Lynn Kaziah Gissing’s very ordinary life changed when she heard God say, “Go to Africa”. With much trepidation, and without knowing what this entailed, Lynn obeyed. In 2000, she pulled up roots from the United Kingdom, and flew to East Africa to care for children dying from the HIV/AIDS virus.
From this simple act of obedience, Light in Africa came into being. Light in Africa (LIA) is an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) based in Tanzania, at the footprint of Mount Kilimanjaro. The organization’s mission is to provide care for sick, abandoned, and disabled children with dignity and love, as well as those who lack food, medical support, and resources in the Kilimanjaro and Manyara regions.
What started out as one small rental property with two children has now grown to nine homes that house over 200 children ranging in age from infant to 18 years. It has been estimated that more than 350,000 children and adults have been impacted by the work of LIA through a food kitchen that feeds hundreds of vulnerable malnourished children every week, and through medical outreaches to rural villages throughout the country.
Known to all as “Mama Lynn”, she does the Lord’s work with the help of a small staff and a network of volunteers. LIA provides the basic needs for each child in its care: a quality education, vocational training for the older children, clothing, food, and most important, nurturing love. The word “orphan” or “orphanage” is not in the language of Mama Lynn or LIA, because of the stigma it places on parent-less children. LIA is all about giving children a sense of belonging to a family, and launching each child into a productive future once they reach adulthood.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NASB) says, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’” LIA is all about giving children a future—even if that future is just to be loved and comforted until they pass into Heaven. In the first year of LIA, Mama Lynn did just that. “Within the first year of my opening the center, I held 15 children until they died.”
But children infected with the HIV/AIDS virus are not the only concerns of LIA. Disabled children are also in danger of being abandoned. Kelly Bennett, a Los Angeles-area publicist who supports LIA’s work bluntly stated, “Certain tribes do not accept deformity— they will kill the children.”
One of LIA’s first charges, a baby who was named Mark, was abandoned in the woods to either starve to death or be eaten by wild animals.
“[It was] just a total amazing miracle why he survived,” Mama Lynn explained. “This old lady every day walked down the same path picking up sticks for a fire for her evening meal. This one day she decided to come off the path, and go in where there were some trees. And instead of finding sticks, she found this baby wrapped in a towel.”
Then there is the case of Albino children. In Tanzania, a child born with this genetic condition is literally under a death sentence; from superstitious beliefs such as the conviction that the child is cursed, to the vision and skin problems associated with the lack of melanin, to witch doctors who want to hack off albino limbs to put in magic potions, claiming this produces prosperity and healing. According to National Geographic, a complete albino “set”—ears, tongue, nose, genitals, all four limbs—can sell for $75,000. In a country plagued by poverty and drought, this is beyond tempting, and gangs make it their mission to scout out albinos in the hopes of bloody lucre.
LIA is the sole place that offers a safe haven for these children, where they can learn, grow, thrive and live without fear of death.
Fourteen years since she heard God’s call, Mama Lynn’s vision has birthed an organization that produces and encourages life and love to counteract the culture of death. “The best things I’ve seen since I took the children off the streets in 2000 when I arrived, those children are now in colleges in Dar es Salaam,” Mama Lynn said. “One to be a teacher—she’s just done her certificate, she now officially starts her diploma. Another girl, who was selling peanuts on the street at 8 years of age, she’s now becoming a social worker. My oldest boy who came knocking on our gate one night at 8 o’clock, his father had badly beaten him and he’d been living under the Coffee trees, he’s now going to be a business administrator. And my other oldest boy, who was starving to death with his siblings because there was no food, he is now still at school, doing his A-levels—he’s going to be a doctor.
“So that is what I’ve been blessed to see: what can happen if you obey God. These are the very first ones who have passed through LIA.”
The rich inheritance of the lives saved and changed through Mama Lynn’s obedience was not without personal loss. Mama Lynn left behind three adult children in the UK, and assumed that she would never see them again. Peter lamented to Jesus in Mark 10:28 that he had left all to follow him. Jesus replied to Peter, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.”
Mama Lynn has seen the fulfillment of this scripture in the growth of the organization, as well as the children who she houses, clothes, and protects. She refers to them as "her treasures”.
“My other blessings have been that two of my children came out to help me with this mission,” Mama Lynn continued. “My daughter came out with my three grandchildren, the youngest was just four years of age. They were coming out for one year, and actually stayed six and a half years!”
The fruit of her submitted life is also reflective in God’s call and commitment to serve a foreign nation being passed down to her children and grandchildren. “My oldest granddaughter needed to go back to university and be trained as a teacher. She now lives sixty kilometers away from me and she’s an international teacher at an international school, and has married a local Tanzanian, has two children, they’re my great grandchildren.”
Mama Lynn’s fulfillment was most complete when her youngest son Marcus followed his sister to Africa. He remains in Tanzania and is a pivotal part of the daily administration and oversight of LIA.
“It’s been a wonderful thing for my son. He’s my prayer warrior, he’s the one who’s at my back, and he’s very, very strong in the faith.” Marcus has married a local Tanzanian woman, and they have three children.
“So these are my blessings, because when I left I never knew if I would see any of them again,” Mama Lynn concluded.
LIA is a non-denominational ministry—it does not align itself with any denomination or faith, and takes in children no matter what the personal or religious background. It is just as open in its handling of volunteers who assist in the day-to-day operation of the programs.
“The first thing that would happen is that people would go on to our site: Light in Africa dot org, and they would click on where it says “Volunteer Information Pack”. So they would then show their interest in receiving the package. Then I would pick that up, and I would respond to that, and send them the information pack.”
Excluding airfare to the Kilimanjaro International Airport, it cost about $35 a day to stay at Torchbearer, one of the vocational homes of LIA that provides lodging for guests, coupled with hospitality training and management for LIA’s adult children.
Publicist Kelly Bennett stayed at Torchbearer, and has seen the work of LIA up close. “Depending on what projects you want to do, you could spend anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to a couple of thousand dollars,” Kelly explains. “A medical outreach dispensary is $200. That pays for the doctors, the nurses, all the drugs that you would be using. They see as many people as they can from eight o’clock in the morning until sundown.
“It all depends on how much, and how far you want to go.”
LIA’s busiest volunteer times are between June and September. Secondary schools, universities, nursing and medical schools use this time to come and assist in the various missions. “We are blessed to have them,” Mama Lynn said. “Some volunteers specifically come out for Christmastime, because they want to get involved in all the Christmas activities.”
The slowest period for volunteer involvement is February-April. “We might only have five to six volunteers, where any other time, in those other months we can have 40 volunteers on site.”
Mama Lynn conceived and has run LIA without any appeals for funding. No sad-eyed children on video or postcard, no pledge drives; merely unbridled faith that it is the Lord’s work, and he will provide. “The way I run the organization is totally different from any business or anything else. Although I’ve got all these children to feed, I never, ever ask for money. I made this commitment that I would never, ever ask for any money or funds, or materials. And that’s how it’s always been. The only thing I do is I pray. That’s what I do, I pray for the needs of the center. I don’t see further than the next day.”
Mama Lynn has many stories of God’s provision, and with the help of Kelly, She has codified her journey and the many miracles of God’s provision and healing into a book appropriately titled, A Light in Africa. “The reason why I wrote the book is that if I can reach people, and if they can believe that there is a God, then I will be happy that the book has been written.”
Since late March, Mama Lynn has been on a mini-tour in the UK and the U.S. to talk about the work of LIA and to promote the book. The initial reports coming through the Amazon page and Mama Lynn's new blog on the LIA website show that people are being reached by the power of her story. “What we’re getting back from the blogs and from the Amazon quotes is that, ‘I am reevaluating my faith.’ People are now looking again at their faith, and their God. So yes, I’m very happy about that.”
In the 14 years of commitment, prayer, trials, tribulations, and triumphs, Mama Lynn’s own faith has been tested, stretched, and transformed. She has grown from Mustard seed to Mustard tree. “When I started out, my faith was lukewarm. Now, with the Holy Spirit, I am on fire. I never preach, I’m not a preacher, I’m not an evangelist. All I do is tell my story.”
Her story is worthy of the telling, and is transforming the country of Tanzania. The book allows for the further reach of Mama Lynn’s life and the transformational work of the Holy Spirit to be shared with others.