“We Need to Make a Home”

They prayed for God, once again, to do the impossible.

Dick Duerksen
“We Need to Make a Home”
Photo by Noam Jordan on Unsplash

“We cannot care for them all!”

“You’re right. But maybe we can care for a few.”

Dr. Saleem Farag, his wife, Grace, and their three daughters spent three and a half years as missionaries in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, and then for nearly 20 years he directed the Department of Health for the state of California. Then the phone rang.

“Dr. Farag, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists would like for you to move to Zimbabwe and serve as health director for the Trans-Africa Division. As you know, there is a new disease sweeping across the continent, and we’re hoping your creative expertise can help slow it down.”

It seemed like everyone in the world was arguing about AIDS, disagreeing about what it was, how it was transmitted, and how the disease should be attacked. Challenged to face the epidemic directly, Dr. Farag accepted the new assignment and moved to the capital of Zimbabwe, Harare. AIDS, he believed, was a sexually transmitted disease that must be attacked through lifestyle choices rather than just condoms and drugs.

“Conduct, not Condoms.”

The slogans began showing up on billboards across Africa, printed on posters in convenience stores, preached from the pulpits of many denominations, and taught in classrooms by teachers of every grade level.

The government of Zimbabwe saw the effectiveness of Dr. Farag’s approach and asked him to become the interdenominational AIDS director for Zimbabwe. That role included serving as the country’s representative at the United Nations conferences on AIDS.

“He was busy, too busy,” his wife, Grace, says. “But he loves doing things that are impossible.”

“Impossible” included AIDS orphans.

There were children everywhere, all trying to find their way without parents, and Grace’s heart reached out to every one of them. Though she and Saleem were ready to retire and move back to the United States, they felt God calling them to one more service ministry. They listened, and decided to open an orphanage in Zimbabwe.

“We need to make a home for children on about 25 acres close to an Adventist school,” Dr. Farag decided. So he and Grace drove all over Zimbabwe and came home without finding the right place. One Sunday Saleem decided to see what he could find around the capital city of Harare. He spent the day driving, asking advice, looking in every possible place. Around sundown he decided to give up and drive home. On the way he noticed an area of empty ground on Amalinda Road. He slowed down and saw a man guarding the land.

I wonder what he’s guarding, Saleem thought. The land is empty!

“What are you guarding here?” Saleem asked.

“This land belongs to the Crest Breeders,” he answered. “They’re chicken farmers, and I am guarding their land.”

“You have a lot of land here,” Saleem continued the conversation. “Do you think these people would be willing to give some land for an orphanage?”

The guard thought for a moment, and then said, “If you ask Mr. James, I think he would be willing to work with you on that. Let me give you his phone number. Now, be sure to call before 7:30. Mr. James gets real busy after that.”

Saleem drove home with his heart full of hope. “God has guided and protected us in every project we have done with Him. If He wants this orphanage to happen, all will go well.”

Saleem called at 7:30 a.m. “I’d like to make an appointment to talk with you about a very important issue.”

“What important issue?” Mr. James responded. “Tell me on the phone.”

Dr. Farag prayed to the Lord and made his request to Mr. James.

“You own some land close to a school, and I would like to have that land so I can start an orphanage on it.” The phone was very silent. Then Mr. James spoke.

“That’s not really a problem. Could you meet me at the site tomorrow at 7:30? How much land do you want?”

“Twenty-five acres would do.”

“I think that will be OK.”

The next morning they walked the land together, and before evening Dr. Farag had a signed letter granting him 25 acres for the Newstart Children’s Home. There was, by the way, no guard at the property.

Friends from Germany, America, and Africa helped fund the building, but there were no desks, beds, blankets, dishes, kettles, cutlery, and a hundred other essentials. The Farags prayed for God, once again, to do the impossible. And the phone rang.

“I’ve got a 40-foot freight container waiting for you down here at the docks. Can you come get it right away?”

Neither Saleem nor Grace knew anything about a container, but they dashed to the docks to see what God had brought. When they unlocked the container’s steel doors, they found beds, mattresses, sheets, towels, blankets, desks, and everything else on their “must have” list. There was no “from” address on the container. “Angels again,” Grace says.

That was 1997. Twenty-five years later more than 170 children have called Grace and Saleem “Mom” and “Dad,” and 70 fill Newstart Children’s Home today.

“One day we received a call from Social Services asking us to take responsibility for nine orphan children,” Grace remembers. “We knew we couldn’t handle all of them, but agreed we might be able to take three. We went to the hospital, chose three, and then I noticed one other small boy in a corner.”

The boy was 1½ years old, lying alone in a corner on a wire bed with a blanket. His legs and arms weren’t normal, and he was utterly dejected. Grace picked him up to give him a hug, but he clung to her so tightly that she couldn’t pull him loose.

“You don’t want him,” a doctor said. “He’s sick. He will never walk. He doesn’t have a brain and won’t be able to do anything. Ever. Put him back.”

Grace named him “Elisha,” and took him home, where she and Saleem filled him with love. Every morning Saleem took care of Elisha’s needs. He made a special brace for his legs, held him up to stand, helped him stumble forward, and cheered when Elisha finally walked all by himself. Elisha is now 17, and a musician on scholarship at school.

One more story for you today. When “Shepherd” arrived, his umbilical cord was still attached. He had been found in a toilet on a train and had never opened his eyes. Grace pulled him close, named him, and fed him every 15 minutes from a medicine dropper. For days he never made a sound. Then one night Shepherd made a small noise.

“I jumped out of bed like a rocket,” says Grace, “shouting that Shepherd had made a noise!”

Shepherd is 9 years old now, a healthy young man who is a good singer and a bright student. “Remember,” both Saleem and Grace say, “each of these children has been brought to us for a reason. The Lord has a plan for each of them. We just pray that we will make the very best home for them, as God has called us to do.”

Dick Duerksen