by Julie Cramer
Underlying each initiative of Orphan Outreach—as depicted in its logo—is the visible hand of God. No more did this small team of professionals, who have more than 50 years of combined experience, see God’s hand than in the months following April 2007, when they first opened their doors in Dallas. Their mission—to provide “a voyage of hope” to more than 140 million orphans (by UNICEF estimates) worldwide.
As the Orphan Outreach team traveled with its volunteers and partners, they discovered the visible hand of God leading them to the places few were going—and to the people in desperate need of help. If the people they encountered had received any funding at all, time after time the funding had run dry or been cut off just months or days before Orphan Outreach arrived. Such consistent “coincidences” hallmarked God’s faithfulness in answering the prayers of His people—long before Orphan Outreach ever knew their names.
“The Lord affirmed the faith and the work of the people in these ministries,” Amy Norton, director of
programs, said. “And He has affirmed our ministry. It’s been amazing to feel that you’re so in the
Lord’s will with the path you’ve taken. This was the Lord’s timing and His plan.”
Out of all the needs orphans have, education harbors the most power to heal whole communities. “Nothing is going to change their situations unless they have education,” Norton said. “And kids spend so much time in school that it’s the best opportunity for them to hear the gospel—and see it lived out in a long-term way.”
So Orphan Outreach designed a unique, five-pronged educational model that addresses crucial areas of skills and social development that the students need not only to survive but also to thrive. Students must be bilingual, versed in English as a way to participate in global business and continued education; proficient in using computers and other technology; trained in microfinance; committed to community service; and mentored spiritually by the local Christian community.
“We want kids to know how to give back to their communities,” Norton said, “even if they are from the slums.” In a typical village schoolchildren receive water only once a week, live in huts with metal or plastic roofs, and cook over open fires. Medical services do not exist.
“In the countries where we work,” Norton said, “the public schools are so poor that teachers don’t show up, there are far too many children per class and kids don’t graduate with any kind of meaningful degree or skill. Families who have money send their children to private schools. Impoverished children cannot afford uniforms, books, or tuition to go to private schools. When you get involved as we are,” she said, “there’s an opportunity through your teams to not only start a Christian school, or support children to go to school but also to provide for urgent needs.”
Committees made up of local professionals and staff help Orphan Outreach evaluate such urgent needs, implement goals, and oversee the management of the schools. By providing Christian schools in such villages, “you have an opportunity to transform the community,” Norton said. “Churches here in the U.S. really want to be involved in empowering the local church. In fact the commitment of churches has sky-rocketed the number of trips we are planning for 2008.” This year 320 volunteers and 15 interns will travel with Orphan Outreach on a total of 20 trips so far.
Last year 67 people traveled with the organization. This is a look back at those trips—and some of the stories of the people who continue to make the work worthwhile.
“Though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand” (Psalm 37:24).
Block by block
The sun shone down on men—all dressed in orange shirts—as they hoisted cement block on top of cement block. Children from the village of Pacux, which is surrounded by mountains, peered over the piles of block to watch them work.
Soon—through the sweat and labor of this group of men from TDM and Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky—these children would be able to attend their village’s first church and see their pastor have a home. On the team’s last day, they surprised the children with a movie night. They set up a television and DVD player on an empty barrel, and the children shuffled into the makeshift rows of seats made from cement blocks and watched a Disney movie. The adults assembled behind the church to watch The Jesus Film.
Working in Pacux so moved the men from TDM and Highview Baptist that they plan to partner with Orphan Outreach to provide much needed secondary education in the community. In their partnership, they also wish to provide the village with a water well, medical services, and residential homes.
Rays of hope
In addition to their partnership with Highview Baptist, Orphan Outreach established key relationships with several other organizations, including the Baptist Convention of Guatemala, the Methodist Association of Guatemala, and First Baptist Santiago.
Through these partnerships a preschool—called Rayitos de Esperanza, or Rays of Hope—will open its doors this year. A new principal and newly trained teachers will provide a quality education to sixty-five children living in the dump area of Guatemala City. In addition to providing a quality curriculum, Orphan Outreach will also ensure that students have enough textbooks, backpacks, and school supplies for the year.
In Panabaj Orphan Outreach stocked the shelves of First Baptist Santiago’s library, and this year it plans to open a school and provide housing for families who have been homeless since Hurricane Stan in 2005. In the past year, Orphan Outreach also distributed 320 new backpacks to Guatemalan orphans, along with sports equipment and school supplies.
Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand” (Psalm 20:6).
Treasure from trash
In September an Orphan Outreach team traveled to Honduras. Among their stops was the trash dump in Tegucigalpa. From two miles away the team could see the sky blackening. They arrived to discover thousands of vultures had formed a canopy over the dump. With the vultures circling overhead hundreds of men and women picked their way through the trash, looking for something to eat, to wear, or to salvage.“It is estimated that 2,000 people spend their entire days there, eat there, get their clothes there, and make their living there,” said Bob Beams, who went on the trip. “Some sleep in the dump under stacks of cardboard and some stay in shacks on the border. Babies are placed near the sides of the dump under makeshift shelters so that their mothers can work—earning a dollar or two per day by selling the things they collect.”Ostracized by society, the people living in this dump are snubbed by even their neighbors who live in the slums. Jeony is one person, however, who has not turned a blind eye to their condition. He constructed a school near the dump, where he and his wife, along with some family and friends, teach at the school year-round with no pay.Today 80 students attend from 7 a.m. until noon, before returning to work with their families in the dump. Through Orphan Outreach’s assistance, the Faith, Hope, and Love School will lay the groundwork this year for another building to accommodate a total of 120 students as well as to expand the grade level through high school.
On the rise
In Honduras HIV is taking the lives of one or both parents of about 17,500 children, many of whom also have the disease. The epidemic has done little to improve the country’s economic situation, which has seen the gap between rich and poor people grow wider than it has in four years.
With the HIV epidemic on the rise, Orphan Outreach’s strategic plan for Honduras includes supporting orphanages that care for children with HIV/AIDS, along with its overarching goal to provide Christian schools in remote areas. They have partnered with schools already in existence such as the Proverbs 22:6 School and the Genesis School, which currently serves 800 children.
“Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless” (Psalm 10:12).
A new light dawning
Rickshaws, cattle, and goats clatter through the streets of India’s Red Light District in Pune—home to about 3,500 prostitutes and eunuchs. In the brothels images of Jesus and the cross are mingled with images of Hindu gods. In this secret world fed by a system of narrow, dimly lit stairwells, women who have no other choice make the best living they can. Many women are children of prostitutes, have been sold into the business, or consider themselves servants of the goddess of prostitution.
Such a culture breeds the risk for HIV/AIDS—a disease that has contributed to India’s high orphan rate of 35 million children, according to a 2006 UNICEF report. For this reason Orphan Outreach has teamed up with Dr. Ruby Fredericks, who runs the Jeevan Jyoti Clinic. In this Red Light area of Pune, 80% of the women and 30% of the children are HIV positive.
During a trip to the clinic last September, Orphan Outreach sat down to talk with a group of women and eunuchs. “No one cares about us,” one of the women said. “We are outcasts and alone.” When asked about their children, all the women agreed that they longed for their children to escape a life in the brothels. Although fearful that their children would be stolen—as some women had experienced—they all said they would allow them to live in a Christian children’s home or a boarding school.
“It is the children who can break this cycle of abuse, poverty, injustice and sorrow,” Mike Douris, President of Orphan Outreach said. “There is light through the ministry the Lord is doing through Dr. Ruby. Our hope is as we partner together, we will be used by our Lord to give hope to the children living in the Red Light District of Pune.”
When Orphan Outreach met with Dr. Lalita Edwards, who runs a group home for HIV-positive children, she had been asking God for $300 more per month. The children slept two to a bed, and Dr. Edwards received more requests to admit children than she could handle—but she took them anyway.
Her prayers were simple. “She was praying for consistent, additional support so she would know that she could feed the children each day,” Norton said. “She now provides for these children with six hundred dollars a month.”
People who live in the Shahabad Dairy Slums of India can relate to such prayers. They sleep in shelters of sticks wrapped in tarps or plastic sheeting. Naked children run through the dusty slum and “there is no water supply except the water truck that hopefully comes once a day,” Douris said.
In a visit to the slum the team stood dumbfounded, trying to absorb the poverty they saw. Umashankar Shankardas, Orphan Outreach’s India director, broke the silence and said, “You know these people live very simply. If they have enough food for their family to eat today, then they have had a good day.”
As in the other countries, Orphan Outreach has partnered with significant ministries throughout India, with the hope of providing just enough for the poorest of the poor “to have a good day,” to have their daily bread. These additional partnerships include COI in Delhi; Santvana Children’s Home for AIDS orphans in Pune; the Ashraya Children’s Home in Kodikanal for girls; Jelvan Anand Elwin Parekh Children’s Home in Anand, Gujarat; and East-West Ministries to oversee children’s homes in Raipur.
“With a mighty hand and outstretched arm; His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:12).
Before it’s too late
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, its shaky orphan-care system also fell. Alcohol consumption increased to10 times the U.S. level. The instances of divorce also climbed, along with the HIV-infection rate, which is now one of the highest in the world. And, according to a 2007 UNICEF report, the annual number of children without parental care in Russia “has more than doubled over the last 10 years, despite falling birth rates.”
“The consequences of not doing anything are dire,” Douris said. “Our approach in Russia is to involve and empower local churches to do the work of orphan care.”
When Russian children reach the age of 14 or 16, they may choose to attend a vocational school. Those trades—which include anything from sewing to repairing shoes to fixing tractors—however, are “never something orphans, specifically, can make a living at,” Norton explained. “Most of these children don’t know how to survive on their own.” By age 18 the children are forced to leave the orphanages.
Without essential living skills, education, or employment possibilities, many of these young people resort to addictions, prostitution, or suicide. To help prevent such outcomes, Orphan Outreach has begun to support local orphanages and ministries to bridge a child’s transition from orphan-care to independent living.
Children such as Gosha and Masha, who are brother and sister, need this type of care. Gosha graduated from a technical school, after which the government sent him to live in his parents’ government-assigned apartment. His alcoholic parents were gone. To buy alcohol they had gutted the apartment, selling everything from door fixtures to windows.
“Gosha has nowhere else to go, so he is sleeping on a landing in the stairs of the apartment building,” Tiffany Taylor, director of marketing, said. “His sister graduates from a St. Petersburg university in May and will be joining him. The orphanage director described both young people as loving, smart, and hard working. However, there is no one to help make their apartment livable, so they are on a track to end up like many orphan graduates—turning to a life of crime and eventual suicide or early death.”
As each winter passes, the plight of Russia’s 1 million orphans grows more critical. As they watch the snow powder the ground outside their diski dom, or orphanage, orphans such as Gosha and Masha need to know hope in the face of cold reality.
Because schools are government-run, Orphan Outreach is prevented from setting up private schools in the country. For this reason they have turned their attention to casting a social safety net for orphan graduates. Through this network graduates have a better chance of securing prosperous work as well as developing emotional well-being and a sense of belonging.
In this effort Orphan Outreach assisted several orphanages financially, with funds totaling more than $60,000 for renovations, furnishings, and scholarships. It also hired a director of its Russia graduates program as well as a director of missions, along with five staff members from churches close to the orphanages.
But what most encouraged the team of Orphan Outreach about their work in Russia was the local church’s enthusiasm about the role they can play in the lives of graduates. “Russian believers are awakening to what they can do for these children,” Norton said. “For the first time, they are starting to look outside their own doors and see that they can reach out to orphans and make a difference in their lives. They are starting to realize that it is the church’s responsibility.”
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27–29).
Offering orphans a voyage of hope means more than changed circumstances or physical provision. True hope comes from the security of belonging, of being loved. In his Gospel, Mark tells a story about parents who thronged around Jesus just so that He might touch their children. His touch had power then, and it has power now.
In fact Jesus reprimanded his disciples for barring the children access to Him. “Let the little children come to me,” He said, “and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).
And so does the ministry of Orphan Outreach belong to such as these. “Yet I am always with you,” wrote the psalmist about the Lord, “you hold me by my right hand” (Psalm 73:23).
“He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me’” (Mark 9:36–37).
Prayer is the foundation of Orphan Outreach’s work, and we invite you to join us in this crucial ministry.
Consider using your gifts and abilities to assist Orphan Outreach on one of its missions trips.
Orphan Outreach desires to see churches fulfill their biblical responsibility to care for widows and orphans. If you and others from your church would like to bolster the work of a local church in one of our partner countries, please investigate our upcoming missions trips.
If you are a teacher, consider traveling with Orphan Outreach to train teachers in one of our partner countries.
For as little as $30 a month, you could begin providing for a child’s needs by furnishing them with backpacks and school supplies.
For more information about our programs and ways to get involved, call 972.726.6200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.