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A world changing mission starts in a sandwich shop

A world changing mission starts in a sandwich shop

The children of the Naivasha area in Kenya are among the ones people read and hear about in the news.

About 10,000 of Kenya's  2.5 million orphans live in the Naivasha region. Many of them struggle to obtain basic necessities such as shelter, food and clothing after being orphaned by their parents who have succumbed to HIV/AIDS. These children see a drop in household income after the death of a parent and often create a living for themselves by begging for food and work.

East African Bishop Daniel Wandabula led a blessing of a house built with Panua funds for Francis (center, green) and his two younger brothers. Their grandmother is in red near them. Also shown are District Superintendent and PIH Program Director, Paul Matheri, and the Rev. Dr. Bob Bushong of FUMCWP.

First United Methodist Church of Winter Park and Naivasha United Methodist churches established Panua Partners in Hope to serve these orphans and other children in Naivasha. The partnership started nine months ago.

Panua is Swahili for “expand” and that's what members of First United Methodist Church, Winter Park hope these children will do – expand the possibilities for their futures by participating in this partnership.

The Rev. Dr. Bob Bushong, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church, Winter Park, said he was always hopeful that a chance encounter at the 2004 General Conference of The United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh would grow into something meaningful.

It was during a meal at a Pittsburgh sandwich shop that Bushong, along with a small group from the Florida Conference, offered a seat to the Rev. Paul Matheri, a delegate from the Naivasha District of Kenya in the East Africa Annual Conference. After the meal, the men exchanged business cards and e-mail addresses and promised to keep in touch.

They did, and a friendship that transcends culture and continents blossomed, helping begin Panua Partners in Hope. Bushong said he is thrilled about the partnership.

"I was hopeful, even after that very first meeting, that something like this would happen,” Bushong said. "We are excited about what's happening."

His excitement stems from the partnership’s three-year program, which is designed to empower children to break the cycle of poverty and achieve long-term sustainability.

It differs from traditional orphanage models because the children continue to live together in their own households and become part of a larger network of other children who are also the heads of their households.

"This method works in keeping siblings together and children within extended families and communities, allowing them to grow with the support of a family environment," according to the program model on

Village elders or community leaders identify children for the program, which currently is serving 400 children divided into 90 households. Each household joins with others to form “Partner Groups,” with 14 households per group.

The program model calls for the group members to elect a leader and choose a community mentor, whose role is to help guide the children. As a group, the children support one another with concerns such as food and housing, spiritual development, education and vocational training, business ownership, HIV/AIDS education, legal issues, and health care.

Travel to Naivasha informs partners

Mary Nyarobi Ngotho works at her hair salon, with First United Methodist Church of Winter Park team member Jensie Gobel

Jensie Gobel, mission and outreach coordinator at First United Methodist Church, Winter Park, said the start of the partnership for her was “a scary leap of faith” because of the potential impact on the lives of Naivasha children.

Gobel, Bushong and several others from their church make up the Winter Park team that locally spearheads the partnership. Four teams from the church have visited Naivasha.

"It just seemed so huge and I wondered if we could do it from so far away," Gobel said. "I have seen God's hands in this the entire time and I know that with God, yes we can."

Seeing the children face-to-face made the partnership tangible, she said. A recent mission trip also provided an opportunity to see the program in action, as well as to talk with participants who were curious about why people had traveled so far to visit with them.

"I told them it was primarily to see 'habari' – Swahili for 'How are you?' ," Gobel said. "We wanted to meet the youth in the program, deepen relationships with Panua Partners in Hope staff and board members and together assess the program thus far and determine future direction."

Tasks included working sessions with Panua staff and board members, two house blessings, informational sessions for Naivasha business and government leaders, and a commissioning of a borehole at Trinity United Methodist Church led by East Africa Annual Conference Bishop Daniel Wandabula. Also, Bushong, Matheri and the Rev. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of Florida Conference Congregational Excellence, held a pastors’ conference.

Meeting people face-to-face was important, Gobel said.

"There was no replacing actually walking through the streets of the neighborhoods, meeting the wonderful mentors, seeing the businesses the youth had begun through the program and talking with the amazing youth whose lives had been transformed," she added. "Seeing the program in action left us with a sense of great hope that despite the overwhelmingly great need, we were making a difference in Naivasha. And our lives were also transformed by seeing God at work, doing 'immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within us...,'."

Susie Rush, chairwoman of the Panua Mission Agenda, believes that the program will be successful in the years to come because at the heart of the partnership is empowerment.

"These children now have a way out of poverty," Rush said. "Once these children have transitioned into adulthood, they will in turn assist others on the path out of poverty because they know what it's like. That's the beauty of the program; they will teach others how to fish."
Bushong is casting a net for other Conference churches embrace the partnership. Visit for more information or e-mail Gobel at

In Naivasha, related ongoing ministries of First United Methodist Church, Winter Park, include pastors training; site development of the Trinity United Methodist Church in Naivasha; development of a fresh water supply for the community on the site of Trinity United Methodist Church; and Panua Expanding Hope, a micro-finance ministry for small business owners.

2011 Kenya Team video by John King First UMC, Winter Park, Fl.