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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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Did you know that orphanages are damaging to children? Research shows growing up in an institution harms children emotionally, physically and developmentally. Children need the love of a family to survive and thrive.

That’s why Saddleback Church is coming alongside the Rwandan government as they work towards a goal of emptying all their orphanages by 2014. Saddleback is partnering with local churches in Rwanda to help all those children find permanent, caring families of their own. Of the 3,000 children in orphanages in Rwanda when we began last year, 1,200 now have families to call their own, and 5 of the 35 orphanages have closed!

There’s still more to be done. Our “getting to zero” goal is that there will be zero children living in orphanages by 2014.

You can help empty orphanages by sponsoring a family in Rwanda – helping a child reunite with – or regain – a family. Sponsorship helps a family provide school fees, food, clothes and health insurance for the child. It also provides for parenting training and social worker support through the local church.

This sponsorship program is unique in that it works to end the orphan crisis by focusing on getting children into family, so that they are a son or daughter and not an orphan anymore.

Because of the involvement of the local Rwandan church in selecting families for the program and administering funds, there is a high level of accountability. You can know that your gift goes directly to the family through the local church, without a lot of red tape or overhead.

Click here to begin sponsoring a family in Rwanda today!

For $38 a month, or through a one time gift, you can help an orphan become a son or daughter again.

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Orphan Care PEACE teams travel to Rwanda to work with the local church to train social workers, teach churches about orphan care, and visit the homes of families who have adopted.

Here one team member, Tim, shares his experience on an orphan care PEACE trip this summer when he visited the home of a man who has adopted and is receiving support from the Rwanda Orphan Care Sponsorship program:

The moment I entered Anatas’ home, I couldn’t help but notice the desperate circumstances in which this man lived. The damp, dirt floors were only barely visible from a single light bulb haphazardly hanging from the ceiling. The rugged adobe bricks that served as the walls of the home looked severely weathered. There was a single wooden bench and a couple foldable plastic chairs surrounding a table in the middle of the living room. We sat down and politely introduced ourselves. This was my first home visit in Rwanda and had no idea what I was in for. 

Anatas was a tall and slender man who looked to be in his mid-to late 40’s. He appeared to be very timid when he first introduced himself. His daughter Martha was sheepishly sitting beside him, occasionally whispering something in Kinyarwanda in to his ear. As he continued to share his story, his initial mild manner turned to excitement and joy. He couldn’t help but smile at the way he described how God had radically changed his life. I was moved by his testimony of perseverance and resilience.  After the genocide that decimated his home, he remained a soldier to provide for his family. He witnessed the brutal deaths of people close to him and questioned his own survival.  He said he later examined his purpose and place in the world. In his heart, there was an emptiness that he was longing to fill. Soon after, Anatas went to check out a Christian church with his wife.  Since then, he has been attending church regularly and is a living testament to the blessings the Lord has given him. Now as a leader in his church, Anatas uses his story to bring others to Christ.

At the center of every man’s success is a woman.  In this case it is Valencia, his wife of 20 years. Together they have raised 6 beautiful children, 5 of whom are their biological children. His eldest daughter, Ruth, is his niece and was taken in after her parents tragically lost their lives during the conflict. Though their family, like many others, has been through tremendous suffering, their faith continues to thrive. Anatas has a deep relationship with Christ. He shared with me that his biggest hope is that his kids will grow a strong relationship with Christ as well.

Just as soon as I thought I had figured him out, he revealed a startling revelation. He is infected with HIV. His struggle to afford the HIV medications only exacerbates his struggle to supply food for his family.  His job as a construction worker yields a meager pay. He tells me that the Orphan Care Sponsorship funds that he receives through the local church for taking in an orphan are critical in providing for his family. Although he appears to be in desperate circumstances, this does not impede him from being a guiding example for others.  He works with a ministry in his church that gives tests and provides treatment for others with HIV. He provides hope for others through Jesus.  

What Anatas and I shared during this visit transcended all cultural and language barriers.  Our faith in God united us to be able to share our story as one family.  I concluded the home visit with a prayer. I prayed for his health and family. I prayed that he continue to be a shining beacon of hope for all others he comes across.  Last, I prayed that other loving families, like those of Anatas, would open their homes for the orphans of Rwanda and provide a safe haven for those who are neglected. Though this man came from humble beginnings, he had the heart and generosity of a king.  His story will forever remain in my heart.  

Since this visit, our team was fortunate to have been able to conduct many more.  I heard shocking testimonials of people whose lives have been transformed by God. We consoled and offered our support and encouragement to the homes of HIV survivors, adoptive parents, and orphans. I was able to share, laugh, and even cry with the people of Rwanda. This experience has opened my eyes to the power of faith and love. I no longer want to travel any other way.

 

If you would like to sponsor a family in Rwanda like this one, please visit www.saddleback.com/sponsorship

You can go to Rwanda and make an impact just like Tim. If you are interested in learning more about Orphan Care PEACE trips, please email orphans@saddleback.com.

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For the past two weeks an Orphan Care PEACE team has been serving in Rwanda, working with the local church to train social workers, teach churches about orphan care, and visit the homes of families who have adopted.

We asked one of our team members, Amy, to share a little of her experience on an orphan care PEACE trip and what it has meant to her. Below she recounts a day of home visits in Kigali:

 

"Pure & genuine religion in the sight of God means caring for orphans and widows in their distress." James 1:27

Today our Orphan Care PEACE team visited two homes and witnessed firsthand widows and orphans in distress. They are struggling each day for survival. I am in tears as I type this - words cannot describe the conditions they live in and the problems they face each day. Today definitely put things into perspective for me. 

We met an amazing woman named Josephine. Her husband was killed in the genocide and she was left alone with one son. Despite her own hardship, over the years she has taken in four additional kids whose parents died of AIDS. They don't have a house to call their own... so they have moved around a lot! Right now they are renting a space for 6 about the size of my closet. She struggles each trimester to pay the tuition for school.

When we visited her family, she had tears the whole time we were there because she felt like somebody cared. We brought a small bag filled with some basic food staples, and spent some time listening and praying for her.  

We also met Odetta, a grandmother caring for her grandchildren. Her daughter and son-in-law both died of AIDS. She also has taken in additional kids whose parents died of AIDS - five children all together. Her story is also filled with heartache from the genocide: her husband was killed and she has ongoing medical problems from her injuries. She was very grateful for the visit from us and the local church members, as well as the food that we provided.

I am humbled beyond measure to meet these sweet families who have very little, but have all taken in orphans. It has been an amazing day.

- Amy, Orphan Care PEACE trip member August 2013

Since Amy's visit, Josephine, Odetta and their families have been receiving support from the Rwanda Orphan Sponsorship. They now are able to provide for basic necessities, as well as school fees and medical insurance for their children. To learn how you can support an adoptive family in Rwanda, visit www.saddleback.com/sponsorship.

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Years ago, a 13 year old boy in Rwanda suffered the loss of both his parents. Left without an adult caretaker, he then watched as his infant siblings - just two and three years old - were taken away and placed into an orphanage.  

 

Today, that young boy has grown into a young man living in rural Kigali with a wife and a three-year-old son. A loving couple of little means, when they heard that the Rwandan government is working to empty all the orphanages, they agreed to adopt his long-lost younger siblings and bring them home. After a history filled with so much loss, these siblings now live together once again as a family! No longer on their own, once lonely children are now secure in the care of a family that loves them.

 

With the support of Saddleback sponsors, this couple has been able to reunite with children who would have spent their entire childhood in an orphanage, perhaps never knowing they had family in the community. This is just one example of the amazing transformation that is taking place across the country as a result of the partnership between the Rwandan government, local churches and the generous support of Saddleback families who have given to the Rwanda Sponsorship Program.

 

To learn more about how you can help a family in Rwanda reunite or adopt through the Rwanda Sponsorship Program, please visit saddleback.com/sponsorship

 

If you are interested in going on an Orphan Care PEACE trip to Rwanda to see the transformation for yourself and be a part of the amazing work that is being done, email orphans@saddleback.com or call 949-609-8555 for more information.

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