By Kimetha Hill
Contributing Writer

Reverend Sha’ Givens speaks to me by phone from Los Angeles. Though now she has set up residence in Kenya, East Africa. Originally from Los Angeles, she has travelled back and forth to Africa since 2001. Before then, Givens began a deep introspective search for what her true purpose was in life. And around this time, her life changed forever. “I was raised in the church like most people, but didn’t start taking my relationship with the Lord seriously until I was an adult,”she says. “When I started living a lifestyle of prayer, living life biblically, I started getting a download of revelation about purpose.” Givens described feeling as though she were pregnant. Pregnant with purpose. “And I didn’t know with what I was pregnant with and I didn’t know when I was going to deliver. But I always felt this heaviness on the inside of me like, there’s something big that I’m supposed to do.” It was during her first trip to Kenya that she discovered her purpose. “When I stepped foot on the continent, I literally felt like I was coming home. I couldn’t deny this connection, but yet I was afraid of it. Because I knew that if I totally embraced that connection, it was almost like I would be losing what I was connected to here in the United States.”

Build and Assist.

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“I went with the expectation that this will be fun, this will be a great experience that I can share with my children one day. And I thought I would come back home to my LA lifestyle comfort living. I had no idea that I was going to be pulled there. I had no idea it was a setup. That the schools, the programs, the children, the adults, [and] lives would be changed as a result of one visit that I thought would be ‘a fun experience.’” Arriving in Kenya in 2001, Givens saw people passing out bibles. But the villagers couldn’t read them. “I was like, ‘Why are they giving these people bibles and they don’t even know what it says?’ Rev. Sha says women never learned to read and write because they married young, had children young and tended to livestock. There was no need for education. “The men weren’t mean or oppressive, but they felt ‘Why waste your time.’” Givens could have never imagined what was in store for her, as she allowed the Holy Spirit to take hold of her mind. While in Kenya, she saw many issues that plagued the people; hunger, illiteracy, drought. And though she was unemployed – because she gave up everything to pursue God’s plan for her life – she could do nothing but follow the leading of the Lord. “Bill collectors were calling my house and yet I felt this urge and this calling to build and assist.” But it wasn’t that simple. “Finally, after a few sleepless nights I decided that I wanted to go to bed. And if I wanted to go to bed, I needed to say yes. Because when I say yes, I’ll have some peace. And when I said yes, it was a peace that came over me. I was asking for guidance. And I sought the counsel of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God says the Holy Spirit will guide you unto all truths. And I was seeking that truth on how to do what I was not qualified, in my humanness to do.” The guidance came very quickly. At a time when many of her friends were getting masters degrees and starting families, Rev. Sha’ began travelling back and forth to Kenya, bringing together a small group of women in a church and teaching them to read and write. “I couldn’t afford paper, pencils. I told them just gather stuff in the village. Pencils were broken. I was money gramming, getting money through western union, $5 and $10, whatever I could, because I didn’t have a job. Everything I got, I was sowing it into the people in the village.” The group of women swelled from 12 to 300 ladies who came from many other villages. Their ages ranged between 18 and 80. Some walked several miles. In 2007, Rev. Sha’ watched 300 women graduate.

I Can Fly International

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Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Rev. Sha’ established a school, I Can Fly International. “We were registering the school with the education ministry and they laughed [in Kenya]. Derived from Isaiah 40:31, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.,” Rev. Sha’ speaks to the power in that scripture – and the power in the school. “When I read the part that says, “They shall mount up on wings like eagles,” I was like ‘Whoa! That’s heavy!’ Powerful. Then I did research on the eagle, and found the eagle is the only bird or species that is so capable and the only one known to be able to fly through the eye of the storm without dropping, being shaken, without dying, without getting hurt, because of the way that they spread their wings, there’s something that’s so dynamic about that. They can go right through it without interruption. We can do that. We have that ability, when we wait upon God. And that’s when I was like “I Can Fly.” That’s what it is saying. Those who wait can mount up. Those who wait can fly. Those who believe can fly. Those who endure can fly. Those who hold on can fly. Those who simply say, ‘no matter what, I’m not giving up’ can fly.” “Every time a student says ‘Oh. I Can Fly High School.’ That’s a word coming out of your mouth that resonates truth. Most don’t totally understand it but I know what it means and I pray it over them, that their action will portray what they speak.”

Tests and Trials.

Opening the high school in 2008 was difficult. The community didn’t want to register the school, let alone grant the name of I Can Fly. “We didn’t have a lot of resources. And we were not a public school, we were a private school. Against what people said, I could hear in the depths of my heart, ‘No, you will be private. I will run this school the way I want to run it. It will be mine.’ For the first 10 days only one girl showed up. Her name was Gladys, a first primary who was a child labor victim. Gladys made about 30 cents a day and gave those earnings to her mom, dad and siblings so they could eat. But when she heard about I Can Fly High School and that she could attend for free, she asked to be released from her servant duties so she could go to school. But the community desired a public school so they held their children at home and Gladys sat in class alone. But she was determined. Then more children started coming. And then Rev. Sha’ fell ill. “When I got sick everything stopped. The money stopped. There was no food or water. Teachers started leaving. So I told the manager to shut it down. And he says, ‘God has not told me to let it go. When he tells me, I’ll let it go. I will stay here even if I’m by myself.’ “And I was angry with him. Because he wasn’t listening to me and I was his boss. I was tired of fighting and I was angry with God.” Rev. Sha’ cried out to God, “You told me to do this. And You leave me hanging!” “And when he [the manager] said ‘No,’ I was like ‘I can’t even stop it myself.’ That’s when you know it’s God. But I Can Fly High School withstood the test of time and things began to get better. Rev. Sha’ regained her health and began raising money again.

Search and Rescue

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In 2009 Rev. Sha’ was reading an article in The Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper, about a 10 year old girl getting married to 55 year old man. The child was rescued, but the man came back to the family and demanded his dowry back. Instead of repaying the man, the family offered their six year old daughter as the 10 year old was now in hiding. So he married the six year old sister and took her and hid in the mountains. “I was sitting there weeping, and I heard 3 words. ‘Go get them.’ Rev. Sha’ thought to make a documentary on this crisis happening in Northern Kenya and joined Women in Film in Beverly Hills. But it was here where she met two Kenyan women who sprang to help her rescue these girls. “I was driving up the street in LA and I started seeing these butterflies in my mirror behind my car. By the time I pulled up in my mom’s driveway there were all these butterflies in my mom’s garden. Then Rev. Sha’ heard the Lord say, “You will build a house called the butterfly house. And you will gather little girls from all over east Africa. Victims. You will feed them, you will nurture them. You will take care of them while they’re in their cocoon. And after they leave I Can Fly High School they will fly away like butterflies as they have gone through the transformation. And I will lead you to get them.” One of Rev. Sha’s mentors gave $1,000. She hired an architect and they began laying the foundation. “It was a slow process and I fundraised everywhere I could. A lot of people told me to go away, but I didn’t stop.” As Rev. Sha’ began sharing the story of the girls, the money began to pour in. Back in Kenya, rescuers began to save more and more girls. The Butterfly House was set to open in February 2012. But around the holidays, the money stopped coming. “I found myself angry at God again. You know how we forget. But I heard nothing. Then a girlfriend called me to minister on faith at her church. And I looked at that phone and I said ‘Girl please!’ I was mad. “So I sat down to prepare for the sermon and I went to Hebrews… ‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. By faith…’ “If all of these people accomplished these impossible things in the bible, then this is how this thing is going to happen. By faith. God is going to do it by faith. By the time I got up off the floor, reading the scripture – it was like mountains were moving. It was so much power. I cried and I repented.”

From Faith to Fruition.

Time was winding down and they were still about $10,000 away from their goal of finishing the Butterfly House. Two days away from leaving for Kenya, Rev. Sha’ received three checks. In one of the checks was the following note: “Dear Ms. Givens, I am writing you this letter on behalf of my daughter. I believe she would have wanted you to have this. She was killed by a drunk driver on October 31, 2011 and we were given money in a settlement. I believe this money will help you further your cause for young girls. Please do this in her honor. She was 12 years old and her name was Faith.” The check was written in the amount of $10,000. In two weeks’ time, the Butterfly House opened. It was February 2012. “The dedication was long because there were so many speakers. It was a beautiful day; I was the last speaker and I could barely talk,” says Rev. Sha’. There were child brides, mutilation victims, child labor victims, HIV/AIDS orphans, victims of tribal war and orphans who had watched as their families were slaughtered. Villagers had come from all over, some sat in trees as more than 300 people watched the Butterfly House dedication. “I was talking and all of a sudden, this one white butterfly circles me three times and the audience is shocked. They didn’t talk, speak, or move the entire day. And then it flew off and sat on the roof of the house.” Rev. Sha’ says nothing has been the same since. Today the Butterfly House is filled to capacity and has opened its doors to boys and girls with 100 children in total. Rev. Sha’ now has an apartment in Machakos, Kenya, about an hour east of Nairobi, and says she hopes to build an academy for younger children ages 6 – 13. The original Butterfly girls are now in the 11th grade, and there is a push to gain sponsorships for their continuing education at colleges and universities. Says Rev. Sha’, “It’s been an amazing journey. It’s not over.” For more information on I Can Fly International, please visit icanflyinternational.org.

Photos Courtesy of Reverend Sha’ Givens