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
Skipping through airports, passports in hand, dressed sleekly in black with a simple leather bag and looking fabulous. Well, those people may exist in Vogue, but they sure aren’t part of the P143 interview team.
At this point, I’ve been on three P143 interview trips and, while it is exciting, it’s certainly not very glamorous. Packing and repacking carry-ons, carrying a high quality camera and lens, phone, laptop, notes, multiple chargers, international converters and all the other needs leaves little room for maneuvering easily with a stylish leather bag. Schlepping is a more appropriate term. The team also has to figure out a way to pack the little gifts that we give each child after interviews, along with enough wash-and-wear clothing for two weeks of international travel. Interview trips are bare-bones. We share tiny European hotel rooms in safe hotels, but not luxurious ones. There’s nothing like sleeping 6 inches from a stranger to make you strangers no more! Add in the travel across countries in tiny cars and, suddenly, the need for black coffee is amplified to a previously unimaginable level.
Interview teams typically are comprised of a P143 interviewer, photographer and translator. During winter interview trips, teams are scheduled to arrive at orphanages and orphan courts in the mid-to-late afternoon because the children are in school during the day. Factor in travel distances and time on rough roads in winter weather and it all makes for some really long days. We usually have several appointments scheduled per day, and it’s always a rush from one to the next. Then, an orphanage may have thought they only had five children for us to interview, but we arrive to find 15 children ready to meet us.
The children are nervous and shy during their interviews. Some are excited about a potential visit to America, while others may have interviewed several times and have yet to be chosen for hosting. The interviewer works with a translator, asking specific questions and trying to make a unique connection with the child beyond the language barrier. The interviewer is listening and typing the responses in real-time from the translator. I am extremely thankful for my high school typing teacher in times like these! We do our best to ask open-ended questions to yield answers that give us a glimpse into the child’s personalities and interests. There is an art to connecting with a child you have just met to glean what makes them special. I have been fortunate to observe some of the best interviewers P143 has and frequently imitate them when I am on my own. During these interviews, the P143 team also gets additional information that orphanage directors are willing to share with us regarding personality, behavior and medical information. Interviewing potential host children is wonderful and each child is a blessing, bringing his or her own gifts to life and to the P143 program. However, each child is being interviewed by P143 due to a history of great loss and grief in their lives. This can be difficult for the interview team to absorb over and over again, day after day. It’s hard to hear these stories of sadness in these beautiful children’s lives and to see the toll it has taken on their personalities and outlook on the future.
But there’s another factor to the interviews and that’s what we all see on the photolisting — the photos! It is an understatement to say how important great photos are to our organization. Each of us connects visually to some degree, and a photo does make a difference in a child’s chance of being chosen for hosting. Americans enjoy great big smiles, however, the rest of the world is uncomfortable with toothy grins. Trying to get a child you’ve just met to smile genuinely is not a task for the faint of heart. It sometimes turns into something resembling a toddler photo shoot, with funny faces and props but also terrible industrial lighting. There is no end to what a P143 photographer is willing to do to get that winning shot.
After visits to interview the children, the information and photos all need to be uploaded to the database. Database information needs to be updated, double-checked, triple-checked — and this is often all done on the road (literally) on laptops. Often, the interview teams return to the hotel late in the evening with hours of work ahead to update children’s information and label photos for the U.S. team to place into the photolisting. Teams work into the wee hours of the morning (think 2 or 3 a.m.) and occasionally even later to get the information compiled before starting a new day of interviews. Five to six hours of sleep is a dream for an interview team member. Sound glamorous yet? We haven’t mentioned eating. The team needs to eat. We are great connoisseurs of gas station food where “delicious” sandwiches, smoothies, and unhealthy candy options sometimes fuel us to the next interview destination. At least there is coffee at every gas station.
Interview trips rarely run smoothly — whether it’s a cancelled appointment once we’re halfway there or a blown tire between orphanages on a pothole-ridden road with three women who have never changed a tire before. The interview teams need to stay flexible, alert and ready to make adjustments hourly.
In the end, each of the interviewed children deserves hope. Hope is what P143 offers through our hosting programs. Hope for a break from their orphanage life. Hope for finding a family to love them and cherish them. Hope for learning new positive ways of connecting to other human beings and learning how to be part of a functional family. It is that hope that keeps the interview teams going and fuels us through weeks of overseas interviews. Project 143 offers HOPE for orphans through HOSTING!
Thank you to Project 143 volunteer Barbara Engeriser for her tireless work on our interview trips and for contributing to this article.
EVERY COUNTRY HAS ORPHANS . . .
The United States has orphans, but we call them foster children. Foster children, unchosen for adoption, typically stay in the system and in school until they are at least 18 years old. Once they are legally adults, they are free to make a choice about their life but can continue to get financial, educational and medical assistance. This is not the case for most orphans globally.
In Eastern Europe, most orphans leave the orphanage after completing the ninth grade or 15 years old. At that point, they usually have two options, either enroll in a trade school or get a job. Neither is a great option for a 15 year old child. Trade school is a dormitory type setup designed to teach children to become a cook, beautician, cashier or mechanic. However, there is very little adult supervision or accountability in this setting. Imagine sending your 15 year old away to ‘college.’ Getting a job can also prove difficult because a 15 year old orphan has no work experience or higher education. This defining moment of transition for an older orphan is when drug and alcohol use rises and sexual activity increases which springboards into crime, unplanned pregnancy, prostitution and suicide. Most orphans who age out of the orphanage at 15 years of age, without anyone to help, guide or mentor them, won’t make it. Orphans create more orphans, perpetuating the cycle. Older orphans truly carry the burden for their own daily survival.
I have teenagers of my own and I know that neither of them is mature enough to handle the responsibility of life on their own at 15 years of age. At that age, kids should be still in school, hanging out with friends and learning life skills from parents before they are ushered (yet still with our guidance) into the adult world. You may be asking yourself, why host an older orphan when I really want to host a younger child? Of course, the younger children look super sweet and we all know teenager can be, well, difficult. Maybe you already raised your kids and don’t really want to deal with teenagers again. These older teens need you the most.
Teenage orphans KNOW they are aging out soon and will leave the only security they have known. Most feel scared, unloved and completely unprepared for the future. They are afraid and aren’t sure where they will lay their head at night or when they will eat their next meal. What aging out orphans need most is a caring adult in their lives, one that will walk the journey alongside them. You can be their light in the darkness, hope, inspiration, their mentor and friend. When you host an older orphan, you have an opportunity to use hosting to impact their immediate future by teaching them basic life skills like cooking, laundry, shopping, money management, goal setting and time management. You can help them make decisions about their future, where to go to school, what to study and remind them of the importance of education.
Older orphans crave unconditional love and acceptance. You can help them heal emotional wounds, learn to love and trust again. Orphans have the same needs as every other child in the world, to know they matter to ‘someone’ in the world. Hosting an older orphan comes with its own set of challenges but also great rewards. God’s greatest blessing for you might be just outside your comfort zone.
With the dozens of teenage orphans who remain unchosen on our photolisting, we are hoping you will consider hosting with a different goal in mind this summer. Prepare and equip an older orphan with the life skills that no one has taken the time to teach him or her. Invest in a relationship that can continue across the thousands of miles and be a lifeline for an older orphan who is about to transition into an adult world… whether they are ready or not.
Thank you to Alyson Wallace for her role in caring for older orphans and contributing to this article.
Thank you to the Rodriguez Family for sharing this winter hosting testimonial.
There aren’t words to describe how I’m feeling. I honestly don’t even know. Yesterday, which already feels like months ago, we said goodbye to our host son. There are so many unknowns. Will he be fed well? Will he continue to stand tall? Will he get to keep his belongings he hauled back? Will he be moved? Will we be able to host again? Will he stay safe? We just have to let go as best we can and let God take over. My husband and I agreed, as fast as hosting happened and as insane as it might have seemed to some, this was God’s plan for us. Nothing felt out of place, nothing was shocking to us, it’s as if this was exactly what we were supposed to do and I can’t explain the peace that brought. Challenges, pleasures, travels, joys, heartbreak, stresses, barriers, happiness – all of it was what we needed to do right at this exact time in our lives. I don’t know why and I may never know why but this was right. It was fast, crazy and unexpected. It was God’s will.
Hosting was hard, not because our teenage host son was challenging but because I had three kids instead of two. My toddler said “MINE” at least 547 times per day, my teenage host son said “Steph!” about 390 times per day and my baby cried plenty. The first week felt like the longest week of my life. Possibly even longer than the first week with my newborn son. My already frazzled mommy nerves were a little more rattled. Add in the inability to speak with our host son fluently and I was just DONE at the end of some host days. I also found myself guarding my heart because I (selfishly) didn’t want to hurt when he was gone.
Our host son was an instant best friend to our almost three-year-old son and he loved on the 4-month-old baby like it was his little baby. He learned English so fast, was respectful, kind, patient and smart. I loved watching him love on my husband and kids. Once he learned my name, he never stopped saying it. And, once he figured out how to spell it, my name was written everywhere. I felt like I was back in middle school because he was doodling my name so much. He was a perfectionist, in the best way, he worked hard until a task was accomplished. He was so proud of his freshly made bed and his clothes hanging in the closet. He wouldn’t wear his new clothes initially. I couldn’t figure out why. Finally, I went in with scissors and cut off all the tags. He instantly began putting together outfits. I don’t think he really believed they were his. He most impressed me with cut-out paper snowflakes and soon our house looked like the apartment in the movie ‘Elf’ after Buddy decorated. And what about hosting at Christmas time? How many of us roll our eyes when we think about another Christmas with the family? Or another party? Or another get-together? I’m guilty. I have absolutely been there. Well, talk about a new perspective. My heart was so full of love and joy and gratitude watching our host son on Christmas morning.
“Happiness is doing God’s will.” I remember when I heard that at church and the light bulb went off. The next obvious question was, what does God desire of me? What is my mission? Am I doing God’s will? Our hosting was wonderful, about 89.2% roses and 10.8% thorns. Not perfection. It never will be because we’re human and imperfect and require grace. I have no idea what to do next. There is no perfect answer. My life isn’t perfect and we aren’t ‘perfect’ for hosting an orphan. So, I ask the question, what will you have me do, Lord?
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send?
Who will go for us?
Here I am, I said; send me!
*This article summarizes several different posts from Stephanie’s blog, which can be found here: rejoicinginthereal.wordpress.com