Death and a Robbery

A few Fridays ago, we encountered one of the hardest days we have ever faced in our work here in the Horn.

I must begin this story with enormous praise of the Father.  Most “normal” people try their best to not think of a worst-case scenario, such as a spouse or child suddenly dying.  But after the events of this particular Friday, we were _MG_2344somewhat forced to consider what that might be like.  I begin with praise because the Father was watching over us as something traumatic occurred.  He was keeping us safe in the midst of something that could have been life-threatening.

On Friday I left our house headed for Grace Centre around 8:20am, as I do most days.  Before I made it to the end of our road, just minutes later, a friend called and told me that another friend in my neighborhood had suddenly died the previous afternoon.  This was a shock that shook me. This friend was only around 30 years old and has a wife and 2 small girls almost the same age as Esther and Ruth.  It is a friend that I have had here ever since 2008 when I first came to this country, and is also a local restaurant owner and well known in the community.

I was stunned and immediately turned back to my house to tell Carrie, drop my bike, and head to where the funeral was gathering.  That was about 8:25 am.

_MG_1407As I sat at the back of the gathering, crouched down and praying and wondering how to make sense of this tragedy, my phone rang at 8:44 am.  It was an American friend that lives near to us.
My first reaction was to ignore the phone call, but I thought this friend was maybe wanting to ask about the funeral.  I decided to answer.

The words that I heard from the end of the line gave me yet another shock,  “Go home now, someone broke into your house with knives and Carrie needs you.”  My immediate response,  “Are you serious?”  (as this friend is often a jokester and prankster) was countered by, “Go to your house now!”  Completely in disbelief, I had to ask if again if he was serious, and again he said, “Yes, go!”

Finally convinced of the reality of what I’d just heard, I took off running as fast as I could.  My friend had informed that Carrie and the kids were ok, and that the thieves were gone, but even with this information, I knew I needed to get there asap. I was maybe about a mile away from my house, and shamefully I could only sprint for maybe two minutes.

As I arrived on our street,  Andreas came running to me still hysterically crying, a large crowd of neighbors had already gathered by our front gate, and Carrie with the other kids were standing there still in shock.

At approximately 8:34 am, just 10 minutes after I had left my house, 3 young men came into my compound casually.  Carrie, nursing Ruth at the time and inclined to ignore the knock on the gate, allowed our oldest son to answer.  The men led him to believe that they were relatives of the house owner, so he let them in our main gate.  In the meantime, Carrie had gotten up to greet them at the door of the house, but as they pushed passed her and entered, their only response was, “sit down, sit down”.  Assuming they were being polite, telling her to sit because she was still nursing Ruth, she continued to question them and greet them culturally, originally thinking that these men just had a simple question about our house or the house owner.

When she did not comply to their demand, each of the three men pulled out a knife.  Once the image that she was seeing registered in her mind, her gut reaction was to scream and yell at the kids to run.

We assume the men’s motive was to have Carrie simply sit and be calm while they took what they wanted.  However, she genuinely thought they were there to harm or kill.  Had only our houseworker been present, they very well may have killed her.  Had Carrie not screamed, alerting the neighbors and everyone in a 50 ft radius, they may have done something more.

Carrie (still holding Ruth) and the boys did run out the back door.  We actually have two back doors and Carrie immediately realized that Esther was still sitting at the dining table which is part of the same room where the thieves had come in.  Carrie came back in the other back door to get Esther, but in complete terror not knowing what she might see the men doing, and what she might face in the moments to come.  As she came back in the men were on their way back out of the compound.   Still screaming for Andreas, thinking they had taken him (she did not know that he had followed her running out of the room).  He came running and screaming into the room behind her.  Praise God!  Esther was still sitting at the dining table and the boys were both safe as well.

We learned later that the men had grabbed my computer, but had not had time to take anything else, as surely the neighbors would be gathering to see what the commotion was in a few short moments.

I can not imagine a day that could top the events and emotions of this day.  As I sat grieving the loss of my friend, and for this new widow and 2 new orphans, some punk kids were trying to steal my things and terrifying my family.  In broad daylight. At 8 in the morning!

We will not forget this day.  It will haunt Carrie for some time.

  He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
    and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 91



Another Miracle at Grace

The Grace Center in our city is an amazing project that although has many imperfections, the Father has continuously worked miracles through this place.

The Grace project’s main focus is what I would call “orphan prevention”.  I guess if we were to get super technical, that might not be the most applicable term to use.  One thing that I never realized until a few years ago is that if you are a child with just one living parent then you are considered an orphan.  I had always thought that orphan meant both your mother and father have passed away.  That is actually called a “double orphan” as I have now learned.

So perhaps to be extremely technical we should say that Grace Centre supports orphans in order to prevent double orphans, in other words, to prevent single mothers from abandoning their children.

In the places of our world where people live in extreme poverty, making $1 or $2 _MG_1375a day if they are lucky, you can simply imagine how extremely difficult it would be to care for a child, especially if you are a single parent. Family and community is everything here.  To be cut off from either of these bodies is imminent of complete loss, failure, and even death.  Many single mothers are ousted by their family after having a child out of wedlock or conceiving by rape.  Many moved to the city from the countryside to find work, only to become pregnant, and for years have feared returning to their family for fear of what they might think, do, or say. For over 8 years now, Grace has provided women in such circumstances with free day care service so that they are able to work and support themselves as well as their child(ren).

It has been amazing to personally witness so many different women benefit from the service that Grace Centre provides in order to keep their child.  I would argue that because of Grace Centre  the “orphan crisis”, at least in this regional capital city, is not really a crisis at all.

In addition, Grace has managed a “temporary care” facility in which they care for children that are double orphans, have been abandoned, or have a living

Forever Family

Forever Family

parent that is unable to care for them.  For example, our sons have a living birth mother, but she has not been able to care for them for more than 7 years now.

Grace Centre has never been an orphanage, although our children’s home has most definitely functioned as an orphanage should.

The crazy thing about “temporary care” is that the government here has had an ever changing and ever evolving outlook on how they want to handle orphan children.  From 10 or 15 years ago up until about 2 years ago, this country was very open to international adoption and thousands of children were being adopted out to foreigners.  In one sense this is good, and in another it is not.

The hard reality to grasp about orphans is that most of the time parents or relatives can care for these children, they simply need a little bit of assistance or education.  The other hard reality to accept about poverty stricken places like this, is that when the doors are wide open for adoption, there are many children that get thrown into orphanages who may not necessarily need to have been.  As I have witnessed here, the result of such a system only leads to adoption becoming a profitable venture to take on by some.

This has changed though, and is changing.

Being a “temporary care” facility technically means that the local government can place children in our care temporarily until they find another solution for that child.  The problem is, the local government does not have enough workers to actually find other solutions.  So “temporary care” (by definition is 6 months or less) turns into “long-term” care.

In the past, the easy and quick solution was to send the child to an orphanage so that they would then be available for an international adoption.  At one point in time Grace Centre was partnered with an orphanage where our temporary care children would often be sent, and then adopted, but the government stopped allowing this solution about 6 years ago.  So over the past 6 years, Grace has had to be creative themselves about finding solutions for these kids in our temporary care center.

Funny enough, the local government has known in theory what they want to see happen, but practically Grace has been the one to reunify children with birth families, place children in foster care homes, and help see domestic adoption become possible.

Never has this been more of a reality than what we witnessed just a couple of weeks ago.
At the end of April, six children under the age of one year were sent to the Grace Centre home from another child care organization that was closing.  That particular center’s intention was to care for children for 6 months and then send them to a partner orphanage to be adopted internationally.  You make money doing this.  But the government is now strongly against this, and because more kids were not placed in their care, this center was forced to close due to lack of funding.

Those 6 children had all been abandoned, but one of them had a somewhat mysterious file.  It had his birth parents’ names and had information about where they lived.  The Grace Center reunification officer was able to find them and discover that they had not purposefully abandoned their child.

This 10 month old boy had [has] a twin sister in fact who was with the mother and father.  After giving birth to twins, this mother and the one baby boy became quite sick about 1 month after the birth.  So they returned to the city hospital to

Baby Yohannes

Baby Yohannes

get treatment.  While there at the hospital, mother and baby were in separate rooms for treatment.  Once the mother was feeling better, someone came to them with their baby son’s clothing and said that they could go.  Being from the countryside, this mother and father simply assumed that meant their child had died.  (Sadly enough, this happens often and most people do not think much of it.)  Nine months later, this baby came into Grace Center care, we found the birth parents, and they came to Grace Center to take their child that they thought had died 9 months earlier!  Can you imagine?

Another set of twins, "separated at birth"

Another set of twins, “separated at birth”

As you may be assuming, there was likely some shady activity occurring at some point in that story.  This forces me to believe that many national children have ended up in a orphanage that may have been in a similar circumstance.  My point is not to say that it is a shame so many kids have been adopted internationally.  That is not my feeling at all, and in fact I praise the Father that so many kids have been adopted and are with a loving family somewhere that cares for and supports them.
My point is, as Believers of the Word, we are commanded to care for the orphan, but we have to be smart and realize that 90 percent of the time, there is an easier and better solution for the 5 million orphans, in this particular country alone, than an international adoption.
If more places like Grace Center exist, then many more children will have a better chance to remain in the care of their blood family, which should always be the priority if it is a safe situation.

The troubling reality, is that there will always be children that are true double orphans and have no known family.  In the country we serve in,

Grace Nanny loving on a kiddo

Grace Nanny loving on a kiddo

the mood is shifting, and the government is working hard to get citizens to adopt their national orphans.  This is good!  But it requires wisdom and a process.  This is a new concept for nationals, and 80 percent of the people simply can not adopt anyways because of their own poverty status.

However, we must pray that godly nationals will step up to the plate and adopt.  Just last week, 5 children in the care of Grace Centre went to live with their new family, two different national couples making this bold choice to adopt.  We are excited about this and excited that for the first time ever, there are legitimate new pathways for our orphans to have family.

There is so much that I am leaving out in this blog, but my goal is to simply try and explain the real situation on the field.  In America, we get bombarded with statistics about orphans in order to burden our hearts to care for them. We are naturally drawn to fancy flyers, presentations, and heart wrenching ads that guilt you into sending money their way.  While large organizations do many wonderful things, lots of money is thrown around on things like fancy cars and buildings, thousands of overly-paid foreign staff members, or other unnecessary assets.  My advice…forget about the statistics. Grass roots is the way to go…find a small project that you know is legitimately caring for orphans in the best ways possible, and support it.

I am working at Grace Centre, and I handle the finances that come in.  We employ 105 locals to run our day care and children’s home.  It costs us $20,000 USD every month to keep the center running.  Roughly 200 kids and their mothers directly benefit every day from the services Grace provides.

Over 60 kids have temporarily lived at the Grace Children’s Home and are now with a forever family because of the hard work our social work team does every day.

Yohannes, being re-united with his mother and father

IMG_1458 Yohannes, being re-united with his mother and father


IT IS A MIRACLE that baby Yohannes is back with his family.  And that is just one of many miracles we are privileged to have witnessed at Grace Centre.