Natalie Stephens of Carroll (right) helps kids at El-Shaddaih Orphanage in Malawi, Africa, including Francis (left) and Mary (center), build a washing machine during an August trip last year.
Natalie Stephens of Carroll (right) helps kids at El-Shaddaih Orphanage in Malawi, Africa, including Francis (left) and Mary (center), build a washing machine during an August trip last year.

May 2, 2017

Pastor Blessings Nyasulu sometimes awakens at the orphanage she founded in Malawi, Africa, to find that people, knowing she has no money to take on additional kids at the orphanage, have left young children or babies at the facility’s gate at night so she would have no choice.

Almost 90 kids currently live at El-Shaddaih Orphanage in Malawi, a country in East Africa. Hundreds more are on a waiting list. Nyasulu has room for them, but no money to feed and clothe additional kids.

Nyasulu founded El-Shaddaih Orphanage, a Christian organization, in 2008, saying she felt called by God to do so after she spent 52 days in a coma following a bus crash that killed 39 people.

“He gave me the ability to be the mother of these orphans,” she said.

She is spending May and June in Iowa, as well as Tennessee and Michigan, to tell people about the orphanage and request help from those who want to become involved, including through financial donations or donated items. She will have several weeks in Iowa first and is willing to visit any area church, organization or group that invites her to speak about the orphanage and her work.

After a Central Church member heard about the orphanage several years ago and suggested Central support it financially, three members from Central traveled to Africa last year to visit the orphanage. Natalie Stephens, Deb Vonnahme and John Sklenar arrived in Malawi in August with no idea what to expect.

One woman and 70 kids, Sklenar thought at the time — how could it be anything less than bedlam?

Instead, he found children who were eager to speak with him and help him, who went on their own to church every morning to pray and who offered nothing but respect.

“I saw 70 kids on their knees, praising God for what they have — and they have nothing,” Sklenar said.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, Nyasulu said.

“We starve a lot,” she said. “We have floods every year.”

Electricity in the country is sporadic; its residents can’t afford to keep lights on all day, every day. Bicycles — if not walking — are the most common form of transportation.

Right now, there are some days at the orphanage when Nyasulu isn’t sure how she’ll be able to feed every child. Some days, they run out of food.

The orphanage houses kids of all ages, from newborn infants to those in their late teens. Dozens of kids sleep in small rooms.

On a typical night, five babies sleep in Nyasulu’s bed with her, she said.

Other than the youngest infants, the kids drink only water. Nyasulu usually tries to offer them tea with milk at Christmastime — but some kids turn away from the unfamiliar drinks. They grow corn and other produce and typically only can afford to eat meat once a month.

But they contribute.

Kids at the orphanage regularly visit an area hospital to clean and visit and pray with patients. They also make food to take to inmates at a nearby prison, where they eat with and visit with the inmates. After donations allowed a well to be built at the orphanage, other residents benefited during a drought.

At the orphanage, many of the children learn trades — carpentry, welding, tailoring.

They go to school, too, but it’s difficult to move forward through the curriculum because classes often have 300 or more kids to one teacher, Nyasulu said. Students in their late teens might still be learning to read because they’ve had to retake classes so many times.

Central Church supports the orphanage, and Nyasulu hopes her time in the United States results in other partners for the organization that has become incredibly important to her.

“I’m like the mother of all the children,” Nyasulu said. “I make sure every kid has something to eat, and clothes. I make sure I balance my love for all the children.”

Nyasulu, 39, is getting married this August.

All of her kids will be there.