During this next season of the Heritage blog we will be celebrating individuals in our church body that are on mission for the glory of Jesus, both in our local community and even to faraway places in the world. At Heritage, we desire that the body of Christ seek ways to BE the hands and feet of Jesus to people that would otherwise be unlikely to attend our church. The individuals featured in this blog series are doing that! We pray that their stories encourage and inspire the people at Heritage to be on mission as well. If you are involved in being on mission here in the Rogue Valley, or to the world in any capacity, let us know. We would love to celebrate that, encourage that, and allow your story to inspire the body of Christ.
Heritage family, we want to highlight the grace of God in Mark and Cathy’s life. Mark and Cathy have been attending Heritage for approximately four years. Mark was born and raised near Fresno, California, before moving to Medford in 1970. Cathy has spent her entire life here in the Rogue Valley. Mark and Cathy have been married for 37 years, they have three adult children and seven grandchildren.
Mark is retired from Boise Cascade and Cathy is retired from a career as a dental technician. Since retiring, the Lord has opened up a door for Mark to serve with an orphanage in Kenya, which is what we have highlighted in our conversation.
When did you give your life to follow Jesus Christ?
Mark: I grew up in a home where my mother and father were both followers of Christ. We attended a Lutheran church faithfully. However, it was not until I was 17 years old that I gave my life to Christ through seeing the Christ-exalting life in a friend. I wanted what he had. There ended up being a core group of guys who came to Christ around the same time and we grew together in the Lord and stayed deeply connected for many years afterward.
Cathy: I, too, grew up attending a Lutheran church, however, my parents did not attend with me. They would drop me off at church. So I had somewhat of a foundation but not a great one. I finally made a decision to follow Jesus a year or two into my first marriage (my first husband was killed in a car accident). My parents began attending church after I came to faith in Christ.
How did you meet?
Cathy: Mark was living in Ashland and I lived in Medford and we attended different churches. A lady that attended church with me set me up on a blind date with Mark. We went out once and then finally reconnected a year later. Things went from there.
How did you get connected with this orphanage in Kenya?
Mark: A friend whom I’ve known for 46 years was attending a small church in Phoenix, Oregon. While visiting Kenya with his pastor in 2014, they had come across what was essentially a shack in a slum area full of 13 orphans and a couple of caretakers. These kids were living in deplorable conditions with no electricity and the shack was full of bodily fluids. He came back and felt someone needed to do something. He was involved in purchasing land outside of Nairobi, Kenya, and helped navigate the construction and proper establishment of the orphanage. Through listening to my friend share the great work the Lord was doing and his experiences with the orphanage, I was moved to become involved.
The situation with this orphanage has changed quite a bit. Walk us through what things are like there now?
Through donations from individuals and churches in Oregon and Idaho, my friend has taken leadership of this ministry to the orphanage. The orphanage has moved to a three and a half acre property that is surrounded with a fence. It is becoming more sustainable and even produces cash crops. The children at the orphanage have named it “The Promised Land.” They now live in the countryside with fresh air and room to play soccer.
Tell us a little about the orphans who live in “The Promised Land”?
There are now close to 50 orphans who live at the orphanage. Ninety percent of the kids are there because both parents are deceased due to AIDS. There are a couple of kids who live there because their parents are in jail. The children arrive with basically only the clothes on their backs. Their lives at the orphanage are enriched by many things: care by adults, new clothes, education, nutritious meals, medical coverage, structure (with chores and responsibilities), prayer, biblical teaching, and worship.
Tell us about life at the orphanage?
The orphanage is led by a pastor and his wife who live at the orphanage during the weekdays. On the weekends, they go back to Githogoro, a slum area by Nairobi, where his church is located. Along with a caregiver for the girls and a caregiver for the boys, there is also a full-time farmer and a full-time cook.
Life there is very structured. Most of the kids attend school in the nearby town. The kids often leave for the 45-minute walk around 6:00 AM and do not return to the orphanage until around 5:00 PM. They also have daily chores which include washing dishes, cleaning the showers and bathrooms, preparing vegetables for the meals, helping cultivate the fields, and hand watering the trees on the property. Every evening they do a devotional and worship as well.
Additionally, if their grades are good enough, they are funded to complete high school. Once they complete high school, many of the kids go on to start vocational training or college education. We have seen a good portion of the kids wanting to choose careers in areas of service (teachers, nurses, doctors, or advocates for the destitute population).
When you take trips to the orphanage, what do you find yourself doing while you are there?
During my time at the orphanage, I’ll spend a lot of time interacting with the children and staff. The orphans are blessed to think that we would travel half way around the world because they are important. I typically will accompany children to the local hospital for checkups. New children are all tested for HIV. So far three have tested positive. These children are usually quite upset when they find out, but they are provided additional fruit with their meals and given medicine. One of the highlights for me is being involved in what is called a rescue. It usually involves traveling to a village or individual home to receive the orphaned child. We meet the guardians and legal papers are reviewed. Typically, the local chief needs to sign off that the child has been officially released. This documentation is important to prevent abusive guardians from coming back later to try to reclaim the child.
We live in an American culture that celebrates retirement as a license to live selfishly. Speak to how you want to live out your retirement days.
Being involved with the orphanage has brought a needed dimension to Cathy’s and my retired life. It definitely challenges my comfort level and is a huge blessing as I have made close friendships with brothers and sisters in Christ in Kenya. I am humbled to think that God has called me to such a precious mission as I am way too incapable within myself.