Need is the Norm

Need is the Norm

In asking us to embrace the suffering and the struggle, Jesus is asking us to enter into a deeper trust and dependency on the truth of the gospel.

So here we are living at FAME (Friends of Africa Missionary Endeavour).

Our orphanage has around 130 kids, who are now our close neighbours, as well as a medical clinic, baby rescue unit, vocational training school, along with a Bible college.

My husband is working in the Bible College. For the kids and me, when we are not homeschooling, we interact mainly with the orphan kids and babies at the baby rescue unit. 

I naively assumed living beside an orphanage would be easy. 130 friends next door…who doesn’t want that, right? But being here has ripped open pockets of my soul which I thought were neatly sewed up. 

It has called out a renewed mourning for the suffering in life, which we’ve experienced as a family, and now see daily.

The trauma the children have suffered causes me as a mother to grieve. At times it would be easier to turn away and not see the longings on their little faces, their clamouring for love and attention, the blank, needy looks on their faces. 

Here in rural, arid Africa, need is palpable.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a devastating need that perhaps one might see in the starvation zones of Ethiopia. It’s the daily need of provision that must be met. There is the daily work in the shamba, the ritual of fetching water hauled by the donkey. 

So much work is needed to ensure the basics of life. 

Watching all this as an outsider weighs on me, and I am still thinking about why it bothers me. Is this not the simple life, the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ life we often look back on with nostalgia? 

I believe all work is valuable, but these simple, repetitive tasks represent struggle in a way that work in a western modern world does not. It reminds me of the daily repetitive tasks I perform with my children to preserve their health.

The bare simplicity of life here leaves little time for distraction or leisure, two things which I am beginning to realize I depended on so much back home. I thought I had a handle on struggle, what with 4 kids with chronic disease to look after. I spend 2 hours a day doing physiotherapy and salt therapy with my two youngest, and while it’s hard to measure the time spent caring for a diabetic, the mental energy spent on blood sugars over a 24 hour period can be huge. 

Mothers here, often abandoned by their husbands, have to think about how to get water every day, or sweat to bring in the daily food supply, or worry over the latest school fees, or medical bill. Children are often abandoned by single parents or mothers with mental illness. Watching all this has made my heart heavy, but has taught me that I can’t ignore the struggle we are in as humans in a broken world. 

I can’t numb my senses anymore with NetFlix, distract myself with retail therapy, or stock up my fridge from a trendy grocery store. In North America we are able to hide or camouflage our need. We paint and varnish and recycle and put out the garbage on the right day. We finance and we save and we plan. These things feel good. They hide our mess.

I never knew how those things were a source of comfort to me.

My first reaction in the early weeks of living here was to resent having to deal with more emotions about struggle;  I didn’t want to see more sadness. I didn’t want to see the longing in little Robert’s eyes as I carted my own Thomas about. I didn’t really want to hear about the 7 year old child in Mombasa who died of CF because no one knew to treat him for it. 

I have for years carefully protected my mind and heart to dwell on that which is beautiful and innocent and happy in order to nurture my kids, as a way of coping with the reality of disease. 

I do believe it is a Biblical principle to dwell on that which is true, that which is lovely (Philippians 4:8). To bolster my spirit I intentionally fostered in myself and in my kids a love of nature…..we spent hours at the beach while living on Vancouver Island, hiked in forests, explored all kinds of nature exhibits. These things were calming to my often turbulent spirit. 

We loved to hop in the van with Aaron and explore the island to forget about life for the day. My husband always encouraged me to get out with friends, grab a coffee, time I needed by myself after draining seasons with the kids. But the Lord has been calling me to a deeper embracing of need and struggle; to face it head on instead of trying to dodge it or distract myself. 

Here in rural Kenya there is not much chance for distraction. Need is the norm. 

We live with many children who have health problems themselves, painful memories, difficult futures ahead, and we can see it in their eyes at times. There is no mall down the road, no Starbucks or pretty seaside walkways, not even a chocolate bar within 45 minutes. Rather, we have simple routines, caring for the basics of life, and simple fun……swings and playing in the sand and dust with 20 little kids pulling on us. 

So, six months in, while still homesick at times, I find myself a little more at home here, simply because need is the norm. 

I think our kids feel that too. They are gaining perspective…their friends are orphans – one wee girl newly taken off the street, one sweet 15 year old boy has no legs, a little four year old can’t walk or talk. Last month a baby was rescued from neglect and malnutrition, and now can grow up safely, well fed, nurtured in God’s Word.

Struggle in this life is real. 

We can’t wrap life up for our kids or the orphans in a big glossy bow and say like the song from the LEGO movie, “Everything is Awesome!” 

In asking us to embrace the suffering and the struggle, Jesus is asking us to enter into a deeper trust and dependency on the truth of the gospel. We are called to remember that ”this is my Father’s world.” He is in control. His redemptive plan is unfurling in our lives wherever we are, whatever we face.

“A glad acceptance of hard things opens the way to glory.”  Elisabeth Elliot, (A Path Through Suffering, Revell 2003)


About the Author:

Grace Dunlop
Hi, I'm Grace. I am married to Aaron and we have five kids. Four of our children have chronic illness, two with Type 1 Diabetes and two with Cystic Fibrosis. We are also a missionary family, recently moved to Africa, where my husband teaches at a small Bible college in rural Kenya. We live on a compound with a medical clinic, an orphanage with one hundred and thirty children, and a baby rescue unit. You can visit our mission website at

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