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Caring for Orphans Isn't About Caring for Orphans

"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.

Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.
— Rita Pierson

 

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.

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Aging Out

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.

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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.

 

Source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125729965

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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We Must Work the Works

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.

Meet Stephen

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!?

Meet Gabriel

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.

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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.

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7.6.15_2013 17

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.

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Our Top 5 Favorite Child Stories of 2014

By Bailey Kalvelage | Director of Mobilization

Who doesn’t like to come to the end of a year, look back, and count all the blessings of the past 12 months? It’s no wonder that all the way back in 1863 President Lincoln established an official day of national "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens".[1] In light of the turkey eating and celebrating of last week, I’d like to celebrate with you a few lives that our beneficent Father has transformed through World Orphans partnerships in 2014.

Below are World Orphans top 5 favorite child stories of 2014! These stories are a result of God’s work through World Orphans vision and effort to empower the church to care for orphans – until they all have homes.

1. OLIVIA: HURT TO HEALED!12.5.14_Olivia

Church Partnership: Eglise Baptiste Par la Foi (Haiti) and Harvest Presbyterian Church (Maryland)

"Last year there was a new girl in the Orphaned and Vulnerable Child (OVC) program. Her name is Olivia* and she was five years old. When we first met Olivia she was quiet and didn’t interact much with the other kids...it was very apparent to everyone that she had gone through much trauma in her short life. She didn’t smile, and had trouble trusting people.

One year later, though, it almost seems like she is a different person. She is interacting with the other kids, smiling and as much as we can tell, is happy. One year in the program under the care and supervision of the church was absolutely life changing (she is one of the kids who lives in the Pastor’s house).

But that isn’t the most amazing thing. This year there is another new girl in the program. She, like Olivia the year before, acts and is even treated like an outcast due to a physical disability. Olivia, instead of poking fun of her like the other kids, takes care of her and even defends her whenever she can. Olivia’s experience as an outsider and outcast didn’t leave her jaded or bitter. Because she was shown the grace and love that allowed her to experience healing, she is now empowered to show compassion and empathy to someone who is hurting. At such a young age she is demonstrating the love of Jesus."

– Written by Pastor Walter of Harvest Presbyterian Church

 

2. AKELLO: CHANGED BY SURGERY!12.5.14_Akello

Church Partnership: Father’s Divine Love Ministries (Uganda) and First Baptist Church of Siloam Springs (Arkansas)

“One story [from the trip] that was powerful involves a young man named Akello* who has lived 18 years with a club foot. His mother, Helen, is a mama and a church leader. Through connections with a nurse [at the guesthouse where we stay when we visit], we were able to get Akello enrolled in a program that will allow him to have surgery to correct his foot at no cost to his family or the ministry. They are waiting until a break in the school semester, but he should have the surgery before the end of this year!”

– Written by Scott Vair, President of World Orphans

 

3. SIZANI: ABUSED BUT NOW RESTORED!

Church Partnership: Christian Life Centre (South Africa) and Castle Oaks Church (Colorado) and Families Outreach (Arkansas)

“Christian Life Centre in Chatsworth, South Africa, cares for children that are extremely sick with HIV, and for those that have been orphaned, abused, and neglected. Two-year-old Sizani* is one of those children. Sizani was recently brought to Christian Life Centre by government social workers with bruises, disfiguring scars, a perforated eardrum, and a swollen eye due to abuse. She is now receiving much needed medical treatment, love, and affection as the restoration of this precious child begins. We are grateful for Pastor Siva Moodley and the staff at Christian Life Centre, for their unwavering love for the abused, neglected, and orphaned children of South Africa.”

– Written by Scott Vair, President of World Orphans

 

4. EDGARD: GROWING ONE STEP AT A TIME!12.5.14_Edgard

Church Partnership: Eglise Baptiste Bellevue Salem (Haiti) and Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church (Maryland)

“One memorable story was of one of the Orphaned and Vulnerable Child (OVC) kids named Edgard*. The very first time we met him, he came off as a bit of a trouble-maker and constantly wanted all the attention, but this time around we could definitely see growth. The people that had seen him just last year noticed how much he grew physically in just under a year. Another member of our group told us a story later of how after we had finished up our craft time, she saw him stay by himself and pick up all the trash left in the room, even with no one watching. It was great to see his growth: physically, socially, and spiritually.”

– Writteny by Jimmy Choi of Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church

 

5. ELSIE: REJUVENATED BY FRIENDS!12.5.14_Elsie

Church Partnership: Mission Eglise El-Shaddai (Haiti) and Daybreak Church (California)

“Meet Elsie*. She is 14. She has a lot of responsibility in the home in helping care for her younger siblings and often has to stay home while her older brothers have much more freedom to go out and play sports. She’s usually really shy and withdrawn, but she opened up to a couple of us about her frustration. We invited her to spend the evening at the guesthouse with us, and her caregivers gave their permission. We ate junk food, played twister, and just enjoyed celebrating life and laughter together. It was a really special time for Elsie and for our team. “

– Written by Kindra French of Daybreak Church

 

I know I said top 5, but I have to share just one more!

6. LYNE: ABANDONED TO ADOPTED!12.5.14_Lyne - Group

Church Partnership: Eglise Baptiste Par la Foi (Haiti) and Harvest Presbyterian Church (Maryland)

“One of the biggest ministries of the church is a yearly missions trip the kids and the church members take to the countryside. They go with the intent of sharing the gospel with the unchurched. It was during the trip this year that they “adopted” a young girl with disabilities into the program. Her name is Lyne*, she is twelve and she has a degenerative eyes disorder that has left her virtually blind. She was left on the side of the road and Pastor Gaston’s daughter and husband felt compelled to take her home.”

– Written by Pastor Walter of Harvest Presbyterian Church

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed these profound accounts of God transforming the lives of children through His church. These stories would not be possible without World Orphans partners: Church Partners, Rescue Partners and Rescue Teams. If these stories have inspired you to get involved in advocating for the orphan, you’ve come to the right place.

Please click on the link below or email the corresponding address to get in touch with World Orphans and learn more about advocating for orphans today. We can’t wait to hear from you!

Explore becoming a Church Partner – Email kevin@worldorphans.org

Become a Rescue Partner – Email alanh@worldorphans.org

Form a Rescue Team – Email john@worldorphans.org

 

 

 

*Child names and pictures changed for the protection of children in our programs.

 

 

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Family Empowerment: What It Is and How You Can Be Involved

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.

Belnysh

Belnysh grinding coffee.

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.

The sewing room.

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Pastor Siva explaining the training program.

This is me receiving a sewing lesson from Pastor Siva's wife, Rani.

Family Empowerment

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.

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