Written by Jami Staples
The life and ministry of Andrea Hellemann is plotted with catchy quotes, titling each season like a room in an art exhibit. When Andrea first told her parents she wanted to be a missionary they very calmly replied, “Why don’t you do something normal first.” But a few years into her nursing degree, a guest speaker singled her out of 150 of her peers and said, “You look like someone who wants to go to Africa.” Over the next few years, God gently painted a masterpiece in Andrea’s life. While each stroke undoubtedly highlighted the hues of previous seasons, it’s the way those colors look in light of her current work with Safina Street Kids Network that keeps her captivated by His sovereignty.
“I’m not good with names,” she said, her German accent punctuating each vowel. “But right now there are 150 kids at Safina and I can tell you the name of every child and where they go to school.”
That’s an impressive feat considering none of those kids actually live within the physical walls of Safina’s property. The Social Services office in Dodoma, Tanzania holds fast to the illusion that there will always be enough family members to care for displaced children. Therefore, they are repulsed by the suggestion of a government sponsored orphanage. So every day Andrea and her team open their doors to offer a hearty meal and a short devotional to any child who survived the night. “Food builds rapport,” she reasons. “Most won’t tell the truth about their life on the first visit. We need them to come back regularly in order to help them. They will always come back to eat.”
It isn’t long before each child comes to see Safina as a safe place. Unlike their life on the streets, there is no pressure here—no caveats, no refusals. In fact, Andrea recounts many times pursuing the children even when they have been arrested. Taking a personal interest in their welfare, however delinquent, makes Safina the only figure of stability these kids may know. Abandoning them to a corrupt justice system rarely promotes rehabilitation, and certainly not independence. By teaching and modeling Christ, even within discipline, Andrea and her team give these kids a whole new picture of who they can become.
The evolution of a lost child’s hope
There are times when family members can become a powerful advocate for an orphan if assisted with things like school fees and healthcare needs. Therefore, Safina always seeks to restore the family unit first. Unfortunately, the undertones of each child’s history can significantly complicate their future.
“Bahati was physically ill with fear as we approached his village” Andrea explains, reminiscing over a photo taken when he first arrived at Safina. Considering his background, she knew his anxiety was warranted. Still, she prayed for a miracle as they journeyed closer to his past.
After gathering information from various family members, however, the possibilities for Bahati faded. His parents had died, leaving him with a disgruntled elder sister and her husband. Unwilling to care for him but being left with no choice, Bahati’s sister simply refused to feed him. The dishonor bestowed on the family when he was forced to steal his daily bread required discipline. “We tied him to a tree and beat him,” the family told Andrea, “but even that didn’t help”.
Within weeks of coming to Safina, Bahati begged to go to school. Being well aware of his fate should he return to his village, Andrea’s team located a supportive family who would care for his daily needs while Safina funded his education. “You see now he’s always smiling,” she boasts, watching a progression in his pictures. Ruminating his victories, Bahati’s joy reflects on Andrea’s face.
A battle for the mind
It’s not hard to understand why these children come to Safina. It’s the lure of escaping reality, even if only for a meal. In recent months, however, Andrea and her team have discovered kids turning to new escape mechanisms. One affordable lure for street kids is sniffing glue, a readily available inhalant that dulls the mind and senses. Before the issue became epidemic, the local hospitals were willing to hold those coming from jail cells for a few days of rehabilitation before turning them over to groups like Safina. However, as the habit overwhelms the streets, resources and expertise are vanishing and the hospitals are now refusing to treat addicted children.
“There’s nowhere for them to go right now,” Andrea says, her eyes exposing her heart’s distress. “We want to help but we are out of space and would need a unique staff to handle detox programs.”
The success rate for rehabilitating glue addicts depends entirely on how long they have been exposed. Andrea struggles with the obvious need and her own desires to offer a solution before it’s too late. For her, each child that enters Safina represents the potential for a regenerate life. She knows that if these kids choose Christ at a young age, their experience empowers them to minister to those who follow. These kids become a crucial part of the hope for Christ centered churches in Africa. But in Dodoma, Tanzania, it’s a race for their hearts and their minds.
Safina Street Kids Network has been reaching children of Tanzania with the Gospel for fourteen years. Every day, they paint another gray canvas with the color and beauty of Jesus’ blood. But as glue sniffing and other temptations lure these children back into the streets, one could easily put quotes around the thoughts few of us can bear to verbalize:
“How many will be lost before they see the hope of Christ’s healing hand?”