When God says go

God was calling Mary Long.

At first, the idea of going to Africa was a little frightening. Mary was concerned about her family’s safety once she got there as well as the Conway home she was leaving behind for two weeks.

Mary and her three teenaged children were set to go with husband John to Tanzania to wash children’s feet, give them new shoes and make sure they heard the words, “Yesu anakupenda,” Swahili for Jesus loves you.

But just as God had called Mary, He also calmed her.

“The closer and closer it got to the time, God just calmed me,” she said.

The Long family spent the first half of December halfway around the world giving out shoes through Samaritan’s Feet while spreading the love of Christ.

Despite those initial fears she had about she and the kids making their first mission trip to Africa, she quickly felt at ease by the warmth of the people there.

“We didn’t feel threatened,” Mary said. “We felt welcomed. I fell in love with them.”

John took his first mission trip to the area in 2012. He was so blown away that he knew Mary and the kids needed to experience it, too.

“John was right. God was right,” Mary said. “It just felt right once we got there.”

And not just for mom and dad.

“It turned out to be the best thing for our children,” Mary said.

The Long children have always had a servant’s heart, their mother said, but in Africa, “it was shining bright” during the trip where they gave out 4,700 pairs of shoes, fed hungry children and spoke about Christ to a willing, yet unreached people.

“They had not even heard about Jesus before,” Mary said.

One night, as John, an attorney by trade, spoke at a gathering, 37 people were led to Christ.

A help to the hurting

Most of the people the Longs ministered to were children, boys in particular.

Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has a population of more than 41 million, with a life expectancy of 52 and a median age of 18. Those living there are at a very high risk of contracting major infectious diseases such as Hepatitis A, Typhoid fever, bacterial diarrhea, malaria and the plague.

“The city boys” who especially caught the Longs’ hearts are the homeless young men living in the city of Mwanza in Tanzania. It is estimated there are currently 200 of these boys who are orphaned. Some are parentless because their parents have died or have abandoned them. Some have run away while others have been kicked out of the home.

“They just went to the city to survive there, living hand-to-mouth,” John said.

The Longs hope to be a part of changing that through the Anza Imani Rescue Foundation. It is currently constructing an orphanage to care for and love these kids who are completely on their own with no family support. Most of them are in their early teens and younger.

The Anza Imani Rescue Center will ultimately house 120 boys in a safe environment about 30 miles outside of the city on 20-plus acres of clear countryside. The compound will include dormitories, a dining hall and kitchen, administrative housing, a church, a school and a medical clinic.

Spreading the gospel is at the forefront of the center, but it will also teach the boys skills such as carpentry or mechanics.

“They have a place to live, to learn a trade and to learn about Jesus,” John said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

The foundation hopes to buy more surrounding land to be used for rice farming so the rescue center can be self-sustaining and independently support itself. Construction is underway on the first phase of the project, a building which will provide a place for its first eight boys as well as a temporary residence for staff. The project also includes a critical water well to provide clean drinking water as well as sanitation.

Partial funding has been obtained, but more is needed to make the full project a reality.

“There’s no doubt we’re led to help this organization. I don’t know why we’re led, but Mary and I both agree we can’t deny we’re supposed to help these children,” John said. “They desperately need help. They’re almost forgotten children. They’re just looking for someone to pay them attention.”

Mary wholeheartedly agrees.

“Our mission right now is to raise awareness for the orphanage,” Mary said.

Part of that is John’s speaking engagements around the area. But it’s not just all talk from the Longs. In order to do what they believe God is calling them to do, they have put their Conway home up for sale. When they returned from Africa, they took a long hard look at their finances. They knew God was leading them to be more involved in helping financially with the orphanage. They also knew their home was their biggest expense.

“It keeps us from serving how we need to serve,” Mary said. “We felt like it was something that was holding us back.”

That decision wasn’t easy for her.

“The house I love. The house I love to pieces,” Mary said. “This has been my prize...I think we’ve changed our prize.”

The Longs are looking to lower their home expenses so they can funnel those savings into the orphanage.

A Coke and a smile

The Longs have been frequently asked why the need to go across the world to help people.

“So many people have said to us, ‘Isn’t there something closer to home you could do,’” she said.

While Mary knows there are folks in her area who need help, we also have many organizations here who are set up to provide such help. There they have none. That lack of resources struck her the most.

“I think that’s what hit me the hardest,” she said.

It hit her hard and transformed her life.

“It changed my heart. It changed my view of the needs out there,” Mary said. “It’s hard to explain the strong draw back to help there.”

Mary remembers one particular incident where she was photographing some of the children, which they love. The normal meal consists of rice and beans and sometimes meat. On this occasion, it also included a special treat, soft drinks the missionaries provided. One of the boys had rice in one hand and a Coke in the other and was insisting that Mary take his picture.

“He feels like a wealthy man today,” Mary was told when she inquired why the urgency to take the photo. “He has food and drink.”

John was also impressed by the experience.

“They felt like they were rich, having food and soft drinks at the same time,” he said. “It sure puts things in perspective.”

A mother’s love

Mary kept a journal while in Africa and has already read through it three times since returning home.

“Since I’ve gotten home, I don’t want to forget a minute,” she said.

In her last entry of the trip, she wrote,

“During this trip to Africa, God has opened my heart and mind in a way that I can’t explain. Only He can change a person like I was changed. I felt pain for those that were sick and hurt. I felt a mother’s love for those that were dirty and had threadbare clothes. I felt a strong desire to help! The children were craving affection. It is hard to imagine a child not being hugged or kissed. It hurts to know that there are children sleeping outside alone at night on the street cold and hungry.”

God broke John and Mary’s hearts for the children of Africa. They will never be the same. If you are also led to help, visit www.anaimani.org to learn more and to donate online.