"... love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything—encores to the end of time. Oh, yes!"
1 Peter 4:10-11, The Message
What would YOU do if you won the lottery? There were varying answers as my family discussed it over the Easter weekend. Trips, multiple degrees, cars, weekend Broadway shows by personal plane ... the ideas were legion. What would YOUR answer be?
Let me tell you about Chi Ekwenye-Henricks. The last of 9 children born to a preacher in rural Nigeria, Chi understood all too well what war, starvation, and poverty can do to children. Still, the many homeless children of Nigeria continue to suffer from hunger and many manners of neglect and abuse. Ungoverned inflation and humiliating poverty have severely damaged the over-looked and mistreated children of Nigeria. Conditions such as child labour, homeless mothers and children, and babies considered refuse discarded in garbage cans are all too common sights in this country.
Growing up during the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970), Chi was not alien to the many issues of poverty and its effects. When Chi was beginning 7th grade, she saw a homeless woman and her baby outside her school gates. She would hear students make fun of the mother and taunt her. Over the years, this picture would stay with her. She remembered thinking, "Someone should at least take care of the baby..." From that moment, Chi decided her lifetime dream would be that if she could, she would help. To Chi, there was never any doubt as to how she would do it.
Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.” Jesus also said, “Follow me.”
Matthew 8:20 & Luke 9:58, The Message
Chi prayed, "Lord, I want to serve the people in my home country. "You're the only one who can do this for me. I'm just givin' it to You - take care of it, please." And He did.
In the late 90s, Chi was the very rare winner of an international Green Card drawing to come to the United States. But here's the wonder ... she only came to the United States for one reason: Chi came to save her own people.
After she came to the U.S. through a "one-in-a-million" lottery-style drawing for a green card, Chi attended undergraduate school in Atlanta, Georgia with the understanding from the Nigerian government that she would return upon graduation. But Chi thought she could only help her people with more education. So that's exactly what she did ... with more than one degree!
In Nigeria, she worked with the Imo State School System and the Ministry of Education as a teacher and as an inspector of education. Stateside she continued this experience by serving as the Adoption/Foster Care Social Worker for Georgia AGAPE, a Social Services Agency in the city of Atlanta. After her education, she returned to Nigeria and established Right Steps in Aba, Abia State, Nigeria. Visionary Dr Chi Ekwenye now has 30+ years experience working in the field of education and social work, including the doctorate she received in August of 2000.
Chi is the inspiration behind and the creator of Right Steps, holistic Christian mission designed to be a human rescue organization on both the physical and spiritual level. The organisation exists to walk with Christ and to serve not only the orphaned children of Nigeria but the many that are in need of the love of God. It works as a 501(c)3 non-profit NGO providingnot only the beauty of human rescue ... but development services for the children and female population in Nigeria.This month, April 2018, marks their 20th anniversary!
A 'RIGHT STEP'
The organization of Right Steps introduces programs that continue to grow as it provides shelter, care and rehabilitation to beggar mothers and their children. This service is also designed to shelter, nurture, and raise the many neglected and abandoned children of Nigeria. It is a mission of love directed by faithful members of several Atlanta churches who have been convicted to extend hope to those who have none. Ultimately, the goal of this mission is to provide help so that the children may reunite with their tribes and families.
So, what kind people find themselves drawn to this project? How do they come to the Susana Homes of Right Steps? Who is chosen to go through this program? "Chi goes out and grabs them," says Geoff Geisemann, stateside-president and chairman of the board to Right Steps. "But she chooses people who are in a position where they CAN and WANT to rehabilitate." Women wind up on the street for many different reasons." According to Chi's witness, their husbands may have kicked them out into the streets, and for others, their spouse may have died. They may have children or are pregnant with men coming and taking advantage of them. Many men make women promises to women on the street, but their words turn into rape. They kick them back to the street, and then the women find out they are pregnant.
And many times if the husband dies the woman is thought to be a witch or an evil spirit. She may get kicked out of her house or the community. If a child is chronically ill, they are also said to possess evil or maybe a witch so often they are not fed or are abandoned to the streets. Some children who are malnourished are bled to death because the family believes it may be an evil spirit and want to drain it out of them.” "This is the type of thing we are up against," Chi sighs, "not the government, as some may suggest. It will take a long time to educate them differently because these things are challenging to teach when it is a belief system so ingrained in my culture. But, we must be patient. Patience is everything in this kind of work."
During a stay at Right Steps, a woman begins understanding what it is like to belong to a family and become a productive member of a community.
Each woman learns a trade such as hair braiding, sewing, cooking, cleaning, and various other skills. There are also literacy classes, which are becoming a requirement for many jobs in Nigeria. In these classes, they also learn to count and add, read and write, sometimes in English but always in the local language. Many learn useful agricultural skills for when they set up their own homes. These mothers are also offered religious and moral instruction while forming new social relationships in their new homes and communities. Women that had no house or home before having the hope of a new life for themselves and their children when they leave Right Steps. Most of the mothers go back to the streets where they once were - not to return to an old way of life, but to bring food and medication to those still languishing on the streets.
The impact on their children is as extraordinary. It was quickly noted that the children were too weak to make the long walk to school, so they created one right there on the property of Susana Homes. Right Steps now has an extensive school, it has been noted as becoming one of the most invaluable assets to the community, and it's PERMANENT.
For those of you who are missionaries and have experienced the change of a child from almost dead to vibrant, you know what you are doing is of God. Chi reminds us what some gospel writers quoted of Jesus ...
"Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but many of God's children have no place to lay their heads."
Matthew 8:20 & Luke 9:56, NASB
Chi Ekwenye Hendricks
This one-in-a-million Green Card winner worked patiently on her education in the United States for years and sees nothing like as wall that God cannot break through. Her drive and focus have motivated and inspired many. Nigerian beggar women, incarcerated men, village children, street dwellers, and innumerable others have finally grasped that there is no one human being with a corner market on goals. Many former destitute of Nigeria are finding purpose and their dreams are realized through one woman, Chi Ekwenye-Hendricks, who was willing to go the distance for them.
A vision, a win, and a right step. Now THAT'S how to gain a victory. But Chi's success only proves that the true mystery of being a winner of any situation in life ... is Jesus.
Angie's original publication about Chi and Right Steps was in Christian Woman, 2002.
Let's just imagine for a moment that YOU live in a "third world" country such as Nigeria, other parts of Africa, or a great deal of Central and South America, and you suddenly got the chance to come to the United States, would you do it? And why?