Our inspiration began in Liberia, a small West African country. We were challenged by the story of a woman named Ma Feeta and the orphaned and abandoned children in her care. The story begins in 1994…
Feeta Naimen is sick and being treated at Phoebe Hospital in Gbarnga, Liberia. Fighting between nearby rebel groups breaks out, forcing Feeta to flee the hospital. The fighting is part of Liberia’s 14-year civil war (1989-2003). Feeta moves on foot toward her home village, Kpolokpai. The Liberian Peace Council rebels, known as LPC, catch her in an ambush. The rebels have a group of eight children with them. They need a caregiver for the children and force Feeta to fill that role. “They said ‘If you can’t take the children, you will die!” Feeta recalls. At this point Feeta becomes “Ma Feeta” to children she had never known before.
For the first time Ma Feeta is left alone with the children. She ties the children together by their shirttails so that no one gets lost. She leads them through the bush, seeking protection from other rebel groups. For shelter, they squat in abandoned structures. For food, wherever they see cassava, corn, or anything edible, they dig it and eat it. More and more lost and abandoned children continue to join Ma Feeta. One by one they see the group and simply follow. “They would say, ‘I can’t see my ma. I can’t see my pa,’” says Ma Feeta. Ma Feeta does her best to keep the children calm. “I told them, ‘Maybe your ma now gone in front. Maybe your ma is hiding herself. Let’s go. Don’t cry,” she says. The number eventually swells to over 150 children.

Ma Feeta thinks it is just too much for her to handle. She has no food for them, nor does she know where their parents are. And she desires to go in search of her own family. Thus, Ma Feeta decides to give the kids away to anyone who can care for them. But her plan is interrupted when she meets six pastors who urge her to keep the children. They tell her, “You and the children have survived this long. Keep the children. Don’t refuse the children. God will provide.” Ma Feeta does not believe in God at this point, but she does reflect on the many people she saw die in the war. She reflects on the many dangerous moments that she probably shouldn’t have survived. And something stirs inside her heart. She thinks, “Important, important people died in the bush, but we didn’t die there. Maybe this God that the pastors are talking about is the God that saved us from that bush. So let me just sit down to see what God can do.”

A time comes when Ma Feeta’s faith is affirmed. It happens during an unlikely encounter with a drunk rebel. The rebel stops her and the children, forces them inside a shack, and threatens to burn them all alive. The children gather around Ma Feeta. As the rebel begins to pour gasoline all over the shack, Ma Feeta leads the children in prayer. She prays, “God, you who made the heaven and the earth, we believe that you did it for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. You did it for Daniel…Save us that we will praise your name.” The rebel covers the shack with gasoline and begins to look for a match. Ma Feeta and the children see the matches in the man’s pocket. The rebel frantically continues to look for the match. He looks and looks but never finds it. “It was in his pocket,” says Ma Feeta. “God delivered us from that death. Nobody told me that one. That myself see it with my eye.” Ma Feeta commits her life to the children’s care, and her newfound faith becomes central in her fight for survival.

The ever-growing group continues to move from place to place as the war rages on in various parts of their small nation. When the market is open Ma Feeta goes with the children in a line behind her to beg for spare food. She also must beg for medicine for her sick children. There is never an easy day. Never. Ma Feeta prays to God for strength and gets comfort from the inner peace He promises. She and the children have prayer time three times every day: at dawn, mid-day, and before bed. They thank Him for saving their lives and ask for guidance. In 2003, the war ends. Despite continued hardship, Ma Feeta and her children choose every morning to rise and SHINE.

Many of the children are reunified with their families, but nearly 100 remain in Ma Feeta’s care. Humanitarian groups hear about Ma Feeta and the children. Upon seeing their impoverished conditions, various groups offer assistance to Ma Feeta. 50-acres of land is provided so that she and the children no longer have to squat in abandoned structures. The land is in Gbarnga, about 20 miles from Kpolokpai, the village where Ma Feeta first encountered the LPC rebels and got the children. The land is named “Rainbow Town” and today, Ma Feeta and her children live at Rainbow Town.

Ma Feeta teaches her children to value faith, education and community. They have great hope that their war-torn nation will remain at peace. They have great hope that their futures, once in question, will be enriching and significant.

Their valor touched our family more than words can say and they inspired us to action. Thus, the Shine Foundation took root. In 2004 our family adopted six-year-old Christiana from Rainbow Town. Her young life knew nothing but war and the horrors that accompany it. She spoke of dead bodies in the road. She spoke of running from the soldiers in the night. She spoke of the rocks and sticks that tore at her bare feet as she ran. She spoke of loud gunshots and people yelling.

But what we found so amazing about Christiana was that in the midst of unimaginable suffering, she had unwavering faith. Ma Feeta taught her children not only how to survive, but how to thrive on very little with thankfulness. Ma Feeta taught her to look, without question, for the beauty in the ashes.