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What can two young women of Orange County without education in social work or experience as parents do to help churches in Rwanda care for orphans and vulnerable children? That was the question Lauren Franco and Amanda Schaefer asked themselves as they stepped out in faith on a recent Orphan Care PEACE trip to Rwanda. They discovered the only qualification needed to make a difference is being called by God. In this article originally posted by Saddleback Women, Lauren and Amanda discuss their unique experiences as the youngest women on their all women PEACE trip to Rwanda and the lessons they learned about how God qualifies those who are called. 

How do you know the best way to invest your life when the world says you are too young to make a difference? As the youngest members of the Women’s team taking a PEACE trip to Rwanda, Lauren Franco and Amanda Schaefer wrestle with their inadequacies.

 “Beth Schwartz, Women's Minister, assembled a fantastic team of 17 women leaders for this adventure. I’d never been on a PEACE trip before,” explains Lauren, “and worried my youth might be a deterrent to the team. I had no teaching experience. No years of wisdom and skill to guide me. How could I possibly spread hope, encouragement and solidarity to the Rwandan people?”

As Millennials, both Amanda and Lauren also knew they had to overcome the poor reputation their generation garners. “With social media, we are on our phones 24/7. Sometimes people think we have the world at our fingertips, yet we lack direction,” Amanda says. “It was incredible to be mentored by the women in our group who created a nurturing community ripe for growth. Despite the age differences, everyone in our group shared the same values. All of us wanted to infuse Christ into the lives of the Rwandan people. Since the genocide in 1994, the country has gone through so much, but we were completely blown away by the abundant forgiveness and love the Rwandan people have for their neighbors, church and country.”

“I carried a deep apprehension of never being able to measure up to the women in the group. My place at the table didn’t seem real – the anxiety about my age was driven by fear. In that outbreak of insecurity, I checked my heart to find the source of my fear,” Lauren explains. “My darkest day ended in tears knowing I had to teach a devotional the very next day. With fear, I open my Bible. God led me to the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus and pointed out Mary’s age. She wasn’t more than a teenager and yet God chose her for possibly the most honoring task of all – to be the carrier, nurturer and mother of Christ.” Knowing obedience, not age, was more important to God provided a turning point for Lauren and the group’s younger women.

Lauren continues, “I was an average churchgoer before this trip. I felt God calling me to go and wanted to be obedient.” Amanda adds, “The PEACE Plan’s beauty is that it is not about us or what Saddleback can do, but all about the light being shed on the churches and pastors in Rwanda, making them the heroes, not us.”

Despite the devastation and heartache Rwanda has endured, it is now an example to the world. The wreckage and brokenness of the country have been transformed into the most forgiving and joyful body the group had ever seen. “Grace seeps into every crevice of this country and should push us to set aside denomination, take up unity, let go of differences to take on love, and give our pain to God and take on joy instead,” says Lauren.

Amanda echoes Lauren’s beliefs. “I was heartbroken seeing the street kids living in homelessness. Yet the local church cares for them. Some parts of the world lack many things: material comforts, medicine, education, electricity. Even in these situations, in this particular country hope abounds.”

The team experienced situations very different from their comfortable lives in Orange County. “We visited heart-wrenching memorials to genocide victims. Everyone in our group was deeply affected by that. It was also distressing to meet girls forced into the sex trade or who became drug dealers because that was the only way they could support themselves,” Lauren explains.

God’s light overpowered all the darkness. Amanda explains: “It was uplifting to witness the church in action. Whether in the capital of Kigali or Kibuye, a rural city, the church is working to ease the pain of HIV/AIDs patients, closing down orphanages and reaching out with God’s love to those who suffered the gravest inhumanities. In one town, we participated in Umuganda, a service day. The goal was to build a gutter to prevent flooding during heavy rains. The entire community shared a passion for this, desiring to be unified, working together, despite differences to build a better city.” 

Amanda continues, “We taught The Purpose Driven Church, but most were already living it. Faith is a living action. Their faithfulness to God is inspiring. Rwandans are teaching each other and the world, you can’t snuff out hope, you can’t smother it. Hope exists because Christ came to this earth.”

Amanda and Lauren encourage other women to step out of their comfort zones to participate on a PEACE trip. Both agree their most profound learning was a renewed trust in God. “He met us every time we questioned ourselves. He provided love by surrounding us with a strong, safe community of Saddleback women,” Amanda clarifies. “He gave us a new perspective on our blessings. His light will continue to burn when all the other lights go out. We hold more strongly to his hope because we were warmed in places we didn’t even know had grown cold.”

“Pray about going on a PEACE trip. Be willing to be uncomfortable,” says Amanda. “Ask God, ‘Where do you want me to go? I’m ready to go where you are leading.’” Lauren adds, “Maybe he isn’t leading you to go on a trip now. For example, while financial support is needed, the young moms on our trip were encouraged by those in Orange County who cooked family meals, drove their kids to practice, cleaned their homes or simply prayed. Invite God into your plans. He will respond. You will be forever changed by abandoning your fear and placing your trust in God.”

Blog re-posted from Saddleback Women. Check out the original blog post and more from Saddleback Women here.

God can use your unique skills and passions on an Orphan Care PEACE trip! Email orphans@saddleback.com or call 949-609-8555 for more information.

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Something miraculous is occurring throughout Rwanda. Orphanages once full of children are being shut down as children are being adopted into families of their own. These children who have experienced great trauma and loss require a greater level of connection and care from their parents and families. To meet this need, local churches throughout Rwanda are now sharing the life-changing tools and training of Trust-Based Relational Interventions (TBRI).

Researched and developed at Texas Christian University, the skills taught through TBRI have enabled adoptive families to connect with their children in healing ways, fostered healthy reunification of families, and encouraged families at risk of separation. Parents are being equipped and supported by their churches to build healthy connections with their children. Take a look at this video highlighting the power of transformation TBRI has had in local churches throughout Rwanda!

Are you interested in helping equip more churches in Rwanda with the life-changing tools of TBRI? You can serve on an Orphan Care PEACE trip and support the local church in emptying orphanages and adopting children. Email orphans@saddleback.com or call 949-609-8555. 

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In October 2016, a group of women from Saddleback Church took a PEACE trip to Rwanda to serve local churches in the areas of Orphan Care and HIV/AIDS. Comprised of core women’s ministry leaders, the trip brought together women ranging from college students and recent graduates, to young mothers and career women, to grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Together, these women found that their diverse hearts were weaved together by the common vision of empowering the local churches of Rwanda and living out the Great Commission in their daily lives. 

Many of the women who served on this trip harbored deep insecurities and questions as to whether God could use them in Rwanda. Whether they felt too young, too old, too sensitive, too feminine, too inexperienced, or too small in the kingdom, God met them in their doubts and empowered them to serve His Church. As Lauren Franco, Women’s Communities intern and team member stated, “The Great Commission isn't subject to one gender, or one age group. It’s all of us. We’re all called to go to make disciples of all nations.” These women discovered the truth that everyone can be used on a PEACE trip. No matter what your background, family history, or experiences are, God can use you!

Take a look at this discussion about the HIV and Orphan Care PEACE trip featuring several women who served on this trip as they discuss what God taught them in the process:

Are you ready to take your next step of faith by going on a PEACE trip? Join us January 22nd at PEACE Practical on the Saddleback Lake Forest campus to learn more about Orphan Care and HIV ministries and how you can GO or support what our church is doing to live life on mission. Please email orphans@saddleback.com or call 949-609-8555 with any questions! 

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The Karongi District of Western Rwanda is where the Orphan Care Initiative began the charge with local churches to get children out of orphanages and into loving, lasting families 3 years ago. In a country that did not have a word for “adoption” when deinstitutionalization began, so many families have stepped up to open their hearts and homes to children that there was no longer any need for the orphanages in their region. All three of the region’s orphanages, which were once home to hundreds of children, are now emptied – the abandoned dormitories now testaments to God’s amazing work in Rwanda through his church and the generosity of sponsorship donors like you!

The success is so profound that the Rwandan government has now asked the Orphan Care Initiative to play a larger leading role in 3 other regions of the country. This year, PEACE teams were mobilized to vision cast God’s heart for the orphan to local churches in these new areas, providing them with the training they need to reunite families and raise up families for adoption. The churches of Karongi are now a shining example to the rest of the nation, teaching their brothers and sisters what it looks like to offer radical love through adoption.

Orphan Care PEACE Teams Deliver the Very Best in Evidence-Based Adoptive Parent Training

Life in an orphanage leaves a legacy of trauma in the life of a child – emotional pain and learned behaviors that can only be healed in the arms of a permanent family. The adoptive families in Rwandan local churches are trained in the best practices of parenting children coming out of trauma – a set of unique transformative tools called Trust Based Relational Interventions (TBRI®), developed and tested at Texas Christian University’s Institute of Child Development.

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Through a train the trainer model, local churches are equipped to not only empower families, but also empower skilled lay social workers to come alongside families as they bring home a child from the orphanage. This year, 79 members on 9 PEACE trips delivered this training in Rwanda.

The Orphan Care Initiative’s work in this field was recently recognized as Initiative founder Elizabeth Styffe was awarded the TCU Green Honors Chair for 2017.

Check out this video to watch how churches are putting TBRI into practice in Rwanda:

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Thank you to those of you who gave so generously to Rwanda Sponsorship in 2016. To set up monthly giving for the new year, visit saddleback.com/sponsorship. Let’s help another region get to zero in 2017!


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Is your family experiencing infertility? Find community and hope with other couples walking the same journey at the Embracing Hope retreat at Saddleback Church on Jan. 27-28!

Join couples like Phillip and Alex, a couple who found support, community, and healing through the church in the midst of their infertility story. They will be sharing their journey at the retreat, and you can hear a bit of their story below...

 

Embracing Hope is an overnight retreat for husbands and wives experiencing infertility and exploring the many ways they can build their family.  We will kick things off on Friday night with an amazing session followed by socializing around fire pits next to the lake. The conference will continue throughout Saturday afternoon with life changing discussions and chances to create meaningful relationships. If you are walking the painful and often lonely road of infertility we would love for you to attend this event!

 

We encourage couples to come together and grow as you embrace the hope that God has for you in this overnight experience. There will be several breakout sessions where attendees can choose to hear about topics closest to their heart and situation, Q & A panel discussions, amazing testimonies, worship, and lots of opportunity for connection.

 

Space is limited so click here to register today. Please, don't hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns at 949.609.8555 or orphans@saddleback.com. We can't wait to spend time with you!



 

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