are amazed to find that God is able to use them to do much more than they ever imagined.
Firefighter Dave Moore had no desire to visit Africa, but his wife Nancy convinced him to join a trip organized by their church, LifeSpring Christian in Cincinnati, Ohio, in November 2012.
“I went kicking and screaming to Kenya,” he admits. “When Mary Kamau (director of MOHI) heard there was a firefighter on the team, she asked me to help with some fire safety education in the schools.”
When Dave learned there were serious fire safety issues at the MOHI schools and in Nairobi, the professional in him kicked in. Conversations with the chief of the Nairobi fire services changed his heart.
“They didn’t ask for money and equipment, but rather for more training,” said Dave, a 20-year professional in the field. “This surprised me; I realized I wanted to go back and help.”
When Dave and Nancy returned from Kenya, they decided he would step away from his full-time job as a fire chief in Glendale, Ohio, and start a new nonprofit organization to help fire departments in Africa.
Things happened quickly as Dave began forming Africa Fire Mission, a group of firefighters whose mission is to provide fire departments across Africa with equipment and training to keep their firefighters safe and to help protect the communities they serve.
The organization’s first big project was to collect firefighter clothing, training materials, and medical equipment, pack it into a 20-foot container, and ship it off to Nairobi in August 2013 to coincide with another LifeSpring trip to MOHI.
Since then, AFM has packed many such containers and completed multiple trips to Kenya, Ethiopia, and Zambia; brought together dozens of firefighting professionals to provide training; and provided thousands of dollars’ worth of high-quality firefighting equipment to departments across Africa.
“We’re going to continue with MOHI and the Nairobi fire service, but continually expand into other countries and communities,” Dave said. “My full-time job now is running Africa Fire Mission!”
David Alo is the first to admit that he never does anything in a small way, so when the Manhattan, Illinois, man, who attends Parkview Christian Church, first learned about child sponsorship shortly after becoming a Christian in 2003, he was all in.
For 10 years he and his wife, JoAnn, sponsored multiple children through another organization, but then he went to Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013 with a church team to visit the Missions of Hope schools.
“When I got back, I helped with the CMF child-sponsorship events at our church and I added 27 kids from CMF to our [family] list,” David said.
Eventually many of the children from the other organization graduated or left the program, so JoAnn added 23 more from CMF, bringing their total to 50 sponsored children from Nairobi and Turkana in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.
“I believe God is doing his work around the world through me, and I get the privilege and benefit,” David said.
Recently, the Alos received the heartbreaking news that one of their sponsored children, John, 8, had died of meningitis. But the Alos soon added another child to keep their total to 50.
“We remain steadfast in spreading the redeeming news of Jesus Christ’s love through the hands of CMF,” JoAnn said.
“We cherish our children’s letters, taking time when they arrive to sit and soak up their favorite Bible verses and pleas to God on our behalf,” she added. “It continues to bewilder us how these darling children on the other side of the planet infuse our faith.”
Seven years ago Alisa Knoll walked into a “Go Fish” store in Florida that features products handmade by artisans from around the world, and an idea was born.
“I was enthralled with the idea and the impact of the stories of the artisans,” she said.
Alisa knew about MOHI’s skills training center in Nairobi—where women are trained to make jewelry and other beaded items as a way to support their families—through her church, White River Christian, Noblesville, Indiana. She volunteers there as the leader of the church’s justice ministry, and she realized she could combine her passions as a way of helping the women enlarge their market into the United States.
She and the justice ministry team began with annual “Tea with Purpose” events at White River, selling alternative Christmas gifts from small business entrepreneurs, including those trained at the MOHI center. She also used the events to introduce BigDent.com—CMF’s online giving site for Kenyan entrepreneurs—to the women of the church. Over the past few years proceeds from these events have supported 17 different artisan/entrepreneurs through BigDent.
But Alisa soon realized she needed a bigger platform to sell more products to help more artisans. So in November 2014 she and her husband took out a small loan and launched a business, Esperanza, selling MOHI products in the United States.
Esperanza has now expanded by selling MOHI-produced items in seven retail locations in Indiana and on a website, EsperanzaToBringHope.com, which launched in March. The products are available for purchase by both individuals and retailers.
About 25 percent of the total retail cost of the items goes back to MOHI to pay a fair wage to the artisan, cover the cost of the materials, and invest in MOHI, Alisa said.
“I see this as a ministry and a great way to raise awareness of what Kenyan artisans are doing,” said Alisa. “I’m not a businessperson, by any means, but I have made myself available, and God is opening the doors!”
How do you combine a passion for missions with a love of farming? Brian Smith and Don and Dean Lamb of Lebanon, Indiana, have found a way.
Brian grew up around farming and was searching for a way to become more directly involved in missions. Then he became acquainted with Don and Dean of Lamb Farms in Lebanon, Indiana, through their kids’ school and Bible Bowl.
The Lambs are second-generation farmers; they now farm 8,500 acres. The family’s priorities have always been God, family, and farming, living out their faith in their business and in their personal commitments to local churches.
Brian began working at Lamb Farms in 2010, and he, Don, and Dean began brainstorming ways to combine agriculture and missions. While working as a missions pastor at Traders Point Christian Church in nearby Whitestown, Indiana, Brian had led the church’s first trip to Nairobi, Kenya, in 2009. He came away impressed with MOHI founders Wallace and Mary Kamau and all they had accomplished.
But Brian was also disturbed by the lack of knowledge demonstrated in the farming methods he saw throughout Kenya. People needed help growing their own food, and the idea for AgriStewards—a humanitarian nonprofit that combines faith and farming—was born. AgriStewards organizes trips for agricultural professionals to help communities learn the skills to sustain themselves using the “Farming God’s Way” curriculum.
Brian has led AgriStewards trips to teach “Farming God’s Way” principles in eight different countries, including nine trips to the farms on the grounds of MOHI’s Joska School and to surrounding areas of Kenya.
“Much accomplished, much to do,” wrote Don Lamb in a recent blog post on the Lamb Farms website. “It’s never been hard to do what we’ve done. In fact, it’s been the most rewarding thing our farm has ever been involved in. If God wants something to work, he keeps opening doors, and I don’t see any reason to stop walking through those doors.”
What can a business management guy do in Nairobi? As it turns out, quite a lot!
Eric Stellmack didn’t know how he’d be able to contribute at Missions of Hope when he accompanied his wife, a dental hygienist, on a 2012 medical trip to MOHI sponsored by Traders Point Christian Church, Whitestown, Indiana, but he went along for the ride to support his wife and meet their sponsored child.
Six trips later, Eric has definitely found his niche and made huge contributions, providing business and management training for the business development team, teachers at some of the schools, and other MOHI leaders.
Eric is a senior manager and assistant vice president with a firm that provides financial services to individuals and businesses around the world. He travels constantly, but has still found the time to make trips to MOHI and serve as the team leader for two of the trips.
“I love the people I get to work with at MOHI. Going back is like visiting dear friends,” he said. His next trip will be in June 2017.
Janet Smith writes about people who love to imagine more for God at CMF International, Indianapolis, Indiana. She’s a member of Hazel Dell Christian Church, Carmel, Indiana.