One of the dominant memories I have of childhood is our family dining room table. In and of itself, it was an unremarkable piece of furniture: dull, brown oval of oak perched on a nicked and scarred pedestal. I didn’t realize it then, but there was more to that table than wood, glue, and a few bolts…
Viewing entries in
The city streets of Guatemala—with few green spaces and most of those infested with negative influences—are not a welcoming place for childhood play. Growing up in Guatemala can be a dangerous and lonely experience . . .
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
We've taken all our cues from the mayor. He's directed us to build the community center. Later on in the story, when the refugee crisis hit, he directed us to help the Shabak Kurds that had just fled Mosul. Later on, he asked if we'd be able to build a school.
At World Orphans, we talk a lot about orphan care, but you may have noticed that we don't talk about orphanages. Instead, you may frequently hear the words "church partnership" or "family-based care".
Sometimes it's the roaring expanse of the ocean or the limitless heights of the mountains; however, sometimes it's the rhythmic cracking of a few logs in the fire and the laughter of a stranger-turned-friend.
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.
And thus, Frimose began the hard work of parenting a grief-stricken 8-year-old girl.
Sometimes a flight doesn't go quite as expected . . .
"I never loved you and everything is your fault. Don't expect anyone to love you if your own mother can't."
Those were the last words out of his mother's mouth before David was launched into the foster care system. It was a couple days after his 10th birthday and, to say the least, he'd had a difficult first decade.
When new mother, Dayna Mager, poured out the broken pieces of her heart on social media, the masses responded. Her story quickly went viral. Dayna attended a worship conference, where a missionary spoke about visiting an orphanage while in Uganda. The orphanage, filled to the brim with 100 babies, was eerily silent. She was crushed when she learned that the babies are conditioned to stop crying. A small staff against 100 babies that become hungry, tired, and dirty at varying times throughout the day is a tough scenario.
Dayna relays the missionary's story, "They stop crying when they realize no one is coming for them."
Dayna continues by sharing about the change in her maternal perspective, no longer frustrated or inconvenienced by the sound of her newborn baby's cry, but thankful for that cry. That cry means her child is learning that Mama will come when she's hungry, tired, dirty, or discomforted in any way.
Babies need to cry. We need them to cry. Crying means proper development is taking place.
Stories like these offer a glimpse into why we approach orphan care in the way that we do.
Our Home Based Care Program (HBC) is a family-based program that both addresses and prevents the rise of the orphan population by caring for children in a home environment. Administered through our Church Partnership model, World Orphans partners US churches with international churches that wholistically care for orphaned and vulnerable children. These children are being raised by single mothers, extended family, neighbors, friends, or church members.
The goal of the program is to equip, inspire, and mobilize the local church to build relationships with at-risk families in their communities. Relationships grow through frequently visiting these families in their homes to offer prayer, Gospel training, counseling, and overall encouragement. To empower this wholistic approach to orphan care, World Orphans and US churches connect relationally with international churches to provide Gospel-focused training and funding. The funding for the HBC Program ensures that these children are being cared for wholistically.
Wholistic Care meets:
- Physical Needs – Protection, shelter, food, nutrition, access to clean drinking water, and medical care.
- Mental Needs – Access to, and support of, education and vocational training.
- Emotional Needs – Ongoing care through counseling and home visits.
- Spiritual Needs – Discipleship towards a relationship with Christ, transformation, and a restored image of dignity and true identity in Jesus Christ.
A child who has faced tremendous loss needs to know that his cries will be heard. A baby who has experienced tragedies untold needs to know she will be answered.
Orphan care will never be an ideal, flawless, beautiful operation because the very word "orphan" speaks to the loss, neglect, or abandonment that a child has faced. Though it will never be perfect, we should be pursuing excellence.
Let's create and support environments where a baby's cry is answered by loving arms. While we do this, let's continue hoping, praying, and dreaming of the day they all have homes.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR
World Orphans is not an adoption agency; however, we love the foster and adoptive families represented through our staff, donors, and communities. We rally behind your efforts to champion the cause of vulnerable and orphaned children. Sometimes it's hard though, isn't it? Sometimes it looks like this:
"I hate you. You're not even my real mom. You can't tell me what to do."
She wanted to pick up the explosive words that had seemingly shattered the fragile air into splintering shards of glass, but she couldn't. She'd welcomed him into their home over a year ago, with high hopes that they would be laughing, playing, and enjoying one another's company by now. But, they weren't.
When Jonathan wasn't throwing words like jujitsu knives at Elaine, he was lost in a meltdown with the crocodile tears, kicking, screaming – the whole deal. This had become the new "normal" for the Smith family and it was taking a toll on everyone.
Elaine and her husband, Jim, were not new to parenting. They had three older children that were – until Jonathan came into the house – doing relatively well. When Jim and Elaine announced their decision to adopt, their biological children were ecstatic about the prospect of having a younger brother or sister.
Jonathan, the six-year-old little boy with the messy mop of brown curls and the deep blue eyes, seemed to capture their hearts immediately. When the Smiths looked at the pictures from the adoption agency, they didn't see the brokenness in that sweet little face. He was a smart, handsome, and jovial little man and the Smiths looked forward to calling him "son".
Adoption wasn't what the Smiths thought it would be, though. The pictures didn't tell them about the lingering effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), or the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Maybe the agency rattled off those things at one point in the process, but how difficult could those things be? The Smiths had friends whose children were diagnosed with ADD and assumed it would all work out just fine. After all, Jonathan would be their fourth child.
The Smiths had no idea how difficult it would be to parent Jonathan. Adoption is beautiful, but it's also messy.
What happens next? What happens when all the things your parents did with you don't work? What happens when the way you parented your other children only leads to more tantrums, crying, and shouting? What happens when you find yourself at the end of your rope?
The Smiths' story is not uncommon. It's the story of many adoptive and foster families. It's the story of parents that truly care, but cannot seem to communicate with their new family member. It's the story that's being written over and over and over again, not only by adoptive families, but by foster and temporary placement families as well. What if the story could be different?
Mothers and fathers, allow us to introduce you to Empowered to Connect and the late Dr. Karyn Purvis. As Director of the TCU Institute of Child Development, Dr. Purvis focused the last decade of her life on researching and developing interventions for at-risk children. She co-authored The Connected Child with Dr. David Cross, and her wisdom has been ground-breaking for adoptive and foster families, social workers, and a variety of people working in childcare.
Empowered to Connect uses the Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI)® model developed by Dr. Purvis. "TBRI® is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI® uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI® is connection."
Connection. We all crave it and were created for it.
As relational beings we [...] have a deep need and desire to connect with those around us. One of the most important and meaningful human connections is undoubtedly between a parent and a child. -Dr. Karyn Purvis
Connecting isn't always easy, though, and we've found the TBRI and Empowered to Connect principles helpful in the Wholistic Care training we offer to our church partners across the globe. Families like the Smiths have found hope in these principles as well. Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) President Jedd Medefind says Empowered to Connect "brings together some of the nation’s very best experts on what adopted children and their families experience, and how parents can forge deep and lasting bonds with their children, even in the face of great difficulty."
Education is important. Medical care is important. A bed. A family. A house. But, a home – a place for love, redemption and healing – that's really the goal.
It looks so simple on paper or on a screen, but in those difficult moments when the tears are flowing and the screaming is only getting louder, it's hard, isn't it? If you're fostering or you've adopted, we know the struggle you've felt, and we'd love to remind you that God's grace is abundant, his mercies are new every morning, and his love is endless.
Let's tackle one day at a time . . . until they all have HOMES.
by President Scott Vair & Assistant Middle East Director Tim Buxton
It has been almost two years since ISIS swept through the Nineveh plains in brutal fashion, taking control of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. For those who managed to escape to relative safety, the task of putting together the shattered pieces of their lives is often too much. The armies of ISIS are still in control of Mosul, and although the Peshmerga Kurdish Army, with the support of the US military and other Western allies, has retaken key territory in the region, the battle rages on. The possibility of these hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian families returning home anytime soon is an unrealistic dream.
One of the greatest casualties of the war with ISIS are the thousands of children robbed of their future, no longer able to go to school to simply learn how to read, write, or just have fun. Guns, grenades, and untold acts of merciless violence have stolen so much from these innocent children.
Realizing the importance of education, our team in Iraq began to dream and plan a response. What began in July of last year as a couple days per week of fun games, learning activities, and informal English classes for 130 Yazidi and Shabak children (ages 3-18), has now grown into a full-fledged school that meets five days per week.
Today, there are five teachers of mixed ethnic backgrounds and two social workers (who are Syrian refugees) that provide English, math, art, science, geography, music, and sport classes.
These classes are held in six classrooms on the ground floor of our community center, where there is also a library, a large multipurpose hall, and an outdoor soccer field used by the children on a daily basis. Students are transported to and from the school by bus and are given daily refreshments that include fruit, cookies, juice, and water.
If it weren’t for this school and other programs like it, these refugee children would be stuck in their camps, and likely be forced into child labor. Overcrowding and language barriers keep local schools from being an option for most refugee children. In some cases, the Iraqi and Syrian governments will not allow the students who miss more than two years of school to rejoin the classroom, forcing many students into the adult workforce prematurely. Without education many of these children will be left behind.
But, instead of losing all hope and missing out on their opportunity for an education, these children are now learning, growing, and dreaming in a caring environment. They are excited to come to school and their only complaint is that they cannot attend school more often. God has been gracious to give us this opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these precious children.
Unfortunately, our classrooms are busting at the seams. In just six months, the school has outgrown our community center. Without increased capacity, we will not be able to provide education for new children as we continue to expand our refugee ministry.
So, we are building a school!
Work is underway for the construction of a 16,000 square foot school that will have nine classrooms. The school will be built on a vacant area of land adjacent to our community center and soccer field. Not only will we be able to triple the size of our current student capacity, we will be able to provide more age-relevant education to the children, as we no longer have to combine multiple age groups into shared classes.
The community center will then be free to operate as an additional learning facility, providing various programs like trauma counseling, and sewing, cosmetic, computer, and trade classes.
We are grateful for all who have joined us on this journey to care for refugees and their children during these times. Would you consider joining us in prayer? Would you consider financially supporting this project as construction continues. It is both a daunting task and a wonderful opportunity, and we would be honored to have your support.
We like the notion of doing it all on our own, don't we? In a nation that celebrates self-starters, independence, and the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality, we've glorified individualized efforts and often missed out on the vast opportunities afforded by working together with one another. To be clear, individual work ethic is important and there is–of course–work that only you can do. However, are we missing the bigger picture when we do it all on our own and forget about the incredible network of people that God has made available to us? When we tackle it alone, are we accomplishing less instead of more?
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:3-8
We often look at verses like these, smile, think, "what a nice thought," and then go on with our day. The idea of fully embracing our community of believers and engaging with them in authentic ways is a beautiful concept, but we often fail to pursue it.
What would it look like to embrace our role as the Body of Christ? What would it look like if we brought our different personalities, gifts, talents, strengths, and backgrounds together and used them for good? The global church has an extravagant amount of talent, wisdom, and resources when we work together.
153 million orphaned children need us to work together to find solutions to the orphan crisis, and the solution is rooted in relationship, partnership, and the firm belief that the Body of Christ is a beautiful, powerful force. We need to hold hands on this one. The future of orphaned and vulnerable children is dependent on the global church working together . . .
Until they all have homes.
Watch our newest video to learn how we can work together for orphaned and vulnerable children.
Find out how your church can get involved in Church Partnership.
"An architect." Her boldness and creativity caught me off guard. It was the sixth classroom of the day in which we'd asked the students, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Her response surprised me because it was one I hadn't heard yet.
The teenage students were packed into a tiny classroom, and though their language was unfamiliar, the stares, giggles, and whispering felt very similar to the way a US classroom would feel brimming with teenagers.
The heat, the language barrier, and the mental exhaustion of the day was making us run close to empty, but we mustered up more energy for this new group. We began, as we had with other classes, by asking the expectant faces about their plans for the future. We heard dreams and plans bounce off the walls: teacher, doctor, nurse.
Esther* claimed she wanted to be an architect.
We began to talk to the students about the importance of not only choosing a career to pursue, but the importance of choosing their words carefully. We discussed how they talk to their friends, to their parents, to God, and to themselves. Recognizing the lies imbedded in the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," we told them how hurtful words can be. But, of course, they already knew this.
When we finished talking to the class, we offered to take questions. Esther's hand immediately shot up and she whispered for what felt like 30 minutes to our translator, Davidson. In reality, it was probably less than two minutes, but have you ever stood in front of a classroom full of teenagers? They stare at you.
Davidson turned to face our group—me, Mike, DeAhna, and Shydonna—and he relayed the story of a broken-hearted girl who so confidently announced her desire to be an architect, yet deep down was considering being a criminologist. She'd confided in someone she loved about her dreams, but that person told her she couldn't be a criminologist, and Esther wanted to know what to do and where to go from here.
Shydonna in Haiti
What Esther didn't know is that our team was blessed to have the brilliance and heart of Shydonna Tossie, director and owner of Ampersand School in Longwood, Florida. Shydonna is an educator, motivator, and big dreamer, but most importantly, Shydonna's love for children cannot be exaggerated.
Shydonna communicated many things to Esther that day, as she encouraged her to continue pursuing her desire to be a criminologist, but the most important things she conveyed to this heavy-hearted young woman were hope, love, and confidence. The conversation ended in tearful prayers and the kind of hug that must have made the angels sing.
Esther's school was attached to the local church, and following that final conversation in the classroom, we went into the church auditorium with our group. It wasn't long before a backpack-bearing girl with an orange gingham top and navy skirt made her way into the auditorium. Her eyes raced around the room before she quickly located Shydonna. Esther, seemingly forgetting the language barrier, sat down next to Shydonna to rest her head on Shydonna's shoulder. Words weren't important anymore. Esther needed hope, love, and the knowledge that someone had confidence in her. She'd found that in Shydonna, and that was enough.
This is the kind of impact Shydonna makes every single day at Ampersand School, where she frequently whispers in the ears of young learners, "Somebody is waiting for you to be great." Isn't it fascinating how some messages need to be communicated regardless of the culture? Isn't it amazing to think that children everywhere are dreaming big and waiting for us to encourage them to fly? What Shydonna knows and what you and I may fail to remember is that education isn't just about education. When children learn and dream, they're setting a pathway for their future.
If you were to ask her, Shydonna would tell you she wasn't always this inspiring to those around her. As a college student feeling the weight of the world, she stood at a Christian youth conference in a sea of depression. Tears were staining Shydonna's face when a strange woman approached her and said:
"What you're going through right now isn't even about you. Somebody is going to come behind you who needs to know that you survived. That person needs you to get through this because they need to know they can survive, too."
15 years later, Shydonna holds those words tightly in her hand, carrying them with her every day, knowing that this woman—whose name she'll never know—changed her life.
Arguably Shydonna may have done the same thing for Esther. Words of wisdom. A prayer. A hug at the perfect time. Children around the world need to know that we're waiting for them to be great. Orphaned and vulnerable children especially need to know that the world is waiting for them to be great. Though their circumstances understandably may seem insurmountable, we need 153 million orphaned children to know that we're waiting for them.
Shydonna and Esther
At World Orphans, we talk a lot about wholistically caring for orphaned and vulnerable children, ensuring their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs are all being addressed, but orphan care at the end of the day isn't really about orphan care at all.
We aren't caring for orphans. We're pouring into future doctors, teachers, and nurses. We're empowering architects, engineers, and mothers. We're investing in fathers, mechanics, and entrepreneurs. When you look into the eyes of a child, you are looking into the future of that community, town, and country. The child's circumstances may have rendered him or her orphaned, but that is not the child's permanent identity.
The second we start believing that orphan care is merely about orphan care, we've forgotten the potential that lies in those beautiful brains, the passion that burns in those big hearts, and the dreams that soar higher than the clouds. These boys and girls . . . they're going to be great.
*Name changed to protect identity.
Orphaned children haven't always been orphans. What happened?
By Becky Hoffman | Director of Rescue Teams Growing up. Leaving the nest. It is something most of us have done or will do. The time comes when we leave our parents behind and set out on our own. Free. Independent. Terrified. Some will attend college, while others join the workforce. Many will rent apartments or buy houses. Bills are now addressed to self, not parent or guardian. Though the process of entering adulthood is daunting, it is also exhilarating. Well, it should be.
Others experience a different story: aging out. An 18th birthday means it is time to go. You are out of the system. Out of the orphanage. Out on your own. Whether you are leaving foster care or an institutional orphanage, the process is abrupt and final. No one is required to care for you anymore. Your bed will be filled by another.
In an interview with Neal Conan on NPR, Dr. Mark Courtney, Research and Development Director of Partnerships for Our Children, describes the status of the former foster children he has been following into young adulthood. He says, “…less than half of them are employed at 23, very high rates of involvement with the criminal justice system, lots of struggling parents, rely on public assistance…”
Not a pretty picture. If that is what happens in the United States, imagine what it must be like for children in impoverished nations. The fear of being left to fend for oneself must plague the minds of many 17-year-old youths.
This does not have to be the case. In fact, it is not the case for the six young women in India who are cared for by the local church in partnership with World Orphans. These young women have a different story.
After losing their parents to tragedies, including accidents, abandonment, and illness, these women were brought into the loving home of a pastor’s daughter and son-in-law. There they grew up as sisters and formed a tight bond with each other and their guardians. Now, at 18, 19, and 20 years old, they have not “aged out". Instead, there has been a gradual, natural transition.
Each young woman attends university and they share an apartment above the church. After nursing school, Ujala comes home to help her new mother sew beautiful wedding gowns and sarees to sell. Aalia and Mahla have taken on many of the church’s administrative responsibilities. Each one has her role.
What is even more special is that Ujala, Mahla, Aalia, Heli, Prema, and Aahna* were recently baptized. Not only are they growing in independence, but in faith. They are truly blossoming.
None of this would have happened without the local church stepping up to care for the fatherless. It would not have happened without the US church providing finances for food, school fees, medical care, and other necessities. It would not have happened without three-fold partnership between these churches and World Orphans.
We love our church partners and praise God for all they are doing to show Christ’s love to orphans. We invite you and your church to jump in and be part of changing the story for orphans who otherwise would have aged out of the system.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
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.