In 2004, Tri-City residents Jeff and Carla Picicci felt God's hand on their backs, prodding them toward Africa. They sold their home, gave away nearly all their belongings, quit their jobs and left the United States.
In Africa, the couple joined two Christian missionaries, Ron and Joyce Panzero, founders of Rehema Ministries, which assists the poor.
"They weren't sure what God was calling them to do but knew where they needed to go," said friend Bob Johnson. "Jeff and Carla ended up helping to clean various springs in Kenya."
Johnson now serves on the board of directors of Rehema Ministries.
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"In Kenya, people get their water from nothing more than a puddle on the ground, and animals water there, too. It's always a dilemma," Johnson said, "to use what little firewood there is for boiling the water to kill bacteria or use it to cook their food. Usually, they use it for cooking, so they're always sick because of the contaminated water."
Today, the Piciccis are running the Rehema Ministries and In Step Children's Home in Sibanga, Kenya. The Panzeros are back home in Anacortes, where they are in charge of raising funds for the organization.
Johnson and other board members also help spread news of the work of Rehama Ministries.
"There are 110 children living at the orphanage," Johnson said. "Ages range from just a few months to 17 years, but the majority are 2 to 10 years old."
Their stories are heart-rending.
The first child the two couples took in had been left in a corn field during the rainy season. She was just days old and still had her umbilical cord.
"She was naked, and her belly was scratched from the claws of wild dogs," Johnson said. "When they scratched her, she'd cry and scare them off."
They named the baby Rehema, which means "mercy" in Swahili.
Others have been abused, abandoned and, in one case, "tossed like trash into a 40-foot-deep latrine," Johnson said. "We had to lower a 13-year-old boy on a rope to rescue the baby."
The orphanage is run entirely on donations. Though everyone involved is Christian, it is nondenominational and receives no support from any one established religion.
"With 36 employees, Rehema Ministries is the largest private employer in the region," Johnson said.
The orphanage sits on 20 acres in the Cherangani Hills region of Kenya and includes dormitories, housing for the workers, a small farm, a two-room school and two greenhouses.
"I know greenhouses in Africa sounds funny, but during the rainy season, you have to keep vegetables and fruit dry or it rots," Johnson said.
The compound has its own well and water is piped to the perimeter so residents in the surrounding village have access to it.
"Otherwise they'd be hauling water for miles. Imagine living in south Kennewick and having to haul all your water, in buckets, from the Columbia," Johnson said.
Their latest project, a 5,600-square-foot medical clinic, is set to be completed in September.
"We have no debt. We build a brick at a time. When we have money for bricks, that's when we buy them," Johnson said.