Beauty for Ashes

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Beauty for Ashes

Driving through the majestic mountains, lush with green grass and springs bursting forth with water, Northern Iraq is something to behold. This beautiful land affectionately known as “Kurdistan,” has been a refuge to those hunted by ISIS. One day, books will be written and movies filmed about this time in history. Our children will read about one of the greatest horrors of our time. Amid the tragic stories, I hope they will also read of both people who chose to flourish in the worst of circumstances, and people like you and me, those who found a way to walk alongside the suffering. 

During those first months and years of caring for refugee families, an array of questions had to be answered. How do we house them, while still supporting their family unit and honoring their culture? How do we feed them, while empowering them to work and provide? How do we educate the children in a way that supports the entire community? After these pressing questions were answered, out of a desire to see these families thriving, we have to seek out the best possible way to provide emotional care for individuals who have walked through some of the greatest trauma known in our time.

We believe in partnership, and we are thankful for the ways that our friends have joined us in this work. In 2017, we were able to partner with Tutapona, an organization that brought intentional trauma counseling to Northern Iraq by working with every family in our program. 

 Dawn sitting with Yazidi women

Dawn sitting with Yazidi women

Desiring to see additional progress and continued care for these families, Billy and Dawn began to pray about what was next. In an incredible answer to prayer, members of Hillsong London reached out to Billy and Dawn and offered to come and train a few of the locals on how to teach Shine & Strength, “a unique personal development and group-mentoring tool that uses an inspirational, practical and experiential approach” (Hillsong). Dawn viewed this as a wonderful fit for their work in Iraq, as it would help men and women see their value. Dawn said, “it teaches them that they have this strength to decide and to be resilient. There are things that they are good at that they can use to help other people.”

Five people from London came and spent a few weeks training five of the local staff in Iraq on how to teach this program. It was a wonderful and encouraging time for everyone. The women learned about their worth, strength, and purpose. The men learned about their personal identity, purpose, and life direction. These programs are six weeks long, and they use a multi-sensory approach, engaging the individual through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles. 

A group of ten Syrian men walked through the Strength program, and six Yazidi women participated in the Shine program. Recalling her time with the women, Dawn says, “It was a really powerful time the week they talked about potential. They passed out seeds with planters and dirt, and they talked about how each one of us have that same potential. [The women] were reminded that they have encouragement from other people and opportunities to learn and develop things they are interested in. [They learned] how that potential can then grow, and a whole orchard can come from just one seed. They planted all the seeds and then got to come back and see how the seeds had begun to grow.”

I enjoyed sharing with my family the things that I am learning.
— Khalida, Shine participant

As the funding becomes available, we hope to provide this course to 60 refugee families and all 40 of our local team members. We are incredibly thankful for God’s faithfulness, as he provides us with friends and partners, and he inspires other organizations like Hillsong to write these powerful curriculums. Everyone working together brings about beautiful stories of transformation as we seek to wholistically care for those we’re walking alongside. 
 

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Emotional Health | Finding Divine Dignity

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Emotional Health | Finding Divine Dignity

I saw the smile on her face before I saw the rest of her—a broad, beautiful smile with frequently used laugh lines on either side. She held her head high as she laughed. She moved with ease, seemingly dancing into the room before sitting down across from me and expanding her personality into every crevice of the space. Her joy was infectious. 

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Play: A Glimpse of Heaven

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Play: A Glimpse of Heaven

I was recently reminded just how profound play is for children, particularly those that have experienced trauma, when a team of people from NBC’s American Ninja Warrior set up a course in Haiti for children in our program—a safe place to run, laugh, and be a kid. The children in Haiti were gifted with a safe place to play.

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Literacy Impacts Everything

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Literacy Impacts Everything

boy in school

Whether you have a GED or you’re a doctor, you’ve been impacted by the education and training you have received, as it has affected your employment opportunities, your income, and your ability to pursue other opportunities. Literacy—the basic ability to read and write—impacts everything from cooking and navigation to making purchases and using a bank account.

For the vulnerable families we serve, prioritizing mental care and education can offer hope, security, and a way out of poverty. Investing in the mental capacity of both the caregivers and the children we care for is both fundamentally necessary and abundantly rewarding.

 We asked Zewditu to summmarize—in one word—what the World Orphans program and the local church have meant to her. 

We asked Zewditu to summmarize—in one word—what the World Orphans program and the local church have meant to her. 

When we met Zewditu, she was still in the process of grieving her husband’s death, and she had placed her children in the care of others, hoping that they would have the opportunity to have a better life than she could provide. She was trying to make ends meet by washing clothes and working at a local plantation, but it simply was not enough.

Zewditu was devastated when she learned that her youngest child—whom she thought was receiving good care—was not being sent to school. Zewditu began voicing her frustrations to one of her clients, a woman whose clothes she washed, and the woman told her about the World Orphans Home Based Care (HBC) Program at a local church.

When Meskerem of the HBC Program learned that Zewditu had placed her children in other homes, she encouraged her to pursue bringing them home, “They lost their father. There shouldn’t be a shortage of love from their mother.” Motivated by this advice and supported by the local church, Zewditu brought her daughters home.

Today, through education on savings, training on business management, and additional resources, Zewditu has her own business selling food at the local market. With the church’s support and her increased income, Zewditu was able to move into a bigger home that better accommodates her business. She shares a life and a home with her two daughters.

My life is improving constantly. The monthly support means a lot for my life. I remember serving my kids dry corn, not even with oil; now I can cook good food for them and send them with a lunchbox.
— Zewditu

Dansure, Zewditu’s oldest child, is 15 years old and her mother’s pride and joy. In addition to helping her mother around the house, Dansure is a very disciplined student who prides herself on being at the top of her class—a goal she worked hard to achieve. She loves her mother and is grateful for her encouragement in the area of education—an opportunity not afforded to Zewditu.

What does prioritizing mental health and education in Ethiopia look like? It looks like an impoverished mother learning to establish and grow her own business. It looks like family reunification. It looks like a 15-year-old girl with goals for her future and a bright smile on her face as she says, “I ranked first in my class.”

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Defeating ISIS With Education

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Defeating ISIS With Education

"D is for Duck", the teacher says with a smile on her face as she points to the board. Children excitedly engage in their lesson as they sit in a circle on the classroom floor. After they finish this class, they line up and make their way to another classroom, where they each energetically work on a craft. As I watch the children work, learn, and play, I'm overwhelmed by the joy, knowing that life has not stopped for these refugee children. This is a gift.


Bombs going off. Families running for their lives. Cars packed with as many people as possible and whatever items can be grabbed at a moment’s notice. This was the reality for many of the refugees we serve. It didn't matter if they were Yazidi, Shabak Kurd, or Syrian . . . ISIS was after them all.

Out of this desperate situation, The Refuge Initiative was born, and the years we had spent there previously established the foundation for everything now needed to care for these families.

We started by setting up tents, which eventually were replaced with single room homes, and we have since expanded to building villages, with two-bedroom homes. As we were looking to care for people over the long haul, we realized that putting a roof over their heads was not enough.

People need shelter and food. But then what? What happens when years go by and the children have not had any education during that time? These are the questions we eagerly asked and with the help of our partners, we sought to provide tangible, brick-and-mortar answers.

A school would be one of the primary answers and would become a staple of caring for these families well. Through an incredible partnership with Love Does, we were able to open the doors of Love Does School in 2016. In this school, we are able to educate more than 600 children and use the building to provide English classes for women. We are also able to bus the children to and from their villages, and the school now employs over 20 local staff members.

The numbers are impressive. We count the children, and look at the statistics of how many jobs are provided. It all matters. But nothing is quite as moving as seeing the face of a child once haunted by the horrors of ISIS, now filled with joy as he learns English, having real hope for a bright future. Here's to building communities of hope . . . until they all have homes.





 

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Training Changes Lives

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Training Changes Lives

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? 

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Freedom to Play

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Freedom to Play

“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.

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Out of the Web

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Out of the Web

“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.

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When It Goes up in Flames

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When It Goes up in Flames

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.

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Family: The Heart of Orphan Care

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Family: The Heart of Orphan Care

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.

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Dancing Out of the Darkness

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Dancing Out of the Darkness

“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.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.
— Colossians 1:11-13

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

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Creating Space for Dreams and Hope

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Creating Space for Dreams and Hope

  Photo Credit:  Jessie Parks

Photo Credit: Jessie Parks

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.

 Photo Credit:  Jessie Parks

Photo Credit: Jessie Parks

  Photo Credit:  Jessie Parks

Photo Credit: Jessie Parks

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.
 

 

Visit worldorphans.org to buy a brick. The matching campaign for $15,000 ends November 7, 2016.

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