It’s nearly 8,800 miles from Kansas to Tanzania, but the connection is closer in the Great Plains Conference.
Angel House Children’s Home, based in the country on Africa’s east coast, is led by Holly Heyroth Opundo, former youth director at Derby Woodlawn United Methodist Church.
Heyroth Opundo’s move to Africa in 2009 put Angel House on the radars of Janelle Wilke and Karen Dunlap, who continue to support the orphanage and children’s home.
“These are the poorest of the poor children. There’s no family network,” said Wilke, wife of Rev. Paul Wilke, former pastor at Derby Woodlawn and currently at Topeka Countryside UMC.
“Each student has their own difficult story and why they attend Angel House,” she added. “All of them have had parents that have died from HIV, malaria or lack of medical care.”
Opened in 2005, Angel House currently serves 72 children from 10 different villages.
Wilke and Dunlap are leading a drive for contributions to Angel House, particularly money to sponsor students and $8,000 in matching funds to pay off a large bus that was needed by the school.
“We’ve had a lot of United Methodist Women, now United Women in Faith, who have supported them,” said Dunlap, a former conference UMW president and Derby Woodlawn member. “This has been a long time, but it needs to come up again.”
Wilke said 11 students need sponsors, at a cost of $3,000 per student per year, so they can further their education in Africa. Wilke said she recruited her sister and daughter to help split the cost with her for a sponsorship.
“You don’t have to do the full $3,000, but some can so they do,” she said. “Some give $1,000 and that’s huge, because $1,000 goes a long way in Africa.”
Dunlap has sponsored two students through the years, one of whom has a degree in accounting. Memorial funds for her husband, Marvin, who died in 2020, went toward the sponsorship, which paid for her student’s last year of college and to pay for CPA testing.
“He is so appreciative,” she said.
Dunlap has made three visits to Angel House, which she said left her spiritually fulfilled.
“Just to go and sing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ with a child on your lap,” she said. “You know that God is there and God is here.”
In one trip, Dunlap brought pencils, which was a cause for celebration.
“These kids couldn’t wait,” she said. “They’re so happy to be educated. It just makes you want to help.”
“They’re so thankful, because they have nothing,” Wilke said.
Wilke said there are many students at Angel House who want to further their education, many of them at Africa University.
“There are so many kids who are interested in medical, and they have a big medical program going on there,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of girls who want to be doctors.”
Wilke said contributing to Angel House aligns with the conference’s push for justice in mercy and justice ministries.
“I think our group actually does mercy and justice, which people don’t understand,” she said. “We don’t stop paying for school when they’re out of high school or teenagers, so they don’t have to make money selling fruit at the market. We go as far as they can, so they can make a difference with their education and have the opportunity to make a change for their country.”
Angel House has an additional mission of preventing female genital mutilation, which is commonplace in Tanzania.
“They had a three-week camp where girls could come from the back rural villages and they would be protected,” Dunlap said. “I think it’s an important message that the Methodist Church was protecting young women and that the youth from Angel House were working. As long as you’re in a community of faith or a larger city, this is probably not going to happen.”
Wilke’s family has had a longtime involvement in Angel House. Its kindergarten is named for Julia Wilke, her mother-in-law, and her son, Rev. Matthew Wilke, and his wife Jenny were missionaries at the orphanage and the town – with Matthew beginning a ministry of wheelchair repair – until they moved back to Kansas because of the pandemic. Paul Wilke performed Heyroth Opundo’s wedding ceremony in Tanzania and returned to baptize her two children. Janelle said she is available to speak, either in person or over Zoom, to churches and other groups interested in helping Angel House.
Dunlap said Angel House has become close to her heart.
“This is my way of being able to say, ‘God, you gave me the ability to be able to help, and I can do what I can do help, and I help with education,” she said. “Education is what will change that country. What I saw was just so dramatic to me, how the church was involved.”