And the Lord said, if you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you might say to this sycamine tree, Be you plucked up by the root, and be you planted in the sea; and it should obey you. – Luke 17:6
The scripture set out above just seems perfect to describe what is happening with the Children’s Hope ministry in Haiti. What began as a small, simple idea has grown – through the grace and hand of God – into a work that will impact the lives of hundreds of children now, and generations in the future.
Children’s Hope is a ministry of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., that was started in September 2010. The ministry includes three components: adoption, foster care and orphan support. Andy Birchfield, a lawyer in our firm, and his wife, Tanya, began the ministry after they adopted their daughter, Cristina Hope, from the Eastern European country of Moldova three years ago. Andy says:
As a part of the experience of adopting our daughter, we gained a deeper appreciation of God’s heart for orphans, and the understanding of the enormous need.
According to estimates there are between 143 million to 210 million orphans worldwide. The mission in Haiti came about as a work of the third aspect of the Children’s Hope plan – direct orphan care. When Haiti was rocked by a severe earthquake in January 2010, Andy and Tanya had a desire to help support an existing orphanage in that country by sending mission teams on a regular basis. However, when Andy and Tanya visited Haiti in August 2010, Andy says the Lord led them to 16 children living in a small tent in the town of Jacmel. He says that “it was pretty clear” to them that God wanted them to take care of these children.
Immediately the children and a 22 year-old Haitian caregiver were moved into a rental house and the children were enrolled in school. Land was acquired and plans for a permanent home were developed. But God had bigger plans than building one facility. Andy and Tanya, along with others working in the ministry, found themselves in the midst of building a community. According to Andy, “the Lord is expanding the mission in Haiti.”
The Children’s Hope ministry in Haiti acquired five acres of land and construction of six homes for children is underway. These homes, with the capacity of housing a total of 60 children, are expected to be finished this summer. Currently, the mission program is serving 23 children ranging in ages from four to 15. Some of the children were orphaned in the earthquake, others by poverty or disease. Some children were abandoned by parents who couldn’t afford to keep them. Child slavery – with children known as “restaveks” – is a major problem in Haiti. Children born in poverty are given to relatives or even strangers, whom they serve as domestic slaves. They experience humiliation and, often, abuse. They are left alone in a family that offers them no love. A four-year-old girl who was a restavek is the newest member of the Children’s Hope family.
There are four Children’s Hope team members who now live in Haiti full time. Tommy and Joy Schwindling oversee the mission house, help coordinate mission teams and direct the Children’s Hope evangelism and discipleship ministry. Charley and Martie Elgin direct the Children’s Home, a medical and dental clinic, a sewing center, distribute Haitian Bibles and oversee five church schools that serve about 600 children who otherwise would be unable to afford an education.
The sewing center provides vocational training primarily for single mothers as well as children at the orphanage. Also, a tilapia farm will soon be built on the Children’s Hope grounds. The tilapia farm, which is being developed with Auburn University, will teach Haitians how to farm tilapia, providing a source of income as well as provide food for the children. These programs are designed to give young people life skills for the future, as a way to provide for themselves and their families. With 80 percent unemployment in Haiti, this is a huge need.
Mission teams made up of an average of ten people each visit Haiti throughout the year, helping to build churches and working on the orphanage. Ideally, Children’s Hope needs 40 mission teams to visit the country each year. Thirty-nine teams are already committed to go in 2013. Haitian nurses staff the medical and dental clinic, supported by medical mission teams of doctors and dentists who visit to donate their services. The long-range vision for the mission is to train a Haitian staff to run the orphanage, make it self-sustaining, and then replicate the program either in another location in Jacmel, or in other areas of Haiti. Andy had this to say about what has been done:
It’s astonishing to look back and see what the Lord has done over the past two years. What has been so amazing has been to see God’s hand and His provision over the course of the last two years. It’s clearly His work, and I’m just thankful He lets us be a part of it. Our goal is to show the love of Christ to the people of Haiti and to raise children to know and love Jesus.
The mission is supported through child sponsorships and donations. More information about Children’s Hope, and how to support the ministry, is available online at www.childrens-hope.com. If you feel led to do so, make a contribution to this worthwhile cause.
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