by Suzy Beck
I grew up in a small rural town in Pennsylvania as one of eight kids. My parents had four children of their own and they took care of dozens of kids via the foster care system before eventually adopting four of those kids who had become a permanent part of our family. My dad grew up in orphanages and foster homes himself and my mom worked in a class with mentally, physically and emotionally vulnerable kids. What my family lacked in financial resources we made up for by giving as much time and love to those in need as we could. I was encouraged to go to school and further my education so I could pursue a career that excited me.
I first heard about Jonathan's House in 2012 from my cousin, Denise. I had been working in the television industry for six years and had some very exciting experiences and adventures in that, but I felt like something was lacking from my life. When Denise told me about traveling to Central Africa with her friend Carter to help set up the infrastructure for what is now Jonatha's House in CAR, I felt an instant connection and knew I wanted to get involved. I had never been to Africa and I had never volunteered for an organization such as this so I didn't have any idea how to even get started. Denise put Jonathan and I in touch with Carter Strand and we began to have conversations about the need for photography and video to help bring the full story of Jonathan's House to people who haven't been there themselves. We immediately knew that this was something we could do to help and we couldn't wait to get started.
Traveling to the Central African Republic for the first time moved me in so many ways. When you strip away cell phones and the internet, tv and other western ways of living I find it nearly impossible not to feel the presence of God in everything. I realized that while it felt like my family gave so much with so little, we live in a country that has social services, infrastructure, a foster care system and many ways for children to receive the love and support they need. The children orphaned in CAR didn't have access to any of those things before Jonathan's House existed. Every one of us is created in the image of God and every child on earth deserves to have access to basic needs like love, shelter, food, healthcare and education. Jonathan's House is not only providing these inalienable rights to the children who live there but they are also empowering leaders in the local community to take care of the children who were born there. It's incredible to see how much God has done for this community by connecting those willing to give a little extra time, love, prayers and money to people who just need access to support to strengthen their own community.
I will never forget the first moment I drove up the hill to meet the kids and staff at Jonathan's House. It was pouring down rain but no one cared. I have never received a more joyful and welcoming greeting or felt more of God's presence in a group of people. We stayed for two weeks and slowly learned the names of all of the children and staff and made sure to put our cameras down as often as possible to spend quality time with them. We didn't speak each other's language but we were able to communicate as though we did.. From the oldest to the youngest, these kids stole every piece of my heart.
I had the honor of going back to Jonathan's House a second time in 2019 and could not believe how much the kids and community had grown. In three short years all of the kids living at Jonathan's House as well as the 400+ kids from the community who are attending the christian school had become visibly healthier (and more rambunctious!) than they had been before. In the hungriest country on earth, the school lunch program proved to be one of the best investments that could have been made for these kids. Receiving a healthy, nutritious meal and a multivitamin every single day helps their bodies and hair grow stronger, allows them to be more attentive in school so they can learn more easily and takes away the barrier from a half school day to a full school day. The medical center that was an empty rundown building in 2016 is now a vibrant and bustling community oasis that serves not only the children but the community at large - including mothers and their new babies! Samuel has been able to cultivate and grow his staff to bring life, love and God to these children who will be the next generation of leaders in the Central African Republic.
My faith, love and understanding of the World has grown exponentially through my connection with Jonathan's House. I know I have received more from my love for these kids and this community than I could ever give back in return. In every single one of my days, from the most mundane to the most extravagant, my heart is with those kids running and singing, learning and growing in the beautiful community God has built on that hill in CAR.