Tracey Williams with some of the children that she helps at the Zimpeto Children’s Centre in Maputo, Mozambique
Tracey Williams says what she does is ‘nothing special’, but as Lynda Bowyer finds out, her work in Mozambique is anything but ordinary
LOOKING at Tracey Williams, you’d be forgiven for thinking she was just an average woman of middle age; soft greying curls, a kind face and wearing a pair of stout comfortable shoes. First impressions can be deceiving and here’s why: Tracey Williams is a missionary and has for the past seven years worked at Zimpeto Children’s Centre which is based in Maputo, Mozambique, helping provide food, warmth, education, shelter and above all, love, to children of all ages from the surrounding area.Tracey had done overseas work before when, during the years of 1989-1994 she worked as a teacher in Brazil for Wycliffe Bible Translators. Having gained a taste for working with children, she resumed this line of vocation when returning back to the UK, offering her services with various children’s ministries and becoming an integral part of the core team at Powerpack which to this day works to deliver programmes to wider-known organisations as part of its children’s ministry, and also leads teaching at Christian events such as Spring Harvest, Faith Camp, Grapevine and River Camp.Tracey moved from her home in the West Midlands to the Reading area in 1995, a year after returning to the UK from Brazil. It was a trip which should have lasted only a fortnight. Some eight years later, she was still in the Reading area, having never returned to her previous home.With a taste for children’s work firmly embedded within her after her work in Brazil, Tracey says felt called to do more than this, but was unsure as to exactly what. Discovering all about Rolland and Heidi Baker and their missionary work in founding Iris Ministries provoked a visit to Mozambique by chance in 2003; a visit which was pivotal in Tracey doing what she does today. Almost instantaneously during her first visit to Mozambique, Tracey recalls that she felt it was “home” to her and a gradual realisation of her mission took a slow process of a further two years to bring the matter to fruition; a process which entailed her concluding things back in the UK and sorting out the move overseas. After a further visit to Mozambique in 2004, Tracey finally moved over there a year later in 2005 to work at the Zimpeto Children’s Centre. Originally placed in an administrative role, Tracey soon discovered the plight of the children at the centre. Some were complete orphans, with no family or extended family to look after them; others were cast aside by their families who felt unable to cope with their healthcare needs or simply the financial burden of feeding an extra mouth, and so had abandoned them. Others were referred from within the basic child support care framework that is in operation in Maputo, and children suffering from neglect were also brought into the centre. A good number of the children had identities already in place, although there were some who had nothing at all; no name, date of birth, no paperwork or anything. Educated guesses were made as to a child’s approximate age based on size, weight and condition of their teeth but all too often this proved it could be an erroneous yardstick due to the way in which malnutrition affects the body and ravages it akin to an ageing process. Around 25 per cent of the children at the centre are also HIV+. Funded through the ministry these children receive care, medication and the support they need to maintain and preserve their well-being. Educating the children in an age-appropriate way about their illness is also vital to maintaining their wellness, and the children understand from a young age of the need to take their daily medication in order to remain well. In the event of a child being able to return to their families the ministry, along with other support agencies, ensure that the child is still taken to and from hospital appointments and receives their medication. Parents and members of the extended family are also educated in the continuance of the child’s healthcare so as to preserve the best interests of the child’s welfare.Some six months into her role at Zimpeto, Tracey found herself assigned to work in the Baby House where she is to this day. Under her wing are currently 11 children – eight of them are boys and girls aged three to four, and a further three girls are older at six, 11 and 12 respectively. Many projects are planned to help provide a future for the children once they reach the age of 18. Under normal circumstances, the children would seek a life outside the centre and in the wider community. Some of the boys remain at the centre in separate accommodation. They help with the older boys in their dormitories and assist the “Tia” helpers. Some learn a trade with the members of the maintenance team and can then be called on as bricklayers or joiners to help with building projects. There are also some who return to their families. For the girls it is much different. Girls are at risk to sex trafficking and so a number of them stay at the centre and help out. Minimal housing is available but unlike the boys there are no adults available to supervise and support them. This is one area in which Iris Ministries is looking to further develop their support framework.Tracey explains that the centre in total is home to over 300 children at present, and is staffed by around 30 missionaries like her, plus approximately 200 part time staff and Tia helpers who assist with the care of the children0. This includes duties such as cooking, cleaning, and maintenance, so it is easy to see how large an operation it is to maintain and sustain the caring and raising of a large number of children.How does Tracey feels about what she does? When faced with the suggestion that the daily task of being part of a team to care for, educate, raise and medicate so many children must be daunting, the kind gentle smile appears once more.
Shrugging her shoulders matter-of-factly, she says: “All the children need is love. I don’t do anything special. I just love them.”
Rolland and Heidi Baker met at Vanguard University and went on to form Iris Ministries together in 1980.Over 10,000 churches have been planted by Iris Ministries since that time.The Bakers were ordained as ministers in 1985.The Children’s Centre at Zimpeto was the first base established by the Bakers and Iris Ministries in Mozambique.The base also serves the “poorest of the poor” from surrounding areas.Iris Ministries continues to perform missionary work in countries such as Sudan, India, Malawi, South Africa and Madagascar among others.Heidi Baker is currently touring the UK to perform a series of speeches about her work, and how she and Rolland formed Iris Ministries. Further details can be found on its website,