Moor or Less: She continues to help her fellow Kenyans

Note: This story is part of a series that Bill Moor is writing for Clay Methodist Church on some of its members’ lives, including their spiritual journeys.


When Juliana Kitenge was a little girl growing up just outside of Nairobi, Kenya, she felt sorry for the workers in the nearby fields. “They were only making $1 a day and that made it very difficult to take care of their families,” she says.

So she would sneak some of the grain out of her own family’s storage room and give it to those who needed it most. “I wanted to help people,” Juliana says. “My mother wondered why so many of the workers liked me.

Juliana Kitenge

“And she also wondered why our grain seemed to be going down so quickly.”

Juliana eventually became a nurse to serve those in need. “But patients had nothing like Medicare or Medicaid in Kenya and some didn’t even have the money to purchase the paperwork they needed in order to get medical attention,” she says.

Juliana would dig into her pockets and help people anytime she could. But word got around about her generosity. “It became so overwhelming,” she admits. “My husband Julius, said to me that if he wasn’t working, where would we be.”

He had a point. So Juliana prayed to God. She asked Him to take her somewhere where she would have the resources to better help people. She just didn’t have enough to give all those who were sick and struggling and starving around her.

Not long after, she saw a magazine at a Nairobi kiosk that was about how to work in America. On the back page was an application form for a green card. “It was the only magazine like that and the vendor said he didn’t even know where it had come from,” Juliana recounts.

“God must have had a hand in it.”

She told her husband that she thought they should go, along with their three-year-old daughter Sandra. And his reaction? “He thought I was out of my mind.”

Things moved along, though, especially when she was picked in a lottery to acquire a visa. But because she and her family had recently moved, she asked if the forms she needed could be sent to one of her friend’s mailboxes. Unfortunately, the friend was apparently jealous of Juliana’s good fortune and destroyed the papers when they came.

When she discovered what had happened, Juliana had to call a number in the United States while feeding coins into a pay phone. “It was very hard for us to understand each other Jbut the woman on the line was very understanding and helped me with all the information I needed.”

So on September 14, 2005,  she and her daughter received their visas at the American Embassy in Nairobi. That paved the way for them to travel to the city of South Bend … in the state of Indiana … in the United States of America.

It wasn’t an easy transition. They moved in with Juliana’s uncle and family, who had immigrated to South Bend earlier, but things were tight and temporary. She couldn’t find a job right away and was selling beads and bracelets from Kenya at Farmer’s Market.

The market was where she met her guardian angels, Charlene and Hyayr Babadarian. “This woman came up to me out of the blue and gave me her telephone number. She told me to call her if she could help me in any way,” Juliana recalls.

And before the day was over, that same woman brought back her husband to meet Juliana. They embraced her and ended up helping Juliana find a job, get a loan and acquire an apartment. The Babadarians also treated 3-year-old Sandra like the granddaughter they never had.

When Hyayr’s mother suffered a stroke and had to be moved into a healthcare facility, the Babadarians wanted Juliana to take anything from the mother’s home that she could use. “Beds, towels, a TV, computer,” Juliana says. “We were blessed.”

Life continued to be good for the next several years. Juliana worked in home-care, Sandra was in the Mishawaka school system and Julius had joined them in America.

But Juliana admits she had become a little lax in her faith and commitment to others. She wasn’t helping people back home as much as she had planned. “I forgot why God brought me here.”

Then her world came crashing down in 2016. Sandra was diagnosed with a form of large cell lymphoma. “I said to God that He had given me 13 wonderful years with my daughter,” Juliana remembers. “‘If it is your will, heal her,’ I continued, ‘If it is not your will, take her because I don’t want her to suffer.’”

She finished her prayer with: “If you allow her to live, I will give my life to you.” Then she heard God say to her, “Can you trust me?” Oh, yes, was her answer.

That was six years ago. A doctor who had been afflicted with the same cancer as Debra when he was a boy treated her. After her chemotherapy, the doctor told her she was going to be OK. Juliana knows God’s healing hand was involved. 

Her daughter remains cancer-free.

And Juliana, a member of Clay Methodist Church, remains true to her word. While working four days a week in home-care as a nurse, she spends much of her time overseeing “On Eagles Wings, Inc.,” the non-profit business she set up to raise funds for children in Kenya and Uganda.

“We help children who have cancer and are too poor to afford food and medical help,” says Juliana who works with a network of volunteers and travels back to Africa at least once a year.

“I want to be a salve for people,” she says.

Just like the little girl who used to give away her family’s grain to the poor.