(EDITOR'S NOTE: Home-Grown Missions profiles missionaries, both full- and part-time, who grew up in area churches. As part of an on-going series, letters home from those serving on the mission field occasionally also will be published.)
"Have you lost your minds?"
Friends asked Travis and Lorna Winner Curry that when they announced they were moving to Namibia, Africa, to serve as directors of Children of Zion Village Orphanage - which they like to call a children's home, not an orphanage.
Travis and Lorna Winner Curry have served as directors of Children of Zion Village Orphanage in Namibia, Africa, for two years. They work with 61 people, from infants to 21 year olds old.
"If you have God for your father, no one's an orphan," Travis said.
They are in charge of 61 people, aged infant to 21 years old, and a staff of 20 natives, some of whom serve as teachers on the 17 acres of property. They are the only foreigners.
The primary language in the area is English, but everyone has their tribal languages, which some of the children like to use. The Currys are working on learning the local language.
NAME: Travis and Lorna Winner Curry
AGES: 55, 53
HOME CHURCH: Norcross First United Methodist Church, Norcross, Ga., St. John's Newberry United Methodist Church
HOMETOWN: Anniston, Ala.; Williamsport
HIGH SCHOOL: Lavenworth Senior High School, Lavenworth, Kan., Williamsport Area High School
COLLEGES: Old Donminion University, Norfolk, Va., and University of Southern California; Lycoming College and Georgia State University
SENDING ORGANIZATION: The Mission Society, Norcross, Ga.
MISSION FIELD: Orphanage ministry
START DATE: Oct. 12, 2010
WEB SITE or BLOG: themissionsociety.org/people/curry
After Lorna's first mission trip in 2003, she often talked about it with Travis, who had not gone with her.
"God really blessed my heart," Lorna said.
Later, they went on a mission trip together and Lorna continually would ask if he wanted to be a missionary.
What stopped him was his son, Terrell, who, because of cerebral palsy, could not talk or walk. He would not be able to care for him from so far away.
A few months after Terrell's death in January 2009, they were invited to The Mission Society to talk about their work in Nicaragua. After the visit, they received a call from the director of mobilization to see if they were interested in long-term missions.
In October of that year, they began candidate orientation at The Mission Society. By late November, they learned they were unanimously approved by the board of directors to be the new directors of an orphanage. They were not told where it was, but they searched using the little information they knew.
They found that directors Gary and Rebecca Mink ended their long-term field ministry at the Children of Zion Village Orphanage in August 2009, but they had no idea if that would be where they were called.
Shortly after they received the call, Travis looked at a bottle of wine a friend had brought to a meal and read the label: "Africa has a way of bringing out the best in people. With its magnitude and raw beauty, and the intensity of day-to-day living, Africa draws on one's deepest spiritual resources. Rebecca and Gary Mink moved from the U.S. to the wilds of the Caprivi in Northern Namibia, where they founded the Children of Zion Village to care for children orphaned by AIDS. Their immense courage and spirit however, could not fully offset their limited financial resources, and they were soon overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem. An urgent call was sent for goats - and immediately a group of young does and bucks from our Goats do Roam herd volunteered, rushing north to supply our nutritious milk and gentile company."
"It was not a coincidence," Lorna said.
They later discovered they were correct, but were warned about where they were going. Everything breaks. It's dirty. There are snakes. It sometimes floods.
"If this is where God is calling us to go, we will go and he will take care of us," Lorna said.
By Oct. 12, 2010, they quit their jobs and sold their belongings.
Now, they have spent almost two years at the children's home and the description was right. Everything has broken, including a wheel popping off Lorna's car while she drove. It is dirty. They have pictures of wild animals close up. And it does sometimes flood.
The property sits on the Zambezi River, the fourth largest river in Africa, which is both a blessing, since it supplies their water, and a curse.
Since the couple began operating the orphanage, the flooding has not warranted an evacuation, but they know it always is possible.
"There's no way to transport all of the children at once," Lorna said.
When the river does flood, their only transport is by boat and space is limited.
The biggest blessing and challenge for Lorna are the children. More than half of the 61 children are teenagers or older.
"If we make a decision they don't like, they won't talk to us for a week," Lorna said.
That includes a curfew for the entire orphanage, which Travis said parents can understand.
The children are placed by a court order after a social worker identifies them for safety or abandonment reasons.
"We hope and pray all children will be united with their families," Travis said.
Lorna has the same hopes and that they will be raised in a Christian home and receive an education.
They will keep the children as long as they continue their schooling. Some of the 21 year olds only are in their sophomore or junior years.
Yet they hope the children will be discharged because a bedtime of 8 or 9 p.m. just is not appropriate for someone that old, Travis said.
The unemployment rate in the area is 40 percent and many of the children do not see how having an education will help them.
They only have one student studying at a senior level and that is a girl who Lorna described as very smart and planning to go to university.
"That'll be a success story," she said.
They also consider reuniting seven children with their families as a success since before they arrived it hadn't happened.
Returning to field
After a three-month furlough, Travis and Lorna will leave the U.S. Nov. 24 to return to Namibia. They will not come back for another two years.
Everyone is called to be a missionary, whether it's across the street, in the school or with a family member, Lorna said.
"We got an exceptional call," she said.
"The need is different," Travis said. "Each of us has different gifts we have to serve the Lord."
While it was difficult to give up everything they had, Lorna found she did not need it.
"The last two years, I wore the same five skirts," she said. "It's nice to have stuff. We didn't have to have stuff."
She accepted that sometimes no water would come out after turning on the faucet, that the electricity sometimes would go out for a whole day or that she would have to sleep under a mosquito net.
"God has protected us from that kind of harm," Lorna said.
While there is no typical day at Children of Zion Village, they keep a basic routine throughout the week.
The children wake up between 5:30 and 6 a.m. and those who are HIV-positive take their medicine. They eat breakfast before school starts at 7 a.m. They receive a mid-morning break at school, then return until lunch and then again until 4 p.m., when it is time for chores. The older children help by washing clothes.
Dinner is at 6 p.m. and they try to get the students to take showers before dinner.
After dinner they have free time, which can include a sports day on Wednesday when the children play a seasonally-appropriate sport. Everyone goes inside by 7 p.m.
Students with the privilege can visit the town Saturday mornings, but they must be back by the deadline or else they will walk the four miles home.
"Yes, people have been left," Travis said.
Lorna holds a Bible study Saturday afternoons.
Saturday night they do something with everyone involved, such as a movie or game night.
On Sunday, Travis holds a church service and then they go for a walk with the children, wherever they want to go.
"The first couple of times, we didn't know where they were going," Lorna said.
The children love swimming and if the weather is nice enough they allow them to swim in the Zambezi River.
On the Sunday before the couple left for their furlough, they let the children swim and Travis delighted them by throwing Lorna in the water.
"The kids went crazy," Travis said. "It was a big connecting point. They pulled me in next."
There are staff devotions to hold, food and maintenance shopping to do, hospital runs to provide and repairs to make. They are the only drivers in the village. Transporting someone to the hospital can take eight hours because of the long queues to register, take the temperature, consult and give a prescription.
"It takes a long time," Lorna said. "There are people everywhere. They'll sit right on top of you."