Michael Fedele’s life was at a crossroads when he returned to Oak Harbor at the start of this year.
He left Bend, Ore., in a fog after a relationship ended. He came home and bought a sailboat with his brother, hoping time spent tinkering at the marina would keep his mind busy while he charted a new course in life.
Then one day in the kitchen of his mother’s home, his vision started to clear.
“I was curious who this strange girl was on my mom’s fridge,” Fedele said.
The girl was actually a photograph of a young woman wearing a smile and a long dress while sitting on the back of a motorcycle with a Bible in her lap. The image was part of a thank you card that included a large cross and the words “Pray for the Village of Living Hope and Claire Grubbs, serving orphans and others in Shinyanga, Tanzania.”
Fedele had no idea at the time how much that image would change his life.
He reached out to Grubbs, then joined her in Africa to assist her mission to improve lives and offer hope to albino children and other deaf or blind orphans living in a small, gated center in Tanzania.
The plight of the albino children, in particular, gripped Fedele’s heart.
Most live behind the walls of the camp in Shinyanga as forgotten children, victims of prejudice and public scorn, and societal outcasts.
The walls also are for their own protection.
Superstitious beliefs have led to gruesome attacks involving mutilations of albinos in Tanzania, where the body parts of albino children are thought to bring good luck and wealth.
Limbs are sold on the black market in the East African country for thousands of dollars in a trade inspired by witch doctors’ beliefs that albino children hold special powers.
When Fedele arrived in Tanzania in July and got a first-hand look at the government-run center for orphans in the village of Buhangija, he saw for himself what Grubbs and other missionaries were up against.
He saw dozens of listless children suffering from malnutrition, sunburnt skin, sores and neglect with virtually nothing to do as they faced each day.
“Some of them were expressionless,” he said. “They didn’t respond at all. It was complete dysfunction and chaos.”
Through the Village of Living Hope, a ministry started by Grubbs in 2014, work has begun to to provide better healthcare, education and hope for the orphans in Buhangija.
Recent progress has included hiring three Tanzanian teachers and setting up three classrooms, including a nursery school.
Fedele, 33, who has a background in construction, also is working with a Seattle architect on plans to build a new center on nearby property recently purchased to house and educate the children.
Fedele, who’s participated in other missionary projects in the Philippines, has called the past several months “the strangest and craziest” in his life.
On top of reshaping the lives of orphans in Tanzania, he’s rebuilding his own. He not only fell in love with his work in Africa, he fell in love with Grubbs as well. They are planning to get married.
Their connection began forming even before he bought a one-way ticket to Tanzania.
“I read her blogs,” Fedele said. “My heart continued to be stirred for a place and its people, and the kids, and for her.”
And it all started with an inquisitive glance in his mother’s kitchen.
Diana Fedele had listened to a presentation about Grubbs’ missionary work in Tanzania at her Oak Harbor church, Grace by the Sea. Afterward, she took the card with Grubbs’ photo and tacked it on her refrigerator door so she would remember to pray for her.
Her son soon joined her.
“I knew I was supposed to go,” he said.
Fedele, a Class of 2000 Oak Harbor High School graduate, is back home, building support to help pay for a return trip to Tanzania this winter. He is looking to form partnerships with people interested in pledging their support to help him meet his $1,100-per-month living expenses in Africa. He is committed to at least two more years to keep building on the Village of Living Hope in Tanzania.
“It’s to give them hope,” Fedele said. “To give them God’s hope, really, is what it comes down to.”
To help raise money for Fedele, the Quilters’ Ministry group at Grace by the Sea will be at the church Nov. 7, selling silk flower arrangements, quilts, quilted accessories, jam and baked goods. Grace by the Sea is located at 540 Pioneer Way.
How to help
Michael Fedele, a Class of 2000 Oak Harbor High School graduate, is committed to a two-year mission helping improve the lives of albino and other orphans living in grim conditions in Tanzania. A fundraiser is being held at his church today, Nov. 7, in Oak Harbor to help pay for his living expenses in Africa. The Quilters’ Ministry group at Grace by the Sea will be selling silk flower arrangements, quilts, quilted accessories, jam and baked goods. Grace by the Sea is located at 540 Pioneer Way.
Another way to pledge support is by reaching Fedele at email@example.com or www.villageoflivinghope.org