By Diane Elliot
“Take me home. I’m to be given away” was the hand-written sign hanging around a small 3-year-old girl’s neck as she sat in the dirt in front of an outdoor market. She was alone, helpless, and terrified. Without the intervention, her fate was all but written.
Thankfully a kind woman did see her sitting there, and no doubt was as confused as she was. Helping an abandoned little girl wasn’t part of the plan for this woman’s day. Despite the inconvenience, she stopped what she was doing, picked her up, and brought her to my friend, Doris.
Doris had moved to Peru from Switzerland years before as a young single woman. After serving in Peru with the Peace Corps for a few years, she vowed she was going back to Switzerland and would never return. But then, the unthinkable happened – she fell in love with a brown eyed, dark haired orphaned girl, adopting her into her heart and home. For the next 20 years, she has personally raised or placed into families, dozens of previously orphaned children. God changed her heart because of one little girl. Victoria, the little girl from the market, is one of Doris’s children.
The Global Orphan Crisis
We don’t know why Victoria’s parent chose to leave her at the market that day, but many common contributing factors have laid the foundation to our current orphan crisis: poverty, war, poor healthcare, AIDS, dirty water, malnutrition, corrupt governments, and the list goes on! The global orphan crisis is real, hideous, utterly overwhelming, and to many, nearly invisible.
There are more than 150 million children who have lost one or both parents and are vulnerable and at risk. That number is hard to comprehend until you compare it to something familiar to us such as the male population of the United States. Just think, every man or boy that lives in the U.S. represents one orphaned child around the globe. Overwhelming, isn’t it?
While we can’t change everything, we must all do something!
Visiting Haiti in 2012 was a life-changing experience for me. I was part of a small team who visited more than a dozen organizations who care for orphaned and vulnerable children. We saw, held, and talked with more than 300 children in a weeks’ time. We visited institutions, a baby hospital, adoption agencies, small orphanages, group homes, and small family homes. Our hearts were broken when seeing children in institutional care neglected, with few caregivers, or made to sit on little hard chairs for hours every day. Although a better option than living on the street or being sold into slavery (which frequently happens) it is still unacceptable. Then later when visiting a home with a loving environment and permanent placements, our hearts were filled with hope for the children they served. It was the most emotionally draining week of my life, and I walked away with three thoughts that I will never forget.
We are all CALLED
There are more than 40 verses in the Bible that specifically mention orphaned and fatherless children (let alone the thousands of verses about justice, compassion, and mercy). Specific topics are often paired in the verses with orphaned and fatherless children such as love, justice, protection, and the giving of money, clothing, and food to children and others in need. I had seen many of the verses before, but what came as a surprise is God’s simple yet profound solution to the crisis – YOU and ME! In every case, people are instructed to help orphaned children. God’s secret weapon is us! WE are the ones receiving the instructions from God, and it is through our faith and ACTION that we are the solution to the global orphan crisis.
It is undeniable that God is calling each one of us to make a difference in the life of a vulnerable or orphaned child. It is our job to figure out how we are equipped and what we can contribute to this calling. For me, God made the message very clear while standing on a hill in Les Caye, Haiti called the “Redemption Project” which was funded by a man with a mission.
Several years before my journey, a young man from Indiana visited an orphan care ministry in Les Caye, Haiti. He was touched when he saw the transformation of children who were once orphaned but were now part of permanent loving family homes. He and the staff hiked up to the same hill where I stood that day, and through the rough brush and weeds he had a vision of what more could be done.
A family man himself, he went back to Indiana determined to raise funds so that the ministry could build an additional five family homes, a school, and a church. He had a hope and a future for more than 60 children who otherwise would not have likely made it past the age of five. He asked everyone he knew to be involved, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer! Within just a few years he raised all the money needed for the project, and I stood on the property where three of the homes were bustling with construction workers. What I didn’t tell you is that this young man had cancer and died shortly after the homes were completed. He didn’t live to see the fulfillment of his dream, but he provided the vision and resources needed to help the Redemption Project come to fruition. The last years of his life he dedicated all his efforts towards not only giving his biological children a future but 60 other children in Haiti as well.
This man’s legacy touched me deeply. It was there at the Redemption Project that I, too, felt God’s call for me to dedicate the rest of my life to changing the future for orphaned children. How I live out that calling will look different throughout the years, but I know that this is the mission that God has created me for. I am called to be His hands and feet to the orphaned and vulnerable children. And, so are you!
Just help ONE
In 2010 Haiti was rocked by an earthquake. Many died, many were injured, many children were orphaned, and everyone was affected. One man who was a missionary from the United States found himself in the middle of ground zero serving the hurting. He and his team were overwhelmed and as traumatized as anyone. They had a working truck and were able to make their way to the Dominican Republic border to purchase food, medical supplies, and other necessities. They distributed more than a million dollars of aid to hurting people. I met him two years later and asked how he did it. He simply said this, “Help the person right in front of you, that’s all you can do!”
Today I encourage you to pray that God will show you that little person right in front of you that you are to help. It could be as simple as sponsoring a child through Hope’s Promise. It could be seeing a single parent in your church who needs a helping hand. Or, like me, it could take diligently searching and placing yourself in the places where you know God will speak to you. Going to Haiti, Ukraine, Siberia, and Peru on mission trips were all places where God spoke to me and shaped my heart to be more like His. Where do you need to go and what do you need to do to allow God to speak to you? In the meantime, pray that God will show you the ONE that you are to love on His behalf.
Children need permanent families
After seeing the best and worst orphan care practices in my travels, I concluded what God knew from the beginning of time; children grow best in loving, permanent families. While some may agree that it is more cost effective to use institutional care, it is one simple question that will convince you otherwise. Would you want your children or nieces and nephews to grow up in an institution? Of course not! Why do we accept anything less for the children who are orphaned, traumatized and need the consistent love of a mother and father? That’s why our passion at Hope’s Promise is to find a family for EVERY child. We do that through adoption in the United States and indigenous permanent placements with our family homes in Kenya, Nepal, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. The children we serve deserve nothing less!
It’s up to you
Looking back over my orphan care journey I’m amazed at all that God has shown me. The need is so great and, in my humanness, I am easily overwhelmed. But God has never been surprised by the plight of orphaned children, he foresaw it and created the perfect solution – YOU! God has prepared you for His service since you were a child. It is your compassion, your strength, and your voice that can make all the difference in the world for a vulnerable child. My only question to you is what is your next move? To whom will you speak? For whom will you advocate? Some of you have made a life-long decision to adopt. Others make a courageous decision to sponsor a child. Yet others raise your voice or pen to speak on behalf of those who have no voice. Whatever your calling, do it with all your heart, with intent and determination. And, if I, or Hope’s Promise can help you along this journey, please let us know!
Photo by Jeffery Weeks