Orphan's Lifeline International is a non-profit working to care for the world's orphan children. Currently serving thousands of orphan children in 9 countries. Mission is to bring hope to the Orphans of the world by providing food, shelter, medical care, children's Bibles, educational assistance, adoption advocacy and more.
It’s the middle of March in Far Eastern Russia. The cold Siberian winds still whip the white, powdery remnants of winter into small drifts against the buildings at the orphanage in Naihkin.
The ground is still frozen. Nearly as hard as bedrock, with eight inches of frost. And yet, seeds are being sown.
Yes, inside the warmth of the Naihkin Orphanage seeds have been sown… and things are growing.
It’s early morning on a weekend, but hands and minds are already very busy. Three stages of planting are apparent. Some children use little fingers to carefully press seeds into rich, potting soil to just the right depth. They carefully cover the seeds and add just the right amount of water.
At another table, squinting eyes peer intently into little, paper cups where tiny, green plants are emerging from the soil.
At yet another table, children carefully add water to containers with plants that are already several inches high.
Out in the greenhouse, still more children tend to long, planting beds filled with seeds that have been sown.
In yet another area of the orphanage, children wear colorful toque’s they have sewn together themselves atop their heads as they cook in the kitchen. On the stove, soup is being made from various vegetables from last fall’s harvest. Spices are being added and the mouth-watering scents drift out of the kitchen and into the other room where the children are tending to the coming year’s harvest. A tasty incentive to keep sowing seeds.
Later this same day, some of the children will gather together in a common dining room and enjoy the fruits of their collective efforts. Other children who are siblings will eat together in little family rooms, sometimes with relatives who have been invited to visit and enjoy an evening with children they love, but are unable to care for.
These are simple things we speak of here, but profoundly important when you look just below the surface. Just like the seeds the children have planted in the rich soil. You might not be able to see what is there yet, but just below the surface, something very valuable is growing…and yet another harvest is coming. “…and the seed sprouts and grows--how, he himself does not know….” – Mark 4:26-29
Just under 20 years ago, this place, like all orphanages in Far Eastern Russia, was nothing more than a cold, stark building with rows of beds in it. There was no kitchen. There was no greenhouse. There was no equipment for farming. No outbuildings. No animals. No sewing machines. No laughter. No full bellies. No Bibles. No hope.
But then, in partnership with Orphan’s Lifeline, caring Christians from the U.S., Canada and even Japan, began sowing seeds all across Siberia.
Dozens of places, just like Naihkin, were transformed from a place where orphan children languished and suffered without hope into the homes they are today. Places filled with love, hope and the knowledge that God is loving and caring for them through the hands and hearts of His faithful followers.
The agricultural skills, the sewing and cooking are critical education and knowledge for these children at the very least. But, beyond that, they provide security and a sense of worth and accomplishment. It’s a hand-up, not a hand-out for thousands of children across Siberia.
In providing these opportunities for the orphan children of Russia, we have sown the seeds of hope for a better future. We are feeding their bodies and minds and teaching them to be self-sufficient.
We are sowing seeds in fertile ground.
The Bibles we have given them are feeding their hearts and souls. We are sowing the seeds of God’s Love, and the promise of heaven through Jesus. “Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.”
We are sowing the seeds of peace.
These are thousands of children who will grow up knowing that their happy and healthy childhood, despite their unfortunate circumstance as an orphan, was the result of the love of strangers from thousands of miles away in the United States. “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.”
We are sowing the seeds of love and compassion.
These are thousands of children growing up, knowing that it is compassion that changed their lives for the better. “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
In Russia, it has been nearly 20 years of sowing seeds. That means two generations of children have passed through the many orphanages that we work in there. Many thousands of children have had their lives saved and changed by this work.
Just today thousands more will be born without hope. They will be born into poverty; destined to become orphaned children. By no fault of their own, they will become alone. They will be hungry. They will be cold and tired.
Their tears will fall unseen and their cries will go unheard.
That means there are a lot of seeds still to be sown. And this mission to save the orphan children of the world is one that is certainly perpetual and yet of untold value. “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” Galations 6:9
The difference that has been made in the lives of so many orphan children is profound beyond description. But, it’s the culmination of all that has been done, along with all that can and will be done that will change the very future of this world we all share.
Mariam is in college. Mariam is a Certified Nursing Assistant on her way to becoming an LPN. Mariam’s salary is more than 10 times that of the average rural Ugandan woman her age and will be 20 times more when her degree is complete. Mariam is a 19–year–old-single, Christian woman with no children. She speaks two languages. She is healthy, happy and loves the Lord. She wants to spend her life “helping those who are sick and give the Glory to God.”
Statistically speaking…she shouldn’t even be alive…
The plane was cruising at 25,000 feet. Snow-capped mountains crawled below us as we sped through the air at more than 500 miles per hour.
In front of me, bouncing on his mother’s lap was a very young boy; maybe 6 or 7 months old. He was a handsome little guy with intense, brown eyes, olive skin and a little fountain of hair erupting from the top of an otherwise bald head.
He made grunting sounds as he bounced and occasionally squealed in delight when his mother would lift him a little higher than his own efforts had accomplished. It was on one such bounce that elevated him above the headrest, that he noticed me.
I was a bit sleepy and was thinking about a nap, so I had put on my sunglasses to help block out some light. It was those sunglasses that caught his eye. He stopped bouncing and peeked around the corner of the headrest, leaning forward with a little frown on his forehead. His eyes stared intently into mine, which were hidden behind the sunglasses.
His frown deepened and he moved his lips and made a funny little sound. He was trying to communicate with me, but seemed concerned about what was behind the glasses. I smiled. He looked down at my smile, but then back up at my glasses and the frown remained firmly in place. I tipped my glasses down and showed him my eyes. The frown disappeared and was replaced by a huge grin replete with a single tooth offset from the center of his shiny, pink gums. The concern gone, he giggled and reached out a hand towards me. In an instant the little guy had found reason to trust a total stranger.
It struck me in that moment, that there is such beauty in that innocent trust. But there is also a great deal of inherent danger. There is untold potential in such a young mind, both for equal quantities of good or evil. It also struck me that being responsible for what is written on those clean little slates is a huge responsibility indeed, and that the input given will play a large role in determining the quantities of that good or evil.
The little boy in front of me looked very healthy. He had chubby cheeks filled with color. His eyes were bright and aware. His body was being fed good nutrition. His little mind and soul were being fed with love and affection. The way that it should be.
That’s the thing about us as human beings. We are comprised of three interconnected elements that are all interdependent; at least as long as we are physically alive. If the body is not fed properly, the mind and soul will both suffer. If the mind is not fed properly, the body and soul will both suffer. If the soul is not fed properly, the body and mind will both inevitably suffer as well.
And it can’t just be any food either. The quality of that food will have a big impact on the growth of all three. For the body, that means the right quantity and proportions of quality proteins, fats and carbohydrates and all the macronutrients they embody. For the mind, quality nutrition and input are required for the synapses to grow and create even a simple functional path. The higher the quantity and quality of nutrition and input, the greater the potential for quality output.
For the soul, it’s faith, hope and love that come from God and His son. Three critical things that embody many other elements fed by the mind through our five senses.
Interdependence. Input. Output.
Perhaps there isn’t a better example of all of this than Mariam.
Mariam was one of several children that her mother gave birth to. Her mother started having children when she was just 15 years old. The father of the children contracted HIV/AIDS from another woman and gave it to Mariam’s mother. When he discovered that they both had the dreaded disease, he left her alone with all of the children and never returned.
By all rights, Mariam had very little chance of even surviving as one of several children in a home that was deep in poverty. By all rights if she did survive it would have been because she was forced into some kind of labor or illicit servitude at a very young age.
Statistics say she would have been illiterate. Statistics say that she would have been sexually abused and pregnant by the time she was 15. Statistics say she would have had as many as 5 children herself from as many as 3 fathers. Statistics say she would have likely contracted AIDS and would eventually die from the disease, leaving her 5 children to suffer the same fate as her.
Statistics say that she would have died without knowing the Lord.
What saved Miriam from the terrible reality that most young orphans and females in particular are subjected to in Uganda? What changed her dire circumstances so dramatically that she would rise far above the norms for young women in Uganda?
Simply put; it was the source of all of the input to her body, mind and soul.
For orphans and children in poverty, there are two general realities. Death or survival by intervention. They key here is who intervenes and what they give the children to survive.
One reality is that the individual or individuals that intervene have their own interests and not that of the child, as their motivation. They enslave the children in exchange for food and shelter. They use them for manual labor, or for sexual exploitation. The “education” that the children receive is not reading, writing and math. It is how to steal. How to cheat. How to use others to get what you want.
Not how to give, but how to take. Not how to love, but how to hate. Not how to serve God, but how to serve Satan.
Interdependence. Input. Output.
Thankfully this didn’t become the source of input for Mariam’s body, mind and soul.
Perhaps one of the most loving things Mariam’s mother did was to ask Irene Nangobi to take Mariam into our Life of Favor Children’s Home.
There Mariam was given good nutrition for her body. There she was educated. There she was given spiritual instruction and God’s Word and she learned about Jesus.
There she was given the right kind of input for mind, body and soul.
Without the right food, Mariam’s body would have suffered and not been healthy. Without a healthy body and good education, Mariam’s mind would have suffered. Without a healthy mind and God’s word, Mariam’s soul would have suffered.
Interdependence. Input. Output.
None of it could happen without you. And we are so thankful for all that you do to make it possible to give Mariam and thousands like her everything they need, not just to survive, but to thrive, body, mind and soul.
These are the children who will break the cycle that creates orphans in the first place. They are the children who will generationally change the lives of many thousands in their own communities, their country and all around the world. They will become a living perpetuation of the good that you are doing in God’s name.
It’s late afternoon in Jinja, Uganda. It’s been a long day with merciless heat. It’s the kind of heat that pulls water from your skin and leaves you tired for seemingly no reason.
But for 7-year-old Shiroh, it’s more than that. She knows there must be something wrong because she feels tired all the time now. It’s something that has been getting progressively worse and today is the worst it has ever been.
She sits inside The Freshfire Children’s Home in a chair trying to catch her breath and fear sets in and tears fill her young eyes. She takes in deep breaths and watches as afternoon shadows grow long on the wall in front of her, then looks down at her hands. Why are her fingers blue?
More than three thousand miles away in Errabalem, South India, Yesudas Rajulapati’s phone rings. It is the school calling. The Director of Errabalem Boy’s Home takes the phone call and his wife watches as his eyes grow big and his face grows pale. He hangs up the phone and tells his wife they must go to the school immediately.
They arrive at the school where an ambulance sits idling in the parking lot. The lights are flashing and the rear doors are open. As they exit the car and step out into the afternoon heat, EMT’s emerge from the front doors pushing a stretcher. Lying pale, still and unconscious on the stretcher is 13-year-old Vikram Kumba who lives at Errabalem Boy’s Home.
Vikram has been unconscious for some time after collapsing and going into convulsions. He will remain unconscious for hours to come and no one knows why.
Thousands of miles from both Uganda and India we receive two emails from the distraught and panicked Directors telling us of the frightening news about these two children. Like the Directors we are immediately flooded with compassion and worry for these two young children who have already suffered so much in their young lives. Following a very brief discussion we email both of them back and tell them to proceed with any necessary medical care and to keep us informed of diagnosis, condition and costs.
The clock ticks on and the days pass. Then we receive the emails we have been waiting for. We are about to learn what is wrong with the children. It’s something we need to know, but based off the limited information we already have, we don’t expect good news and we read the emails with apprehension.
Our concerns are justified and confirmed as we read the reports from Jinja and Errabalem.
Irene, the Director of Freshfire in Jinga, Uganda informs us that Shiroh has been diagnosed with Pulmonary Valvular Stenosis. It’s a condition in which her heart valve has become too thick and heavy and it restricts blood flow to arteries. Her oxygen saturation is only 63%. Far below safe levels. It’s no wonder this sweet, little girl is so tired all the time. It’s no wonder now why her fingers, lips and eyelids are tinted blue.
The news regarding Vikram is no better. His diagnosis is a tumor on his brain. It is unknown at this point just what kind of tumor it is. It will require more tests, an MRI and specialists to diagnose the rate of growth, danger and whether or not it is cancerous. All potential treatments will be subject to those findings.
It is heartbreaking that these children have to suffer beyond the tragedies that life has already thrown them.
Shiroh lost her father to AIDS and her mother is infected and slowly dying from the same disease. She has several siblings and her mother was unable to care for them all which is what led to her coming to Freshfire. At a very young age she has suffered from neglect, hunger, deep sadness and now serious problems with her heart that put her very life at risk.
Vikram has suffered as well. His father is a drunk who abandoned his family. His mother is a field laborer who could not care for her children and had them put in a government hostel. Vikram was so unhappy in the hostel that he stopped going to school and eventually ran away, back to his mother’s where there was no food and no daily care. This is how he ended up at Errabalem Boy’s Home and now he faces serious medical problems with this tumor on his brain.
Yes, it is heartbreaking that these children must face these medical challenges. And I know that we will be doing all that we can to help them recover to full health. We will pray. We will work with the directors to be sure that they are getting the best medical care possible. They deserve that.
But that is not the heart of the matter.
When we learned of the medical problems that Shiroh and Vikram were having, we immediately authorized all necessary expenses related to caring for them. That decision was made without hesitation. When you consider that we are a mission in which every dollar spent must be replaced with another dollar and that dollar can only come in the form of gifts, why is it that we are able to make such decisions without hesitation?
Here is why.
When we learned what had happened, we immediately planned to put the stories of the two children in our monthly newsletter. I planned to write a cover story much different than the one you are reading. It would have told their story as I have, but it would have been a plea for help as well.
This is not.
This instead is the story of how while we were putting the newsletter together, an email was sent out to you, our faithful partners telling you of this emergency. This is the story of how in one day, one single day, you answered back and covered all of the costs we currently know about related to the children’s medical conditions.
This is the story of how your faithful record of compassion gave us the confidence to have Irene schedule a life-saving surgery for Shiloh. She will fly to India in June and undergo a procedure to repair the valve on her heart. This is the story of how that same record of compassion in action gave us the confidence to tell Das to take all necessary steps to discover what needs to be done to treat Vikram.
Your response to our email changed my story. Your response to our email changed the story of these two innocent children’s lives. For that, we are forever grateful.
More than two thousand years ago, one person, fully man and fully God, walked our earth and showed the same kind of compassion that you have. He healed the blind and fed the hungry and gave all the Glory to His Father, asking for nothing in return. He exhibited the perfect love that comes only from the heart of God.
Every day, each and every one of you exhibit that kind of love with your gifts to help the thousands of children we care for in this mission. Those actions are truly something special. Truly something good… and all good comes from God and glorifies Him.
The sun is warm on Mama Topka’s face. She stares off at the horizon, but her eyes are seeing something else. Her lips curl up in a strange little smile. No one knows what she is seeing, or what has made her smile. It’s as if she lives in a world of her own making.
It’s no wonder that she has made a place in her own mind. It’s no wonder, because for years the real world was a place that was uninhabitable for this young lady who lost her parents when she was very young.
As an orphan on her own, she suffered untold abuses for five solid years. The abuses she survived have left scars on her mind, body and soul.
Her hands shake. Her body trembles. She has trouble with her memory. Her ability to learn has been diminished to a 20% capacity.
Tests show abnormal neurological activity that medical experts are attributing to the mental, physical and emotional abuse that she suffered as a young child.
When Mama should have been running, laughing, playing and learning, she was instead suffering at the hands of evil.
Mama Topka’s young life is representative of the worst that can happen to a child who has somehow survived. Her young life is the perfect, sad, example of the very worst of the cycle we are desperately trying to break.
The world is filled with young people like her; boys and girls that have had their innocence ripped away. Boys and girls who have seen and experienced the kind of suffering that most of us just read about. The kind of suffering that you are reading about right now.
A day will come. A day will come when all of this will end. Jesus will return and the suffering of little children will stop. The evil will come to a halt and no child will ever have to go through what Mama and millions like her must endure.
But if you are reading this, that day has not come. It is not on our calendars and is still a mystery. So until then, it’s up to you and I.
There have always been orphans. There will always be orphans. Of that, there is no question and it is not something we can control. We cannot be everywhere at once and we will never eradicate the world of evil and sin. Simply because this is not heaven and we are not God.
But we are His instruments here on earth. We do have the ability to make a difference and that is exactly what He has asked us to do. It might seem impossible when you look around at all that is happening, but we can and will make a difference in this world. You are making a difference in this world!
Mama suffered. Of that there is no doubt. But now she is safe. Now she is loved. Now she has been given a chance that she would have never had otherwise. She lives in a home filled with many other children just like her. They have become her siblings; her family. She has been given God’s Word and instruction. She goes to school. She receives special counseling and medical treatment. She pulls a warm blanket under her chin every night and knows that she is safe. Finally safe and finally loved. You did that.
Without you the home she lives in wouldn’t exist. The dorms would be empty. The school would sit empty. The church building would sit empty. There wouldn’t be children running and laughing and playing. Learning, singing and worshipping. They simply wouldn’t be there.
Instead they would all be on the streets. Struggling just to survive in a place where all odds are against them. Where abuse and neglect, apathy and evil, all conspire to destroy their innocence and steal their hope; their potential.
Each and every one of them represent the hope of tomorrow. The children of this world are the future of this world, for better or for worse. It is up to us to make that future better. If not us, then who?
It isn’t easy to watch the suffering. It isn’t easy to allow yourself that knowledge and have to really sit and think about it. It would be far easier to just let it slip from your mind. Pretend that it doesn’t exist and go about your life. But that is not why we are here.
This really comes down to one thing. Why are we here? Beyond being created to be loved, why are we here? It stands to reason that if He created us to love us, then naturally, we are here to love and be loved. And loving goes beyond the feeling. It’s the doing.
That is the very essence of what you do when you rescue an orphan child. You are loving them. You are showing them His love through your actions. And there are real world consequences because of it. You are not just helping a child or children. You are indeed, changing the world.
These are the children who will change the future, from what would have been, to what will now be. Instead of growing up as their parents did before them, without love, without hope, without an education and without God, they are growing up with ALL of those things.
They are being raised up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They are being taught how to break the cycle that caused them to become an orphan in the first place. And the vast majority of them will do just that. They will grow up to have children of their own. Children that they will raise in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Generationally, the thousands we help now, have the potential to become tens of thousands, then millions. We can have an impact on the future in a far more meaningful way than you could ever imagine.
Yes, there will come a day when all of the sadness will end. There will come a day when the evil that lurks out there will no longer be allowed to exist. That time will come.
Until then…Mama Topka needs us. She needs you and I to stand in the gap and give her a hand up. Her and the thousands of other orphan children we care for every day. Thank you for being there for her. Thank you for being there for all of the children. Until then.
The clock keeps on ticking. Over the course of the past year we have spent another 525,600 minutes of life’s currency. Everything we have said and done over the past year is recorded and documented. It’s written down. It is part of the irretrievable past. So, was it good? Did we spend our currency well?
That might be a difficult question for some to answer honestly. We live in strange times. We live in an era in which it seems so many people have lost their direction; their True North.
Imagine, if you will, that you are amongst a group of people who have hiked into the depths of a deep canyon. Now it’s dark. The sun has slipped behind the canyon walls and the precarious trail you hiked down is impassable without the light of day.
Your guide isn’t worried though. He stands before you with confidence and tells you all that the group has to do is head due North and you will all make it safely out of the canyon. He pulls a compass from his pack. It is a trusty compass with a verified True North that the guide has used many times. It has never failed him. Not once. It is old and scratched and dented, but tried and true. It is good.
But, as the guide seeks to organize the group, there are dissenters. One man points off in a direction and says, “That is North.” Another shakes their head and says, “No, that is North” pointing in another direction. The guide looks at his compass and says, “You are both wrong; according to this compass, that is North” and points in an entirely different direction. People begin to argue, splitting off into three groups. Some stand with the guide, and some with each of the two who claim to know where North is. The guide tries to reason with them, explaining that North is not something you can just choose. It is a real thing. He explains to them that without light, without the sun or the moon, you have to have a compass to guide you. But they won’t listen and he can’t stop them. They have collectively convinced themselves that their North is the True North and the guide shakes his head in sadness as he watches the other two groups head off into the darkness, trusting that their North is the True North. The guide knows they are doomed.
What a ridiculous story, right? No one would be naive enough to just believe that North is just something you can choose, would they? They would. And they do. It is, in fact, the very essence of the era we currently live in. A time in which so many people have laid claim to their own truths; laid claim to their own True North and are defiantly following it to their own eventual demise. Sadly, they are gathering followers by the droves as they walk towards a cliff in the darkness. It is not good.
Throughout the Bible, over and over, we are told the same thing. God is good. It is not a description of an attribute that God has. It is a statement of equivalency. God equals good. Good equals God. Nothing is good that doesn’t come from Him, because it is Him. He is our True North and all absolute truths come from Him. It is not discretionary and it doesn’t change with the times. That is why we can trust in Him. That is why we can have Faith without seeing. He is the compass we can trust to guide us through the darkness.
Yes, the clock keeps ticking. We keep on spending that precious life currency with every breath that we take. The question remains, are we spending it well? Is what we are purchasing with that currency something that is good?
I think about the places that we work and the innocent children that we seek to save in this mission. Places where war, disease and poverty have left millions of children without parents and without hope. Places where so many struggle just to put a meal on the table, to have shelter over their head, to even have a blanket to lay upon. And I find it so sad that so many are unable to see just how blessed we are to live in a country that offers so much in comparison.
I believe that we have these comforts for one reason and one reason only. We have these blessings, these things that are good, only because we are “one nation under God.” As more turn away from Him, all of that is put at risk as history teaches us.
As all good comes from God, all that is not good comes from Satan.
The war and the disease. The poverty. The hopelessness that we find around the world are all the results of sin and evil. Of all that is not good.
That is the battle that we are fighting in this mission. It is much more than just food, clothing and shelter for children. It is much more than just teaching children to read and write. It is quite literally a battle against all that is wrong with our world. It is a battle against all that is evil and we are fighting it with all that is good.
Each and every child born is going to be a part of mankind’s future. Each and every child born will contribute to that future in a good way…or a bad way. They are the hope of a better tomorrow if we give them what they truly need.
Not long after the towers were attacked in New York City and thousands of lives were lost because of the evil in the hearts of a few men, Alan Jackson, the country singer, penned a song about his feelings of September 11th. While the whole song is very touching, one line in particular has always stuck with me. He wrote: “I know Jesus and I talk to God and I remember this from when I was young. Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us, but the greatest is love.”
Of all things God has given us that are good, the greatest is love. He created us to love us. It was because of His love that he sent Jesus to die on the cross. It was because His son’s love for us that Jesus chose to die on the cross when he could have called ten thousand angels instead.
This is what you are giving the orphan children every time you feed them. This is what you are giving them every time you take them off the street and give them shelter and a warm place to sleep. When you give them books and teach them to read; a pencil and teach them to write. When you give them The Word of God and they learn about the hope and promise of eternal life through Jesus. This is what they truly need to be the hope of a better tomorrow.
Yes, time is a precious currency.
Thank you for spending some of it on the children we care for over the past year. Thank you for spending some of it praying for them and this mission. Thank you for spending some of it, sharing your blessings with the orphan children of the world. Thank you for spending some of it winning battles against the evil that creates orphans in the first place.
Thank you for showing the children, everyone around them, and everyone around YOU what is good and where it comes from.
The elderly man made his way to the front of the church building, pushing his walker in front of him. He sat in his usual place. He pulled his Bible from the basket on his walker and settled in as the worship service began with a prayer. He followed along in his head, adding his own bits and pieces here and there, thanking God for all of his blessings. He wasn't a rich man by any means. He had gotten along alright though, blessed with a good job for many years.
He had raised his family. He had sent two kids off to college on scholarships. They were now successful adults and had given him three grandchildren. He had buried his wife of 40 years not so many months in the past and still missed her very much. Her voice still echoed down every hallway of their humble home.
The prayer ended and he opened his eyes and uttered
"Amen" in unison with a number of others scattered around the auditorium. It was then that he noticed the young woman sitting on the same pew as him, but at the other end, near the aisle. He noticed her because she was someone new. A visitor. She had long, black hair and ebony skin. Her eyes were still closed and her hands rested atop a very worn Bible, which in turn sat upon a tattered blanket, carefully folded on her lap.
He watched as her lips uttered a silent amen and her eyes opened. He looked down at the items on her lap and then up again to her face and was surprised to see her lips curled up in a smile below equally smiling eyes that were staring right back at him. She nodded. He nodded, then they both turned their eyes to the front as the song leader informed them of the hymn number he had chosen.
Worship service went as worship service does. As the final prayer ended he felt eyes upon him again and stole a glance in the direction of the young lady. She was indeed looking at him with the same big smile on her face. She gathered her belongings, stood and walked over to his end of the pew and sat sideways facing him, the Bible and blanket against her chest.
"Good morning," he offered back.
She set the blanket and Bible on the pew between them and held out a slender hand.
"I am Noreen. I asked folks in the back on my way in and they said you are Mr. Kenneth Jackson."
He took her hand in a bony grip and gave it a soft shake, nodding his head with a puzzled look on his face.
"That's what my mother called me, among other things. Have we met before?"
"Not actually," she started, looking down at the Bible. "But still, yes in a round about way. I have been looking for you for a few years and finally connected with your son Jerry. On social media. That's where I found him and learned how to find you."
Kenneth felt the look of confusion on his own face.
"I don't understand," he stammered. "Why were you looking for me? Is this in regards to my late wife? Did you know her?"
Noreen shook her head no and replied softly.
"No sir, I never met your wife. I am sorry for your loss. No, I came here to find you and give you something."
Kenneth raised a bushy eyebrow.
"Now I am really confused. What possible reason would you have to look me up young lady? Noreen is it?"
Noreen's laughed softly. She slid the Bible aside, then picked up the blanket.
"Sir, this is why I am here." She held up the blanket, like an offering. "The truth is that this blanket is literally why I am here or anywhere at all. Can I tell you my story?"
Kenneth nodded, intrigued as he was confused.
"Sir, this blanket is more than 20 years old. I take it with me everywhere I go and as you can see, it is getting to be in rough shape. I take it with me everywhere as a reminder. You see, this blanket means many things to me. Represents many things to me. It saved my life a long time ago. When I was a young child I was a refugee in Southern Sudan. I was in a camp with my mother and my sister. My brothers and father were killed in the war there. We had moved from one camp to another and finally stopped near the border to Kenya and were waiting for permission to enter their country. An organization had setup an aid station there and were trying to feed and care for us. There were so many people and just not enough to go around. People were sick. People were dying. The nights were cold and damp and most of us were just sheltering under tarps given to us by the aid organization. After so many cold nights, we had lost a number of people to hypothermia and fever. Then one day a truck showed up. It was filled with blankets, food and other things. My mother, sister and I stood in a very long line. I was 6 years old at the time and my sister was only two. By the time we got to the front of the line, there were few blankets left and they were only handing out one per family at that point. We were given just one blanket, some food and a few other items. I remember the man saying, 'a gift in the name of Jesus', a gift in the name of Jesus.' He just said it over and over as he handed out the supplies."
Noreen handed the tattered blanket to Kenneth. He took it with a puzzled look on his face. Noreen picked up the ragged Bible and continued her story.
"Sir," she said, drawing in a deep breath, "That very night was just so cold and bitterly damp. My mother put the blanket on me and wrapped herself around my sister to keep her warm. When I woke up the next morning it was still dark. My sister was crying. I reached out and felt my mother's arm. It was cold. She had passed in the middle of the night. My sister became very ill and despite the best efforts of the medical staff there, she too passed away less than a week later. From pneumonia. Sir, this blanket saved my life. That night and many nights after that, it kept me warm. Two weeks later, the camp was disbanded. Some went back North. Others had permission to cross into Kenya. I went to Kenya too, but not with the rest, who were going to yet another camp. I was taken by a woman who chose me and two other children to go to her small orphanage in Kenya."
Kenneth's eyes grew wide. A memory was stirring in the back of his mind, but he kept silent and let her continue.
"I took two things with me to the orphanage. This blanket, and this Bible. I couldn't read it right away. The orphanage enrolled me in a local school and it wasn't long before I could read a little. One day I was looking through this Bible and I realized someone had written it”
She opened the Bible and pointed to the inside of the cover.
"Do you remember this? You wrote this many years ago sir.
I have read this and the scripture more times than I can say and those words are why I am here."
Kenneth did remember! He stared at the words written inside the cover of the Bible. They were his words. His handwriting from long past. It said": ''A Gift for you in the name of Jesus. May you find warmth in the blanket and comfort from His Word." Presented by: Kenneth Jackson, Colorado, USA. Proverbs 19:17: Kindness to the poor is a loan to the Lord and He will repay the lender.
"Sir, I read this Bible several times over the years. It came with me when I found a sponsor and came to the U.S. to
go to college. It has truly as you said, been a comfort to me many times. This blanket saved my life. This Bible saved my soul. I am a nurse now. I have decided to go back to Africa.
I will be leaving soon with a mission group from Oklahoma, but I just learned where to find you two weeks ago and didn't want to go until I had a chance to meet you and give you these gifts. As the scripture you wrote down says, the Lord will repay the loan, but I want to give you the same gift you gave me. I hope you will use this blanket to keep you warm at night and know you will find comfort in His Word."
As she handed him the Bible, his tired eyes filled with tears. He remembered it all. The church had learned about the refugees and a number of them had gone to Sudan with suitcases of Bibles. They had purchased the blankets in Kenya. He had bought one Bible and one blanket. He wished desperately now that he had bought at least 3.
They talked for a while longer and then it was time for her to go. She held his frail, old hands in hers and said a prayer for them both, then stood and simply walked away. As Kenneth watched her go, his heart filled with a warmth he had never known. And in that moment, his loan was repaid in full.
This story was based on an email interview. The source claims it to be true.
“A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind.” Albert Szent-Gyorgi
September 25th was my daughter’s birthday. To celebrate, we took a break from work and met her at a local restaurant close to her home and our office.
She brought both of her children. Little Ava, a toddler that looks more and more like her mother every day, and little Isaac who is just 3 months old.
To someone passing by our table, it must have looked like a very typical family. Just a couple pairs of grandparents, two adult children and their cute little kids. They would have heard little Ava jabbering a million miles an hour and her brother bouncing on the knee of a proud grandma, a look of wonder in his dark eyes, a smile struggling against chubby, white cheeks.
But, as is often the case, what is perceived is based upon assumptions that may or may not be true.
The assumptions would be that this family came to be in a traditional fashion. A person could have easily walked by our table, took in the scene at a glance, and justifiably made that assumption. But, they would have been very wrong.
And if they knew the truth, it would perhaps have been a surprising discovery. They would have discovered that Nina was adopted from Russia more than 18 years ago. They would have learned that she was the discovery that lead to the formation of this mission to help the orphans of the world.
Sitting at that table was our collective discovery and two precious, new, little lives that resulted from that discovery. Sitting at that table was the nucleus of a discovery that has changed the lives of thousands of children over the last 18 years. But, most of you already know the story of how it all started and this is not about that…it’s about the discovery and what it means to everyone involved in this mission. What it means to all of us at Orphan’s Lifeline… and what it means to you.
I have no doubt, as I think back, that each and every one of us knew that there were orphans in the world. We knew that there were a lot of them. That wasn’t the discovery. When we were in Russia, we saw the deplorable conditions that the orphans lived in. We saw a level of suffering and neglect that was shocking. But, that wasn’t the discovery.
As we learned more about the statistics regarding orphans, we were shocked that there were tens of millions of them around the world. We learned that respective to the scope and scale of the problem, very little was being done about it. But, that wasn’t the discovery.
It wasn’t the statistics either. Not the fact that less than half of them would survive without intervention. Not the fact that only 1 in 100 would become successful in life without help and the rest of them would resort to crime just to survive. Prostitution. Theft. Gangs. Joining terrorist groups. That wasn’t the discovery.
No, the discovery was none of those things. The discovery was one simple thing. That it was personal.
The fact that it all started because the founders were all a part of our adoption of our daughter Nina is what prepared our minds for the discovery. We knew her. We loved her. We recognized that if we hadn’t found her, she would have BECOME one of those statistics. If we hadn’t found her and come to know her, to love her, she would have simply been a number somewhere in a database. A nameless, faceless number.
The discovery is that it was and is personal. The discovery is that it’s not about the millions. It’s about the one. All you have to do to understand what I mean is to think about your own children. Think about your wife. Your husband. Your favorite neighborhood child. Your grandchildren.
If fate and circumstances had been different, any one of them could have been that one child. Any one of them could have been born into a hopeless situation in which they would be doomed to a life of suffering and loneliness’. A life without love. A life without God or Jesus. Any one of them could have been that one child; and that makes it personal. That thought prepares your mind for a discovery.
That discovery is that the suffering of each and every child is personal to each and every one of us. That discovery helps us understand why it is so obviously important to God that we “come to their aid in their time of need.” For God, each and every one of them are HIS children. His creation. He knows how many hairs are on their head. He loves them in a way we can never understand. To Him, they are all that one child. To Him, they could never be a statistic. They could never be a “problem to be solved. “
They are simply a child that needs to be loved. His child and therein, our child.
Right now, somewhere, that one child sits alone on the cold, hard ground under a tree in the dark. They wrap their arms around themselves trying to just stay warm. Their bellies are empty. Their hearts are empty. They dream not of a fun day to come, but of a simple meal and someone else’s arms, not their own, wrapped around them, comforting them.
Right now, somewhere, that one child is joining a gang in the slums of a city. Their desperation to survive has driven them into a den of thieves who will become their parents. They will teach them how to survive by taking from others. They will teach them how to survive by hurting others. They will teach them that society abandoned them, left them with nothing and that it is society that owes them what they have.
Right now, somewhere, that one child is being born. Born to a mother who cannot care for them. Born to a father who has already abandoned them and other children. Born to a father that has died of AIDS and has also infected their mother. That one child is already alone and doomed to a life of suffering as they take their first breath.
Right now, that one child is outside the gates of our children’s homes around the world. They have heard about this place in the neighborhood that cares for orphan children. They have seen the children inside eating, playing, laughing. They have watched them go to school each morning as they themselves sat nearby, hungry and alone. They have listened to the laughter and wondered what it must be like to have that feeling inside.
That one child will soon get the courage to walk up to the gate and wait. They will wait until they see one of the caregivers or the director and ask them if they too can live there. Then the director will ask us if the child can live there. And we will say yes. We will ask you if you can help, and you will say yes, or you will help us find someone who will say yes.
We will all say yes because of what we have all discovered.
We will all say yes because we have discovered that it’s personal. Very personal. We have discovered that it is not about the millions of orphan children. It’s about that one child.
Cold, black numbers. Lines on a chart. Fractions and percentages. This out of that. We humans use statistics for many things. We use them to prove a point. To disprove a point. To justify action or inaction. Evil men in history have used them to justify attempted genocide on entire races of people.
The reality is that statistics can be very useful. They hold no opinion and exude no emotion. They simply provide a way for mankind to understand the state of things in seemingly simple mathematical terms.
But, the same things that make them so useful, also hide sad and terrible truths in some cases.
As Paul Brodeur put it: “Statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off.”
One category of such statistics is those related to the orphan population of the world. Statistics like 150 million, the estimated number of orphan children in the world. I have actually seen this number in a range from 40 million to 150 million.
It seems that even the statistics have abandoned these children.
There are other figures like 50%. This figure being the estimated statistic related to how many of the orphans will survive without intervention and outside help. Then there is 1 in 100. The statistic that estimates the number of orphan children, out of 100, who will become a productive member of society without outside help.
The single orphan child out of 100 who will not turn to crime just to survive!
Most of the numbers and statistics come from organizations like UNICEF and are derived from a combination of field reporting and numbers given to them by government entities in charge of the welfare of children. Unfortunately, there are many countries that don’t even know how many children they have, let alone how many are orphaned. Thus, the massive difference in the estimates of 40 versus 150 million.
For many, including me, the big numbers are something I can’t really wrap my head around. It’s just so hard to imagine that there are millions of children out there who have no family caring for them. Millions of lives being needlessly lost and going to waste. It seems as though it is too big of a problem to solve and it would be easy to allow myself to feel as though our work is just a drop in the bucket in the overall scope of things.
But, I know it’s not. For one simple reason.
The children we help are not statistics. They are not cold, black numbers on a white background. They are not lines on a chart. They are not millions. They are one life times many millions of lives. Every one of them is a living, breathing, little person. A precious soul and a gift from God. Every one of them has untold potential to be or become something amazing and they deserve the chance to do just that.
They come into this world the same way every one of us has; little hearts beating frantically, lungs breathing air for the first time. They open their eyes to the bright light and start to cry. Already, they are hungry, a sad omen of what’s to come. They are born into a place and time not of their own choosing. Sadly, when born into a culture of poverty, their brand-new life is already in jeopardy.
Just imagine, right now there is a new-born orphan- to-be, lying in their mother’s arms… and the tears she is crying are not tears of joy… because in her heart she knows she can’t care for this new child. She stares down into the child’s eyes and is overwhelmed with feelings. Feelings of love. Feelings of hopelessness. She too is an orphan and she knows all too well what is to come.
She already has three other children from two different fathers and the fathers are gone. She has managed to keep them alive the same way she survived as a child. By stealing. By selling herself. The thought of what she has done just to survive makes her feel hollow inside. Ashamed. The thought that it’s all she knows to teach her children makes it even worse and she suddenly feels desperate; even in this moment that should be so joyful.
She is not a statistic. She is a young woman, barely more than a child herself who has just brought another future orphan into the world. She is one life. The new child is one life.
Look at the picture. These are orphan children from one of our homes. Every one of these children are fed, clothed, educated and loved every day. Every one of them has a Bible and knows Jesus. All, simply because caring people like you, thousands of miles away, chose to act upon their compassion for these children. This is a picture of children who are not just surviving, but thriving. This is a picture of children who will break the cycle of poverty and become loving, caring parents one day. This is a picture of children with a bright future and untold potential.
But without the love of caring people like you, this picture would mean something else altogether.
Look at the beautiful, young girl in color in the center of the picture.
She is the one life.
Without caring people like you, she is the one child that would have survived out of all the other children in this picture. The rest of these beautiful children would not be with us on this earth. The rest of those precious lives would have been lost forever.
Can you imagine standing in front of these children and having to choose? Can you imagine having to choose which one lives, and therein, all who will perish? It would be impossible to do!
God did not intend that these children should perish. Their situation is a direct result of the sins of mankind. He loves each and every one of them and has asked us to care for them. He calls this act of compassion “perfect religion.”
With your help, the picture below is the reality for the children in this home in India.
Without you… it’s the first picture.
Without you, there would be only one…the loneliest number.
A piece of chalk, a bit of thread, a handful of seeds, a night time prayer and a hug... it’s the little things.
One elderly man sits on the porch in a rickety old chair and stares out into the blackness of a moonless, summer night. Stars twinkle in the infinite distance and he fixates on one for no particular reason.
He can hear his own heart beating and is more than a little amazed at its faithfulness. His stomach grumbles and he lets out a deep sigh. He has forgotten to eat again.
It is an occurrence that is more common than it should be. This day, like many before it, was a day he spent alone. The house behind him is filled with many things, but with him outside, it’s void of life.
There’s a mantle in the house behind him. It sits empty. The walls throughout the house echo the same sad fact as the mantle. He is as utterly alone in his memories as he is on this summer night.
It’s times like this that he regrets not ever getting married; not having any children. It’s times like this when the loneliness is nearly overwhelming. It’s why he forgets to eat.
He was raised by a cynical and single uncle after his parents died in a fiery crash when he was only five years old. His uncle had taught him how to work hard. Taught him how to save. Taught him not to trust. Taught him to put himself first. Climb the ladder and climb it fast, regardless of whose fingers you step on in the process. And it had worked. He had become very successful at a very young age. He had many things and a very large retirement portfolio. But now he is alone with his many things.
He pushes himself to his feet and turns toward the house. Time to make something to eat. At least its something to do. It’s the little things.
Across the street another man in his latter years looks out the window as he walks on a treadmill. He shakes his head as he watches his neighbor get up and go into his house. He has been watching him for some time and is filled with a mix of thankfulness and regret. Thankfulness that he is not alone like his neighbor. Regret that he has been unable to figure out a way to help the bitter, old man.
Behind him he hears the clatter of dishes and his mouth waters as the smell of dinner cooking fills the room. It’s been a busy day and they are eating late. Tomorrow he will walk a 5K with his granddaughter and then there will be a barbecue at his son’s home.
His eyes move from the neighbor’s porch to the desk in front of the window and refocus on the display of family photos there. He scans them from left to right and smiles at the memories that are reflected behind the glass of each photo. There are weddings. New babies. Camping trips and vacations. The 69 Camaro he helped his son build. His daughter’s graduation.
He hears his wife call out that dinner’s ready and smiles at the familiar sound. It’s the little things. He looks once again across the street. He sees a light come on in the kitchen there and imagines his neighbor opening a can of cold peaches in an empty and quiet kitchen. His eyes moisten with tears of compassion and he ponders asking the lonely, old man to join them for dinner. Not that he would say “yes” this time when he has said “no” so many times before, but it might be worth a try.
He pushes the power button on the treadmill and wipes sweat from his forehead with a towel as he thinks about all the times he has tried to befriend his neighbor. He has known him for many years and knew his uncle as well when he was growing up. He thinks about his own family and the one that isn’t there across the street. The one that has never been there across the street. Yep, his uncle fed him and gave him a place to live. He taught him many things, but he didn’t teach him how to love. He didn’t teach him to appreciate what really matters in life. Didn’t teach him about balance. It’s the little things that all add up to a happy life. The sum total of it all. It’s the little things.
Thousands of miles away in a humble dormitory in Liberia, Peterson Lamie lies in his bunk and thinks about his fish. The other boys in the room are already asleep and he can hear their soft snores. He should be asleep too, but he has a lot on his mind. Peterson is the designated manager of the fish ponds and he takes his responsibility seriously. There have been times when things haven’t gone well, but all in all the ponds are success. He feels a sense of pride and accomplishment for doing his part to make the lives of his stitched together family a little better. He prays silently in the still, night air and thanks God for the roof over his head; for the love of the Director and the caregivers, for the sponsors thousands of miles away. He thanks God for his food, for his home, for his Bible and school. He thanks God for all the little things that make his life whole because he knows what might have been.
Peterson’s father died just shortly before he was born. His mother struggled to care for him and the both of them suffered from hunger and illness. He knows that without Safe Home, his chances of survival would have been greatly diminished. Beyond that, he would have never had an education. He would have never been given the opportunity to learn about God. Certainly, he would have never learned how to grow gardens, raise pigs and chickens, and yes, even how to build and manage a fish pond. Perhaps he would have found a way to survive, but he would have never thrived.
On this same night, there are children in Uganda who go to bed and dream about the gardens they are growing. There are children who go to sleep smiling because they learned how to make chalk, how to sew, how to bake, how to repair shoes and make clothing. In India, a young girl dreams about solar energy and how it could help her energy-starved country. In Russia children rest from a hot day of caring for the animals they raise, animals that will not only feed them, but the poor in the local community.
Each of us is born with a mind, a body and a soul. All three elements are inseparable in life and together are what makes us a whole person. If any single element is suffering, we are not in balance. We are not whole persons.
What you are giving these children with your gifts of love is a gift beyond measure. These are children whose whole being suffered, mind, body and soul. You are not just helping them survive. You are helping them to thrive.
In return, they give you one more reason to smile as you go to sleep tonight. They give you one more reason to thank God for the blessings in your life. Things tend to come full circle and as they do, the orphan children we are caring for become some of “the little things” that make our own lives complete.
I woke up at 2:30 am yesterday to catch a very early morning flight from Sioux Falls, South Dakota back to Kalispell, Montana.
I watched the sun rise at 32,000 feet. Splashes of red and pink, gold and bronze, diffused in the clouds on the horizon where the sun still lay hidden beyond the curve of our planet. It struck me at that moment how we just take for granted that the sun will rise each day as it has for so long now. We take it for granted simply because it has always been there. Since the beginning of it all. We count on it for our very survival and without it, we simply wouldn’t exist.
We should be thanking God for it every day.
There were 3 of us from Orphan’s Lifeline in the sky that morning. We had just spent a couple of days with an amazing group of people from the 41st Street Church of Christ. This is a group of people who have supported the work of Orphan’s Lifeline for 15 years now. That’s just three years less than we have been in existence.
They had invited us to come visit and we gladly accepted the invitation. We really saw this as an opportunity to thank this wonderful group of people for all that they have done to make this mission to save orphan children even possible. We went there to show them what they have helped us accomplish over all of these years. We went there to put faces to names; to shake hands and establish a more personal relationship with these people who have been so faithful with their love for the orphan children that we care for every day. We went there to honor them for all they do to help the children and glorify God.
But, while we hope we did accomplish that, apparently, they had something else in mind. Simply put, they turned the tables on us.
From the moment we arrived, we were treated as honored guests. We were fed wonderful meals and engaged in thoughtful conversation. We were prayed for. We were treated like family. But, what struck me most, simply because it was an effective turning of the tables, is that they were constantly thanking US for our part and minimizing THEIR part in this mission. More than one individual said, “our part is easy, we just write a check.”
I get it. It might seem like all of you have the easy part in writing a check or putting your credit card numbers in the space provided. And I am not saying that our part is easy. It’s not. It’s not easy to monitor the well-being of all of the children we care for. It’s not easy to implement and track the programs that give these children everything they need to thrive. It’s not easy to track every dollar spent for every good or service purchased to be sure that your money is spent wisely. It’s not a simple task to gather and organize all the information so we can report back to you about all that is being accomplished. It’s not easy to ask for your help to make it all happen. But, while the act of writing a check or providing credit card info might be a simple task, it’s a monumental and selfless act that we will never take for granted.
I want to ask you to do something right now.
You might have been wondering about the image at the beginning of this article. The empty frame and the blank space within it’s borders.
They say “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Do you see it? Do you see what this picture is saying? This picture says it all and if I hadn’t typed a single word on this page beyond a simple description of the picture, it would have been sufficient to say all that I am striving to say.
This is a picture of all of the children who would have been saved without your help.
This is a picture of every child whose life would have been saved. Every child who would have been taken off the street and given a loving home. Every child who would have been fed, clothed, loved and cared for all these years. Every child who would have been educated and given God’s Word and a chance to know Jesus and have the hope of salvation.
This is a picture of all of them.
When we rise in the morning to start our day, it all seems so simple. Our eyes open, sometimes not all that easily, but they do open. Light enters in through our pupils and stimulates our mind to awaken from the sleep we have been in. The subconscious mind is no longer in control as it has been through the night, automating our life-rhythms, healing our bodies and minds.
The earth awakens. The sun rises. It begins to warm the earth. It shines down it’s life-giving rays and all of life responds as plants are fed, water becomes clouds and another day begins in an incredible partnership between all things living and not living. It is a cohesive and interdependent partnership with many elements all depending on one another for it all to work. Every element is equally important, regardless of it’s size or obvious contribution.
If any element fails to do its job, the whole is affected.
This is our partnership with all of you.
You know, we live in a time in which the news and social media are filled with anger and hatred. We live in a time in which Christianity is being marginalized and even demonized. We live in a time in which the headlines of the day are the rhetoric of the day and are motivated by selfish desires for power which in turn is perceived to be the tool by which one sector of society might be able to impose their will upon another.
I feel sad for everyone who chooses to contribute or give power to that evil. For that is what it truly is. They are missing out on what life is really about. They are missing out on what truly gives joy to the heart and the true purpose to this life.
We are told to “Let all that you do be done in love.” Such a simple statement, but it is the answer to every problem we face in this life. It is exactly what Jesus did throughout His time on earth. It is exactly what God did when He sent Jesus to earth.
It is exactly what you are doing when you give some of what you have to help the innocent orphan children of the world. You are a critical component in a partnership that God put together. He is in charge of it as He is in charge of all things good. It is His will that they should not suffer. Never forget how important each and everyone of you is in this partnership to save God’s innocent children.
Remember the picture frame every time you give to help these children.