In April 2002 we took a trip to Kenya to meet up with Kariuki, Pastor & Eunice and finalise plans. These were pre-mobile phone times, only very poor dial-up email, so it was difficult to communicate with them when we weren’t actually there. Shortly after we landed Jon had a relapse of his MS. It was particularly bad that time. He was numb in one half of his body and couldn’t really walk. One side of his face locked up and he couldn’t smile. He was pretty much confined to the bedroom of our friend’s house. We tried to see a doctor but there is hardly any prevalence of MS in Kenya, so it was virtually unknown. As a result of this, I did all the meetings. Kariuki came to the house. He was shocked when he saw Jon. I had a list of things to talk to him about in a notebook. He asked if he could start with things that he, Pastor and Eunice had thought about whilst they’d been praying. Being senior to me, I naturally deferred to him. As he talked, unaware of my list and our own ideas, he literally covered every single point Jon and I had written down in the UK. The confirmation of God’s leading and the unity of the team was so encouraging and reinforced the peace we already had about coming and doing this, despite how “risky” and “foolish” people in the UK felt it was.
In August 2002 our firstborn, Hannah, arrived. By now we had sold the house we had just started paying for when we got married and were living with other people. Adapting to a new baby we also packed up our belongings, some things into crates to be shipped, the rest to my parents’ attic. When Hannah was 2 months old, we said the most painful and difficult goodbye to our parents at the airport and got on the plane. On my side of the family Hannah was the first grandchild for almost 30 years. It felt so costly and like I was being so cruel to my family. There were times I told God that He was asking too much. Yet all the way through we’d had such peace.
We arrived in Nairobi 23rd Oct 2002. Unqualified, naïve, but part of our hearts was already there, and we were trusting in God who knew far more than we did. From that day onwards Jon never once had any MS symptoms. After five years with nothing at all he was totally discharged from the UK consultant doctors that he was under. At the time we went to Kenya, they had said that a hot climate would cause issues for him. In 2007 some new research came out which totally changed the way they thought about this disease, with the discovery of a direct beneficial link to Vitamin D from sunshine. This is why there is so much of this illness in the Northern hemisphere, but virtually none on the equator. But of course, God already knew that.
At this point, if you go to the website and it probably says “it all started with a pot of porridge”. We did indeed begin with uji, in March 2003 after several months’ prayer and planning. We served it after most children had gone to school, so we knew those that came were those who really needed to benefit. I think Jon and I, Pastor Eunice and Kariuki will never forget that first group of children who came. They got uji, outside games, singing and love. That was about it. We operated from two tiny rooms on the current TP Mashimoni site and within a very short period 60 children were crammed in their daily. We did not own any other rooms and the playground area was a fenced off dumping site. Three weeks after starting, local meddling and opposition closed the whole project down and we ended up being investigated by CID. This was a very intimidating and incredibly anxious time especially for Jon and I as foreigners, but we had nothing to hide. We had determined there was no corruption from day one, because you cannot build God’s work on a rock with cracks in. After investigating they found absolutely nothing and realised the heart of the work was genuine. Whilst the community watched and speculated, we ended up with a letter from the Office of the President on the wall commending the work of Turning Point and giving it full permission to continue. God is bigger than any system, even any corruption and dirty dealings, and He will establish His work if we only trust and wait and don’t try to fix it ourselves by taking short cuts.
The rest – as they say – is history. But history that is always in our hearts, and history that has so many more stories of His incredible faithfulness. The way we found staff, the farm, the new school building, it’s all impossible that we should have that except for God.
God in His faithfulness allowed us twelve years in Kenya, a country that often feels more like our home than the UK. In 2014 we passed on the baton and have been so happy to see new directions, partnerships and developments that would not have been possible were we still there. We planned to try and visit as a family in 2020 but with the pandemic it ended up being 2022.
I can hardly describe the joy of being physically present with many staff that continue with Turning Point to this day, some that we have known since the very first day 03.03.03. For the first time, we were able to finally see the Fountains of Hope school. Looking at this built-for-purpose structure where once we had a few dark rooms and a rubbish dump, was incredible. A full two-storey primary school (age 6-14), registered with the Ministry of Education. A whole I.T. suite which even the youngest classes can access – right there in the heart of Kibera! These days Nairobi is well-renowned as the tech hub of Africa, so this is vital for their working futures. Teachers who have accessed a variety of specialist training and have resources and a huge photocopier. Social workers who understand the very difficult backgrounds many of the pupils come from and can work alongside parents and teachers. Successful sports programmes that not only encourage skill but mentor the children. Discipleship classes that ensure each child knows that regardless of academic attainment, they are loved and of worth in God’s sight, a core part of TPT since the beginning. And at the Kianda and Laini Saba sites, specialist transition classes for children not able or ready to access full education, as well as a library full of books and a safe lit space for homework. UK folk might not appreciate how remarkable that is, but in the heart of Kibera, coming from one room homes without books, lit with kerosene lamps, that is no small thing. None of this is a small thing. For those benefiting, it is literally life changing.
The work of Turning Point has had different seasons, shapes and forms over the years but everything it is, and everything it will be, in is in God’s hands and by his grace. To Jon and I it seems incredible that twenty years have passed since such humble beginnings. Not one of us who started on day one was “qualified” on paper, but our hearts were for a forgotten community of children & families and we were willing to take God at His word. That, it seems, was enough.
It still is. Join us and be part of the next chapter.
– Jo Parsons – Founder, Turning Point Trust
I really miss John and the things he use to story to us about,when we were kids.
Wherever you are John just know we appreciate you and value the things you did for us you made a difference in our life.
#thank you Turning point Kenya
# we love you guys
Thank you, Jo, for your inspiring account of the origins and wonderful progress of Turning Point. Praise God for his faithfulness!
What’s so lovely about all of this is that we, Jon’s parents, know you both well, and whilst we rejoice to think of you as extraordinary, we also know you to be ‘ordinary’ in the sense that you have the same struggles, are assailed by the same doubts, and (if we may say it) make the same mistakes as all the rest of us ‘ordinary’ people trying to follow Jesus. He never said it would be easy, or even successful, or satisfying, or productive, but simply that he’d always be with us, sharing those struggles and setbacks as well as the joys and encouragements (and there have been many); we’d be partnering him in being agents of his kingdom where he sends us, and at the end, we’ll hear his ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’.