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.
Let’s be honest. Many of us dread going to work. We often wish we were doing something more meaningful that would change the world. However, Jesus’ life and his “ordinary work” as a carpenter highlights the importance of work in our own lives, regardless of profession, title, and salary.
As a ten-year-old girl, I loved the beach, my cats, and collecting rocks. My favorite color was purple, and I was certain that I’d marry John Michael Montgomery. My biggest concerns were cleaning my room and fighting with my sister. Though the details vary, my experiences as a 10-year-old girl are similar to those of many other women I know.
Masresha’s story is different.
She was 10 years old when militants raided her Ethiopian village, setting fire to homes, killing people, and capturing others. Though her life was spared, her dignity, innocence, and childhood were not. Masresha was forced to marry her captor, a man who had torn her village and her life apart. Her life could never be the same.
A family member was able to locate and rescue Masresha, but she would never again be that 10-year-old. She had changed. She saw the world differently. Determined to move on with her life, however, Masresha remarried. Her husband was a hard-working carpenter, and they had a beautiful home together. She eventually gave birth to a daughter, Meron, which means “gift of God.” It seemed like the pieces were falling into place when it all fell apart again.
Masresha was unaware of her husband’s past. Prior to their marriage, he had killed a man in his hometown in Somalia. Seeking revenge, the murdered man’s friends came to Masresha’s village one day and killed her husband. Masresha quickly went from having a home and a happy life to being devastatingly poor and homeless. Most women in her situation would be forced to abandon their children in orphanages.
This wasn’t the case for Masresha, though.
Masresha and Meron were located through a church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Meron is now part of the Home Based Care program. Through the Home Based Care program, the local church has come alongside Masresha to ensure that Meron receives adequate food, housing, education, and medical care. By partnering with Masresha, the church is able to ensure that Meron remains in a loving family environment, while receiving all the important things she needs to grow spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically.
A Journey Trip team recently visited Masresha in her home, where she welcomed them with freshly-baked bread and piping hot coffee. At the end of the visit, Masresha didn’t ask for anything for herself. Instead, she simply requested that the team pray for her daughter. Meron is now eight years old, and she is filled with all the spunk and big dreams of any other 8-year-old. She dreams specifically of opening her own hair salon one day.
Masresha loves people. Her home often smells like baking bread and freshly-roasted coffee. She would prefer walking the miles it takes under the Ethiopian sun to visit her friends over sitting at home alone. When asked if she most enjoyed days spent visiting friends or days spent visiting Meron, her eyes lit up. “Nothing compares to spending time at home with Meron,” she said with a smile.
Throughout her life’s journey, the odds have seemingly not been in Masresha’s favor, but she has been a survivor. She has fallen many times, yet she has repeatedly gotten back on her feet. While her life is not perfect, and Masresha and Meron live quite humbly, they have remained together. Their bond is strong. The Home Based Care program has given Masresha the opportunity to hold tightly to her gift from God, Meron.
"Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him.” - Job 13:15
Recently, the Christian band, Shane & Shane released a song called “Though You Slay Me”. It’s a beautiful expression of trusting and praising God through times of difficulty and suffering. The lyrics borrow straight from Scripture, and predominantly from the book of Job. This is the song that came to mind when I heard Camila’s story. It’s a story of suffering, but also redemption.
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” - Job 1:21
Camila is a young, 30-year-old mother. Before the accident that changed her life, she lived in Costa Rica with her husband and four boys. Her husband was abusive, both physically and sexually. She eventually escaped the abuse and returned to her homeland of Nicaragua with her children, but caring for all of them on her own was difficult.
In 2012, she visited a free clinic provided by a medical mission team. The clinic was held in an old two-story building. While Camila and 34 other people waited on the second floor to see the doctor, the building suddenly collapsed. Camila suffered an injury to her spinal cord, paralyzing her from the waist down. She was the only victim in the accident to suffer permanent damage.
While she was in the hospital recovering, her husband learned what had happened to her. He used that opportunity to kidnap her two older sons and take them back with him to Costa Rica. When she discovered what her husband had done, Camila fell into a deep depression. She grieved over the sons she would likely never see again.
As for Camila’s two younger sons (ages five and three), since she could not care for them, they were taken to her family members. Sadly, Camila’s family wanted nothing to do with her or the two young boys. The boys were neglected and mistreated. They were forced to beg on the streets for food and money, and they developed a fear of adults.
Camila, lying paralyzed in a hospital bed, separated from her sons, and abandoned by her family, wished to God that she would die. For two months, she hardly ate any food. Most of her hair fell out, and she became very thin and malnourished. “But,” she says, “the Lord kept me alive.”
In 2013, a lady from a nearby church heard Camila’s story and shared it with a prayer group. One of the ladies present that day was a woman named Adriana. After hearing about Camila, Adriana went to visit her in the hospital. They developed a friendship, and Adriana would visit regularly, pray with her, and bring her food. She even provided Camila with a wheelchair, enabling her to finally get out of the hospital bed. Having someone care for her and encourage her spiritually helped Camila tremendously.
When Camila was finally discharged from the hospital, she went to stay with her family in a small community outside the city of Matagalpa. It didn’t take long for problems to arise again. Her family was negligent, refusing to provide her with proper care, and she eventually became sick with infection. Adriana received word that Camila was very sick. With Adriana’s help, Camila returned to the hospital, where she was hospitalized for over a year.
When she was finally discharged, this time, Adriana knew Camila should not return to her family again. Adriana and her daughter, Daniella, a young woman in her 20s, decided to take Camila into their own home in order to care for her properly.
In November of 2014, as a surprise for Camila’s birthday, Daniella went to the home of Camila’s family and brought her two young sons to visit. In the two years since the accident, Camila had only been able to see her boys a few short times. She was overjoyed to see her children! This visit lifted her spirits, and her health improved. When Daniella saw that the children’s visit improved Camila’s health, she asked for permission to have Camila’s children move into her home. Camila now reflects back to those times, “My own family rejected me, but Adriana and Daniella have now become like family to me and my sons.”
The 2012 accident broke more than Camila’s spine. It broke her heart. She still has not seen her two older sons since her husband took them to Costa Rica, and she still suffers physically from her injuries. But healing is now taking place. The family that neglected her has been replaced by one that loves and cares for her deeply. Her two young sons are now enrolled in school. They’ve also grown healthier and happier, no longer fearing adults. Camila previously suffered from loneliness and despair, but now, she has a support group of friends who pray for her and encourage her. She still faces many challenges, but she knows that God is with her.
“For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.” - Job 5:18
Author Dawn Ray serves alongside her husband, Billy Ray, World Orphans Middle East Director.
When ISIS invaded Iraq in the summer of 2014, the people group that suffered more than any other were the Yazidis. Yazidis were thought to be devil worshippers; therefore, Imams told ISIS soldiers that they could abuse Yazidis because “they are sub-human.” Yazidis fled in mass by whatever means they had–many on foot–into the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Some made their way into the mountainous regions along the Iran/Iraq border, where our projects amongst the Kurds have been since 2009.
In the fall of 2014, we came upon a large group of Yazidis living in unfinished buildings nestled at the base of a mountain. We decided to do a medical clinic to help with their needs and get to know them. While at the medical clinic, I found myself talking with the teen girls and began to realize God’s heart and my own love for these people.
Later, in the winter of that year, we were able to provide kerosene to heat their makeshift shelters, and we spent time continuing to get to know them. Now, nearly two years later, we’ve provided homes for each of these families, education for over 100 of their children, and we know their names, their faces, and their stories.
While we’ve focused on providing education for the children, many Yazidis do not always let the girls attend our school. That made me think, “what can stop me from going to them?” The girls’ eagerness for knowledge stirred me to action.
I remember one of the girls kept asking me to teach her English. Of course I wanted to teach them, but as a homeschooling mom and host to many guests, I didn’t feel like I had the time to commit. Instead, I would periodically visit the camp and enjoy talking with the girls.
With a desire to get to know the people living in the camps nearby, I knew I couldn’t spend time with everyone. This spring, I decided to devote one afternoon per week to teaching English to the teen girls at Akoyan Camp.
They were so excited. Seeing their enthusiasm to learn made me want to give them this opportunity even more. During one of these afternoon lessons, a girl came in and turned the TV on while some of us were studying English in the other corner of the room. The girls that were studying were so upset. They turned the TV off and shooed everyone out of the room that didn’t want to learn English!
Talking with some of the girls made me realize that there are few Yazidi girls with more than an elementary education. These girls want to learn, want to read, and some even dream about attending university one day. However, they said they most likely wouldn’t be going to school, even if they were back in their homes. The effects of these lessons are changing the conversation, though. During our lessons, there are always several mothers of little ones who slide into the room to listen. Some even look over the shoulders of the teenagers, as they watch and listen to them read. I can tell they want to learn, too!
When I leave the camp each week, my heart breaks thinking of how different my life and my kids lives would be if we never owned a book. Lately, I have been collecting some books in Arabic for them to read. I have also been collecting books in English from our library at the community center for them to practice reading. I feel like a mobile library some days! My favorite part of our time is when I have the older girls read to the younger girls. Maybe one day some of these girls will want to teach and empower other girls for their futures!
When I think about all the possibilities that the gift of learning to read opens up to a person, it makes me thankful that we are involved in offering education to so many of these children who are caught in a difficult position. What a blessing to be able to offer the opportunity to continue learning in the midst of being displaced.
I have shared the story of Joseph with several girls here who find themselves in a place that is foreign, having lost much, but we see how God can use it as a time for them to learn other skills and things that they would have never had a chance to learn otherwise. I hope to see an increase in the literacy rate among the Yazidi girls/women, while visiting with them reminds them that they are not forgotten.
They begged me and the other two women who serve with me, to come more often. I have a little more time in the summer, so I couldn’t resist them, and said I would come two times a week for now. It is over 100 degrees here now, and we sweat a lot. Seemingly unaffected by the heat, they are eager to practice reading, learn new words, write sentences, and sing songs.
It may just be a little thing I have to offer them, but we pray before we go each week that the Lord would multiply the work we do, just as He did with the loaves and fishes.
The smile vanishes from Kevin’s face as he asks the pastor, “Did she just give me her baby?”
Zone 18 in Guatemala City, Guatemala, has the highest population density in the city and maintains one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America. The region is filled with slums and has become a place for criminal organizations and gangs to hide. Fear governs the people and finding a job is greatly hindered because of the zone’s negative reputation.
For decades, the tunnel vision of American missions in regards to serving the “least of these” has often led to us unintentionally identifying ourselves as the “most of these.” Our good intentions to bring people out of relief and into development have often buried those same people in a deeper need for relief.
By Lindsay Allen | Project Manager: Americas
Cindy* is a 17-year-old girl with severe cerebral palsy. She cannot walk or talk, and caring for her requires almost constant attention. Her mother, Valeria*, is unable to work because she must stay home to take care of Cindy full time. The meager wage Cindy’s stepfather brings home as a farmer is the family’s only source of income.
Last year, Valeria fell ill and had to be hospitalized. She received a terrifying diagnosis—cancer. As a mother, her fears were not for herself, but for her daughter. Who would care for her? The answer to this question is exactly as God intended it to be: the church.
A group of volunteers from nearby Central Baptist Church accepted the responsibility to help take care of Cindy while her mother was in the hospital. One woman in particular, Diana*, became Cindy’s primary caregiver. Diana’s service to Valeria and Cindy is a direct result of the training she received through Tesoros De Dios, the World Orphans ministry partner in Managua. This ministry focuses on training and encouraging churches to reach out and care for families with disabled children. Culturally, disabilities are seen as a curse for some grave sin. But these churches are pushing back against the cultural norm, armed with the biblical truth that all children are created and loved by God.
Every day Diana would go to Cindy’s home and care for her in a beautiful display of Christ’s sacrificial love. She fed her, bathed her, clothed her, helped her go to the bathroom, sang to her, and eventually developed a genuine friendship with Cindy. She cared for and loved Cindy, whom many considered to be a curse, as she would her own daughter.
While Valeria was in the hospital, Diana and the other believers at Central Baptist were faithfully praying for her and visiting her. After a couple months in the hospital, her health began to improve! The doctors declared that the cancer had left her! She was able to return home and now goes to the hospital only for occasional checkups to ensure the cancer has not returned. Praise the Lord! Diana still frequently visits her dear friends, Valeria and Cindy, and she helps out whenever she is needed.
Diana speaks of Cindy with deep love and respect, not as a tiresome burden. She believes that “even though Cindy cannot speak, that does not mean she can’t understand. Spend some time with her, and you’ll see how she lights up when she hears a certain song and dances along in her wheelchair!”
When we consider Diana—how she spent weeks devoted all day every day to lovingly and tenderly caring for Cindy, and how she took on such a big commitment without asking for anything in return–we see something remarkable. In Diana we see what the church should be. Caregivers. Servants. Friends. Prayer warriors. This is not just the calling placed on Diana’s life but on the life of every believer. We are to pour ourselves out as a living sacrifice in service to others.
Diana’s counter-cultural willingness to serve is humbling. She took on the responsibility of caring for a child with severe special needs, an act of service which demanded time, effort, and attention. In contrast, many of us feel too busy to sacrifice one hour per week to serve in the church nursery, teach a youth Sunday School class, or visit someone in the hospital, much less become someone’s caregiver. Even though our story and our service may look very different from Diana’s, we should be looking for ways to serve others right here in our own communities. Neighbors. Classmates. Coworkers. Who can we serve today?