McHENRY – The closing day for selling their McHenry home is set. Boxes fill a front room. Random furniture is missing, sold off to friends and acquaintances.
But to keep from getting lost in the to-do lists, Deb and Bob Ruzga are staying focused on the day when the first kids arrive at the gates of the orphanage they’re helping to start in southwest Kenya.
“[We’re] keeping our sights on that and thinking about that and why we’re doing this,” Deb Ruzga said. “It’s a privilege that God has given us, so we don’t ever want to lose sight of that.”
The McHenry couple have committed to two years working for Oasis for Orphans, a Chicago suburbs-based nonprofit that helps support two other orphanages in addition to the family-style children’s home where the Ruzgas will be based.
The land has already been purchased, and Oasis is in the process of contracting for the construction of a guard house and fencing, the Ruzgas said. The group has enough funding to build three homes, which will each house 12 children, a “mama and an auntie.”
The Chapel, a nondenominational church with multiple campuses, including the one the Ruzgas attend in McHenry, made a “substantial financial commitment” to help get the orphanage off the ground, according to the Oasis website.
The Ruzgas are set to leave at the end of June or beginning of July – after they finish selling their belongings, get past the June 4 closing on their home, put a few items in storage and visit their two children.
They’re also responsible for raising all the funds they’ll need to support themselves for the next two years, including renting and furnishing an apartment, covering airfare to and from Kenya and paying for their living expenses.
“We’re just resting in God’s plan for us and his faithfulness,” Bob Ruzga said. “My project management skills always required me to see the whole project start to finish, but God only gives me the next step. I have to be OK with that.”
They’ll live in a small 500-square-foot apartment about 10 minutes from the site, which is located in a semi-rural community of about 50,000 people. They’ll have to contend with interrupted power and water. Hot water doesn’t look very likely.
“We’ll definitely eat less meat there,” Deb Ruzga said. “The grade, the quality of the meat is not USDA-grade meat – a lot of really good vegetables though. They eat a lot of stews, potatoes and vegetables and chapati. Chapati is one of my favorite things. It’s like a tortilla. They just take it and dip it in their stew. It’s in place of bread, I would say.”
The Ruzgas have lived in McHenry for 22 years, but their two grown children, Ashley and David, live out of state. Ashley is a nurse in St. Paul, Minn., and David is a youth worker in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Bob Ruzga will serve as the project manager for the project’s construction and will support some of Oasis’ technology efforts, and Deb Ruzga will provide support to short-term mission teams, train caregivers and coordinate supply purchases.
A Kenyan couple will serve as the directors of the facility.
The offer came just two months after the company Bob Ruzga spent 29 years at reorganized and his position was eliminated.
“The more I kept looking in my career field, doors weren’t opening there,” he said. “We had already planned on taking a team to Kenya for a short-term trip when Oasis approached us and asked us if we could consider possibly joining them. That was the first time we really thought there was even a remote possibility.”
Deb Ruzga was ready to go.
She had been to Kenya eight times, including her first trip in 2009 through Inspire 180. She also went on a trip to Haiti with a friend who was writing a book on the orphan crisis.
After her first trip, she quit her job as a travel agent after 20 years in business.
“It changed my whole thinking,” she said. “After I saw what I saw and experienced what I experienced in Africa, it’s very hard to come back and do stuff like that. I had different perspectives on everything in life. Though I still love to travel and encourage travel – because I think it just makes people richer when they travel – travel with a purpose is really what my heart was for.”
Besides the short-term mission trips, which usually lasted about two weeks, Deb Ruzga started volunteering locally, mentoring high school girls in north Chicago and helping with The Chapel’s mobile food pantry.
Bob Ruzga, though, was more hesitant about taking the plunge.
“Every time I brought up an obstacle, whatever particular challenge it was, it literally was like the next day I would meet someone who in an unrelated conversation answered that obstacle or found a way through it or there was a message from church or something along those lines,” he said. “It was just clear that the challenge was answered.”
To follow their trip
Bob and Deb Ruzga are keeping a blog on their preparations and two-year stay in Kenya at bobanddebinafrica.weebly.com.
A steak fry dinner and silent auction is planned for 6 p.m. Saturday, May 31, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in McHenry.
A vehicle remote start, vacation weeks and restaurant gift cards are among the items to be auctioned. Donations for the auction are still being accepted.
Tickets are $25 per person and can be purchase by calling Deb Ruzga at 815-540-3357.
A 75-mile Ride for Africa event on May 31 will also raise money for the Ruzgas' trip. More information is available at firstgiving.com/oasisevents/Ride-for-africa-ruzga.