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Last week People magazine chose to feature Paul Pennington – an adoptive father, friend of Saddleback, and co-founder of Hope for Orphans – and shared the inspiring story of how the Pennington family is working to help orphans around the world find families of their own by equipping the local church.

Paul says of Saddleback Church and the Orphan Care Initiative, “Thank you and your team for all the many ways you guys have supported and inspired us… Thanks so much for your friendship.”

Read the Penningtons’ story below (reposted from People Magazine)

 

Paul and Robin Pennington Have Helped Thousands of Orphans Find Homes

By Annie Lang

Paul and Robin Pennington believe all orphaned children should have a chance at finding families – and they've spent much of their lives working toward that end.

The couple, of Driftwood, Texas, have spent 35 years growing their family of six with children adopted internationally, and it's a tradition they've passed on to their next generation, as well as to other families throughout the country.

"It was never intentional to go out and adopt a child who would make our family diverse," Robin, 53, says. "It was always just a case of, 'What child needs a family?' "

Since founding Hope for Orphans in 2001, a nonprofit with a mission to educate churches on how their congregations can adopt orphans around the world (with the goal of finding homes for orphans through adoption and foster care), the Penningtons have helped thousands of kids find homes.

"These children," says Paul, 58, "might include kids who are older, sibling groups, kids with medical issues, kids from abuse, kids with fetal alcohol syndrome and other brain-related issues. Also, kids from disrupted adoptions, or those with PTSD."

The Penningtons have firsthand experience with special-needs orphans with several of their own five adopted children (they have one biological child) and 11 grandchildren.

Along with their biological firstborn, Elizabeth, 32, their family includes Seth, 27, who was adopted in the U.S. and diagnosed with Graves Disease at age 10; Hope, 19, who was adopted in South Korea and was born with five heart defects, requiring numerous surgeries; and Noah, 17, who also was adopted in South Korea with very short arms and a heart defect that has since been corrected. The remaining siblings are Kit, 29, adopted in the U.S.; and Ethan, 19, adopted in South Korea.

"Paul and Robin are incredible,” says Joshua Zhong, president of Chinese Children Adoption International, whose organization has worked with the Penningtons for a decade. "They’re somewhat unique compared with other adoption advocates, because they’re adoptive parents themselves, so they have a much more sensitive heart. They’ve had their own personal journey, including both failures and successes."

All of the Pennington children are either thriving in school or in the working world.

"When we adopted Kit and Seth, we were adopting in order to have a family," says Paul. "But with the next three, we were adopting in order to give a child a family. Increasingly, we're seeing that sentiment all around the world, people adopting to give children families, and infertility often has nothing to do with it. That's a major change."

Ethan was the Penningtons' first international adoption, when the boy was 3½ months old. When Paul flew to Seoul to pick up Ethan and toured the orphanage wards housing children with special needs and medical conditions, who were likely never going to be adopted, he realized he needed to do more to educate people about adopting.

"Those were kids with congenital defects, terminal illnesses and the like," he says. "That’s when the idea for Hope for Orphans began."

Carrying on a Family Legacy

Today, Paul and Robin's grown children are carrying on the family legacy: Elizabeth, who works for Generations, a nonprofit adoption agency in Waco, Texas, and her husband Mathew Golic have six kids, including Victoria, 16, adopted in Ukraine; and Alise, 14, adopted in China. Their four biological offspring are Jack, 11, who has had three open-heart surgeries; Henry, 10; May, 6; and Emmeline, 5, who has had surgery to correct a heart defect. (The Golics’ son Benjamin, who was adopted in South Korea, died in 2011 at age six of complications from a heart defect.)

Kit, who lives near Dallas and is married to Kelly Taylor, adopted the family’s first child (Oliver, now 9) from Eastern Europe at 14 months old while she was pregnant with another son, Stuart, now 8. The couple’s remaining children are all biological, including George, 6; Charley, 4; and Eloise, 2. But Kit (who is newly pregnant with child number six) says she and Kelly haven't ruled out adopting again someday.

"What inspired me to adopt in general were my younger siblings," Kit says. "The experience changed my life. It taught me how to love someone other than myself, how to nurture and protect."

Paul and Robin say they're proud that their oldest daughters have adopted internationally and are helping to get out the message that more families are needed to take in orphans – particularly those who might be hard to place – from many countries.

"When a child goes into an adoptive home that is prepared for that child's needs, the reward is seeing that child become someone different right before your eyes," says Robin. "You see what love can do."

 

To learn how you can make a difference globally or locally in the life of an orphan, please email orphans@saddleback.com.

 

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Are you considering foster care or adoption, but aren’t sure of your next steps?

The Orphan Care Initiative is here to support you! Every month we host a monthly seminar called “Thinking About Adoption or Foster Care” designed to answer your questions and provide helpful overviews and next steps in a no-pressure environment. Learn more and register for the next class on Feb. 5th here: http://saddleback.com/events/eventdetails.aspx?id=69212

 

Watch and read (below) Amber and Dave’s story - how the journey of foster care and adoption brought two beautiful daughters to their family:

 

 The moment Amber Healy laid her eyes on her foster daughter Summer, it was love at first sight. She and her husband David had two sons and had been longing to grow their family. Amber had no idea that she would soon learn how love would transform her family in ways she never imagined.

 Amber and David’s desire for another child led her to speak with a friend who was a social worker about the idea of becoming foster parents. She liked the idea of being able to provide a safe and loving home for a child who was in need of care. Armed with the information and support provided by the Orphan Care Initiative, Amber and her husband signed up to be foster parents through the county and eagerly awaited news about when they would have a child placed with their family. When the moment they had been waiting for finally arrived, they were filled with excitement about adding another child to their family—even if it was temporary. The next day, Amber and David picked up their foster daughter, Summer. “When the social worker walked in with Summer, I remember being love struck and thinking to myself, ‘she is mine’,” Amber recalls.

 The months that followed would be a ride on an emotional rollercoaster. Most days were filled with joy as Summer began to find a secure place in the Healys’ hearts and family. They loved her as their own daughter and sister. The transition period was tough, and the couple’s small group wrapped around the family providing meals and rearranging schedules to have Bible study at the Healys’ house so that Summer would have the stability of going to sleep in her own bed at the same time every night.

 Amber understood that the emotional involvement involved with foster care is a two-sided coin. Over the months, she enjoyed being able to love, hold, and bond with Summer. However, she also learned that no matter how strong you are, the love you have for your foster child may not always be enough to prevent you from breaking down during the difficult times. She knew that deep in her heart, God was calling her to raise this child for however long was needed, and He was giving her the strength to endure the emotional difficulties she faced. The day finally came when the Healys learned that the court decided that Summer's biological parents were unable to care for her, making Summer eligible for adoption. They were filled with gratitude, relief, and joy that they could finally adopt Summer and legally make her their daughter.

 When Summer grew a little older and the Healys felt like she was ready to not be the youngest in the house, they made the decision to adopt again. This time, Amber and David explored international adoption and decided to adopt a child from Rwanda. But six months into the process, Rwanda closed it’s doors to adoption from outside of the country, and devastation set in for Amber. She compares the heartbreak, loss, and grief she experienced equal to that of a miscarriage.

 Now back at square one, Amber found herself discouraged and uncertain  in how to go forward. She laughs as she recalls the irony in having already completed the foster-adoption process once, yet having no idea how to start the adoption process from scratch. Amber was not comfortable with private adoptions. In her quiet time with God, she told Him that she didn’t want to adopt privately or adopt a young baby or infant. But God had a different plan and directed her steps onto a course she wasn’t expecting to take.

For three weeks straight, Amber stayed up nightly till 2:00 a.m. researching how to adopt. She sought advice from the Orphan Care Initiative that helped her explore all her options. One day while speaking to a Christian adoption service, she overheard a conversation between a facilitator and a woman who was expressing her desire to not be treated like an incubator or commodity and was contemplating abortion.

 Amber was overwhelmed by the depth of genuine care and love the facilitator had for the distraught woman on the other end of the phone. At that moment, she felt God calming her fears and giving her peace about adopting privately. As she stepped out in faith and bravely opened her heart to a process that had recently led to great pain, God miraculously orchestrated the private adoption of a baby within a matter of months.

 The Healy’s adopted from a 38 year-old-mother who lived in another state. The woman did not want her family at home to know she was pregnant, so she spent the last months of her pregnancy with the Healys. Amber recounts how she continued to learn the depths of what God means when He says “love never fails” by walking straight into this birthmother’s world of pain and loss. She remembers sobbing in a hotel room with the woman as she explained how she couldn’t get the money to abort her child and how she had wanted the adoptive family to be African American. In the midst of all this sadness, Amber was able to share that this was not what she had originally wanted either, but that God had a better plan than what they both wanted to choose for themselves. In the end, it was not a difficult decision for either of them, but rather an incredible gift that God had placed right in front of them. 

 In the short amount of time they spent together, the Healys grew to know and love this birth mom. Their children would hold her hand and walk and talk with her, and they even spent a day with her at the aquarium. When their daughter Ellie was born, Amber said the most difficult things she had to do were to take baby Ellie and say goodbye to the woman she had chosen to love.

Ellie was given the middle name “Love” as a symbol and reminder that this special little girl had come from a place and person full of love. The Healys will be forever grateful to Ellie’s birth mom for her heroic, loving, and giving act of selflessness that gave them the gift of their daughter.

 

If you have any additional questions about adoption or foster care, please email us at orphans@saddleback.com or call Orphan Care at 949-609-8555.

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Children In Families First, a bipartisan bill that would prioritize family as a key element of U.S. foreign policy and help streamline international adoptions, has been gaining momentum in Washington. As of last week, with the addition of Representative Michael Conaway (R-TX), CHIFF has 50 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle in the House and the Senate.

There is still a long battle ahead for this important piece of legislation – visit the CHIFF page to learn how you can get involved (http://bit.ly/17jO0OL) and like their Facebook page to keep up with all the updates (https://www.facebook.com/childreninfamiliesfirst).

 

You can learn more in this recent Associate Press article about CHIFF:

Spurring foreign adoptions is goal of bipartisan bill in Congress

By David Crary

Amid partisan conflict in Congress, dozens of lawmakers from both parties — including staunch liberals and conservatives — have united behind a bill that supporters say addresses a heart-rending issue beyond politics: the millions of foreign children languishing in orphanages or otherwise at risk because they have no immediate family.

The bill would encourage more adoptions of foreign orphans, which have declined steadily in recent years, and reflects impatience with current policies overseen by the State Department.

"Every child needs and deserves to grow up in a family," says the bill's chief advocate, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. "While our foreign policy has done much to keep children alive and healthy, it has not prioritized this basic human right."

Titled the Children in Families First Act, the measure has been introduced in slightly different forms in both the Senate and House. Its co-sponsors range from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a hero of the Democratic left, to Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a favorite of tea party conservatives.

…read the rest of the article here.

As the National Day of Awareness for Human Trafficking approaches on January 11th, we recognize that the threat of trafficking is never far for children who are orphaned or vulnerable. Without the stability and protection of family, these children are particularly susceptible to exploitation. It is estimated that 50% of trafficking victims are children. 5.5 million children have been forced into child labor or sex trafficking worldwide.

We also recoginze that the global tragedy is taking place right in our backyard. Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states in the U.S. Last year, 160 male, female, and minor trafficking victims were reported here in Orange County. 75% of those victims were sex-trafficked and 20% were labor-trafficked. 36% of the sex trafficked victims were minors.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Join us on January 11th for the annual Human Trafficking Symposium, hosted by Saddleback Church’s Justice and Trafficking Initiative, to learn how you can make a difference locally and globally. The Symposium will feature several keynote speakers, including Elizabeth Styffe, Global Director of the Orphan Care and HIV&AIDS Initiatives at Saddleback Church.

The Human Trafficking Symposium will be held on January 11th from 8:30am-12:30pm in the Refinery building on the Lake Forest campus of Saddleback Church.

 

If you would like more information or would like to volunteer at the event at the Orphan Care table, please email orphans@saddleback.com.

December 1st represented the 25th year of World AIDS Day, a day recognized worldwide and dedicated to raising awareness for those struggling with HIV and AIDS. Each year, Saddleback Church members come together on World AIDS day to raise awareness, to support those living with HIV, and to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS. It is also a day to focus on those impacted by HIV&AIDS, including the over 17.3 million children orphaned by AIDS worldwide.

This year’s World AIDS Day theme was “Getting to Zero” – representing Saddleback’s commitment to the global goals of getting to zero in several key areas:

·       Zero new HIV infections

·       Zero children born HIV positive

·       Zero AIDS related deaths

·       Zero stigma related to HIV & AIDS

In additional to these international goals, Saddleback has adopted our own goal related to the cause of orphans. The issues of HIV and orphans are inextricably linked – in Africa alone there are over 14 million children orphaned by AIDS, and children who grow up as orphans are at much higher risk for HIV. Saddleback is coming alongside the Rwandan government in their goal to close all their orphanages and place those children into families. We hope to reach the goal of zero children in Rwandan orphanages by 2014.

Saddleback’s Arts Initiative Ex Creatis chose to highlight the “Getting to Zero” themes on World AIDS Day weekend at Saddleback with a visual art piece, emphasizing these ways that one person can make in the fight against AIDS and “getting to zero.” They used sculpture as the medium to involve the church at the Lake Forest campus.

“We made a huge, colorful installation of about 5,000 balloons. We started with red, and, by the end of Sunday night, we’d turned all the balloons to white,” says Jason Leith, Director of Ex Creatis. “We wanted people to be a part of the day in a very symbolic way, and to turn something they’re consuming into something they’re participating in. We wanted to activate every part of a person.”

Throughout the weekend, participants popped red balloons and replaced them with white balloons on the patio of Saddleback’s main campus. The artists hoped to symbolize replacing hopelessness and loneliness with the hope of reaching the getting to zero goals and helping over 3,000 Rwandan orphans find families.

“Families and strangers were constantly around the piece and experienced church in a completely different way,” said Jason. “Our goal was to show them that there is a huge power behind lots of individuals coming together and working toward the same goal, to help them know they are a part of the movement.”

It’s not too late to make a real impact is in reaching the goal of zero children in Rwandan orphanages. Through the Saddleback Orphan Sponsorship program, sponsors can help a family in Rwanda take in an orphan from the orphanage so that they are a son or daughter and not an orphan anymore. Sponsorship helps an orphan find a family of their own, as well as provides for school and medical fees. Become a sponsor today at www.saddleback.com/sponsorship.

While World AIDS Day may be over, Saddleback remains committed to all the getting to zero goals. To learn more about what you can do or how to get involved, please visit http://hivaidsinitiative.com/gettingtozero/.

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