My Journey With Orphan Ministries, Part 1 {Growing Up in Africa}

Beginning about eleven years ago God led me to an unbelievable ministry working with orphans in Liberia, West Africa. He used me, an inexperienced and overly confident girl as His hands and feet to minister to the least of these and even save lives. I shared my introduction here. This is the beginning of my story.

This is also a stand-alone post on what it was like for me growing up as the child of missionaries in Liberia and the Ivory Coast (Cote 'd Ivoire), West Africa.


My mother and me with a few other kids soon after we arrived in Liberia for the first time.

My family moved to Liberia as missionaries with Baptist Mid Missions when I was a year-and-a-half old. My earliest memories are of living on a beautiful Tappita mission station nestled in the rainforest of Liberia.

My dad was heading up a team to build a radio station so the Liberian believers could receive training, sermons, and music in their own languages. Both my parents taught in the Tappita Bible school. My parents did a wonderful job of keeping their priorities straight; God first, then family, THEN ministry. They were very transparent about their ministry, the struggles they were facing, and the work God was doing in their lives. This was the best way they could have taught us about serving God as it was real and personal. I know this has had a significant impact on each one of my siblings today.

Life was such an adventure as my siblings and I raised wild animals, hiked through the rainforest, swung from vines into rivers, rode our bikes for miles and miles down quiet roads through the jungle, swam in the ocean, visited European countries on our way to Africa, ate the most delicious foods, got to be involved in missions at an early age, and had friends from countries all over the world (Americans weren't the only foreigners working in Africa.) We were homeschooled which gave us the opportunity to complete our assignments during the morning and play and explore in the afternoon. Because my parents were involved in local ministries, we usually ate lunch together as a family and always had supper together. Holidays were extra special as everyone worked hard to make Christmas meaningful in a place with July weather and little access to special gifts. My parents tried so hard to make our lives full and cater to our unique interests. My dad built many animal cages and pens for all our pets and my mom put up with the animals we kept indoors. They made sure we had the best bikes they could afford and tried to give us meaningful family vacations to unique places within the country.

But there were challenges as well. We didn't get to see our extended family often, and to this day I still feel I don't know many of them well. We sometimes got sick with tropical illnesses but rarely had access to good medical care. And the Africans, many of whom had not seen white children before, were often rough in their culturally different interactions as they picked at our hair, pinched our skin, or, when I was older, commented on how big I was for my age and how "fat" I was getting.

Probably the most difficult thing about being a missionary kid was how often we moved. We would spend about three and a half years in Africa and one year in America. Each time we returned to Africa we lived in a different place. I remember returning to the States on furlough/home assignment looking forward to reconnecting with friends that I considered my very closest friends, only to find their lives had moved on and they had other friends and activities to fill their days. To this day finding close friends has been a struggle as I have continued to do a lot of moving as an adult. I simply cannot relate to people who were born and raised on one location, then got married, bought a house, and are now living in the same area. That kind of consistency is a gift, people, not to be taken for granted.

But the good experiences growing up as a missionary kid far outweigh the bad and I wouldn't trade my upbringing in Africa for anything. 

I prayed to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of my life at the age of five. In a tender moment between my mother and me before bed, I believed for myself what I'd heard since I could remember. I remember that night clearly and it was the beginning of a very real relationship with God. Right around this same time the Liberian civil war began and my family moved to the Ivory Coast (Cote 'd Ivoire), a neighboring country, to work with the Liberian refugees.

At the age of eight I wanted to follow God in believer's baptism. So, after counsel from my dad, I was baptized in a river in the Ivory Coast along with other African believers.

At my baptist ceremony. I was excited despite the expression that was captured on film.

I've always had a tender heart and am very sensitive to those in need. I'm a very driven person and from an early age whenever I thought of a way to make a difference I was determined to help.

At just eight years of age I was involved in children's clubs, at ten I participated in a puppet ministry, and by twelve I was leading an entire AWANA Cubbies class alongside a missionary friend who was thirteen. Obviously my parents were facilitators for most of these activities, but by the time I was working with the AWANA program I was doing all the prep work on my own and my friends and I would ride our bikes to the church on Wednesday evenings.

Most of my family in front of the church where I worked with the AWANA program.

My passion to make a difference also led me to rescue and raise over a hundred pets, many of which were wild animal babies. (Hunters would kill animals for meat and some of them happened to be mothers. They would then sell the babies as pets for money. While this may sound very sad, it is how these men fed their families as other meat can be scarce in West Africa.)

Guinea pigs were what I had the most of due to their amazing ability to multiply!

I remember even waking myself up in the middle of the night to warm up some milk and feed a tiny baby tree hyrax. As an eight year old. Yeah, even I can't believe I was that responsible. I know this was just how God made me, how I am wired, and not anything about how wonderful I was or something I could or would have done had God not made me this way.

Me and a neighbor's two tree hyraxes (a.k.a tree bears) at three.

But I longed to save a child. I dreamed of finding an abandoned baby on the side of the road that needed me to save her. There's no doubt a part of this desire was to be an amazing rescuer people would applaud, but for the most part it was from a pure motivation to love someone in great need.

When I was eleven my family took in a starving Ivorian orphan baby and cared for her for a few weeks while a permant placement could be found. This was my first experience with orphan care. 

I was 15 years old when I really started to make my faith my own. The big spiritual lesson I was learning was being a servant. It's natural to look out for one's own self interest, it's unatural and selfless to put the needs of others before own. This was acted out as I served my family meals and helped care for my younger siblings, learning to do it without being asked.

Michael Card's song Basin and the Towel was very meaningful to me during this time.

I also began my first one-on-one Bible study with a young Nigerian girl. Philomena had been trafficked to the Ivory Coast with the promise of a great job doing household work for wealthy expatriate families. Instead she was lost and alone, forced to sell the only thing she knew people would buy. She received Christ as her Savior after our missionary-led ladies' Bible study. For the first time she saw hope and a way out of her situation. I was asked to disciple Philomena in the Word of God. This experience was so good for me but quite difficult due to Philomena's odd personality and somewhat creepy behavior. Eventually she was able to return to Nigeria, back to her family where she belonged.

My mom and me when I was about 16.

At around 16 God impressed upon my heart a burden to work with orphans. The location we were living at in the Ivory Coast did not have any kind of local orphanage (for the most part it was not needed) so I did not know how this would happen. This was also when I committed my life to full-time Christian service. (It would be several years later when I knew God wanted me to be a missionary).

By this point I'd grown in leaps and bounds and had such joy in my relationship with God. I remember thinking, "I've grown so much. I wonder what else there is to learn about the Christian life? Since I know the most important things now, what will I learn for the rest of my life on earth?"

I can't help but laugh when I recall this. I really wasn't thinking this in pride, just out of curiosity as I naively thought I knew all the big things there were to know about walking with God.

Ha ha....

{Click here to read Part 2 of my story, where God 
opened the door in a very unusual way for me to work with orphans.}


Denise Horrocks said...

loving this.... thank you.

dianekrenz said...

Really enjoying your story-thanks so much for sharing!

dragonfrye said...

Thanks Melodie!! I am really enjoyng your story!!