Pastor makes personal connection with orphans

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The Rev. Owen Ross (left) holds a banner alongside the Revs. Juliet Mwarumba and John Holler during a ceremony celebrating a $800,029 donation to Fairfield Children’s Home in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Ross and Holler, who are from the North Texas and South Carolina conferences, respectively, have personal connections to the school. Mwarumba is Fairfield’s administrator. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert.
The Rev. Owen Ross (left) holds a banner alongside the Revs. Juliet Mwarumba and John Holler during a ceremony celebrating a $800,029 donation to Fairfield Children’s Home in Mutare, Zimbabwe. Ross and Holler, who are from the North Texas and South Carolina conferences, respectively, have personal connections to the school. Mwarumba is Fairfield’s administrator. Photo by Kathy L. Gilbert, UM News.

Key points:

  • As a seminary student, the Rev. Owen Ross spent a semester at Africa University and spent time with the orphans at United Methodist Old Mutare Mission.
  • After returning home, the children remained on his mind. He worked with a United Methodist missionary to help redesign the orphanage from an institution to a series of huts that replicate a village.
  • The name later was changed from the Fairfield Orphanage to Fairfield Children’s Home because the kids now have a home and a family.

The Rev. Owen Ross, director of church development in the North Texas Conference, has a personal connection to the Fairfield Children’s Home.

As a seminary student, he spent a semester at Africa University studying African Christian Theology, Ethics in African Context, and Church Planting and Evangelism. He was looking for a United Methodist school outside the U.S. because he felt called to be an international missionary.

He found AU in Mutare, Zimbabwe, had master’s degree courses and English was the language spoken on campus. He sent a letter expressing his desire to study there. The school said “yes,” and he got permission from Perkins School of Theology in Dallas to transfer nine hours from Africa University to his degree.

Laughing, he said, until he arrived at Africa University, “I don’t think they knew I was a white guy.”

Between studying and classes, he began walking across the valley to visit the children at the Old Mutare Mission.

The Rev. Owen Ross, director of church development for the North Texas Conference, speaks about his love for the Fairfield Children’s Home, which started when he attended Africa University for a semester. He would walk across campus to the valley of Old Mutare Mission to visit the children. “The kids grabbed my heart and didn’t let go,” he said. Photo courtesy of the Africa University Public Affairs Office.
The Rev. Owen Ross, director of church development for the North Texas Conference, speaks about his love for the Fairfield Children's home, which started when he attended Africa University for a semester. He would walk across campus to the valley of Old Mutare Mission to visit the children. The kids grabbed my heart and didn't let go, he said. Photo courtesy of the Africa University Public Affairs Office.

“I spent multiple times a week going to visit the kids,” Ross remembers. “At that time, it was called ‘Babyfold’ and connected to the hospital. I would round that corner, and the kids just started streaming out. Around 40 kids would crawl all over me, and I would spend time with them.”

The children were well cared for, he said, but “they were just not being held.”

He started bringing other college students with him, and they formed the Fairfield Buddies at Africa University to regularly visit the children. That organization is still going today, he said.

At the time that Ross was visiting, the children stayed until they turned 6, and then they were transferred to another facility. He said they were losing the only family they had known and arriving on a campus with older children, many who had been through traumas.

“I thought,” Ross said, “there is no reason why these kids shouldn’t be able to stay here, go to Hartzell schools, which are the finest in the region, and someday go to Africa University.”

That image of a 6-year-old child arriving in a new, unfamiliar setting stayed with Ross. He was invited back in 2001 with a group of Perkins students.

Ross worked with United Methodist missionary Nichole Nelson who was on the ground in Old Mutare to redesign the home from an institution to a series of huts that replicate a village.

Funds to build the redesigned home came from everywhere, Ross said.

When he got a full scholarship to attend graduate school, he donated the $10,000 he had saved to build one of the new homes.

“The design came from my exposure and work with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos Children's Home outside of Tegucigalpa, Honduras,” he said. 

Ten children, with a range of ages spaced two years apart, live together with a “mother.” In a small house on the side, an “aunt” lives with her own biological family. The aunt is there to help the mother as needed.

The name was changed from the Fairfield Orphanage to Fairfield Children’s Home because the kids now have a home and a family.

When Ross returned to the U.S., he found other people who had connections to the home, especially some in Nebraska who had started the Fairfield Orphanage Student Association, now renamed the Fairfield Outreach and Sponsor Association. 

Each child is matched with a sponsor who sends $30 a month to their child, and each child has three sponsors. The money goes to pay for food, housing, school fees and uniforms, health care and to cover the salaries for the “mothers,” aunts, educators and other staff.

The Fairfield Outreach and Sponsor Association will vet the projects and programs to be funded by the $800,029 gift coming from the South Carolina Conference.

The North Texas Conference has no formal relationship to the home, Ross said.

“It has just been my personal relationship and passion from when I would walk across that little two-kilometer valley and back,” he added. “The kids grabbed my heart and didn’t let go.”

Back to main story, Love of children brings $800,000 gift to Zimbabwe

Gilbert is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee.

News media contact:  Julie Dwyer, news editor, [email protected] or 615-742-5469. To read more United Methodist News, subscribe to Free Daily or Weekly Digests.


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