In an open air church sanctuary in Haiti, she walks over to me with a twinkle in her eye, seemingly holding in giggles. Taking both of my hands in hers, she positions each of her hands directly underneath mine. Before I know what she is doing, she swiftly pulls one hand from underneath mine, and gently smacks the top of my hand while erupting in a deep belly laugh. I begin laughing too, surprised by the quiet girl with braids in her hair. Though we cannot speak each other’s language, we spend the next five minutes taking turns trying to catch each other off guard with a swift movement of the hand. Her friends start to push her aside, eager to prove their own skills in the game, and the laughter starts to spread from one child to the next.
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The city streets of Guatemala—with few green spaces and most of those infested with negative influences—are not a welcoming place for childhood play. Growing up in Guatemala can be a dangerous and lonely experience . . .
Earlier this year, a group of people from Morey Community Church of Michigan visited their church partner, Iglesia Nueva Vida Alfa y Omega, in Guatemala for the first time. Congregants from each church tripped over one another's languages and laughed through the initial awkward interactions.
Averaging 30 teams and 300 people each year, World Orphans sees the value in short-term mission trips. We send teams because we believe healthy relationships can be motivating, empowering, and life-giving.
What does it mean to care for the "whole" child? What does that look like? It seems counterintuitive in some ways. If we're caring for a child, we're caring for the whole child, right? Roof over her head. Shoes on his feet. Books for school. At World Orphans, we see a distinction between caring for a child and caring for the whole child. We use the term "wholistic" a lot, but what does that even mean?
A few minutes later, Sherrí sat—amid the cacophony of dozens of children—face-to-face with Miranda, who began pulling the cloth from her hand, and Sherrí was deciding how to respond to that still voice saying, "Let go."
In late September in Estes Park, Colorado, the morning air ushers in a crispness like the first bite of a Granny Smith apple. The mountaintops become a mixture of snow that refused to melt and the year’s first dusting, while the aspens have exchanged their leaves of green for gold and orange hues that sparkle when the light shines through them. Afternoons here feel like summer but taste like winter. And when the sun sets, we are all children again, staring into a star-covered sky and considering the universe in all its vast wonder.
"I never loved you and everything is your fault. Don't expect anyone to love you if your own mother can't."
Those were the last words out of his mother's mouth before David was launched into the foster care system. It was a couple days after his 10th birthday and, to say the least, he'd had a difficult first decade.
World Orphans is not an adoption agency; however, we love the foster and adoptive families represented through our staff, donors, and communities. We rally behind your efforts to champion the cause of vulnerable and orphaned children. Sometimes it's hard though, isn't it? Sometimes it looks like this:
"I hate you. You're not even my real mom. You can't tell me what to do."
She wanted to pick up the explosive words that had seemingly shattered the fragile air into splintering shards of glass, but she couldn't. She'd welcomed him into their home over a year ago, with high hopes that they would be laughing, playing, and enjoying one another's company by now. But, they weren't.
When Jonathan wasn't throwing words like jujitsu knives at Elaine, he was lost in a meltdown with the crocodile tears, kicking, screaming – the whole deal. This had become the new "normal" for the Smith family and it was taking a toll on everyone.
Elaine and her husband, Jim, were not new to parenting. They had three older children that were – until Jonathan came into the house – doing relatively well. When Jim and Elaine announced their decision to adopt, their biological children were ecstatic about the prospect of having a younger brother or sister.
Jonathan, the six-year-old little boy with the messy mop of brown curls and the deep blue eyes, seemed to capture their hearts immediately. When the Smiths looked at the pictures from the adoption agency, they didn't see the brokenness in that sweet little face. He was a smart, handsome, and jovial little man and the Smiths looked forward to calling him "son".
Adoption wasn't what the Smiths thought it would be, though. The pictures didn't tell them about the lingering effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), or the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Maybe the agency rattled off those things at one point in the process, but how difficult could those things be? The Smiths had friends whose children were diagnosed with ADD and assumed it would all work out just fine. After all, Jonathan would be their fourth child.
The Smiths had no idea how difficult it would be to parent Jonathan. Adoption is beautiful, but it's also messy.
What happens next? What happens when all the things your parents did with you don't work? What happens when the way you parented your other children only leads to more tantrums, crying, and shouting? What happens when you find yourself at the end of your rope?
The Smiths' story is not uncommon. It's the story of many adoptive and foster families. It's the story of parents that truly care, but cannot seem to communicate with their new family member. It's the story that's being written over and over and over again, not only by adoptive families, but by foster and temporary placement families as well. What if the story could be different?
Mothers and fathers, allow us to introduce you to Empowered to Connect and the late Dr. Karyn Purvis. As Director of the TCU Institute of Child Development, Dr. Purvis focused the last decade of her life on researching and developing interventions for at-risk children. She co-authored The Connected Child with Dr. David Cross, and her wisdom has been ground-breaking for adoptive and foster families, social workers, and a variety of people working in childcare.
Empowered to Connect uses the Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI)® model developed by Dr. Purvis. "TBRI® is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI® uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI® is connection."
Connection. We all crave it and were created for it.
As relational beings we [...] have a deep need and desire to connect with those around us. One of the most important and meaningful human connections is undoubtedly between a parent and a child. -Dr. Karyn Purvis
Connecting isn't always easy, though, and we've found the TBRI and Empowered to Connect principles helpful in the Wholistic Care training we offer to our church partners across the globe. Families like the Smiths have found hope in these principles as well. Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) President Jedd Medefind says Empowered to Connect "brings together some of the nation’s very best experts on what adopted children and their families experience, and how parents can forge deep and lasting bonds with their children, even in the face of great difficulty."
Education is important. Medical care is important. A bed. A family. A house. But, a home – a place for love, redemption and healing – that's really the goal.
It looks so simple on paper or on a screen, but in those difficult moments when the tears are flowing and the screaming is only getting louder, it's hard, isn't it? If you're fostering or you've adopted, we know the struggle you've felt, and we'd love to remind you that God's grace is abundant, his mercies are new every morning, and his love is endless.
Let's tackle one day at a time . . . until they all have HOMES.
The Race That Eats Its Young. It's a daunting tagline, isn't it? Doesn't it make you want to sign up for the race tomorrow? The Barkley Marathons is a gruesome, agony-filled race whose distance exceeds 100 miles and whose memories could scar you for a lifetime. Nestled in the hills of Tennessee, the race challenges runners not only with the distance, but the hills, trees, briars, and early-spring possibilities of rain, snow, sleet, or hail. The course time limit is 60 hours. 60 hours of crying, bleeding, hallucinating, hungering, thirsting . . . fun?
In the first 25 years of the race's existence, only ten people completed the course. Despite its grimacing tagline and its infamous reputation (or because of it), hundreds of runners apply for the race each year. Only 40 of those that apply are given formal invitations (which are written in the form of condolence letters). The race follows a looped course. Three laps, approximately 78 miles, is considered a "fun run", and the full five-lap course finishes out at 130 miles.
If you aren't yet sick to your stomach, each loop of the race has a 12,000 foot ascent and 12,000 foot descent, making the full course equivalent to climbing Mt. Everest twice.
Lazarus Lake, cofounder of the Barkley Marathons, says runners "just had a fallback mentality [in the race's early history] that the race was just the fun run and the hundred [full race] was impossible." Nobody completed the full race course until nearly ten years after the race was established. Lake went on to say, "Once someone finished, you knew it really could be done."
Did you catch that? Runners assumed the race was impossible until someone completed it.
Until They All Have Homes.
It's a daunting tagline isn't it? When you place the desire to see every orphaned child in a home up against the reality that there are 150 million orphaned children in the world, this tagline doesn't seem to pay homage to the situation at hand.
- If we multiplied the Texas population by five, that number would still fall short of the amount of orphaned children in the world.
- The worldwide orphan population is larger than the entire population of Russia.
- If all the orphans in the world were placed in a country of their own, they would have the ninth largest country in the world.
Seeking to house and nurture every orphaned child in the world might as well be the world's most difficult 130-mile race, right? We know the challenge to "defend the weak and the fatherless" (Psalm 82:3), yet we feel like we don't know where to begin sometimes.
Here's the thing. It's going to be impossible until we do it.
When runners run the first four laps of the Barkley Marathons, they typically run together. They partner up – the seasoned Barkley runners with the newbies – and they tackle the course together because they know they stand a better chance against the terrain and their own weaknesses when they choose to not go alone.
I cannot do this alone. You cannot do this alone. World Orphans cannot do this alone. We're holding on to the grace of God, asking you to join hands with us, and tackling the orphan crisis one mile at a time. We aren't taking the "fun run" option. We aren't assuming this is impossible. We're in this for the long haul.
We're going to ride out the briar-covered hills, the snow-packed trails, the rainy miles, the blistered feet, and the relentless exhaustion. Far more than bragging rights and race medals are at stake here.
150 million children deserve hope. It's not impossible for every orphaned child to have a home. It's just that nobody has done it . . .
We like the notion of doing it all on our own, don't we? In a nation that celebrates self-starters, independence, and the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality, we've glorified individualized efforts and often missed out on the vast opportunities afforded by working together with one another. To be clear, individual work ethic is important and there is–of course–work that only you can do. However, are we missing the bigger picture when we do it all on our own and forget about the incredible network of people that God has made available to us? When we tackle it alone, are we accomplishing less instead of more?
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:3-8
We often look at verses like these, smile, think, "what a nice thought," and then go on with our day. The idea of fully embracing our community of believers and engaging with them in authentic ways is a beautiful concept, but we often fail to pursue it.
What would it look like to embrace our role as the Body of Christ? What would it look like if we brought our different personalities, gifts, talents, strengths, and backgrounds together and used them for good? The global church has an extravagant amount of talent, wisdom, and resources when we work together.
153 million orphaned children need us to work together to find solutions to the orphan crisis, and the solution is rooted in relationship, partnership, and the firm belief that the Body of Christ is a beautiful, powerful force. We need to hold hands on this one. The future of orphaned and vulnerable children is dependent on the global church working together . . .
Until they all have homes.
Watch our newest video to learn how we can work together for orphaned and vulnerable children.
Find out how your church can get involved in Church Partnership.
"An architect." Her boldness and creativity caught me off guard. It was the sixth classroom of the day in which we'd asked the students, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Her response surprised me because it was one I hadn't heard yet.
The teenage students were packed into a tiny classroom, and though their language was unfamiliar, the stares, giggles, and whispering felt very similar to the way a US classroom would feel brimming with teenagers.
The heat, the language barrier, and the mental exhaustion of the day was making us run close to empty, but we mustered up more energy for this new group. We began, as we had with other classes, by asking the expectant faces about their plans for the future. We heard dreams and plans bounce off the walls: teacher, doctor, nurse.
Esther* claimed she wanted to be an architect.
We began to talk to the students about the importance of not only choosing a career to pursue, but the importance of choosing their words carefully. We discussed how they talk to their friends, to their parents, to God, and to themselves. Recognizing the lies imbedded in the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," we told them how hurtful words can be. But, of course, they already knew this.
When we finished talking to the class, we offered to take questions. Esther's hand immediately shot up and she whispered for what felt like 30 minutes to our translator, Davidson. In reality, it was probably less than two minutes, but have you ever stood in front of a classroom full of teenagers? They stare at you.
Davidson turned to face our group—me, Mike, DeAhna, and Shydonna—and he relayed the story of a broken-hearted girl who so confidently announced her desire to be an architect, yet deep down was considering being a criminologist. She'd confided in someone she loved about her dreams, but that person told her she couldn't be a criminologist, and Esther wanted to know what to do and where to go from here.
Shydonna in Haiti
What Esther didn't know is that our team was blessed to have the brilliance and heart of Shydonna Tossie, director and owner of Ampersand School in Longwood, Florida. Shydonna is an educator, motivator, and big dreamer, but most importantly, Shydonna's love for children cannot be exaggerated.
Shydonna communicated many things to Esther that day, as she encouraged her to continue pursuing her desire to be a criminologist, but the most important things she conveyed to this heavy-hearted young woman were hope, love, and confidence. The conversation ended in tearful prayers and the kind of hug that must have made the angels sing.
Esther's school was attached to the local church, and following that final conversation in the classroom, we went into the church auditorium with our group. It wasn't long before a backpack-bearing girl with an orange gingham top and navy skirt made her way into the auditorium. Her eyes raced around the room before she quickly located Shydonna. Esther, seemingly forgetting the language barrier, sat down next to Shydonna to rest her head on Shydonna's shoulder. Words weren't important anymore. Esther needed hope, love, and the knowledge that someone had confidence in her. She'd found that in Shydonna, and that was enough.
This is the kind of impact Shydonna makes every single day at Ampersand School, where she frequently whispers in the ears of young learners, "Somebody is waiting for you to be great." Isn't it fascinating how some messages need to be communicated regardless of the culture? Isn't it amazing to think that children everywhere are dreaming big and waiting for us to encourage them to fly? What Shydonna knows and what you and I may fail to remember is that education isn't just about education. When children learn and dream, they're setting a pathway for their future.
If you were to ask her, Shydonna would tell you she wasn't always this inspiring to those around her. As a college student feeling the weight of the world, she stood at a Christian youth conference in a sea of depression. Tears were staining Shydonna's face when a strange woman approached her and said:
"What you're going through right now isn't even about you. Somebody is going to come behind you who needs to know that you survived. That person needs you to get through this because they need to know they can survive, too."
15 years later, Shydonna holds those words tightly in her hand, carrying them with her every day, knowing that this woman—whose name she'll never know—changed her life.
Arguably Shydonna may have done the same thing for Esther. Words of wisdom. A prayer. A hug at the perfect time. Children around the world need to know that we're waiting for them to be great. Orphaned and vulnerable children especially need to know that the world is waiting for them to be great. Though their circumstances understandably may seem insurmountable, we need 153 million orphaned children to know that we're waiting for them.
Shydonna and Esther
At World Orphans, we talk a lot about wholistically caring for orphaned and vulnerable children, ensuring their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs are all being addressed, but orphan care at the end of the day isn't really about orphan care at all.
We aren't caring for orphans. We're pouring into future doctors, teachers, and nurses. We're empowering architects, engineers, and mothers. We're investing in fathers, mechanics, and entrepreneurs. When you look into the eyes of a child, you are looking into the future of that community, town, and country. The child's circumstances may have rendered him or her orphaned, but that is not the child's permanent identity.
The second we start believing that orphan care is merely about orphan care, we've forgotten the potential that lies in those beautiful brains, the passion that burns in those big hearts, and the dreams that soar higher than the clouds. These boys and girls . . . they're going to be great.
*Name changed to protect identity.
One of the first times I can recall fighting with God was a real Jacob-wrestling-God kind of moment in a tiny village in Malawi, Africa, where views are spectacular and resort-like, but poverty is brutal and debilitating. Poverty shoves itself in your face and demands that you respond. Having grown up in a stable, comfortable home in the US, I had a lot to process. I had to wrestle through the confusion – Am I even on the same planet? – the anger –Why are children dying as a direct result of poverty? – the guilt –Why isn't this my story? Why have I been given so much?
I was shocked by the world I was suddenly facing.
Maybe that’s it. Poverty, orphans, widows and refugees–are we even shocked anymore? I catch myself frequently turning the TV off or scrolling quickly on Facebook or hiding the post or changing the station because . . . I don’t want my heart to break. I tell myself that it’s because I get it–I know what’s going on in the world and I know I’m supposed to do something about it. Don’t tell me the story. Don’t make me feel sad. I get it. Do I really, though?
Do you? Do we–in a society that promotes comfort above all–allow ourselves to feel heartbreak?
In some ways, I feel immuned. I’ve been on the mission trips. I’ve heard the stories. I’ve seen the pictures, but then, sometimes there’s that story or that picture or that moment I didn’t expect, and I feel real pain, and I’m surprised. Have we forgotten what it's like to empathetically hurt for one another? Are we afraid to hurt? Are we afraid to feel convicted?
What would it look like if we started letting ourselves feel heartbroken? What would change if we, as Matt Maher so famously sings, let God “break our hearts for what breaks [His]”? What breaks God's heart?
God "defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing." Deuteronomy 10:18
"Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." Isaiah 1:17
"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." Psalm 68:5
"This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hands of their oppressors those who have been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place." Jeremiah 22:3
"The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked." Psalm 146:9
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27
So, as we look at those who face poverty, orphaning, and every kind of human injustice, let us "weep with those who weep", but let us not merely sit in the heartbreak and the weeping. Let us use that heartbreak to spur us on to something more, something crazy . . .
. . . something we hadn’t previously considered. Adoption. Foster care. A mission trip. Creating that nonprofit. Pursuing that job. Taking that risk.
Love isn't a word. Love is a verb. It often begins with empathetic heartbreak; however, it certainly doesn't end there.
Where can we start?
- Get educated. Learn about global injustices, how the church is addressing those injustices, and how we should be addressing those injustices in the future. Looking for some reading materials? Check these out:
- Revolution in World Missionsby K. P. Yohannan
- Generous Justice by Timothy Keller
- Love Doesby Bob Goff
- When Helping Hurtsby Steven Corbett and Brian Fikkert
- The Poor Will Be Gladby Peter Greer and Phil Smith
- Get involved locally. Find out what ministries your church or community organizations offer for the marginalized in your area, and get plugged in somewhere. If you choose to serve with a local nonprofit organization, be sure to do your research, verifying that money is being stewarded well. Consider helping with:
- After-school programs and programs catered towards underprivileged youth. (Your local schools should know what programs are currently available.)
- Tutoring and literacy training. (Find out if Literacy Volunteers of America works in your area.)
- Assist with job skills training and preparation in your area. (Learn more through Jobs for Life.)
- Minister to those in prison.
- Can't find a ministry that makes use of your gifts and abilities? Start your own.
- Get involved globally. You can get plugged in with a variety of international ministries. Remember, though, to always do your research on how donations are being used. World Orphans is dedicated to using resources well, as we grow projects in 12 different countries. Opportunities for involvement through World Orphans are abundant:
Weep for a season. Allow your heart to break. Cry out to God. Then, . . .
Tacy Layne | Writer/Editor "It's Batman!"
The excited little boy's voice echoes the joy and relief the citizens of Gotham feel as Batman soars above the city in the Bat Mobile. Attached by a chain to the famous aircraft, the Neutron Bomb swings like a pendulum through the air. Every face turns towards the sky.
The camera catches the look of anticipation on each spectator's face. The effortless beauty of the sunset contrasts the painful possibilities still hanging in the balance. Then, we see his face.
Batman. Fierce. Brave. Determined to save the city.
As the explosive detonates below the water's surface with not a second to spare, the city erupts in exclamations, knowing the hero—Batman—has saved the day.
Whether it's 2012's The Dark Knight Rises or 1920's The Mark of Zorro, we love the hero . . . and more than that, we love the idea of being the hero. What if you caught Mary Jane as she was free-falling through the sky or you saved an entire village from being terrorized merely with your armor?
THE HERO COMPLEX
O, to be the hero—the hero in the eyes of our parents, our spouse, our children, our family, our town, our state, our country. Certainly, we want to "help" people, right? But, don't we also want to know what it feels like to stand in the spotlight as people celebrate the fact that we just saved the day? I know I've craved that feeling. Haven't you?
Here's the problem. When we make any single act of kindness about us rather than the recipient, our eyes cannot see past the mountain of pride in front of our faces. What happens when we carry this hunger for fame and recognition into ministry with us?
The results can be devastating.
Developing countries do not need another hero. They've had their fair share and in many cases the "hero" made the crisis or problem worse.
This story—of redeeming the creation for the creator, of releasing the oppressed and the oppressor, of bringing beauty out of the ashes—already has a hero. He didn't need us at the resurrection and he doesn't need us now, but he invites us to be part of this logic-defying, grace-covered story that's sent the cosmos reeling.
Steven Corbett's When Helping Hurts calls out the church for our historically egocentric approach to missions and suggests a better way—a way that engages our brothers and sisters in Christ in real community, recognizing their strengths and weaknesses, our strengths and weaknesses, and the celebration of the grace covering it all.
When God calls us to serve someone, he isn't asking us to be the hero of that person's story. He's reminding us that he's already the hero, and he's inviting us to be engaged in the process. If we'll allow it, this realization can be freeing.
Your brothers and sisters could use your gifts, your talents, your wisdom, and your generosity in all its forms because we are made for community and God can do a magnificent work through us. But it's time for us to abandon the desire to be the hero.
PEOPLE OVER PROCESS
This is about more than the prideful practice of trying to take the glory which rightfully belongs to God, though. When we decide that we're going to be the hero of the story, we make those we are serving part of a means to an end, missing out on the gift of friendship with them, wisdom from them, and community shared alongside them.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.39 She had a sister called Mary,who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
Perhaps at one point Martha was excited about the arrival of Jesus, but she got lost in her to-do list. In the midst of her meltdown, she talked (rudely in my humble opinion) to her honored guest, threw her sister under the bus, and made herself a negative example for people like us to talk about until the end of time. She missed the people because she was lost in the process. She wanted the house to be perfect, and in her own way, she wanted to be the hero of this day. Not only did she get wrapped up in the process and lose sight of what was truly important, but she tried to take Jesus down with her when she pleaded, "Tell her to help me!"
We must not get so caught up in engaging the poor, disadvantaged, or struggling people around us in our processes that we forget the people. I've been there with my to-do list, checking off projects rather than emotionally and mentally checking in with people. It's easier that way, isn't it? It's far less messy to do something for someone in a distant, project-oriented type of way than it is in an honest, face-to-face, authentic human kind of way.
Relationships are messy. Christianity is messy. Missions? Totally messy. At some point though, we have to learn to live in the mess rather than trying to clean it up all the time.
Don't get in a tizzy, Martha. We don't need an action shot, Batman. Instead, let's love the people we serve with a selfless, unconditional love. God's the hero of this one.
Tacy Layne | Writer/Editor Some of my favorite childhood memories smell like salt water and sound like the wind. Most summers included one week at the beach, and I began dreaming about the next beach trip before the tan faded from the previous trip.
"Next year I'll swim further or build a bigger sand castle or get up earlier to see the sunrise," I'd think. I had 1,000 plans by the time my toes felt the scorching heat of the sun-baked sand once again, but each year would be the same. Breathlessly, I'd run onto the beach after the obligatory 30 minutes of unpacking everything, and despite my well-mapped plans for the week, I'd find myself overwhelmed.
I'd stand and stare in awe at the vast expanse of blues and greens unfolding before my eyes, as the seagulls echoed the waves, while the wind chimed in with its harmonies. Suddenly faced with the reality of my own smallness that so starkly contrasted the vast ocean before me, I found myself immovable. All I could do was stand there feeling small.
That child who stood cemented into the sandy beaches of a North Carolina shore has much in common with us as adults. We often consider how we'll tackle a dream or a problem, and perhaps even create a plan, but when we arrive at our destination, we're suddenly overwhelmed by the enormity of the circumstance and we freeze. We stand immovable. Our plans are gone and we've lost the ability to think.
The church has been commanded to care for orphans. It's pretty straight-forward. Care for orphans. But, here we are with 153 million pairs of eyes staring us - the church - in the face. Are we frozen? Are we afraid to make a move? Have we forgotten that we are to care for the orphaned? So, now what?
If the command to care for orphans wasn't specifically for those families that are brave enough to adopt, then does that really mean God is asking every single one of us to get our hands dirty on this? If God meant what he said when he told us to care for the orphaned, where can we begin? What can we do if we don't want to adopt?
Drawing from the creative wisdom outlined in Johnny Carr's Orphan Justice, here are five ways to begin addressing the orphan crisis:
- Either collectively with a group or individually, begin an adoption fund to support adoptive families. Perhaps adoption isn't something you are ready or able to pursue, but I'd be willing to bet you know an adoptive family. A variety of factors will affect the cost of adoption, particularly geographic location. My friend and her husband have committed to financially supporting every adoptive family they meet. It’s a familial commitment they’ve made. Would you consider doing the same? Wouldn't it be beautiful if the families burdened to take in orphaned children knew that finances would not be a barrier? Wouldn't it be incredible if they could look at the list of costs in front of them and be confident in the fact that their family, friends, and community would help make this adoption a reality?
- Foster a child. In 2014, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 264,746 children entered into the foster care system in the US. Read that statistic carefully. Those are just the children that entered into the system during 2014. This number does not include those already in the system. Fostering is difficult. Foster care has been designed to ultimately reunite the family when possible, thus providing opportunities for grace to abound and for reconciliation to become tangible; however, for the families that take on the commitment to foster a child and temporarily step into the role of a caregiver, this is hard. As hard as it may be for a fostering family, though, please consider how invaluable fostering is for the children involved. Foster families have the opportunity to pour into the life of a vulnerable child in a way that can eternally impact the life of that child. C.S. Lewis said, "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and you will be wrung and possibly broken."
- Become a respite worker for fostering families. Carr explains that "respite workers are retained and screened to help care for [children] with physical and emotional special needs." These workers will provide anywhere from an hour to a few weeks of care for children whose foster families must be away from the child. This can be an extraordinary blessing to foster families and another opportunity to impact a vulnerable child with God's grace.
- Support a pregnancy resource center either financially or through volunteer hours. This kind of community involvement may not be the first thing on your radar when you consider orphaned or vulnerable children; however, one is closely linked to the other. The women who may walk into a pregnancy resource center are - no surprise - seeking out resources. These women may be facing unplanned pregnancies or may simply feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood, and, instead of going to an abortion clinic, they turned to a resource center. Many (though certainly not all) are single mothers. Carr notes that we, the church, "are called to support, encourage, and equip her as she learns how to parent." A well-equipped, well-resourced, and connected mother is far less likely to have a child that ends up in the foster care system. By empowering and equipping mothers, we ensure that there are fewer orphaned and vulnerable children in the world.
- Begin an outreach program within your church or community that ministers to the needs of fostering and adoptive families. While the financial needs are often first to come to mind, not enough can be said about engaging with fostering and adoptive families to provide educational and emotional support. These families are facing questions, trials, and fears that no other family is combating. We were designed for community, and these families need community in a tangible way that recognizes their efforts, celebrates their victories, and grieves alongside them when they face defeat.
This list of opportunities for involvement merely skims the surface. For more ways to get involved and for a better understanding of the global orphan crisis we are facing, please consider reading Orphan Justice by Johnny Carr.
by David Martin | Communications Specialist
The difficulty that characterized life in Europe during the Middle Ages is rarely lost on anyone, but how often do we reflect the ways in which this played out for the marginalized of society? How, for instance, did mass poverty and a very high mortality rate affect the youngest and most vulnerable members of civilization?
Many children born during this period of history were, for varying reasons, either unwanted or unable to be cared for by their parent(s), and these newborns were often abandoned. Reasons leading to abandonment included (though certainly were not limited to):
- Poverty/lack of ability to care
- Illnesses or deformities in the child
- Undesired gender of child
- Extramarital affairs
- Wars and famines
No class of society was exempt from this propensity to abandon children. A poor family may have felt the pressure of provision and abandoned a child whose needs could not be met. An aristocratic child born out of an extramarital affair would not only have brought shame upon the families involved, but would have complicated inheritance issues. The prevalence of casting off children spread to every corner of the culture. Reasons for child abandonment in the Middle Ages did not differ altogether from leading causes today, though. The same human issues transcend periods of time.
In the early Middle Ages, in Europe, unwanted children were often sold into slavery; however, this lessened with the growth of the church, as Christians did not characteristically buy and sell one another as slaves. In addition, because of the reach and influence of Christianity, infanticide came to be gravely looked down upon in the culture, to the point that abandonment became the preferred alternative, so long as the child was abandoned in such a way as to likely receive needed care.
The first group to offer this needed care was, in fact, the church. Both handicapped and healthy children were often left at the doors of monasteries and churches. The church was considered the only institution that would legitimately take care of these vulnerable children. It was not, however, equipped with the means to provide long-term care for children, and this deficiency led to the cropping up of homes for foundlings. These homes were often religiously-based, but not directly tied institutionally to the church. These homes were able to help in several arenas where other solutions were falling short, but many children still did not live, and being placed in a home was not a guarantee of survival for an infant.
Still, a much greater chance of survival was allotted to those children who remained in families. Recognizing this, there was a strong advocacy on the part of clergy to place unwanted children in families. Much of the legal red tape of modern society was not present in those times, and a family would often simply take an abandoned child into their home and raise the child as part of the family.
Records of inheritances show that a significant bond would often develop between these adopted children and their caregivers. Contrary to what some historical fiction suggests, these children were not seen as sub-par. Adoption was the best hope for a child to have a happy and healthy future, and it was most notably the church which did the bulk of the labor in promoting this.
Also, if not for the church, infanticide would have been much more prevalent. Clergy knew that they had to go farther than simply condemning the killing of unwanted children and walking away. The church knew that its duty was to provide the systems and means to care for these children.
Acts clearly communicates the early church's belief that caring for orphans was one of its central mandates, and hundreds of years later, though still struggling with the severe dynamics of a fallen world, the church is persistently hearing and heeding that call to care for the helpless, and moving forward to do all in its power to remember the least of these. May we do the same today.
Much insight for this article taken from the book:
By Lori Harry | Guest Blog | Haiti Trip Team Member "WHY DO YOU LOVE ME SO MUCH?" I can't get these words out of my mind. This question was posed to me by Resien, a beautiful Haitian woman, and her question is one I can easily ask God.
When I went on my last trip to Haiti, I took printed photos from my previous trip with the hope that I would see some of the same people again. I'm sure many of these Haitians had never seen themselves in a printed picture. Faces quickly lit up as my simple gifts were passed around for friends and neighbors to see.
On our first day at the church, I briefly saw one of the ladies I'd met previously and I remembered I had a photo of her and her children. I was busy organizing something, and before I could give her the photo, she was gone. Each day, I looked for her again, but she never came back to the church.
On our last day, I asked the pastor if he would take me to her. As we walked down the path between the dwellings, she was sitting in an open space with a few other women. Our whole team, surrounded by all the Haitian kids that were following us, approached the group of women, and I handed her the photo. We both found ourselves smiling during this brief conversation. As she motioned me toward her home, a one-room concrete structure, she said, "WHY DO YOU LOVE ME SO MUCH?" I easily answered, "Because Jesus does!" and I gave her a hug. But as I have been sharing this highlight of my trip since I've been home, the deep meaning of her question has pierced my heart.
I am a "doer" - always busy, always on the go, and always seeking more to do. It's no different on the mission field. Even though the culture is more slow-paced and not organized in ways that are customary to me, I often feel like I can do more . . . building projects, programs, street clean-up, teaching, etc. . . . But, World Orphans focuses on relationships. Trips with World Orphans focus on encouraging families and staff, spending time with the people in the community, and praying for God's touch in their lives.
The way this lady felt because I chose to love her mirrors the way we should feel knowing how much God loves us. It is often difficult for me to accept that I am special in God's eyes, and my friend, Resien, not only reminded me of God's love for me, but also reminded me of the importance of relationship. If for nothing else, I know that God took me to Haiti for that one moment!
By Scott Vair | President Last month I traveled to Guatemala, along with the rest of the World Orphans Board of Directors, to visit our projects and ministry partners. Over the last several years, we have developed an amazing partnership with AMG Guatemala, a Gospel and child-focused ministry located in Guatemala City with whom we have many shared values.
While at the main AMG Guatemala campus, we spent some time with their President, Brian Dennett. For the sake of our board members who hadn’t met Brian or heard the vision of AMG, he shared a bit about their decades of ministry in Guatemala, where they have largely focused on education and medical care.
Brian explained that he and his staff are not the founders of AMG Guatemala, (nor am I and my staff the founders of World Orphans), but we both have, as Brian stated, the privilege and responsibility to steward the ministries well.
During my nine years at World Orphans, I have seen families pack up their belongings and move to foreign countries to help facilitate our ministry. I’ve seen incredibly talented people faithfully raise personal support from family and friends in order to lend their expertise to this ministry. I’ve seen thousands of donors sacrificially give, from change collected by children to tens of thousands of dollars donated by foundations, churches, and individuals who believe in what we are doing. As a result, thousands of orphaned children, vulnerable families, and refugees have received love and care from the local church.
What a privilege to be part of this.
What a responsibility to steward.
We have worked hard to do just that - to steward well, in a way that honors God and those who have sacrificed much to give, go, and pray for World Orphans.
It is one of the reasons we obtained and maintain our accreditation with the Evangelical Counsel for Financial Accountability (ECFA).
“ECFA enhances trust in Christ-centered churches and ministries by establishing and applying Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™ to accredited organizations.
Founded in 1979, ECFA provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability, transparency, fundraising, and board governance.
ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™, drawn from Scripture, are fundamental to operating with integrity.
The ECFA standards are infrequently changed, providing members a steady baseline for consistent application of the standards to members. The standards have been described as simple, but not simplistic. The brief statements included in the standards have significant implications for organizations that pledge to follow these standards. They are not standards that allow for grading on the curve. Rather, they are pass-fail standards. ECFA members must comply with all of the standards, all of the time.”
We take these standards seriously, and we are committed to following them. We trust that in doing so, we give confidence to our supporters that their gifts are being used well, and that we are an organization worthy of their time, talents, and treasures.
"For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men." 2 Corinthians 8:21
It is a privilege to serve at World Orphans. We pray that our words, our actions, our thoughts, and our plans bring honor and glory to the Lord.
By Matthew Hanks | Project Manager: Africa
Longing for More
In the midst of all the political talk and opining on Facebook about the Syrian refugee crisis, and as it relates to the recent Paris attacks, I’ve been thinking about how people wind up in lands other than the ones in which their genetics are tied. For example, what were the circumstances surrounding my Scottish great grandfather who brought his young family to the US? Or my Venezuelan sister-in-law, living in central Texas, and ethnically part French? This will no doubt be an ongoing thought of my Ethiopian born son growing up in Monument, CO … especially when he reads in the bible of his people’s ancestral connection to King David and God’s ‘Chosen People’ through the Queen of Sheba. For all of us, something different incites our need for an exodus, but at some level, I believe, there is a thread in all of us that is the same. As a follower of Christ, these thoughts lead me Hebrews 11:13-16:
All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (NLT).
We all desire a better country. It is written in our code. Whether we are aware of the longings or not, we are all looking for a heavenly city (see Philippians 3:20).
Two Cultures Connect
There are over 1 million ethnic Indians in South Africa. Brought there first as slaves by Dutch settlers in the late 1600’s, then as indentured servants in the 1800’s, the Indian population is a hodgepodge of culture that comprises South Africa. Yet, this people group has somehow stayed very homogenous and maintained many of the cultural practices, traditions, and religions of their homeland.
Earlier this month I took five ethnic Georgian’s (the state, not the country) along with a couple of cultural nomads to Durban, South Africa, where World Orphans partners with a church who’s congregational make up is almost 100% Indian. I don’t think there could have been two other cultures on this planet that share the same language but are more different from one another. Yet after spending two weeks with together, much to my surprise, Georgia peaches and Indian curry go quite well together.
Two Cultures Serve One Another
The Christian Life Center (CLC) is a vibrant and thriving church community strategically planted among the poor to minister to the people of the Zulu tribe in that region along with their own Hindu relatives. As a church, with a great force of volunteers, they take care of 20-orphaned children from the surrounding communities. Most of these children are Zulu children who were orphaned by HIV/AIDS. One of the world’s largest concentrations of “AIDS Orphans” is in this part of South Africa, propagated by the traditional Zulu practice of polygamy. The children live in four family-style houses and are cared for by “Nannies” who are typically widowed grandmothers or “Go-Go’s”. The church is led by Pastors Siva and Roni Moodley, who shepherd the church with great care, love, and do a wonderful job equipping the church members for ministry (see Ephesians 4:11-12). They also did an amazing job equipping us.
In addition to the Children’s Homes on the church property, there is a primary school, a bakery, a sewing/shoe making facility, and a coffee shop that the church uses to facilitate many types of conferences and events. During our time there we were given opportunity to serve and participate in all of these ministries. CLC has a great relationship with some of the poorest of the poor from the Zulu tribe who are out in the “Mountains” where they are doing amazing work bringing the love of Christ to them through medical clinics, delivering Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, food supplies, and visiting them in their homes. They’ve also set up 'fair trade’ markets for the beaded craftwork that many in this community create to support their families. They have been given a piece of land and have a great vision to begin caring for orphaned and vulnerable children directly through building a daycare center that will also function for church services and other ministry use. Let’s pray the Lord helps them fulfill this vision.
One of the most meaningful ministry activities they provided for us was the organizing and facilitating of a 3-day “Grieving Retreat” for 44-orphaned children. There were eight of us from the States and we had 59 consecutive hours to fill for these children.
It’s still shocking to me how much a child can forever mark a soul in just 59 hours. I am forever grateful to CLC for the gift of ministry they gave us. And, I will never look at Ephesians 4:11-12 the same:
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ (NLT).
Now That We’re Home…
Since returning I’ve pondered how different my faith community would look if we all lived on mission looking for every opportunity to help others ‘do his work’. What if the majority of our serving was to help others serve? Discovering the blessing in this will radically advance the Kingdom and could bring a much needed transformation to our churches. Often when we return from short-term mission trips we feel like we’ve found that ‘better country’ and that ministry can only be found ‘over there’. However, the reality is that God’s mission field for you, for me, will always be the space between our two feet. This space is that better country. And in times like this, be prepared for the harvest to come to you!
“Now may the God of peace… equip you with everything good that you may do his will…” (Hebrews 13:21-22, ESV).
By Kevin Squires | Senior Director of Church Partnerships
From the Dressing Room to a Playground Legend
I remember the day well. It was a hot and humid August day in the mid-1980’s. I was in elementary school, and my mom had taken me back-to-school shopping at K-Mart, where she guaranteed that, “All the cool kids buy their clothes at K-Mart.”
Don’t judge me.
After all, it was the 1980’s.
Being a boy, I could care less about fashion. I knew my place in a store like K-Mart. My mom would buy me a cherry Icee, and I would sit in the dressing room, stripped down to my underwear, and wait for her to toss shirts and pants over the door for me to try on.
But for some reason that year, things didn’t go the way they had always gone. Pants were tighter. Shirts didn’t button the way they use to. As the clothes flew over the door, I tossed them right back because what kind of boy can keep his gut sucked in for an entire school day.
Eventually, as the ping ponging of clothes over the door began to slow down, it happened. She said it. It was a new word to my limited third grade vocabulary. “I’ll try some of the ‘Husky’ sizes,” she said.
“Husky?” I thought. After a brief pause, I said, “Mom, what does ‘husky’ mean?” For a short moment, no one answered. Apparently, she had already darted to the husky section. Then, from the next dressing room over, a boy not-so-graciously shouted, “It means you’re getting fat!”
My shoulders slumped. Sadly, I slurped my cherry Icee and thought, “Husky sounds so much better than fat.”
As school started up in the coming weeks, I decided to confidently wear husky well. I daily took my husky self to the playground and quickly realized I kicked farther and threw harder than anyone else. Sure, I ran a bit slower, but hey, there ain’t no shame in the game!
That year, a new game was introduced to my class during recess. We called it Red Rover. Two teams, standing 10 yards apart, joined hand in hand, staring each other down as if we were on the frontlines of battle. For third graders, it was battle. One team would yell, “Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Bobby right over!” Bobby would let go of his team’s hands and would charge over to the other team like a bat out of hell trying to break through the clasped hands of the weakest link. If he broke through, he could select a member from that team to join his team. If he failed to break the human chain, he would have to join that team.
When it came to playing Red Rover, my newfound husky girth pretty much elevated me to an Olympic athlete! Straight to the pros! No third grader could break my clotheslining grasp, and no one dared to call my “husky butt” right over! When it came to Red Rover… when it came to crashing through the clasped hands of little people, I had quickly become a husky, playground legend.
Fast-forward to the present day, for I understand my story is vanishing as we get farther away from the 80’s and 90’s. Due to an ungodly amount of skinned knees, clotheslined necks, and concussions, teachers and school boards all around the country decided to kick Red Rover to the curb. But the game will always live on in infamy.
Red Rover and the Church
All this to say … I want to bring Red Rover back.
Now, calm down teachers and school administrators! Before you threaten detention, hear me out. I want to bring it back … to the Church.
Recently, I spoke at a church for Orphan Sunday, a day where churches and orphan advocates raise awareness of the global orphan crisis. The Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) estimates there are approximately 150 MILLION orphans in the world today (not including street kids and children living in orphanages). Of that number, roughly 18 million children have lost both parents, and around 132 million have one parent who is unable/unwilling to care for them, often due to extreme poverty, medical issues, women’s rights, or other international justice issues.
Due to mega million lotteries, CEO salaries, and insane sports contracts, we are becoming more and more desensitized to the value of the word ‘million.’ To help put 150 million orphans in perspective, and to bring some humanity and understanding to that number, if we formed a separate country with all of these children, this newly formed country would start out on day one as the 9th most populated country in the world, edging out Russia (142 million) who would fall to 10th. That country would also have more people than France, Spain, and Canada combined (total of 146 million).
Crazy, isn’t it? All that got me thinking. What if these children, these 150 million orphans, joined hands and stretched out across the globe? How far would it reach? After a quick calculation, I soon realized the human chain would circle the globe … 5 times.
I don’t tell you this to embellish or sensationalize the problem. I tell you this because … we need to bring Red Rover back to the Church. A 125,000-mile chain of 150 million orphans is standing across from the church crying out, “Red Rover, Red Rover, Send the Church Right Over.”
Now is the time to break through the human chain of orphans that is circling our world. Fortunately, God gifted the Church with the means (dare I say, Huskiness) to break the chain and care for those in need. He gave us His Spirit, which makes the impossible, possible. He gave us the Body of Christ, which reaches communities all around the world. And He gave us this declaration in James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
Breaking Free the Human Chain of Orphans
So, how and where do we start? A recent article by the Christian Alliance for Orphans titled, “Understanding Orphan Statistics,” suggested 3 key areas of focus in orphan care:
- Preserving Families. Work with at-risk families before separation occurs. This expands orphan care to include getting involved in poverty alleviation, global health, community health, education, gospel training, etc.
- Reuniting Families. Whenever it can be done safely and responsibly, we must seek to reunite families that have been separated by poverty, injustice, war, natural disasters, etc.
- Expanding Families. When birth parents have died or are unwilling/unable to provide adequate care for their child, we must work quickly to place children in permanent, loving families.
By focusing on these three areas, the Spirit-empowered Church can blast through the human chain of the orphan crisis. And as the Church breaks through, children will break free and find homes and families.
Church, we need to bring Red Rover back. 150 million children are calling our name. Now that our ears are tuned to hear their cries, it’s time to run towards them.