By Jeremy Resmer | Sr. Director of Projects
Global orphan care is complex. We have the tendency to oversimplify problems. Sometimes, in our desire to think globally, we develop elaborate strategies to care for orphaned children and assume our plans will work in every country. For some reason, and I can’t figure out why, we think that we’re smarter or that our ideas are better than those that went before us. We can analyze problems from here in the US, usually without understanding the history and culture of the people we intend to serve, and we identify solutions and begin developing cookie cutter strategies for implementation in multiple countries. We cheer ourselves on as pioneers and promote our “models” as revolutionary.
And then reality sets in. We share our detailed plans with other people that live and work in the countries we plan to help and, if they’re honest, they often tell us our ideas won’t work in their culture. They go on to share with us all the reasons why. If we’re wise, we’ll listen. Too many times though, we disregard their feedback as a lack of understanding or vision. And as much as I hate to admit it, the “we” I mentioned aove is actually a reflection of me. Part of the problem is my personality and the other part is my desire to change the world. And since I’m being real here, I can honestly say that most of my “best” plans wouldn’t work or they contain major flaws. Fortunately, I have talented team members and pastors on the ground that I rely on to find solutions, implement appropriate responses, and keep my wild ideas in check.
If you’re involved in orphan care or considering it, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. Below are some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the past few years working at World Orphans with pastors in more than 14 countries:
- Don’t assume your successful model of orphan care in Haiti will be effective in India or Iraq or anywhere else. Enter each country with your eyes and ears open. Ask a ton of questions and learn about the history and traditions that shape the people. Focus on listening not solving problems.
- Rely on local team members that live in the culture to cast vision and develop appropriate responses to problems. They need to be empowered and able to effectively represent and communicate your ministry with pastors, partners, and other stakeholders.
- Work with pastors whose visions and actions align with yours. This means partnering with churches that are already meeting needs with their existing resources (not simply talking about their vision or what they could do if they had more money).
- Relationships are difficult. Long-distance, cross-cultural relationships are even harder. Whether it’s a friendship, marriage, or church partnership, success requires trust. Trust exists in the presence of transparency, accountability, and authenticity. These aspects can only be developed through ongoing relationship cultivated over time. Having local leadership significantly improves your communication and likelihood of success.
- Establish and maintain an attitude of empowerment. Every partner should be empowered: to give, to receive, to teach, to learn, to speak, to listen, to serve, to pray. Empowerment literally means to give power and authority. This includes training, money, and other resources. Information and resources should not be withheld if it hinders the effectiveness of those ministering or be served.
- Celebrate the small victories. Don’t overlook or minimize the transformations and miracles that take place every day.
If you’re involved in orphan care long enough, you’ll hear people use words like model of care, scalability, and sustainability. While these things should be carefully considered, we need to remember that God’s ways are different than our ways. His economics extend far beyond money and are a matter of the heart.
Recently I was profoundly impacted by one of our partners, Pastor Siva, at the Christian Life Centre in South Africa. While I’ve always been impressed with his leadership I realized something very important. His vision is global while his actions are local. Some people dream big, diversify, and start several projects in many locations without ever doing anything really well. Pastor Siva, however, dreams big and focuses his efforts on saturating his local community with love and hope by caring for orphaned and vulnerable children with excellence. He leads a dynamic, multi-faceted ministry with overlapping orphan care models marked by compassion, justice, and hope. He’s focused on transforming lives and trusts God for sustainability.
In addition to pastoring the church, Pastor Siva oversees a government approved transition home on the church property with the intention of reuniting children with parents and relatives, a bakery that employs local people to earn a living and offset ministry expenses, and a recently completed hospice facility (the only one of its kind in the district) for 12 terminally ill children with full blown AIDS. These children receive medical treatment, prayer, dignity, and love. Without a miracle, these children will likely die in his care. While Pastor believes these children can be healed, his hope lies not in their outcomes but the redeeming love of Christ. “These children have been discarded like dirt but we will fight for them and give them hope.” Thank you Pastor Siva and all the people like you that advocate, serve, and go unrecognized. We will fight with you and celebrate the victories!