In 1997 Jane Hollingshead dreamed of Africa. The following Sunday at church, her pastor announced an information meeting for an upcoming mission trip to Kenya. Stunned, the native Texan leaned over and whispered into her husband’s ear, “I think I’m supposed to go on that trip,” and so she did.
A trained dental hygienist, Jane was appointed as the team’s dentist. Although she was not licensed or experienced in the extraction of teeth in the US, Jane was certain God called her to the task, and she spent the next few months learning to administer injections and extract teeth.
On the mission field, Jane worked in a mobile medical clinic where she removed over 150 teeth in a two-week period. “It was as if God was moving very fast and wanted me to learn quickly that I could trust Him and that He could do all things through me. I was so on fire for God that I literally took Him at His word.”
Jane’s team worked alongside a Kenyan pastor named Nicodemus who was curious about the team members’ backgrounds. Jane explained that in addition to being a hygienist, she worked as an advocate for children in state custody. Nicodemus immediately responded with, “You can help us with our orphans!” Jane politely changed the subject with a promise to pray for Kenya’s orphans when she returned to the states.
Once home, Jane could not forget the conversation with Nicodemus. She began losing sleep and could think of nothing else. “It was almost like an obsession.” Jane became convinced that God was speaking to her about Kenya’s orphaned children. “I began to argue with God saying, ‘No. I can’t – it’s impossible. It’s too big for me.” Soon Jane was driving herself and everyone around her crazy with the idea. Finally, she could resist no longer and agreed to do whatever God asked of her, believing that He would accomplish what He intended.
Jane began meeting with an African American pastor at her church who encouraged her and reminded her that any time God calls His people to a task, they should expect resistance. The opposition did come but from an unlikely source. The head pastor at Jane’s church attempted to discourage her efforts, reminding her of the impossibility of the task and reminding her that Kenya was a man’s world. He suggested that she instead support a ministry that was already in place. Undaunted by the lack of support from her pastor and the protests from her family and friends, Jane pressed on knowing that her responsibility was to be obedient to what she believed God had called her to. The rest would be up to Him.
What lay ahead was a daunting task. To accomplish such a task in this country would be intimidating, but to pull off such a feat in a foreign country appeared impossible. Faced with such a formidable assignment, most people would become discouraged and abandon the idea, but God did two things that encouraged Jane to press on toward the goal. First, He was faithful to place people in her path who encouraged her to follow His leading, and second, He continued to remove obstacles in the way of the work, confirming His hand in it.
One year later Jane returned to Kenya, and with the help of two friends, began filling out the necessary paperwork requesting NGO status, the Kenyan equivalent of a 501(c)3, for a children’s home she would name Into Abba’s Arms. On average, it takes approximately five years to obtain such a status from the Kenyan government, and Jane was advised repeatedly, both here and abroad, that she should be prepared to pay bribes to government officials in order to obtain approval of her application. Certain that God would provide, she refused to even consider the idea. Into Abba’s Arms received NGO status in a mere18 months.
The need for land necessitated a second trip in 1998, and Jane arrived in Kenya with donated funds, though limited, to purchase property. This time, she joined a team from Living Waters, a well ministry conducting training in Kenya. The founder of the organization, Harry Westmoreland, introduced jane to a local attorney who had property for sale. And it wasn’t at all what Jane expected. The three-acre plot wasn’t located on an arid plane in an area given to sweltering temperatures. This property was situated in the central highlands where the soil is rich and fertile, temperatures are moderate, and there are virtually no mosquitoes!
Beautiful as it was, the location was remote, and there was little chance water and electricity would ever be possible at the site, but Jane knew in her heart God himself had chosen the site. As she and others spent the day talking and walking around the site, the Lord clearly spoke to Jane and told her not to ask about the purchase price. Without understanding why, Jane remained silent, and later that evening as the attorney and another team member where driving her to the airport, she sat in the back seat and listened in disbelief as the attorney announced he would donate the land to Jane and Into Abba’s Arms.
By 1999 Jane held title to the property. Once she began leading teams to the site, the work truly began to take off. Donations for a well and generator came in, and construction at the site began in 2000. Patti McLane, a friend of Jane’s traveled to Kenya and spent two years overseeing the final stages of construction and hiring key personnel. In 2002 the home was ready for occupancy, and Patti contacted a government-run facility for orphans to obtain the home’s first children. In heart-wrenching fashion, the children were lined up, and Patti was instructed to “pick the ones she wanted.” She selected 10, and Into Abba’s Arms welcomed its first residents.
Today the ministry at Into Abba’s Arms extends beyond the children’s home to over 300 area residents. Children and staff at IAA grow their own food. God provides cabbage, corn, beans, potatoes, and kale in abundance, and the overflow of produce and donated clothing are distributed to adults and children in the community. Local residents can receive minor medical care, and IAA routinely hosts biblical and community education programs free of charge.
“From the very beginning, the Lord has put it on my heart that our home is to be like a home.” Different from most institutions in Kenya where children outnumber beds by about four to one, and education is sorely lacking, these children end up back on the street, pregnant, or involved in substance abuse. We are resolved to never have more than 10 children per house parent, but about the heart of the work at Into Abba’s Arms Jane is adamant, “We want our children to grow up knowing they are loved. We want them to know the Lord deeply and be grounded in scripture. It’s what brings about the greatest change in our children, because like all sinners, every one of them has a past.”
And now they have a future.