By Jan Latsha as told to Kirsten Roggenkamp.
“Martha, please come sit here by me. We need to talk,” my mother spoke softly. “Here, give me the baby.”
The other children had gone outside. Mum nursed the baby while she talked. “Martha, I have the same sickness as your father did. I’m going to die, too.”
“Mum, please don’t say you’re going to die,” I said with tears rolling down my face. “Who will take care of us?”
“I must tell you what to do while I still can,” Mum spoke slowly and quietly. “You must take care of the others.”
“I’m too young. How can I take care of four younger children?” I asked.
“My daughter, do you believe in God?” my mother said.
“Yes, mother, you know I believe in God,” I said, touching her thin hand.
“You will pray to God. He will show you what to do. Now call your brother and sisters to come to talk to me,” Mum insisted in her weak voice.
I went outside and called Letuya, Esther, and Gladys. “Mum wants to talk to you. Come in quietly. The baby has fallen asleep.”
“You’ve been crying. What’s wrong, Martha?” Esther asked.
“Mum will tell you,” I said as the words caught in my throat.
My younger siblings gathered around the bed. “The doctor says that I have the same disease as your father did. He says that I will die soon. Martha will have to be both your mother and your father. All of you must obey her and help her all you can. You must help take care of the baby. You must help Martha with the cooking, getting water from the river, and washing your clothes. If all of you work together, it will be easier for everyone. Promise me that you will do what I say,” Mum tried to sound stern, but she started crying instead.
“Now promise,” she said.
“I promise,” said Gladys, the youngest besides the baby.
“I promise,” said Esther, who was just younger than me.
“I promise,” said Letuya, the brother between Esther and Gladys in age.
“Martha, you must promise to take care of your brothers and sisters,” Mum could only whisper.
“I promise,” I said.
The tears came down Mum’s face. They quickly spread to all the other faces. The family members hugged each other and cried some more. The baby woke up and he cried, too.
“Mum, you are very tired. You must rest now. Esther and I will find something to make for supper. Letuya and Gladys can look after baby brother,” I was learning my new job in the family.
After a few days Mum changed. She didn’t move, she didn’t talk; she just lay on the bed. I touched her chest. Her heart was still. It wasn’t beating anymore. Esther was there with me. “I, I, I think she’s dead,” I said.
Esther felt for her heartbeat too. “Her heart has stopped, and she isn’t breathing. She must be dead,” she said.
“We must stop crying and figure out what to do,” I told Esther,
“I will go and tell Auntie. She will know what to do,” Esther said, and went out the door to find our aunt.
Auntie called the church members. Soon our tiny house was filled with people who tried to comfort us.
“You mustn’t cry. When Jesus comes back, you will see your mother again,” they told us. But we cried just the same.
Some of the men went to the graveyard to dig a hole. Auntie and some of the ladies prepared her body for burial. The men carried her to the graveyard while we followed behind. Someone prayed and quoted from the Bible, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, NIV). Then we walked back home.
At home, the four of us clung together and cried. The baby didn’t understand and smiled and laughed.
“What will we do?” Esther asked.
“Yes, what will we do?” Letuya echoed.
“We will do everything we can to take care of each other,” I answered. “We have this house built for Mum by people from the church.”
“Yeah,” said Esther, looking up, “the ceiling is made from some strange kind of paper and it leaks.”
“We can take a shower when it rains,” Gladys giggled.
She wasn’t exaggerating by much. We did get wet when it rained.
“It’s all we have,” I said. “We must think of ways to get food.”
“Esther and I can go to dig potatoes,” I said. “The neighbor will pay us 50 shillings ($.50 US) a day so we can buy maize and beans.”
“Gladys and I will watch the baby,” Letuya said.
“Mum would want us to go to school,” I said. “We must go to school whenever we can.”
The days and weeks went by. Sometimes someone from the church brought us food or clothes.
We prayed about our needs as Mum had told us to, but sometimes we were hungry. Even when we were hungry, we did our best to feed the baby. Then I noticed the baby was coughing a lot. It sounded just like the cough that Mum and Dad had.
“Baby is sick. Have you noticed he’s coughing?” I told the others.
“Yes, we’ve heard him,” Letuya said.
“I must take him to the hospital,” I said.
“We will stay home and wait for you. I will dig potatoes while you are gone,” Esther volunteered.
We knelt together and prayed for our baby brother. The next morning, I carried him on my back, walking along the road for hours to get to the hospital. He cried and cried. I cried, too.
Walking along, I remembered when Mum was in the hospital. No one else was able to care for her so I did it. I fixed her food and fed her. I helped her wash herself and change her clothes. It was a hard job for a young girl, but I loved her and had to do it. When she got better, the doctor let her come home. How we all loved having her at home with us. But she got worse again. That’s when she died.
The doctor at the hospital gave the baby some medicine and gave me a bottle of pills to give him every day. “I believe that he has the same disease as your parents did. Pray that the medicine will help him,” he said. I saw that tears were glistening in his eyes. “You are a good girl to take such good care of your little brother.”
I wrapped him up again and carried him on my back. Still he cried and cried. After a while he stopped crying. Good, I thought, he’s sleeping. Sleep will be good for him. I was so tired, but I had to keep on walking. Finally, I saw our poor little house in the distance. I needed to hurry. The children would be hungry so I must cook for them. I laid the baby on the bed and started the little fire on the floor between the two cowhide beds in our tiny boma (house).
While the food cooked over the fire, I turned to check on the baby. He was quiet, not moving. I touched him and he felt cold. I screamed. The other children came running into the house.
“Where’s the baby?” Letuya asked.
“He’s on the bed,” I answered.
Letuya touched him and said, “He feels cold. Oh no, he’s dead, too.” Then he screamed. So did Esther and Gladys.
“Please, God, not another. Three people in our family. Please, please, God, not another,” I cried out to God.
Esther ran to get our auntie. Then the people from the church came. Some men dug a hole in the graveyard next to our mother. “Let me wash the baby,” I told the church ladies. “I will dress him.”
Letuya carried our baby brother to the graveyard while the church people walked behind him. Someone recited the same Bible verse as when our mother was buried. Someone prayed. The men put the baby in the hole. The people said that we shouldn’t cry because we would see him again when Jesus comes back. But I couldn’t stop sobbing and neither could Esther, Gladys, and Letuya.
When we got home, our supper had burned. No one cared. It would have stuck in our throats anyway. We knelt in a circle in our tiny house with the leaky roof while each of us prayed.
“Dear God, we can’t stand any more. First it was Father, then Mum, and now baby brother. Please God, no more deaths. We need food, clothes, and to be able to go to school. Mum said to pray to you. Please help us,” I prayed.
Esther prayed next. “Dear God, we are so sad. We know that we will see Mother and Father and baby brother when Jesus comes, but we can’t stop crying now. Please God, help us now.”
Then Letuya prayed. “Dear God, we are very sad. We don’t know what to do. Please help us.”
Gladys prayed last, “Please God, help us.”
Every day we did the best we could. Esther and I dug potatoes. Letuya looked after Gladys. Often, we were discouraged. Often, we were hungry. After about a year, a special visitor came to church. His name was Pastor James Nanka. He was the lay pastor at Megwara. His wife was teaching many of the people there to read. He saw us at the church and asked about us. Some of the men from the church showed him our house with the leaky roof. They told him how we dug potatoes to make a little bit of money and how we often had to miss school. “We try to help them, but we don’t have much either,” they said.
Pastor Nanka talked to us. “Would you like to go to school every day? Would you be willing to live in my village?”
He seemed like such a kind man that I said yes for all of us.
“Get your things ready. I will come for you in a few days,” he told us.
Some of our relatives were not pleased. They thought that we should stay in our village with our family. Whenever we could go to school, we loved it. No matter if our relatives were upset, we would go with Pastor Nanka; we would go to school.
Fifteen years have gone by. First, we went to Siana Boarding School and stayed at James Nanka’s house on holidays. We had food, we had clothes, we could go to school. The Nankas have five children of their own. They treated us just like their own children so then they had nine.
Esther had a hot temper. Sometimes she fought with the Nankas’ children. James talked to her quietly, trying to understand the problem. She still had temper problems, so James took her away to fast and pray. God cured her bad temper.
After several years, Jan Latsha with help from many people, built the Maasai Development Project Educational Centre and we lived there and walked to school. All four of us loved to study and received good grades in school. We studied music and joined the choir. Esther and I were leaders among the girls at the “project.” Now I have gone to the university and become a laboratory technician and have a job. Esther just graduated as a pharmacist. Letuya will soon graduate as an electrical engineer. And Gladys is waiting for the scores from her exams to see whether she can go to a university or a trade school.
From left to right: Letuya, Esther, James and Everline Nanka, Gladys, and Martha celebrate Esther’s graduation at the Nankas’ home.
Actually, Esther, Letuya, Gladys, and I were the first children to be cared for by the Maasai Development Project that became our guardians. In any case, we are extremely grateful for how our lives have been blessed. We think of Pastor Nanka as a second father, and we can’t thank Jan Latsha enough for all she has done for us and the other children.
Now I must ask you a question. Did God answer our prayers? Did He help us as Mum said that He would? Can He be trusted to care for His children?
My answer is yes, a thousand times over!
The parents and baby from this family all died from AIDS. The children didn’t understand that disease. To them the deaths were a great mystery. Unfortunately, AIDS is common in Africa.
When someone is hospitalized in Africa, a family member must come along to provide care for the patient. In some cases, a young child may be the caregiver just as Martha cared for her mother.
About the Maasai Development Project Educational Centre
The Maasai Development Project first opened the education center in 2010. After working for 20 years in Kenya, Jan Latsha, the project director, was asked to build a rescue home and was able to obtain a 50-year lease where the project was built. The long brick building houses 70 girls who want to escape the cutting or female genital mutilation as well as early marriage.
The younger girls attend the local public primary school. When they finish the eighth grade, they attend an Adventist boarding school in another part of Kenya. After finishing secondary school, the girls take the Kenyan exams. Their scores qualify them to attend a university or a trade school.
Jan Latsha spends most of her time in the United States, raising money for the project. While she is gone, James Nanka cares for the needs of the project and makes arrangements when another girl needs to be rescued. A matron cares for the girls whom they call Mum. Jan is in daily contact with James Nanka via email and telephone.
To find out more information about the Maasai Development Project, visit 4mdp.org.
“Rescuing Girls from FGM” — an Interview with Jan Latsha, August 14, 2020
“Freely You Have Received, Freely Give” and “Meriano’s Story” by Kirsten Roggenkamp and Jan Latsha, July 29, 2020
Kirsten Roggenkamp earned a BA and an MA from Andrews University and taught at all levels from headstart to high school, from Massachusetts to California. Since her retirement she and fellow teacher Heather Blaire have co-authored two Bible story books for children, Boldly Brave and Securely Strong, and one book of modern-day versions of Jesus’ parables for children to perform as skits or readers’ theater, 21st Century Parables. Kirsten’s greatest accomplishment in life was raising four outstanding sons.
Jan Latsha and her family went to Kenya as missionaries in 1989. She made friends with many the Maasai women living behind Maxwell Academy and began teaching the women to read in their own language, using the Maa Bible. When her family went back to the States, Jan continued her work with many trips back to Africa, establishing Maasai Development Project in 1989. In 2007 she was asked to build and operate a rescue home for Maasai girls escaping FGM and early marriage. The Maasai Development Project Education Centre opened in 2010 and is home to 75 girls who are receiving an education at the local primary school, Adventist Secondary Boarding Academies, and Universities.
Main photo (from left to right): Letuya, Esther, Martha, Gladys, and Francis. Francis is the eldest brother who had already left home at the time of the story. Images courtesy of Maasai Development Project.
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.