Teens In Action: Blankets of Love

Uruguay1Cathy Vollenweider contacted me a while back to share about her ministry to orphans in Uruguay and wondered if it might be something of interest to share on TIO.  I was so excited to hear about her heart for Uruguay and to learn about her ministry. Her story is perfect for TIO. Stay tuned to learn about another teen’s ministry to orphans next week. And now, here’s Cat.

God has given me compassion for children in one of the smallest and most secular countries in South America: Uruguay.  In Uruguay, many children are abandoned, abused, and unwanted.  Uruguay’s crumbling family unit and hurting children are related to issues such as legal prostitution and nearly impossible adoption, leaving a huge percentage of innocent Uruguayan little ones living in orphanages and hungry for love.

In spite of the darkness that pervades, God is bringing about a glorious change through His people there.  An example of such is the Stallings family.  They moved to Uruguay from Colorado specifically to love and mentor Uruguayan orphans (go to http://www.fieldsofthefatherless.org to see more about their mission).

I am coming alongside the Stallings’s to help these little children know that they are loved, through prayer and through a project called Bracelets4Blankets.  The Lord, by His generous grace, is using this project of selling friendship bracelets to raise money so that the Stallings’s can give winter blankets to the orphans that they have relationships with.

Uruguay is in the southern hemisphere, so their winters go from June to August.  Time is limited to complete this project!  Bracelets are $5 each.  All donations will go to the Stallings’s ministry, who will use it to give blankets to the orphans.

Uruguay2

To read more about my passion for Uruguay: either keep reading, or follow this link to my blog (both posts are different).  If you would like to give $5 to help keep these orphans warm this winter, follow this link. After donating, click the yellow button that says “Return to the Bracelet Project” (or something like that) to be redirected to a blog page containing an order form, where you can tell me your preferences for the bracelet (or follow this link to go directly to the project’s page – it explains in more detail how the donation/ordering process works).

Uruguay3So, why do I have a passion for Uruguay, specifically?  I really have a hard time with this question, and it is something that I have wrestled with myself.  I have asked, “why? Why does my heart ache for those in a far away country that I had not heard of before?”  And I’m still not sure of the answer, but I do know that the passion He has given me is real.

The Lord simply put a passion for Uruguay on my heart.  In February of 2013, I had been praying intensely about the direction in which God wanted my life to go.  During a conversation with my older brother, he wondered out loud why mission trips to Uruguay are unheard of, and as we began searching for the answer to this question, the people of this little country captured my heart.

I have never been to Uruguay; merely a year ago I had only vaguely heard of it.  Yet I have a compassion and broken heart for the people of Uruguay like I have for nothing else.  The only way I can explain it is that this is a God-given passion.

Sometimes, the hurt that I have for Uruguay seems unbearable, and sometimes I feel like giving up.  Those times, I hold onto what Christ did for me, and I remember that my life is “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3), and that my fingers are His anyway.  How could I stop them from doing the work He has given me?  So I make bracelets.  Please join me in this work – I know that united we can accomplish anything, and I believe that God will do something amazing beyond imagination.

Uruguay4

Does anyone have questions or comments for Cat? Were you inspired by the story of a fellow teenager doing what she can to make a difference in the lives of children? Thank you, Cat, for the article!

Fabulous Life of a Teenager: A Video

If you’re like me, the idea of young people making a difference in our world makes you think of Alex and Brett Harris’s book, Do Hard Things. If it doesn’t, you probably haven’t read the book, and you should add the title to your reading list. Anyway, their website/blog features a video series called The Fabulous Life of a Teenger. If you’ve read the books, most of the video will sound familiar. It’s worth reviewing though, and a good encouragement for those times we feel like we can’t make a difference.

One of Those People

Girl SilhoutteI’m one of those people. One of those people family, friends, and random strangers worry about because of the big, crazy ideas we talk about. We seem like we want to change the world and we do. Some of us want to impact the whole world or at least our country. Some of us want to change the world for just few people. Some of us tell everyone we meet about our dreams, while some keep quiet, treasuring the hope inside. Either way, people know…we live on the bring of going off the deep end.

I’m one of those people who has a lot of learning to do. It seems like dreamers often need a lot of redirection and training from God before we get to the place He needs us to be. From what I’ve read, it’s often a difficult process. But I also hear it’s worth it.

children-of-ecuador-11I’m one of those people who sometimes gets discouraged. Sometimes it seems like my hopes and dreams can’t possibly be reached. Who knows, maybe they can’t. But it would be nice to get as close as possible.

Right now, I’m one of those people. Someday, I hope I’ll be one of those other people. Those people who went beyond the dreaming and took action. Those people who made it through the trials and reached the place God wanted them. Those people who keep learning. Those people who went despite discouragement and doubt. One of those people making a difference.

What about you? Are you “one of those people”? Do you hope to change the world in some way, but wonder how on earth you can?

TIO Featured on The Rebelution

orphan
That’s right! Teens Interceding for Orphans has been featured on The Rebelution blog. Not sure what The Rebelution is? It’s what Alex and Brett Harris call the movement started by their book, Do Hard Things. If you haven’t read Do Hard Things, you need to. It’s a great book with the tagline, “Teens Rebelling Against Low Expectations (aka The Rebelution).” The blog has over 7,000 followers, so it’s pretty exciting to have TIO featured there. If you found TIO through the post, please leave a comment to say hi! If not, go read the article!

Ideas for Teens

If you’ve never visited Beauty from the Ashes, go take a peek. Or, even better, stay a while once you’re there. I don’t remember how I found Karen’s blog, but it’s a gem. The stories in the blog archives are pure gold. I couldn’t stop reading. What an excitement to have her write a blog post for TIO!

~*~

Karen and little girFor the past 9 years I’ve made Kiev, Ukraine my home. What started out as an 8-month adventure turned into vision and a calling surrounding the orphans of Ukraine.

While in Ukraine I’ve traveled to dozens of orphanages, participated in humanitarian aid distributions, been an advocate for adoption, assisted with the adoption process and have organized summer camps and hosting trips for orphans and at risk kids. Through these experiences God has opened my eyes to deep need throughout Ukraine and burdened my heart for specific children.

Due to my location in Ukraine and my presence in the ‘blogging world’ I often get emails asking for practical ways people can get involved. Sometimes people have a heart for helping and loving orphans, but lack ideas for how to put their desires into action. This is especially true if you are young and perhaps lack the resources to travel and are not at a place in life where you can adopt.

So the question remains: what can we do from home to make a difference?

In order to make this as practical as possible I’ve generated a list of ideas for you to prayerfully consider as you ask the question, what can I do for orphans?

Educate Yourself
Sounds pretty straightforward right? There is an overwhelming amount of information on the Internet today surrounding the number of orphans, the plight of orphans, statistics on orphans, ministries that are helping, and even ministries that are hurting. Honestly, it can be overwhelming! But it is hard to speak with authority and conviction on a topic if we don’t know much about it. So spend time getting to know the reasons behind the number of orphans in various countries, and learn more about ministries that are working around the world. Talk to missionaries and those that work with orphans or who have adopted. Ask lots of questions so you can get a sense of the greatest needs.

Advocate
After you know what you are talking about (see above :)) and you have a better understanding of the needs of children around the world you will be able to share with your friends and help them develop a heart for orphans as well. Find an orphan ministry whose cause you believe in and promote what they are doing. Share their links on Facebook, re-post videos advocating for kids, sometimes it is amazing what we can do with the click of a mouse!

Give Creatively
Think of ways to raise money for a ministry you see making a difference. But don’t just ask for money, think of ways to get other people involved too. Think of giving campaigns you can do as a youth group or in your school. Make things and sell them, bake things and sell them, hold a party or a dinner as a fundraiser, put together Christmas shoeboxes for orphans overseas, adopt a local foster family that needs extra help. Really the ideas are endless! It’s time to get creative!

Pray
Such a simple word, but easier said than done! Prayer is mysterious at times, and yet we know we are instructed to come to the Lord in prayer, and he hears us! I have seen God move mountains countless times for orphans in Ukraine. The first time I went to an orphanage was in 2004, and there I met a little girl named Ira. I committed to praying for her and that she would have a family. 2 years later that prayer was answered and Ira was adopted! It is amazing to see how God hears our hearts when we intercede for his children. There are several websites that feature pictures of children living in orphanages that you can be praying for:

http://doorwaystohope.org/pray
http://reecesrainbow.org/

Remember the needs are closer than you think
You don’t have to travel across the globe to help orphans. Currently the US foster system has about 400,000 children in its registry. This number represents kids in your own community. Find out if there are ways to serve as a lunch buddy or mentor to a foster child in your community.

Do you know any foster or adoptive families in your church or neighborhood? Sometimes people forget that the hardest part of adoption is AFTER the kids come home. Think of ways you can support and serve these families. Offer to make a meal, help with house or yard work or childcare.

As you can see, there are LOTS of ways to get involved in answering the Biblical call to love and care for orphans. Some of them take creativity and others perhaps just leaving your comfort zone! Find a friend and get started!!

~Karen

Do you know any post-adoptive families? Have you educated yourself about any specific countries or orphan care topics?

Loving Katia (part 2)

Katia with dadMiss yesterday’s post? Read part of McKennaugh’s story here –> Loving Katia (part 1).

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My prayers were answered when, after months of advocating, Katia’s story finally fell into the right hands. The Russell family read a poem that I had written about her in an Above Rubies e-zine and contacted me for more information. I sent them a long email about a child thousands of miles away with medical complications that I couldn’t even pronounce. They prayed. God answered. And the Russells started the year long process of adopting Katia. There were home studies and paperwork, dossiers and passports and fundraisng. When at last they got to Ukraine, they found Katia in an even worse condition. She was seven now. She was still fifteen pounds. After each visit they had with her, the Russells wondered if there would be another. Katia lay in her crib, seizing. But she lived. She was the weakest person that I have ever met but, somehow, she was by far the strongest, too.

Katia - homeKatia made it to the US. She was immediately admitted to a hospital here. Seizure medication, surgery, food. Food. Katia doubled her weight and grew four inches in 4 short months. Her blind eyes began to see. Casts shaped her legs, slowly, so they could bend. Her hair grew out and she has a mother to do it up in bows. She has three siblings always darting in to kiss her. She has a daddy to hold her. Now she is no longer a unwanted orphan child. She is someone’s daughter. The change is very visible. She is beautiful.

Every time I talk to Katia’s mother, Heather, or see a photo of this little girl, I think, “I came so close to giving up.” I had spent many endless days–months–trying to advocate for her and find her a family. For the longest time, it had come to nothing. I wondered within if I should give up. But I didn’t. I thank God I didn’t, for my words finally reached a family. I think that nothing in the world feels as good as knowing that you changed someone’s life. That you, with perseverance, helped a child leave a place where they were destined to live a life in a crib. I’m trying to say this in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m trying to collect credit for myself, because I’m not. I just want to say that anyone can make a difference…even a 14-year-old girl with Ukrainian soil on her feet who decides, “God wouldn’t want this child to die without hope. I can’t wait around for someone else to speak for her when I’m supposed to.” I wasn’t anyone special. I just knew that Katia deserved to have a childhood like I had had. It took a lot of time, effort, love and, most if all, a lot of God’s help. The point of this post is that teens can make a difference and that includes you. You can change someone’s life. All you have to do is try. Go for it.

~McKennaugh, age 17
Katia - after

Want to help a Ukrainian orphan? Yuri, a seven-year-old boy, is being adopted from Katia’s orphanage. I met him while I was there and he was the sweetest child. I was able to find him a family only recently and they are trying to raise funds so that they can bring him home. Visit the following link and consider donating to his adoption fund:  Hope for Yuri.

Have you ever seen before and after photos like this? (I haven’t!) How does this story touch your heart?

Loving Katia (part 1)

Katia with McKennaughI found part of McKennaugh’s story on The Rebelution blog. She’s a perfect example of what a huge impact teenagers can have in orphan care. I cried reading the story she sent about Katia. (Yes, there’s a theme here. I cry over everything related to this subject.) What really amazed me were the pictures of Katia. I’d never seen before and after picture like this. They are stunning, visual proof of the redemptive power of adoption. And now, please welcome McKennaugh.

~*~

I lean forward on the red-brown couch trying to get a glimpse of the next room. The workers were busy for a moment and the children, like always, were so quiet. As empty as it seemed, I knew that Davit, Vanya, Miroslav, and Katia were in there. Miroslav with his angel smile, Davit with the sad, longing eyes, Vanya with the giggle that made you just have to laugh along and Katia…Katia. Oh, how she needed someone. A mama, a papa…anyone. I stood slowly and walked to the door. Katia’s crib was in the corner. I crept over to it. A tiny little girl with huge blue eyes stared blankly up at me. I touched her stiff hands. “Pryvet, Katia,” I whispered. She flinched ever so slightly, but remained staring straight ahead. She was blind. I reached down, moving my hand along her legs. I cringed at the feel of them. They were bent at strange angles. And they didn’t bend. Not at all. She was fifteen pounds. She was six years old. Orphanage life is not kind.

Katia2Tears stung my eyes as I slipped my large hand over her baby fingers. Her medical needs were terribly severe. She had not received the care she needed here. It was a miracle that she had survived this long already. Time was not in her favor. I stood, fourteen years old and face to face with the unfairness of the world. If Katia had been born in the US she would have been a completely different child. She wouldn’t have been malnourished and still in a crib. Someone needed to help this little girl; help all the children here who were underfed and had no stimulation. They lived in cribs at the ages most kids should be going to school and spent each day hoping for love that never comes. But who would help? Almost no one outside of Ukraine knew of Katia’s existence. Then I realized that no one would advocate for Katia to get out of this place, no one would reveal her plight to the world. No one, unless I listened to God and did it myself. She was six. I was hardly over twice her age and, yet, she had to depended on me to do something. Our Lord can use the most unlikely people to make change.

Every time that I could, I would go to her and whisper some words before I was sent away. Sometimes I wondered if she really heard me and knew that I was there. One day she was crying and crying. It was the only sound in the place. I listened to the lonely echo of her wails, my heart hurting. I walked into her room and hurried to her crib before anyone could tell me not to. “Don’t cry, Katia,” I said gently. She instantly stopped. I was told to go out of the room. How I wished I could stay by her side! As I stepped away from her crib, she knew I was leaving. She started to whimper again. I had to try with all my might to stop my own tears, but now I knew that she heard me. She knew that I was there. “Someday, Katia,” I thought, “perhaps there will be someone who will hold you every time you cry and not have to leave.”

I spent seven weeks in that orphanage and each day made me wonder why my childhood had been full of love and siblings and laughter when these children had nothing and no one. When I came home to America, I knew that Katia needed an adoptive family immediately. I started by contacting magazines and e-zines, calling organizations and begging God not to let this child of His die before she heard the words, “You are loved.”

Katia with her mom

Come back tomorrow for the rest of the story.