Holy Trinity Parish in El Dorado Hills will host its fifth annual Human Concerns Barbecue Aug. 9 to benefit the neediest people on earth, including support for parishioners Joe and Julianne Kurowski in their tireless mission to rescue Kenyan orphans.
For 15 years the Cameron Park-based couple have been emotionally and financially supporting 12 Kenyan children ranging in age from 8 to 27 and have recently welcomed two more into their hearts and family despite previously telling Village Life they were maxed out.
“We’re at our limit,” Julianne said when asked if they’d be open to adding to their family in 2013. “It’s a lot of work.”
Yet in March, while Joe and Julianne were in Kenya to visit their children, whom have all taken the surname Kurowski, they met siblings Mercy, 12, and Francis, 9, for the first time while at Sunday Mass in Kisumu.
“We were sitting in the back of the church when I saw a girl walk in with her little brother following her and they went right to the front,” said Julianne. “I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.”
A Franciscan nun for 35 years before marrying Joe later in life, Julianne said one of the Franciscan African nuns they were staying with, Sister Rose, approached the couple after Mass. She asked if they could help two more children “in desperate need” before pointing to the girl and boy they’d already been watching.
Julianne was adamant. “No, the money is getting low,” she told Sister Rose. “We’ve been doing this for 15 years and still have young children to raise and get through college.”
Sister Rose said the kids’ parents had recently died and they were living in a collapsing, little mud house. Their 20-year-old brother was the sole provider for his six younger siblings. Mercy is the only girl and acts as a mother to Francis, the youngest.
The Franciscan sisters gave Mercy and Francis breakfast before Mass every Sunday if they’d walk the two miles from home to get there. They’d also gathered a bit of money to send them to a run down public school in town, but the money was dwindling.
When Sister Rose asked Joe and Julianne if they’d meet Mercy and Francis’ siblings, the walk to the family’s hut was one Julianne will never forget. “I thought we were going to die walking there,” she said. Not only did they walk two miles one way in the “blistering sun,” a dog followed them with chunks of hair and skin missing, only to learn it was most likely attacked by hyenas.
“But you don’t have to worry,” Sister Rose told the couple. “The hyenas only come out at night.”
They found a teenage Alfred struggling to provide for his family. “In Africa when the mom dies they tell the oldest, ‘you need to get married. You need a mother in the house,’” said Julianne. “So the girl he married has a second-grade education and now they have a baby, even more mouths to feed.”
Joe didn’t hesitate. “Let’s take them,” he said of rescuing Mercy and Francis.
Julianne wasn’t so sure, but said, “This is the way God always works for me. If I’m supposed to do something, there’s this magnet, this pull and I couldn’t get them out of my mind.”
Then she opened her Bible to scripture that served as a sign God would continue to sustain them, the motto the Kurowskis live by whenever worried that they’ve taken on more than they can handle. “I was reading about the Prophet Elijah and saw: The Lord said, Your jar of flour will never go empty and your jar of oil will never go dry.’”
And that was it. The “Kenyan Kurowskis” now total 14.
There is much to do to ready Mercy and Francis for private boarding school in September where they’ll begin third and first grade but Julianne knows the bonds she must make with them are first and foremost. The other children are happy and successful now. Julianne said they spend a lot of time with each child during visits and maintain close ties with the aid of technology. A Kenyan woman, Theresa, acts as the minor children’s guardian.
Due to steep adoption fees, the Kurowskis have only legally adopted one child, now 19-year-old Maurine, who needed medical care in the United States. Maurine was raised in Cameron Park until she moved back to Kenya three years ago. “I want to be with people who look like me,” she said at the time.
Today Maurine dreams of Nairobi’s top culinary school. Yet, “The corruption in Kenya is getting worse,” Julianne said. “Kenya is going downhill really fast. The education from first to eighth grade is good if children are in boarding school but more and more the Kenyans are starting vocation colleges. They make you pay the money in advance. Then teachers or administrators run off with it or they don’t teach at all.”
They paid for college culinary courses for Maurine this spring but only two classes were taught in the three months. “And they were the exact same class,” said Julianne. “They practiced poaching eggs both times. She had a much better culinary course at Ponderosa.”
For years Joe and Julianne paid their growing family’s expenses until their parish learned about them. According to fellow parishioner Judy Silva, Holy Trinity was so inspired by the Kurowskis they created a Human Concerns Ministry to financially support local and global causes such as theirs.
“It’s been a gift to know the Kurowskis and to see how they got involved,” Silva said. “We go to church and get nourished, but when we leave we are supposed to carry that nourishment with us.”
Deacon Jim Hopp, who leads the Human Concerns Ministry, said the Kurowskis “are incredible Christians who are examples to us all.”
Though the Human Concerns Ministry’s main focus has been for Kenya, money is also given to local charities such as The Upper Room and another global cause, Father Tom Hagen’s Hands Together, which provides hot meals and a free education for children living in or near Haiti’s poorest area, Cite Soleil.
The Kurowskis said the outpouring of support has been overwhelming. They pay for their own travel, accommodations and any expenses for Maurine while donations from the Human Concerns Ministry and private individuals cover the financial needs of their other children.
The fifth annual Human Concerns Barbecue is Aug. 9 at 6:30 p.m. in Holy Trinity’s social center. Besides a full dinner including barbecue chicken, potato salad, baked beans, tossed salad, roll, lemonade and iced tea, there will be African and Haitian music, a raffle and silent auction. The event will be a western theme and prizes will be awarded for best dressed.
Tickets are $13 per adult and $7 per child or $45 for a family of five or more. Visit holytrinityparish.org to purchase tickets. You may also donate by mailing a check to: Holy Trinity Parish, 3111 Tierra De Dios Drive, El Dorado Hills 95762. Write Kenyan Orphans in the memo line.
When Julianne recently looked at a collage of her now six daughters side by side she was struck by Mercy’s sad face in contrast to the other happy, smiling girls.
“The other girls all looked this way at first too,” Julianne said while looking at the pictures. “In a year we will get Mercy looking happy and taken care of, just like the others.”