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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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When ten-year-old Gideon was born in Western Rwanda, his mother was overwhelmed with the thought of caring for a child. Physically disabled without the full use of her legs, she used crutches to walk on the hilly dirt roads and could find shelter only with her brother and sister-in-law who advised her to place her son in an orphanage nearby.

Since that time, Gideon lived in the orphanage, working daily on the hillside growing produce to fill the orphanage’s coffers. He labored without the affirmation and love of a mother and father to help him through the day. Gideon had food. He had a bed. He had a place to live. But it wasn’t home.

Recently the Rwanda Purpose Driven/PEACE Orphan Care Initiative began teaching the local churches about the effects of orphanages on children. Church members learned that life without the one-on-one care and attention of a parent takes a serious toll on children’s’ mental, physical and psychological development. Once they heard that families were God’s best design for children, the churches near the orphanage resolved, “If the orphanage is this bad, we must get the children out quickly.” They committed themselves to finding loving families for all the children in the orphanage, including Gideon, as soon as possible.

 

Volunteers from the local church tracked down the story of each child and invited their relatives to the orphanage to meet their children again and receive parenting training and support. The church members used the training received from the Rwanda Purpose Drive/PEACE Orphan Care Initiative and taught the parents about the children’s situation in the orphanage, God’s Heart for the orphan and were presented an opportunity to reunite. Gideon’s mother was one of the family members in attendance.


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Her heart broke for her son as she sat there, yet she felt helpless to change his situation. She raised her hand to state her fears, “I understand the orphanage is bad, and I don’t want my son to be here, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t have another choice. I cannot take him to the place where I am staying- it is too small and the people who are kindly accommodating me won’t allow my son.  Is there anyone who can help me find a different living situation- where I will have room for my son? I am in a training program for the disabled. I have a good job and can care for my son if I just have a little help in finding a new place to live. I’d like my son to leave this orphanage today, but I can’t take him home with me today.”  Her love for her son and eagerness to never part from him again was palpable and everyone in the training longed to help.

 

From the front of the room came the words every mother wants to hear. A pastor who had been visiting the orphanage and providing some of the training looked at her and replied, “Yes, the church will help you.  I know your son. I have spoken to my wife and we have agreed to offer our home to you for your son until you can make the preparations for him to come back home to live with you. You do have another choice. My wife and I and our family- we will be your other choice.”

 

“Can he go with you today?” the mother asked hopefully, having watched her son hop from her lap to the arms of the Pastor all through the training. 

 

“I want my son to leave the orphanage right away.”

 

“Yes, today,” the pastor replied as the room broke into applause.

 

The pastor committed to take Gideon home to become part of his own family until they could find a different living situation for his mother. Gideon’s mom would be able to visit and interact with the son she had been separated from for so many years.

 

The orphanage staff couldn’t believe their eyes. “We did not believe it was possible for children to be reunited with family. We thought families were too desperate or poor. Surely a mom with such disabilities wouldn’t be able.”

 

“That’s where you’re wrong,” the Pastor gently offered. “The church is a family to families. When the church steps up and steps in, the load is lighter and the road is brighter. We are not alone.”

 

The church volunteers who are trained will make home visits and check on Gideon in the home. They will provide more parenting training and sponsorship support as he leaves the orphanage and ultimately is reunited with his mom.

 

Leaving the orphanage later that day, Gideon sat on the pastor’s lap in the big white van, waving at everyone passing with both hands. From his ecstatic grin it was easy to see his overwhelming joy at being free from the orphanage and the hope of being reunited with his mom soon. He waved wildly at every passer-byer on the road. The church leaders that had provided the training road along in the car, singing praises to God all the way.

 

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“Gideon, you look like you are running for President, greeting everyone on the road as we ride,”  one of the church trainers offered gleefully.

Gideon didn’t answer. He just kept smiling and waving, as if announcing the joyous news.

For the first time in many years, Gideon will be taken care of by a mother and a father who will give him the care and attention he needs to flourish until his mom is able to care for him too. His mom had already made plans to visit the next day. Gideon has a home. He has a family. The road ahead looks brighter than ever before.

If you would like to sponsor a family in Rwanda to be able to provide a home to children from the orphanage like Gideon, please visit www.saddleback.com/sponsorship.

 

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Left: Gideon and his mother

Right: The pastor and church volunteers address parents at the orphanage

(all photos used with permission)

 

 

“GETTING TO ZERO” UPDATE

 

"No child belongs in an orphanage - every child deserves a family. And the churches are leading the way on this! Families are in churches.

- Pastor Rick Warren, addressing a crowd of 12,000 at the Rwandan national thanksgiving rally

This summer in Rwanda, Pastor Rick hosted a delegation of 100 pastors and leaders from all over the continent of Africa who are looking to bring the PEACE Plan to their countries. These pastors were impressed to see how Rwanda is leading the way in emptying orphanages using the local church, and many are looking forward to bringing the vision to their own countries.

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John was no stranger to the heartbreak of loss. The Rwandan genocide claimed the lives of his entire family, his first and second wives died, and he was left alone to care for his infant son, Daniel. Doing what he thought was best for his child, John gave Daniel to an orphanage.


For three years, John walked for miles to see Daniel. He visited as often as possible, always leaving brokenhearted. His son was being raised by strangers and used as free labor to plant and harvest pineapples. “Even though I’m a big man, I would cry and my son would cry when I left,” he recalls. Still, John thought it was best for Daniel to stay in a place that wouldn’t struggle to feed him and could give him a comfortable place to sleep and shoes for his little feet.

Deep in his heart, John knew that shoes were no replacement for the love of a family. Sleeping on a mattress was no substitution for the security of a loving embrace. The physical satisfaction of food couldn’t make up for the loss of a father’s affirmation. He desperately wanted to bring Daniel home, but didn’t know how he could raise him alone. “I can’t do this on my own,” he told his church congregation. “No you can’t,” his pastor replied, “but you can with the help of the church.”

John learned about parenting training and ongoing support that was available to him through Saddleback’s Orphan Care Initiative and the local Rwandan church. During a training class at the orphanage, John listened to the reasons why a child needs a family while he lovingly cradled Daniel and watched him fall asleep in his arms. At that moment, John knew he had everything it took to take care of Daniel, and he made the decision to take his son home. 

The orphanage director, hesitant to let his child labor go, suggested that John go home and prepare first. John replied, “Get what ready?” He knew there was no preparation required, and that an open heart for his child was the only thing that was truly necessary.

Today, one more child has a loving home because one more father opened his heart to receive an estranged child. Through Saddleback’s Orphan Care Initiative and the local Rwandan church, one more family has been reunited.

To learn how you can sponsor a family in Rwanda to take in a child from the orphanage, visit www.saddleback.com/sponsorship.
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10 year old Joshua’s little hands are rough and deeply scratched. These are not the typical marks of childhood play; Joshua’s scars are the result of hours spent everyday under the hot sun digging holes in the dry Rwandan soil at the orphanage where he grew up. His physical injuries only mirror in part the emotional damage he still carries with him.


A sprawling campus atop a mountainside covered in pineapples, his former orphanage looks for all appearances to be an idyllic place for an orphaned child to grow up. It prides itself on being a self-sustaining orphanage. By having the children farm pineapples on the hillside, the orphanage owners claim they are able to dry and export the extra fruit while the children learn the value of hard work.

 

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The reality is that this orphanage has been the setting for an untold number of tragedies. Joshua recently left the orphanage, finally adopted into a home and a Rwandan family all his own. Yet every morning he still wakes up and asks his new mama and papa if it’s time to work in the field. For Joshua, unending labor is all he has ever known. When his new mother served him pineapple, he looked at her quizzically. “What is this?” he asked. His mother realized with horror that Joshua had never tasted pineapple – the fruit he had been forced to farm for the entirety of his childhood.

 

This month, that same orphanage on the hillside saw the sprouting of new, miraculous seeds of hope as twenty children walked off the grounds to join permanent families. After hearing about the vision of orphan care from the PEACE Plan, a group of local Seventh Day Adventist churches from the surrounding community decided that enough was enough. They spoke to their church members, asking them if God was calling them to adopt. Twenty families stepped up to answer the call and rescued a child from the isolation of the orphanage this month. Thanks to them, and the support of Orphan Sponsorship donors, twenty children are no longer nameless workers for the would-be labor camp. Twenty children get to feel the embrace of a mother for the first time. Twenty children have regained a childhood.

 

 

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PRAY FOR ORPHANS 

 

This month, join us in praying that the remaining children in the orphanage would know the love of a family through adoption. Pray that the local churches all across Rwanda would continue to lead the way in caring for orphans in an unprecedented way. Also, pray for the families that have made the decision to take a new child into their home – that God would bless the transition as they work to heal the past hurts of their new sons and daughters.

Click here to learn more about the Orphan Sponsorship program, or to become a Sponsor!

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This month marks 20 years since the genocide in Rwanda that devastated the country. All over Rwanda, local churches are remembering those lost, while also celebrating how far God has brought the country since that time.

 

Pastor Leonidas is keenly aware of the change that transformed the country, as leader of a church in the Karongi District of the Western Province, an area hardest hit by the genocide. His church is a source of life and hope for his community, and many families in his congregation have experienced the transforming impact of PEACE Plan programs, including Orphan Sponsorship.

 

One of his church members, Elena, is a prime example of the power of the PEACE Plan coming together with the local church and the generosity of sponsorship donors to create change. Elena is a single mother of eight children. Three of the children she took into her home when her neighbor developed AIDS and became too sick to care for them.

 

Elena’s life was in shambles until she attended Pastor Leonidas’ church, which was going through the Purpose Driven Life study. Elena found hope and learned that God had a purpose for her life. Through the PEACE Plan, she learned how to care for her community. She joined a savings group and developed the heart to take in her neighbor’s children, who would have ended up in an orphanage without her care. Her new life in Christ, her local church, and the support of the Orphan Sponsorship Program gave her the confidence and resources to take additional children into her home. Through the money management skills she learned in her savings group, Elena was able to use her resources well, and she has now started a thriving new business which allows her to provide more for her children.

 

To begin sponsoring a family in Rwanda to take in a child from the orphanage, click here.

 

Click below to WATCH Pastor Leonidas and Elena’s stories in their own words:

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