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Presidential Update

Presidential Update: Exciting News from Iraq

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Presidential Update: Exciting News from Iraq

by President Scott Vair & Assistant Middle East Director Tim Buxton

Shabak Women at Kawlokan Village
Shabak Women at Kawlokan Village

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!

Laying the foundation for the new school building

Laying the foundation for the new school building

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.

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Responsible to Steward

By Scott Vair | President Last month I traveled to Guatemala, along with the rest of the World Orphans Board of Directors, to visit our projects and ministry partners. Over the last several years, we have developed an amazing partnership with AMG Guatemala, a Gospel and child-focused ministry located in Guatemala City with whom we have many shared values.

World Orphans Board of Directors with staff in Guatemala
World Orphans Board of Directors with staff in Guatemala

While at the main AMG Guatemala campus, we spent some time with their President, Brian Dennett. For the sake of our board members who hadn’t met Brian or heard the vision of AMG, he shared a bit about their decades of ministry in Guatemala, where they have largely focused on education and medical care.

“We did not start this ministry, but we have the privilege and responsibility to steward it well.”
— Brian Dennett, President AMG Guatemala

Brian explained that he and his staff are not the founders of AMG Guatemala, (nor am I and my staff the founders of World Orphans), but we both have, as Brian stated, the privilege and responsibility to steward the ministries well.

During my nine years at World Orphans, I have seen families pack up their belongings and move to foreign countries to help facilitate our ministry. I’ve seen incredibly talented people faithfully raise personal support from family and friends in order to lend their expertise to this ministry. I’ve seen thousands of donors sacrificially give, from change collected by children to tens of thousands of dollars donated by foundations, churches, and individuals who believe in what we are doing. As a result, thousands of orphaned children, vulnerable families, and refugees have received love and care from the local church.

What a privilege to be part of this.

What a responsibility to steward.

We have worked hard to do just that - to steward well, in a way that honors God and those who have sacrificed much to give, go, and pray for World Orphans.

It is one of the reasons we obtained and maintain our accreditation with the Evangelical Counsel for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

ECFA-Seal
ECFA-Seal

“ECFA enhances trust in Christ-centered churches and ministries by establishing and applying Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™ to accredited organizations.

Founded in 1979, ECFA provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability, transparency, fundraising, and board governance.

ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™, drawn from Scripture, are fundamental to operating with integrity.

The ECFA standards are infrequently changed, providing members a steady baseline for consistent application of the standards to members. The standards have been described as simple, but not simplistic. The brief statements included in the standards have significant implications for organizations that pledge to follow these standards. They are not standards that allow for grading on the curve. Rather, they are pass-fail standards. ECFA members must comply with all of the standards, all of the time.”

We take these standards seriously, and we are committed to following them. We trust that in doing so, we give confidence to our supporters that their gifts are being used well, and that we are an organization worthy of their time, talents, and treasures.

"For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men."  2 Corinthians 8:21

It is a privilege to serve at World Orphans. We pray that our words, our actions, our thoughts, and our plans bring honor and glory to the Lord.

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Inspiring Others to Action

By Scott Vair | President At the end of 2013, World Orphans sharpened its vision and mission statements to more accurately reflect the ministry we believed God created us to be. The change in language didn’t as much represent a change in direction as it did an attempt to put language to who we already were and have always been.

Our Vision: To empower the church to care for orphans - until they all have homes!

Our Mission: We equip, inspire, and mobilize the church to care for orphans and vulnerable children. Churches engaged. Children restored. Communities transformed by the Gospel of Christ.

Recently, I hosted Pastor Kanukolanu Sudhakar from Hyderabad, India for a few days. Pastor Sudhakar is a long-time partner of World Orphans and over the years has become a good friend. We enjoyed catching up about family, ministry, and the highlights of both Bethel Gospel Church and World Orphans.

During our time together, Pastor Sudhakar recounted the story of when he met World Orphans founder, Bob Roosen, over a decade ago. Sudhakar had been invited by a friend to meet Bob at his home in Colorado Springs. Bob gave him a tour of the World Orphans office (located in his home at the time) and showed him many photographs of orphan care projects World Orphans had started over the years, in over 50 countries. The pictures were of churches, and homes, and children.

Bob then expressed great sympathy about a story he had heard of a tragedy in India at a school. Evidently there had been a fire at the school and many children had perished. As he talked about this with Sudhakar, he wept, overcome with sadness at the loss of such innocent life. Bob was an extraordinarily compassionate man.

The meeting had a tremendous impact on Sudhakar. Pastor is part of the Acts 29 Network and has a passion for church planting. He is a tremendous leader, and is committed to seeing a church planted in every village in his state. And yet, he and his church were not caring for the orphans in their community. He explained that he was shaken by the fact that a man living halfway around the world – whom had never even been to India – cared more about the children in Hyderabad than he did.

Sudhakar was inspired.

From that day on, he became committed to caring for vulnerable children in his midst. He formed a partnership with World Orphans through Bob that has withstood the test of time. Today, his church cares for 200 orphans at 12 locations.

Sudhakar also explained that I too have inspired him. In 2010, after several conversations about sustainability, he started a farm offsetting the cost of caring for children by producing their own eggs, milk, and rice. Additionally, a few years ago I had the opportunity to preach in his church. I spoke of the beauty of adoption – our adoption into God’s family - the permanency and security we receive as co-heirs with Christ sealed by the Spirit. Sudhakar explained as a result, they started to rethink their commitment to the children for whom they are caring, that their commitment does not end when the children reach a certain age. These children are part of their church family, permanent parts of their family. They have since implemented vocational and life skill training projects for children in their care.

As President of World Orphans, I am grateful for our founder Bob Roosen. I am grateful he cared so passionately about the church, the orphan, and the expansion of the Gospel. I am grateful for all the churches and pastors he equipped, inspired, and mobilized to care for orphans and vulnerable children. I am sure there were times Bob saw the fruits of his efforts quickly, but even when he didn’t, seeds were planted.

Bob Roosen has an amazing legacy. He has inspired thousands. I am grateful his inspiration continues today through our vision to empower the church to care for orphans - until they all have homes!

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Servant Leadership

By Scott Vair | President Recently I traveled to Haiti and participated in a two-day training conference for World Orphans church partners, including their pastors and OVC (Orphan and Vulnerable Child) teams. I started our time together with a devotional on servant leadership.

I explained that I want my leadership at World Orphans to be characterized by servant leadership; I want to be known as a servant leader in my church; I want to be remembered as a father that modeled servant leadership for his children.

So, I asked, “What is servant leadership? And when I say servant leadership, what comes to mind?”

Answers included:

  • Serving first – leading second
  • Serving those we lead instead of expecting those we lead to serve us
  • Caring for those we lead
  • Loving those we lead

The pastors and leaders gave examples of characteristics a servant leader possesses:

  • Humble
  • Caring
  • Helpful
  • Loving
  • Joyful
  • Peaceful
  • Patient
  • Kind
  • Gentle
  • Faithful
  • Self-controlled

Then we looked at what scripture has to say about servant leadership:

  • “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
  • Jesus washed his disciples feet and then said to them, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
  • “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:5-7).

Jesus is the example of servant leadership.

Pastor Jack Miller in his book, The Heart of Servant Leader, writes beautifully about servant leadership.

Paraphrasing, he says that in order for us to be servant leaders we must have a deep understanding of the gospel. We have to admit we are desperate sinners in constant need of grace. He says we must live a life of vital faith and humility, instead of pride and self-reliance keeping us from having a significant part in the work of Christ.

Miller notes that we must model repentance, saying that repentance is not a once-in-a-lifetime experience but a whole way of life. Miller does not think repentance was optional in the life of a Christian leader. He also points out that we are not to spend all our time thinking about our sins; rather, repentance drives us to a deeper reliance on Christ and his work on our behalf at the cross.

And finally, Miller insists that a servant leader is known by his or her commitment to prayer. As leaders, we are connected to Christ through prayer. Like repentance, prayer is a whole way of living. Pray, pray, and pray some more.

We concluded our time together confessing our desire to be biblical servant leaders, praying that our lives would be marked by:

  • A deep understanding of the Gospel
  • Vital faith and humility
  • Repentance
  • Prayer

May it be so!

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Yazidis: ISIS Ran Them Out—We Are Welcoming Them Home!

By Scott Vair | President

In my nine years with World Orphans, I’ve traveled to 25 countries to meet with pastors, leaders, and government officials to talk about the poor, the marginalized, the vulnerable, and, most often, the orphan. I’ve been to Asia, Africa, South America, Central America, China, and the Middle East, and in those travels, I’ve experienced many different cultures and people groups. But, until last August, I’d never heard of the Yazidis.

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So who are they? What’s their story?

In early August 2014, their story gripped much of the world, as they became a primary target of the terrorist group ISIS. They were forced to flee their homes; thousands were stranded on Sinjar Mountain in Northern Iraq. Major news agencies were suddenly taken with this ancient people group, and they quickly began to report their terrible situation.

“Singled out, threatened, chased at gunpoint from their homes. Pursued purely because they are members of an ethnic and religious minority. Iraq's Yazidi Kurds are no strangers to persecution. Their faith teaches them that throughout history, they have been subjected to 72 genocides. Many world leaders fear they are on the brink of a 73rd massacre, this time at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which calls itself the Islamic State” (Ivan Watson, CNN, Aug 18, 2014).

“The Yazidis are a ethnic minority in Iraq made up mostly of ethnic Kurds and isolated from the rest of the population due to their ancient beliefs. Best estimates put the group's worldwide membership at approximately 700,000 people and while they have members living in Sweden and Germany, the vast majority are in the Middle East. Members of the group believe in an ancient religion linked to Zoroastrianism and are considered “heretics” by radical Islamists. This label has led to decades of persecution and now that ISIS has become more powerful in the region, they have targeted the group, forcing them out of their homes and into the mountains” (Meghan Keneally, ABC News, Aug 8, 2014).

“That renewed attack began at dawn on Monday when Islamic fighters attacked the southern part of the Mount Sinjar using Humvees and armored vehicles. Yazidi civilians were forced to retreat up the mountain where they are now trapped. Earlier this year, thousands of mainly Yazidi civilians were trapped by Islamic State fighters, prompting the U.S. to pursue an airstrike campaign against the militant group. ISIS has killed hundreds of Yazidis and has forced tens of thousands of others to flee for their lives since sweeping across Iraq, according to The Associated Press” (Fox News, Oct 24, 2014).

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We watched in horror as reports of rape, murder, starvation, dehydration, and kidnapping flooded our news feeds. The US military got involved as they dropped water, food, and supplies to those stranded on Sinjar Mountain and provided air support to Kurdish Peshmerga forces battling ISIS.

Seeking refuge, the Yazidis fled to Northern Iraq, and that is where World Orphans enters the story.

As many of you know, World Orphans built our first refugee camp last September for 20 Shabak families from Mosul who also had also fled ISIS. It has been an amazing opportunity to serve in ways we never expected. The Lord has been gracious, indeed, giving us such a platform for ministry. Support for our work has been extraordinary—gifts large and small, from people, businesses, churches, authors, filmmakers, a major university, other ministries, and even Kurdish Regional Government officials—we couldn’t be more grateful.

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This support has made it possible for us to join the story of the Yazidi people. We’ve just opened our second refugee camp, and 16 Yazidi families (about 100 people) have moved into their new homes.

Today, construction of camp #3 is well underway. Land is being leveled, and rock … lots and lots of rock … has been brought in to allow for proper drainage and a solid foundation. Kitchens are being built, bathrooms installed, electricity and water supplied. The construction is moving fast, and soon 55 more Yazidi families (nearly 250 people) will call this home.

All three of these are micro-camps; intentionally small so family leaders can manage them on site. They are being empowered to govern themselves, provide their own security, find their own food, get jobs, and support themselves. We are providing them with a safe place to live, a place to call home, for as long as they need. We are encouraging, building relationships, and living out our faith alongside them.

We are reminded in Deuteronomy 10:17-18 that “…the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.

4.8.15_TheRefuge3These Yazidi families and their children are in desperate circumstances. They’ve been attacked, they’ve been persecuted, they’ve fled their homes, and they are in danger. They must be preserved and protected.

Much of our focus at World Orphans is toward the preservation of highly vulnerable families, keeping them together, preventing orphaning from happening in the first place. The care of these Yazidi families fits perfectly into that strategy.

With the completion of our third camp, nearly 500 refugees have found safety and shelter in Northern Iraq. In each of these camps, World Orphans will be actively serving, loving, providing care, and walking alongside these families.

In these last seven months, we’ve found amazing favor with local leaders, and our staff in Soran has been working non-stop. So many efforts and hearts have come together—from prayers, to giving, to going, to serving, to thinking, to strategizing, to acting. What an amazing seven months this has been. And the next seven may be equally so!

We are endlessly grateful for how the Lord has positioned us and now led us into this incredible opportunity to serve and love in the midst of such great turmoil and tragedy. The fact that we are present and able is truly remarkable, and clearly the work of His hands. May He find glory and honor as we seek to do His work for His kingdom.

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