By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
This year's Christmas gift will not fit under a tree.
'But it's the best gift we could ever get for someone,' said Michael Fortson, pastor at Canyon Creek Church of Christ in Temple.
He and his wife, Doris, are purchasing a milk cow for an African orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Heritage of Faith and Hope Children's Home houses 90 children and educates an additional 50 in its school. But it can't give them their daily serving of milk.
'They have just one cow,' Fortson said. 'It produces 18 liters of milk a day, but that's only enough for each child to have a glass of milk once every three days.'
With their gift of a second cow, the Fortsons hope to double that amount.
'The theory is that there'll be milk every other day from here on out,' Fortson said. With the purchase finalized Dec. 17, the orphanage should get their cow by the first of January.
The Fortsons' desire to help the children's home grew from a mission trip the couple took earlier this year. Canyon Creek Church of Christ has seven sister churches in Nairobi.
'We saw that there's a number of places in Africa that could use a helping hand,' Fortson said. 'People there are in need of sheep, goats, chickens and pigs. That's the way they make their living.'
Mr. and Mrs. Fortson met a local pastor, Jackson Maina, who introduced them to the directors of the Heritage of Faith and Hope Children's Home.
'It just breaks my heart when I think of how much those children need,' Mrs. Fortson said. 'Dar-es-salaam is a very poor village.'
Her husband shares her concern.
'Most can't grow crops. They have a hard time of making ends meet,' Fortson said. 'We gripe about paying $4 for a gallon of gas, try $10. The people there are always looking for ways to increase income.'
So after brainstorming ways they could help their brethren in Nairobi, the Fortsons decided to purchase a milk cow for the orphanage.
'We have four children and seven grandchildren,' Fortson said. 'Instead of getting them the kinds of gifts they'd normally get at Christmas, we thought maybe we could get them a share of a milk cow in their honor.'
So in November, they contacted Maina and told him of their plans. He said a second cow would be of great use at the orphanage and put them in touch with a Nairobi dairy farmer who could sell them one and deliver it.
The family loved the idea.
'We're really excited about it,' said daughter Kim White. 'It's like a whole gift from the family. And it's becoming one of the best Christmases we've ever had. Instead of scrambling to get gifts for everyone, we've been able to spend more time together.'
Even the grandchildren are excited.
'They know that they'll be helping people this Christmas,' Mrs. Fortson said. 'And come Christmas morning, they'll have a fun package waiting for them under the tree.'
Each grandchild will receive a plastic cow to commemorate how they helped the African orphans.
'Hopefully we can make this a family tradition,' Ms. White said.
Fortson's two steps ahead of his daughter.
'We're looking into purchasing some livestock next year through Heifer International,' Fortson said.
That's an international charity organization that gets animals to farm families in need.
But that's next year.
The Fortson family isn't through with their good deeds for this year.
Mrs. Fortson is in the midst of helping the women of Dar-es-salaam to launch a business.
'The women there are very talented seamstresses,' Mrs. Fortson said. 'They make such beautiful fabric. I want to be a liaison between them and U.S. buyers.'
That's a project the congregation of Canyon Creek Church of Christ supports.
'The church raised enough money for seven treadle sewing machines,' Fortson said.
That's one machine for each of the seven sister churches in Nairobi.
'The machines will be stored as community property,' Fortson said. 'So all the women can take advantage of them.'
But the Fortsons stress that they are not responsible for these good things that are happening; Christ is.
'Often times we get discouraged by so much need. There are so many people in the world who need so much,' Fortson said. 'But Jesus never told us to feed them all, he said 'just one, just the one in front of you, take care of the one.' So we follow his command.'