Nila Neumiller ’84: 'Small beginnings' lead to big successes
by Dan Jorgensen
Nila Neumiller ’84 says she has never chosen the straight and narrow path when deciding on a roadmap for her life. "I like to start things, and I always seem to have several things going at once," the effervescent Neumiller said with a smile.
And carry them through to success, she might have added.
A "non-traditional" student at Augsburg, Neumiller's biggest success has been the creation of Reaching Arms International (RAI), a multi-faceted Judeo-Christian ministry to orphan children.
Since 1993, she's built RAI from a single desk, single phone-line operation into a worldwide organization. From its current headquarters in New Hope, Minn.—where she has nine staff members—Neumiller places orphans from Russia (where her program first started), Armenia, Poland, Romania, and the Ukraine. She has opened two full-time orphanages in the Ukraine and Kenya (employing more than 40 staff members combined), and has eight international representatives. And, she and her husband, Bill, who is the RAI business manager, recently visited China, where they will open a third orphanage this year.
Neumiller was in a comfortable leadership role in art education with the Inver Grove Heights School District in 1992 when she went on an ecumenical trip to Russia that changed both the direction and focus of her life. "I had just been promoted to art education coordinator for the entire district," she recalled. "I was training 70 teachers and some 2,000 children every month, plus overseeing several site groups. I went to Russia with an ecumenical team and when I came back to the art coordinator career I realized that God had a call on my life to rescue orphans."
It was, she said, a personal crisis, because she had always been an educator and always wanted to be one. Suddenly, she didn't know what to do, so she simply resigned her position, and took four months off to pray and figure out what was next. "I left teaching on October 28 and started praying," she said. "I said, 'God, you're showing me what I can't do; show me what I can'."
What she did was start RAI. Simultaneously, she enrolled at Antioch Christian Training Center, eventually becoming an ordained pastor in 1997. "Both were small beginnings," she said, "but, my experience at Inver Grove Heights taught me not to take on too much at once. That taught me, as the Bible says, not to despise small beginnings."
Her trip to Russia had convinced her that she needed to help Russian orphans, so she spent the first year in her new business learning more about Russian language, culture, history, and the societal factors that lead to children being orphaned. Her first success with RAI came in placing three Russian sisters in 1995. Since then, RAI has placed more than 400 children from four nations (300 from Russia alone, making it MinnesotaÂ¹s largest placement organization for Russian orphans).
She opened her first Cradle of Childrens' Hope orphanage in the Ukraine in April 2000, in Novskili, a suburb of Kiev. Her second orphanage was opened in eastern Kenya in September 2001.
Neumiller, who has three adult sons, an adopted son and daughter, and three grandchildren, has new plans for her organization. "I would like to open a house for unwed mothers," she said. "I really believe we're going to do that in the near future." Meanwhile, though, she'll be concentrating on opening the orphanage in China, in the seaport city of Zhuhai (near Hong Kong). All of her orphanages are operated to provide the children with both a loving environment and training in the classic arts.
"I believe the arts embrace a dynamic healing potential," Neumiller stated. "Through singing, playing instruments, dancing, making drawings, sculpting, and painting, I believe the inner soul and spirit of a wounded child will mend and blossom."
To learn more about Reaching Arms International, visit their Web site at http://web.archive.org/web/20060908123709/http://www.raiadopt.org/