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While teaching parenting skills to volunteer trainers and mothers in Rwanda, our July Orphan Care PEACE team was humbled and honored to hear the real life stories of mothers in Rwanda who have taken in orphans. Many of the mothers were recipents of Saddleback Orphan Sponsorship and recounted the difference that sponsorship has made in their families. We asked one team member, Paige, to share her impressions from that emotional day:

“One morning, our team was teaching parenting skills to a group of about 50 ladies from various churches in the Kibuye area. Before we began, we asked each woman to stand up and tell her story.  One mom, Nadine, with a sleeping baby tied to her back, was weeping as she told us she was a single mom with 5 biological children of her own - living on $2 a day.  She had also taken in 3 orphans. The next mom to stand up, Esther, was a widow living in a mud hut with no running water or electricity. She had 8 biological children and had taken in 4 orphans. Each woman's story was more gut wrenching than the previous one. Team tears were flowing as we considered the conditions these women face each day. I can’t even imagine what it feels like as a mother to worry about whether I will be able to feed all my children on a given day.

In the midst of such heartbreak, our team got to witness hope in action. All of these women are part of Saddleback's Orphan Sponsorship Program and are receiving support for caring for the orphans they have taken into their families. Suddenly the mood lifted as they spoke of sponsorship. Their tears turned to smiles and shouts of "Hallelujah! Amen!" when they told of how this money was helping them buy food for their children. They are able to pay school fees with the sponsorship money. The mothers were so grateful to God, and their brothers and sisters in Christ halfway around the world who have such generous hearts. I had no idea sponsorship was having this huge of an impact! When I returned home and learned that 100% of my donation went straight to those Rwandan families caring for orphans, my husband and I decided to become sponsors. The faces of these moms and orphans will be forever engrained on my mind. I will never be the same.”

For $38 a month or a one time donation, you can make a difference in the life of families in Rwanda who are helping empty orphanages by taking in orphaned children. Visit the Orphan Sponsorship page for more information.

If you would like to go on a PEACE trip like Paige and help teach parenting skills to newly adoptive families, email orphans@saddleback for more information.

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What happens to a person in early childhood can have an impact for a lifetime. The implications of this truth are being highlights in research coming out of Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child. According to their findings, early childhood experiences and environments have a profound effect on a child’s developing brain. In the first years of life - also called the early sensitive period – a child’s brain develops rapidly. During this time, the child’s healthy emotional and cognitive development is shaped by dependable and responsive interaction with adults. These interactions can be small, but they are necessary for healthy growth. For example, when an adult responds to a baby’s cry or a parent responds to a toddler’s needs with care and attention. It has been proven that children who lack this type interaction experience a decrease in brain activity. Children who are placed in orphanages shortly after birth show dramatically lower brain activity when compared to their non-institutionalized peers.

The presence of a responsive and protective parental relationship is also important in helping the developing child’s brain cope with stress. Under typical conditions in the care of a family, a child learns to cope with everyday stresses, and physiological stress responses (including increased heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormones like cortisol) quickly return to a baseline. When stress situations are frequent or prolonged – as in the case of extreme poverty or abuse –stress becomes toxic when the care of an adult is absent. Stress responses remain heightened and excessive cortisol disrupts developing brain circuitry.

As would be expected, the more adverse experiences in childhood, the greater the likelihood of developmental delays and other problems. Adults who faced greater adverse experience in early childhood - like poverty, abuse, neglect, parental substance abuse, and exposure to violence – are more likely to face problems like depression, alcoholism, heart disease, and diabetes as adults. While these findings are troubling, there is hope. Research also indicates that early intervention can prevent these consequences. Children taken out of institutional neglect and placed into family situations showed increased IQ and were more likely to experience normal attachment behavior.

All of this research reaffirms the importance of family. Studies have shown that toddlers who have secure, trusting relationships with parents or non-parental caregivers experience minimal stress hormone activation when frightened, while those who have insecure relationships experience a significant stress reaction. Providing responsive, supportive relationships as early as possible can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of toxic stress on children.

The country of Rwanda has responded to research such as this by deciding to close all their orphanages and place those children into permanent families. The Orphan Care Initiative is coming alongside local churches to help reach this goal. You can help children leave the isolation of the orphanage by going on an Orphan Care PEACE trip or sponsoring a family in Rwanda to adopt a child from the orphanage.

Click below to learn more about early childhood adversity from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, or read more in this working paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child:

 

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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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