Every year, families around the world pack their bags and head off on an adventure. Some go to the beach, to the lake, or to a favorite amusement park. For the Churchill family from Alpharetta, GA, it was one such family adventure that changed their lives forever. It was on a youth missions trip to Kenya in 2012 that Amy and Clay Churchill and their three kids would encounter inspiring leaders, the layers of brokenness poverty create, and the overcoming spirit of many, which has kept them moving forward in their journey.
A Mother’s Heart
“I knew in my head that these kinds of conditions existed,” says Amy, “but it wasn’t the same punch in the gut as you get when you’re there talking to people, hearing their story, and seeing their struggle.”
In western Kenya, the family visited an orphanage full of kids whose parents had died, mostly from AIDS or the recent election violence. Partnering with a local leader, they experienced the abject physical poverty of the surrounding village, and worked on projects to improve the quality of life for the community.
It was one such project that stirred Amy’s heart. “We were helping to rebuild a hut for a widowed woman,” she explains, “and I saw this sheet laying on the ground covering a child.” Amy initially thought the child was dead, but soon discovered that the baby boy, the woman’s grandson, was gravely ill – a situation brought on by his mother’s medical condition, and the heavily contaminated water he was being given from Lake Victoria.
Amy felt empathy for the mother and grandmother, imaging herself in their situation. “I was a mom living in another country, with no knowledge of the culture or the issues they were facing,” she remembers, “but I knew I had to do something.” The Churchills began building relationships with local leadership about how best to help with the issues of dirty water as well as ways to empower women in the community.
Just One Person
While on the trip, Amy was reminded of the words of Jesus in a favorite bible passage about the importance of helping a single person.
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”
Matthew 18:12-14 NIV
“I was reminded,” says Amy, “that just one person is worth making a difference for, and that just one person can make a difference. If that one person makes a difference for others, who then make a difference for others, we’re not talking about addition, we’re talking about multiplication!”
A Family Decision
The Churchill family’s trip to Kenya was no ordinary trip. According to Amy, the experience radically shifted how each family member saw themselves and the world. Her kids, pre-teens and teenagers at the time, began evaluating every spending decision in terms of how many water filters they could buy. A dinner out? That’s two water filters. A family vacation? Dozens of water filters. Amy recalls, “We immediately began re-evaluating our spending so we could save money and go back.”
Her daughter Julia, just 13 at the time, said, “Mom, if I ever complain about anything, please stop me, because I have nothing to complain about.” They began discussing as a family how they might come alongside local leaders with great vision, supporting them with resources to fund sustainable projects, and using their voices and relationships to advocate for others in need.
The Churchill family made two decisions during the spring and summer of 2012. First, they would start a non-profit organization to raise awareness and funds to help vulnerable communities in Kenya. Second, they would go back as soon as possible. By December of that year, they were back in Kenya, laying the groundwork for their new non-profit, Just One Africa.
“As a family, we chose Kenya,” says Amy, reiterating that Just One Africa is not her project, or a parent thing. The kids have all visited Kenya many times since, and all three are involved in the work of Just One Africa. All are also pursuing studies and vocations related to non-profit humanitarian work.
Her kids, she says, feel like their life has been enriched by the experience and that they don’t feel like they missed out on anything by spending those summers in Kenya or by eating at home to save money for their work.
“We couldn’t have done what we’ve done without our kids,” Amy exclaims. “They bring ideas and skills to the table that Clay and I don’t have. They’re 100% in!”
Doing Big Things
Just One Africa’s latest initiative is a big one. After spending the past eight years focused on water filtration projects and empowerment for women and girls, Just One Africa has joined forces with Third Lens Ministries and long-time partners Valley Light Home to construct a new children’s home in a safer area with a greater potential for sustainability, where Valley Light can continue to grow in their mission to help vulnerable children in Maai Mahiu, a small town in Kenya ravaged by HIV/AIDS.
With land purchased, plans finalized, and contractors on-site, the new and improved Valley Light Home is under construction, and will soon house all of Valley Light’s current children, with plenty of room for more. And Just One Africa continues to raise funds for the construction while also expanding their water filter distributions and other projects throughout Kenya. For the Churchills, it’s a nonstop family effort.
“It’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Amy admits, “but it’s worth it.”