When Mary Grace Rumford needed to write a child protection policy for a children’s center, her dad helped.
When she needed advice about the facility’s program and development plans, she again got her dad’s supervision.
When she needed tips for creating a positive, loving atmosphere — Dad!
Mary Grace Rumford’s father is Steve Rumford, who retired three years ago after 29 years as president and CEO of the Methodist Home for Children and Youth in Macon.
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He’d spent previous years in a similar role in Kentucky and before that as a children’s social worker.
Mary Grace Rumford is director of the Dream Center — a children’s day center amid the slums and poverty of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, a southwest port town.
I realized the real work in Africa involved the trauma children suffered and that led me into psychology and social work. And then I realized I had all this history in the family I was blessed with, and that social work was almost second nature to me. I learned it sitting around our dinner table, watching my mom and dad and by having kids as friends at the home.
Mary Grace Rumford
Two years ago, Steve Rumford and wife, Rozelle Rumford, spent Thanksgiving in Cambodia with their missionary daughter. As fate would have it, they were there just in time to celebrate the Dream Center getting official government licensing.
Though her parents aren’t fond of the distance between them and their daughter, they’re enthusiastic about her calling and ministry.
“I think it’s incredible,” Rozelle Rumford said.
Rozelle Rumford is a retired teacher who worked both for Bibb County schools and the Methodist Home.
“We walked with Mary Grace through God’s leading her to Cambodia,” she said. “First we thought she’d be going to Africa where she took earlier trips, but the way God gets missionaries is he woos their hearts, and he wooed hers to Cambodia. Along the way, we all had honest conversations but no battles.”
Steve Rumford said his wife planted the seed of working in Cambodia in their daughter’s heart.
“When I thought she was going to go to Africa I believed she ought to hear from a woman with similar experience,” Rozelle Rumford said. “That led to her reading a book by Christian missionary Heidi Baker who started an orphanage in Mozambique and eventually the charitable service organization Iris Global.”
Iris Global sponsors and promotes evangelism, children’s centers, orphanages, schools, health clinics, feeding programs, cottage industries, missionary training and more worldwide. Mary Grace Rumford ended up in an Iris Global missionary training school and felt called to work in the children’s center beginning to take shape in Sihanoukville.
But like her father, Mary Grace Rumford was already a trained children’s social worker with experience — just not as much as him. As her parents say, her story is just beginning.
At 29, Mary Grace Rumford is a Macon native and 2006 graduate of First Presbyterian Day School. There she excelled as a student and an athlete playing softball, basketball and soccer.
“During my senior year at First Pres, God put on my heart the AIDS pandemic in Africa and the hidden children and child soldier situations there,” she said. “I was part of FPD’s student leadership and got to help raise awareness. I continued that as a freshman at Asbury University, the same place my dad went. I realized the real work in Africa involved the trauma children suffered and that led me into psychology and social work. And then I realized I had all this history in the family I was blessed with, and that social work was almost second nature to me. I learned it sitting around our dinner table, watching my mom and dad and by having kids as friends at the home.”
Mary Grace Rumford earned two bachelor degrees and added a masters from the University of Georgia while continuing mission trips. Then, she worked for a year as a child welfare investigator in Kentucky. She called it “time very well spent” and “challenging professionally, physically and emotionally.”
She was planning to move on to another position when something unusual happened.
“I’ve had so much of God’s grace in my life, so much of his goodness and his leading me — and then all of a sudden doors started closing,” she said. “I was like, ‘God! What the heck is going on?’ Then I heard the Lord say, ‘Maybe you’re not getting a job in the States because you’re not supposed to live in the States.’ So I said, ‘OK Lord, but you need to tell that to my parents.’ ”
He did, and in time she was on a plane heading to Africa, which would lead to Cambodia.
“I cried and cried on the plane,” Mary Grace Rumford said. “I wasn’t unhappy to be going or to do what I was going to do, I just knew saying yes to God, to whatever he wanted, was changing my family and life forever. I knew it would still be good but it was changing.”
And she said she knew she was taking part of her family along. Not just the natural relationship, but the part of their hearts that made them dedicate themselves — and their family — to taking Jesus’ love and care to hurting children.
“And,” she said, “there’s always Skype and Facetime. That helps, too.”
Steve Rumford said his concern for children grew out of his own experience.
“I came from a great family, but my mom and dad had problems,” he said. “I was in foster care with a Methodist minister by the time I was 16. At one point I ran away and had a less than good experience with a social worker. From then on I decided that’s the work I wanted to do — but I wanted to do it better.”
Steve Rumford was eventually adopted by an aunt and uncle but the Methodist minister’s influence continued. He followed his mentor’s advice to “find a great spouse to be faithful to, get an education, have a good work ethic and keep growing in relationship with Christ.”
It was to his aunt and uncle’s house the Rumfords would visit every Thanksgiving, even after they moved to Macon. It was this aunt that became “grandmother” to Mary Grace Rumford and her brothers Chad, Seth and Steven.
Steve Rumford’s commitment to do social work better than he experienced brought success to the Methodist Home in Macon and other centers it started across the state. It meant the expansion of programs and facilities that were good for kids — more than 1,300 children over the years that he personally gave a blanket to along with his promise: I will never lie to you.
“I think the biggest thing he did for those kids — well, the biggest thing he and my mom did for those kids was to love them like they were their own — but beside that, the biggest thing he did was create a culture of love that provided the things they needed emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. He called it a milieu, but I call it a culture and I’m trying to do the same thing in Cambodia.”
Mary Grace Rumford said the children she works with can be called street kids, orphans, unsupervised or a number of terms. She said they live in poverty with little healthcare, poor educational opportunities and at an extreme high risk of disappearing and being trafficked for labor or sexual exploitation.
And, she said, they live in a society still shell-shocked by national genocide during the rampage of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.
“There’s a blank stare and deep trauma still among parents and children,” she said. “Everyone stays emotionally cut off. It’s not that they don’t love their children, they’re just cut off — in survival mode. A big part of what I do every day is create culture because culture is something you do create. You choose to shape it. I don’t want to create Western or Eastern culture; I want to create loving family culture. I learned that at home.”
Mary Grace Rumford said her father always told her that for every bad experience a child has it takes 10 or more positive ones to make up for it. And she said she’s seen for herself it takes God to make a real difference.
“It’s moving a child from victim identity to a new identity,” she said. “There’s no greater identity than knowing you’re loved by God and are his child. It’s moving from an orphan spirit to sonship. We let Jesus work in children’s lives and create a culture and atmosphere welcoming to him and the Holy Spirit. We literally see miracles. Physical, emotional, financial and in kid’s and family’s hearts, we see them. Lives change and bodies heal. Though physical healings don’t occur always or every day, they’re not infrequent or unexpected. Many of our kids pray for each other and that’s when we’ve seen some of the most wonderful things.”
The Rumfords said the concept of creating godly culture isn’t just for children’s centers but for every family everywhere as well as social, business and other groups.
“That’s been the work of our lives and it has a large faith component,” said Rozelle Rumford. “We worked with children and raised our own in Jesus to the point that we let them go to what their future held. You can trust God with that.”
The Rumfords are members of Mulberry Street United Methodist Church and volunteer with Macon Outreach. Mary Grace Rumford is currently home for the holidays. As a missionary with Iris Cambodia, Mary Grace Rumford raises support to continue her work. Donations can be given through Mulberry Street UMC, noting it’s for “Cambodia.” Information about Iris Cambodia is at iriscambodia.org.
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.