Feeding Souls and Empty Bellies

Story and photos by Donna Atola, Kenya Field Communications Specialist

A pastor who never had a chance to dream big as a child uses her influence in her community to give hope – and nourishment – to kids living in poverty so they can dream big.

Lilian Kafedha wants kids to be able to dream big, and she’s helping them achieve their dreams.

As a young girl, Lilian Kafedha had no dream. She says she had no one to look up to and dared not to dream.

This led Lilian to drop out of school as a young teen. Dropping out an early age led her into marriage when she was 16, a move she still regrets.

“I look back and wish that someone talked to me as a young girl. I wish someone encouraged and motivated me to pursue my education,” she says.

Nevertheless, her lack of basic education did not deter Lilian from working hard as a young woman.

Three kids later, while in her 20s, her marriage hit the rocks. Her husband abandoned them, and Lilian was left to solely care for her three young kids in Jilore, a village in Malindi, Kenya. She was, however, determined to see her kids through school.

“Times were hard for me, but I could see how education had set other people apart, and I only wished that despite [myself] not being so educated, my kids would pursue it,” Lilian says. “It was a tough journey, now that I had to care for them solely, but I had intended to do it.”

The motivation to ensure her kids were educated prompted Lilian to take up a new skill, tailoring. After consistent practice and finally purchasing a sewing machine, she became a well-known seamstress and was earning a living that helped keep her kids in school.

Kids Looked Weak and Tired

At the same time, she was in charge of a Sunday school class at her church. She says she didn’t realize it at the time, but teaching Sunday school was setting her up for a bigger role in life.

With her own kids grown and moved away, Lilian had a lot of extra food that she grew on her land.

Eventually, Lilian was put in charge of the entire Sunday school at the church. But she worried about how few kids would attend Sunday school.

“I was bothered by the number of kids attending Sunday school,” she says. “They were fewer than the adults in the church. And even then, the few would look weak and at times sleep throughout the service.”

Then she found out that most of the kids at the service were hungry. Some would go days without getting a meal at home.

Most caregivers, she says, struggled to provide for their families’ basic needs like food, clothes, decent housing, and even education. Most of the caregivers in Jilore are peasant farmers and grow what food they can to feed their families. But because Malinda is an arid area, there are months with no rainfall, and crops dry up.

Other caregivers work at quarries around the area, making barely enough money to buy a single meal.

Kids line up to receive a meal at Lilian’s food program during Sunday school.

With so little income coming in to their families, most kids lacked food. Lilian realized that’s why kids weren’t attending church – they were weak and sleepy from not eating.

Can’t Preach to an Empty Stomach

From her tailoring work income, Lilian had acquired some land. Her piece of land, plus another left behind by her former husband, she used for farming. She upgraded to irrigation farming so she could have a supply of food throughout the year.

Since her kids were grown up and in college by then, Lilian says she had a lot of extra food. She then came up with the idea to start a feeding program for the Sunday school kids. She started preparing porridge for the kids from maize flour acquired from her farm.

“It started as something small,” says the Child Champion. “They would come into church on Sunday, have a cup of porridge before we would embark on the service. This would mean I would be early in the church to cook it so that my Sunday school kids would find it ready.”

Lilian leads the children in a church service.

Soon, the kids were paying attention, and after a few Sundays, she realized the number of kids attending Sunday school had doubled. Lilian says the kids would go home after the service and tell other kids in the village about the food they received in church, and the following Sunday, those kids would come with a friend or two.

This motivated Lilian to begin an outreach mission where the kids would visit homes in the community on Saturdays to pray and fellowship. During the fellowship days, Lilian bought snacks for the kids and soon they were motivated to listen and be taught the Word of God.

“It is hard to preach to an empty stomach. You also can’t just offer prayers to hungry kids. We must put actions to the faith because it amazingly works wonders,” she says.

From her simple act of compassion to the kids, Lilian’s Sunday school feeding program is still up and running. In addition to feeding kids, she would also bring her harvest to church and share it with families in poverty that had no food.

Letting Kids Dream Big

After years of serving in the kids’ ministry and other ministries in the church, Lilian decided to undergo pastoral training, and upon graduation, she was appointed a pastor at her church in Jilore.

Lilian invested in an irrigation system to water her crops.

Before signing up for the pastoral training, Lilian had donated land to the church so that the church, which used to hold services under a tree, could build a structure to be used for services and other activities.

In 2021, OneChild partnered with her church, and a Hope Center was set up. Lilian says the Hope Center is a perfect place for her to love, care for, and support kids.

“My joy is seeing kids dreaming big and achieving their dreams. Every minute with the kids at the Hope Center matters,” she says.

“One thing I asked from God was to give me the wisdom and energy to help kids in my community achieve everything that I never got a chance to dream about, and this is why my place is with kids in hard places.”

In addition to tending to kids through her church and the Hope Center, Pastor Lilian has adopted some orphans from her village that she cares for at her home.

“These kids light up my home, and I don’t remember any moment in life where I was ever alone at home, despite my kids growing and moving out. My joy is to see them thrive in life,” she says.

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