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Are you an adoptive or foster family looking for parenting insight? Join us for a special two-day event designed to offer tools and help specifically for you!

The Empowered to Connect Conference on Febraury 13 & 14 at Calvery Chapel Costa Mesa is designed for foster and adoptive families, ministry leaders and professionals who want to deepen their understanding of how to connect with at-risk youth and children from hard places. 

Using trust-based parenting and proven techniques developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis, the conference will equip, empower and encourage you with tips, tools, and knowledge.

Early bird registration ends Friday – so sign up soon at showhope.org/connect! And be sure to use code FOCUSGUEST for 50% off!  


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Humans are built with a natural longing for interaction. A couple shares about their individual days at work, a teenage girl cries about a breakup as her friend comforts her, and a group of men share about their recent shots in a golf game. In the same way, children are in dire need of response from the moment they are born. But what happens when this need is not met? What occurs in the brain when expression is met with empty stares and immobile response? Although it is easy to overlook the problem of neglect, it is important to be aware of the gravity of children who are not receiving sufficient attention, because the foundation of healthy societies is built upon the proper development of interaction between children and caregivers. In  recent research from Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, psychologists study the cause and effects of this issue.

The problem of severe neglect is associated with abnormalities in the structure and functioning of the developing brain. This can start as early as infancy. During the first stages of childhood, there is a refining of the brain’s neural circuits that are being formed. While in this stage of life, the process of “serve and return” is essential. This is the concept that children naturally interact through facial expressions, cooing, and gestures, then the caretaker responds with similar expressions and gestures. If a caretaker fails to respond, the formation of the child’s brain may be interrupted, which can cause future damage in learning, conduct, and health.

Even more disheartening is the growing population of children inhabiting institutional settings. These often crowded children’s homes foster a sort of “assembly-line” system of caretaking. Children are looked after by shifts of caregivers, never being able to establish reliable connections, and only participating in minimal serve and return interaction. Even though they may be receiving sufficient basic living needs (such as food, shelter, and health care), they are robbed of the basic psychosocial communication that encourages healthy brain stimulation.

In tests of electrical activity in the brain, children from institutional homes, along with those with histories of neglect, show a lack of ability to react properly to stimulation, such as recognizing different facial emotions. Not only is the area of the brain that identifies emotion stunted, but the prefrontal cortex, which regulates roles such as planning, observation, problem solving, and behavior, has been noted to function on a lower level than those without a history of neglect.

Furthermore, the systems in a person that assist in handling stress and anxiety may be severely damaged as well. For example, in a typical healthy child, the stress hormone, cortisol, shows high levels of activation in the morning, acting as a boost for the body to function during the day. As night approaches, it gradually decreases. But in neglected or institutionalized children, this hormone displays low levels in the morning and continues a flat pattern throughout the day. In the long run, this lack of cortisol regulation has been seen to permanently damage the construction of the brain, causing hearth rhythm inconsistencies, depression, and anxiety.

So how can this problem be alleviated? Ultimately, a nurturing family system where relational connection can happen is imperative. Every child’s recovery depends upon the severity of the negligence and timing of rescue. The immediate shift of moving a child from a negligent home to an encouraging one is important, but the process of healing requires long-term and consistent relational support. Even after being removed from an unhealthy situation, a child is still prone to lack of recovery if they are not surrounded by relationships where they can build attachment.

The Orphan Care Initiative seeks to help every child remain in family, reunite with family or regain a family of their own, by equipping the local church to act as a key support. In Rwanda, we are mobilizing churches to get children out of orphanages and into families, as the country works towards the goal of zero children living in orphanages.

Read some of the incredible stories of how  children in Rwanda are leaving the orphanages for families of their own. Learn how you can sponsor a family in Rwanda to have the extra boost needed to adopt a child out of the orphanage  here.

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Ten years ago in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, an unspeakable tragedy left a young unmarried girl, Joselyn, pregnant with a baby boy. She felt ashamed and broken.

Shortly after she gave birth, Joselyn’s aunt took the newborn and sent him to an orphanage hidden in the mountains miles from Joselyn’s home. Her aunt told Joselyn if she tried to find her son she would be arrested for abandonment.

Last month, diligent orphan care volunteers from local churches near the orphanage began to unravel now ten-year-old Eric’s history. The story slowly unfolded. They found out this child living without hope of a family actually had a mother. When Joselyn learned that her Eric was waiting—parentless—she found new hope that she could reunite with her son once again.

The orphan care volunteers talked Joselyn through the potential challenges of raising her son. Undeterred, she made the bold decision to bring him home. In the course of their conversations and parenting training, the volunteers asked Joselyn if she knew about Jesus, how He cared for her, how He had come to redeem her pain and make her whole. Joselyn accepted Christ that day in her home. She realized that her current accommodations—a small house doubling as the community bar—was no place for a child, and she chose to move down the street to a humble mud home, one with an extra room for Eric.

Local church members paid Joselyn’s way to make the grueling six-hour bus ride to the orphanage where she and Eric were finally reunited. Tears rolled down their faces as they embraced each other at last. As Joselyn dried her son’s eyes using her traditional Rwandan skirt she spoke to him with the soothing, tender words Eric had waited so long to hear, “ I love you. I can’t wait to care for you. I can’t wait to hold you.”

Mother and son are now back home in Kigali, adjusting to their new lives as a family. Through the generosity of sponsorship donors, Joselyn has the means to provide a better home and a smooth transition for her son. Eric will receive love from his own mother who can now provide medical insurance, school fees and the home he never knew.  He will hear and experience the love of Jesus in the arms of his mother, with a family of his own.

This month, members of the local Rwandan church have decided to take a local PEACE trip to fix up Joselyn’s home, making it more suitable for their little family. They plan to paint the walls and add windows to the small rooms. Through the love, care and provision of Saddleback sponsors and members of the local church in Rwanda, Joselyn’s painful experiences have been redeemed through their miraculous reunion, and a little boy’s future is forever transformed.

You can help children leave the orphanage! If you are interested in helping families like Joselyn and Eric reunite, visit saddleback.com/sponsorship for more information.

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Laurence is a 17-year-old girl living with HIV in Rwanda. Lawrence’s parents died when she was just two years old, and she was sent to live in the orphanage. For fifteen lonely years, Laurence didn’t have access to the care she needed, and at times the painful skin condition she developed from her disease kept her out of school and isolated from other children in the orphanage.

Laurence lived depressed and without hope. Because of her age and her HIV status, the orphanage claimed she was unadoptable—that no one would want her. Laurence couldn’t see an end to her loneliness.

However, that is not how Laurence’s story ends. Five hours away from the orphanage, a woman named Kabibi also lives with HIV. Kabibi lost two children in the genocide, and though she heard God whisper that she would one day have a family again, but without a husband she couldn’t see how that was possible. She asked God, “Will you make me laugh like Sarah?”

Through the Global HIV&AIDS Initiative and the Rwanda Orphan Care Initiative, Kabibi learned about Laurence, one of the last children left in the orphanage, and her heart broke. Kabibi knew God had redeemed her pain so she could redeem others, and she decided, no matter the opposition, she could be a mother to Laurence.

As they met for the first time, Kabibi embraced her new daughter. Tears streamed down both their faces as Kabibi told Laurence, “I’m going to be your mother.”

Laurence saw that after years of living without a family, she could finally have a home with a mother who loved her deeply. She decided to go with Kabibi.

With the help of the local church and Saddleback sponsorship, Kabibi has been able to  adopt Laurence. Just a few days ago, Kibibi went to the orphanage to get Laurence. At last, Laurence left the orphanage and came home to a family of her own – to a mom who will love her and make sure she gets the HIV care she needs.

Half of the children who lived in orphanages in Rwanda when we began two years ago now have a family of their own. Together as a church, we can reach the goal of zero children living in orphanages in Rwanda.

Did you know you can sponsor a Rwandan family who is willing to adopt a child like Laurence? 

For just $38 a month you can bring a child out of an orphanage. Please visit www.saddleback.com/sponsorship for more information.

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Grace’s 11th birthday party looked the same as any eleven-year-old’s from the outside—children ran around her house in superhero costumes, eating cake and ice cream and playing games—but this eleven-year-old’s birthday party was different. Instead of asking for toys and clothes, Grace asked her guests to give to support orphans in Rwanda waiting to be adopted.

Grace attended Saddleback’s PEACE night, and visited the Orphan Care breakout session. There she saw pictures of little Rwandan faces, desire and longing in their eyes, and Grace’s heart filled with love and compassion for children her age half a world away.

She felt called to do something for them, and decided to be creative. After some thought, her mom suggested donating money from her birthday party rather than asking for toys like she normally would.

 “I was just proud of her,” said Grace’s mother. “We live in Orange County, and everyone has so much, so we thought it was a better thing to do than get a toy. I felt like we were blessed to be involved.”

Grace’s friends were very supportive of the idea, excited to be part of something bigger than themselves. Through her party, Grace raised $650, enough to support an adoptive family in Rwanda for over a year.

Grace shared, “Now one of my friends wants to do it too.” Grace’s mother said, “Maybe it will spread the idea around. God works in your heart, and maybe he works through you to reach other’s hearts.”

One of Saddleback’s mottos is “Every member on mission.” Grace is just one example of a believer living her life on mission – using her influence to impact the world and God’s kingdom. After feeling God’s call, she did what she could to follow him faithfully, and He multiplied her efforts more than she could have imagined!

Many people feel overwhelmed at the idea of tackling the orphan care crisis, but as Grace shows, everyone can make an impact. Together, through each of us playing the part God calls us to play, we can end the orphan care crisis by helping children remain in family, reunite with family, or regain a family of their own through adoption.

If you’re interested in helping a family in Rwanda adopt a child from the orphanage, please visit saddleback.com/sponsorship.

For other ideas of how you can get involved, join the Orphan Care Initiative breakout at PEACE night on November 22 at 6pm in Tent 3 on the Lake Forest Saddleback Campus!

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