In the New Testament, the name Emmanuel means ‘God with us.’ God desires to be with us—to be in relationship with us. Out of his desire for relationship, we understand the human craving for it, and in this, we see the very nature of God reflected. …
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What happens when you invest in the talents of a widowed mother in Ethiopia? Something beautiful happens. What changes when you teach a group of Guatemalan women a new, profitable skill? Everything changes. Who is impacted when a collection of mothers routinely sit down together to share their struggles, learn how to save money, and challenge each other in their business ventures? Entire families, communities, and towns are impacted.
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.
Orphaned children haven't always been orphans. What happened?
By Jeremy Resmer | Senior Director of Projects “Half of humanity is female. If that half is not honored and appreciated with purpose and dignity as created equally before God, then abuse, perversion, and hatred of women follows. Oppression and poverty trail after, affecting all in society: men, women, children, and the unborn.” - Karen Carlson (Prayers for Crown Jewels: Honoring Women and Children in a World at War)
Women Without Opportunity
We live in a world at war. The effects are real: seen and unseen. Most often, the victims are women and children. Far too often, women’s economic contributions are undervalued and their potential is undeveloped. And yet, time and again, it is women who are less educated and without formal job training, that are left to raise their children alone, who provide for the daily needs of the family, and in cases where the mother earns enough money, the kids may attend school and receive medical care when they get sick.
We have observed these trends in the countries where we serve. The churches with whom we partner minister to the most vulnerable families in the community. Single mothers lead nearly all these families; many are undereducated day laborers and street vendors that barely earn enough to survive while caring for their children and/or other orphaned children. While our work with local churches has been a profound source of encouragement, relationship, and even stability, it hasn’t truly addressed the longer-term issue of strengthening these families financially.
Women Must Be Empowered
Globally, poverty is a leading cause that contributes to the breakdown of families. Empowering women economically has been shown to fuel growth in local economies and decrease poverty levels. In other words, vulnerable families are strengthened and children are more likely to attend school and receive adequate medical care. It’s no different for us. So the question is: how do we shift our focus from merely helping stabilize families in the short run to empowering and strengthening them to be a blessing that will affect the next generation?
This post isn’t intended to answer this complex question with a one-size fits all solution. Of course, such a solution doesn’t exist; however, it is intended to pose the question of how we can empower families economically, particularly single women, so they can lift themselves out of the most extreme poverty and improve their lives by using their existing talents and skills accompanied with appropriate opportunities and training for advancement?
Our Response in Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, economic and family empowerment, especially among single mothers, remain huge issues the church is trying to help address. We are working alongside our church partners to equip and train them in these areas. For example, our program director has trained seven church coordinators on a simple way for women to save as a group and open a savings account at a local bank. By June of this year (2015), all of our coordinators were trained and this program was implemented at each church.
Each caregiver in our program, 150 in total, has started saving. Some save 5 Birr per month others save more than 30 Birr (1.50 USD). It varies from church to church and person to person, based on what they are able to contribute. Two elected members of the group collect the money and take it to the bank. All funds contributed are tracked in a ledger. The group meets monthly, has coffee together, and engages all sorts of dialogue. They discuss family, business, faith, and other important issues. Often they pray together. In some churches, the meetings are done at the same time as a food distribution for families in the community. This simple, self-managed savings program is VERY effective. The women are all saving so they have the opportunity in the future to start or expand a business and improve the lives of their families. They feel a renewed sense of dignity and hope.
It’s Working! Women Are Being Empowered: Four Examples
- At Leku Keta Church, located around the outskirts of Addis Ababa and very poor economically, the savings program includes all 30 caregivers, one other member of the church, and a Muslim woman who doesn’t attend (32 total). In three short months, they have saved 1,690 Birr (~85 USD) and, in addition, each member contributes 1 Birr per month that is set aside to help other members of the community with special funding needs like the birth of a new baby, a funeral, and so on. These caregivers are not only saving but also contributing to the well being of the community and church. They aren’t simply saving to improve their own lives but also to be a blessing to others. This is nothing short of amazing!
- At Lafto Church, our program director piloted an empowerment fund where some of the caregivers are given loans starting at 500 Birr (~$25), after which they pay them back at 50 Birr per month for 10 months. When a person pays back the 500 Birr, they have the opportunity to receive another loan for 1,000 Birr and pay it back at 50 Birr per month for 20 months. Currently, there are eight women that received loans for 500 Birr and three women have already received loans for 1,000 Birr. This program is going very well so far. The church members even provided a portion of the initial funds to launch the program. The loans and repayments are tracked in a ledger each month and the funds repaid are used to provide additional loans to other members.
- Literacy training has also been initiated in each of the churches with whom we partner. The Home-Based Care (HBC) program coordinators are teaching Amharic to caregivers who are unable to read and/or write but who have a desire to learn. At one of our churches, six caregivers in our program are attending classes three days per week. The coordinator writes letters on the blackboard and the caregivers practice writing letters in their exercise books at home with their children. This activity is providing another way for parents to engage and connect with their children. None of these caregivers could read or write (even their names) when they started. However, after just three months since starting, two women can write their own names and both of them want to continue learning so they can teach other women in the community!
- In addition, five empowerment packs have been created in partnership with our church partners to address key issues: including hygiene, women’s health, and literacy. These packs will be distributed to each of our caregivers and accompanied with training for them and the churches.
Each of these initiatives is being developed and implemented in the local context, in collaboration with the churches and with financial contributions from our US church partners. While this program in Ethiopia is still in its infancy and we continue to learn daily, the results we’ve seen so far have been truly outstanding! Of course, there are challenges that we work through with the churches and the caregivers, but our grassroots empowerment program works through the local church, allows for the advancement of the gospel and ongoing discipleship, and is giving hope to women for a better life for themselves and their families.
By Matthew Hanks | Projects Manager – Africa Every time I’m in a developing country, such as Ethiopia, I consider how radically altered my life would be by simply being born on a different plot of dirt on this earth. Most of the privilege I’ve experienced has nothing to do with my efforts, abilities, or upbringing, but is primarily related to geography. I am also reminded of this reality as I watch my Ethiopian born son grown up in the US. At almost four years of age, in rural Ethiopia, would he be tending to the family goat? Maybe he’d be hauling water from a near by stream? Would he even be alive if he were never adopted, or would the seizures he was having as a baby have left him among the statistics of children who don’t make it to their 5th birthday? My thoughts also arise as I watch the news: would the Syrian born boy have grown up to be an ISIS terrorist if he thought he had an opportunity to go to college and become a doctor? Would there be nine more church members at the Emanuel AME church if Dylan Roof’s father had been transferred to Seattle when he was young, decreasing the fuel of his anger and prejudice?
I think about “my lot in life” and am incredibly thankful; however, it’s hard to reconcile the blessings I’ve received when people I’ve come to care about, who are every bit as deserving of good things in life as I am, seem stuck in hopeless situations. I’d like to tell you about two of those people: two boys who have equally invaded my heart, soul, and comfort seeking lifestyle since I’ve been back from my latest trip to Africa.
The first boy I’ll call Stephen. Not only was his “lot” to start out life as a double orphan, but as a reminder of his biological parents’ shortcomings, he was also born into this world with HIV/AIDS. Last month, when we arrived at the church compound where the children’s home is located, Stephen was one of the first faces for whom I was looking. Based on previous trips, I knew about his fight with HIV/AIDS, but I hadn’t heard how close he’d come to loosing the battle until just a few weeks earlier. It’s heartbreaking to witness a 90-pound child losing 18-pounds. The dagger drives even deeper when you wrap your arms around the 11 year old and feel nothing but bones under the baggy clothing. Feelings of helplessness, anger, and guilt left me completely speechless as we laid hands on and prayed for Stephen. Despite my best efforts to keep it together, tears spilled over the dammed reservoir of emotions. Though I couldn’t pray aloud, my heart was silently screaming for help on this child’s behalf. Without parents in this world who is going to fight for him? WHO!?
The story of the second child, whom we’ll call Gabriel, is even more complex. Our Ethiopian Program Manager, Belgi, attempted to explain, in broken English, a situation at one of the churches where one of our children has “two sexes”. Upon examining the child, my doctor buddy used the term ‘ambiguous genitalia’. Hermaphrodite is the technical term; a term and condition hardly known by the “highly educated” in the US, and one certainly not known by the midwives of the child’s rural village. The condition requires delicate, specialized care and surgery, but where Gabriel comes from, those in authority decided that the most fitting solution to this “curse” was to end his life. That was the fate of his little brother when he was born with the same condition. Out of fear for the older brother’s life, the father brought him eight hours away to a church on the edge of Addis Ababa. The “what if’s” surrounding this child’s future hover over the situation like giant African vultures waiting expectantly for a meal. Without parents in this world who will ensure his heart, soul, and body get the specialized, delicate care that he needs? WHO?!
There Is Hope
I am thankful to say that, at least for these two boys, the answer to the question of “Who will be there for them?” is the Church. Primarily, the ones sharing the responsibility of providing love, attention, and the meeting of physical needs is the local church in their community, partnered with a US church family. Knowing this helps; yet, I still wrestle inside with the ‘why’ for these two.
Luke 9:1-3 gives us a clear answer:
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him...”
I am overwhelmed with the feelings of helplessness when I put myself in the shoes of the desperate father of Gabriel, who had no known resources to turn to for help - no government assistance, no known grants to apply for, no hospital to set up a payment plan, no daytime TV program like Oprah on which to share his story. Rather, his only possible hope was for God to intervene through His people. All the details that have fallen into place are nothing short of miraculous - that the father heard of a church eight hours away, with people who have a heart for children like his, for the church to accept him, adopt him into a family in their congregation, carry the burden as their own, and for a US church partner to come into the picture and offer resources to help. Amazing! These are the “works of God” on display in both Stephen and Gabriel’s lives. It’s why the Lord allows broken pieces in the world and why the Church is the vehicle by which He plans to restore the brokenness.
Look at what Jesus tells us “we must do”, as we continue reading in verses 4-5 of that same passage in Luke:
“…we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
What a privilege to be included in the “We”. We are how He’s chosen to remain in the world. Because of Jesus in us, we too are the light of the world.
by Scott Vair | President
The Story of Belnysh
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Belnysh lives in a corrugated metal house on the side of the street with her two boys, Dawit and Beniyam. As a widow, she’s struggled to provide them with the basics needed to survive - food, clothing, shelter, and education. Five years ago, Belynsh was so desperate that she took her youngest Beniyam (only four years old at the time) and left him at an orphanage, fearing she would not be able to provide for both of the boys.
Desperation, death, anguish, helplessness, hopelessness, extreme poverty – all culminating in a mother abandoning her child to an orphanage, hoping for a better life for him.
Avoiding this exact scenario is one of the primary goals of our Home Based Care (HBC) Program, as we seek to work with local churches to preserve families and keep children out of orphanages. Study after study points to the dangers, inadequacies, and developmental delays associated with institutional care. To put it bluntly: a child belongs in a family.
Two years later, Belynsh missed Beniyam, who was no longer recognizing her when she went to visit. Her family was broken, and she wanted him back. There had to be another way.
Fast forward to today. Belynsh has Beniyam back in her home, they are part of our Home Based Care Program at Lafto Kale Heywet Church, and Belynsh is running her own teashop. She works six days a week to earn enough money to keep the boys at home, with a little help from the HBC Program that provides some food, medical care, and education expenses for the boys.
The teashop was started through a small business loan Belynsh received through a savings plan as part of the HBC Program at the church. Through the encouragement of the HBC Coordinator, Belganesh, the Home Based Care participants started a savings program where they each put in the equivalent of about $1 a month. A few months ago, World Orphans staff members matched what had been saved so far, allowing the group to start issuing small business loans. Each loan is about $25 and is paid back over 10 months. So far, 8 of the 22 caregivers in the HBC Program have received such a loan.
While it doesn’t seem like much, a small loan like this was enough to help Belynsh start the teashop and begin to earn a living.
The Story of Pastor Siva
In Chatsworth, South Africa, World Orphans partner, Pastor Siva Moodley, has been caring for orphans through his church, Christian Life Centre, for over a decade. He too has a passion for seeing caregivers empowered to earn a living so they can take care of their children. In the past, they’ve taught widows how to make and sell jewelry. Today, they are in the final stages of completing a Training Center. This Training Center is a two-story building that will house a sewing project.
Most sewing projects I’ve seen over the years are designed to employ people. Women come to the project and work at sewing garments that the project then sells. The project is the employer.
The sewing project at Christian Life Centre has a different vision. They too will have women come to the project, they will be in community as they learn to sew, but the goal is to teach them a skill. Christian Life Centre will then network with factories to get them jobs at the end of a six-week training program. They will bring women in (many are widows), teach them to sew, find them a job, send them out, and bring in others. The cycle repeats. Women given skills and help so they can support and care for their families themselves.
This small business loan program in Ethiopia and sewing project in South Africa are both examples of what we call Family Empowerment. This form of empowerment, deeply rooted in the Gospel, not only invests in the family but also walks families through the ongoing process of providing physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual care for those they love. Each step is intentional. It’s dynamic. It demands mutual respect, economic accountability, and constant engagement in the local community. But the greatest part of it all, it transforms families and communities for generations to come!
Our goal is to see families empowered to raise their children physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We believe this starts with, and is found in, the Gospel of Christ.
This past August, we conducted our first caregiver training in Haiti for the 200+ caregivers in our HBC Program. Caregivers were trained in child protection, oral hygiene, and biblical discipline – all undergirded by the Gospel and identity found in Christ. We believe the work of the Gospel is foundational. Our hope is only found in Him. The Gospel has much to say about all areas of life, including economic empowerment. When sewing projects and loan programs designed to empower caregivers are a function of the church, where community is established and the message of Christ is primary, real family transformation takes place.
When talking about economic empowerment, two of the more popular topics in missions today are “dependency” and “self-sustainability”.
These are indeed important topics, but also very complex issues that aren’t as easy as we’d like them to be. As Daniell Rickett points out in his must-read book, Building Strategic Relationships, there is both healthy and unhealthy dependency. Obviously we must be cautious to avoid unhealthy dependency (where the sole focus is on the exchange of money rather than on the complimentary contributions each party makes). But, we must also embrace healthy dependency (where each partner is willing give and receive, to teach and to learn, to lead and to follow).
We have several projects that have, over the years, spent considerable time, energy, and resources on “self-sustainability” projects – chickens, gardens, farms, bakeries, transportation companies, etc. – and these projects have generated some income. Yet even with the additional income generated, we continue to walk with these projects, continue our relationship, continue our partnership, and continue to provide funding. Partnership with these churches is more than the exchange of funds, it’s primarily about relationship; long-term genuine relationship working toward the accomplishment of the shared goal of caring for orphans. We can do so much more together than we could ever do on our own.
As we move into 2015, World Orphans is more committed than ever to see growth in our ministry in the area of Family Empowerment. These areas are where we believe we can have the most impact. We want to see more families like Belynsh and her boys stay together. We want to see more children stay with their parents and/or relatives - not sent to orphanages. We want to see more caregivers given opportunity to support their families with dignity, honor, and respect.
Do you share our passion for raising-up men and women through Family Empowerment? Do you know a business, foundation, or church that might want to get behind such an initiative? Are you able to help us see more women like Belynsh selling tea to support her children instead of resorting to sending them to an orphanage?
You can be part of empowering caregivers and families, and in the end, providing solutions and alternatives to some of the most difficult challenges in orphan care today. Supporting families to keep their children in their care. It’s a real-life solution. Family Empowerment.
By Jeremy Resmer | Senior Director of Projects
I’ve heard it said by leaders and members in the church, “Our church focuses on evangelism and discipleship.” Or swap out evangelism and discipleship with other words like ministry, outreach, fellowship, worship, prayer, fasting, community, relationship, service, and teaching to name a few.
My position at World Orphans allows me to travel to several Majority countries and meet with pastors and leaders about orphan care and the church. As a result, I have tremendous appreciation for the gifts, passions, resourcefulness, creativity, and diversity within the church globally. Of course, like when reading a thought-provoking book, I get excited when I hear stories of monumental faith, supernatural healing, and intervention by the Holy Spirit. Each time I return home, like clockwork, I begin to pray for God to show up in my own life just like in Uganda, or Haiti, or Nicaragua, or like he did for my friend down the street. In fact, God is with us always during the miracles and monotony. And in my prayer for God to show up, I am constantly reminded of the early church.
The Early Church Teaches Us In Acts 2:42-47 we read that believers were committed to evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, worship, and ministry. All of these characteristics defined the early church, not simply one or two. Of course it was and still should be defined by all of these because it is a living, breathing organism made up of people from all walks of life with unique experiences and perspectives fused with diverse strengths, passions, and resources.
And yet, many times our churches are strong in one, two, or maybe even three areas. Without a system and structure to be intentional and balance the five purposes, as Rick Warren states, your church will tend to overemphasize the purpose that best expresses the gifts and passions of its pastor. This is all too common at churches everywhere. It’s not limited by geography or denomination.
For me, this is where my faith collides with my livelihood. James 1:27 can only happen when faith meets works. To care for orphans and widows requires action. The Word is alive and inspires, no it compels us to get up from the bench and insert ourselves into the game, to serve others and be compassionate. I’ve often asked myself, “How is it that pure, undefiled religion goes hand-in-hand with orphans and widows?” and “Does what I do really matter?”
Without God, we are all orphans - each without a parent. Without Jesus, we are all widows - each without a leader. We were created to be in fellowship with God, to glorify him and be his ambassadors. And only the church, through the power of the gospel, has the ability and the mandate to connect both spiritual and physical orphans and widows to God.
What Can We Do? So how do we do it? How does the church engage in fellowship, worship, evangelism, discipleship, and ministry concurrently while caring for the spiritual and physical needs of orphans and widows?
One way is through a church-led visitation ministry that supports and strengthens fragile families, single mothers, and orphaned and abandoned children. It is a family-based outreach that provides wholistic care for children in a home environment. After the earthquake in Haiti and several meetings with pastors, church leaders, and caregivers, World Orphans, in conjunction with the local churches, developed Home Based Care (HBC) to address the unique needs of orphaned and vulnerable children living with extended family and neighbors. Since then, HBC has been contextualized and embraced by churches in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Guatemala.
Here’s how it works:
- The pastor casts the vision and selects a committee of 4-5 volunteer members
- The committee receives training and creates a strategy and plan to minister to the most vulnerable families in the community
- The committee meets with the families, learns more about them and their current situation; additional research is conducted, and families are invited to participate in the program
- The Home Based Care committee visits each family twice per month, builds relationships and provides ongoing encouragement, support, and prayer
Included in the program is access to food, education, counseling, and home visitation by HBC committee members and discipleship by the local church.
The feedback by the church, the children, and the community has been nothing short of amazing!
“Home Based Care helps marginalized people find their identity.” – Ethiopia
“I didn’t know why the church was helping us. Surely, they must have made a mistake. We didn’t deserve to be helped. We didn’t even attend church. But I am so thankful and I give praise to God because he has saved me and my family and for the first time, we have hope for a better future.” – Haiti
Home Based Care Works! Here are some tangible ways HBC combines evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, worship, and ministry.
- Family-based care preserves and stabilizes existing families.
- Children and families are selected based on the greatest need. 80% of beneficiaries are outside the church (Muslim, Orthodox and unbelievers) and 20% are from inside the church. We are reaching children and caregivers with the gospel.
- Visits are based on relationship and partnership with struggling families.
- Home visits are done by volunteers from the local church and utilize resources inside the community. The program can be cost-effective and scalable.
- Treats orphaned children, widows, and other marginalized people with dignity and respect.
- Strengthens the capacity of existing immediate and extended families. Transformation of the families is observable and often includes a renewed identity in Christ.
- Elevates the role of the local church and empowers believers.
- Provides encouragement, sharing of the gospel and prayer for one another.
- Connects the family to the local church to be part of community events, children’s activities, worship, Sunday school, and ongoing discipleship.
- Builds confidence and inspires more people in the church to get involved and provide leadership in the community.
- Establishes a network of churches and church plants that share information, resources, and best practices.
In all my travels, I have yet to learn of another ministry within the church that is more effective at simultaneously building relationships, sharing the gospel, and inspiring people to get involved in meeting the needs of the community. I’m totally convinced Home Based Care plays an important role in the livelihood and growth of our church partners.
“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” May it be so.
After reading more about home based care, what thoughts do you have?
By Matthew Hanks | Projects Manager Africa
This challenging reality became obvious to me when I began the ‘support raising’ process to work for World Orphans. No matter how clearly I thought I was casting the vision of this amazing ministry - a ministry which strives to keep children in families in their own countries - at the end of my presentation, most people still referred to World Orphans as that "adoption ministry”. In defense of these precious people, we had just returned from Ethiopia with a baby boy that was (and still is) transforming our family in so many wonderful ways through the gift of adoption. And I'm sure that we couldn't stop talking about it. Still can't.
In fact, it was through Kaleb's adoption that The Lord led us to World Orphans. It was seeing World Orphans Home Based Care model in Ethiopia, which in part encourages the church to find families for the orphans in their midst, that confirmed in me that this was a ministry with whom I wanted to partner. The pull to work with this dynamic grass roots ministry only grew when I started meeting the families of our fairly small staff and began to recognize that many others had also been drawn into occupational orphan care ministry as a result of adopting internationally. However, these dozen or so kids that have been grafted into the families in our ranks only confuses the matter worse of whether or not World Orphans is an international adoption ministry. Though we aren’t, the reality is adoption and orphan care go hand-in-hand and should be hard to separate. One adopted child in this world means one less orphan. Adoption = family, to the lonely heart of the orphan (Ps. 68:6, paraphrased). Ok, here’s where I’m going with this. You ready? Our Father in heaven desires us to share in the blessing of caring for orphaned children so that we can know Him better by identifying with how He cares for us as spiritual orphans. Make sense? No, not clear enough?? Well, ok, I guess it’s not the first time I’ve heard this. I'm pretty clear to myself, but apparently maybe not as clear as I’d like to think. You know what I'm talking about, right? I say what I mean and I mean what I say and still... You already have no idea what I'm talking about do you? NOT COMMUNICATING CLEARLY! …Did you hear that?
I wonder if God ever feels like I do about communicating. Not that He’s disillusioned with it actually taking place or not, but if He feels like He couldn’t have been more clear, and yet confusion remains. With the Scriptures mentioning caring for “orphans” and the “fatherless” forty-one times, how is it that there are over 150 million orphans in the world? Is He not being clear when He says, “Do not deny justice to a foreigner or fatherless child” (Deut. 24:17)? Or, simplified further, “…Defend the cause of the orphans” (Is. 1:17). His heart is unmistakably for orphans. He is even given the name in the Psalms as the “Father to the Fatherless” (Ps. 68:5 and 27:10). The entirety of the gospel is built on this reality, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). He uses the adoption stories of Moses, Esther, Samuel, even Jesus himself, to communicate his “father-heart” for not only the physical orphans in this world, but also the spiritual orphans that we all are without the knowledge of His saving grace. God, the Father, wants us to participate in caring for orphans so that we can more completely receive His care for us as spiritual orphans. We get insight into the Father’s heart for us as we fellowship with Him through the shared experience of embracing orphaned children as our own. This reality has transformed my life and has fueled a passion in me to share this blessing of orphan care.
As I write this I'm returning from a trip to Ethiopia where I had the privilege of hanging out with our World Orphans Ethiopia Country Directors, the LaBranches, who have been in various parts of Africa for going on 9 years. They adopted their youngest from Ethiopia back in 1999 when the in-country fee, their only fee as they were living there, was $99 (insert personal commentary over exuberant costs of international adoption here). While there, they invited us to attend their small group. We showed up early to help grill some burgers as we were told the children in the group out number the adults about 3-to-1 and that we would need to start early to be prepared for the onslaught of children that were soon to commence upon the compound. We’d just put the last few patties on the grill when we heard a van pull up to the solid gate at the top of the steep driveway. We were prepared with the food but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next. At 5pm sharp in strolled the families through the gate. Each one a similar make up: a couple kids clearly born on US soil, a couple kids clearly born in Ethiopia, and a couple of parents. One, after another, after another. Adoption had not only transformed these families, but God had used it to work in their hearts to lead them to the mission field. I don't know why I was shocked to see this, as in many ways this is the same story as mine. Through adoption we not only discovered how incomplete our family was before Kaleb, but we also discovered a much deeper understanding of our role in the Kingdom as a response to more completely receiving what Jesus paid for - our adoption into the eternal family of God.
Though World Orphans does not do international adoption, we do strongly support it as an option in fighting the orphan crisis. Though we believe that orphaned children will thrive the most in families in their own communities and cultures -- and as a ministry we strive to that end -- we recognize that for many children the alternative to international adoption is life in institutional care. And though the issues and controversies surrounding international adoption are many and are extremely complex we believe that at the end of the day, to that one, or those two, or that sibling group, all they care about is that they are in a loving home.
Until They All Have Homes is our tag line at World Orphans. In my opinion, this is the clearest, least complicated answer to the global orphan crisis; finding homes (i.e. families) for these kids. There are many great ways to that end, but that end is fundamental in caring for orphaned children in a way that’s in line with the Lord’s heart. So whether it’s through international adoption or helping us find families in the communities in the developing countries in which we work, God’s plan for orphan care is pretty simple: “Father to the fatherless, defender of the widows – this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families” (Ps. 68:5-6a).
By Nate Livesay | Church Partnership Director
Almost two and a half years ago I stood looking out over a slum in Ethiopia asking myself what could I possibly do about what I was seeing. The problems created by cycles of generational poverty and institutionalized injustice are so massive and complicated that surely there was nothing a 34 year old basketball coach from South Carolina could do. I wanted a neat and tidy answer, a quick solution, a grand gesture that would wipe away my tears and ease the guilt I felt because I had never opened my eyes to what was happening in the world outside of my nice, comfortable, Christian life. I wanted to change the world.
Over the course of my two-week Journey 117 trip with World Orphans the question in my heart shifted from “what can I do about 153 million orphans” to “what does God want me to do with what he has given me?” It was without a doubt a dangerous shift in my thinking. If I felt responsible to change the world and be the solution for millions upon millions of children I would quickly become overwhelmed with the reality – overwhelmed that there is nothing I could do about all of those children and it would be reasonable to absolve myself of the responsibility to solve a problem of that scale. But when the question shifted to an examination of the time, talent, treasure, and influence that I been entrusted with by God, there was no walking away without a lasting responsibility to obey God's call to use my blessings to be a blessing to others. I still wasn't sure what I was supposed to do, but God impressed onto my heart that he was calling me to DO SOMETHING to serve his Kingdom and to use what he had given me to make the world a little closer to what he intended it.
I'd been a Christian for many years, but I had never really grasped the essence of the call to be a true follower of Christ. I had embraced a nice comfortable Christian version of the American dream. I heard the scriptures, but they never came alive in my life. I'd never had a life verse because I'd never really heard what Jesus was saying to me about the way I should live my life. After this trip, those scriptures I had heard time after time began to come alive and I began to embrace truly following Christ wherever he led, and now I do have a life verse. It hangs in my living room and I have taught it to my children and it helps guide me in the way that I live my life.
Learn to do good.
Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows.
Back to December of 2011 - returning to the United States smack in the middle of the materialistic excess of the Christmas season was difficult and I was still struggling to find what to do with all I had seen and learned in Ethiopia.
So what could I do? I could join the staff at World Orphans - something I did about 6 months later. But that was going to be a long process, so what could I do right now? How could I live out Isaiah 1:17 from Sumter, South Carolina right away?
Our trip leader and Senior Director of Church Partnerships suggested that I start a Rescue Team. World Orphans Rescue Teams equip two or more people to support the ministry of World Orphans by doing what they already do with people in their sphere of influence. So that's what I did. I gathered up a group of friends in my living room in January of 2012. We had a meeting and I told them about World Orphans and what I had seem in Ethiopia and what we could do to help. We met again in February and the group was a little smaller. In March the group was even a little bit smaller than that. While it was beginning to get frustrating, we had begun to develop a small group of consistent monthly participants who bought into the vision of using what we have right here in Sumter to help those all over the world.
In the Summer of 2012 we hosted a yard sale and raised just under a $1,000 for World Orphans. In the fall of 2012 we hosted A Hunger Meal and raised several hundred more dollars, but more importantly the size of our group almost doubled. With this influx of enthusiasm and manpower we began to plan our most ambitious event - a Benefit Dinner and Silent Auction for April of 2013. The Sumter World Orphans Rescue Team was starting to roll! The April Benefit ended up raising almost $6,000 dollars to help fund a project in South Africa for several months. In June of 2013 our Rescue Team hosted another yard sale and this time we raised three times as much as in 2012 - over $2,000 came in. In October of 2013 several members of our Rescue Team accompanied me to Haiti on a Journey 117 trip that resulted in our home church embracing the mission of World Orphans by committing to become a church to church partner in Haiti.
As I sit here typing this blog we are less than two weeks away from another Sumter World Orphans Rescue Team Benefit Dinner and Silent Auction. I am thrilled to tell you that our Rescue Team has recently partnered with an extraordinary church in Cambodia and the first $3,600 dollars we raise this April will go to fund that project for the next year. The funds we raise over $3,600 will go towards Wholistic Care initiatives in Haiti - things like regular medical clinics and caregiver training seminars for all 14 of our partner churches in Haiti.
You can do this, too!
Every time I have asked what can I do, God has answered. Are you willing to ask him what you can do?
So, what can you do?
You can start a rescue team.
You can ask your friends to join you.
You can give up your birthday.
You can host a garage sale.
You can throw a party or host a dinner.
You can run a race.
You can do something. You can be obedient to use your time, talent, treasure, and influence however God leads you.
You only have one life to live. You can do something because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
For more information about the Sumter Rescue Team feel free to contact me at nate@worldorphans. For more information about how to start your own Rescue Team click here or contact the World Orphans Senior Director of Advocacy, Alan Hunt (firstname.lastname@example.org).
By Mark Gumm
A World Orphans team is currently in Ethiopia visiting our partner churches and children's homes there. For updates and trip reflections, stay tuned to the WO blog.
Yesterday I had the joy of attending the International Evangelical Church in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. It was incredible to look around the room and realize we were joined together in worshipping God with believers from every continent – over 61 different countries – while not EVERY nation and tribe and tongue was represented, it brought to mind how beautiful and wonderful it will be one day.
It was amazing to me that in this city of millions of people, some 10,000 miles from my home, I would “happen” to run into 6 different people, including 3 Americans, that I have met in various different places in the past 2 years. It made me think of the multitude of people I will one day be reunited with for eternity together.
9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.
After traveling to Africa with World Orphans this summer, Alisha Bowker said she will be changed forever. "There are a number of stories I could share, each that had an impact on our team and myself, but a specific day will easily stay with me for the rest of my life," she said.
During the 11-day trip, the group visited children's homes in both Ethiopia and Kenya, but the day that deeply affected Alisha was when the group walked the streets of the the Mathare Slums in Kenya.
"Being my first trip I did not really know what to expect, aside from the simple fact that this is one of the largest slums in Kenya-home to well over 500,000 people. As we began our journey deep into the slums I was met with speechlessness," Alisha wrote after the trip. "I cannot even begin to describe to you the horrific conditions these individuals are living in."
Alisha described the living conditions for men, women and especially children as "a place so dirty, crowded, unsanitary, chaotic and forgotten that no human should ever have to call that home and yet hundreds of thousands do."
While visiting the slum, the group met with four families.
"I had the privilege to sit in peoples homes and listen to them tell their stories, I witnessed families being torn apart by disease and realized how important good health is to the survival of a family in the slums. I heard a woman tell of her difficult decision each month to choose between paying rent to keep a roof over her family's head, or paying the school fees in order to invest in her children’s futures," wrote Alisha.
"As we walked to each new home the local children would run up chanting their hellos and hoping for a smile, a photo or simply a touch. It took all that I had to not break down into tears; there was such innocence in the simplicity of their requests."
But in the midst of the devastation, Alisha still saw hope. Through World Orphans, the local church is able minister to families in the slums by helping them care for the children they have. And many children in the Fountain of Life children's home in Nairobi, Kenya are rescued directly from the slums.
Other programs, like vocational training, give teenagers and adults the opportunity to rise out of their circumstances and care for their families.
"We then headed back to the church and had the opportunity to speak to a group of teenage mothers who are part of a new ministry the church is starting. The women will be learning skills in jewelry making and sewing, with the intent to sell their products to gain financial support and stability," Alisha wrote.
"I was made aware that for many of these women this new ministry is their second chance…Their moment to get back on their feet despite past mistakes that left them in such a low and forgotten places."
The vocational training program in Nairobi and the Fountain of Life children's home are only two outreach projects out of hundreds around the globe that World Orphans has made possible.
After visiting a World Orphans church partner in Woliso, Ethiopia West Coast Regional Director Mark Gumm reported on the church's recent activity. "The church sent out a small team of 5-6 people to do evangelism in the area outside town and had 36 people accept Christ in 2 weeks!," Gumm wrote.
"They then worked to get the government to give land to the church and then took up an offering from the main church to provide materials for the building you see in the video (shown below). Really cool story – God continues to work through the church in Woliso," he said in an e-mail.
Since the people of Woliso and the surrounding area are predominantly Muslim, starting just one church seemed difficult and church planting nearly impossible.
But the Woliso church continues to grow despite the cultural obstacles.
"Got the story on a short video, which doesn’t really do justice to the miracle of the church plant in this predominantly Muslim community," Gumm wrote. "We are blessed to have a partner like this and to see such a great work God is doing in and through them. We also visited 2 other church plants they’ve started – 1 of them is now totally self-sufficient and separate church."
By Mark Gumm
I often hear a phrase that goes something like this “Church is not a building – its a body of believers”. While I certainly believe most pastors and Christians believe this theologically, I often wonder if we REALLY believe this at our core, or if its just a cliche’ we use.
Would we choose to go to church if it wasn’t comfortable and convenient? If we had to walk several miles to get there and there was no praise band playing our favorite christian music, no video screens, no air conditioning, no comfortable seats?
Would we show up to these churches walking through and standing in several inches of water in the middle of a field, with no chairs to sit in and listen to our pastor preach and sing praises to God with just our voices for 2+ hours?
The people of these churches in Ethiopia REALLY believe that the church is not about a building… I have the mud covering my shoes and pants, and the memory of hugs and tears of joy to prove it:)
Let us continue to strive to be a faithful church that displays good deeds and is dependent on God to provide as we use our resources to help meet the needs of those who are really in need like the early church did. Let us not be a lukewarm church that is rich and not in need of a thing.
14“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.17You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 21To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
To read more about Mark, click here to visit his blog.
As World Orphans strives to meet the needs of orphaned and abandoned children around the globe, our primary goal is to provide family-based orphan care. Whether that is in a World Orphans home or with a neighbor who took responsibility for an abandoned child, World Orphans wants to help these caretakers through the indigenous church.
"Many children orphaned around the world have been taken in by extended families, friends and neighbors. Orphans are being cared for in families! Unfortunately, many of these families are barely making it and the children are highly vulnerable as a result," said WO Vice President Scott Vair on his blog, aheartfororphans.
So World Orphans along with local churches world-wide are taking a step toward helping these families.
"The challenge before us is to support these families as they care for orphans, preventing them from being abandoned or dropped off at orphanages as resources continue to be stretched thin and families struggle to make ends meet. We call this Home Based Care," Vair said.
The initiative for Home Based Care started earlier this week in Ethiopia as East Africa representative Lameck offered training for pastors.
The training will continue through the next few days and Lameck asked for prayer as he introduces this valuable concept and tool to Africa.