A dream of helping children in need overseas has come true for a small Lancashire faith fellowship hundreds of times over.
The story of Kays Farm Christian Fellowship and how it now supports work in India, Nepal, Northern Thailand, Myanmar/Burma and Brazil, began some 40 or so years ago on a north Lancashire farm.
It is truly a tale of how from small acorns bigger trees grow.
We caught up with the Fellowship’s story at the Forton home of Mervyn and Lucy France.
The couple, have been married 41 years and Mervyn is a full time farmer and gardener, but also pastor of Kays Farm Christian Fellowship which meets twice weekly – once in Abbeystead village hall and once at his childhood home Kays Farm in Over Wyresdale.
The Fellowship’s inspiration came from Mervyn’s sister Mary. It began on their farm where, as young people attending church, they wanted to explore a different kind of worship.
Mervyn recalled: “My sister Mary started the fellowship. There was a young group in (their) teens and she thought it would be good if we could meet together one night a week just to support them in Bible study, singing and whatever. It was Mary that inspired us to start.”
Soon the group was meeting on Sundays too.
He met 18-year-old Lucy, a chapel player and Sunday school organist who came to the Fellowship and found they needed a piano player and stayed.
The Fellowship now has a core of some 20 members with four youngsters in Sunday school.
It was in 1980 that a TV documentary on the material and spiritual depravation of people in India caught Mervyn and Lucy’s attention.
A leaflet introducing Wyresdale Children’s Homes explains: “Kay’s Farm Christian Fellowship had been praying for several months for God to open a door in a third world country. The vision birthed in their hearts that night was shared with the fellowship the very next evening.”
Mervyn recalls: “We started out in India and then opportunities came.”
He asked a friend travelling to India to see if he could locate a Christian couple for the Fellowship to work with to set up a children’s home. A year later Mervyn and his sister flew to south east India to meet a couple Joseph and Luveena Komanapali who for 16 years had nurtured a similar vision of working in partnership to establish a children’s home.
Work started the same year on building a junior school with a girls’ dormitory above it. A dining hall and boys’ dormitory were added later. The home is now supervised by Joseph and Luveena’s’s daughter-in law Nayomi and can accommodate some 100 children.
Lucy said: “All the children are from very poor backgrounds, some have no parents, some might have one parent but they are very, very poor and need assistance.”
In 1993 Mervyn and Lucy, a former carer and now housekeeper, met a Bible School student from Nepal and a link was forged which led to the creation of a children’s home caring for some 33 children.
Similarly in 2003 while visiting Canada they met a Burmese pastor whose sister in law had taken five orphaned girls from northern Burma into her care.
On their next trip to Thailand Mervyn and Lucy went to visit this lady and decided to support her work - and later that of another helpers’s work, further, Two children’s home now accommodate up to 50 youngsters and a Bible School welcomes students too,
Finally in Brazil a missionary visit enabled Mervyn to meet a couple who run breakfast centres for street children and a Learning Centre. The Fellowship decided it would like to give financial support to this work too.
The Fellowship reckons they spend between £60,000 to £80,000 a year to support their children’s home work and that it costs at least £50,000 a year to keep the homes going.
But they say they never ask for money, with Mervyn insisting: “It’s a faith work. We trust in God to provide and basically we don’t ask for money. We do take very opportunity we get to go and speak about the work and leave it with the people.”
The couple now travel across the UK giving talks which in turn helps raise funding. In one weekend in September they were on the Isle of Harris, the next on the Isle of White.
Luc said: “We like to go and show the slides and let people see what (donations are) spent on. We visit the children’s homes regularly - we know a lot of the children by name... It is important to keep the work personal.”
The couple stress all money raised goes to support the children and homes. Their own trips to the homes are self funded with Lucy recalling how - in the heyday of bargain flights- she once paid more for her cup of coffee than the flight she had taken.
Now Mervyn’s sister Mary visits the Indian work and Mervyn and Lucy concentrate on their charity’s role in Nepal, Burma and Thailand. Lucy said: “We usually go for around two weeks a year to Nepal and we go twice a year to Burma and usually pop into Thailand once a year when in Burma.”
“Over the years we’ve built up a lot of connections.” says Mervyn, who recalls how fishermen in the Shetland Isles decided to help fishermen in Burma and raised funds for them.
Lucy added: “We started out (in India) with 10 children at a cost of £80 a month and it was do-able within our Fellowship.”
Step by step, year by year things changed and today they help look after some 200 children in four countries plus helping youngsters in Brazil.
It’s been a long but rewarding journey for the Fellowship with an outstanding lesson learnt -if you start small and get a project off the ground, then people will help and add their support.