LIMA — “Mum,” said the voice on the other end of the phone, “we have lost the seats.”
The speaker was Benson Simiyu and he was talking to Janelle Taviano, founder of Unreined Ministries, his co-worker. Simiyu, along with his wife Dorcas, head up the ministry in Liyavo, a village in western Kenya, Africa, while Taviano heads things up in the United States.
“I thought somebody stole the seats at first,” said Taviano, who visits Liyavo at least once a year. “He meant the church was so full, there were no seats left and people had to sit outside.”
When Taviano followed God’s call and took her first trip to Africa in 2008, she had no idea that God was going to use her and the Simiyus to start Agape Word of Life Church and start various outreaches throughout the area.
“My total reliance is on God,” she said. “I’m not the brightest bulb, and I know who I am not, but I live in who he (God) is. Every bit of what we’ve accomplished over in Africa is God, not me.”
What started as basically Taviano and the Simiyus has grown into a church of 140 people. They meet in a temporary structure with mud walls which they have currently outgrown.
Since 2009, Unreined Ministries has also bought five acres on which was built a school, a home for the Simiyus, and a hospital, as well as, helped to start various outreach ministries in addition to starting the church. Even though the church members there have very little themselves, it has not stopped them from reaching out to those around them.
They have started a women’s ministry that teaches women job skills, mothering skills and gives spiritual instruction. There are men’s ministries, children’s ministries and a worship team that travels around the area sharing Christ through their music. The church also has a thriving prison ministry which goes into a large prison in the nearby city of Kitale, Kenya to provide basic needs of the prisoners such as toilet paper and soap, along with the Gospel.
When these men get out of prison, Unreined Ministries hires them to work on various building projects, such as the new hospital.
“Once someone has been in prison, they are completely shunned,” said Taviano.
The hospital, a 150 bed facility that includes two surgical suites and a maternity wing, is more than just a clinic. Taviano said that the funding for that was also a God thing.
In the fall of 2011, Taviano’s son, Tug Taviano, a concert promoter with Rush Concerts, was putting on an event. Professional golfer, Bubba Watson, came to the concert to hear his favorite Christian rapper.
“Tug asked Bubba for five minutes of his time on a basketball court,” said Taviano. “It was totally spur of the moment. He told Bubba about my ministry. The really cool thing is that Bubba and his wife Angie had been looking for three years to get involved in helping a third world country. So, that’s how they developed Bubba’s Bash.”
Bubba’s Bash is a concert featuring 10 different artists from various genres of music. There have been two Bubba’s Bash concerts. The proceeds of which helped build the hospital and fund various needs in Liyavo.
Taviano explained that God used a variety of people besides Watson to fund the hospital and other needs in Liyavo and the surrounding area, though. She said she often receives the exact amount of money needed just when it is needed.
“God speaks to individuals to fill needs in Africa that they don’t even know about,” she said.
For Taviano, everything she and the Simiyus do in Africa is about bringing the Gospel to people and showing them that God loves them. “Everyone wants to work for us,” she said. “Everything we do — the reason we pay our workers well, the reason we built a school and a hospital, the reason we employ ex-prisoners — is to lead people to Jesus.”
While many ministries use a business plan, Taviano said she does not even know for sure what she is doing this year.
“I’ve worked with five year plans,” she said. “But, I get more done if I don’t step until God tells me to. When we wait upon the Lord, he expedites everything we do.”
One way Taviano has seen this is the local government in Africa has shown a lot of favor toward the ministry there. “We bring a lot of good to the community,” she said. “They see many white people go to Africa and start things but never finish them. We are staying.”
Staying is not always easy though. Taviano has been tempted to quit on a few occasions, but God has intervened every time. “God keeps moving,” she said. “In six years, we’ve seen over 2,500 souls come to know Christ.”
While Taviano does not have set plans, she sees the next hurdle as raising funds to staff and run the hospital. After that, she said, “Our next project will probably be to build a permanent church that is big enough not to ‘lose the seats.’”
For details about Unreined Ministries visit www.unreined.com.
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