“In October of 2005, I met Terry Richards, a 26-year-old man who was in Kenya while on his very first mission trip. It was his last full day in the country. While traveling to his next destination to the hotel he was staying at in Amboseli, Kenya, the van he was riding in blew a head gasket. He and the team he was with were towed to a nearby shop where I too was stranded waiting for a ride back to work. We were both stuck with no rides. It was the most beautiful place to be stuck, right at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
He was inside the shop while I was sitting outside on a bench with some friends that worked at the shop. He walked outside and sat next to me. We started talking about his experience being in Kenya; I was amazed to find out why he was in the country.
He was there to build a church at a very remote part of Kenya, on the coastal side. I smiled in awe as he explained that at his young age, he had traveled across the world following a calling to go and give hope to others. To show them love and to help those in need.
It was love at first sight. We sat and talked for about an hour while he waited for another van to come and pick him up, along with the team members. Before it was time for him to leave, he asked me, ‘Would you like to take a photo with me so I can go back and show my friends back home how beautiful you are?’ I said, ‘Yes, you can!’ He then pulled out his Kodak film camera and asked a lady from his team to take the picture. I then asked him, ‘Would you mind mailing a copy of the photo to me?’ He said, ‘I would love to!’ I gave him my mailing address so he can mail it to me.
Two weeks after he arrived home, I received an envelope in the mail and was amazed to get a copy of the picture. He had a short note with it that explained how his journey was back home, ending it with my native language Swahil: wewe ni mrembo sana (you are so beautiful). The conversation began there.
We got to know each other through writing letters to each other. It would take 2 weeks to receive one from him and it would take two weeks for him to receive one from me. He would tell me about himself, the crazy American weather, what he does, about his family, his church, and how life is in America in general. I too would tell him about myself, the Kenyan culture and lifestyle, our great weather, my church, my family, and everything about my life.
We would send pictures of ourselves in our daily lives. I received a lot of Mustang pictures, as he was always a fan of muscle cars, especially Fords. He would also send me pictures of him dressed in snowsuits, trying to explain and show me how winter was in America, which was completely foreign to me. This went on for a year. He then told me that he was planning to return to Kenya. He said he had spoken to the mission leader about having the girl he met in Kenya (me!) join the team to help with translation.
He asked me if I would be interested in joining the team for their 3-week trip. Of course, I said yes! In October 2006, he returned to the country. I remember eagerly waiting to see him again. He told me the hotel where they were going to be staying and I waited there for him. I shared a room with the mission leader, and we would see each other throughout the day and evenings. It was such an incredible feeling to have him there with me. During this time, our relationship grew stronger and deeper, and we started getting closer and closer. We would dress up every evening for dinner and he would come to the mission leader’s room to get me, then we would all go to dinner together.
One evening right before dinner, we decided to go for a walk around the hotel compound. During our walk, we found a spot overlooking the woods at the Maasai Mara lodge where we were staying. It was the most beautiful night ever. It was a quiet night and the moon was shining bright. We found this one spot where we decided to sit down there and just talk. Next to where we were seated was a room with huge open windows and as we sat there, we happened to hear some noise coming from the inside of the building. There were no workers there at the time, so we were kind of stunned at what the noise was and what was causing it.
We paused and listened, wondering if something was going to jump out and spook us. Sure enough, something was in there ready to spook us. We heard a huge crash and this giant baboon jumped out of the open window and landed right in front of us. I was petrified! I was always scared of baboons and to see a huge one right in front of me was a very scary moment. I grabbed him tight, scared that the baboon could attack me. The baboon just looked at us and walked away. We looked at each other still tightly holding on to each other, and we smiled and kissed. That was our very first kiss!
Then I started thinking to myself, ‘Uh oh! What just happened? This amazing guy has a few days left before he leaves the country again and I just kissed him. Now what?’ As the night came to a close and it was time for us to go to sleep, he walked me to my room which I was sharing with the team leader. He then walked to his room for the night.
When we saw each other the following day, we talked about the previous night and the kiss. I shared with him my fears of getting too emotionally attached, afraid that he was about to leave the country and not knowing if I was going to see him again. We continued to talk and get closer and closer. On the last week of the trip, we talked about how we can even make this happen if we were to take the relationship to the next level.
We talked about engagement, our fears of the distance, and how we could get through it. We believed God put us together for a reason and with a purpose, so we put our trust in God that we would get through it. I explained to him that with my culture, we would have to ask my parents for permission. Not just us to ask, but by our tradition, someone else had to ask on our behalf. A man of my dad’s age had to speak to my dad and explain parabolically that a young man was interested in one of his daughters.
We went and picked the ring together. I arranged with my dad to come and meet with the mission team and told him that they had something to talk to him about. He insisted on knowing what the meeting was about. I informed him that he would find out when he gets there. My dad agreed to meet. Peter, the team’s tour driver, had volunteered to speak on our behalf. He began the conversation in front of me, my now-husband, and his team leader.
My dad sat and listened to why he was asked to come. He then said, ‘Terry, are you sure you want to marry my daughter?’ Terry said, ‘Yes.’ My dad proceeded, ‘Why do you choose her while there are many girls in America that you know there?’ Terry said, ‘I don’t want any other girl. She’s the one I love and the only one I want.’ My dad looked at him and asked, ‘Can you promise me that you will always love her and never ever put your hands on her?’ Terry looked at my dad and said, ‘Yes, I promise to always love her and never put hands on her.’ Then my dad looked at me and said, ‘If this is the man you love and want to marry, I support you and I accept him to the family.’ My dad stretched his right hand shook Terry’s hand and said, ‘Yes, you can marry my daughter.’ We all smiled, shared dinner together then my dad went back home.
My then-fiancée had to leave the country to return to the US and left me behind as we began the immigration process. This was hard. We continued to talk through letters and then emails, and some occasional expensive texts and calls. We planned the wedding via email. He returned to Kenya on September 22nd, 2007. We had a traditional wedding the day after on September 23rd, for my family, a few friends, and the whole missions team, since my family could not attend the official wedding here in the US.
On this day, I learned my husband could not dance. He did not know how. I laughed as I watched my new husband dance rhythmless on a traditional Mugithi song. We had the best time ever. After the traditional wedding, we went on a honeymoon to a beautiful hotel right at the Indian Ocean. The hard time came again when he had to return to the US once again without me because my immigration documents were still being processed. We cried as we parted one last time from each other.
March 21st, 2008, I was authorized to enter the US with a fiancée visa. We planned an official wedding there with just family and friends. So in other words, we have been married twice without a divorce. We have now been married for over 14 years and counting!
After 3 months of me being in the country, we both woke up with the same dream that we had to build an orphanage or some sort of safe haven for women and children. We sat on the bed and talked for hours about how amazing that was. ‘How could we have the same dream? Is this what God wants us to do? If this is what God wants us to do, we are willing to go.’ We started talking about how we could make it happen, what would we need to do, and when we could do it. We both were ready to do whatever it took.
On February 23rd, 2017, we were blessed with the most amazing child. We named her Sophia Imani. Imani is a Swahili word that means faith. It’s by faith that we had her and every day we look at her as a reminder that it’s only by Imani (Faith) that we will bring our dream of more than a decade to life.
We continued to talk and plan for years, until one day, we decided that we were going to start taking it seriously and take some big steps. We would travel once a year to Kenya to help at a local orphanage, proving food while we were there. We would also visit the church that my husband and the team built in 2005. Then we took a couple of friends with us on a different trip and continued to do local missions work while we visited family in Kenya. This went on every year, sometimes every other year, depending on what our financial situation was, as we would fund our own way there.
In 2018, we decided it was time to take one big step of faith toward our dream to build a home for the women and children we dreamt about. We bought 5 acres at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, about 15 minutes from where we met. We decided it was time to follow our dream to give hope to the women and children of Kenya. We finalized the sale and started on the next step. What should we call it? ‘Imani,’ which as I stated, means faith. It’s by faith that were going to build the shelter and it’s by faith that we have been building the shelter, so Imani it was! We named it the Imani Rescue Center International. Today, our not-profit organization is now 501c3 registered.
Our dream is slowly becoming a reality. We now have the land to build it and we have it registered as a tax-exempt organization. The next and final step is finding the funding to build it. What exactly is the purpose of Imani Rescue Center? I’m glad you asked! The Imani Rescue Center will be a haven for women and children. A place of hope. A place where women and children will be empowered for a better future.
We will house battered women, widows, and orphans to give them a temporary place to run for rescue. We will meet all their basic needs and while they are there, we will provide training for them to give them a hand up. Our goal is to teach these women independence and how to provide for themselves and their children. We will start with sewing. Once the women are trained in how to sew and are ready to take on life again, we will buy each a sewing machine and give them a small capital to start their own small business, so they can begin to income to help support themselves and their children.
The children will also have a permanent home where we will provide all of their needs. We will create a profile for each child and their needs. We will then give our partners the opportunity to sponsor a child and have the ability to have direct communication with them through letters, pictures, postcards, etc.
Kenya is a beautiful place, but it lacks resources to protect and help women and children. According to the WHO, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. In Kenya, according to the most recent national data (which was published in 2014), about 41% of women reported having experienced physical or sexual violence from their husbands or partners in their lifetime. This is a serious issue that will take private individuals like us to go and help whenever we can. There are no government assistance programs or anywhere for these women to go, especially those who live in the villages (which is where we are going to be).
Imagine being a woman in an abusive relationship in Kenya where you feel stuck with no way out. You live so far out in a small village. Your abuser beats you and your only hope is your voice. A voice to scream for help and pray that a good neighbor will hear you and come to your rescue. You have no 911 to call for help, not even a cellphone or minutes to use.
You cry at night and wipe the tears off in the morning and act as if nothing happened. You stay because you know that your kids will have a roof over their heads and some food to eat. You stay because there is nowhere else to go. No government assistance, no shelters in your village for you and your children to temporarily go to, no nothing. So, you stay. You have no education to look for even a minimum wage job because they require at least a high school diploma, and you only speak a tribal language because your parents couldn’t afford to provide education to you. You have no skills, and you now feel forced to live with it and tough it out.
If you leave, you and your children will be hungry and homeless. But if you stay, he will beat you again because he knows you have no other option. You stay hoping for a better day tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes. Can you imagine that? I have seen it firsthand. I have responded to those screams. It’s devastating to watch and feel helpless. I choose to do something. I choose to get up and go with hopes to make a difference.
But we can’t do this alone. We need people to partner with us to help us bring this dream to reality. First of all, we need water. Our goal is to make the center as self-sufficient as possible. We will drill a water well that will provide fresh water to the community, for the center, and for irrigation to grow food on the land to feed those that we will keep. We need solar power so that we have a dependable power source. Our mission is to give hope to women and children of Kenya. We would love to have you as part of giving hope. This is a giant dream that will take a whole village to bring it to reality, and we want you as part of that village. Our vision is to change one life at a time, to give a hand up, not a handout. As they say, if you give a man or a woman a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man or a woman to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
For anyone who may be currently in a long-distance relationship and don’t know if it can work… I’m here to encourage you that it is possible. We did it, one letter at a time. One conversation a month. Trust the process and trust your partner. If you are meant to be, God will make a way no matter what. Stay committed and talk through your fears. Don’t hold it in. Communication is key. I would also like to encourage anyone who may have a dream that feels like it’s never going to happen, to not give up. Keep moving, keep praying, keep planning and it will come to fruition. Ours has taken over a decade and we are still yet to see it in real life. But by Imani (Faith), our dream will soon be a reality.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Veronicah Richards from Peoria, IL. You can follow her journey on Facebook, GoFundme, and her website. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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