As a young adult, Dr. Florence Muindi was called by God to serve the poor and desired to make a lasting impact in the communities of the most vulnerable in Africa. She believed that in order to do so, her model must apply an integrated approach to development – on that addresses the root causes of poverty and meets both the physical and spiritual needs of the communities.
She found a natural partner in the local churches strategically located in the slums and among displaced people that are spread all throughout Africa. Although they desired to care for their neighbors, as Jesus called his followers to do, the need was overwhelming, and the local churches did not have the training or know-how to make an impact. Capacity was also lacking in most of these churches among the poor. This reality compelled Dr. Florence to work directly with these churches to equip them to bring sustainable transformation in their own communities.
It began as a short-term family ministry (with her husband Festus and two boys, Jay and Kyalo) in 1996, working among the Maasai people in her native country, Kenya. Here, Dr. Florence had the opportunity to pilot her project and learned how community health strategies can be implemented in and through small churches. After a little more than two years, the family moved to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to work among the poor.
In Ethiopia, the work began in an urban poor community partnering with one church. Dr. Florence further pioneered strategies to empower and train the local church, beginning with a baseline survey of the felt needs of the community. The church members were eager participants, as they desired to learn effective methods of caring for the sick. Dr. Florence recognized the importance of working within the existing system of care (whenever possible) and the local church became a network of trained home visit agents, doing first aid and health education at the home level. Seminars and training sessions were raising awareness and knowledge of health prevention and intervention tools. Bible studies and cell group meetings were helping them to see a God who cares deeply about them, and who desires to use them as agents of community transformation.
As word spread of Dr. Florence’s facilitative role, more and more churches began to request trainings to launch similar projects. Dr. Florence observed, though, that the first church team began to naturally train other churches in what they learned, and were doing so in a culturally-contextualized manner. Just as significantly, the church cared for the whole person – integrating clinical care, spiritual care, meeting emotional and social needs, counseling, and even financial help. Dr. Florence believed that this was the key to multiplying the impact of her work. As the vision grew, sensing the need for a legal and accountable structure, Dr. Florence formally formed Life in Abundance (LIA) International in Ethiopia in 2000, and preparations to expand the ministry began.
The Growth Process
With a sense of God’s lead, new doors opened and LIA’s work began to expand to other countries in Africa. LIA was invited by The Sudan Council of Churches to work among local Sudanese congregations, and Egyptian churches in Cairo, and also in Kenya extended a similar invitation. Meanwhile, LIA was also extending its reach within Ethiopia. When a tsunami hit southern Somalia, LIA began working with local communities to provide relief and development, and then eventually into Eritrea and Djibouti.
In each community, LIA was designing innovative programs, while guiding and supporting church-based pilot projects. Expanding in scope beyond health promotion and prevention, LIA facilitated projects in education, water and sanitation, economic empowerment initiatives and civic engagement.
Today, LIA serves in more than 30 communities throughout Africa, with plans to expand its established programs to other communities, so that those local churches can restore health, renew hope and inspire lasting transformation for their most vulnerable children and families.