Who Cares About Africa?
I was about 12 years old when I was first exposed to poverty. I watched a video about the 10/40 window and saw people living in conditions that looked pretend. That can’t be real? My brain struggled to grasp reality. When my sheltered bubble was shattered I couldn't un-see the sadness.
I felt guilty eating warm meals knowing many around the world were going without. Without food, access to running water, children without access to caregivers, education. Families without dignity, shelter, or hope.
I couldn't breathe. I remember reading my Bible obsessively trying to figure out the solution. God, how? How can I live my normal life knowing so many are fighting for their own? How can I go back to normal? The truth was, I never could.
I began traveling on short term mission trips and when I graduated high school. I enrolled in a missions college, Christ for the Nations. To graduate, you actually had to earn so many credit hours on the mission field outside of the U.S. Perfect.
I spent a summer in Cuba. I figured if I could get into Cuba, I could go just about anywhere in the world. I had no desire for regular life or fancy things. I was content working in a sweltering hot kitchen cooking bulk meals to be passed out to hungry villagers. I wanted to hold babies, encourage mothers, alleviate burdens. It never crossed my mind I wouldn't be a missionary in some foreign country.
Fast forward to present, I am living smack in rural middle America with my husband and our three boys. As we work and raise our kids, there’s always plenty of work to do, but it's less of the world traveling I imagined.
But last Saturday I had the priviledge of meeting with local missionaries to Africa. I heard they were trying to get word out for a fundraiser they were promoting and I weaseled my way into an interview, delighted to help spread the word. I got ready for the interview like my old teenage self would have gotten ready for a date. Giddy with anticipation, bouncing around the house, smiling. I was so thankful to be re-introduced to this world I once felt so a part of.
Stationing their mission in Taveta, Kenya, husband and wife team Brad and Cherie Catron founded Foothold International in 2011. Taveta, I learned, is on the East African border of Tanzania, 45 min from Kilimanjaro. The ministry began by hosting small groups of short-term mission trips. Teams were made up primarily of American pastors doing work such as evangelism and church planting. They went out into villages praying for people and spreading word about Jesus on the streets.
Brad talked of this humble beginning and was quick to point out the ministry soon evolved. He feared the short-term trips may be doing more harm than good acknowledging these short stops can seem like a frenzy of activity during the stay only to leave the village abandoned for a year or more at a time.
The Catrons desired a more organic, holistic, and long-term approach. Knowing they wanted to grow roots in Kenya, they looked at some of the immediate needs of the village. What could they do that would benefit the city in a practical way? What resources could they offer that would lead to village sustainability for the future? How could they fill existing, urgent needs and work toward community development?
I love that Cherie interjected this point: The way they started their ministry seemed backwards. To first blitz a city with tracks and random prayer walks, and then offer a helping hand seems out of sequence. One would think you should get your hands dirty helping a community before you have the privilege of praying with them. But she said it unintentionally worked in their favor, because when they were ready to begin their work in the city, the people gave them special favor. Because of the street ministry, they were known among the villagers to be “people of God.”
Today Foothold International has a growing staff in Taveta. Some of their ministries include Bio-Sand Water Purification, Give A Goat, and Mobile Clinics. Although still in the works, I got the inside scoop on upcoming projects they are working on.
The Catrons identified another big problem in their community. They explained that there is immediate need for hand washing stations. Many diseases are spread with deadly consequences because the basic need to wash away germs is not possible. They are in the planning stages of getting their hand washing stations on the ground.
Cherie explained that some schools do have access to running water, but most only have access to a nearby water source. Other schools require parents to carry water to school when water is not nearby. Even still, there is rarely soap available.
Kids often go to school, the restroom, to lunch, to sports activities, then home again with no access to soap once. This statement hit me hard because it is still the beginning of the school year for us. Every year my kids end up getting sick due to the spread of germs they pick up at school. And we have access to soap, running water, doctor visits, and medication. While kids picking up germs is certainly inconvenient, it is a problem easily solved in our country. The thought of sending my kids to school with potential life threatening consequences because of not having access to basic hygiene products is horrifying.
Cherie found a soap manufacturer in the city who has shut down his warehouse because he can no longer afford to stay open. The Catrons plan to re-open his doors. They found suppliers who are willing to work with them at lower costs and have initiated a contract with Pacha Soap Company’s Raise the Bar Program whose proceeds in part are given to a non-profit. They hope to partner with this company and re-open the soap warehouse, employing more locals in the process of providing life-saving soap to the local schools.
I’m smiling ear to ear listening to this amazing husband and wife team. It's encouraging knowing they have feet on the ground who are locating and addressing problems in such a visceral way. While Brad spends roughly 4 months out of the year living in Taveta, Cherie only travels about three to five weeks per year as she works as a counselor in a role that is what I call a "provision for the vision."
I feel honored to have been given audience with them today. I hope by bringing this to you, my friends, we can generate a little buzz for them, raise support, and link you up so you can donate right after you read!
So often, I think we feel helpless. We know there is SO MUCH WORK TO DO, and SO MUCH POVERTY TO ERADICATE and SO MUCH VIOLENCE and we don’t know what to do or where to start, so we freeze and do nothing.
I’m not currently in a place in my life where I will likely be packing up and moving overseas anytime soon, or even know how much help I would be if I did.
But I can give generously.
What an honor to partner with someone who can go, who is already there identifying and addressing needs on the ground, and has a team of creatives, engineering solutions to practical problems.
Maya Angelou said,
"When you know better you do better."
We know better.
Let's give. Do not turn a blind eye. Please consider joining me in making a donation to Foothold International. Please give, then come back and share and help me get the word out!
For more info and to donate visit here
Brad and Cherie Catron are Ohioans, more specifically when they are Stateside, living in Chillicothe.