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Tell us how Rafiki came to be a reality to the children of Ghana (The story)?

The Methodist Rafiki Village was constructed and donated by the Rafiki Foundation in 2008 with hopes to rescue children from life threatening situations in the name of Jesus.  After the village was built, the Methodist Church of Ghana began to oversee Rafiki as a special project.  Rafiki operates fully on donations from friends and partnerships.  The children that are brought to Rafiki are either orphans or destitute.  They are children who are in need because their lives are threatened due to their circumstances.  In Ghana, children who are in life threatening situations are at a higher risk of being trafficked to Lake Volta and put to work.


RafikiFriends was founded by a few of my friends and I in 2010. It aims to meet the needs of Rafiki by spreading the gospel to Ghana through friendships.  We provide child sponsorship, annual fundraising, special building projects, and group visits.  We long to befriend the children at Rafiki in the name of Jesus by modeling the self-giving friendship that Jesus modeled.  


Can you share the defining moment that led you to become Executive Director of Rafiki?

Before RafikiFriends existed, a way for me to process the Ghana trips  and share it with other people was to write music about the people and what God taught me while I was there.  After returning from trips to Ghana, my friend (also singer-songwriter) Matthew Clark helped produce two CD’s for me to sell and raise money for Rafiki, but also to share Rafiki with people.  


I’ve heard it said that we should live where our deepest joy and the worlds deepest need meet.  For me, that’s Rafiki.  It’s a joy and honor to be a voice for Rafiki.  Rev. Sey (the director of the Village) calls us his promotional officers.  I work with a great team filled with people that I have great respect and love for.  I’m privileged that they would join this cause to look after orphans by befriending them in the name of Jesus.  I'm thrilled to serve as the executive director of the board of RafikiFriends.  I'm surrounded by great wisdom, discernment, organization, and skills. 


Please share a typical day of work at Rafiki?

Work in the US and work in Ghana are like two different worlds (literally-ha).  Ghana is people-oriented while the US is time-oriented.  If I could mix both of these cultures up a little bit then I think we'd be in a great place.  A typical day of work in Ghana depends on a lot of different things sense we're always on "african time."  If we are not hosting a group then a typical day would include chapel before school, working with Rev. Sey in the office, promotional outreach, tutoring after school, RafikiFriends sponsorship work, and play time after dinner. 


What is a typical day for the children?

A typical school day for the children at rafiki begins around 5 a.m.  The children do some morning chores, eat breakfast, iron their school uniforms, and are outside waiting for the town children to arrive around 7:45.  At 8 a.m., the children open their school session in prayer and song.  By 8:15 they are in their classrooms ready to study Natural Science, Mathematics  English, Reading and Writing, Fanti, I.C.T., Religion, and Arts andCrafts.  School closes around 3 p.m. in song and then the children go and do their washing, sweeping, and homework.  They older girls help cook the food and they all eat at 4:30.  From 5 to 6, the children play football, games, or read.  The sunsets at 6:15, and by that time all the children are in getting ready for bed.  


*sidenote: One way Rafiki gives back to the community is by bringing in children from the different villages that might not receive education or meals that day to school.  This allows the Rafiki children to have socialization outside of the village, and this also helps the children in the village receive better education.


Do you have full-time staff and what are the positions and responsibilities?

Rafiki has 35 children who live on campus and employs 28 members on staff.  Reverend Sey is the Village Director and is an incredible man.  He leads a staff that consist of 5 mothers, 1 headmistress, 7 teachers, 2 cooks, 3 security guards, 7 gardeners, 1 house keeper, and 1 nurse.


RafikiFriends supports one volunteer who helps run the sponsorship program from Ghana.


What does your roll involve and how much time do you spend in Ghana?

I help raise awareness for Rafiki and orphan care at Wesley Foundation as well as in life.  Wesley has mission groups called "PODs" (practicing outward discipleship), and one of our groups is the Orphan Care Pod.  I help lead other students in helping support Rafiki through sponsorship, special projects and groups traveling for a visit.


At the moment, I am working with a team who is helping to make RafikiFriends a 501c3 non-profit.  We’re in the middle of all the paper work right now and hoping by 2015, we will be our own non-profit organization.  We’ve had some incredible organizations work alongside us for the past couple of years: the 4M Foundation based out of Southaven, MS, and Global Connections, based out of Columbus, MS.  We are so grateful for their leadership and wisdom.


After spending 13 months in Ghana from 2011-2012 working alongside a friend to begin RafikiFriends, I have taken month-long trips back every summer leading college students from MSU Wesley Foundation to work with Rafiki.  Our goal is to make long-term relationships with our Wesley students and our rafiki children.    We are hoping to raise up advocates for orphan care not just for Ghana, but for all orphans everywhere.  Scripture teaches us that by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, we were all once orphans and in need, but then God came to our rescue and adopted us.  Part of what I do at Wesley is to help college students live missional lives.  I believe missional living is living each waking moment in light of the gospel so that it increasing affects every person around us for the glory of God’s grace in our fallen world.  We don’t have to travel overseas do to “missions.”  We should be doing missions every single day.  There’s an old song I like to turn to the words for encouragement that says: “They will know we are Christians by our love.”   Let us be people of love.  



Please share at least one special moment with a child that has made efforts worthwhile and successful.

Mabel is my little tickle-monster.  Before she learned english, we built our relationship on silly faces, tickling, hide and seek, and piggy back rides.  As she grew older and began learning english, she moved from mimicking me to being my friend.  Mabel is 7 years old and is my favorite person in the whole wide world.  Mabel knows that "Sister Katie loves her.   And because Sister Katie loves Jesus, Sister Katie flies all the way to Ghana to be with her tickle-monster, Mabel, because Jesus tells us to love.”  That knowledge to me that she knows that makes everything worth it.


Please share a special moment with another worker/volunteer that opened his/her eyes to the mission:

There’s a Brooke Fraser song that says: “Now that I have seen I am responsible--faith without deeds is dead.  Now that I have held you in my own arms, I can not let go till you are.”  The students and friends that have been to Rafiki and back have shown great responsibility to what they’ve seen.  I’m so proud of our Rafiki family.  I think my favorite thing to see when a volunteer comes to visit is the moment their heart opens to a child and they are forever changed by that love.  


Why do you think it’s important to become involved in the problems of other countries when the U.S. has its own problems?

I’ve had it asked to me: Why are you going to Ghana to serve the Lord by loving on orphans when there are orphans in your backyard that also need love?  And that is a valid question.  You do not have to go overseas to love Jesus.  But I choose to love Jesus here, there, and everywhere.  He's worth it.  So what motivates me to go?  I’ve read the scriptures and seen God’s love for the fatherless.  James tells us that pure and genuine religion means looking after orphans in distress.  Proverbs tell us to speak for those who have no voice.  Jesus says to go and make disciples of all men.  Mark records Jesus telling us to leave our homes, family, and land for the sake of the gospel.  


What has the call for response been thus far?

Since our first trip to Ghana in 2008, we have taken 11 different groups of people (mostly college students) to Ghana to work with Rafiki.  That is amazing.  People have responded to the needs of Rafiki, but not just Rafiki but for orphans in general.  I'm encouraged by the work God is doing.  Let us continue to hear his whisper in this noisy world.  


How has Rafiki changed your mind, heart and attitude?

God has used Rafiki to open my eyes more to His heart.  He cares for the brokenhearted.  He binds the crushed in spirits wounds.  He encourages the afflicted.  He defends the fatherless.  He cares for us.  These are some of the characteristics of God.  God has made us in his image therefore we reflect him.  Rafiki has stirred up within me more of a responsibility to the gospel.  It’s the kind of responsibility that I knew was always there when I read scripture, but it was not until I saw with my own eyes, heard with my own ears, and held with my own hands the children at Rafiki that I discovered why James says it’s what pure and genuine religion is.  


I have been changed for good by these children at Rafiki.  Our lives are now and forever intertwined and tangled and this is my story.


If you had one wish to be granted by your readers, what would it be.

My wish for you would be to live out your story.  I challenge you to live where your deepest joy and the world’s deepest need collide.  And love.  Love even if it hurts or if its broken.  Love is the most important thing.  If we don’t have love then we have nothing.


How can others help Rafiki succeed in its mission and goals:

Rafiki’s mission is to befriend orphans in the name of Jesus.  You can join us in this mission by supporting us financially through child sponsorship or our annual Christmas fundraiser.  You can join us in prayer support for the children, staff, and country of Ghana.  You can also join us by coming to visit during one of our trips.  Check out our website: and like us on Facebook, instagram and twitter to follow details.  


Is there anything else you would like to share? 

If you’ll follow the whispers of God, he’ll lead you to places you never thought you’d go and you’ll accomplish more than you ever could imagine, but you have to be willing to go.  The thing you realize when serving Jesus is that he changes you way more than you change any person or place you are working with.


We all have a story to tell and this is my story...what's yours?

An Interview with Katie Heckel

Featured in Town and Gown Magazine

By: Richelle Putnam

Katie is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of RafikiFriends

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