Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Tammy’s Story: A Home called Grace (p3)

This is part three of Tammy’s story. I suggest you read part one and two before continuing.

Tammy moved to South Asia in 1998 with a dream—a center for street kids. She quickly discovered her dream was too small.


For the first three months, Tammy visited 15 or so children’s homes throughout the country. What she found was disappointing. The children had a place to sleep and food to eat, but not what they really needed—a family.

The street kids did not need their lives made more comfortable, they needed rescue. They needed a home.

But a home was more costly to give. A center could stay open during the day and close in the evenings. A home was 24 hours. How could she give these kids something she, herself, never had—a loving home?

Only by the grace of God.

In January 1999, Tammy rented a house with the last of her money and began taking in unwanted children from the streets. She named the home after the local word for “Grace.” It would be a home called grace. Into the home she would bring those rejected by society and from the home she would send leaders for the nation. That was her dream—a dream in need of grace.


By the end of the first year, Tammy had 20 kids ages 2 to 10 living with her along with two local women as helpers. The children, who had heard about God from Tammy, were excited to celebrate their first Christmas together. They came to Tammy-ma, as they called her, on the morning of Christmas Eve.

“Tammy-ma, we want the crackers. We need the crackers for Jesus’ birthday.”

Tammy didn’t understand. “What do you mean by crackers?”

“Tammy-ma, you know, BOOM BANG, the crackers.” The kids danced around the room making explosion noises.

Oh, Tammy thought, firecrackers. The locals celebrate their gods with firecrackers in the street.

“Listen kids, firecrackers aren’t usually a part of a Christmas celebration. Besides, they are expensive and we don’t have money to buy any.”

“But, Tammy-ma, we can’t have a birthday celebration without the crackers!” they moaned.

“Well,” Tammy said, “if you want firecrackers you can ask God for some.”

All twenty of the kids started praying in their broken English, “Jesus you can only give us the crackers. It’s your birthday. You need the crackers. You only give us the crackers.”

Tammy watched them, amused, but certain it was too late for Christmas firecrackers.

Later that afternoon a package arrived. It was a big box covered in tar and wrapped with burlap and rope. The kids started jumping up and down.

“THE CRACKERS! Jesus sent the crackers!”

Tammy tried to calm them down, “Kids, its not firecrackers. It’s illegal to send explosives through the mail.”

The children wouldn’t have it. “Ah, Tammy-ma. You’re only kidding. You know it’s the crackers.”

“Guys, its not the crackers. Someone probably sent us a gift and we are going to be grateful whatever it is.”

The box was difficult to open. They slowly worked a knife through the tar as the kids danced around.  At last, the children peered over the open package.

Inside were smoke bombs, M80s, sparklers, flash bombs, rockets—thousands and thousands of fireworks.

“Yes Jesus! Good job! You only sent the crackers!” the kids shouted. “Ah Tammy-ma,” they exclaimed, “you knew God was going to give us the crackers.”

“Yeah,” she fibbed, “I knew.”

Tammy's Boys

Tammy’s Boys

By her 30th birthday, Tammy’s house had 30 children between the ages of 3 and 13. The home called Grace was becoming just that, a home.

She was watching TV one night with one of the little boys, Kiran, and a program about orphans came on.

“Tammy-ma,” he asked, “what’s an orphan? It sounds terrible.”

Tammy hesitated. Kinan came to the home after his parents died. His father murdered his mother and was killed by the police the following day. By every definition, he was an orphan.

She struggled for words. “Well Kiran . . .”

He interrupted her, “Don’t worry Tammy-ma, I think I know what an orphan is. It’s what I was before I came here.”

Unfortunately, most of the children living at the home came from situations like Kiran’s.

Vetry and Kumari

Vetry and Kumari

Vetry(7) and his sister Kumari (5) came to the home in 2011 after their parents died in a fire. A social worker found them wandering around the slum sifting through garbage in search of food. They were all alone.

The social worker brought them to Tammy. Usually, when children come to the home, they aren’t just admitted as residence they are adopted as sons or daughters. In Vetry and Kumari’s case, there was no family member willing to sign the adoption papers. The family wanted nothing to do with the children—not even the responsibility of signing them over to someone else.

Despite the legal problems, Vetry and Kumari moved in and found a home with Tammy and the kids.

A year later, their Uncle found out that they were living at the home and doing well. He was livid. In his mind, why should his dead brother’s children live better than his own son? In the local culture, boys are considered of much more value than girls. He couldn’t stand for Kumari to live in a home while his son was running around the slum.

He told the social worker he wanted to take Kumari home with him.

Tammy was heartbroken. She had no legal recourse. There would be no court date. The Uncle, as the brother of Kumari’s father, had all the rights.

A date was set. On May 1st, the uncle and the social worker were coming to return Kumari to the slum.

The home became a house of constant prayer. Day and night for months the children prayed for Kumari’s uncle to change his mind. No one could stand the thought of losing Kumari to her abusive, alcoholic and spiteful uncle. Most of all, Tammy.

As the day approached, Tammy knew she should prepare Kumari for the transition—pack her bags and comfort her. But she could not bring herself to do it. Despite the negative reports from the social worker, she still had hope.

On May 1st, the Uncle arrived. Tammy did not know what to do; Kumari was not even packed. She decided to try a bluff.  “According to the Juvenile Justice act of 1984,” she told the social worker, “you can’t take her unless there is proof she is enrolled in a school.” The worker nodded as if she had actually heard of the law that Tammy just made up. “Just give us two days to get her ready,” Tammy pleaded, “and you will have time to get those papers together.”

The uncle agreed to give them two more days. They would return on May 3rd.

Tammy and the children did not stop praying, but she had to face the impending reality: Kumari was leaving. She packed a small bag and set it beside Kumari’s bed.  She tried to explain what was happening in a way that her five-year-old mind could understand. Kumari responded, “No, no, Tammy-ma, you don’t need to pack my bags, I won’t be leaving.”

All they could do was ask God for grace.

When May 3rd arrived, the Uncle did not show up.

On May 4th, the social worker called with a message. The uncle changed his mind; Kumari is yours for life.

Kumari at home

Kumari at home


A little more than 14 years ago, a house in South Asia became a home called Grace. It continues today. In that place, almost 50 children have found a home, a new life, and a mother. Her name is Tammy-ma.

Tammy deflects credit. She believes the honor belongs to the God who proved himself to a bitter, broken college student over 20 years ago. She does not regret her decision to give him everything. In her own words, “Knowing God’s heart for you is the key for having his heart for others.”

[Read the conclusion—an update on Tammy’s twin sister and some words from Tammy herself]

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