"Learn to do what is right! Promote justice! Give the oppressed reason to celebrate! Take up the cause of the orphan! Defend the rights of the widow!" (Isaiah 1:17)
Surrounded by giraffes idly chomping the tops of trees, hippos enjoying mud baths, and monkeys laughing at every passing visitor, Brian and Heather Jamison serve in a Bible teaching ministry in Kenya. Brian graduated from Dallas Seminary in 1999, and the couple moved to Kitale with their children—Bryanne, Tayte, and Jordan—in 2000. Three years later they welcomed into the family little sister Katerisha, an eighteen-month-old living at the orphanage, Seeds of Hope. Besides planting churches, establishing training centers, and learning to cook ugali, Heather spends her time braiding hair at an orphanage.
"TIA," meaning "This is Africa," Archer says in the movie Blood Diamond. Acacia trees brushed across a landscape as open and warm as the music of its people contrast with the cruel realities that leave children in poverty, orphaned, and ridden with AIDS. "In a nation with millions of orphans and abandoned children, it would be difficult not to get involved with orphans," Heather says, "especially in light of God's teaching us that true religion is looking after the orphans and the widows."
What do you see happening to the children of Africa?
"For the most part, children are looked down upon. Most orphans will end up in something similar to slave-labor without intervention."
Tell me about your time with the children.
"These kids need to learn their own dignity and value and spending time with them—paying attention to them, playing with them—helps them to learn this about themselves. I like to take them shopping or somewhere fun. They especially like going out to eat at restaurants. Some of these children have never seen a town before let alone a restaurant."
How can we help here in the United States?
- Pray for the orphans, that God will meet their emotional, physical, and spiritual needs. "But I'm pretty sure the gospel doesn't stop there," Heather adds.
- Sponsor an orphan in a private institution. Find someone in-country who is already assisting orphans in a way to which the orphans respond well. Heather believes the priority needs to be education. "Many orphan homes turn out children at the age of sixteen to a life of the unknown. They are also unskilled and so end up in a pretty dire strait. In the Two-Thirds World (where most orphans live), education is the greatest gift to give someone. Most 'free' education will not prepare them to obtain a job." While toys, clothes, and even food can be taken away in a culture that does not emphasize respect for children in the same way one grows accustomed to in the West, education is a practical and lasting investment. Heather is involved with Adopt a Legacy (a ministry through East West Ministries International). Find out more at www.adoptalegacy.com.
- Go to the country unannounced. Every culture has its beauty, an aspect of the image of God, as well as its corruption, a group of people who will take advantage of others. "Because God tells us to speak on behalf of the oppressed," Heather gets candid about the problems in Africa. "Many and most Two-Thirds World countries rank highly on corruption statistics. We need not be naïve to think this does not apply to Christian circles as well," she warns. "Be certain that the donations you are sending orphans are getting to the orphans themselves. Pictures aren't enough. Stories shouldn't be enough." Heather suggests sending someone from your church to check on a project unannounced. Local people who have seen how easy it is to get money from the West have even duped teams who come on scheduled short-term trips. "What we need to do in the West is make sure there is accountability and that the donations for the orphans are actually reaching them."
(Author's note: another way to help understand dealings of money between the West and Africa is to read the book, African Friends and Money Matters: Observations from Africa, by David E. Maranz.)
Like a wax seal, Heather wraps her work with an adventurous spirit, joy, and love for the people in Africa. You can find Heather's blog at www.heatheronthenet.com and information about the Jamison's ministry projects, pictures, and Kenyan recipes at www.jamison.eastwest.org.