Children and teenagers from Mountain Mission School – and the City of Hope in Tanzania before that – said they loved the week they spent at Camp Lee Ford in Ridgeway.
The City of Hope in Ntagacha, Tanzania, is a children’s home serving 110 orphans, a primary school (with secondary school in the works) and a medical center founded by Tanzanian Dr. John Chacha and his wife, Regina Chacha. The program is run through Teamwork Ministries International, which is based in Martinsville. Dr. Chacha died in a vehicular wreck in 2015, and his widow has manned the helm since.
Twenty-three children from City of Hope came to Mountain Mission School in Grundy in 2015, and 10 came in 2016, Regina Chacha said. The children, ages 11 to 19, have scholarships until high school graduation.
They all spent last week at Camp Lee Ford in Ridgeway, a 17-acre facility with bunkhouses, a large lodge and other amenities.
Each day began with prayer and ended with a worship service. In between, the group was divided into two, with one doing outdoor activities and the other taking the drama and film workshops.
Each evening, the group cooked traditional African suppers. Local churches brought them breakfasts and lunches. Those included Horsepasture Christian, First United Methodist, Foothills (which meets in the Spencer-Penn Centre), Swansonville Pentecostal Holiness, Christ Episcopal, Evangelical Holiness and Morning Star Holy churches, as well as the Martinsville YMCA.
Kate Brighton, who Chacha said has worked with Nickelodeon, Disney and Britney Spears when she was little, led the drama camp. She has been involved with City of Hope since reading about the program in a major fashion magazine.
The group also had a spur-of-the-moment trip to see the Patriot Players’ “Beauty and the Beast.” On a Tuesday, Melanie Gilbert, mother of the show’s stage manager, was helping deliver a meal when she suggested the kids go see the show during a special student night the next day.
It all came together quickly. Patriot Players Artistic Director Devin Pendleton said he was happy to give them free tickets. Horsepasture Christian Church provided the transportation.
Leah Chacha, 19, and David Chacha, 16 (Chacha is a common last name in their region of Tanzania) came to Mountain Mission School in 2015.
Arriving in America was difficult at first, Leah said, but little by little they adapted.
Among the greatest differences they encountered was snow, she said, laughing, “We don’t have snow in our country.”
“It is difficult to be away from family,” David said.
After she is graduated from Mountain Mission School, Leah said, she would like to become a pediatric nurse, “maybe a missionary – whatever God wants me to do.”
David, who plays soccer and basketball, said he is aiming to be a professional soccer player or work in computer science.
“He’s a good soccer player,” Leah said.
Kids from the City of Hope regularly go to residential camps, Leah said, and she liked the one at Camp Lee Ford the best, both for “experiencing a different talent” and to “be in a different place.”
“You’re comfortable here, with people you know,” David said, “not like other camps [where] you feel weird or awkward.”
Martinsville-Henry County residents who haven’t been to Camp Lee Ford should try it out, he said: “It’s amazing here.”
“You feel safe. There’s not much noise,” Leah said. “You just listen to the voice of the Lord and not the voice of the world.”
They also said they enjoyed their night out to see “Beauty and the Beast.”
“It’s the best show I’ve ever watched,” David said.
“You have a lot of technology, all those pictures and the lights” in the stage show, Leah said.
Tenzi Chacha, 15, said she and friends said the film skit they were working on was a commercial for City of Hope.
Outside the filming sessions, “I love fishing,” she said.
Paulina Chacha said she likes the lake – but for swimming, not fishing, and she also enjoys the religious service.
Peter Chacha said his favorite thing was climbing the rock wall. The first time he reached the top by focusing on what he was doing, he said.
‘What they need is hope’
Pastor Larry Crawford of Lincoln, Ill., went to City of Hope for the first time in December. He was so inspirational that Regina Chacha wanted to get him to be with the kids in Virginia, she said.
He gives “really good Bible teaching and the kind of worship like they’re used to in Africa” – an enthusiastic style, she said, plus he incorporates some songs in Swahili, a language they speak.
“He’s connected so well with the kids. They’ve really grown spiritually,” she said.
Crawford said he and the Chachas met 20 years ago at some conference or another and have kept up with each other through the years. “I’ve always had the upmost respect for Dr. Chacha,” he said, adding that his church supports the mission financially, plus its youth groups sponsor three of the children.
His message during camp week for the kids was about the Holy Spirit; to encourage them to “rise up to the full potential that God created for them;” and to allow God to help them and other people.
“Many of these students have come through some difficult situations,” he said, including being orphans or having parents who suffer from AIDS.
In Tanzania, where the kids are from, “you can’t hardly find a family where there hasn’t been a premature death,” Regina Chacha said.
“What they need is hope, real hope,” Crawford said, which rises above the man-made restrictive traditions of organized forms of religion.
Regina Chacha said she has enjoyed spending so much time with the children. “While we’ve had two or three days together at my house or Mountain Mission School, I’ve never had an extended time with them since they’ve come” to Virginia, she said.
Various individuals, churches and groups across the local area support the City of Hope. The Mountain Mission School and City of Hope students will be in Martinsville in October for a public fundraising event.
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.