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Jerome is a student at our Saddleback Manila campus who felt God tugging on his heart to serve local churches globally in the areas of orphan care and HIV/AIDS. The first member of his campus to serve on a PEACE trip, he recently recounted how God used his experience to open his eyes and grow his faith:

When I became a follower of Christ, I dreamt of serving God on the mission field. For 5 years, I prayed to go on a global mission. One day, one of our pastors at Lake Forest suggested I join a PEACE trip. I told him I was waiting for Saddleback South Manila to start one. He asked: “Why are you waiting? Manila is waiting for you.” He sent me a link to the Rwandan PEACE trip and I became a part of the team.

On this trip, God tested my faith. First, he tested it through fundraising. I didn’t know how to raise the funds, but God sent people who helped fully pay for my trip. The second test was 4 days before my ight. I su ered intense panic attacks and acid reflux. I almost backed out because I was scared of my condition.

But God spoke to me, “Jerome, you prayed for this for 5 years. You have funds, you’ve got all your papers; all you have to do is GO!” So I chose to step in faith and trust God. This was not just about fundraising anymore, but about faith raising. I knew God would take care of those wholly devoted to Him.

At Amsterdam, I met my team in person for thefirst me. The moment we landed in Rwanda, we celebrated like we won the Super Bowl and shouted ‘’Finally, this is it!” We spent our PEACE trip visi ng families and communities, conducting seminars on parenting, orphan care, HIV & AIDS, Celebrate Recovery, and more.

We visited families that adopted children. When we asked why they adopted, they said, “After the genocide, the most important thing for us is family and friends.” Hearing this broke my heart. These families in Rwanda have less access than I do to electricity, food, education, gadgets, or stable jobs, and yet they know that people are more valuable than any of these.

From my trip, I’ve learned to trust God in every situation. There are so many families who adopted 1 to 4 children, families living with HIV and AIDS, yet God didn’t forget them. In the whole week we were in Rwanda, I suffered anxiety attacks, but I declared I would finish this trip on His strength and promises. I believe God’s purpose for me is to share my stories on how God changed my life. I've been hopeless, I’m weak, I'm not rich; but I know God prepared me for this. He uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

I challenge you to be a part of our local and global PEACE projects. I tell you, it will change your life. 

If you would like more information on going on a global PEACE trip, email orphans@saddleback.com.

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Jeff knew he was going to be late. He rushed home after coaching his son’s soccer practice, then headed straight back out. The Saddleback Men’s event, Man Up, had started an hour earlier, but Jeff thought he could catch the end. Even if he only got 20 minutes in, he felt it would be worth it. Plus, there were free hot dogs.

Jeff arrived at this outdoor men’s event as Pastor Tom Kang was finishing the message. With the smell of grilled hot dogs still in the air, Jeff heard Pastor Tom giving some final announcements. As Jeff walked across the grass, he listened to the details of the upcoming men’s Wilderness Retreat, and thought to himself, ‘This is exactly what I need.’

Jeff had been out of work for several weeks and was feeling the financial and emotional pressure to find a new job — fast. He thought that he could use the time away, in the outdoor air, to get refreshed and refocused on God. He had a lot of questions for God about his future, and the retreat would be the perfect opportunity to meditate on those questions. Jeff took a retreat info card from a volunteer. Jeff thought that God had led him to church this night to hear about this opportunity, but as he read, he realized a problem: he had already made plans that week in June — the retreat would have to wait. 

Jeff took a deep breath, frustrated, silently venting in prayer. Pastor Tom continued his announcements from the stage, moving on to talk about the next big men’s event — a PEACE trip to Rwanda to help serve churches in the areas of Orphan Care and HIV/AIDS. He encouraged the men to support this PEACE trip in at least one of three ways: prayer, financial support, or going on the trip. Tom explained that two spots still needed filled, and he asked two men to step up that night. Jeff realized that he didn’t need to leave disappointed. But fear began whispering in Jeff’s mind. Unemployed and with no job prospects on the horizon, how would he find time and finances for a trip to Rwanda in the middle of his job search?

He didn’t know how or why, but he felt God pulling him to at least sign up for the trip. Taking a leap of faith, Jeff joined the line with a dozen other men who were signing up. Most people in his life were advising Jeff to use every waking moment to look for a job. But Jeff knew that God wanted him to be part of this trip. He had the time off work now — there might not be a better opportunity later.

That night, Jeff prayed with his wife, and they made a decision that even if he were offered a job before the Rwanda trip, he would not back out. The next day, he received the call: he was selected to go on the trip.

With the trip quickly approaching, Jeff needed to raise support immediately. Although asking for help felt out of his comfort zone, Jeff crafted an email to his friends and family and clicked send. Within the next 24 hours, Jeff’s account for the trip filled up. Jeff was the last man selected for this PEACE trip, but he was the first to see God provide every penny he needed.

The PEACE trip was a catalyst for Jeff’s involvement at church. Jeff returned from the trip, inspired to continue serving. In August, Jeff took his wife and his youngest son on a one-day PEACE trip to Baja, Mexico. Jeff continues to seek God concerning his career path, but through this step of faith he has found a place to serve in the local church and get his family involved. Jeff believes that it is through serving and building relationships that he will find God’s purpose for his life. 

Although Jeff still has not settled in to a new, full-time job, he enthusiastically shares how God is faithful and will continue to meet his family’s needs. Jeff is a man on a mission, a mission to serve God and others, even in the midst of trials. Although his faith is being tested in this difficult season, Jeff believes that God is always good and will provide the right opportunity at the right time.

 

If you would like information on going on a global Orphan Care or HIV/AIDS PEACE Trip, email orphans@saddleback.com.

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When Linda Greene and her husband Les married, they knew they wanted to start a family right away. After countless doctor’s visits and tests, they learned some disheartening news — they would not be able to conceive. Linda’s heart ached as she watched mothers push their babies in strollers at the mall. Would she ever hold a child of her own in her arms?

Linda and Les decided she would quit her job as a physical education teacher to reduce her stress. And so, after nearly 20 years in her field, Linda left her job to stay home full time. The decision proved difficult at first. Accustomed to a busy lifestyle, Linda found herself forced to slow down. She and Les began discussing adoption and grew excited about the idea.

Linda and Les both agreed they wanted to adopt more than one child. Growing up with four brothers, Les hoped to adopt a girl first. The couple researched different agencies and decided to adopt from China. They then began the lengthy process, filling out extensive paperwork and undergoing fingerprinting and background checks. After completing all the steps, they sat back, waited and prayed.

“With adoption, sometimes you wait and wait, but when you get that referral, you have to be ready to go right away,” Linda said.

In March, 2002, Linda and Les received the call they’d been praying for. There was a baby girl in China who could be theirs in a matter of weeks. They saw a photo of the darling 10-month-old girl, and they immediately fell in love. The following month, they were on a plane to China to meet her for the first time.

Linda and Les made the trip with three other families, all who were planning to adopt, too. They arrived with butterflies in their stomachs, unsure of what to expect. Though they’d seen photos of the little girl, they had no idea how big she was, so they brought outfits in various sizes for her to wear. Over the next 12 days, the couple bonded with the other families, sharing their stories. After much anticipation, they were presented with a perfectly healthy baby girl. They named her Ashley.

From the start, Ashley was an easy-going baby. She slept much of the time, allowing Linda and Les to sleep, too. They heeded the advice of other families who had adopted, limiting company in an attempt to bond with their daughter during the first critical weeks. Linda embraced her new role as a mother, thanking God for filling her arms and her heart.

Not wanting to wait too long before adopting a second child, the couple began looking into a boy from Japan. But the agency’s contact in that country did not have any babies up for adoption, so Linda and Les researched other potential countries. They looked into Kazakhstan and were told adoptions from that country would take between six to nine months. But halfway through the process, the country changed some rules, making adoption more difficult. A year passed, then two, then three. Linda and Les kept busy with Ashley, all the while praying and anxiously waiting. Linda’s father was diagnosed with cancer, and she prayed he would get to meet their new child. He passed away in September, and in January, four years after beginning the lengthy adoption process, they finally received some good news. The country had a little boy for them. The news was bittersweet, as Linda’s father would never get to meet his grandson.

With Ashley in tow, Linda and Les embarked on their trip to Kazakhstan, excited and nervous at the same time. They had not seen a photo of their son and did not know what to expect. When they reached the orphanage, known in Kazakhstan as the baby house, the workers presented them with a 2-year-old child. But they decided they wanted to meet the 10-month-old boy they’d been initially referred to.

The workers brought the infant into the room and sat him on their lap. “Do you like him?” they asked.

“Yes!” Linda and Les cried.

The couple spent a few minutes bonding with the baby and agreed to adopt him. A few weeks later, they hired an escort, who flew the baby to them. At last, the wait was over. God had answered their prayers. Their family was now complete.

Linda and Les named their son Cameron. Unlike Ashley’s early days, Cameron’s proved more challenging. Red bumps that looked like flea bites popped up all over his skin, and doctors diagnosed him with eczema. But the new parents soon learned he had scabies, a highly contagious condition. Cameron then developed pneumonia and landed in the emergency room. After a lengthy recovery process, things settled down, and the newly united family fell into a routine.

While Linda and Les loved being parents, their journey did not come without difficulty. Ashley remained easy going, but Cameron struggled with sensory issues, resisting any type of affection. As he grew older, other behavioral problems emerged. Linda, now a full-time stay-at-home mother, sometimes found herself at her wit’s end. She read countless books and took Cameron to therapists, but those doctors only encouraged behavior modification. Linda knew her son needed something more.

“I felt so alone,” Linda said. “I was really struggling.”

She then learned about the adoption support groups through Saddleback Church and decided to check one out. To her relief, she met other parents who were struggling just like her. Together, they shared stories and ideas and prayed with one another. For the first time, Linda did not feel so alone.

“It was so nice to go to a place where people knew what I was going through,” Linda said. “There is power in that. They could extend empathy because they had been there themselves.”

Through the group, Linda stumbled onto new resources, including the very insightful work by Dr. Karyn Purvis. Her book, The Connected Child, helped Linda tremendously. In reading the book and watching accompanying videos, Linda learned that traditional methods of therapy would not work with her son because of the trauma he’d endured as an infant. He faced unique challenges as an adopted child and would require a unique approach.

“I learned the behavioral issues stemmed from the trauma and disconnect Cameron faced early in life,” Linda said. “This approach taught me how to reverse and rewire his brain, allowing him to connect and letting him have a voice.”

Linda began changing her parenting techniques, approaching Cameron with newfound patience and unconditional love. She reminded him repeatedly that he was safe in their family. She continued attending the adoption support groups and reading up on how to connect with her child. Through this process, she also received healing from her own childhood, recognizing areas where she’d never connected with her family.

Today, Linda and Les enjoy a busy life with their two adopted children. Ashley, now 16, loves drawing, playing tennis, and spending time with her friends. Cameron, now 11, is a typical active boy and loves baseball and football. He also enjoys attending Kids Small Group 401 at Saddleback and learning about Jesus. As a family, they love hiking, camping, and visiting their cabin. Linda attends the Saddleback adoption support group every Tuesday morning and also a group at the Saddleback Rancho Capistrano campus on Saturdays. She is beyond grateful for her new friends who continue to pray for her, share stories, and encourage her even on the most challenging days.

Linda and Les recognize that adoption — from start to finish — is not an easy journey. But it is a gift, and one for which they are eternally grateful to God. They love telling the children the story of how God brought them into their home and into their hearts.

“We wanted to be parents so badly,” Linda said. “To know you are raising a child who could have endured a very hard life, and to be able to be a positive influence on them and show them God’s love, that makes it all worth it.”

Learn more about adoption and foster care support at saddleback.com/supportgroups.

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A recently released proposal for US tax overhaul included plans to get rid of the adoption tax credit, support for adoptive families that has been on the books for 20 years. The credit provides adoptive families up to $13,570 in tax savings per adopted child.1 Adoption advocates are rallying for the continuation of the credit as it exists for families who may not be able to afford adoption otherwise, a helpful tool in helping children find permeant families of their own. (The amount of the credit, as it stands right now, starts to phase out when families have an adjusted gross income above $203,540 and is off limits once that income exceeds $243,540.2) Christian music artist Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth Chapman, are adoptive parents - this op-ed from them regarding the proposed changes recently appeared in the Washington Post:


In 1997, the fabric of our family was forever altered after Mary Beth and our 11-year-old daughter, Emily, visited Haiti. Emily was profoundly moved as she began to understand the impact of poverty in new ways. She met children in Haiti who, for many heartbreaking reasons, were unable to be cared for by their biological families and had been orphaned.

For Emily, these children were her peers, and imagining life without the family and support systems she knew felt overwhelming and unjust.

That trip was the beginning of our family’s journey. We would soon welcome home three daughters through adoption — Shaoey, Stevey Joy and Maria. Each has brought immeasurable joy, and we are forever grateful to be their family. As the parents of six children, it’s impossible to overstate the profound impact that adoption has had on our family. The journey has been a hundred times harder than we ever imagined, but a thousand times more enriching than we ever dreamed.

It’s one thing to hear that there are 15 million children worldwide who have been orphaned, abandoned or relinquished. But when you are face to face with children who can’t be reunited with their biological family or find a family through adoption, statistics give way to a personal connection — a child with a name and a story, with a desire to belong and be loved.

We have met hundreds of families who want to adopt, but can’t do so because of the significant costs. The average adoption costs between $25,000 and $40,000, and for many families, this is an insurmountable barrier. Additionally, the ongoing expenses of providing adequate services and therapies in post-adoption support can be extensive.

In 1997, with bipartisan support, Congress did something remarkable to address this by creating the adoption tax credit. By providing a one-time tax credit of up to $13,570 to offset adoption costs, more families are able to adopt, helping address the great injustice of children living without permanent, loving homes.

But the adoption tax credit is in jeopardy. The recently unveiled House tax reform proposal would eliminate it.

Losing the adoption tax credit, a vital and practical approach to overcoming the financial cost that prohibits many families from adopting, would be catastrophic for thousands of American parents hoping to adopt and the precious children waiting for a family. 

Thousands of children have been adopted by American families who have used the adoption tax credit, and to these families, this credit has made all the difference. As adoptive parents, we want other families to have the opportunity to provide waiting children with loving homes.

In a divided political and cultural climate, issues like the adoption tax credit should unite us. The adoption tax credit can mean the difference between a child being adopted or remaining in foster care. One thing every American should agree on: We must prioritize anything we can do to help children enter loving homes where they can grow up, learn and thrive in an enriching environment. Without continuing support for this credit, children, families, communities and our society will certainly carry the loss.

If Congress truly wants to reform our tax structure to benefit American families, preserving the adoption tax credit is an obvious step in the right direction.

 

If you are an adoptive family, learn more about the adoption tax credit here, and access community and support for your family by emailing orphans@saddleback.com. If you are considering adoption, visit https://zeroby2020vision.com

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Isaac is a young pastor in Rwanda who has a passion for educating and caring for vulnerable children with disabilities. Pastor Isaac greeted us, an Orphan Care PEACE trip team of men from Saddleback, with his infectious bright smile, he graciously showed us the Presbyterian church that he pastors, and the adjoined school for disabled children that he started as a ministry of his church. He was unashamed to share that although he does not have much experience with disabled children, he knows he has been appointed by God to help them. Isaac walks by faith in obedience to Christ, ministering to his community in a very real and powerful way. He has a vision to grow the school, to expand the hours, and to be able to offer more help for disabled children who come with all sorts of special physical and mental needs.

We followed Isaac down the red dirt roads in the community he serves, and he led us to a very small residence. We were welcomed inside a dark, small living room that was lined with a small couch, a few chairs, and a wheelchair that sat in the corner. This is home to a young mother and her two children, ages 11 and 7. This brave young woman welcomed 8 strangers from this PEACE team into her humble living room and began to share her life story. Brave and vulnerable, this young woman did not hesitate to share her story of pain, fear, poverty, rejection, desperation, and the hope that the local church now gives her.

This young mother became pregnant as a teenager and gave birth to a disabled son who did not make a sound for the first 3 months of his life. As a teenage mother, she remained in the hospital with her newborn son for 3 months, without work and without support. Miraculously, an anonymous person paid for her very costly medical fees and she was released from the hospital with her son. Not willing to bear the burden of raising a disabled son, her husband left her to raise her son alone. This caused her to take extreme measures in order to provide for her family. She admits to having to lock her son in a room so that she could go find work. While her son was caged, she would sell drugs in desperation to earn money. Four years later, she gave birth to her second son and continued to sell drugs. Eventually, she was arrested and was sent to prison along with both her sons. Once released from prison, she would continue to lock her children up so that she could go find work. Prostitution eventually became the way that she would make ends meet. A life of prostitution led to fear, anger, and shame, but it was the only way she knew how to provide for herself and her children. She was hopeless, yet she desperately fought to survive.

Pastor Isaac and his church learned of this situation and wanted to offer this family real lasting hope. Pastor Isaac invited this young woman and her children to his church. Through the support of the orphan care sponsorship program, Isaac was able to come alongside this struggling family, and the funds enabled her son to enroll in the school for disabled children. The church is also able to make sure that this young mother has her basic needs met so that this family will remain intact. Church volunteers help teach her how to care for her children. Without hope, many families abandon their children, leaving them as orphans; but the local church offers hope.

The church works with families in order to prevent anyone from becoming an orphan. As the local church rises up, encourages, and helps support struggling families, many children (especially disabled children) are able to remain in their family of origin. Making sure that children remain in their family origin is a key strategy of the Orphan Care Initiative. This young mother can now be a mother to her children, she has hope, and her disabled son has recently been able to learn to sing and is learning to write! Praise God!

The church in action brings amazing hope, transformation, and healing. This family is now tangibly receiving physical, spiritual, and emotional support. Through generous giving and sponsorship, the PEACE plan partnering with the local church is truly able to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those desperately in need. Your sponsorship is offering hope to the hopeless and is helping to transform and heal some of the most vulnerable and broken lives in our world. Pastor Isaac’s church and this family are eternally grateful, their spirits are hopeful, and they sincerely offer their love and thanks as they are encouraged by your support.

Rwanda Orphan Care

If you would like to serve churches like this one in Rwanda on an Orphan Care PEACE trip, email orphans@saddleback.com. If you would like to support an adoptive family in Rwanda through Sponsorship, check out http://www.saddleback.com/Sponsorship.

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