Lisa Kjeldgaard may well have been born with the need to help others because back when other teenagers had been gossiping about boys, hairstyles and clothes, at 16 Lisa had dreamed of doing ministry work in Africa.
Not your typical dream but given that Lisa, her husband Eric, and their eight children (ranging in age from 3 to 17) are about to embark on an epic, life-changing journey to Africa to serve at the Agape Children’s Ministry in Kisumu, Kenya — it’s probably safe to say that the Kjeldgaard family aren’t your average suburban family.
“I thought I’d spend my whole life in the ministry field,” Lisa Kjeldgaard said, admitting marriage and babies caused her to sidetrack a little but the opportunity has arisen through the grace of God to put her back where she’s always wanted to be, helping others, and she couldn’t be more excited or ready.
But how does a family of 10 prepare financially to leave behind their lives in the States and journey to another continent to serve in a ministry?
Well, if you’re the Kjeldgaard family you create the Riverbend Ranch Charity Carnival.
Now in its fifth year, the carnival — coming up on June 25 — has grown to the point where the proceeds could actually sustain a family of 10 for this epic, soul-stirring journey.
The germ for the idea started with a Bible verse: James 1:27, to be exact.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
In the first year, the carnival raised $8,000 and donated the proceeds to Acres of Hope, an orphanage and relief organization working in Monrovia, Liberia.
Buoyed by the carnival’s success, the Kjeldgaards embarked on a second year with even bigger success; the family donated $16,000 to the Davis Family Educational Fund administered by the Central Valley Presbyterian Church to help a newly widowed woman.
In 2009, $20,000 was raised and split between the Agape Children’s Ministry in Modesto and Seeds In His Garden Ministry of Monterey. Each organization works with children in Kenya.
Last year, more than $22,000 was raised for Drawn From Water, a ministry based in Ethiopia that rescued babies who were being killed due to tribal superstitions.
Now, the Kjeldgaard family is raising funds to move their entire family to Kenya to do God’s work with their hands and hearts right where the action is, instead of from the comfort of their living room.
“We really wanted to do something with the older kids before they graduated from high school,” Lisa said, adding that their oldest child will actually graduate high school in Kenya. “We wanted our kids to see how the majority of people live. American kids live in a wealthy bubble. We wanted to expose them to what God is doing in other parts of the world.”
Riverbend Ranch, located on River Road just west of Pioneer Avenue, is a working walnut ranch owned by Don and Kathryn Ozenbaugh and the Kjeldgaard family. The ranch will absorb the carnival expenses so that 100 percent of the money raised can be donated.
So what happens at the carnival — aside from fun?
A plethora of family-friendly and wholesome activities, almost as down-home country as a barn raising.
From face painting, bounce houses, great food, raffle items, dunk tank, horse rides, cake walk and carnival games, there’s something for everyone of all ages.
“It’s all very exciting,” Lisa said, saying, “It’s a dream come true.”
The family has a blog (www.ten2kenya.com) where they will share their experiences leading up to and while in Kenya for their friends stateside.
The family will leave for Kenya later this year, on Dec. 9. Eric will take five children through Frankfurt and Istanbul; Lisa will take three children via London.