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The Transforming Power of Time (#ServeOrphansWell)
by Melissa Hawks
Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Imagine your name is Astrid. It’s weighty for a small girl like you. You’re seven, and the name you’ve been given meaning “beautiful goddess” seems far away from working in a dump in Chimaltenango, Guatemala. That’s what your days are made up of; twelve to fourteen hours spent digging through other people’s trash in search of enough something to scavenge that might help your mother bring in a few dollars for the day.

Your mom loves you and you’re glad to have her, but it’s been lonely since your sisters left home. Things have gotten better. You know that because you just started first grade and you get to go to the Community Care Center after school. But school reminds you about being lonely. You don’t have a dad like many of the other kids and your mom is busy trying to make enough money for food.


Astrid is real. She is seven and she does live in Guatemala. She and her mother, Ana, spend long days at the Ravine. But she’s found respite and hope in the form of an after-school program at the Community Care Center sponsored by Orphan Outreach. The moments she’s found the most special there are the ones occupied by visitors from another country. She tells her mother about the balloons and crafts, how her new friends paint her face and spent time with her. She talks about feeling loved because these people come all the way from another country to see her.


In Latvia, Ivanda tells the story of her American friend, Will, who spent time teaching her how to make a bracelet. He walked with her to lunch and back, listening to her. Sergey talks about his friend, Zach, who wrote him a note. Sergey thinks Zach should come back more often. Intars is older than the others, he’s eighteen and has seen many visitors pass through. His favorites are Will, Julia, Blair, and Vince -  and he sees the time he spent with his friends from United States and their conversations as invaluable.

That’s what arises the most in the talks about the visitors: time. These children crave the time of people who have it to give to them. They appreciate the beds and clothes and gifts which are given to them by those arriving on mission trips and visiting from other places. But what they desire more than anything is the attention of those bringing them.

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Amy Norton is the Director of Programs for Orphan Outreach. She’s visited countless times with the children served by the ministry’s partners. One child in particular brought this truth home to her. His name is Vanya. He was only two years old the first time she met him. “I can still remember the frightened look in his eyes that day.  He was rarely, if ever, held in the orphanage. He warmed up and was so happy to have the attention. I had the blessing of getting to spend time with him by going back several times and was able to leave a photo with him of us together.” This photo and one other were the only things Vanya had when he left the orphanage to live with a foster family at the age of seven. He told Amy his story years later when he searched for her on Facebook to tell her how much joy her visit brought him, and how the picture of the two of them brought him hope in his darkest moments.

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There are considerable discussions currently as to whether or not a short-term mission trip to places like Astrid or Vanya’s home is a wonderful undertaking, or if it can be harmful to the very people the team comes to help. There are proponents who will argue for both. As with most things in life, the answer appears to lie somewhere in between. Walk into a culture with a plan to remake it in the image of your own home, you’re bound to leave a swath of damage behind. Enter it with a willingness to listen and spend time getting to know the people who live there, you’re more likely to be able to offer help that is useful and can be accepted.

And help is needed.

Funding is needed. It always will be. It’s the only way these places of refuge can continue the work they do, but it’s the stories of the people who visit them that the children love to recount. Amy Norton has also heard the tales of many children who grew up through the Orphan Outreach programs. She shares, “Relationships they formed with many of those who came to visit them and especially those who came again and again made the biggest impact. They knew they mattered; that there was a life and future for them beyond their history of abandonment and neglect.”


Astrid, Ivanda, Sergey, and Intars aren’t the only children with stories. There’s also Felicity* in San Lucas; she came to the children’s home young, pregnant, and alone. She talks about people visiting “playing, dancing, laughing, and most of all loving on me and my son.” There are the graduates from the Orphan Outreach program in Russia who attended a summer camp put on by missions visitors when they were younger. They still talk about the relationships they formed with those who taught them stories from the Bible.  Maisy* at Gan Sabra HIV Home in India has been transformed by the people who have cared for her. She is fascinated by science and insists that when she is grown she will work with Orphan Outreach “all over the world” to help those in need. She knows how powerful one person can be in changing lives.

Imagine your name is Astrid. The days are hard, but you’ve found hope. And that hope shared by strangers become friends will echo for generations.

Watch the full story of Amy and Vanya.

You may be part of the historic work of the Comprehensive Care Center in Chimaltenango through sponsorship of one of the children in the after-school program or higher education program, or by investing in the Ravine community outreach program. For more details on special opportunities, please contact Amy Norton, Director of Programs, at anorton@orphanoutreach.org.

 #ServeOrphansWell is a five-part series on the impact of short-term mission trips in caring for orphans and vulnerable children. Our thanks to Dace Rence, Julia Oseida, Katherine Cheng, and Dan Ucherek for their contributions to this article. 

*certain names have been changed for those in protected programs

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