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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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Looking to get connected to Orphan Care at Saddleback Church? May and June are action-packed with opportunities to learn more and serve!

Check out the variety of opportunities below, and feel free to let us know if you have any questions! (call us at 949-609-8555 or email orphans@saddleback.com)

 

Thinking About Adoption & Foster Care

Have you considered adopting or fostering, but aren’t sure how to get started? This is the place for you! Families from our church who have adopted and fostered share helpful overviews and answer your questions in a no-pressure environment.

We have three different nights for you to catch the seminar and get your questions answered:

Monday May 12th – 7-9pm in MO2 (the small portable office on the Lake Forest campus)

Thursday, May 15th – 7-9pm in Room 404 (in the portable classrooms across from Tent 1)

Wednesday, June 4th – 6:30-8:30pm in MO2 (the small portable office on the Lake Forest campus)

 

SPECIAL EVENT with Milan & Kay Yerkovich, authors of How We Love

Healthy attachment is the key to great families, and great adoptive and foster parenting. Using attachment theory, experts Milan and Kay Yerkovich have created the tools to take your relationships to the next level. Come learn your attachment style, how to grow your marriage, and take your parenting to the next level at this unique event.

Saturday, June 21st – 9am – 12pm The Plaza Room, Lake Forest Campus

Register HERE: http://saddleback.com/event/11637464971/event

 

Orphan Care Volunteer Gathering

Our monthly orphan care volunteer gathering is a great opportunity to hear all that is going on locally and globally with orphan care, and get plugged in to serving opportunities! Connect with others in our ministry with a heart to make a difference in the global orphan care crisis.

Sunday, June 1st – 4-6pm in the upstairs Refinery classroom

 

Global Orphan Care Skills Training

You can make a global impact! In this training, you will learn how to empty orphanages and help orphaned children find their forever families. If you are considering going on a PEACE trip, or just want to know more, join us for skills training!

Saturday, June 14th – 8:30am – 12:00pm in Tent 2

 

Local Orphan Care Orientation

If you have a heart to serve orphaned children here in our own community, come to the local orphan care orientation to hear about the different opportunities, and how you can make a difference in the life of a foster child or adoptive family! Email lynny@saddleback.com for more information.

Tuesday, May 13th – 7-9pm in the Plaza Room

 

Questions? Email orphans@saddleback.com or call 949-609-8555.

 

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