Church group wants to aid Haiti orphans
Published Mon, Feb 15, 2010 02:00 AM
BY YONAT SHIMRON – Staff Writer
A coalition of Christian orphan advocacy groups headed to Haiti on Sunday to launch an ambitious project that would map out Protestant churches in the country and pair them with supportive churches in the United States.
The effort, which follows the arrests of 10 American evangelicals on charges they were trying to kidnap 33 children and smuggle them out of the country, is not intended to identify children for foreign adoption. Rather, the group wants to help Haitian churches better care for the orphans themselves.
"There are churches all over Haiti called to help orphans in their need," said Jodi Jackson Tucker, the group's spokes person and a member of King's Park International Church in Durham. "We're called to come alongside them in their crisis and provide resources."
The 11-member team will develop a database of churches and their needs to help fill in what is a scattershot relief effort on the part of U.S. churches trying to help children left orphaned and destitute by the destructive earthquake that struck last month. The team is also hoping to take advantage of software to help map the Haitian churches that survived the January disaster.
Among the agency heads that will make up the Haiti Orphan Relief Team are the presidents of World Orphans based in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the Christian Alliance for Orphans in McLean, Va. The two organizations represent a growing movement of evangelical Christians who believe caring for orphans is a central concern of the Bible too often overlooked.
The evangelical magazine "Christianity Today" identified adoption as a major theological development of 2009. Megachurch pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., challenged his members to adopt 500 orphans in the next three years. His wife, Kay, will speak on the subject at the Duke Chapel in March.
Locally, at churches such as Durham's King's Park International Church, several couples already have adopted children from developing nations or are in the process of doing so. Most of the couples are not infertile and already have biological children but feel called by the New Testament mandate found in the Book of James: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."
King's Park was instrumental in building a permanent U.S. home for the touring African Children's Choir, made up mostly of orphans. The large Durham church also has a relationship with a Pentecostal church in Port-au-Prince, where members of the team will stay.
While the excesses of zealous missionaries may make news, many evangelicals recognize that the estimated 145 million orphaned children throughout the world will not all be matched with families.
"The deepest needs of orphans can't be met on a wide scale," Jedd Medefind, president of the Christian Alliance for Orphans, said last week.
Team members said they began planning their initiative well before the 10 Americans, most of them members of a Baptist church in Idaho, were arrested as they tried to cross the border to the Dominican Republic with 33 children. It was later revealed that some of the children were not orphans.
By contrast, the Haitian Orphan Relief Team thinks local church leaders are in a better position to care for orphans. That's where church partnerships come in.
The Haiti Orphan Relief Team will fan out across Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas compiling inventories of those churches that survived the earthquake, their locations and their capacity to help orphaned children. Once they return, they will be able to match individual churches with U.S. congregations that can provide money and labor to help build or refurbish substandard church orphanages in Haiti.
"What we're putting together here can be looked at as disaster response for orphans worldwide," said Paul Myhill, president and CEO of World Orphans. "Nothing like it has been done before."
Heading the team is John E. Roberts of Tuttle, Okla., an expert in the use of the Incident Command System, a management plan developed 30 years to deal with California wildfires. Roberts worked for the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on various emergency projects.
It is not clear is how far-ranging the team's efforts will be, given that Haiti's population is nearly 80 percent Roman Catholic. The team is looking to partner mainly with Protestant churches.
But the team, which is expected to return to the United States by Feb.27, hopes to have identified at least 50 Haitian churches to pair with U.S. congregations.
"Our effort is to keep children in communities with extended families," said Alan Hunt, vice president of church partnerships with World Orphans. "Adoption is not a big enough solution to vast numbers of Haitian children."
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(Paul's note: The HORT coalition is Christian orphan rescue and care groups, not adoption groups)
The Haiti Orphan Relief Team (HORT) can also be found on Facebook