Family embraces Africa

The Stern family includes: top row, from left, Christen, Molly, Jon and Lydia, and on the bottom, Joe, Sarah and Anna.

Jon and Molly Stern’s hearts are big enough for their five children, their adopted African twins and the 19 youngsters living in their orphanage in Kenya.

And there’s room for more.

The Sterns would like to expand the orphanage and school, called Kings Kids Village, to take in 64 children. They have dreams to build a new educational building and dig a deeper well.

“We’ve been handed a great ministry,” Jon said.

“We’re enjoying it. The kids are delightful,” his wife added. “It’s fulfilling to know we’re raising forgotten kids.”

The family was in rural Danville for the holidays — their first Christmas visit in 14 years. They stayed with Molly’s parents, Dr. William and Mary Hensold, before heading to Nebraska to visit Jon’s parents and then to Virginia for son Peter’s wedding.

While in the area, they helped out at the Rock Church — founded by Jon’s father, Paul Stern — and shared stories about their lives in Nairobi.

Jon’s parents, Paul and Eleanor Stern, were missionaries in Kenya from 1951-54. They then moved to Nigeria, where Jon was raised.

The family returned to the United States and served in Detroit before Paul came to Danville in 1973 to start the Rock Church, where he was pastor for 15 years.

Jon graduated from Danville High in 1974, and Molly graduated in 1978.

In 1990, the elder Sterns went to Eastern Europe for five years. When they retired in 2004, they returned to Kenya to open the orphanage. In April, the couple returned to the United States. Jon and Molly had taken over as directors in October 2005.

Before that, the younger Sterns had been working in the slums of Nairobi through the Nairobi Lighthouse Church.

They’ve been missionaries in Africa since 1984. Four of their five children were born in Africa. The children are Peter, 22, of Hampton, Va., Paul, 21, of St. Louis, and Lydia, 17 (who was born in the U.S.), Christen, 15, and Anna, 11.

In 2000, Jon and Molly adopted African twins, Joe and Sarah, now 6.

Kings Kids Village, set on 5 acres, is set up family-style in a large building with four apartments. The 19 children — up to age 16 — are broken into two groups of six and one of seven, and live in units with a mother-figure and other family-like members. At present, room for eight more children exists.

The organization’s $7,500 monthly budget covers the salaries of 17 employees.

The Stern children — who love living in Africa — are home-schooled, and the other youngsters are educated on-site.

“Our desire is to treat these kids as if they’re our own,” Molly said of the orphans.

“I want them to get a good education,” Jon said, “or they’d end up with the same struggles as their parents. We want them to be able to support themselves.”

The children will stay at the orphanage until they’re educated and ready to support themselves.

Almost all of the children lost their parents to HIV and AIDS. In Kenya alone, there are 2.3 million children who are orphans or soon-to-be orphans, Jon said.

The Kings Kids Village children go on outings, including visits to the snake park, the monkey park and museums; they go swimming and do crafts, such as painting pots. They go to church on Sundays.

Little Sarah chimed in that there are a lot of birthday parties. The children get to choose their own birth date, as there are no records, usually.

Referring to the Kenyans, Jon said, “People are very, very grateful for what we do and will bring supplies.”

Americans like to visit, too, Molly said, adding, “People love to come over and love on the kids. It’s a great experience.”

Last year, a group from the Rock Church built a pavilion at the village for outdoor events.

Like many missionaries, the Sterns are finding their bank accounts aren’t as big as their hearts.

Their immediate challenge is paying the medical bills of a young woman who had been beaten so badly her attackers, and others, thought she was dead. The attack took place at another orphanage in May.

She is recovering and now works at the village.

However, the Sterns are left with a bill of at least $20,000.

The girl’s plight and the resulting expenses are detailed on the village’s Web site.

The Stern children like living in Nairobi and prefer it to life in the United States. Why?

Lydia answered simply, “It’s home.”

Anna would like to study to be a nurse here and return to Kenya to take care of the orphans.

Christen took a trip to Rwanda and thinks she might want to become a missionary.

“My kids are very involved and love it,” Molly said. “I love living there, too. Of course, I miss home and family.”

Nairobi has a European flavor to it, she said, and almost everyone speaks English.

Jon is fluent in Swahili, and the other family members can speak it well enough to get by.

As for the future, Jon said, “We take it a year at a time.”

Their goal is to turn the orphanage over to local administrators.

TO HELP

Send donations for projects at Kings Kids Village to: Encouragers Unlimited, P.O. Box 22763, Lincoln, NE 68542-2763.

You may sponsor a child for $50 a month. For more information, visit the Web site at http://www.kingskidsvillage.net

Send donations to help the Stern family to: The Rock Church, 20 Poland Road, Danville, IL 61832-6219.

The field address for Kings Kids Village is P.O. Box 16657, Mobil Plaza 00620, Nairobi, Kenya.