It was a warm and lazy Saturday morning in December at Treasures of Africa Children’s Home and the toddlers were all corralled in the Prayer Hut playing with their toys on the concrete floor. Several of our older girls had arrived home from Secondary School for the Christmas break and were holding the babies and chatting with the caregivers. Sitting with the children, listening to their laughter, and watching them build towers with plastic blocks, made me smile. They are just like kids anywhere, I thought, they just want to play and enjoy the attention of the adults in the room.
Walking up the sidewalk toward the entrance to the orphanage building, I found a jump rope contest underway on the porch. Several of the Primary School aged boys were competing to skip rope as long as possible without stopping – as each jump was counted. Then the girls joined in and there was more counting and laughing. Such a sweet, simple moment of uncomplicated happiness.
I walked into the office with a sigh, knowing deep in my heart that everything I had just seen was about to change.
Sitting down at the computer, I found myself thinking back to a Hidden with Christ Ministries Board meeting held in America just a few months before. We had discussed the long list of challenges faced by Treasures of Africa. It was more of a prayer meeting than a traditional Board meeting. We needed answers from God as to how to move forward. Just as I was saying the final “Amen” to close the meeting, I had a stunning and extremely vivid vision.
I saw a large ship and I was standing at the helm. With great effort I began turning the wheel to make a hard-right turn. Then I saw a view of the ship (as if from above) as it made a wide sweeping turn through the water. Though it took a while to accomplish that change of direction, the ship maneuvered smoothly and was headed out to sea without difficulty. The view returned to the helm where I saw myself with my hands still on the wheel, glancing back over my shoulder. What I saw shocked me. A thick fog had suddenly parted. It had obscured the view in the direction that the ship had been traveling before making the turn. A massive rock rose out of the ocean in the exact location toward which we had been headed. If I had not turned the ship, the resulting collision would have been disastrous.
I shared the vision with the Board and knew immediately that it was a clear confirmation that we needed to make a major change in our direction with Treasures of Africa Children’s Home. We were not to “abandon the ship” but to make that hard-right turn. It would be “hard” because we have deeply loved what God has built over the years and we would be sad to see it change. But it would be “right” because God knows the future of the nation in which we have been working for more than a decade.
I flew back to Tanzania in late October, determined to begin the process of making that hard-right turn. As a Board, we had agreed it was time to transform our “model” of orphan care from a residential-based model to a family-based model. We have always felt that orphaned children needed families not institutions – and have prayed over the years for all our children to find a forever family with whom they could live. But adoption has not been commonplace in Tanzanian culture and foster care (as we know it the U.S.) simply has not existed. We had even suggested the “foster care” concept to the Social Welfare authorities previously, but they dismissed the idea. However, I returned to Tanzania determined to ask them AGAIN.
TOA Director Warren Oberst and I made an appointment with the head of the Moshi Social Welfare office. We laid out the challenges Treasures was facing and our proposal to transform Treasures of Africa from the current residential care model to a family-based model which would more closely resemble foster care than an orphanage. We also reiterated our commitment to continue supporting each child’s education and other needs in a family setting.
Instead of resisting our idea as he had previously, we were shocked when the man informed us that the government of Tanzania had held a nation-wide meeting the previous month with all Social Welfare offices and announced their decision to close all orphanages and move children into families. All I could think about while the man explained the country’s new direction for orphans was, “God sure knows the future and I am glad He gave us a ‘heads up’ or his announcement would have been a shock!”
The gentleman was thrilled that we were ready to begin the hard work of finding families for the TOA kids because it supported the government’s new goals. He accepted an idea that we proposed about recruiting families from among our own Treasures of Africa staff. We were determined that our kids would NOT be sent to live with strangers but with our Christian staff who had loved and prayed for them for years! This was an idea we felt was inspired by the Lord.
Most of the children at TOA have no family with whom they can live so the new government policy requires that “Fit Persons” be found who would be vetted and trained by the Social Welfare office. We facilitated the required three-day training seminar for all the proposed “Fit Persons” at Treasures of Africa. Once this was accomplished, their homes had to be visited before they received approval to take in children.
The 2020 Christmas holidays were spent organizing visits of children from Treasures with our “Fit Person” families to see how the child and the family meshed. There were great reports from both the kids themselves and the families. I could sense the ship was beginning to make that turn.
Because the school year in Tanzania starts in January, we had a phenomenal amount of work to do to enroll our kids in schools that would be accessible from their new homes. As it turned out we were able to find a Christian Primary School that has school buses that could pick up the children from almost all the different areas in which they were going to be living. This enabled us to keep most of the younger TOA kids together in the same school so the change they were about to experience would not be so traumatic. They would still see their TOA brothers and sisters each day at school. Our Secondary School students remain in their current boarding schools and then will go to their new foster homes on the school breaks. Our college-aged girls will continue to return to the Transition House on their academic holidays.
What I have described above is still a major work in progress. Eventually, after all the children are officially settled into their new families, we will return our current facility to our landlords - the Lutheran Diocese of Northern Tanzania. But this will be some months down the road.
Though most of our staff will ultimately be laid off, they will receive a severance package that includes a lump sum to help them start a small business. In addition, there are two other components of our plan that will benefit and bless the TOA staff.
The first component is a program to pay school fees for the children of the staff who take in a TOA child. For each child they take in, we will match the school fees and pay for one of their children’s education expenses. Being able to pay school fees each year is the single biggest challenge for a Tanzanian family so this will be a tremendous help and blessing for our staff.
Secondly, we have a plan to aid each of our “Treasures families” with practical income generating project assistance such as a gift of chickens, swine, or seed for farming. These will help with the family’s food security plus add income generation potential. Giving a family a cow, pigs or a flock of chickens is like giving them a small business.
Lastly, we fully intend to keep our Treasures of Africa “family” connected. We will move our offices to the Mission House in Moshi and check on our Treasures on a regular basis. We will verify their progress in school and assess the well-being of the family in which they are living. Then each December, we will sponsor a “Treasures of Africa Banquet” in Moshi to which all former and current Treasures of Africa children, their foster families and their sponsors will be invited. Our TOA graduates will be the guest speakers to both inspire and encourage the younger children who are following in their footsteps to work hard in school and trust God for their futures. This gathering will enable all those who are part of the TOA family to reconnect face to face each year. And for our donors who have always longed to visit Treasures of Africa – this would be the perfect time to start planning to join us for the TOA Banquet in December of 2021!
It is our sincere prayer that our generous donors will remain supportive of the newly minted “Treasures of Africa KIDZ” project even though our children will not be living under the same roof as they have in the past. God willing, this new shift in direction will enable us to help MORE orphaned and vulnerable children than we have ever been able to help before.
The winds of change are blowing, but we are confident that God is behind the wind!