It started like an ordinary day in 1999 when Lynn Elliott first heard a voice in her head saying, “Go to Africa.”
Then she heard it again.
“I ignored it at first,” Lynn explained. “Then I fell to the ground, and couldn’t move, as if some invisible force held me down. … Then the voice said, ‘Go to the travel agent and book a ticket to Africa. ‘ I said, ‘God, if I can get a ticket in 10 minutes, then I know it’s you talking. If not, I’m going straight to the doctor.’”
Lynn had been stopped directly outside a travel agency and walked in. She lived in England, and said she wanted to go to Africa. In less than 10 minutes, she had a ticket, and six weeks later, she started the first children’s home 6,000 feet up on Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Mama Lynn, as she is now affectionately referred to, has also earned the name “The Angel of Kilimanjaro” because of all the lives she has touched and saved through Light in Africa. Light in Africa is a Tanzanian-registered not-for-profit organization that cares for sick, abandoned and handicapped children and other unsupported people in Africa. In its 12 years, Light in Africa has established eight children’s homes caring for more than 250 children, a food kitchen in a mining town feeding more than 300 children five days a week, a home for the elderly, a special-needs facility, doctors offering medical treatment in the bush, and mountains of love.
Mama Lynn recently shared her story at Joan Coleman’s Corona del Mar home with a group of friends, many of whom have gone to help at Light in Africa themselves after catching Mama Lynn’s passion from hearing about her or watching the documentary on her website.
“When people hear Mama Lynn, they get so excited that they want to go,” Joan explained. “They realize that one person really can make a difference, that THEY can make a difference. The experience changes their lives. It totally changed my life; I just wish it happened 10 years earlier. But God clearly worked all the pieces together.”
The pieces began with Joan’s desire to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
“I dreamed about climbing Kilimanjaro for five years,” Joan said. “In 2005, I finally went. I’d signed with a climbing company, but no one else signed up. The husband of a college roommate decided to go, but on day four, we had to turn around. I was devastated.
“As it turned out, it snowed on top of the mountain and we would have never made it. When we got down, he went directly to the airport, but I wasn’t ready to go home. I went to my guide’s farm in a tiny village and saw the school that Harbor Day has since adopted. The school has changed so many lives here as well as there. My guide also told me to meet Mama Lynn, so I went to see Light in Africa, and Mama Lynn and I have become dear friends. I’ve gone back nine times.”
Joan is the business manager at Harbor Day School. When she came back and shared some of her experiences, students wanted to help.
“Two kindergarten girls decided to ask for donations for the tiny school instead of birthday presents,” Joan said. “Some fifth-grade boys did the same and bought school supplies. The brownie troops raised $10,000 to build a green kitchen there, and we’ve also helped build a library. God keeps working the pieces together.”
Mama Lynn trusts God to keep Light in Africa going, and the ministry’s work is made possible by unsolicited gifts. Many of their programs depend on volunteerism. It’s been estimated that more than 35,000 people have been helped in some way through Light in Africa programs. Though their mission is firmly based on Christian values, they welcome people of all faiths.
People frequently ask Mama Lynn how she chooses who to help when so many are suffering. She responds, “It is always the one the Lord brings in front of me on that day.”
Harbor Day parent Linda Wirta felt God put Mama Lynn in front of her recently when she learned of Mama Lynn’s serious eye problems. Linda arranged for Mama Lynn to see her husband, ophthalmologist Dr. David Wirta, and they were able to get Mama Lynn to the right surgeon. A caring community took care of the cost, and her surgery was successful.
Mama Lynn hopes to return to Tanzania in the next few weeks. She has loved connecting with old and new friends, but is eager to return to her life of spreading the light in Africa.