Life was good.
Our family was happy, healthy, and content.
We didn’t feel anything was missing.
We did, however, have a desire to serve more. I prayed and wondered how our little family could serve together. One night while I was cooking, I could hear a news story in the background about a family who hosted a sibling group. I had never heard of orphan hosting. The whole thing tugged at my heart and I could not stop thinking about it. Later that night, I searched the internet and came across Project 143. I spent hours reading but then closed the computer in defeat. I began telling the Lord all of the reasons why we could not host; cost, travel to and from the airport several states away, how this may affect my biological child, my list continued. I wrestled with God several more days until I sensed Him respond with, “you won’t have to do it alone.” Several more months passed before I approached my husband. I fully expected he would confirm all of my doubts and fears but to my surprise he said, “yes, but we are not adopting.” My hands were shaking as I clicked the bright red “register to see the kids” button on the Project 143 website. While reading the profiles of so many amazing kids, the reality of their situation began to really sink in.
“It was heart breaking to know our decision would impact only one and so many others would go unchosen.”
As we continued reading about each child, we felt drawn to an 11 year old boy who loved to fish. We believed wholeheartedly he was the child our family should host. Later, we learned he really desired a permanent family. As we were not an adoption minded family, we stepped aside to allow him to be ‘found’ by such a family and continued praying for him. We read through more profiles of other waiting children and I nervously checked the website every day to see if our little 11 year old had been chosen and moved to the ‘hosted’ section. After no other families stepped forward, he was still waiting. We could not get this boy who loved to fish off our minds, committed to hosting him and the countdown and fundraising to bring him home for summer hosting began. The night he arrived in the Atlanta airport was surreal and one we will never forget. This brave child flew half-way around the world to strangers, holding onto the hope of his own family one day.
The first few days home were a whirlwind; he was so excited to try everything. He and my son played basketball, baseball, soccer, frisbee, rode bikes, swam, had Nerf wars, chased the dog, raced cars, played XBox, and fished until they crashed in exhaustion each night. So, to answer the question as to what kind of impact orphan hosting would have on my biological child? The impact of a lifetime! He learned what it meant to share his parents, his bedroom, his friends, and his belongings. He learned what it meant to sacrifice for the good of others, he learned what it meant to serve someone and expect nothing in return and he learned what it meant to love unconditionally. Two weeks into hosting, we were outside catching lightning bugs. The sun was setting on a perfect summer day and I remember watching our host son laughing and running around the yard with his jar of glowing bugs. I was overcome with a flood of emotions and filled with so much love for this little boy. There was no denying it.
The end of hosting came quicker than any of us wanted. Thankfully, we haven’t gotten to the end of his story, the last page hasn’t been written just yet. Almost two years later, we are headed overseas to become that little boy’s forever family. We simply cannot imagine life without him. God’s plans are truly bigger and better than our own. We would have missed out if we had not trusted Him with our unanswered questions. Because we said yes to ONE, we have witnessed miracles and mountains being moved – a reminder of God saying, “you won’t have to do this alone.”
P143 thanks the Hurt Family (KY) for sharing their heart for international orphan hosting!
When I think about what you need to know to host a special needs child, I want to start with the fact that I had exactly zero experience hosting a special needs child. In fact, I think our home was setup about as inefficiently as possible for a child who used a walker. We had stairs to the bedrooms, stairs to the basement, stairs to the garage and more stairs off the front and back porch. When I got the call that a 7 year old little girl needed a backup family, I was convinced it would not be ours. Not only was I not experienced with special needs, I wasn’t even very experienced as a mom. I spent two days calling everyone I knew who I felt would be better prepared, more equipped and not nearly as clueless as myself. After not getting a single commitment, we found ourselves becoming the backup family for the little 7-year old girl with Cerebral Palsy. To say this was new territory would be a complete understatement. But, as the old saying goes, “He doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.”
Getting to know her was humbling; it forced me to slow down. While hosting a child with Cerebral Palsy there was no choice but to be engaged and observant of almost every detail of her daily life. She needed me to be available to help her navigate any physical limitations. We became a team pretty quickly and relied on one another to maneuver this new territory; her in a family for the first time and me discovering how to help a child with a physical disability. Having never been allowed to attend school, I took her to our church preschool one morning to observe her interaction with the other children. To my surprise, she was engaged and attentive and after copying the letters a few times, learned to spell her name that morning. A few days later, I would take her to a physician who would help me understand her condition better and what the future would look like for her. I wanted to do anything that would prepare me to speak on her behalf. Honestly, I’ve never fought so hard for a child.
Just thinking about that time with her brings me to tears. She literally had no advocate. This beautiful child had no one dedicated to seeing her move out of the orphanage and into a family. I wrote tons of emails and attached her photos to everyone in my address book. Then, I asked those people to please forward to everyone in their address book. I contacted the news and a reporter showed up at my house to film a story about her. A local photographer heard her story and invited me to bring her in for some professional photos, which are still displayed in my house to this day. I was dedicated to connecting her with a family because I couldn’t imagine her living out her days in an orphanage. It turns out, that’s exactly what she needed – someone dedicated to be her voice. By the end of hosting, after talking to what felt like half the state of Georgia, she had a family committed to giving her a forever home.
It sounds cliche to say she changed my life, but she really did, along with the lives of many other special needs orphans and families who would come behind her. This little girl gave me the courage to step further into the world of special needs. A few years later, I would open a new extension of our host program specifically for children with special needs. My goal was simple, for these children to move from a being a file on someone’s desk to a beloved son or daughter. As host families stepped forward, they all came to the same realization – their host child was facing some challenges, yes, but he or she was also kind, loving, intelligent, persistent, strong, radiant, worthy of love, family and a future outside orphanage walls. Many of those same children are flourishing in their own families today, including one who became my daughter a few years ago. Committing to my daughter felt like a full circle moment for me and I will be forever grateful to the little girl who first opened my eyes and spurred me to action for other special needs orphans. (Michelle Vernon)
We asked veteran Project 143 families, who hosted special needs children in the past, what advice they would give to those of you considering hosting a child with special needs.
Here’s what they had to say:
Kids are just kids and 99 times out of 100 just want to have fun with your family. Each child with a disability has already learned to cope and live with their disability. Plan to treat them as you would any other child, accepting them where they are and be ready to learn so much from them. We hosted a child with Cerebral Palsy that affected all four limbs but it didn’t affect her personality at all. She is now our daughter.
You may be able to handle more than you think. I remember looking at the list and immediately ruled out children in wheelchairs because our house was not wheelchair friendly. A few years later, the child we hosted and later adopted had knee surgery and was in a wheelchair for a short time. With that, we figured out the dynamics because we had to. One day, as I was adjusting the wheelchair it hit me that we COULD have hosted a child in a wheelchair. We could have made it work if only we had more of a “can do” attitude. Our daughter figures out a way to do things in spite of her physical challenges and she teaches us so much! We did end up being able to handle more than we thought we could. See the child, not the challenge. Focus on the things they are able to do and not the things they can’t. Uncover ways the child can be most helped going forward.
A special need on paper is a lot different than a special need in person. In person, you see the sweetness, innocence, personality, strength and the love of life. Then, the special need becomes secondary.
Once my little boy arrived, I just wanted to love and protect him as if he was my own. I focused on providing a comfortable, loving experience for him.
Being ready for the unexpected can bring unexpected happiness and touches your heart in completely new way. All kids need love and a family, regardless of their needs.
-Tung Dubois Family
Project 143 remains committed to helping all orphaned children, both those who are physically healthy and those living life with a special medical need. If you want to know more about what’s involved, take a look at the children available for hosting in the upcoming season in our photolisting – www.p143.org/pre-registration/
Wondering how to best support a friend or family member who has signed up to host an orphan in their home? Often times, a host family’s local community, church or small group really WANTS to help but just isn’t sure how. Keep reading for our TOP TEN ways to support an orphan host family.
1. DONATE OR HELP FUNDRAISE
Just like there are fees for you to travel overseas, there are similar fees for our host children to travel to America such as costs to secure a child’s passport and travel visa, translation of a child’s documents, in-country transport, international airline tickets, medical insurance and a portion of the traveling expenses associated with the chaperone. If you’d like to help the host family, you can make a tax-deductible donation to Project 143 on their behalf. Or, if they are planning a fundraiser, support or assist them any way you can.
When the children arrive for hosting, they come with only the clothes on their back. Each host family will need a small, seasonal wardrobe for their host child. Taking the time to go through your child’s closet and pulling some things you are no longer using would be a great help to a host family. Or, a gift card to a local store that allows the host parent and child to shop together would also be a great option.
Getting a host child acclimated to a new time zone, new home and new family is no easy task. Consider dropping off a meal once a week or even a freezer meal that can be saved for a busy day later in the host season. Or, phone the host mom the night before you head to the grocery store and ask her to tell you 5 must have items and drop them off on her porch the next day. We can name at least one… fruit, fruit and more fruit. These kids LOVE fresh fruit!
4. CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL EYE AND DENTAL OFFICES
Do you work for an eye doctor or dentist or know someone who does? Help the host family find an eye doctor willing to perform an eye exam for their host child and provide eye glasses, if needed. Or, find a local dentist willing to donate cleaning and x-rays. Very few of our host children have access to eye and dental care in their home country so this is a huge benefit to their overall health.
5. ADVOCATE FOR THEIR HOST CHILD
The more people sharing about the host child and his or her need for a loving family – the better! One of the best ways to get to know a host child is to schedule a play date or outing with the host family. This will give you an opportunity to build a relationship with their host child and offer the host parent time to recharge with some adult conversation.
6. NEW (OR GENTLY USED) TOYS, CRAFTS AND BOARD GAMES
If the host family is welcoming a child of a different age and stage from their own children, they will likely need some additional indoor and outdoor toy options. Take a look in your playroom or garage and pull some things you are no longer using. Craft items are also needed; anything that can get the imagination flowing. Board games and card games are terrific because many don’t require English to quickly learn how to play.
Each host child will return to their home country with a new backpack (for school) and suitcase. The size and weight of the suitcase varies for each country, so ask what size is allowed before rushing out to purchase. Some host families also choose to send back a few donations for the child’s orphanage and would appreciate your support collecting those items.
8. GIFT AN EXPERIENCE
Consider giving the host family a day trip to the zoo, aquarium or an afternoon of bowling. Adding an extra child (or two) can make special events out of reach financially. Do you have access to tickets for a special event or know someone who does? Or, maybe you have a boat and would be willing to invite the host family to the lake for a day of fishing or swimming. Gift a host family a special day to create more memories with their host child.
9. GIFT CARD TO A LOCAL STORE
This might be the easiest option, give the host family a gift card inside a sweet note of encouragement. A host family will need toiletries and basics for that child in the form of pajamas, socks, underwear and more things they haven’t thought of yet! A gift card to a local big box store is a genuine lifesaver!
Are you a photographer or someone with a great camera and a good eye? All host families will be creating a photo album for their host child. Most host children don’t have a single photo of themselves and they love to share the host program photos after hosting. Consider scheduling a little time with your local host family to capture a few more memories for them and their host child.
Does all this talk about hosting have you interested in hosting yourself? Want to know more about what’s involved? Take a look at the children available for hosting in the upcoming season here in our photolisting – www.p143.org/pre-registration/
Hey Dads & Guys … Can I have a word with you?
Last December, my wife and I celebrated 26 years of marriage. Being the hopeless romantics that we are, our plans included indoor rock climbing followed up by ice cream. Why? Because the night was really centered on our host daughters — “A” (14) and “V” (8). “A” really took to the experience and her athleticism and competitiveness had a place to shine. There was no climb that she would refuse. On the last and toughest climb, she was stuck about 75% of the way up, but would not give up. She just kept taking a break, catching her breath and chalking up. Finally, she made it to the top! When she got back down to the floor I had the chance to put my arm around her shoulder and tell her, “That was pretty cool! We really enjoyed watching you climb tonight. We are very proud of and admire the fact that you never gave up. I hope we can do that again some time.”
To me, that right there, is hosting in a nutshell. When’s the last time anybody said anything like that to her? When’s the next time anybody will say something like that again? Or has it ever happened? Maybe she’s fortunate enough to have good caregivers in her life that encourage her in that way. But in an orphanage setting, the chances are, at the very least, diminished … if not non-existent.
If you’re anything like me, your head is full of questions about hosting and you’re a bit reluctant (okay, maybe more than just a bit). If so, I can relate because I was once that guy. Believe me. I get it. I’ve heard it said that one person in a marriage relationship is generally more free in spirit and the other is in charge of all of the “but what about this” questions. Once again, I can relate because I was once that guy. I still fill those shoes and likely always will to some extent. I’m hard-wired that way. I have noticed that more men than women tend to be hindered by the same list of questions that I had.
A few weeks ago, a friend posted a link to a blog by Jason Johnson. He perfectly described what life has looked like in our home over the last 6 years and the one thing that vividly stood out to me was this:
There will never be a right time for us to do this; there will always be a reason not to. But … there are kids out there that need us now. The time is now. (-Jason Johnson)
Yes, you should ask questions. Yes, you should be wise. Yes, you should do what you think is in the best interest of the host child and your family. Just don’t let your questions and reluctance stop you in your tracks. Don’t let them hold you up from stepping into this space and saying yes to hosting. We have now hosted 17 children (some more than once) during nine different host periods since the summer of 2010. This last summer we had the honor and privilege to re-host “A” and “V” along with five of their other siblings “K” (13), “D” (12), “A” (11), “S” (7) and “M” (6). (Yes! Seven at one time! That’s a whole different story and blog post.) I am confident that we have had a positive impact in some way on each of the children we’ve hosted.
Was hosting always easy? No. Sometimes it was downright messy and hard. But you know what? I think our own family has been downright messy and hard at times. I’m also confident that this has had a positive impact on our family. It has permanently changed us for the better. It has absolutely softened my heart. Something very deep, distinct and permanent happened in my heart during these last two hosting periods. Again … Easy? Not always. But the beautiful moments far outweigh the others.
Thank you Collette family for your role as a Project 143 host family for so many seasons!
Blog referenced can be found here: https://jasonjohnsonblog.com/blog/for-the-unsure-husband
Fourteen years ago a mother gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. I don’t know her. I don’t know her circumstances, whether she was overcome with love for him or terrified of the implications that giving birth to another child would have on her life and the lives of her three older children. I don’t know if the boy’s father was there to scoop him up and marvel at how pink, perfect and precious every finger and toe was. I only know that 14 years ago a mother gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, and that changed my life forever.
Fourteen years went by, and I was oblivious. I didn’t know. I didn’t know that in another country a mother was struggling to care for her beautiful boy, that every day things were getting harder for her and harder for him. I didn’t know that every day the two of them were one day closer to being torn apart. And then they were.
I don’t know what it feels like to lose my mother, or to live with a mother that is present but still lost. I don’t know what it is like to live at home for years until one day something happens that changes everything so much that I can never go back. I didn’t know that this was happening to a mother’s beautiful boy. But it did.
Without the intervention of Project 143 in the life of this boy I would never have known that my heart could ache for another mother the way it does for her. I would never have known that my heart could be so compelled that I would ask my husband and family to change everything about our lives so much that we could never go back. I didn’t know that hosting a boy would make me feel like I had been a mother who is present but also a little bit lost, or that becoming a host mother would make me a better mother. But it did.
I still don’t know everything about him, what his soft baby hair smelled like, how he toddled or tumbled taking his first steps. I didn’t hear him speak his first word, and I never had the opportunity to walk him to school on his first day. But as I knock on his bedroom door, sit on the side of his bed gently stroking his hair and asking him to wake up, I want to scoop him up. I marvel at how big and long his body is, how soft and quietly he breathes in sleep. I see his scars and it shatters my heart worrying about the scars I cannot see. And then he opens his eyes and smiles. He bear-hugs me and laughs, “I love you, my little mommy.” And I am.
Thank you Kostic family for sharing your story from Summer Hosting. We appreciate you and your role as a Project 143 host family!
Summer 2015 was our first experience with hosting. We learned about hosting from friends. My wife and I always wanted to adopt but figured that was not going to be possible after our special needs child was born. However, five weeks of hosting a child seemed like something our family could handle. We eagerly anticipated arrival day, which was both exciting and terrifying at the same time. With only a picture and short description of your host child, your mind can create all sorts of scenarios. When the host children finally arrived, it was really hard to identify our host daughter but when we finally made eye contact, she immediately looked away and down to the ground. Our hearts sank, she was clearly scared and lacked confidence. She spoke very little the first few days, but as the summer went on she opened up. Her walls closely guarded her heart. When we returned to the airport for summer hosting departure day, she did not shed a single tear. We, however, shed many that day.
After summer hosting, her orphanage allowed us to set up weekly Skype calls. Those calls were so beneficial in keeping communication open. We had mentioned to our host daughter about returning to our home for Christmas. She grew more excited as the time grew closer and we could see her confidence was growing as well.
Winter arrivals finally came and we were much more comfortable this time around. We were able to spend time getting to know others and encouraging all those nervous first time host families. We were also anxious, not really sure what to expect for our own rehost experience. When our girl arrived, it was clear that she was a much more confident girl. She was actively looking for us and when we made eye contact, she was all smiles. It was truly wonderful. When we got home it was as if she had never left and she went straight to her room to get settled. Her English was much improved from the summer and conversations were easier. Because this was Christmas hosting, she met extended family and our shy summer host girl had officially come out of her shell. She understood she was welcome and loved and she blossomed with that knowledge.
Even in the times of testing, our host daughter was able to see that she was treated no differently that our other children. We were always careful to show her the reason for the rules was because of our love for her and desire to protect her. Even those times were very important to build her trust. Winter host departures finally came and we were dreading the day. We began to see her walls once again but when it was time to depart, she grabbed us both and began to cry. She had never cried. She could finally let her heart be vulnerable. That is the difference a rehost makes.
Our thanks to the Ellis family for sharing their winter hosting rehost testimonial!
Our family became familiar with Project 143 just in time for winter hosting 2015-2016. I searched all of the available children’s information and discussed everything with my family. However, I was instantly drawn to a girl who was hearing impaired. I sincerely hoped to help her with a hearing evaluation and possibly hearing aids while she was here for hosting. Eventually, our family did select her for winter hosting and we were excited to participate.
I started reaching out in my local area for help but really couldn’t get too much traction until she arrived for evaluation. Finally, once she arrived into our home, we were able to complete her evaluation in the first week and start more research about her needs. Suddenly, we only had two more weeks of hosting remaining and I ‘threw out the net’ so to speak, contacting audiologists and ENT practices, along with a post on Facebook. The response was nothing short of amazing. The wonderful volunteers from Project 143 exhausted all of their resources to help meet the need of this young girl.
A friend who works for the Pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat of Atlanta (PENTA) as a nurse practitioner came to our rescue. A wonderful audiologist in the practice found a hearing aid that could be donated and soon we were in the office getting the ear molds. The following week, our host daughter was fitted with the new hearing aid just in time for the close of hosting.
Our host daughter was very excited about the hearing aids and, for the first time, told us to turn down the music in the car after her appointment!
The audiologist and nurse practitioner from PENTA made a huge difference in the life of our host child with a hearing need. The compassion and generosity that I witnessed in the brief period of time I was a host parent was overwhelming. Once you start this journey with Project 143 and the host children they help, you are never the same… and more than likely you will become a volunteer!
Thank you to the Sawyer family for choosing to host a child in order to help with her medical needs.
The world works in very odd and mysterious ways. I am fairly involved in the adoption and foster care community, yet I had never heard of orphan hosting. My introduction came when a friend shared a post on Facebook. She herself hadn’t hosted but was simply helping to spread the word. Without that one Facebook share, our host daughter wouldn’t have found her future family.
A wise man once said that it takes a village to raise a child. Hosting isn’t inexpensive and I felt a little odd asking for help to fund the hosting endeavor. However, watching all generosity was touching. We were able to reconnect with prior real estate clients who were Ukrainian who were all eager to talk, give advice, cook Ukrainian meals and shop for our host daughter. Children’s Dental Center donated a free exam, Wendy Schutt donated her photography services, friends took her shopping, gave us discount coupons for bowling and donated a gift certificate for a manicure (teen girl heaven). The most wonderful aspect of hosting is all the awareness that is generated. We’ve been contacted by so many who want to know more and are interested in helping, united by our compassion to care for children we have never met.
I don’t think it makes sense to most kids, or adults, that she is stuck in an orphanage in the middle of a war zone with about 500 other kids. We’re not sure exactly how many kids are there because they keep adding more kids as they evacuate other orphanages caught up in the conflict. She shares a room with 6 other girls. In the summer, the orphanages closes and if the kids aren’t in a summer hosting program or other summer opportunity, they’re turned out to the streets to fend for themselves. I asked our host daughter if we should pack some extra things for the orphanage, she suggested sponges to clean, laundry detergent and soap. We also bought a few other necessities, like underwear, socks, toothbrushes and school supplies.
At the airport, I walked along with the kids and other families towards security. And, just like that, our host daughter was on her way back home. Heartbreaking because we do wonder what the next few months will be like for her. My husband and I had said from the beginning that our primary goal was to connect a child with a potential forever family. A friend has contacted us with plans to hosting her this summer and we were able to facilitate introductions before hosting ended.
In four short weeks, this beautiful girl came into our lives and we are the better for it. Imagine this, Project 143 is an avenue to enrich the lives of orphans from a war torn country and yet, it’s us who are fulled in heart and mind.
Project 143 is an amazing organization with volunteers who spend hours on the phone learning about families and assisting their decision. I cannot wait to see how many more children we can help experience this same joy.
Thank you to the Yoo family for sharing their winter testimonial!
This past Christmas, my family decided to host for the very first time. Through a series of events, we were matched with a beautiful 13 year old girl. While we might not have originally intended to host a teen girl, God knew she was meant for our family and we immediately fell in love with her upon arrival.
The biggest blessing of the hosting experience was watching our host daughter begin understanding what it means to have a relationship with God. My family viewed hosting as an opportunity to do mission work in our home. Our church family ordered a Russian bible and, at night, my husband and the older girls would sit down and read their bibles together. She had a real desire to participate and would follow along and listen intently.
She initiated a conversation with us very early the first week about baptism.
We did not know what, if any, religious background she had and decided to hold off until we understood her intentions better. Towards the end of the hosting month we were able to connect with some missionary friends and realized our host daughter knew many bible stories and was able to recite several to us. She asked us again about baptism and, this time, we knew she understood and was ready.
On a chilly Sunday morning, she was so very proud to be baptized in front of our church. In fact, I’m not sure if I have ever seen a child more proud of their own baptism. She was beaming and told everyone that she saw for the rest of the week about her baptism. I believe she understands in a way that my own children do not. As an orphaned child, she has seen firsthand what life holds without God. Now, she is experiencing God for herself. Our family prays daily that she has been able to continue reading, learning and gaining encouragement from that gift bible.
Hosting is not something I can easily explain, but it is both rewarding and difficult. Carrying the burdens of a child who has already lost so much is tough. Showing our own children what mission work looks like was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had. We initially planned to host once, but we are forever changed and hosting will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future.
Project 143 thanks the Hooper family for sharing their wonderful winter hosting testimonial!
Part 1: Change of Plans
Ten years and, literally, everything has changed. But, before we get to that, here is how quickly 31 years can pass:
- Birth to 17 years old, I was kept safe and deeply loved. I took this for granted. God would eventually show me how so many others did not have such privilege.
- At 17 years old, I walked an aisle in a church in small town Kentucky and told the preacher, who happened to be my dad, that I felt called to children and missions. I didn’t have a clue what that meant or why I even went forward to say it.
- At 18+ years old, I left for college, got a fancy science degree, met a boy, got married, worked in corporate America, paid off student loans and had something called disposable income.
- At 30 years old, in April 2006, God allowed the rug to get pulled out from under me after suffering a miscarriage. I questioned everything I had ever been taught about God and found myself angry and wrestling with God for months to come. My little-girl relationship with Jesus was suddenly forced to grow up.
- At days shy of 31 years old, in July 2006, God sent me to an orphanage in China. The only reason I went was because I heard one of the most profound, clear messages in my spirit. I was broken, spent, depressed, angry, sad and clueless. (None of which I listed on my mission trip application, of course.)
- At 31 years old, home and reeling from the experiences of China, it would appear that God was calling me (once again) to children and missions. This time, that “concept” had a name — orphans.
Part 2: What is Hosting?
The only problem that came out of my trip to China was what to do with the information. How could I help these children long-term? I could not ignore what I had just experienced; God made sure of that. I could still hear the little blind boy who sang us a song in the courtyard. I could still hear myself the day they asked someone to sing a song for the children and the words, “Shout to the Lord all the earth let us sing,” came pouring from my mouth. I could still see the 12-year-old sitting beside me making rings for our fingers out of weeds and grass. I could still see the 3-year-old with club feet watching everyone else play because she could not get up and walk on her own. I had enough sights and sounds to make it impossible to move forward with life unchanged.
I knew if everyone else could experience some time with these amazing kids, they wouldn’t be stuck in orphanages forever. Alas, everyone can’t go to China for two weeks. So, could these children come to America? What a ridiculous notion, right? How do we solve problems in the 21st century? We google them, of course. This ridiculous notion existed and had a name — orphan hosting. Children from orphanages in other countries, not China at that time, were coming to the USA for a few weeks at a time.
In December 2006, I first saw orphan hosting on United States soil. I still remember the faces of children here for the first time and hearing several languages swirling around me all at once. God was answering my question of how to help overseas orphans. With that, my (perceived) little stint of mission work to orphans began in 2006.
Once upon a time, I circled a sentence in a Bible study book that said, “Break my heart for what breaks yours.” I wasn’t at all prepared for God’s response. This photo is a moment inside an orphanage that God used to change me forever. It just happened to be captured on film.
On this particular day, a girl, who looked to be about 10 or 11, came and sat down on the floor near my chair. I vaguely remember humming a song and she took notice of that and started inching her way closer and closer until she was within my reach. I started rubbing her head, just sort of playing with her hair a bit, and continued humming. Next thing I know, she wants in my lap. So, I just hold her, rock her, continue to hum, stroke her head and rub her back. She tries to hum and plays with that little doll, all the while, sitting happily in my lap.
At one point, she stops rocking, sits up and engages in conversation with the translator who is a few feet away. I can tell by the look on the translator’s face that she is little confused and there is more conversation. Then, the translator’s face changes completely and she starts to tear up. The explanation to me went like this:
“She asked me what ‘this’ is called. I didn’t understand what she meant. She said she feels something, sitting here with you, that she’s never felt before and she asked me what that’s called. I told her it’s called love.”
Satisfied with the translator’s explanation, she simply placed her head on my shoulder. I was wrecked. With a click of a camera from across the room, that moment was captured. I could not fathom how a child could exist for a decade and need to ask such a question. There would be many more hard questions, including, “Can I come to your house?” and “Are you my new mom?” Of course, there are lighter moments and more amusing questions like, “Why are your eyes so big?” That one usually only occurs in China.
No one is more surprised than me to still be part of this mission field of orphan ministry and orphan hosting 10 years later. Before you think such a journey is always a positive and affirming one, when you travel overseas repeatedly into dozens of orphanages and establish relationships with hundreds of kids, you also experience some of the lowest lows. Remember the beginning when I mentioned being safe and loved for my first 18 years of life? Because of that, I am able to make life adjustments, problem solve, examine relationships and heal from emotional wounds more readily. Virtually all the children I encounter weren’t given such a childhood. Because of that, many make choices out of brokenness instead of wholeness. I’d never encountered suicide or feared for children being recruited for trafficking or becoming homeless or even realized the true merit of a basic education before I personally worked with older and special needs orphans. Both the highs and the lows of ministry are teachable moments and I am a perpetual student.
Ten years later and I still believe wholeheartedly in the miracle of orphan hosting for older and special needs children. I’ve seen thousands of children make their way out of the shadows of an institution and into forever families.
As for some of those questions I mentioned above, the little one who didn’t know the word love now experiences it fully with her permanent family, the little one who asked if I was his new mom recently returned home with his very own new mom and the one who asked to come to my house, he did and we now share the same last name.
I’d like to encourage you to take a step. Don’t wait until you feel ready, don’t question the impact of your presence, don’t question your sanity, don’t be stingy, don’t rank the effectiveness of one thing over another and, no matter what, don’t give up. But, do give. Give freely of your time, give love knowing there is no guarantee it will be reciprocated by the wounded and injured and give sacrificially because there really is no other way to experience God’s full measure of provision. A decade later and I would not have the relationship with the Lord that I do without an amazing, persevering group of children labeled ‘orphans.’ Whatever passion the Lord is planting in you, accept it with your whole heart and follow after Him in obedience. Carry all the courage you can muster and offer it wholeheartedly to the One who is shaping the desires of your heart.
Thank you Michelle Vernon – Project One Forty Three, Development and Communications Director