Friday, 28 July 2017

TOUCO Idaho Non-profit Helps Tanzanian Orphans

Jul/ Aug 2017

 


 

 

Fr. Bruno, Ronald & Kids: Ronald Rugimbana, far right, is a native Tanzanian whonow lives in Boise and works at Hewlett-Packard. Next to him is Father Bruno Mgaya, who started homes for orphans in Tanzania. The woman on the far left in the red headscarf is one ofthe matrons that Fr. Bruno selects to help care for the children. (Courtesy photo)

By Gaye Bunderson

Ronald Rugimbana learned the truth behind the saying “it's a small world” when his mother came to Boise from Tanzania to visit him one year. He had come to the U.S. from Africa in 1998 on academic and tennis scholarships to Boise State. Following graduation and a career in professional tennis, he set up home in Boise and got a job at Hewlett-Packard.

While here, his mother decided to go for a walk one day. Along the way, she came to St. Mark's Church and went inside. There, she met Father Bruno Mgaya, who was a priest at the church at the time. She discovered that Fr. Bruno, as he is frequently known, was also from Tanzania. When she got home, she asked Ronald if he was aware a fellow Tanzanian lived so close by. He admitted he was unaware of Fr. Bruno.

That was eight years ago, and Ronald is now very familiar with the beloved priest. Fr. Bruno started Tanzania Orphan's Upendo Community to help children in his native land. After Ronald got to know Fr. Bruno in Boise and became aware of his work, he traveled home to Tanzania for his annual visit. He and his mother drove to see one of Fr. Bruno's four orphanages, the one in Mafinga. “We wanted to cross-check and make sure of what Fr. Bruno had told us,” Ronald said.

Indeed, there stood the orphanage, just as Fr. Bruno had said. Ronald decided he wanted to dedicate his time to Fr. Bruno's work, helping raise funds back in the U.S. and visiting the children and assisting where he could when in Tanzania. He joined with other people at St. Mark's to form a TOUCO board of directors and became close friends with the current board president, Kevin O'Sullivan. Both men are immigrants to the U.S.; Kevin has lived here 32 years and worked as a civil engineer at Trus Joist in Boise prior to his retirement. The former New Zealander designed the roof structure for the Kibbie Dome at the University of Idaho.

Ronald was 'all in' when it came to TOUCO before Kevin signed on, and said, “I am so grateful Kevin showed up for duty.”

“My life has been blessed and wonderful and successful,” said Kevin. “I give myself freely to the undertaking.”

Both men share a high regard for Fr. Bruno. Central to the priest's motivation for starting the orphanages is the fact he, too, grew up as an orphan in Tanzania. As a frightened child, he slept under trees and scrounged for food. Despite being on his own, however, he stayed in school — a Herculean task for a small, lonely boy. He now has a Ph.D. in sociology, among other degrees. (For the full story, go to www.touco.org.)

Fr. Bruno envisioned the orphanages as a small family unit — they are in fact called “family centers.” He incorporated a matron program into each orphanage. Women ages 24 to 55 who are widows, single moms or never married live in the orphanages and take care of the children. It is often a bonus for the matrons, as they may otherwise be just as unfortunate as the children.

People in Tanzania are looking for opportunities, Ronald said, and may want to work at the orphanages just for that reason; but Fr. Bruno has a filter for getting just the right people with the right motivation, which is to love the children.

“The matrons are ladies who want to give back, and they devote themselves to taking care of the kids. They come from not-so-good areas, so it's a win-win for the women,” he said.

Both Ronald and Kevin praise Fr. Bruno's ideas about self-sufficiency and what they call his “self-sustaining mindset.”

“He's got a good recipe,” Kevin said. “I was delighted with what I saw when I went there.”

“Fr. Bruno made it very clear he did not want an organization that just relies on donations. He wants sustainability,” Ronald said.

Local people in the communities of Mafinga, Ibumila, Madeke and Uwemba, where there areUpendo Family Centers (“upendo” is Kiswahili for “charity and love”) donate their knowledge.That may include instructions on growing a garden or milking cows. Each child must contribute to the well-being of the orphanage by working at various tasks.

“He builds independence in them,” Kevin said. “Fr. Bruno is a clever person, and he does hishomework. His doctoral thesis was on how to help orphans become better contributors to society.”

Each orphanage has one acre of land attached to it, with wells and a septic tank.

Land is surveyed and utilized.

“Fr. Bruno has pineapples and avocados growing — he's a horticulturist, too,” Kevin said.

“Fr. Bruno has intensity. His Ph.D. defined him even better,” Ronald said.

The former tennis player explained the reasons behind the number of orphans in Tanzania include migration, health issues and poverty. Fr. Bruno resists labeling the orphans — such as referring to them as “AIDS orphans” — and said they are all children of God, and that's the only label he wants for them.

TOUCO does need some initial funds to get the orphanages up and running and, at present, to keep them running at full steam. That's where the board of directors comes in. TOUCO is an Idaho 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

“We have very low-key fundraisers,” Kevin said. “People who know Fr. Bruno know he's a very loving personality. ... It's been exciting. The money just seems to come. Americans are very generous.”

“People on the board have faith and the spirit to give it back. We are driven by helping othersand sharing what we know,” Ronald said.

Kevin explained that by American standards, the orphanages are very modest in structure andhave limited operating budgets. But both men said there is a palpable sense of happiness amongthe children.

“They have nothing, but they are joyful,” Ronald said.

On one trip, Kevin wanted to teach the children baseball. There was no equipment, so the matrons fashioned a baseball out of whatever they could find. It was a day of fun for everyone — even with a makeshift ball.

For more information, go to touco.org. Ronald Rugimbana may be reached at ronaldrugi@gmail.com.

Human Trafficking: a Voice of the Rescued

May/ June 2017

 


 

 

 

Christian Living contributor and founder of Voices of the Rescued, Ron Kern, right, stands by “Amanda,” a victim and survivor of human trafficking. (Photo by Heather Alexis Photography)

By Ron Kern

By the time you finish reading this article, approximately 20 people will have been forced into human trafficking, and that’s just in the United States alone. For perspective, that is 833 people per day and 25,000 per month — staggering numbers for a crime that is rarely discussed.

When you hear of human trafficking, what images or pictures enter your mind? Perhaps it's a movie or documentary you have seen or maybe an article you have read; but this article is different, as I am going to be sharing a real-life story about a woman forced into sex trafficking, her trials, her faith in God, her escape and where she is today.

It’s common for most people to think that human trafficking takes place in a distant land and is not happening close to home. They are right about it happening in a distant land but completely wrong about it not happening in the city where they live.  

First, it's important to define human trafficking so you have a clear, accurate grasp of what will be discussed. Human trafficking is forcing someone into sexual exploitation (sex trafficking) or work (forced labor) against his or her will, by force or coercion, and without pay in most instances.

This crime takes place in almost every country in the world, including the United States. It's estimated at least 300,000 people will be forced into human trafficking in the U.S. this year alone. Most of them will be under the age of 18, and most will be female; but regardless of age, it's a tragic statistic. More alarmingis the fact human trafficking is the second largest type of crime, along with the fastest growing crime in the world.

Regarding forced labor, the victims are oftentimes young children who are forced to work in crops, mines or warehouses, 15-18 hours a day, with very little food or water, and without pay. The conditions are incomprehensible and dangerous, as many are forced to work with chemicals, mercury, lead, and other toxic materials.

If a child, or anyone for that matter, refuses to do the work, they will be severelypunished. Imagine what reasonable punishment means to you, multiply it by 10, and then you might be getting close to the actual brutality of their owners, but likely still falling short.

Sex trafficking — those who are sexually exploited or forced into prostitution — has a level of brutality that is very difficult to describe, let alone believe or comprehend. I have seen victims as young as 4 years old, with the average age being 13 years old.

There are wonderful organizations whose members risk their lives by physicallyremoving trafficking victims from their nightmare, and I applaud all of them vigorously. However, for every owner or pimp removed, 10 more appear, so it's a very difficult issue to solve.

“If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.” These are the eerie words from “Amanda,” a young woman who was tricked and forced into sex trafficking at the age of 21. Her story is sadly all too common, but by her being brave enough to share it, she feels others may avoid becoming victims themselves.

Amanda is a pretty woman and could easily be referred to as “the girl next door,” and the last thing you would envision is that just nine years earlier, she was a slave, forced to do unthinkable acts, beaten, abused, drugged, and unable to do anything about it.

Amanda comes from a loving and supportive family, with entrepreneurial parents, and life was pretty good for her. This isn’t the typical background of someone who is forced into sex trafficking. Most often we envision runaways, drug addicts and similar types of people becoming victims, but the criminals more and more are selecting their victims differently, more strategically, as they did withAmanda.

Amanda moved to Texas to pursue her passion, which was music. One night shewas a victim in a domestic situation, and a neighbor provided her comfort. Severaldays after this event, her neighbor, a female about Amanda’s age, suggested going downtown to take a break and “get away from it all” for a few days.

Amanda, her neighbor, and her neighbor's boyfriend drove down to Houston, Texas, for a time of clearing minds and relaxing. The couple seemed normal, looked normal, and the drive went well.

They arrived in Houston and drove to what Amanda describes as a strip mall. All three of them went into one of the buildings, and after the door was closed, Amanda’s life changed.

Her neighbor and her “boyfriend” were not a couple after all but were more accurately involved in a pimp and slave relationship. This neighbor was forced to trick Amanda into the trip to Houston and, unfortunately, she was successful in hersinister, although forced, intentions.

Amanda was told that going forward she was going to be a prostitute and make a tremendous amount of money for the pimp. Scared and confused, she told them she wouldn’t do it. At that point, pictures of her children, her parents and siblings were shown to her by the pimp, who said, “You are going to do it.”

Amanda was told that if she tried to leave, told anyone or refused their demands in any way, her entire family would be killed and, shortly afterward, so would she. You have to understand that in this dark environment, threats aren’t made to soundtough; they are a foreshadowing of actual things that will happen if someone is noncompliant.

Amanda wasn’t alone in her captivity; there were approximately 10 other females facing the same issue. Amanda described most of these girls as “the girl next door types, pretty, and innocent.”  

“Pimps choose these type of girls as they don’t have to do much work in makingthem pretty, and the more pretty and innocent they are, the more money they can make,” she said.

The pimp moved all of the women to another location, which Amanda describedas “a club-style building, looking like a restored house made into a club.” She saidthat she and the other girls at this location “...slept there, ate there, stayed there, everything happened in this one place.”

This makeshift club was actually the place where men would come and have theopportunity to look at all the women lined up, and decide which one (or more) they would buy for the night. What they were buying was sex and all other disgusting acts associated with it, and all money went directly to the pimp.

Besides being forced into unthinkable acts several times a night, Amanda was threatened, beaten and given drugs to keep her sedated and easier to control. The drugs were like a date-rape drug, along with Ecstasy, and often were in large doses. This provided the pimps even further control and helped them brainwash Amanda, as well as the other girls.

Due to Amanda’s physical appearance, she was called “Treasure,” meaning that she could bring in a lot higher income than perhaps others. Names are too personal, so most pimps and slaves are given nicknames.

The horror, threats, prison and brutality of being sexually exploited lasted almost a year for Amanda. There wasn’t ever a break or a time she wasn’t forced to participate, and likely if you try and put yourself in her shoes, you just can’t. Periodically, the pimps would move the girls, possibly to avoid the police or just moving out of paranoia.

A common question from people who don’t understand the intricacies of this crime is, “Why didn’t you just leave? Why didn’t you go get your kids, change your name, and move to another state?” When I asked Amanda about this she said,“I thought of it more in a dream state, not something that I could ever accomplish. I tried leaving once and was beaten so severely that attempting to leave again wasn’t an option.”

As the beatings continued and the drugs forced into her system increased, her body decided it had reached a breaking point. One evening, after receiving a high dose of drugs, at age 21 she suffered a heart attack. She had prayed for so long thatGod would just take her. With her gone, her captors would have no reason to harm her children. But that wasn't God's plan.

Amanda, in severe pain and heavily drugged, numb and sick, lay helpless on thebathroom floor in agony for four days. No ambulance was called, nobody was there to provide comfort, and according to her pimps, she was now “damaged goods.” God and her desire to see her children again kept her alive as, medically speaking, she shouldn’t have survived.

“There is no sympathy in this industry; you are nothing more to them than a dollar bill. After they felt I recovered enough, I was thrown right back into it and expected to work,” Amanda said.

As I continued to speak with Amanda, I could feel my emotions and anger increasing toward her captors. The thought of forgiving them and moving forward didn’t compute, and I found myself amazed when I asked her how she could ever forgive them.

“I think everybody needs to find what works for them, regardless of the trauma they go through. For me, it was my faith,” Amanda said. “At the time I was angry with God, wondering why He would allow me to go through this and I didn’t understand it. But now I have an opportunity to help people, having gone through this.”

Occasionally, there was an after-hour club that the pimps would take the girls to,with a high-paying clientele. “During those trips, I made friends — heavily in secret so as to not be punished — with the head of security. He had received word that within a very short time, they were going to kill me, so he approached me and made a plan to get me out,” Amanda said. “He took me to a hotel, then another, then another, always moving as not only was I in great danger, so was he. He was abusive too, but I loved him for getting me out. He saved my life.”  

Although this situation wasn’t great, it “wasn’t nearly as bad as where I was,” said Amanda.

The relationship ended when Amanda forged enough bravery to contact her parents, who wired her money. She eventually made her way to the airport, finally on her way home.

“I was broken and I couldn’t be myself, didn’t know what that even meant, and trying to get back into society without anyone knowing what I had endured was not easy,” she said. “Forgiving them had nothing to do with the men who did this to me; I’m responsible for my actions and everything I think and do.”

After being rescued, Amanda was baptized and “...washed everything away, and I let go.”

Amanda is doing well these days. Her entire family now knows what happened, she continues her healing and is to a point in her life she’s ready to go full force onhelping others avoid, and or get out of, sex trafficking.

She is now the spokesperson for a non-profit organization, “Voices of the Rescued,” and jointly will be going on a speaking tour, educating and spreading  awareness of this global crime, and sharing her story.

She’s a brave, strong and incredible woman, a woman God clearly isn’t done with yet.

To learn more human trafficking, to help or support victims, or to listen to an in-depth audio interview with Amanda, visit www.VoicesoftheRescued.com.

A multi-business owner in Meridian for more than 20 years, Ronald Kern and his wife sold their businesses in 2013. Ron is founder of Voices of the Rescued. He is a serial entrepreneur, personal and professional consultant, author, columnist, motivational speaker and philanthropist. All of his information is on his website, MyPassionInAction.com, and he always looks forward to speaking with his readers.

 

The Closet: Ministry Gives Teens Clothes and Compassion

March/April 2017

 


 

By Gaye Bunderson

 

 God may be perfectly capable of parting the Red Sea, but sometimes His miracles involve something as everyday as clothes hangers.

 Kelly McMurry thought she and God had talked it over and she was going to take a break from volunteer work for a couple of years while she served as PTA president. Then she got a call from Kippy Jacob, former executive director of Love INC Boise, where Kelly had volunteered. Kippy wanted to meet for coffee, and when the two women got together at Rembrandt's in Eagle, Kippy sprung a surprise on Kelly. She said, “God has placed on my heart to ask you to do something for youth in the community.”

Kelly said she kept asking Kippy what that something was, and all Kippy was able to answer was that she didn’t know for sure. Kippy soon went off to another commitment, but before she left, she said to Kelly, “Can you just pray about it?” Then she threw out a cryptic suggestion: “Maybe clothing for teens.”

“I sort of liked that. There was a little excitement,” Kelly now says, explaining, however, that she also thought at the time, “I don’t like teens. Who does?” Her own children were pre-adolescent then but were on the verge of their teen years — sometimes a difficult passage for both parents and youngsters.

Kelly left Rembrandt’s and went and sat in her car for a moment, mulling what Kippy said. Before driving away, she offered up a quick prayer to God, telling Him, “If this is You, I’m all in. If it’s not You, please let me know. Give me a sign.”

What she didn’t realize as she started the engine was that she was about to get the biggest affirmation of God’s will for her that she’d ever received. She was on the verge, she said, of an amazing God moment.

“I drove to Chinden — about two miles. The light was red, so I pulled out my cell phone. I was going to call a friend, Lynn. She was somebody Christian in my life I went to for everything. I wanted her to be the first one I talked to,” Kelly said.

She wanted to tell Lynn what had just happened at the coffee shop and to get her thoughts on it. She called Tree City Church on Eagle Road, where Lynn was at the time, and got the receptionist, a woman named Bev. Bev explained Lynn couldn’t come to the phone, but she would transfer Kelly to her voicemail. While Kelly was waiting for the call to go to voicemail, Bev got back on the line and said, “I cleaned out my closet this past weekend. I switched to SlimLine hangers, and I brought you three boxes of hangers, if you can use them.”

Clothes hangers…. Just a bunch of devices for putting apparel on rods in closets. Is that a pivotal conversation? “I have some hangers for you”? Turns out, it was.

“I was shaken. It was such a confirmation,” Kelly said.

She was to do something with clothing for teens, and of course clothes hangers would be needed.

That was a little over seven years ago.

“It’s November of 2009. I’m now moving forward. I’m feeling overwhelmed,” Kelly said.

She asked the pastoral staff at Tree City Church if she could have a space there for something she was calling The Closet; 24 hours later, they told her she could have a room on the second floor. She now had a space, but no clothes and no teens. Then a friend called to say she’d found a cabinet at Big Lots, available at a very good price. She was going to buy it and if Kelly could use it, fine. If not, she’d keep it for herself.

The cabinet came in a box full of pieces and screws and complicated directions on how to assemble it — pretty much a whole lot of things beyond Kelly’s skill set. Her frustration with the cabinet is evident when she tells the story about the afternoon she and her son — then only in second grade — went to Tree City Church and tried to put the cabinet together.

“It felt like 4,000 pieces,” she said. As the story continues, 4,000 pieces become 12,000 pieces, and then 12,000 pieces become a ton.

She shut the door of the room that would house The Closet, sat down on the floor with her young son, and felt like she was on the verge of tears. A man named Marty happened to walk by just then and peak into the room. Spotting a clearly flummoxed woman and her child, he knocked on the door; when Kelly answered, he asked, “Can I help?”

With the help of this kind man, the cabinet went from a ton of disassembled pieces to an essential piece of furniture, with its many wide slots for shoes.

As of late January of 2017, Kelly had served 3,000 teenagers. The Closet has grown from one room to two, and then two rooms spilled out into a hallway. “This community pours out donations to me,” she said.

Three days a week, she comes to Tree City Church at 3 p.m. and prepares The Closet for her special guests. She takes hour-long appointments at 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 p.m. They are private, one-on-one, confidential appointments for individual teens who are frequently accompanied by their parents.

“I’m clothing kids,” she said, “but it’s so much more than that. I am loving on difficult, broken situations.”

The clothing is free, and Kelly makes shopping at The Closet the best experience she can. “Thrift stores are cool, so this is cool. This is good stuff. It’s teen-friendly,” Kelly said.

Walking into The Closet is as nice as walking into a boutique at the mall. Kelly put fine touches into the décor. Everything is clean and fresh and youthful.

Roughly 12 volunteers work with Kelly to sort through donations and get them ready for the teens. Kelly needs one volunteer assistant when she has an appointment. The assistant does other things to help the client but leaves the personal connection to Kelly, whose ability to reach out to her young clientele is something she feels she’s been gifted with over the years.

If a teen is reticent, Kelly takes one approach; if a teen is outgoing, she takes another. “I gauge their mood and respond to them accordingly,” she said. “I can connect to a person in one hour — that’s been given to me by God.”

After the teens collect the 12 items they are allowed to take home, they bring them up to the infamous cabinet, the one formerly laying on the floor in a trillion pieces. It now serves double duty as the check-out counter. This is often where Kelly does her best work.

She has classy black shopping bags to the put the teens’ clothes in, just as if they’d bought them at the mall. One of her special touches is scripture cards that look something like bookmarks. Kelly handpicked all the scripture verses on them, such as Jeremiah 29:11: “'For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord.” On the back of the card, she writes a personal message for each client and signs it with “God bless” and her name. She slips the card into the shopping bag, not knowing where it will end up but believing that if God wants to use it, He will.

“I have a captive audience here; they like me right now,” she said. She has treated each client with genuine graciousness and concern, sometimes throwing in some of the brand new undies that Walmart donates to her, or allowing a teen to go over his or her 12-item limit if it’s for something special.

Now she takes it up a notch and does what God commanded her to do. “God said, ‘Kelly, I want you to ask every family how you can pray for them — EVERY family,'” she said.

Kelly keeps a journal on the cabinet and writes prayer requests in it. She never puts pressure on anyone and said that if the teens can’t think of a prayer request, she’ll ask how school is going — or sometimes more specifically, how math is going. “I have lots of prayers for math in the journal!” she said.

But sometimes prayer requests are for family members or friends. “Tears have dripped on this cabinet,” she said. One mother asked if she could take the pen and write her own prayer request, and Kelly obliged.

On Sunday nights, Kelly types up the requests and gives them to a prayer team. There are no identifiers in the requests; anonymity is always protected. Kelly said the prayer team is made up of “gifted people” who have volunteered to pray for the families that come to The Closet.

Kelly has cultivated relationships with school counselors in Boise and West Ada (at present, she is only able to help youth in Ada County). Many of the teens have been referred to The Closet by counselors because their families are in the throes of divorce or the young person is in an abusive situation.

Kelly also helps teens in the juvenile corrections system. “I have a beautiful relationship with Corrections, and I let those teens take as long as they need when they come in,” she said.

Kelly makes frequent presentations out in the community. “I’m always speaking,” she said.

She is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit known as The Closet Inc. and was blessed when a couple volunteered to pay for her to obtain her nonprofit status and get help with the paperwork.

Kelly’s professional background is actually in banking. She began working at Bank of America when she was 16 and continued in that job until she was 31, working in Seattle and San Francisco.

“That’s the professional side of me,” she said. She was also a stay-at-home mom for 18 years. She got a degree in interior design but never made a living that way. Her husband has an executive MBA, and her children are now teenagers.

“Everyone supports me,” she said, “with gifts of time and goods.”

When she speaks, it’s often to professionals. When she ministers, it’s to teens in a state of poverty and brokenness.

She was supposed to have The Closet out of Tree City Church by December of 2016. Now, the church has given her until summer of 2017. “The ministry is growing so fast,” she said.

She would love to have someone offer her space rent-free but is fundraising just in case she must pay for a space for her thriving outreach.

She has 1,400 followers on Facebook and wants to tell everyone she can to keep their hearts open. “These kids go to school with your kids,” she said, acknowledging their problems may not be visible on the outside, but they are there and they are real.

The woman who once thought she didn’t really like teens now loves and serves them with all her heart. But she takes no credit for the success she’s seen with the ministry. “I am so not qualified for this job,” she said. “I give it all to God. I say to Him, ‘You be my Light tonight.’ God is so alive in this place. The Closet is a beautiful story of God at work.”

 

The CFor more information go to TheClosetInc.org or contact Kelly at (208) 409-0204 or 1kellymc1@gmail.com.

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