Imagine you, your daughter, your friend, or your mother doesn’t have access to education about or resources/products for feminine hygiene. How does that alter life for you or that person?
“I have never seen so much grass in my life! Can you believe all the grass?” He exclaimed as he ran around the fields at the Olympic Center in Haiti. His smile was so big, so enthusiastic that I thought it would split his sweet, little face.
The threat of ISIS dwindles by the day, but the threats of poverty, displacement, and despair remain key enemies in this fight.
“My whole life has been a struggle. I made my cloth into a web (like a spider’s), because I feel like I’ve always been trapped in the middle.
“If I live, I will come back to get my children. If I don’t come back, you know what happened to me."
“I threw myself in front of a moving car, hoping to end it all.”
The call came in during a wholistic care training seminar in Guatemala. As church leaders and World Orphans staff sat gathered together, discussing the care of vulnerable families, the dreams about the future and logistical plans came to a screeching halt, interrupted by a desperate plea.
Partnership. It is at the center of all we do; it is one of our core values. Both practical and philosophical reasons encourage us to place such emphasis on partnership.
Alemitu is one of the caregivers in our program in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Her husband died, leaving her as a widow and a single mother to care for her 10-year-old child.
Sometimes a new church partnership feels a little like an awkward first date. You’re fearful you’ll laugh too loudly, get spaghetti sauce on your shirt, or accidentally trip over your own big feet.
“My parents aren’t here. I live with my aunt and uncle,” Marlen says with a carefree spirit. No line of worry touches her face and no hint of sorrow can be heard in her voice.
This is the spirit of Church Partnership–a complementary relationship between two churches guided by a common vision and sustained by an equal willingness to learn, to serve, to grow, and to extend grace to one another under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Social science and scripture both speak volumes about the need for a child to be raised in a family. At its best, a loving family nurturing and shepherding the heart of a child is a beautiful display of grace.
“Yes.” With that one word, the life of a child can be transformed. That one word can offer light in the darkness and can give the promise of healing and hope in situations of abuse and neglect.
When working with orphaned and vulnerable children, you see a great deal of darkness—abuse, abandonment, poverty, hunger, death. Humanity’s brokenness leads to humanity’s hopelessness. Children who have never experienced love and who have a history of trauma and abuse often become parents with no knowledge or understanding of how to love and care for their own children. Thus, darkness begets darkness, and the cycle continues.
The story does not end there, though, and we are not left to wallow in our hopeless state, perpetually crushed by the darkness. Jesus is “the light [that] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). Jesus tells us in John 16:33, “In this world you will have suffering. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” What a glorious promise to cling to when suffering seems so great, and what an honor it is to share this message of hope and light to children trapped in darkness.
Sarai* and her twin sister, Andrea*, have two younger siblings. Four years ago, their mother was sent to prison for robbery, and they were forced to find a new home. As is too often the case, their father did not want to take responsibility for them. Without many other options, the four siblings were sent to live with their maternal grandmother.
This new living situation did not last very long because their grandmother found them to be a hindrance to her witchcraft. Darkness had seduced her into serving evil spirits. She had fallen so in love with the dark, that she had no time or affection for the grandchildren who needed her.
No one was willing to take in four children, so they were separated. The twins, Sarai and Andrea, were sent to a relative who lived in Palin, a town located in the Escuintla department of Guatemala. The third child was sent to an aunt from one of their mother’s previous relationships, and the youngest was sent to another distant relative.
Not long after arriving in Palin to live with their relatives, the twins were forced into child labor, selling various products on the street. If they did not reach a certain sales quota, they were abused mercilessly. In addition to the beatings, their hands and feet were tied with wire, and they were deprived of food for long lengths of time. It’s difficult to fathom the level of pain–mentally, physically, emotionally–that these girls experienced on a daily basis
One day, they failed to sell the required amount of product. Fearing the consequences, they chose to not go home. They ran to a home in a nearby community and asked for help. The residents of that home made an immediate decision that would change the girls’ lives; they called the police to report the girls’ situation.
After the authorities confirmed that the girls were being abused, they called a neighbor, Elizabeth Valdez, and requested that she take Sarai and Andrea into her home. Today we celebrate that simple, “yes”, as Elizabeth’s care has been a beautiful gift to two girls whose lives have known extensive abuse. Praise God for all the families in the world that are created by women like Elizabeth, mothers and fathers who agree to care for those who are orphaned, broken, and in need of love.
The girls are now in school for the first time. They are not in the correct grade corresponding to their age, but are continuing to make progress. They attend Sendero de la Cruz Church, which partners with World Orphans in providing care for children like Sarai and Andrea. Through this provision, the girls are also receiving psychological treatment for the various abuses and traumas they’ve experienced.
Sarai and Andrea are attending youth group at church and are serving in the dance ministry. For the first time, they are able to use this talent that God has given them. When the darkness was oppressing them, there was no freedom or desire to dance. Now that the light has broken through in their lives, there is joy in learning a new skill, a skill that brings glory to God with every leap and twirl. Their feet move in time to the music as they dance on the broken pieces of the past and celebrate this simple fact: darkness cannot overcome the light.
*Identity changed for protection
I woke up this morning to the news that the offensive to retake Mosul from the so-called Islamic State has officially begun. As I flicked through my Twitter feed and saw pictures and footage of Iraqi and Kurdish tanks inching their way towards Mosul, I couldn’t help but think of the estimated one million civilians now caught in the crossfire.
Each week, there seems to be a fresh reminder of the horrors of war and the innocent and defenseless children that so often suffer the most. Last week there was heart-wrenching footage broadcast of a girl, maybe 6 or 7 years old, covered in debris, dust, and blood, crying for her parents after an airstrike in Aleppo. It’s hard to forget the photo that went viral of the drowned little Kurdish boy–face down in the sand–his short life tragically snuffed out while fleeing with his family from the violence that is engulfing Iraq and Syria right now.
We had an 8 am appointment this morning with the director of education here in the Kurdistan region of Iraq (where we live). We visited a run-down house with four or five small rooms, each crammed with more than 50 students–three to a desk. This is the local IDP school for children that have fled their homes in Anbar, Fallujah, Mosul, and other regions that have been under IS control.
As we visited with the headmaster, teachers, and students, an incredible sense of satisfaction and joy filled my heart. You see, it is for these children and the millions like them, children displaced by war and violence, that we are building a school. Children that don’t know when–or even if–they will be able to go back home, will now be given the opportunity to pursue a real education. No longer stranded here without hope, these children, along with more than 100 others in our micro-camps, will now be given a formal education and every reason to believe in a better, brighter future.
We are so grateful for those that have supported our work to build a school for refugee and IDP children. So many have given generously to get us to this point and we are quickly approaching a time when the school will be open and filled with the sound of children learning and playing.
I can’t wait to see the look on these kids’ faces as they arrive at their new school. I know I must keep this new reality of restored hope lodged firmly in my mind as Mosul is liberated. Why? Thousands more children will be displaced, children besieged for more than two years under the brutal Islamic State regime. Many of these children will have been indoctrinated with hate and violence, set free only to be thrust into the surrounding desert regions, where refugee camps and makeshift dwellings will be their new home.
We must do all we can to house these families with dignity: to feed them, clothe them, and treat both their physical and mental wounds. We will be tested once again by our response to yet another humanitarian crisis to befall the Middle East. But, I am convinced more than ever that providing education for these displaced children must not be an afterthought.
The hearts and minds of the future of Iraq are at play here. We must not forget that. I truly believe that God has given us an incredible opportunity to shape these kids’ lives with love instead of hate, hope instead of violence.
Would you believe with us that these new classrooms will become a place where dreams are born, and each child is valued, nurtured, and reminded of their creation in the image of God regardless of their race, religion, or ethnic background. We want the love of Jesus to be known by all who walk the halls.
“We watched Mercy become orphaned in front of our eyes.” 15-year-old Ella Pearl penned these words upon returning from Kenya with River Oaks Community Church, a church partnered with Fountain of Hope in Kenya through World Orphans.
After being severely injured in a car accident, Francis was the focus of River Oaks Community Church’s prayers, and the group intended to visit and pray with him when they arrived in Kenya. They were not given the opportunity, though. Shortly after their arrival in Kenya, Francis passed away from an infection that he incurred following the accident.
In this blog post from 2015, Kathy Davis, the director of the partnership, unpacked what it is truly like to mourn with those who mourn. Francis left behind a wife, Veronica, and three children: Rachel, Emmanuel, and Mercy.
River Oaks Community Church returned to Kenya this summer, highly anticipating their visit with Veronica and the children. A year can change so much. It can make you stronger or weaker. It can lead to healing or make the wound feel deeper. It can make you find your resilience or fall apart.
Kathy and her team were welcomed into Veronica’s home with open arms, and they spent the next few hours catching up on all that had been missed during the last 12 months. The last year had certainly not been an easy one, as parenting on a single mother’s income is challenging, and the children, who loved their father very much, needed time to grieve. Yet, the transformation specifically in Rachel, the oldest of the children, is truly remarkable.
Rachel is a big-hearted, big-dreaming 17-year-old girl, whose giggles and selfies might lead you to forget the tremendous loss she has already faced in her young life. She is smart, with a head full of business ideas and tangible plans to make her dreams a reality. In partnership with other girls at her school, Rachel has already launched a business selling handmade goods, and is currently in the process of learning about accounting and other business management skills.
With eyes fierce with determination, Rachel explained to Kathy that you cannot simply know how much you need to spend on materials in order to know what to charge people, but you must take into account a variety of other expenses, including what you pay your workers. Kathy could almost hear the gears turning, shifting, and clicking as Rachel explained business entrepreneurship. Through Fountain of Hope Church and a scholarship offered by a local bank, Rachel is able to be in school and participate in the club that allows her to pursue these business dreams. After all that Rachel has lost, she is still determined to give.
“I’ve been so blessed, I want to make enough money to give back,” Rachel says.
Rachel wants to give back to her community. She wants to use her talents, the resources she endeavors to acquire, and the knowledge she’s swiftly gaining, to make her community a better place for everyone. Rachel–despite devastating loss and hardships–is opening up her hands to the community rather than clenching her fists.
On Sunday, Rachel’s voice echoes through the church, as she sings a song of hope. She tells the church that God sustained her during this last year while her family lamented the loss of her father. Despite the challenges, Rachel remains ever-hopeful, resilient, and determined to make a difference. In the face of loss, Rachel has chosen to give. As she gives, we pray Rachel receives “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over” (Luke 6:38).
“How do you forgive when somebody has done something wrong to you?”
It had been a long day in the sun, and one that was filled to the brim with boundless laughter and joy, but as Kathy read the words scrawled on a notecard, the day’s happiness seemed to evaporate, quickly replaced by that nausea that comes from the heart. She felt like she’d suddenly taken a punch to the stomach. Kathy knew the words that she held in her hands had poured out from a broken spirit. These words were not lackadaisically thrown onto paper.
Kathy had a captive audience while she talked to the group of girls about God’s love, his provision, and his promises for the future. After talking to the group collectively, Kathy had the girls break into smaller groups and write down any questions they had. Her intention was to take the cards, read the questions, and answer the questions in front of the group.
But things don’t always go as planned.
As Kathy held the card in her hand that read, “How do you forgive when somebody has done something wrong to you?”, she immediately wondered if the author of the question had been abused. Kathy was able to locate the 14-year-old inquirer, Sauda*.
Her eyes are big and beautiful like perfectly-cut amber marbles that sparkle when the sun hits them at just the right angle. Her round cheeks make her marble-like eyes squint a little when she smiles. She doesn’t smile as much as the other girls, though. Sauda is almost painfully shy, hiding behind the noise of the day.
To answer her question about forgiveness, Kathy begins by telling Sauda that forgiving someone does not excuse what they did. What was done was inexcusable. Forgiveness will begin to set us free as we trust the work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish through us what cannot be done in our own striving for a pain so deep. Kathy explains to Sauda that she can forgive and release her hurt and pain to Jesus, who bore her sins and the sins of others against her. We are able to forgive because Christ forgave us. As Kathy navigates the waters of Sauda’s untold story, it’s suddenly impossible for Sauda to hide, and her story–mixed with a torrent of tears–comes pouring forth like flood waters crushing a broken dam.
She says it was her cousin. Her cousin violently raped her. He rightfully went to jail, but his parents–her relatives–paid a bribe to the police officers, and he was released. She stays with her sister usually to avoid seeing him, but family members expect her to forgive him. Kathy imagines the abuse most likely led to Sauda leaving her home in the first place.
So, they sit weeping. Kathy holds this brokenhearted child in her arms, tears dripping onto Sauda’s head. Sauda’s tears spill onto Kathy’s arms. They sit for five minutes, but it feels like a mere second and a hundred years all at once.
What do you do when the burden is too heavy and the pain is too sharp? How do you begin to tell a child, crushed under the memory of her stolen innocence, that it’s going to be okay? How can you utter the word “forgiveness” in light of such injustice?
Kathy answered Sauda’s question with all the grace and warmth of a maternal love, but perhaps the biggest gift that she gave Sauda was the silence . . . the silent space to cry. The silent space to be held once more like a newborn child whose potential is endless and whose innocence is firmly intact. Kathy gave Sauda the silent gift of lamenting, and they lamented together.
They lamented the violent act itself. They lamented the hurt caused by those that failed to grieve and pursue justice alongside Sauda. They lamented the injustice of a bribe and an easy exit from prison. They lamented a pain that is hard to put into words.
Standing in the trenches with orphaned and vulnerable children like Sauda is sacred, holy, and beautiful, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s also messy, gut-wrenching, and often filled with sorrow as well.
So, we lament. We lament the fact that a movement such as “the orphan care movement” even exists. We lament the fact that children are abandoned when there are seemingly no other options. We grieve for all the mothers and fathers that left this world before watching their children grow into men and women. We sorrow in the unjust places where children have become victims of trafficking, abuse, and neglect.
We let the tears fall . . .
Yet, we are reminded that there are people like Kathy, the caregivers in our Home Based Care program, foster moms and dads, adoptive parents, and many others who scoop those babies up in their arms and weep with them. This world is filled with men and women whose love for the least of these knows no bounds. People are taking in children with different skin, blood, or language than their own. In the face of unfathomable pain and darkness, a light is shining through. The light doesn’t look like you or like me, but it looks like God–a good, good Father–shining through the cracks.
Let us hold fast to hope when all seems lost. Let us love big when the pain feels bigger. Let us wrap up the brokenhearted in our arms and lament with them . . . until they all have homes.
*Identity changed for protection
Ah, summer camp . . . that magical place we’d go to as children . . . where we’d ride horses, swim in a lake, eat s’mores, battle mosquitoes, and create lasting memories while building deep friendships. Summer camp conjures up feelings of nostalgia, as we remember how good it felt to escape for one week and just have fun!
For children in developing nations who live in extreme poverty, an “escape” from the challenges and hardships of daily life is long overdue. In these hard places, it’s difficult for kids to just be kids! Children’s television icon, Mr. Rogers, once said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Professionals in child development agree with Mr. Rogers. Play is important for children to learn, to create, to problem solve, and to imagine.
Knowing this, OVC Program Director of Haiti and former youth pastor, Francois Murat, saw the value of providing the kids in our OVC (Orphaned and Vulnerable Child) Program the opportunity to attend summer camp. Thanks to the help of many church volunteers, he loaded the children into buses and took them to a location just outside of Port-au-Prince for a weekend. While their summer camp may not have included horseback rides or a lake, it did include lots of fun! They sang songs, played games, put on a talent show, and participated in group Bible studies.
These silly songs and friendly competitions did more than merely elicit laughter (though they did plenty of that!). They created an atmosphere where children could let their guard down and where friendships could grow. For possibly the first time in their lives, these kids felt safe and free to just be kids.
For Adams Bichotte, going to camp was the first time in his 16 years of life he had ever left his neighborhood. His mother accompanied the group to serve as a volunteer in the kitchen. Before camp, Adams could be described as shy and aloof. He mostly kept to himself and rarely spoke.
But something happened during that weekend at camp. Somewhere in between racing with an egg balanced on a spoon in his mouth and dancing in a circle with dozens of his peers, Adams realized he didn’t have to be afraid or shy. He realized he wasn’t alone and could express himself freely. Following camp, Adams said, “I have never eaten as well as I did at camp! I did not imagine it would be so fun. I had no idea I would meet other kids who are in the same predicament as me. Camp was the most beautiful experience of my life!” This young man, who had been isolated from life outside of his neighborhood, came to realize that there are other kids just like him, experiencing similar struggles. How freeing to know that you are not alone and that there are others who understand your situation and care about you!
Now that the kids have returned from camp, Adams has completely come out of his shell. He is more outgoing and is not afraid to talk and meet new people. In that one weekend, he developed new friendships and a renewed sense of self. Neither Adams nor his mother have accepted Jesus as their Savior, but now they are much more interested in church and are asking their pastor many spiritual questions. Their church is praying that God will use this experience to lead them to salvation.
As the children and their families resume the day-to-day struggles of life in Haiti, we hope and pray that they will not soon forget their weekend of laughing ‘til their cheeks hurt, the feeling of a full belly after a meal, or whispering to bunkmates long after lights out. We hope they never forget what it felt like to escape for a weekend and just have fun.
I’ll never forget my first flight into Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Only months after the 2010 earthquake that stole the lives of over 150,000 people and displaced about 1.5 million others, I zig-zagged my way through the dilapidated airport that had been severed by the earth’s unfathomable movement. The baggage claim area had been relocated to a dark and dusty warehouse just off the runway. Airport employees quickly tossed the luggage into a pile in the middle of the room, where travelers fought for position to grab what belonged to them out of fear that they might lose everything. Once you found what rightly belonged to you, you continued on through a gauntlet of chain-linked fences that kept beggars away and led you straight into a bottleneck of taxi drivers, guides, and more beggars. When you got to the van and were able to secure your luggage safely inside the vehicle, you could finally take a breath.
But only a short breath.
Exiting the airport, you were quickly surrounded by makeshift tent cities, peppered with blue tarps and gray USAID tents. People were everywhere because there was nowhere to go . . . people bathing in the city canals with livestock . . . people using the bathroom in the middle of the streets or on the busy sidewalks. Buildings had been reduced to concrete rubble. Tents were assembled in the front yards of homes that suffered no damage from the earthquake. Why? People were afraid to go inside their homes, fearing aftershocks and collapse.
Believe it or not, I fell in love with that Haiti. Her resilience and relentless determination were breathtaking. Her smells? Not so much. I fell in love with her because of the way she fought to survive, despite overflowing morgues that poured over into mass graves and burial sites. I learned so much about her in the short drive from the airport to our guesthouse, lessons that I build on to this day.
Last month, I traveled to Haiti for the 20th time since the earthquake. She welcomes me much different now. The cracked airport has been seamed, the baggage claim is now on a conveyor belt, and the chain-link gauntlet is gone. Driving away from the airport, it’s easy to see that fewer people live in tents, although many have simply been relocated to an “out of sight, out of mind” location to most likely be forgotten. Fewer people are bathing in the city canals, but unfortunately, I can’t say the same about people using the bathroom in the middle of a busy sidewalk. Hey, what can I say, you can’t have everything!
Change is everywhere.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the resiliency of the local church. It’s hard to describe that level of perseverance in the English language. In Hebrew, they call it “Yiyeh beseder,” which means “although there’s very little good that we see now, in the end, it will all work out for good.” That attitude is foreign to my nature, but true to the Gospel. It helps me wrap my head around why some of the greatest worship services I’ve ever been a part of have taken place in an unfathomably hot, worn down church in the middle of Haiti, where the passion for God far exceeds the desperate circumstances of everyday life.
Habakkuk discovers that level of peace and worship when he says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
Oh, to have the eyes of Habakkuk! And I’ve seen these eyes, though not often enough in the mirror. I’ve seen them in Pastor Yvon, who watched his church double in size after the earthquake (to approximately 5,000 members and who run a school for orphaned and vulnerable children), despite being in one of the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince. I’ve seen them in Pastor Ramil, who started a church out of his modest home and watched it grow to over 2,000 members, including a weekly medical clinic for the community and a school for impoverished families. And I’ve seen them in Pastor Thony, who started a church in a gang-torn alleyway that provides a haven for hundreds of people looking to God despite their circumstances. All three of these men are looking for churches willing to partner with their churches to care for orphaned and vulnerable children.
Would you consider partnering with us today? Currently, we are looking for three churches in the US to partner with these three churches in Haiti to provide education, food, medical care, discipleship, and relationship.
Local doctors did not know how to help Henri’s wife, and he quickly became overwhelmed and exhausted. This woman was the wife that God had given him. He did not want to abandon her, but he didn’t know what to do with her either.