God began a new work in 2003 in a neglected corner of Kisumu, the third-largest city in Kenya. He called Allison Schlack to live among the people in Obunga, a slum that had never attracted the kind of charitable projects that other communities do. When simply planting a church didn’t work, God led us to start Ndoto in 2009 to address the community in a wholistic way starting with the next generation: education, discipleship, and development.
The sponsorship program came first, and God built it from 29 students in 2009 to 300 in 2021. Ndoto Community Church came next, as a faith community naturally began to grow out of the students and families in 2014. Now, God is opening doors for economic and community development. Read on to see the story of what God has done in these years.
Allison Schlack, a Baylor Business School student, had a difficult decision to make when she graduated in 2002. She had three choices: a lucrative job offer, a Christian camp internship, or the opportunity to go by herself to live in a slum in Kenya. Having traveled abroad, been a part of a local homeless ministry, and been mentored by pastors and community developers, she had a heart for the poor and those marginalized by society.
Her conclusion was if she wanted to serve those in the forgotten corners of the world, she must live among them, earn their trust, and try to see things from their perspective. Her commitment to this inside out approach set her apart even from many others with a heart for the poor.
When the organizations she contacted refused to send a young single girl to Africa alone, Allison was referred to a Baylor student from Kenya who connected her with a young Kenyan pastor and his family. At the age of twenty-two with no agency backing and having exchanged only one email with the pastor, she boarded a plane alone with a 4x6 picture of the man who was going to pick her up at the airport. When she arrived at the Nairobi airport, no one was there. She waited. Almost an hour later, from behind the crowd, a piece of paper with her name printed on it appeared, and she spotted the man in the picture.
As she walked into the pastor’s house, she saw there no running water and many mosquitoes. In her second week there, when the neighbor’s baby died of malaria, she realized that she was far from home. The suffering, death, and poverty she had so often read about were now a part of her reality.
After three months living in Kenya, she returned home devastated. Unsure of what to do next and how to reconcile her two worlds, Allison got a job with Baylor. She loved her job but something was always tugging her back to Africa. After eighteen months, she quit her job and moved back to Kenya.
The next couple of years for Allison consisted of traveling between continents, helping plant a church and creating a local ministry in Kenya, working several jobs in Dallas, and receiving her Master’s Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary in Cross-Cultural Ministries. Those years were also stranger than fiction at times. She dealt with betrayal, private investigation, theft, witchcraft, hostile takeovers, public protests, and the deaths of many loved ones. After all that, she questioned her calling to Kenya and was ready to give up. However, six months later, after some time and healing, God made it clear to Allison that He was going to redeem the situation for His glory.
With a few friends in the fall of 2009, Ndoto: For Africa’s Future was formed to empower people in the slum area where she had lived to pursue their dreams without stripping them of their dignity and survival skills.
“Ndoto” means “dream” in Kiswahili. This name was born out of the answers Allison would get when she asked young people about their futures. Unlike what she was used to hearing, most of the young people Allison talked to said they had dreams but had given up because there was no way they were coming true. Because of the harsh circumstances in which they lived, these young people believed nothing would change and they would die with dreams unmet. Allison was emboldened by these young people to focus Ndoto on the next generation.
Allison has lived full-time in Kenya since 2011. She has always lived close to the community in which we work rather than in safer parts of town. Over the years, she began to develop a deeper relationship with Ndoto’s community pastor, who had been one of Ndoto’s first college graduates. Michael Omondi had become both Ndoto’s pastor and the Director of Ndoto Kenya. His character and wisdom had set him apart from the beginning. They were married in April 2018 and in 2019 welcomed their firstborn, a daughter named Michaela.
Allison Schlack’s ministry in the Obunga slum of Kisumu, Kenya, began as a personal outreach. A local pastor was leading a small church in the community and she joined him. In 2005, the ministry gained a new partner in Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Carrollton, Texas. Prince of Peace helped to construct a strong and large church building in Obunga, which was dedicated in 2006.
Following some challenges with the ministry in Kenya, the partnership between Allison, the local pastor, and Prince of Peace dissolved in 2008. Yet, in early 2009, with most of the prior Kenyan leadership out of the picture, some of the youth who had been involved in the church asked Allison to come back. They insisted that there was a future for a ministry focused on the young people’s futures.
On September 23, 2009, a small team incorporated a new Texas nonprofit called For Africa’s Future. Allison served as the Executive Director, Christi Melton joined as a Sponsor Coordinator, and John Seale served as the Business Manager. All three were unpaid, as were six initial Board members: Keith Montague, Colleen Hildebrandt, Roxane Malecek, Richard Cockcroft, Richard Ray, and Howard Bates. Ndoto had no paid staff members until 2011.
The first class of sponsored students, 29 young men and women ranging from college to kindergarten, began school in January 2010 with the support of 39 different sponsors. From year to year, the number of students grew rapidly: 29 became 59, then 109, then 182. In 2018, Ndoto had 296 students sponsored by 373 different households. Ndoto remained a lean organization. Including sponsorship, Ndoto’s 2010 budget was less than $50,000. In 2013, the budget surpassed $200,000, and passed $300,000 in 2016.
Education and discipleship have always been at the heart of Ndoto’s mission. In addition to paying school fees and ensuring kids were in school, Ndoto has provided discipleship opportunities through retreats since its beginning. In 2014, Ndoto graduate Michael Omondi began the Ndoto Community Church. For years it met in the front of the small Ndoto offices until Ndoto reclaimed the original 2006 building in 2016 and moved the church and offices there.
Economic development was long a passion of Allison’s, and a 2006 interactive study performed by a graduate student in Obunga indicated that capital for business starts was high on the list of community needs. Ndoto began offering loans to promising local entrepreneurs, both Ndoto graduates and other community members. In 2018, Ndoto launched its first self-owned business, a chicken project.