By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
For Kenya Relief Founder and President Steve James, who spends much of his time in Africa, loss of life is practically a daily occurrence.
“A change takes place when we become aware of such terrible loss in our lives,” said James. “Defining moments bring us back to our core values and they bring clarity to our lives. My defining moment came three days after 9/11 when our family lost our lovely 19-year-old daughter, Brittney. It was as though a jet filled with fuel had crashed into our lives and destroyed the dearest thing in the boys’, mine and Greta's life.”
“It was that defining moment that brought me to meet Newton, her sponsored child, something Brittney always wanted to do,” explained James.
“Much has happened since that day James first visited Newton. “This year we celebrate 10 years as an organization of serving those in need in Western Kenya. As we celebrate, we remember all that God has done in the last 10 years. We have purchased 60 acres of land in Migori, Kenya and have established ‘Brittney's Home of Grace’, which is now home to more than 140 orphans,” said James.
“At this point, 150 children have been impacted by Kenya Relief sponsorships and we have also provided homes, financial assistance and established a goat sharing system to a dozen widows,” he added.
One of those sponsors is Cullman resident, Carol Williams, who has been with Kenya Relief almost from its inception. “This is a great organization,” praised Williams, who has seen it grow and prosper over the past ten years.
“Steve James is an amazing person who has a passion and a vision for these people,” she said.
“We have learned just about everything there is to know about foreign missions by on-the-job training,” she smiled. “We now have plans being drawn for the hospital that was a part of his vision.”
Williams has helped in the surgical unit, but more recently has been working with the widows and orphans. “We have a lot of grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren because the parents died with AIDS,” she said solemnly. “There are so many stories that tug at the heart.”
She was there once with a group of medical missionaries and volunteers when a baby was brought in near death from dehydration. “It was barely breathing, and we were doing all we could to save it. I was there with the mother while everyone else went to eat, and I can remember praying that this baby, who was hooked up to saline drips, would pull through, as I was dropping the dehydration drops into it’s mouth,” said Williams.
The next day she saw her prayers in action when the mother brought the baby in to see her. “It was like looking at a different child,” she marveled. “I know that the baby is alive today because of Kenya Relief.”
Williams met a shy, young boy of nine when she was there in 2007. “Kevin was so quiet, he knew no English, but I would often talk to him and give him encouragement to continue his education. He has since then become a leader in the orphanage, and now, at the age of 19, he is still continuing his education,” she said. Williams, who has made numerous trips to Kenya, sponsors Kevin, and is very proud of his achievements.
There have been many other local volunteers and professionals who have had the same experiences, heard the same heart-song that Williams and James have had since the beginning.
Through it all, the legacy that James hopes to leave behind is that he cared enough to act. He started this journey as one man from Vinemont, Alabama, with a vision which has reached tens of thousands of people from all walks of life.
Those tens of thousands have touched others, who have either been volunteers or recipients of his daughter’s prayer. In the past 10 years Kenya Relief has sent over 1,000 professionals and treated over 45,000 patients with free medicine, hosted their first international team with doctors from India, Sweden, Switzerland and Kenya, added a water filtration system , sent over 400,000 nutritious meals to feed the hungry, built the Kenya Relief Academy, which will provide schooling for 250 orphans and vulnerable children, organized a pastor’s leadership conference for over 1,000 pastors in Western Kenya, and has continued to lead the community’s pastors in Bible studies.
One of the pastors who has been influential in the effort is Pastor Allen. “Kenya Relief has had a great impact on my community over the last 10 years,” said Allen. “It has impacted lives in so many areas. I want to share with you first about the orphans. These kids have been given a chance, when they were left dying and hopeless. Now they have a home and are hopeful. They have a roof over their head, clothing, spiritual nourishment, parental care by the social workers and the dorm parents.”
For generations there had been tribal and area feuding and fighting. Then, in and unprecedented gathering of ministers representing the different tribes in each area of the country, there was a breakthrough.
Pastor Allen says of the gathering of ministers, “We came together in an open field to worship the Lord and many of the leaders that I talked to said that they saw a moving of the Lord. It's like all the stuff that we had that separated us was broken off of us and when we were done worshiping the Lord it was no longer there.”
Kenya Relief has also supplied a dozen churches with bibles, hymnals, guitars, drums, pianos, speakers, generators, podiums, teaching material and funding.
Perhaps one of the most innovative of their recent contributions is having completed the design on a 300 bed hospital, to be called Kenya Relief Medical Clinic.
James recalls when it all started. “Our first medical outreach was under a tree at the back of a van, with some suitcases filled with medicines. We treated 200 Maasai who had no access to healthcare. We went back to that community for three years.”
“We did remote medical outreaches, often times just giving out medicine, putting a band aid on a great big sore. What we really needed was a healthcare facility. So we built our own clinic six years ago,” he said.
“We worked out of it for a year and a half with no windows, no electricity, no water.”
“We would do three-day clinics with 10 -15 team members. On one trip we saw 2400 people, 800 people in one day,” he said. “We passed out medicine like it was candy. We weren't giving people the medical care or the surgery that they needed.”
When they were able, they began with cataract surgery, doing 37 in three days. During that time they had an average of 15 electrical failures each day, right in the middle of the eye surgeries. “We had a fire in the operating room. It was quite challenging to say the least. I remember a cow sticking its head in the surgery room. Another time I turned around and saw ten kids peeking their heads through the window. Those are not conditions you would ever even consider seeing in the states.”
Today, Kenya Relief had made it possible to conduct surgeries in an air-conditioned operating room with state of the art equipment. Patients travel from 150 miles away to have eye surgery. They still have to make a pallet and lay blankets on the floor so that 15-20, sixty to eighty year olds can spend the night because it's not safe to travel after dark.
“Our next step is to build a 300 bed healthcare facility, a real community hospital, which will serve hundreds of thousands of people. It will provide comprehensive care from labor and delivery, pediatrics, specialty surgery care,” he said proudly.
He looks back in time to where the idea was conceived, when as a young girl, Brittney James so clearly understood the message in James 1:27, “To look after orphans and widows in their distress.”
“I felt I needed to carry on her calling …after all, aren’t we all called to obey this command?” James asked.