A few years ago while leading my former organization, Orphan Lifeline, I identified a project in Ecuador through the Christian & Missionary Alliance. World Orphans then provided the funding for infrastructure. Opcion de Vida (OV), a ministry of the Batan Alliance Church, is a care point located in the Parque La Carolina in Quito, Ecuador. The park is a haven for hundreds of street children who often join gangs to survive the tough things that life constantly throws at them, both literally and figuratively.
(Image: Opcion de Vida)
Each day OV provides showers, clean clothes, food, and a Bible study to 30 hardened street boys and a mix of other homeless children. The program’s administrator, Pastor Marcello, is currently talking with us about the next step – a home for the boys where they can receive ongoing care and teaching – and has sought our counsel as to what that would look like.
(Image: One of the homeless boys awaiting clean clothes)
(Image: The street children receiving their daily hot meal)
In most places around the globe we encounter churches that are already trying desperately to care for the orphaned and homeless children in their immediate vicinities. Oftentimes we perform a consulting function in addition to an assessment role. We help churches to better understand all the elements involved in plucking children out of dire straits and into lives of love and purpose.
We never actually run programs for these native churches, believing that it is best left up to the churches to develop the specific care essentials and implement the means to provide for the ongoing nurture and growth of their children. This approach also helps to attract the community to the church as the neighbors see that the care of the children is simply an extension of the ministry of that local church.
However, there are also times when we have to champion the call upon the church to care for widows, orphans, the downtrodden and disenfranchised. We act as advisors to introduce potential partners to the model of church-based children’s homes. When necessary, we are also not afraid to shake the foundations and impress upon churches the need to be obedient to ‘true religion.’
Marcello is a bright shining star in a national church that needs a bit of a wake up call. He understands the role of the church and that the churches of Ecuador are in need of spiritual growth regarding the necessity of reaching out to others. Marcello’s wife, Thalia, explained that Ecuadorian churches are "too comfortable," in that they don’t often look outside their walls to help others.
Thalia’s statement reminded me of a plaque I recently observed in Wess Stafford’s office that was inscribed with the familiar saying, "Comfort the afflicted. Afflict the comfortable."
During a couple of ministry philosophy and strategy sessions with Marcello, it became increasingly apparent that we, World Orphans, need to take an even more active role in helping to educate and disciple indigenous churches on how to deepen and challenge their members to own a vision to reach out to the at-risk children in their midst. Some people simply need to be afflicted with the reality of Scripture and the hurt that is occurring around them.
(Image: Pastor Marcello during one of our strategy sessions)
The Western Church actually shares some of the blame for the current lack of church involvement in Ecuador. Former missions practices have created a spirit of dependency here. The churches became so used to being served, of being the receivers of ministry, that they never truly developed a full awareness and involvement in serving others. Positive changes have certainly occurred over the past few years and many churches are responding to the need, but there is still a long way to go. There are still many who need the wake up call.
Our host, Fernado, sat in on a couple of our chats with Marcello. Afterwards, he thanked us and said, "I’ve seen all the children begging on the streets. Only now do I understand that they’re not supposed to be there."
Sometimes, we become numb or callous to the needs around us and directly in front of us. Sometimes we need a little prodding – or shaking – to understand that God is never desensitized to it. He wants us as individuals and churches to be fully aware, fully engaged.
(Image: Paul with one of the Opcion de Vida boys)