In August of 2009, I woke up one day and I just knew. It was time. God was calling, and I had to answer. It was time to start the non-profit organization we had dreamed about, prayed for, and had struggled with for years. This wasn’t just about helping, although I certainly hoped and believed we would do that. This was about redemption and restoration and proving to a community that God hadn’t forgotten them and in so doing prove to the larger populace that God is at work and beautiful things can and will come from what others call the dark and dangerous corners of their city.
When we began, we pulled together all of the students that we had been informally sponsoring and added a few more that we knew desperately wanted to go to school and could use the help. There were 29. These “fools” were lucky, I say. (By the way, we use the term “fools” lovingly at Ndoto…no need to be offended). They got in from the beginning…they got the most attention, the most help, the least rules, and they never had to apply or be interviewed. We knew, though, that eventually we would have to institute a formal selection process.
So, we put together an application and passed it out to people we knew and told them they could share with a few others. I honestly don’t remember right now how many applications received…i want to say it was about 60 or 70-ish. Out of that bunch, we selected 30 new students which brought our total up to 59. I remember thinking about how big of a deal it was that we doubled in size, and I also wondered if I would love and connect with the new students the way I had with the old ones. I questioned how we would impact them and if we could give the same level of attention and care to them that we had to the ones before.
Before I knew it, the year had come and gone and sure enough, we found room in our hearts for 30 more and I loved them as fiercely as the original 29. We also continually found ways to improve what were doing and involving others to help guide and direct them. I also realized that we were adjusting each year to a new normal, and I liked it. It felt as though we were doing exactly what the Lord was asking us to do.
When applications went out last year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We had planned to expand by about 45 new students, all depending upon how many applications we received. We ended up receiving nearly 300, and we definitely had our work cut out for us as we reviewed each one and then narrowed it down to those we wanted to interview. I learned the hard lesson that if we don’t watch out, we want to take everyone we interview. Their stories are compelling and heartbreaking and there is so much genuine need. As it turned out, we couldn’t say no as easily as we wanted to and ended up taking about 60 new students (guess we overshot that…). In the end, though, we saw God’s faithfulness as He provided a sponsor for each one. This year has been a year of tremendous growth and challenge for Ndoto.
So, after all of this, you may be asking where does the “oh crap” fit in? Well, this past Monday, we opened up the application process for next year. We had all ventured guesses as to how many applications we would distribute or how many would be turned in We won’t know until July how many are returned to us, but what occurred this past week has motivated, frightened and excited us all at the same time. In 4 days, we gave out 250 applications for the 2013 school year!!! Did you read that clearly – 250 in just the first few days of the first week!! (we don’t do any advertising…everything is done by word of mouth.) We have all been hit hard by the reality of how many applications we may get for next year and the tremendous responsibility it is to shepherd, train, love on, and care for the new group of students, while continuing to do the same with the 110 we already have.
I am warming up to the idea of adjusting to a new normal yet again. I also can’t wait to read the applications and begin getting to know our next group of students. But, when I think about the challenge of recruiting new sponsors, mentors to disciple the students, and when I think about the condition of our hearts as they expand to love and care for 50+ new precious people with the same conviction as before, my gut reaction is to doubt and say “oh crap!” Yet, I realize that God is the one who enables us to do it all anyway, and so we trust Him to guide, provide, and teach us. So, after all of that, when I look at the list of applications given out at the end of each day and still say “oh crap,” but in a good way.