Who would have ever believed that a simple dinner with a new friend would change so many lives? It happened in 2004 when Andrew Onguaka was attending college in California in an exchange program and came to Nevada for Thanksgiving weekend. It would be Andrew’s first time to see the beautiful Sierra Mountains and snow, since his home was in Nairobi, Kenya. All of us were about to embark on quite an adventure.
At that first meeting we heard the story of Andrew’s family, all serving the poor in Mathare Valley, a slum on the edge of town, ¼ mile by 1 mile that is home to over 600,000 people, built on top of an old abandoned rock quarry. There is no electricity, no water and only open ditches for sewer systems, no police or emergency services, just poverty and crime. Despite the terrible conditions, there is a group of dedicated believers who know and see on a daily basis that their work and love are changing lives.
We learned that there was a church that Andrew’s uncle pastored there in Mathare. These dedicated believers have a school and an orphanage and somehow by the grace of God, they scrape by and do amazing things for these people in Jesus’ Name. The stories were so moving that we all felt the tug on our hearts and in January of 2006, we sent a group of 4 men from Nevada just to see for themselves the work the Lord was doing there and to pray if this might be something we could help with. No one would ever be the same after that first visit.
Upon returning, Bridge Ministries solidified their mission, refined their vision, and spread their infectious heart for Christ and Kenya with others. This is a picture of our original Bridge Ministries’ Board of Directors. From left to right. Back row: Greg Burns, Eric Class, Don Baumann; Middle row: Gary Weigel, Jeannie Burns, Mary Weigel, Patti Romanelli, Connie Marques, Vic Marques; Front row: JoLynn Lundy, Bo Lundy.
From this original board came many different projects. Click on any of the following to view each project.
1000 New Shoes, 500 Smiles
In a small church in Northern Nevada, kids brought their collections of coins, while parents passed up $4.00 coffee to add to the total. When it was all donated to Bridge Ministries, the first annual Christmas project was put into motion. Across the world, in Kenya, 500 children were measured and walked home that Chistmas to show family members their shiny, new shoes. For most of these flip-flop clad kids (the shoe that fits even when your foot grows!), the luxury of new, close-toed shoes is unheard of, but to consider that they came from a group of strangers who simply wanted to show Christ’s love made it a true, Christmas miracle. Sometimes the best thing in a shoe box really is shoes!
Buckets of Food
In 2007 and 2008, we provided three to four-months of food per family, one for each family of the school children. This included rice, beans, cornmeal, the bucket itself, and even a live chicken! In addition to this, extra buckets of food were given to local pastors. Pastors were asked to give these as part of a community outreach to desperate families within the community.
Biashara Entrepreneur Program
We began an entrepreneur program for the parents of the children in the slum. Small loans were given to begin a small business and a mentoring program was in place to help them succeed. We were all so humbled to see how hard they worked and how grateful these parents were for the help. Industries such as sewing, hotel, restaurant, and auto repair were just some areas where small loans were financed.
The sensation of running water on a child’s head became quite a memory our students will not forget. Camp counselors had to limit shower length and number each day, as the Mathare kids loved the feel of water falling on their heads. One thing that wasn’t so easy for our students was sleeping in separate beds. Before the week of summer camp was over, they had taken matters into their own hands and pushed all the bunk beds together so they could sleep near one another! Bridge Ministries has sent close to 1,000 Kario Bunkschildren to a Christian summer camp. Starting with the initial bus ride out of the city, our students were introduced to many new things – showers, bunk beds, buses, and wild animals included! With three hot meals a day, experienced counselors on-site, and many opportunities to safely play and be a kid, many students made a personal commitment to follow Christ, which will last longer than any camp experience.
“I would like to thank you for paying for camp for me, and for the rest of the campers. You have helped us a lot. May God continue to bless you.” -Evan
“I am very much happy for your kind support given to us this December at Camp Lukenya. I personally am very thankful for what you’ve done unto our lives…camp was exciting and I can say that may God shower you with unending blessings.” – Tony
“I gladly take this chance on behalf of all the boys and especially on my own behalf to thank you for strengthening our faith in Christianity and our journey to know Christ better. Indeed, I have learned a lot from Camp Lukenya and I pray that you prosper in all that you attempt to do in Christ Jesus. Thank you and God bless you more.” -Moses
We adopted a school in the Mathare Valley. For many years, we supported this school with love, prayers, and finances. Over that time, we provided school equipment – desks, chalkboards, books, and even classrooms.
In 2008, we began to pay the full teachers’ salaries for 43 teachers at the school. We heard how low their income was and how self-sacrificial they were for the sake of their students and their faith, so we even prayerfully increased their pay to a more competitive wage. For the first time, these teachers were able to pay their rent on time, eat sufficiently, and to even send extra funds to family outside of Nairobi. We also expanded the Medical Coverage Plan that we had for the students to now include the staff at the school, as well as their spouses. This provided medical service in life threatening situations and it was touching to hear the appreciation from those whose lives were impacted by the medical care they would not have otherwise received. In America, we have access to so much, but for the poor (and for those teachers who choose a life of poverty for the sake of their students), life is a daily prayer for survival.
In 2011, two years after the filming of this short film, with great sorrow, we discontinued the teacher support program. The organization with which we had offered teacher support in Mathare Slum had not maintained enough financial accountability to satisfy our accounting standards. We continue to pray for these heroes, and thank the Lord for the opportunity to be inspired by their selfless lives of service. One of the lessons that we learned from these teachers is that for many of the poor children in their primary classes, there was no means for the students to continue their academic success at the secondary level. As of 2011, we have transitioned out of teacher support into the area of secondary student scholarships. All monies are fully accounted for, and directed towards their intended purpose. With our own representatives on the ground, OneLife Africa, we have the financial integrity we have always pursued. Donors can give knowing we have made difficult decisions to ensure all monies are managed with excellent stewardship.