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Family heads to Kenya to live their faith

CLEARWATER

Mom and Dad and their teenager have pared their possessions to a few personal items, among them a guitar.

They sold their home, furniture and car, gave up their beloved dog, Chloe, gave away clothing and a TV, and threw away items of use and meaning only to themselves.

On Monday, Molly, Joseph and Elijah Bail boarded a flight for a new life in Kenya. The elder Bails plan to open a home for AIDS orphans and street children in the East African nation. They plan to settle permanently.

"I was born for this,'' said Joseph Bail, 46.

Their extended families don't agree and can't understand the need to move across the world to a developing country, especially one that only recently was embroiled in violent ethnic and political conflict.

Elijah, who will celebrate his 14th birthday in a few weeks, also was not sold on the idea.

"He has mixed emotions. For him, he's leaving everything he knows,'' Molly Bail, 43, said last week. "He's coming to grips with it and he's better than he was before. He may not imagine that this is what he wants to do, but I can't imagine that other children will have the experience he's going to have. It will make him a much more rounded person.''

Laughing, she added, "and when he's 18, he can come back to the United States.''

For Elijah's parents, the move is a dream come true, an opportunity to live their faith by helping the less fortunate.

They began simply enough, first organizing their Safety Harbor church to feed homeless people in downtown Clearwater and then to assist migrant workers in Wimauma. They followed that with help for the poor in Haiti. In 2005, they began talking about a long-term commitment to children in Kenya.

"After going to Haiti and places like that, I want at the end of my life to say that I did it, that I made a difference,'' Molly Bail said.

The Bails plan to build an orphanage outside Nakuru, a town about 2 1/2 hours northwest of Nairobi, Kenya's capital. They hope to begin with 12 to 18 children and expand to 100. The orphanage, which will be built on land donated by a Kenyan woman, will be constructed with money raised in the United States.

The Clearwater couple estimate that the project will cost $50,000 to $70,000. Money has been raised by the church they attend, Cypress Meadows Community Church in Safety Harbor, other congregations in the Tampa Bay area, friends and other donors.

The Bails also have held garage sales to help with their effort and asked for support on their Web site, SpringsofHopeKenya.org. Their church has pledged to contribute $1,000 a month for the family's living expenses over the next three years.

"Initially, it is a three-year commitment,'' Joseph Bail said of his family's Kenyan plans. "We probably will end up being (there) many, many years beyond the three-year commitment.''

Douglas Poole, senior pastor at Cypress Meadows Community Church, said he admires the couple. "They were at a crisis point in their lives and looking for a purpose'' when they attended the 1998 Billy Graham Crusade in Tampa and found his church, the pastor said.

"They have been very much the voice of social justice and concern for the under-resourced in this church,'' Poole said, adding that he was not surprised to learn of the Bails' plans.

"We didn't go into this blindly,'' Bail said. "We know that there will be many difficulties ahead.''

Most recently Bail ran a house painting business with his brothers. Molly Bail used to work in retail. She and Elijah joined her husband for short trips to Kenya in 2005 and 2006. It was a trial run for this week's move.

The family, who sold their home in March, had been staying at a friend's empty Oldsmar house and sleeping on air mattresses.

In Kenya, they will initially live with a Kenyan church leader and his family while searching for a home.

Preparing for the move was trying.

"Quite honestly, I never envisioned how difficult it would be,'' Bail said. "We've sold things we were able to sell. We threw away a lot of our lives. We gave away a lot. I tell people I have reduced my life to 6 cubic feet."

Much of what the family took to Kenya will not be for themselves. Their luggage included more than 50 deflated soccer balls, toys, toothbrushes and toothpaste, Bail said.

"One of my son's carry-ons will be his guitar,'' he said last week. "That was an essential item, his guitar.''

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

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Family heads to Kenya to live their faith 04/29/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 1, 2008 8:49am]
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