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.
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What happens when you invest in the talents of a widowed mother in Ethiopia? Something beautiful happens. What changes when you teach a group of Guatemalan women a new, profitable skill? Everything changes. Who is impacted when a collection of mothers routinely sit down together to share their struggles, learn how to save money, and challenge each other in their business ventures? Entire families, communities, and towns are impacted.
Tacy: When did you move to Guatemala?
Chris: October 2015.
Tacy: What prompted you and your wife to pursue that in the first place? Where did the heart for Guatemala come from?
Chris: Lauren and I both began attending Colorado State University. I started as a freshman. She was a sophomore when she transferred to CSU. We started dating halfway through my sophomore year.
After we graduated, Lauren and I got married in 2012, and missions had been an ongoing conversation. I remember approaching my pastor shortly after we were married and saying, "I'm really unhappy with my job." He asked us to do a couple StrengthsFinder tests and things like that to get a better idea of who were as a couple and who we were as individuals, and I sat on that for about a year. Lauren and I continued praying about it, continued thinking about it, and we started to have this idea that we didn't want to live on our provision anymore. We weren't really giving back a whole lot, but we were coasting through life, and we felt like we needed to start praying, "How can we live lives that are more dependent on your provision, God?"
We started doing that, and we decided to quit our jobs. Right before we quit, our pastor came up to us and said, "How do you feel about moving to Tanzania?" And we said, "Well, we don't know. I guess we'll think about that." (laughs)
Tacy: (laughs) That's a hard thing to answer on the fly.
Chris: Yes. So, we were like, "Well we don't really know what to do with this. It sounds cool. We'll think about it." And that was probably a few weeks before we decided to take a four month road trip across the United States.
Tacy: Oh, fun. I didn't know you guys did that.
Chris: Yeah. We wanted time to pray, to think . . . both of us really feel God's presence when we're in nature. It's away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. And I think it was a tangible way for us to get the experience of just how well God can provide.
We'd spent the better part of our marriage planning for this trip. We'd saved quite a bit of money. We had our route planned out. We had our vehicles stocked. We had all the gear we thought we could possibly need, but two weeks into the trip, we lost our engine . . . We spent probably half our savings just trying to get back on the road, so I think the Lord really used that moment to kind of put us at a crossroads and say, "Are you really willing to pursue me? Are you really willing to follow me . . . even if it doesn't look like your plans are going to come into fruition?"
And at that point—when we were getting our engine fixed—we were thinking, "It might just be better to turn around and go home. We've lost so much money. We really don't know if it'll be worth it to keep going." After praying and talking with friends and family, we felt like the Lord wanted us to continue. So, we kept going, and about two months into our trip, we were both feeling kind of like, "Wow. This is awful."
Chris: We were tired, hungry, cold all the time. We had still been relying on our own provisions, our own plans, and our own savings to get through. We traveled to Alaska and came back down the West Coast, and we had mechanical problem after mechanical problem. We almost ran out of money. But we got back to the US, and everything just changed. The Lord had let us wander through the wilderness for awhile, and then he said, "Now, for the last two months, I'm going to let you see what it's like to live on my provision." And he started providing money for us from friends and relatives, places to stay, and random people would give us food. We were put up for the night in several places. We were given jobs picking pears for a week, and that earned us a bunch of money to get home. One family put us up in their Airbnb for free, fed us three meals a day, and invited us to their church and small group. It was really just eye opening. We saw what we could accomplish, which was really just depressing. And we saw what God can do if we just let go a little bit. So after that, we came home ready to figure out how we could get into missions, whether Tanzania or another avenue. During our time praying about Tanzania, we realized it wasn't a good fit . . . obviously . . . that's why we're not there.
Tacy: Right. (laughs)
Chris: Scott Vair goes to our church, and right before we left, we had started to have conversations with him and our pastor. When we got back, we continued having more regular meetings with Scott and Pastor Paul, and they really challenged us to start exploring opportunities in our community as well as internationally. We started serving a refugee family from Kurdistan here in Denver, and I think that really opened up our eyes to what it's like to be in a different country. When you're not from that culture, and you don't know the language very well, food is different, the way people drive, the way people talk, the way people interact . . . everything is just bizarre and strange and uncomfortable. I think that really set the stage for us to go to Guatemala in some ways. We knew kind of what to expect, even though you never can totally prepare yourself.
From the time we got back from our trip to the time we left for Guatemala, that was about two years. During that time, Scott invited us to go to Ethiopia to check out the World Orphans model. What we saw in Ethiopia just blew our minds wide open . . . that you could do orphan care like that. I mean it just makes sense when you think about the role the church has in the biblical sense and globally how they should be caring for kids and families. It just made sense. We took a little trip to Guatemala in January 2015 to check it out . . . three days on the ground I think. We met some of the people we would be working with, and then we got back home and started fundraising. We left for Guatemala nine months later.
Tacy: Can you tell me a little bit about the work that World Orphans is doing in Guatemala from a program overview standpoint?
Chris: Lauren and I hold different, yet overlapping roles. When there's a team on the ground, we're both functioning somewhat as team leaders. She's the church partnership director for Guatemala. On a daily basis, she is communicating with churches in the US and churches in Guatemala to coordinate details and communication. She handles family profiles, ensuring that those are translated. She works a lot with Jenny, the psychologist, to actually delve into the family situations. And then she's also involved in pre-trip planning. She follows up with the teams after they've left—finances, discipleship training, debriefing. She's got a very multifaceted job in that sense. And when a team is on the ground, I join forces with her so that we're able to coordinate teams well, whether that's her going off to do something with some of the ladies from the church and I do stuff with the guys or just coordinating debriefings . . . it works better when we can work together.
When I'm not doing that, I work day in and day out with Pedro who is our new sub-coordinator for economic empowerment. He's my right hand man, and basically our objectives have been to start savings groups, to start a youth savings match program in 2018, and to do this sewing cooperative that's been going on for two months now, whereby we teach ladies from the community to sew, to run a business, and basic things like hygiene and childcare, education . . . the importance of things like that. All of this we do through an organization called Women's Partnership Market. We oversee the project, but Stephanie from Women's Partnership Market has been doing a fantastic job of handling it.
Tacy: So, are these savings groups being run through churches there in Guatemala?
Chris: Yes. That's the plan. We may be tweaking things going into the next year, but the idea was to start savings groups in each of our four churches in Zone 7. And then after we had those established, we would start a new cycle in Zone 7 and a new cycle in Zone 18, but we may be tweaking that a little bit. Right now, we have one savings group of seven people, and it's a combination of two churches in Zone 7.
Tacy: I know we rely heavily on local leadership to speak into our work regardless of the country we're working in. How does that play out for you? How do you benefit from working alongside local leadership that's already established?
Chris: When considering working alongside AMG, I think it's provided us with an incredibly varied and diverse network of individuals and organizations within Guatemala that we would not have access to otherwise. From a programmatic basis, that has been incredibly helpful.
Working with the churches—the Guatemalan churches—their expertise within their own communities has been invaluable. I mean, these are areas that we wouldn't be able to go into at all because if you're not a known member of the community you may be targeted either as a resource for extortion or something worse. So having those relationships and connections allows us to actually do work. Even the different departments within our team offer different skill sets and advantages. Our psychologists—their resources, their abilities, their training in Guatemala, their community experience, and the AMG team of psychologists that they're plugged into—has just been an incredible resource for us . . . probably the best resource that we have.
Tacy: That's awesome. So, in what ways does that come into play? What are the psychologists doing?
Chris: They work with all of our families. Jenny and Auri are the two psychologists that are directly associated with World Orphans, and each of them handles cases with children and families. So, this could include mom and dad or the entire family. They work with them to help them process things in the past and things that they are going through day-to-day. Some is trauma, but a lot of it is simply dealing with waking up every day in these situations. Maybe last night you heard a lot of gunfire; how do you process that type of thing? Having that resource has been huge. I don't have the rapport with them or the respect in this area to do that, but—going through Jenny or Auri–I can get a feel for what's best for the community and even say, "Can you ask these community members what would be best for them?" This allows us to structure our programs to best fit the needs of the families. That's their role—to support those families in that way, but they've also provided me with the means to get these programs launched. They've connected me to the participants. All the ladies from the sewing program that are working with Stephanie right now are ladies from the local community that were referred to us by the psychologists—ladies that they handpicked and said, "I think this woman would really benefit from this based on the work we've done with her." So with their help, we're really able to cater our programs to what the community needs.
Tacy: So, what's it been like to live in Guatemala? Is living in Guatemala different from what you anticipated or is it kind of what you expected?
Chris: Ummm . . . it's not as different as I thought it was going to be in some respect. There is so much "Americanization" that's gone on. If you were to visit, you'd see Starbucks, KFC, Pizza Hut, Papa John's . . . lots of name-brand clothing from the US. Cars from Germany, the US, Japan . . . it doesn't look that different in some respects, depending on what area of the city you are in.
There are two things that have been very difficult for us. Finding community—I think that's partially because missionaries are often so busy with their work that it's hard to connect, and other times, those missionaries . . . the only thing you have in common with them is that they're missionaries, so all you end up doing is talking about your work and ministries, and it never feels like you get to build a real relationship. And then there is the language barrier. While we speak Spanish well, to go deep with somebody . . . or even to have this conversation where I can be sort of frank and vulnerable . . . to have this conversation with someone in Spanish right now is not attainable for me, or it's very difficult. So, that's hampered some of our relationship building. It's not stopped us, but it makes the relationships feel a little less deep in some respects.
The other thing that's been difficult . . . and this is just cultural . . . When you talk to Guatemalans, they're a very non-confrontational society, and I wouldn't say that most people in the US love confrontation, but we tend to value more direct responses. So, when you ask a question, you tend to get a direct answer unless it's personal, and then they may beat around the bush. In Guatemala, you never really know what the person is thinking. I'll ask a question like, "Would this be good for you?" and the assumption is, "If you're asking, you must think it's good for me, so I think it's good for me."
Tacy: And that's hard when you're planning out programs and processes.
Chris: Exactly. So, you plan out your program based on their response because you think you got a direct answer . . . (laughs) . . . and they're thinking, "I'm not going to show up for this because it's not really what I want, but I think that's what he wants." So, then you get everything set up and nobody comes. (laughs)
Chris: There's just a difference there.
Tacy: Earlier you mentioned going to Ethiopia with World Orphans. It sounds like when you went to Ethiopia, your perception of caring for orphans and vulnerable families was really turned on it's head. How has your perception of orphan care and partnering with vulnerable families changed since living in Guatemala? Does it look different than you thought it would? Do you feel like you value things that perhaps you didn't before?
Chris: Ethiopia really transformed the way I viewed church care—the way we are to care for families, and I think Guatemala has taken that to a whole new level. The churches here have been so effective in caring for their communities. And because of AMG's many years of experience with these churches, there's been this recognition that dignity is of the utmost importance when dealing with these families, and I think that's something I've really internalized. I think I believed it before, but now I've seen just how powerful maintaining their dignity can be and how detrimental it can be when that dignity is removed. I really love the way our psychologist, AMG, and our team protects the families. We've been really overprotective of our families, and I think it's helped me check my ego. Everything is done through the church to the point where I have very little involvement with the actual families. We want to show them that they have value to Jesus, and we're not going to parade them around or show them off like some prized animal.
Tacy: We talked a little bit about the challenges that you've faced while working in Guatemala—the cultural differences, the obstacles that you've had to overcome. What would you say you've enjoyed the most about working in Guatemala?
Chris: There's been a lot. I think, as difficult as relationships have been on a personal level, . . . we're really blessed to work with nine different churches in Guatemala, which means that we have connections with different pastors around the city, different committee members, different families, different kids. It provides this plethora of relationships and really has enriched us. There have been a few churches that we've really connected deeply with—their committee members, pastors, families.
When I was leaving Guatemala to go back to the states temporarily, I felt this weight. Even though it was temporary . . . just the outpouring of love on behalf of the church blew me away. In our context, we didn't realize how close these people were to us. We didn't realize that they had grown to consider us part of their family . . . the things they did for us, the prayers they sent our way . . . it was just mind-blowing. I realized we have become part of these families, and they've become part of ours. That's why I felt so sad leaving, knowing I was going home to family, but I was also leaving part of my family, too.
This may sound like a cliché answer, but the people of Guatemala have really stolen my heart, and I think they've stolen Lauren's, too. The battles they fight every day are things that I'll never ever experience. For example, Pedro. He comes from a small farming village in the mountains of Guatemala—the things that he's had to overcome in his life to get to where he's at . . . it's built such strength of character and perseverance and this rock-solid faith in God. You know, I get shaken pretty easily when things aren't going my way or I feel like I'm out of control, but Pedro pushes through it. I know he gets upset, too, but the reality is that his faith has really strengthened mine.
Tacy: I think for me—as someone who works behind my desk most days—this really shows me that the World Orphans vision comes into fruition. We talk a lot about how it's all about relationships, but at the end of the day, it's one thing to say that, and it's another thing for that to be the reality. It's very affirming to me to hear that it is the reality. It really is all about relationships.
Chris: And I think we have such an advantage in some ways. When churches come down from the US, they get this mountain-high experience, but they don't even understand the kind of encouragement they've left behind with the church here in Guatemala. They leave on a high note thinking, "We've done good for them, and we feel encouraged by them." But, we feel it even more because on our end we get the constant feedback from the pastor. We have ladies in the community saying, "When are they coming back? I can't wait to reconnect with them. When are they coming back? Are they bringing their kids? Are their kids going to be married?" They just become so welded together.
Tacy: How neat to see the ripple effects of Church Partnership.
Tacy: How do you see World Orphans efforts growing, changing, and expanding in Guatemala in the coming years?
Chris: I think that World Orphans is going in many directions right now in Guatemala, and I think all of them are good. I think . . . with the international team members we've added recently . . . we have the increased capacity to be able to handle it. We've got a lot of change coming down our pipeline. We added four new churches in May, and Sam is really excited about adding a bunch more in 2018, which is good. That growth is positive, and it's a natural consequence of doing things well. I think a lot of our growth right now is happening in Zone 18 because things are going so well. We've learned so much from Zone 7, that we started off on such a good foot in Zone 18. The pastors are very connected and they're talking to each other. The ones in the program are talking to others, telling them how great it is that they're able to work with these families now. So, you have additional pastors saying, "I want to do that, too." The economic empowerment—there's still a lot of things that need to happen; it's still very much a fledgling program. There have definitely been growing pains with that.
Tacy: So, for people that want to get involved through prayer . . . Can you give them some prayer points?
Chris: I touched on some of the programs we're trying to get launched in the next year. One that we're very passionate about is this youth savings match program. It's going to kind of partner with AMG in a way that allows kids—as they're learning about savings, investing, small business, etc.—to have a practical means of applying this to their lives . . . through a savings program that will be operated through AMG and a match program that will match dollar-for-dollar what they've saved to allow them to further their education, start a business, etc. That will start hopefully in 2018. It's been a slow process to get this going, and we need the Lord's guidance in this. That's something people could pray for for sure.
The savings groups—we really need to rely on the Lord for progress in these, for his timing. We really do feel like this goes alongside wholistic care and is—in many ways—the last step for families to start achieving independence financially and to begin transitioning families in order to help others. This program still needs some tweaking, and I need prayer for wisdom as I help guide this process. Pedro and I could both use prayer for encouragement, and reliance on the Lord.
A praise would be the way that this cooperative has been going with this sewing group. People can definitely see God's hand at work in this. Even though it's being run by a secular business development group out of Denver, they very much have principles in line with ours, though they are missing the spiritual piece. It's been amazing to see that even in the absence of that part of their curriculum, the women have started their own Bible study, and God is blessing them. I hope that God continues to bless them. The hunger that they have to learn how to sew and to start their own businesses . . . it's captivating. To see how so far they have been so committed, continuing to come back every single week . . . that's provided a spark of hope for us.
I would ask the people also pray for Lauren, as she'll be managing her responsibilities while also caring for our newborn baby. She's already been such a good mother. I'm just praying for wisdom for her as she navigates this new season.
Moses was a child conceived through rape and abandoned by his mother, but he is now in the care of his grandmother. Twins, Sarai and Andrea, were left orphaned when their mother was imprisoned and their father left them, but a neighbor took them in, welcoming them into her home. Rachel's father died in a sudden accident, but she has continued to be raised by her mother, Veronica. Adriana and Daniella care for Camila—a woman left paralyzed by an accident—and her two sons.
The families receiving care through our partner churches have a variety of stories. Some children are being raised by biological mothers or fathers, while others have been welcomed into the homes of grandmothers, aunts, or friends. A commonality you will find among these stories (in addition to a child being orphaned or at risk for abandonment) is poverty or a severe lack of economic resources. Poverty is the leading cause of family disruption; therefore, it is impossible to talk about stabilizing families without also discussing the economic implications of such an effort.
So, what does this imply about orphan care? Well, the term "orphan care" itself is perhaps somewhat confusing . . . at least the way we use it at World Orphans. Orphan care at World Orphans typically looks more like family care, as we believe a child's well-being directly hinges on the stability and physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of the entire family. As churches partner with vulnerable families in their community, pastors and congregation members are not merely coming alongside a child, but they are standing alongside families in the midst of turmoil, heartbreak, and transition.
Thus, our belief in and desire to see strong, stable families has shaped and informed our economic empowerment efforts over the years. Guided by knowledgeable and caring pastors around the world, we've been embarking on a journey that—while it may not be easy—has been filled with joy, hope, and profound dignity for our caregivers, mothers, and fathers. We believe that economic empowerment is building the capacity of the men and women in our programs to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from economic opportunities in ways that recognize the value of their contributions, respect their intrinsic dignity as image bearers of Christ, build stronger families, and improve the quality of life for all members of the family.
As we rely on local leadership to guide our efforts in this area, the reality of economic empowerment varies based on location.
Economic empowerment initiatives were first launched in Ethiopia in June 2015, and began with savings groups—clusters of caregivers that met to discuss daily life, eat a meal together, and begin to save money. From those humble and simplistic beginnings, economic empowerment initiatives in Ethiopia have grown substantially.
- Savings Groups: All of our caregivers from all seven of our churches are participating in savings groups that give them the ability to save money monthly despite their inability to access formal financial institutions as individuals.
- Micro-loans: Eligible caregivers received a 500 birr (approximately $25) micro-loan to start or expand their businesses, and plans are underway to implement a second phase of micro-loans this year.
- Literacy Program & Empowerment Packs: Packs of supplies for literacy, education, basic first aid/hygiene, feminine hygiene, and nutrition are distributed at training seminars provided to the churches and families involved in our program.
Zeritu | Ethiopia
When she entered the program, Zeritu was desperate, hungry, and suicidal. She couldn't afford to put shoes on her children's feet. Now, she is teaching others in the program her secrets to entrepreneurial success and willingly giving up her spot in the program to provide space for another family to benefit from the same programs that allowed her to transform her life.
Ehetinesh is a widowed mother of seven children, and grandmother of three. Through the economic empowerment program, Ehetinesh has been able to craft and sell handmade jewelry—delicate pieces of art that she is eager to display and sell in her community. In addition to the jewelry, Ehetinesh also sells vegetables. This work allows her to provide for her children, despite previous economic struggles.
In 2017, economic empowerment initiatives were launched in Guatemala through partnership with local businesses, organizations, and the guiding wisdom of our local pastors. While our efforts in Guatemala are still in the early stages, it's already been a joy to see the confidence and joy that empowerment can bring to caregivers.
- Savings Groups: We are in the process of hiring a Savings Group Coordinator to oversee the implementation of the Restore:Savings Curriculum developed and tested by the Chalmers Center with our savings groups.
- Youth Savings & Education: A matched youth savings program will be launched in 2018 in conjunction with the financial literacy education that is already part of the curriculum at the AMG school in Guatemala City.
- Skills Training for Women: In collaboration with Women’s Partnership Marketplace, we are striving to implement a year-long curriculum to train women as artisans and business owners, equipping them in multiple areas from goal setting to the intricacies of being an entrepreneur.
- Supporting Existing AMG Programs to Empower Women and Youth: We are investigating ways to provide support to AMG efforts to facilitate financial education, artisan and business training, and job placement for youth.
Yoselin* lives in a small, single-room rented home with her children. Her hard work and assistance from a local World Orphans church partner, Sendero de la Cruz, has allowed her to send her two oldest sons to boarding school. Through the boarding school, the boys not only receive an education, but they are receiving healthy food and learning practical information about basic hygiene. Yoselin's two young daughters are cared for daily through the church's nursery, allowing Yoselin to start a small business selling chips outside of schools. The family has begun to faithfully attend Sendero de la Cruz, and they have gotten involved in home groups and other ongoing church activities.
Women's Partnership Market
These women are meeting together to create goals for their future at the Artisans Thrive training program in Guatemala City. Over the next couple months, these women will be investing time and energy to learn personal skills, gain understanding of how to start a business, and learn the process of bringing a product to market.
Estefanny | Guatemala
20-year-old Estefanny (third from the left) is employed at Grønn, a socially-conscious start-up using recycled glass to create drinking glasses. The company owner, inspired by Estefanny's work ethic and determination, recently promoted her to director of production. In addition to working at Grønn, Estefanny is a caregiver in the Home Based Care program, a volunteer at Sonrisas (a church-based outreach program for children), and she is attending school to earn a business administration degree.
Economic empowerment is changing the way we care for orphaned and vulnerable children, and it's building confidence in our caregivers, as they now have opportunities to pursue a better life for their families. While these efforts are young and we're only beginning to see the first beautiful fruits from these programs, we've already been captivated and inspired by the stories. Even more beautiful, in an effort to come alongside additional vulnerable families, we recently launched economic empowerment initiatives in Haiti and will update you as the program grows.
*Identity changed for protection
Those that are fierce are sometimes thought to be unloving. Those that are strong are often believed to not be gentle. Those that are brave are sometimes thought to be unkind. But this–of course–is not always true.
Yeshiwork's story is the stuff of sensationalized media, yet it's all true. As a child solider, she barely survived a battle along the border of Somalia–a battle which killed 75 people. She became a child bride at ten years old and stood by his side for 55 years . . . until he left her. To this day, she doesn't know if her husband is alive or not, as he could not be located after a flood.
Yeshiwork has suffered much, yet has overcome.
She is a tall, fierce woman. She is strong. She is brave. Yet, she is also loving, gentle, and kind, as evidenced by the little boy who has so clearly stolen her heart.
Moses walks into the room, weighed down by the heavy backpack on his tiny shoulders. He looks shyly at the guests in the room, yet marches over to Yeshiwork, and climbs onto her lap to plant a kiss on her cheek. A sparkle can be seen in her otherwise serious eyes.
She prays for him, believing he will be a leader. Though she loves him, she is not given to nonsense. Yeshiwork expects him to be disciplined in his studies and to attend the after-school programs at school in addition to his regular schooling. Without her, Moses' life could have looked so different . . . if his life had come to be at all.
Yeshiwork is Moses' grandmother, and without her desperate plea for his life to be spared, Moses would have been aborted. Conceived through rape, Moses was a sign of shame. Tradition dictated that, once he was born, he would be an outcast and he would forever be reminded of the pain that brought him into the world. One week after he his birth, Moses' mother left him in Yeshiwork's care. Out of humiliation, his grandfather left.
Yeshiwork had nothing but a tiny, defenseless infant. She was a warrior for him before he was even born, and yet that was only the beginning.
Believing it was important to "give him a life," Yeshiwork has loved him like her own son. Through the World Orphans Home Based Care program, a local church has partnered with Yeshiwork, enabling her to care for him well. The church's partnership helps to ensure that Moses is being provided for physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Home Based Care enables Moses to grow up under the loving care of the woman who fought for him. Without the local church, Yeshiwork would most likely have been forced to surrender Moses at an orphanage, unable to provide for his needs as a single elderly woman.
Orphan care, at its roots, should always be about strengthening families, both the families that have welcome orphaned children into their homes and those families whose children are vulnerable to abandonment. Through Home Based Care, families are strengthened through the local church with support, educational resources, and provisions for the child's education, food, and medical needs as is necessary. We know that children thrive when they are in families, and we seek to see those families stay together rather than be torn apart by poverty.
Yeshiwork has fiercely and selflessly loved Moses, a boy previously destined to be an outcast. It is a privilege, as the global church, to stand in her corner and celebrate Moses' precious life.
She walked into Sharehouse Coffee looking for a caffeinated pick-me-up, but what she found instead was purpose, community, and a vision for the future. That sounds like a pretty good cup of coffee, right? Well, it wasn’t just the coffee (although that probably helped).
When words may fail, simple things like concrete pillars and plaques can speak loudly.
Sometimes a flight doesn't go quite as expected . . .
Orphaned children haven't always been orphans. What happened?
Well, we're about two weeks into those resolutions. The holiday festivities have ceased. It's back to work and back to reality. The decorations have been stashed until next year (hopefully). As we dive into 2016, though, we'd be amiss to not rejoice in the challenges we faced, lessons we learned, and victories we celebrated over the course of the last year. Without further adieu, we invite you to reminisce with us as we look back on ten of our favorite blog posts from the last year:
- Jeremy gave us the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia, where we saw women empowered and children being given the gift of hope.
- We stepped back in time with David, as we learned about the heart of the early church for children who have been orphaned.
- Kathy ushered us through the doors of secondary schools in Kenya, where we met children who are not merely surviving, but thriving!
- We discovered what's different about a trip with World Orphans.
- Kevin taught us practical ways to deal with conflict.
- We considered the beauty in the brokenness as we reflected on the Haiti earthquake of 2010 and the hope that springs anew there.
- Why a home rather than an orphanage? We looked at that question.
- With loud shouts of joy, songs of praise, and tears of happiness, we took a closer look into Iraq and saw God moving in powerful ways.
- As Matthew guided us through the process, we considered what it means to love each other well, to abide in Christ, and to be the kind of father that magnifies our Heavenly Father.
- We learned more about the orphan crisis and we considered what the church's role should be in caring for those that have been orphaned.
God is working in powerful ways across the globe, and we are thankful for the privilege to be his hands and feet as we equip, inspire, and mobilize the church to care for orphaned and vulnerable children. Let's press on...
...until they all have homes.
By Jeremy Resmer | Senior Director of Projects “Half of humanity is female. If that half is not honored and appreciated with purpose and dignity as created equally before God, then abuse, perversion, and hatred of women follows. Oppression and poverty trail after, affecting all in society: men, women, children, and the unborn.” - Karen Carlson (Prayers for Crown Jewels: Honoring Women and Children in a World at War)
Women Without Opportunity
We live in a world at war. The effects are real: seen and unseen. Most often, the victims are women and children. Far too often, women’s economic contributions are undervalued and their potential is undeveloped. And yet, time and again, it is women who are less educated and without formal job training, that are left to raise their children alone, who provide for the daily needs of the family, and in cases where the mother earns enough money, the kids may attend school and receive medical care when they get sick.
We have observed these trends in the countries where we serve. The churches with whom we partner minister to the most vulnerable families in the community. Single mothers lead nearly all these families; many are undereducated day laborers and street vendors that barely earn enough to survive while caring for their children and/or other orphaned children. While our work with local churches has been a profound source of encouragement, relationship, and even stability, it hasn’t truly addressed the longer-term issue of strengthening these families financially.
Women Must Be Empowered
Globally, poverty is a leading cause that contributes to the breakdown of families. Empowering women economically has been shown to fuel growth in local economies and decrease poverty levels. In other words, vulnerable families are strengthened and children are more likely to attend school and receive adequate medical care. It’s no different for us. So the question is: how do we shift our focus from merely helping stabilize families in the short run to empowering and strengthening them to be a blessing that will affect the next generation?
This post isn’t intended to answer this complex question with a one-size fits all solution. Of course, such a solution doesn’t exist; however, it is intended to pose the question of how we can empower families economically, particularly single women, so they can lift themselves out of the most extreme poverty and improve their lives by using their existing talents and skills accompanied with appropriate opportunities and training for advancement?
Our Response in Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, economic and family empowerment, especially among single mothers, remain huge issues the church is trying to help address. We are working alongside our church partners to equip and train them in these areas. For example, our program director has trained seven church coordinators on a simple way for women to save as a group and open a savings account at a local bank. By June of this year (2015), all of our coordinators were trained and this program was implemented at each church.
Each caregiver in our program, 150 in total, has started saving. Some save 5 Birr per month others save more than 30 Birr (1.50 USD). It varies from church to church and person to person, based on what they are able to contribute. Two elected members of the group collect the money and take it to the bank. All funds contributed are tracked in a ledger. The group meets monthly, has coffee together, and engages all sorts of dialogue. They discuss family, business, faith, and other important issues. Often they pray together. In some churches, the meetings are done at the same time as a food distribution for families in the community. This simple, self-managed savings program is VERY effective. The women are all saving so they have the opportunity in the future to start or expand a business and improve the lives of their families. They feel a renewed sense of dignity and hope.
It’s Working! Women Are Being Empowered: Four Examples
- At Leku Keta Church, located around the outskirts of Addis Ababa and very poor economically, the savings program includes all 30 caregivers, one other member of the church, and a Muslim woman who doesn’t attend (32 total). In three short months, they have saved 1,690 Birr (~85 USD) and, in addition, each member contributes 1 Birr per month that is set aside to help other members of the community with special funding needs like the birth of a new baby, a funeral, and so on. These caregivers are not only saving but also contributing to the well being of the community and church. They aren’t simply saving to improve their own lives but also to be a blessing to others. This is nothing short of amazing!
- At Lafto Church, our program director piloted an empowerment fund where some of the caregivers are given loans starting at 500 Birr (~$25), after which they pay them back at 50 Birr per month for 10 months. When a person pays back the 500 Birr, they have the opportunity to receive another loan for 1,000 Birr and pay it back at 50 Birr per month for 20 months. Currently, there are eight women that received loans for 500 Birr and three women have already received loans for 1,000 Birr. This program is going very well so far. The church members even provided a portion of the initial funds to launch the program. The loans and repayments are tracked in a ledger each month and the funds repaid are used to provide additional loans to other members.
- Literacy training has also been initiated in each of the churches with whom we partner. The Home-Based Care (HBC) program coordinators are teaching Amharic to caregivers who are unable to read and/or write but who have a desire to learn. At one of our churches, six caregivers in our program are attending classes three days per week. The coordinator writes letters on the blackboard and the caregivers practice writing letters in their exercise books at home with their children. This activity is providing another way for parents to engage and connect with their children. None of these caregivers could read or write (even their names) when they started. However, after just three months since starting, two women can write their own names and both of them want to continue learning so they can teach other women in the community!
- In addition, five empowerment packs have been created in partnership with our church partners to address key issues: including hygiene, women’s health, and literacy. These packs will be distributed to each of our caregivers and accompanied with training for them and the churches.
Each of these initiatives is being developed and implemented in the local context, in collaboration with the churches and with financial contributions from our US church partners. While this program in Ethiopia is still in its infancy and we continue to learn daily, the results we’ve seen so far have been truly outstanding! Of course, there are challenges that we work through with the churches and the caregivers, but our grassroots empowerment program works through the local church, allows for the advancement of the gospel and ongoing discipleship, and is giving hope to women for a better life for themselves and their families.
By Matthew Hanks | Projects Manager – Africa Every time I’m in a developing country, such as Ethiopia, I consider how radically altered my life would be by simply being born on a different plot of dirt on this earth. Most of the privilege I’ve experienced has nothing to do with my efforts, abilities, or upbringing, but is primarily related to geography. I am also reminded of this reality as I watch my Ethiopian born son grown up in the US. At almost four years of age, in rural Ethiopia, would he be tending to the family goat? Maybe he’d be hauling water from a near by stream? Would he even be alive if he were never adopted, or would the seizures he was having as a baby have left him among the statistics of children who don’t make it to their 5th birthday? My thoughts also arise as I watch the news: would the Syrian born boy have grown up to be an ISIS terrorist if he thought he had an opportunity to go to college and become a doctor? Would there be nine more church members at the Emanuel AME church if Dylan Roof’s father had been transferred to Seattle when he was young, decreasing the fuel of his anger and prejudice?
I think about “my lot in life” and am incredibly thankful; however, it’s hard to reconcile the blessings I’ve received when people I’ve come to care about, who are every bit as deserving of good things in life as I am, seem stuck in hopeless situations. I’d like to tell you about two of those people: two boys who have equally invaded my heart, soul, and comfort seeking lifestyle since I’ve been back from my latest trip to Africa.
The first boy I’ll call Stephen. Not only was his “lot” to start out life as a double orphan, but as a reminder of his biological parents’ shortcomings, he was also born into this world with HIV/AIDS. Last month, when we arrived at the church compound where the children’s home is located, Stephen was one of the first faces for whom I was looking. Based on previous trips, I knew about his fight with HIV/AIDS, but I hadn’t heard how close he’d come to loosing the battle until just a few weeks earlier. It’s heartbreaking to witness a 90-pound child losing 18-pounds. The dagger drives even deeper when you wrap your arms around the 11 year old and feel nothing but bones under the baggy clothing. Feelings of helplessness, anger, and guilt left me completely speechless as we laid hands on and prayed for Stephen. Despite my best efforts to keep it together, tears spilled over the dammed reservoir of emotions. Though I couldn’t pray aloud, my heart was silently screaming for help on this child’s behalf. Without parents in this world who is going to fight for him? WHO!?
The story of the second child, whom we’ll call Gabriel, is even more complex. Our Ethiopian Program Manager, Belgi, attempted to explain, in broken English, a situation at one of the churches where one of our children has “two sexes”. Upon examining the child, my doctor buddy used the term ‘ambiguous genitalia’. Hermaphrodite is the technical term; a term and condition hardly known by the “highly educated” in the US, and one certainly not known by the midwives of the child’s rural village. The condition requires delicate, specialized care and surgery, but where Gabriel comes from, those in authority decided that the most fitting solution to this “curse” was to end his life. That was the fate of his little brother when he was born with the same condition. Out of fear for the older brother’s life, the father brought him eight hours away to a church on the edge of Addis Ababa. The “what if’s” surrounding this child’s future hover over the situation like giant African vultures waiting expectantly for a meal. Without parents in this world who will ensure his heart, soul, and body get the specialized, delicate care that he needs? WHO?!
There Is Hope
I am thankful to say that, at least for these two boys, the answer to the question of “Who will be there for them?” is the Church. Primarily, the ones sharing the responsibility of providing love, attention, and the meeting of physical needs is the local church in their community, partnered with a US church family. Knowing this helps; yet, I still wrestle inside with the ‘why’ for these two.
Luke 9:1-3 gives us a clear answer:
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him...”
I am overwhelmed with the feelings of helplessness when I put myself in the shoes of the desperate father of Gabriel, who had no known resources to turn to for help - no government assistance, no known grants to apply for, no hospital to set up a payment plan, no daytime TV program like Oprah on which to share his story. Rather, his only possible hope was for God to intervene through His people. All the details that have fallen into place are nothing short of miraculous - that the father heard of a church eight hours away, with people who have a heart for children like his, for the church to accept him, adopt him into a family in their congregation, carry the burden as their own, and for a US church partner to come into the picture and offer resources to help. Amazing! These are the “works of God” on display in both Stephen and Gabriel’s lives. It’s why the Lord allows broken pieces in the world and why the Church is the vehicle by which He plans to restore the brokenness.
Look at what Jesus tells us “we must do”, as we continue reading in verses 4-5 of that same passage in Luke:
“…we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
What a privilege to be included in the “We”. We are how He’s chosen to remain in the world. Because of Jesus in us, we too are the light of the world.
by Scott Vair | President
The Story of Belnysh
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Belnysh lives in a corrugated metal house on the side of the street with her two boys, Dawit and Beniyam. As a widow, she’s struggled to provide them with the basics needed to survive - food, clothing, shelter, and education. Five years ago, Belynsh was so desperate that she took her youngest Beniyam (only four years old at the time) and left him at an orphanage, fearing she would not be able to provide for both of the boys.
Desperation, death, anguish, helplessness, hopelessness, extreme poverty – all culminating in a mother abandoning her child to an orphanage, hoping for a better life for him.
Avoiding this exact scenario is one of the primary goals of our Home Based Care (HBC) Program, as we seek to work with local churches to preserve families and keep children out of orphanages. Study after study points to the dangers, inadequacies, and developmental delays associated with institutional care. To put it bluntly: a child belongs in a family.
Two years later, Belynsh missed Beniyam, who was no longer recognizing her when she went to visit. Her family was broken, and she wanted him back. There had to be another way.
Fast forward to today. Belynsh has Beniyam back in her home, they are part of our Home Based Care Program at Lafto Kale Heywet Church, and Belynsh is running her own teashop. She works six days a week to earn enough money to keep the boys at home, with a little help from the HBC Program that provides some food, medical care, and education expenses for the boys.
The teashop was started through a small business loan Belynsh received through a savings plan as part of the HBC Program at the church. Through the encouragement of the HBC Coordinator, Belganesh, the Home Based Care participants started a savings program where they each put in the equivalent of about $1 a month. A few months ago, World Orphans staff members matched what had been saved so far, allowing the group to start issuing small business loans. Each loan is about $25 and is paid back over 10 months. So far, 8 of the 22 caregivers in the HBC Program have received such a loan.
While it doesn’t seem like much, a small loan like this was enough to help Belynsh start the teashop and begin to earn a living.
The Story of Pastor Siva
In Chatsworth, South Africa, World Orphans partner, Pastor Siva Moodley, has been caring for orphans through his church, Christian Life Centre, for over a decade. He too has a passion for seeing caregivers empowered to earn a living so they can take care of their children. In the past, they’ve taught widows how to make and sell jewelry. Today, they are in the final stages of completing a Training Center. This Training Center is a two-story building that will house a sewing project.
Most sewing projects I’ve seen over the years are designed to employ people. Women come to the project and work at sewing garments that the project then sells. The project is the employer.
The sewing project at Christian Life Centre has a different vision. They too will have women come to the project, they will be in community as they learn to sew, but the goal is to teach them a skill. Christian Life Centre will then network with factories to get them jobs at the end of a six-week training program. They will bring women in (many are widows), teach them to sew, find them a job, send them out, and bring in others. The cycle repeats. Women given skills and help so they can support and care for their families themselves.
This small business loan program in Ethiopia and sewing project in South Africa are both examples of what we call Family Empowerment. This form of empowerment, deeply rooted in the Gospel, not only invests in the family but also walks families through the ongoing process of providing physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual care for those they love. Each step is intentional. It’s dynamic. It demands mutual respect, economic accountability, and constant engagement in the local community. But the greatest part of it all, it transforms families and communities for generations to come!
Our goal is to see families empowered to raise their children physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We believe this starts with, and is found in, the Gospel of Christ.
This past August, we conducted our first caregiver training in Haiti for the 200+ caregivers in our HBC Program. Caregivers were trained in child protection, oral hygiene, and biblical discipline – all undergirded by the Gospel and identity found in Christ. We believe the work of the Gospel is foundational. Our hope is only found in Him. The Gospel has much to say about all areas of life, including economic empowerment. When sewing projects and loan programs designed to empower caregivers are a function of the church, where community is established and the message of Christ is primary, real family transformation takes place.
When talking about economic empowerment, two of the more popular topics in missions today are “dependency” and “self-sustainability”.
These are indeed important topics, but also very complex issues that aren’t as easy as we’d like them to be. As Daniell Rickett points out in his must-read book, Building Strategic Relationships, there is both healthy and unhealthy dependency. Obviously we must be cautious to avoid unhealthy dependency (where the sole focus is on the exchange of money rather than on the complimentary contributions each party makes). But, we must also embrace healthy dependency (where each partner is willing give and receive, to teach and to learn, to lead and to follow).
We have several projects that have, over the years, spent considerable time, energy, and resources on “self-sustainability” projects – chickens, gardens, farms, bakeries, transportation companies, etc. – and these projects have generated some income. Yet even with the additional income generated, we continue to walk with these projects, continue our relationship, continue our partnership, and continue to provide funding. Partnership with these churches is more than the exchange of funds, it’s primarily about relationship; long-term genuine relationship working toward the accomplishment of the shared goal of caring for orphans. We can do so much more together than we could ever do on our own.
As we move into 2015, World Orphans is more committed than ever to see growth in our ministry in the area of Family Empowerment. These areas are where we believe we can have the most impact. We want to see more families like Belynsh and her boys stay together. We want to see more children stay with their parents and/or relatives - not sent to orphanages. We want to see more caregivers given opportunity to support their families with dignity, honor, and respect.
Do you share our passion for raising-up men and women through Family Empowerment? Do you know a business, foundation, or church that might want to get behind such an initiative? Are you able to help us see more women like Belynsh selling tea to support her children instead of resorting to sending them to an orphanage?
You can be part of empowering caregivers and families, and in the end, providing solutions and alternatives to some of the most difficult challenges in orphan care today. Supporting families to keep their children in their care. It’s a real-life solution. Family Empowerment.
The following is a guest post from Lindsey Allen. Meet Lindsay Allen! We're thrilled to have Lindsay coming on staff as a Project Manager in our Project's department, as well as joining us on our upcoming Journey Trip to Haiti, leaving this Saturday. We invite you to enjoy reading about how God has lead her to World Orphans. Like this post and want to read more? Check out Lindsay's personal blog HERE.
Over the past few years, God has led me on an unexpected and amazing journey. Since I was 12, I wanted to be a choir teacher. I know God placed that desire in my heart even then. So as I grew up, I pursued this dream. I graduated with a degree in Music Education and began teaching choir. It was a good job, and I enjoyed success in it, but God had an even bigger mission in mind for me.
In the summer of 2012, my husband and I felt called to go on a mission trip to Africa. We found a trip to Rwanda and Ethiopia that focused on serving orphans, and we knew it was the one God wanted us to go on. What a life-changing trip that was. Our prayer was that God would break our hearts for what breaks His, and He answered that prayer.
One event in particular completely changed the course of my life. While in Ethiopia, we were able to serve food to children who were sponsored through a ministry we were working with there. My team and I all loved being able to feed these hungry children and be the hands and feet of Jesus. After we had finished handing out food, an Ethiopian lady who spoke no English asked me to help her carry a large pot that still had a small amount of goat stew in it. I picked up one side of the pot while she got the other side, and I began following her out of the tent, having no clue where we were headed. I was feeling quite proud of myself and all the good I was doing for these poor Ethiopians. Then, as we reached the metal fence surrounding the church tent, I saw a huge mass of people, numbering at least 200 standing in the muddy road looking longingly toward our tent. Suddenly, it hit me….we had only fed the sponsored children. The rest of the community, mostly children but also some adults and elderly, had shown up just hoping….hoping that they might get a bite of food.
The lady opened the fence, and immediately we were surrounded by people…hungry people. Apparently we were taking the pot down the street (I think to return it to the cooks). It wasn’t very far, but it felt like it took an eternity to get there. The crowd was so thick, we had to move very slowly. Everyone was shouting, “EAT! EAT! PLEASE EAT!” and making eating motions with their hands. I had dozens of hands all over me, pulling at my shirt and arms, they even stuck their hands in my pockets to see if I had anything to give. These children were literally crying out for food. I looked at their faces, their sunken eyes, gray spots in their hair resulting from malnutrition, and skin streaked with dried mud…those faces were the picture of desperation. Without realizing it, I began to cry with them because I could not give them any food. We did not have enough in the pot to feed this many, and handing it out to some would’ve only made the situation worse.
We finally reached the fence surrounding our destination, but it was locked. The lady knocked, and while we waited for someone to open it, the crowd behind us kept pressing in. Eventually our bodies were pressed up against the cold metal because the crowd would not stop moving forward. Finally, a man opened the fence. The lady and I, along with several children spilled into the yard area. Two women came and took the pot of stew from us, but my nightmare was not over. The man was telling everyone to get out of the yard and go back in the street, they were not allowed inside. Those inside were trying to get out, but there were still hundreds of people trying to push inward and follow the food. It created a giant, chaotic mess, and in all the commotion I heard a scream. I bent down and looked between the bodies to see a little boy, maybe 5 years old, had slipped in the mud and his leg was caught underneath the metal fence. He was being trampled, and no one made any attempt to help him up. They only had one thing in mind: get to the food at any cost. I will never forget his face, full of fear and covered in mud, looking helplessly at me as he was repeatedly stepped on. I pushed through the mass and managed to grab the boy’s hand. I pulled him up from the mud, screaming and screaming. I held him, wiped the mud from his face, and tried to tell him that he was safe now. A teenage boy came and took the child from me, and although he couldn’t speak much English, he let me know the little boy would be fine.
After that experience, my heart felt so heavy. I cried into my husband’s shoulder and told my teammates what I had seen. I realized that the event had been the answer to my prayer. I had asked God to break my heart for what breaks His, and that is exactly what He did. It was an unpleasant, terrifying, and even dangerous thing that I experienced, but had it not happened, I’m not sure I would’ve dedicated my life to orphan care. I probably would’ve come home from Africa with a renewed faith, and it probably would’ve had some impact on my life, but not nearly to the same extent.
As I returned home and resumed teaching, things were never the same. We had a new perspective on the world. It affected our giving, our lifestyle, and our time. We became outspoken advocates for orphans and for missions. We partnered with a ministry in Rwanda to assist their needs, sponsored children, became trained as team leaders, and co-led our second trip to Rwanda in 2013.
After all of this, God was still persistently tugging at my heart. I began to pray about if God wanted me to leave teaching and pursue full time ministry serving orphans. After several months of prayer, I knew this was indeed God’s plan for my life. So I resigned from teaching. That was a huge (and very scary) leap of faith. Now, I’m so overjoyed that God has led me to World Orphans and that I have the incredible opportunity to be the Project Manager for the Americas. I’m so excited to see how God will use me in this new role! In May I will be traveling on a Journey Trip to Haiti, which is one of the countries I will be serving as Project Manager. I cannot wait to learn more about this country and its people, and learn how we might be able to serve the orphans and vulnerable children in their community, all to the glory of God.
By Jeremy Resmer | Senior Director of Projects
I’ve heard it said by leaders and members in the church, “Our church focuses on evangelism and discipleship.” Or swap out evangelism and discipleship with other words like ministry, outreach, fellowship, worship, prayer, fasting, community, relationship, service, and teaching to name a few.
My position at World Orphans allows me to travel to several Majority countries and meet with pastors and leaders about orphan care and the church. As a result, I have tremendous appreciation for the gifts, passions, resourcefulness, creativity, and diversity within the church globally. Of course, like when reading a thought-provoking book, I get excited when I hear stories of monumental faith, supernatural healing, and intervention by the Holy Spirit. Each time I return home, like clockwork, I begin to pray for God to show up in my own life just like in Uganda, or Haiti, or Nicaragua, or like he did for my friend down the street. In fact, God is with us always during the miracles and monotony. And in my prayer for God to show up, I am constantly reminded of the early church.
The Early Church Teaches Us In Acts 2:42-47 we read that believers were committed to evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, worship, and ministry. All of these characteristics defined the early church, not simply one or two. Of course it was and still should be defined by all of these because it is a living, breathing organism made up of people from all walks of life with unique experiences and perspectives fused with diverse strengths, passions, and resources.
And yet, many times our churches are strong in one, two, or maybe even three areas. Without a system and structure to be intentional and balance the five purposes, as Rick Warren states, your church will tend to overemphasize the purpose that best expresses the gifts and passions of its pastor. This is all too common at churches everywhere. It’s not limited by geography or denomination.
For me, this is where my faith collides with my livelihood. James 1:27 can only happen when faith meets works. To care for orphans and widows requires action. The Word is alive and inspires, no it compels us to get up from the bench and insert ourselves into the game, to serve others and be compassionate. I’ve often asked myself, “How is it that pure, undefiled religion goes hand-in-hand with orphans and widows?” and “Does what I do really matter?”
Without God, we are all orphans - each without a parent. Without Jesus, we are all widows - each without a leader. We were created to be in fellowship with God, to glorify him and be his ambassadors. And only the church, through the power of the gospel, has the ability and the mandate to connect both spiritual and physical orphans and widows to God.
What Can We Do? So how do we do it? How does the church engage in fellowship, worship, evangelism, discipleship, and ministry concurrently while caring for the spiritual and physical needs of orphans and widows?
One way is through a church-led visitation ministry that supports and strengthens fragile families, single mothers, and orphaned and abandoned children. It is a family-based outreach that provides wholistic care for children in a home environment. After the earthquake in Haiti and several meetings with pastors, church leaders, and caregivers, World Orphans, in conjunction with the local churches, developed Home Based Care (HBC) to address the unique needs of orphaned and vulnerable children living with extended family and neighbors. Since then, HBC has been contextualized and embraced by churches in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Guatemala.
Here’s how it works:
- The pastor casts the vision and selects a committee of 4-5 volunteer members
- The committee receives training and creates a strategy and plan to minister to the most vulnerable families in the community
- The committee meets with the families, learns more about them and their current situation; additional research is conducted, and families are invited to participate in the program
- The Home Based Care committee visits each family twice per month, builds relationships and provides ongoing encouragement, support, and prayer
Included in the program is access to food, education, counseling, and home visitation by HBC committee members and discipleship by the local church.
The feedback by the church, the children, and the community has been nothing short of amazing!
“Home Based Care helps marginalized people find their identity.” – Ethiopia
“I didn’t know why the church was helping us. Surely, they must have made a mistake. We didn’t deserve to be helped. We didn’t even attend church. But I am so thankful and I give praise to God because he has saved me and my family and for the first time, we have hope for a better future.” – Haiti
Home Based Care Works! Here are some tangible ways HBC combines evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, worship, and ministry.
- Family-based care preserves and stabilizes existing families.
- Children and families are selected based on the greatest need. 80% of beneficiaries are outside the church (Muslim, Orthodox and unbelievers) and 20% are from inside the church. We are reaching children and caregivers with the gospel.
- Visits are based on relationship and partnership with struggling families.
- Home visits are done by volunteers from the local church and utilize resources inside the community. The program can be cost-effective and scalable.
- Treats orphaned children, widows, and other marginalized people with dignity and respect.
- Strengthens the capacity of existing immediate and extended families. Transformation of the families is observable and often includes a renewed identity in Christ.
- Elevates the role of the local church and empowers believers.
- Provides encouragement, sharing of the gospel and prayer for one another.
- Connects the family to the local church to be part of community events, children’s activities, worship, Sunday school, and ongoing discipleship.
- Builds confidence and inspires more people in the church to get involved and provide leadership in the community.
- Establishes a network of churches and church plants that share information, resources, and best practices.
In all my travels, I have yet to learn of another ministry within the church that is more effective at simultaneously building relationships, sharing the gospel, and inspiring people to get involved in meeting the needs of the community. I’m totally convinced Home Based Care plays an important role in the livelihood and growth of our church partners.
“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” May it be so.
After reading more about home based care, what thoughts do you have?
By Matthew Hanks | Projects Manager Africa
This challenging reality became obvious to me when I began the ‘support raising’ process to work for World Orphans. No matter how clearly I thought I was casting the vision of this amazing ministry - a ministry which strives to keep children in families in their own countries - at the end of my presentation, most people still referred to World Orphans as that "adoption ministry”. In defense of these precious people, we had just returned from Ethiopia with a baby boy that was (and still is) transforming our family in so many wonderful ways through the gift of adoption. And I'm sure that we couldn't stop talking about it. Still can't.
In fact, it was through Kaleb's adoption that The Lord led us to World Orphans. It was seeing World Orphans Home Based Care model in Ethiopia, which in part encourages the church to find families for the orphans in their midst, that confirmed in me that this was a ministry with whom I wanted to partner. The pull to work with this dynamic grass roots ministry only grew when I started meeting the families of our fairly small staff and began to recognize that many others had also been drawn into occupational orphan care ministry as a result of adopting internationally. However, these dozen or so kids that have been grafted into the families in our ranks only confuses the matter worse of whether or not World Orphans is an international adoption ministry. Though we aren’t, the reality is adoption and orphan care go hand-in-hand and should be hard to separate. One adopted child in this world means one less orphan. Adoption = family, to the lonely heart of the orphan (Ps. 68:6, paraphrased). Ok, here’s where I’m going with this. You ready? Our Father in heaven desires us to share in the blessing of caring for orphaned children so that we can know Him better by identifying with how He cares for us as spiritual orphans. Make sense? No, not clear enough?? Well, ok, I guess it’s not the first time I’ve heard this. I'm pretty clear to myself, but apparently maybe not as clear as I’d like to think. You know what I'm talking about, right? I say what I mean and I mean what I say and still... You already have no idea what I'm talking about do you? NOT COMMUNICATING CLEARLY! …Did you hear that?
I wonder if God ever feels like I do about communicating. Not that He’s disillusioned with it actually taking place or not, but if He feels like He couldn’t have been more clear, and yet confusion remains. With the Scriptures mentioning caring for “orphans” and the “fatherless” forty-one times, how is it that there are over 150 million orphans in the world? Is He not being clear when He says, “Do not deny justice to a foreigner or fatherless child” (Deut. 24:17)? Or, simplified further, “…Defend the cause of the orphans” (Is. 1:17). His heart is unmistakably for orphans. He is even given the name in the Psalms as the “Father to the Fatherless” (Ps. 68:5 and 27:10). The entirety of the gospel is built on this reality, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). He uses the adoption stories of Moses, Esther, Samuel, even Jesus himself, to communicate his “father-heart” for not only the physical orphans in this world, but also the spiritual orphans that we all are without the knowledge of His saving grace. God, the Father, wants us to participate in caring for orphans so that we can more completely receive His care for us as spiritual orphans. We get insight into the Father’s heart for us as we fellowship with Him through the shared experience of embracing orphaned children as our own. This reality has transformed my life and has fueled a passion in me to share this blessing of orphan care.
As I write this I'm returning from a trip to Ethiopia where I had the privilege of hanging out with our World Orphans Ethiopia Country Directors, the LaBranches, who have been in various parts of Africa for going on 9 years. They adopted their youngest from Ethiopia back in 1999 when the in-country fee, their only fee as they were living there, was $99 (insert personal commentary over exuberant costs of international adoption here). While there, they invited us to attend their small group. We showed up early to help grill some burgers as we were told the children in the group out number the adults about 3-to-1 and that we would need to start early to be prepared for the onslaught of children that were soon to commence upon the compound. We’d just put the last few patties on the grill when we heard a van pull up to the solid gate at the top of the steep driveway. We were prepared with the food but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next. At 5pm sharp in strolled the families through the gate. Each one a similar make up: a couple kids clearly born on US soil, a couple kids clearly born in Ethiopia, and a couple of parents. One, after another, after another. Adoption had not only transformed these families, but God had used it to work in their hearts to lead them to the mission field. I don't know why I was shocked to see this, as in many ways this is the same story as mine. Through adoption we not only discovered how incomplete our family was before Kaleb, but we also discovered a much deeper understanding of our role in the Kingdom as a response to more completely receiving what Jesus paid for - our adoption into the eternal family of God.
Though World Orphans does not do international adoption, we do strongly support it as an option in fighting the orphan crisis. Though we believe that orphaned children will thrive the most in families in their own communities and cultures -- and as a ministry we strive to that end -- we recognize that for many children the alternative to international adoption is life in institutional care. And though the issues and controversies surrounding international adoption are many and are extremely complex we believe that at the end of the day, to that one, or those two, or that sibling group, all they care about is that they are in a loving home.
Until They All Have Homes is our tag line at World Orphans. In my opinion, this is the clearest, least complicated answer to the global orphan crisis; finding homes (i.e. families) for these kids. There are many great ways to that end, but that end is fundamental in caring for orphaned children in a way that’s in line with the Lord’s heart. So whether it’s through international adoption or helping us find families in the communities in the developing countries in which we work, God’s plan for orphan care is pretty simple: “Father to the fatherless, defender of the widows – this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:5-6a).
By Nate Livesay | Church Partnership Director
Almost two and a half years ago I stood looking out over a slum in Ethiopia asking myself what could I possibly do about what I was seeing. The problems created by cycles of generational poverty and institutionalized injustice are so massive and complicated that surely there was nothing a 34 year old basketball coach from South Carolina could do. I wanted a neat and tidy answer, a quick solution, a grand gesture that would wipe away my tears and ease the guilt I felt because I had never opened my eyes to what was happening in the world outside of my nice, comfortable, Christian life. I wanted to change the world.
Over the course of my two-week Journey 117 trip with World Orphans the question in my heart shifted from “what can I do about 153 million orphans” to “what does God want me to do with what he has given me?” It was without a doubt a dangerous shift in my thinking. If I felt responsible to change the world and be the solution for millions upon millions of children I would quickly become overwhelmed with the reality – overwhelmed that there is nothing I could do about all of those children and it would be reasonable to absolve myself of the responsibility to solve a problem of that scale. But when the question shifted to an examination of the time, talent, treasure, and influence that I been entrusted with by God, there was no walking away without a lasting responsibility to obey God's call to use my blessings to be a blessing to others. I still wasn't sure what I was supposed to do, but God impressed onto my heart that he was calling me to DO SOMETHING to serve his Kingdom and to use what he had given me to make the world a little closer to what he intended it.
I'd been a Christian for many years, but I had never really grasped the essence of the call to be a true follower of Christ. I had embraced a nice comfortable Christian version of the American dream. I heard the scriptures, but they never came alive in my life. I'd never had a life verse because I'd never really heard what Jesus was saying to me about the way I should live my life. After this trip, those scriptures I had heard time after time began to come alive and I began to embrace truly following Christ wherever he led, and now I do have a life verse. It hangs in my living room and I have taught it to my children and it helps guide me in the way that I live my life.
Learn to do good.
Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows.
Back to December of 2011 - returning to the United States smack in the middle of the materialistic excess of the Christmas season was difficult and I was still struggling to find what to do with all I had seen and learned in Ethiopia.
So what could I do? I could join the staff at World Orphans - something I did about 6 months later. But that was going to be a long process, so what could I do right now? How could I live out Isaiah 1:17 from Sumter, South Carolina right away?
Our trip leader and Senior Director of Church Partnerships suggested that I start a Rescue Team. World Orphans Rescue Teams equip two or more people to support the ministry of World Orphans by doing what they already do with people in their sphere of influence. So that's what I did. I gathered up a group of friends in my living room in January of 2012. We had a meeting and I told them about World Orphans and what I had seem in Ethiopia and what we could do to help. We met again in February and the group was a little smaller. In March the group was even a little bit smaller than that. While it was beginning to get frustrating, we had begun to develop a small group of consistent monthly participants who bought into the vision of using what we have right here in Sumter to help those all over the world.
In the Summer of 2012 we hosted a yard sale and raised just under a $1,000 for World Orphans. In the fall of 2012 we hosted A Hunger Meal and raised several hundred more dollars, but more importantly the size of our group almost doubled. With this influx of enthusiasm and manpower we began to plan our most ambitious event - a Benefit Dinner and Silent Auction for April of 2013. The Sumter World Orphans Rescue Team was starting to roll! The April Benefit ended up raising almost $6,000 dollars to help fund a project in South Africa for several months. In June of 2013 our Rescue Team hosted another yard sale and this time we raised three times as much as in 2012 - over $2,000 came in. In October of 2013 several members of our Rescue Team accompanied me to Haiti on a Journey 117 trip that resulted in our home church embracing the mission of World Orphans by committing to become a church to church partner in Haiti.
As I sit here typing this blog we are less than two weeks away from another Sumter World Orphans Rescue Team Benefit Dinner and Silent Auction. I am thrilled to tell you that our Rescue Team has recently partnered with an extraordinary church in Cambodia and the first $3,600 dollars we raise this April will go to fund that project for the next year. The funds we raise over $3,600 will go towards Wholistic Care initiatives in Haiti - things like regular medical clinics and caregiver training seminars for all 14 of our partner churches in Haiti.
You can do this, too!
Every time I have asked what can I do, God has answered. Are you willing to ask him what you can do?
So, what can you do?
You can start a rescue team.
You can ask your friends to join you.
You can give up your birthday.
You can host a garage sale.
You can throw a party or host a dinner.
You can run a race.
You can do something. You can be obedient to use your time, talent, treasure, and influence however God leads you.
You only have one life to live. You can do something because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
For more information about the Sumter Rescue Team feel free to contact me at nate@worldorphans. For more information about how to start your own Rescue Team click here or contact the World Orphans Senior Director of Advocacy, Alan Hunt (email@example.com).
Snapshots from Our Church Partnerships in Ethiopia
By Jeremy Resmer | Senior Director of Partnerships
Late in the evening, Rick and Phyllis were busy at work, meticulously re-reading the legal requirements established by the government for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Ethiopia. When they arrived in Addis Ababa in 2012, they were told it would take a year or longer to register World Orphans as an NGO. Some people pay others to do this, but they laughed in disbelief. How hard could it be?
On Saturday morning at a nearby church, a young boy, no more than 13 or 14, preached a fiery message in Amharic (the Ethiopian language) to more than 500 children from the local community. Although I didn’t understand what he is saying, it is clear that he is passionate about his message. “It’s the story of Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years,” says the pastor sitting next to me.
“Is he a preacher?” I asked surprisingly.
“No, he is a young man, 14 years of age, in our pastoral leadership program. We are training our young people to become leaders and share the gospel.”
“Wow! That’s incredible.” I exclaimed. I was shocked to witness such a young boy preaching, much less with the conviction and zeal of an experienced speaker.
“We got the idea for the program from the people in America.” He said while laughing.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Americans that visited in the past told us that when young people grow up without hearing the word of God, they fall away and leave the church. They said this happens in the US. We were determined that we didn’t want that to happen here and decided to create a program that would develop leaders and train them to evangelize their peers.”
In a small town, two hours outside of Addis Ababa, I had the opportunity to meet with the program coordinator at one of our local church partners doing Home Based Care (HBC). Sitting in his small, dark office, I asked him what he liked most about the ministry. His answer was profound. “The HBC program helps marginalized people find their identity.” I wondered what he meant. I would soon find out.
A few minutes later, a team of volunteers from the church and I went out to visit at-risk families in the community and visit them to offer encouragement and find out how the children were doing in school. At one particular home, a young girl named Sity (in photograph), 6 years of age, lived alone with her grandmother in a small, one-room house. She was abandoned when she was very young. Her mother left and never returned, and no one knew the whereabouts of her father. While there I learned that Sity was crippled after she fell off her mother’s back and broke her leg as a baby. After going years without receiving treatment, Sity finally received surgery and medication. That day I saw her stand and walk with crutches. She has a brace on her right leg to realign and fix it. Once that is corrected, the doctors will work on fixing her other leg. Meanwhile, the church has helped pay for her medical expenses, transportation, and every week brings fruit and other protein-rich foods like eggs and meat needed to aid in her recovery. The HBC team visits Sity regularly where they enjoy her contagious laughter.
Back in Addis, in an extremely poor area of town, another partner church is alive with energy and activity. Kids are running in and out of the buildings, playing soccer, studying and socializing with their friends. In a short period of time, the struggling property was transformed into a vibrant church and hub for the youth in the community. The pastor said, “When the church began reaching out to the families in the community and offering sports, tutoring, and other activities for the children, everything changed.”
Time and again, we hear how open evangelism is not acceptable in Ethiopia and will result in violence especially in this community consisting largely of Muslim families and businesses. However, for more than three years, this church has been walking in the light, inviting young people to participate in their own future, and visiting more than 17 families caring for orphaned and abandoned children. I was amazed by what I saw and heard. I asked the pastor why he likes the HBC program so much and his response was powerful and enlightening. He said, “Our small church has gone mostly unnoticed. We go and visit desperate and disadvantaged people in our community. Many are Muslim, Orthodox, or don’t believe in God at all. We don’t require anything from them, only that we want to encourage and help them. No one can dispute that they need assistance. However, many of the families that we visit have asked our team to pray with them, to tell them about Jesus, or to invite them to church. Even the kids in these families, who come to our church, tell their parents about Jesus. To our ministry, Home Based Care is the most effective form of evangelism.”
Eighteen months passed and in order to continue working with churches in Ethiopia, World Orphans was required to receive approval as an NGO. The World Orphans missionaries, Rick and Phyllis, worked tirelessly with attorneys, government officials, church partners and other organizations to draft, make modifications, submit, make more modifications, and re-submit the NGO application paperwork. The process took place repeatedly and older versions were scrapped entirely for new drafts.
Finally, after writing and rewriting the project proposal three times, numerous visits to various government offices, several conversations with other faith-based NGOs performing development work under the new government regulations, and two visits to Kenya for weeks at a time to renew their visa, Rick and Phyllis finally found favor and received the word they had waited for: APPROVED!
Was it really worth all the trouble? Absolutely. In order to continue working in Ethiopia under the law, registration isn’t an option it’s a requirement. In Phyllis’ words, “The process tested our faith and endurance. There were times when I really wondered if we would be successful. Discouragement and exhaustion hovered. But God continued to bring glimpses of hope as one-by-one His people would come alongside us and encourage us onward. Step by step we saw His hand open the way.” She continued, “The government restrictions, though at times challenging, have actually promoted a higher level of effectiveness and outreach as well as help churches to clearly love and serve in the name of Christ. The answer to the question: why do we do it? For love. Love of God and love of people, just as God so loved the world. No law can restrict us from this.”
Have you experienced Ethiopia? What stories and experiences would you add?
By Bailey Kalvelage | Mobilization
Reflecting seems to always be part of the festivities of a new year. Whether in the quiet of the morning or between errands, we tend to ponder the past year, retracing steps both large and small. I invite you to journey with me through a few testimonies from World Orphans 2013 partnership trips. Relationships were deepened, kids and families were cared for, and the Gospel was spread…
“One of the events we did was a sports outreach where we took four buses of people to a sports complex. The day ended with testimonies from some of our team and then Jairo Jr. (pastor’s son) gave an invitation to accept Christ. The first girl that came forward was Abigail. She is 8 years old. When she was born, her mom had her dedicated at Verbo Sur (church), but her mom died a couple of months later. Her dad later died, and her grandmother is raising her. Verbo Sur has stayed close to her with the Community Development Center and feeding programs, and she comes to church each Sunday. This is a great example of the church stepping in and helping to raise an orphan right in their community." – Partnership between Verbo Sur of Nicaragua and Gaylord E-Free of Michigan
“Every day at noon, Eglise de Dieu D’Andullan has intercessory prayer time. What an experience for our team: to take time each day to come together and pray! Oh, how we have things to learn from our Haitian friends! When I first walked into the church, prayer time was already in progress, and it took a little getting used to at first…most people were praying aloud, some quietly. Several were pacing up and down while calling upon Jesus, some kneeled and rocked, some reached their hands toward heaven, and one woman was kneeling and wailing. To me, it was an intimate picture of how we all come to the Lord in a very personal way. Without understanding their language, I could only see their love, their desire for the Lord, their relationship with Him…beautiful!” – Partnership between Eglise de Dieu D’Andullan of Haiti and Lakewood Christian Church of Oklahoma
“In the afternoon, our team came up to the front of a house with seven young men out back. One team member walked up and shook hands and introduced himself. He started telling them his story, ‘I know what it’s like to be a young man…I want you to know you can have courage and salvation and all the freedom I have in my life. You will still mess up but you know Jesus.’ One young man said, ‘I’m a Muslim, but I’d like to have that Jesus.’ He prayed and accepted Christ. The US team member has prayed for him since then.” – Partnership between Hope Home Care Cyegera of Rwanda and HOPE 221 of Tennessee
Whether it was hundreds of people being treated and prayed for at a medical clinic or a little boy sharing the victory at his choir concert with his US friends, God’s faithfulness has reverberated throughout trips in 2013. Each partnership has unique stories of salvation, worship, service, and love.
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” Acts 4:32-34a
In 2013, special churches in the US and around the world continued to join in partnership through World Orphans to care for children who are orphaned and vulnerable. This reflecting brings gratitude and great anticipation of what is to come in 2014!
By Kevin Squires | Senior Director of Church Partnerships
America was taken aback in recent weeks by the sound of an orphan’s cry. Davion Only, a 15-year old boy in Florida’s foster care system, put on his finest clothes, went to church, stood on stage, and cried out for a family. I keep replaying his words in my head. “I’ll take anyone,” he said. “Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don’t care.” He wasn’t looking to be rescued from foster care; he simply wanted what so many of us take for granted… he wanted a family. So, he desperately cried out for someone, in his own words, “to love me until I die.”
No doubt this story will continue to captivate America. At the time of this post, over 10,000 requests to adopt Davion have come into the main offices in Florida. Thanks to talk shows, news stations, and bloggers everywhere, Davion’s cry for someone to love me until I die will not only get him adopted, it will most certainly get thousands of others adopted as well. In many ways, Davion has become the face of the orphan crisis in America, where over 100,000 children currently “live” in foster care. But it’s his voice, his nervous and trembling voice, that has become the cry of over 150 million orphans worldwide. In many ways, his “Love Me Until I Die” speech was his version of “I Have A Dream,” a dream and a quest to be loved by a family.
So, that begs the question… with so many children around the world on a similar quest, what will it take to get these kids into loving families, especially when adoption is not an option?
For hundreds of years, orphanages have monopolized the global orphan care industry. With great intentions, limited options, and a growing orphan crisis, many churches, governments, and NGOs plunged into the business of running orphanages in hopes of saving as many children as possible. While we in America were desperately trying to keep up with the Joneses, those in the Majority World were frantically trying to keep up with the ever increasing issues of human trafficking, sex trade, disease, starvation, and a plethora of other causes that were leading to a growing crisis of orphaned and vulnerable children.
Amidst all the chaos, many of us have come to realize that simple band-aid solutions were prescribed at a time when complex wounds were gushing at an alarming rate. Somewhere down the line, without even meaning to, we replaced families with institutions. Meanwhile, orphans like Davion are crying out for families, not caretakers. They want homes, not buildings. They want to be loved until they die, not loved until they age out.
In hearing those cries, World Orphans is continuing to fight to keep children out of orphanages and in loving and caring families. We are currently searching for American churches to partner with churches in Haiti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Cambodia, and Guatemala to care for orphaned and vulnerable children through our family-based care model. These church partnerships provide education, food, medical care, and counseling to a growing number of families who are caring for children in need. By inspiring, equipping, and mobilizing local churches throughout the world, these children are able to remain in their communities.
Are you ready to join the fight? Engage your church in conversation today about partnering with World Orphans. For more information, go to our website at www.worldorphans.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.