‘God has miraculously provided’ – Meet the ‘Mama and Daddy’ of Watu Wa Maana

By Laura J. Gates

When God calls, he equips. Wanjiru Waira Kamau and her husband John Kanyoni know this to be true. These obedient servants have walked by faith for more than two decades in the vision God has given them to care for street children in Ruiru, Kenya.

“God has miraculously continued to provide,” said John. “The children have never slept hungry.”

Once, when there was nothing to feed the children, a woman drove in with a giant pot of stew and bread—an uncommonly hearty meal in Ruiru. “So many times, God has surprised us with provision when we waited upon him,” John said.

Meals were just the beginning of the blessings God had in mind for Watu Wa Maana Children’s Centre. The Lord has brought workers alongside John and Wanjiru to provide spiritual training, discipleship, educational tutoring, and emotional nurturing. God has also provided financially, placing it in the hearts of individuals and organizations to sponsor higher education and facility improvements.

Alice Sweet, founder of Haven of Hope International, is one of them.

About five years ago, Alice visited Watu Wa Maana through connections with a partnering organization. She was moved by John and Wanjiru’s servant hearts, strong faith, and a fervent desire to do more for the children in their care.

Her response was to buy shoes. Children’s feet grow quickly, and they didn’t have shoes to start the upcoming school year.

“My goodness, you should’ve seen the children’s excitement when Alice bought them all new shoes!” Wanjiru said. “They never had new shoes—always second-hand.”

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At the time, Haven of Hope was busy strengthening the program for its flagship orphan home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, but Alice knew God was leading the organization into the next phase—helping other orphanages around the world adopt this successful model to rescue, love, restore and equip abandoned children.

Each year, Wanjiru and John sent the children to school with a promise note that they would pay school fees by mid-term. They never knew how it would happen. Wanjiru fasted and spent sleepless nights pleading with the Lord to provide. He always did.

“God ensured Haven of Hope always had the funds just when we needed them,” Wanjiru said. “He is so faithful!”

Now, John and Wanjiru are trusting God to provide for the construction of a Dream Center—a place where young adults could go for vocational training. It’s important these youth have a way to support themselves, keeping them from returning to the streets.

“Out there are people who are ready to partner with us—because it’s not our work,” John said. “It’s God’s work. He provides for them.”

No longer street urchins but ‘Very Important People’

John and Wanjiru didn’t envision this life when they were married 24 years ago. Together, they had six children. After Wanjiru gave her life to the Lord in 1999, God would call her to become “mama” to dozens more.

Today, 35 children live at Watu Wa Maana, and 24 more have been reunited with their families while continuing to be supported in their secondary education; nine others are now young adults in college. At one time, as many as 50 children lived at the home.

In Swahili, they’re known as “chokora”—street urchins. There is an epidemic of abandoned, abused, and neglected children due to a series of political and economic catastrophes. People don’t have jobs. Many are alcoholics. Women often turn to prostitution for income, resulting in numerous children they can’t afford to feed. So, the children are sent to the streets to beg.

The ones who come to Watu Wa Maana learn quickly never to refer to themselves as chokora.

“We tell them, ‘Don’t allow anyone to call you that name again,” Wanjiru said. “You have the name of our home now: Watu Wa Manna. That means in Swahili ‘very important people.’”

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It all began with a word from the Lord Wanjiru received as she was praying for the children she daily passed on the streets. They begged for bread, but God intended to give them the Bread of Life.

“Something in me—I now know this was the Holy Spirit—asked, ‘Who is going to teach the street children about God?’ And the same voice said, ‘You are.’”

When Wanjiru shared this with her pastor, he told her the Lord had given her a ministry. “I said, ‘No, that’s work for evangelists, not for me. I am not a pastor.’”

The next time Wanjiru passed a group of street children, she paused and asked, “Would you like to be preached to?” To her surprise, they replied, “Yes Mama, we want to hear the Word of God. Nobody teaches us.”

Along with some other believers, Wanjiru and John arranged a time for the children to hear the Gospel. Fifty-two children showed up, and 42 of them put their faith in Jesus Christ that day.

Later, Wanjiru collected donations to purchase second-hand clothing and food for the children. After the children washed in the river and put on their new clothes, God gave her new eyes to really see them.

“Those children looked so beautiful,” she said. “From that day, our hearts just locked.”

They began hosting a Sunday service for the children. When there was no money to feed them, “someone walked in and gave us 100 Kenyan shillings for the 50 children that had gathered,” Wanjiru said. “It took exactly 20 shillings to buy each child a meal, so we had exactly what was needed.”

Wanjiru and John organized a fundraiser to build a temporary shelter for the children who had no home or parent to care for them. At first, it housed nine children. That number quickly doubled, then tripled.

“Within a month, we had 30 children in this place,” Wanjiru said. “We relied on the Lord and continued by faith.”

They eventually found a property outside of Nairobi, in nearby Ruiru, and God put it on the owner’s heart to give it to John and Wanjiru for their children’s home. They started with two volunteers—a woman to help care for the children and a pastor to teach God’s Word.

Today, with help from Haven of Hope, their staff includes a social worker, a campus manager, a boys’ dorm father/chaplain, a girls’ dorm mother/cook, another dorm mother for the smallest girls, and a security guard.

The vision: ‘Fully equipped’ young adults living with purpose

John tells the children of Watu Wa Maana that they are “affluent in the gospel.” He tells them to declare: “I know there is a God in heaven. If not for God, I would not be alive and be able to attend school. I will take the gospel of the Lord and carry it further, so many more can come to know the Love of Christ.”

As the center’s Mama, Wanjiru is the chief prayer warrior and day-to-day operations manager.

“She is tender and nurturing,” John said. “We complement each other very well. I’m more of an administrator, trainer and lecturer.”

Do they ever grow weary of the immense work it takes to care for so many children with complex needs?

“We don’t feel the burden,” Wanjiru said. “Without Watu Wa Maana, I wouldn’t know who I am. It’s just what we are supposed to be doing.”

Wanjiru holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She and John have also participated in a training program through Haven of Hope developed for caregivers of traumatized children. They recently received a scholarship to travel to Chicago for certification in Trust-Based Relationship Intervention and now feel better equipped.

“Before, we had been concentrating on correcting the children, but we didn’t know the best way to connect with the children so the correction would make sense to them,” John said. “Now we know about trauma and how it affects the children. Some are not able to speak up. Now we are equipped with activities. There is more connection with the children, and the children are able to express themselves better.”

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John and Wanjiru are translating training materials into Swahili so directors of other orphan homes in Kenya and Tanzania can access it in their native language.

“John and Wanjiru are on a mission to make a lasting impact beyond the walls of Watu Wa Maana,” said Alice, who is helping them chart a course for improvements.

They have great expectations for the children who live on their campus.

“Children who leave Watu Wa Maana will be fully equipped, find their purpose in God, and will go out to serve as men and women of God,” John said.

They proudly tell the story of Peter, who came to them at age 6 and asked if they could take him to school.

“He gave his life to Christ, and Peter loved the Lord so, so much,” Wanjiru said. “He was the only child who came for prayers with us every Thursday morning.”

Although they had no money for postsecondary education, the Lord provided a sponsor for Peter to get a bachelor’s degree in education. “Now Peter is not only a high school teacher, but he is also married, a leader in their church and blessed with two children,” said Mama Wanjiru.

Now that Haven of Hope has come alongside to help build a Dream Center, more children at Watu will be able to train for vocations—even those who do not qualify for university.

“We have the land, we have the government’s authority to build—it’s all ready,” Wanjiru said. “Therefore, we ask the people of God to help us build this Dream Center.”

Their campus has other needs, too. Physical structures need upgrades and repairs. The boys’ dorm needs an indoor restroom, there’s no hall where everyone can gather at once, and the children could use additional recreation equipment. Sustainability projects, in early stages of development, provide another opportunity for vital support.

John and Wanjiru know the Lord will provide for the children—just as He always has. Looking around Watu Wa Maana, John observes, “This is just a miracle; it is all God’s doing.”

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