In the short span of six years, Katie Davis went from living as a typical Tennessee high school senior to founding a child sponsorship ministry and becoming a single mom to 13 adopted daughters. Kisses From Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption (Howard Books) tells the story of how Katie's gap year ministering in a Ugandan orphanage eventually led to her development of Amazima Ministries. TCW's Aryantu Otiti sat down with Katie to learn more about her adventure of saying yes to God.
How did you know it was God's will for you to move to Africa and start this ministry?
I was absolutely sure God wanted me in Uganda for a period of time, but I had no idea what God was going to do in that time—and I never knew it would be this big! If someone would have told me five years ago that God's calling upon my life was to have this organization, to sponsor 700 children, and to feed all these other children, I would have been scared. But it all happened so gradually; it was one small step of obedience at a time. I always felt God's confirmation in each of the small steps—in helping the person right in front of me or helping the family near me. Before I knew it, it had grown into this huge thing!
When you moved to Uganda, were you afraid of going out on your own, so far away from home?
Some missionaries have a tendency to paint a beautiful picture and make the mission field seem really rosy—but it wasn't always rosy for me. There were times when I was sad, uncomfortable, and lonely, but I don't think I was ever fearful because I felt God's confirmation that I was in the place where he wanted me to be.
What were your first days in Africa like?
The first few days I was here I was just so excited; everything was beautiful and so new and different. I found the people here friendlier and much more welcoming than the people I knew where I came from. Ugandans in general have the gift of hospitality and of grace to outsiders, and I was very impressed and excited about that.
So initially I thought, This is so exciting, I want to stay here forever! But then when reality began to set in, I felt, Oh my gosh, no I don't. This is hard. This is harder than I thought it would be. But I'm glad I pushed through that hard part.
How did your parents feel about your move?
At first, my parents were not so sure about it all. But it's been really phenomenal to watch their faith grow; they are so supportive now. My mom serves on the board of Amazima and my dad helps with fund-raising. Now that my younger brother is in college, my mom comes to stay with me for a few months each year. My dad also tries to visit about once a year. It's been fun to watch how God has grown my parents' faith, first to the point of just being accepting of my move to Uganda, and now to the point of them being so supportive of what God is doing here.
In 2008, you adopted three orphaned girls; now, as a single mom, you have 13 adopted daughters. Thirteen children would be quite a big family even for a married couple to raise together. Doesn't it get overwhelming?
It is challenging—it is so challenging—but I thank God I have friends who are mothers who I can call for help. And of course even my own mother whom I call and say, "I am so sorry for ever being a teenager!"
Also, several of my children are older, so they help out a lot. Usually our house isn't very clean—it's not as ordered as I'd like it to be—but the greatest blessing is to see my children come to know Jesus and to share their lives with each other and with others we minister to.
How do you balance parenting with your role as founder of Amazima?
I have transitioned from working full-time, to being at work and a part-time mom, to now being a full-time mom. There are days when I don't leave my house because having 13 children is demanding!
God has really blessed me by bringing a great staff to Amazima so that I'm now able to be a mom full-time. I do have meetings with my staff, and I give final approval on big expenditures, but they take care of the day-to-day operations, and they do a phenomenal job.
What insights or encouragement do you have for other single parents?
The first secret about being a single parent with so many children? It's prayer; it's continuing to ask for the fruit of the Spirit in my life and in my children's lives.
Single-parenting is very challenging, but I love being a mom. I've learned so much about God's love through being a parent; God is continually using my kids to teach me about himself. It's also really exciting to teach my daughters the Word and watch them grasp it and grow in the Lord.
Some days I feel discouraged, of course. I think all moms have hard days, but at the end of the day, I know that my children know Jesus Christ and experience his love. That's enough to cover the mistakes I make as a parent.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I'm not naturally a super-organized person, so I've had to learn to be disciplined. So in a typical day, we get up, my girls help get breakfast ready, and we have devotions together. Then we have school. We're homeschooling and a teacher comes to help. We also have someone to help us with cleaning and preparing lunch so I can assist with the schoolwork.
In the afternoon, we finish up any schoolwork, I start preparing dinner, and we all eat supper together at around 6 P.M. Then we have Bible time, everyone has a shower, and then it's bedtime. We have early bedtime at our house everyday; that's how I keep my sanity! You have to be in your room by 8 P.M. That's my time alone.
That's a full day! So, in your view, is parenting your daughters your main ministry now?
I know there are some stay-at-home moms in America who sometimes feel like they're not doing enough because they don't have a "ministry," per se, but if God has shown me anything in my time as a mother and a ministry leader, it's that being a mother is the most important ministry we could ever have. To be available to your kids and to model Christ for them is a huge calling!
Sometimes even I can easily get caught in the trap of thinking that cooking and doing laundry is not enough real ministry—I can get lured into feeling like I need to do more. Satan wants us to feel like our lives as moms are just mundane, but they are not. Ultimately, there is no greater joy than watching your child grow in the Lord.
So on top of parenting 13 kids, through Amazima, you're trying to address the immense poverty in your community. Do you ever feel discouraged by the suffering around you?
I do sometimes feel overwhelmed, but I struggle with discouragement less now than I did in the first few years of ministry here. There is so much need. Even if you help one person, there is going to be another person who needs help. God has taught me that there is tension between efficiency and obedience; sometimes you are not efficient, and sometimes you are not even successful, but you must be obedient. That is the lesson I have had to learn over and over. Rather than focusing on the thousands and thousands of suffering children in Uganda and in the world, God is teaching me to focus on the one in front of me. I have to be obedient to take care of this one.
You've given up a lot over the past few years to build this new life. What have you had to sacrifice? What do you miss the most?
I can look back on the last few years and say that there has never been a time when I was lacking what I truly needed. God has always come in and filled up those gaps. If I thought I needed something material but gave it up, God has always been able to fill that gap with a relationship, friendship, more time for prayer, or just opening my eyes to see that he is our all-sufficiency.
And so the only thing I really ever miss anymore is my family. Three years ago, I might have answered your question with a list of foods and a list of shops that I wanted to visit at the mall. But I've learned that God is so faithful! I think I can confidently say—and I would hope all Christians, even those living comfortable lives, could get to this point—that nothing is a sacrifice in the light of eternity with Christ.
Yes, sometimes God calls us to sacrifice things to be obedient. But that obedience brings so much joy with it that it starts to not even feel like sacrifice. I see so many lives here that God has filled with joy—so many people who have come to know him! And when I look at children who are so much healthier? Nothing could compare to this. There's nothing I wouldn't give up to see that.
Your obedience to God's call to minister in Uganda has really grown into something amazing.
All of this we see here today—none of it was done in my own power or from my own imagination. It was just from obeying God by trying to meet the need of the person in front of me. God has been so faithful to grow that obedience.
Everyone, wherever they are, can say yes and be obedient to God by reaching out to the people God has placed in front of them. You never really know what saying yes to one step of obedience—one step of love—could turn into!
Aryantu Otiti is a Ugandan writer and editor, who spent time at Today's Christian Woman to learn more about Christian media and publications. For more information about Amazima Ministries and how to support Katie Davis' work in Uganda, please visit amazima.org.
Read an excerpt from Katie Davis's bestselling book, Kisses from Katie, on TodaysChristian Woman.com.