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Christian Union

Mendonsa ’19 Inspires Stanford Students to Serve

by eileen scott, contributing writer

Emily Mendonsa is a servant leader who is both “tenacious” and “tender,” according to Susan Brown, a Bible course leader with Caritas, Christian Union’s ministry to Stanford students.

Ever since she was a teenager, Mendonsa has had a passion for ministering to vulnerable and impoverished children through Naomi’s Village in Kenya, a ministry founded by her family. At Stanford, Mendonsa, who graduated in June, was active in Bible courses and responsible for recruiting fellow students to serve at Naomi’s Village on summer trips.

She credits her relationship with Susan Brown and the ministry’s rigorous Bible courses with providing structure as she pursued God during college. She and Brown met every week for two years and talked about everything from Bible course content to theological issues she faced in classes.


ItTakesAVillageSmall“Emily commits fully to lead others when she believes deeply in something, but is incredibly relational,” said Susan Brown, the wife of Ministry Director Garrett Brown. “Emily, by nature, is a gatherer because she sees value and worth in others and takes the time to get to know the newcomer as well as those in leadership alongside her.”

Mendonsa’s younger years were spent in Dallas, Texas, where her father, Dr. Bob Mendonsa, was an orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Mendonsa also volunteered his services at a hospital in Kijabe, Kenya, for extended periods and was accompanied by his wife Julie, Emily, and her brother, Will (Columbia ’21). 

Struck by impoverished children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic, the family moved to Kenya in 2008 and established Naomi’s Village the following year. The mission of the ministry is to “glorify God in serving Kenyan children by providing spiritual, physical, and emotional healing, that they may grow to impact their world.”

“We moved to Kenya on my eleventh birthday,” said Emily Mendonsa, who lived there until she graduated high school. 

“When we brought in our first group of children, I was 13, so I was still a child myself,” she said. “Our first group of children felt like younger siblings to me because, in many ways, we really grew up together.”

As a surrogate older sister, Mendonsa helped feed, bathe, and care for the babies and did various chores, like laundry and dishwashing, while spending many hours playing with the children.

“I really miss being there day-to-day,” said Mendonsa. Yet, she still visited the village once or twice a year while attending Stanford, and she brought three different contingents to serve, including members of Caritas.

Last summer, three students from the ministry served internships at Naomi’s Village. They participated as teachers, assisted with construction and decoration projects, and, according to Mendonsa, “helped fold endless amounts of laundry” that’s generated every day.

“Of course, these trips also presented a unique opportunity to learn about God in a different context,” said Mendonsa. “God’s redemption is so powerfully visible at Naomi’s Village. The work that I’ve seen Him do in the lives of our children is a cornerstone for my faith. [It] has challenged many of my friends from various faith backgrounds to see God in a new way.” 

This was the case for Susan Brown, who served on one of the trips.

“I’ve been on numerous mission trips and spent a good portion of my life volunteering or working with non-profit organizations, but none compare with what I experienced at Naomi’s Village,” she said. “Every child is loved, welcomed, and valued as a child of God, despite being orphaned or abandoned. Every child is seen as one who has great potential to impact Kenya and change the culture that perpetuates the circumstances that brought them to Naomi’s Village.” 

A Stanford student who served at Naomi’s Village blogged about his life-changing experience.

“I want to incorporate the compassion and empathy that is so present in Kenyan culture into my own life,” he wrote. “I want to welcome others with the heart, the joy, and the love that I was greeted with by all those I met on my trip, and, in particular, the children at Naomi’s Village. I want, in some sense, to live with a higher, more inclusive sense of purpose and direction: to live not solely for myself, but rather for the benefit of a global human community.”

Mendonsa hopes to return to work as a doctor in Kenya one day. She would like to pursue her medical specialty in general pediatrics or child and adolescent psychiatry to explore how early life stress and trauma impact development, and learn what can be done to mitigate the harmful effects of these experiences. That’s what “tender and tenacious” leaders do.