Christian Charity Retools After Young Missionary Gets 40 Years for Sexually Assaulting Children

(Photo: Facebook/Eunice Menja)Missionary Matthew Lane Durham, 19, surrounded by African children.

Nearly a year after a young Christian missionary from Oklahoma was sentenced to 40 years in prison for sexually abusing several children at the Upendo Children's Home in Nairobi, Kenya, operators of the home say they have made significant changes to strengthen the organization.

In a statement posted to Upendo's Facebook page last month, the organization said it was now under new management and had learnt from the challenges of the last few years.

"It's a new year and just like America has a new president, Upendo Kids International is under new management. We have had an overhaul in the governing of our activities and programs in Kenya," Upendo said. "In the last four years that we operated Upendo Children, we learned a lot of lessons. Experiences have increased our knowledge of running such a vital institution."

Upendo was founded by a Christian Kenyan-American couple now living in Edmond, Oklahoma. The home specializes in helping neglected Kenyan children through the provision of food, clothes, shelter, school and religion. It is funded through donations and sponsorships, and often sought American volunteers from an Oklahoma church which was not identified by authorities.

Matthew Lane Durham, 21, a volunteer Oklahoma missionary was arrested for sexually assaulting three underage girls and a young boy at Upendo in 2014 and was sentenced to 40 years in prison last March.

Durham, who was 19 at the time of his arrest, was sentenced by Judge David L. Russell on four counts of "engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places," according to court documents cited by CNN.

"In a span of just 33 days," prosecutors wrote to the court, Durham "raped three girls — ages 5, 9 and 15 — at least eight times. During that same time period, he sexually molested a 12-year-old boy twice."

Prosecutors said Durham "not only forcefully sexually abused these children," but "he psychologically damaged them by taking advantage of their trust he received from the children."

Without mentioning the Durham assaults specifically, the children's home operators said the challenges they faced in the last two years had made them stronger.

"Last two years being the most challenging and yet we emerged stronger than before. Our children have grown and matured a lot. Most of them have made great strides in their academic paths. Two of them got the highest sponsorship there is in the country. Our dreams have grown bigger. We are also happy with the increased interest by the neighboring communities," Upendo stated.

The operators of the home said they are now looking to relocate to a much larger space to cater to the children under their care and asked donors to continue to give so they can realize that dream.

The criminal complaint against Durham, highlighted in an earlier report by The Christian Post, said at least one of the children he assaulted is HIV-positive.

A live-in caretaker at the home first noticed odd behavior from Durham toward the children in June 2014. He reportedly stayed with the children in their beds late at night and often gave them "lingering embraces."

When the caretaker inquired about his behavior, "several of the children stated Durham often touched them in a sexual manner or told them to touch themselves while he watched."

The founder of the home was told about the allegations and confronted Durham in early June 2014. He denied the allegations "but admitted to be struggling with homosexuality and child pornography." He, however, admitted to church members on June 17 that year that he had performed sex acts on the children.

Prosecutors said because of Durham's actions, communities in the region of Kenya where the assaults took place are now more wary of missionaries.

Durham's actions "have had a chilling effect on the lives of dozens of foreign volunteers in Kenya and elsewhere who must now live under the cloud of suspicion ... there is a real perception among Upendo's local Kenyan community that more pedophiles lurk among the volunteers, especially the male volunteers," prosecutors said, according to CNN.