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Last April, my 6-year-old grandson Ben was with me on a playground in Texas on a perfect evening just before sunset. Ben had been expected to die 3 years earlier, because you see he was born in Korea with a single ventricle, which meant he had about half of a normal heart. But on this late afternoon, through God’s grace, with no oxygen tubing to interfere, he played on the playground full of joy.

By this time, Ben’s condition was so severe that his legs were very unsteady, so he was very careful about falling. On the playground, there were these little platforms with poles where a child can jump from one to the next and reach a perch on the other side. I asked Ben if he wanted to try it. He smiled and said, “Oh no, Papa.”

To my complete surprise, a few minutes later Ben came to me full of courage and said, “Papa I want to do it.” Amazed, I helped him up and held his hand as he jumped to each successive platform. When he reached the last platform, he swung around the pole in triumph and looked me in the eye, saying, “Papa, I Made It!!”

I looked back at him and said, “You sure did, Ben.

”

The next morning, Ben slipped away to be with Jesus in the arms of his mother, our daughter Elizabeth. He had told us for months that Jesus was coming to pick him up, and on that gorgeous Texas Spring morning in April, Ben “made it.”

Around the world and in the United States, there are millions of children without families, whose hearts have little hope. But the Church of the Living God is stepping up to be Christ, a kinsman redeemer to these children. It only takes one church to make a difference. One family to make a difference in the life of a child whom the world often says does not even have a life worth living.

November 6th is Orphan Sunday. During that week, as we do once a year, we and our partners at Cry of the Orphan and The Christian Alliance for Orphans seek to raise awareness and provide on ramps for orphan ministry in the North American Church.

We have two great suggestions for you to rally your church and family to this cause this year. First, The Orphan’s Table. This family-based activity will help you to give vision to your family by spending one meal during Orphan Sunday week eating a meal that would be typical for orphans. There is a discussion guide to help you. You can learn more by clicking here.

The second suggestion is to use the Cry of the Orphan Campaign’s new DVD called Answer the Cry: Faces of Hope. This 30-minute program, hosted by Eric Metaxas (author of best-selling biographies on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and William Wilberforce) will take your small group, Sunday school class or church into the lives of believers God has used to bring hope to orphans. There are three ways to get Answer the Cry: Faces of Hope.  Starting on October 14th, this DVD presentation will be available for free at your local Family Christian Stores.  Or you can sign up today at cryoftheorphan.org and your DVD will be mailed to you around Oct 14th. Last, the entire show will be streamed in High Definition starting in late October.  More information can be found at cryoftheorphan.org.

One of the stories featured on this program is that of my grandson Benjamin.  As I’ve said, Ben taught us a lot about God’s love for orphans, both physical and spiritual.  Help your church go near the orphan by showing this short video.  Please participate in Orphan Sunday this year by taking advantage of these opportunities, which will surely lead to more fatherless children “making it” into a family and experiencing the love of Christ.

Blessings,

Paul

Paul Pennington is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of Hope for Orphans. He and his wife, Robin, have six children. They live in Dallas, Texas.

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Two years ago, when I sat down at the Cry of the Orphan concert event in Nashville, the guy in the row behind me introduced himself. Jeromy explained that he had attended an adoption workshop we had done in Baltimore a couple of years before.  He went on to explain that after that workshop, he and his wife adopted a little boy and little girl from Kenya.  It had been an unusually difficult and long process.  In fact, they had been forced to live in Kenya for a year in order to be able to bring their children home.  At the time, I’m sure it was difficult to understand why God had extended the process for so long

However, during the months they lived there, God gave them favor with church leaders and government officials and they built relationships that are proving to be incredibly important in God’s plan for Kenya.  As a result of all God has done in Jeromy’s heart and the relationships that were built, God gave Jeromy a vision to bring pastors and leaders together for the first East African Orphans Summit in Nairobi to discuss what can be done by the body of Christ in Kenya to address the needs of 2.5 million Kenyan orphans.

Last year, Jeromy called me to order a dozen copies of the book, Launching an Orphans Ministry in Your Church. He explained that he wanted to give it to several of his pastor friends in Kenya.

I told him, Bro, you know that book was written for lay people in American churches.  I’m not so sure its really going to work in Kenya.  I don’t know the first thing about how things work in Kenyan churches.”  Jeromy told me he would be sure to tell the pastors that the book was written for an American audience and he assured me that they would still be encouraged by its content.  I wasn’t sure I believed him.

Then a few months ago, I got another phone call from Jeromy.

“Can you come to Nairobi in June and speak at the first East African Orphans Summit?  I’d like you to do one session on the biblical perspective of God’s heart for the orphan and a second session on the content in the book about launching a church orphans ministry.”

I reiterated my opinion that the material on launching church orphans ministry was not created with the Kenyan church in mind and that there were really important differences between how Kenyans do church and how Americans do church that would render this material ineffective.

He argued that much of it would apply and that going would help me to learn the things that didn’t apply.  He urged me to at least consider it. After praying more about it, I finally sent Jeromy a text message saying, “I’m in.”

The Kenyan pastor helping Jeromy to organize the conference, Pr. George, hoped for 30 leaders to attend.  They planned for 50-60 just in case.  The conference start time was 9 AM.  At 9:40, there were about 5 people there besides the organizers.  It was obvious to me that God was going to choose to do this thing with a very small Gideon-sized army.

But during the course of worship, I turned around periodically to find that what I had heard for years from missionaries in Africa was, in fact, true.  Start times for events in Africa are merely suggestions.  There are far more important things in life than being on time (like being with people for instance).  The room kept filling up.  People kept coming in.  Before long, they had run out of materials.  That first day, 103 leaders showed up.  I was blown away.  Pr. George and Jeromy were shocked.  It was clear that God was about to do something amazing.

One of the attendees was an older woman named Pauline.  What Pauline lacks in physical stature she more than makes up for with spunk.  Pauline woke up that morning with two invitations for two different conferences on the same day.  One was a political conference for women and the other was this summit.

When Pauline woke up, she felt that the Lord was clear with her that she was supposed to go to the Orphan Summit.  She called a colleague of hers from a ministry they started that empowers grandmothers caring for their orphaned grandchildren (by the way, Pauline is one of those grandmothers).  They were on their way.  As Pauline sat through the first day of the conference listening to the testimonies of pastors, social workers, and lawyers about the needs of Kenyan orphans and the opportunity to promote adoption among Kenyan families, she was moved.  She later shared that she’d been to prayer meetings, and she’d been to meetings about various causes.  However, never had she seen a group of people praying about solving a societal problem and talking about the real issues at the same event.  At the end of the first day she shared that she was very excited and would be bringing others the next day.

The next day, when I turned around during the worship time, there was Pauline, singing and praising God, this time along with five other women she had recruited.  At lunch she said almost apologetically that she was only able to bring five.  During this second day of the conference, two Christian social workers from Uganda shared about a model they are using which is allowing 60 orphans to live in the homes of 16 different families in one tight-knit community.

At the end of the conference, Pauline stood up and challenged the others in the room to join her on the 14-hour bus ride to Uganda to visit this community and see this work firsthand so that it could be replicated for the children of Kenya.

The organizers of this Summit desired to mobilize many leaders on behalf of Kenya’s 2.5 million orphans and at the end, fifty-five Kenyan leaders agreed to hold Orphan Sunday events in their churches. Not to mention, with all five feet of Pauline on the move, God may have more in store for Kenyan orphans than anyone ever dreamed.

The bottom line is this:  God is moving in Kenya among these leaders and I expect that another great movement is afoot.  Pray with us that Kenyan orphans will find homes in Kenyan families and that God will use these children for His kingdom.

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January 12th will mark one year since the devastating earthquake in Haiti.  Those few moments and their aftermath took hundreds of thousands of lives, left many more homeless, and affected countless children in profound and permanent ways, including leaving many as orphans.  The eye of the media has largely moved on to other stories, but the need in Haiti remains as pressing as ever.

Of course, there are as many unique callings and places to serve as there are Christians in the world.  We certainly should not feel guilty that we can’t all focus on Haiti.  But still, if we felt ache and anguish in the days following the earthquake, we would do well not to quickly forget.  To do so merely mirrors the world’s sad and harmful pattern: to feel deeply yet act little and persevere even less.

The true disciple of Christ consistently matches compassionate emotion with both loving action and loving perseverance, just as the Good Samaritan both cared for the wounded traveler and also promised to return later to cover his future medical bills.  Even if our primary calling is to Russia or Cambodia or foster youth in the U.S., we can remain faithful in prayer to Haiti.

I’m tremendously thankful that Scott Vair and the others at World Orphans felt a desire to gather Christians virtually on the earthquakes’ anniversary to pray for Haiti.  We invite you to join with us and others members of the Christian Alliance for Orphans community on January 12th, 2011 at 4:00pm EST for one hour via “webinar.”  Led by a number of orphan advocates, we will be praying together for the country of Haiti, for stability and integrity in its government, for ongoing relief and rebuilding efforts, for the Haitian church, and for the children of Haiti we all care about so much.

Registration is required, and you can do so today here.

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During this time of year, as we see the excitement and magic in the eyes of our children and grandchildren, if you’re like me, it takes me back to those days of my childhood when Christmas was full of wonderful food, grandparents laughing, speculating about presents and the warmth and comfort of knowing you had a family that loved you. In short, for me growing up and being at my Mam Maw’s house at Christmas meant feeling safe and loved unconditionally.

As we are now the ones charged to help a new generation see and know that a baby came into the world to give us life, we should stop to remember there are millions of children who won’t have such an experience, much less a family, this year.  It’s staggering to think that more than 16 million children under the age of 18 in Africa alone have lost one or both parents to AIDS.

Hope for Orphans believes that the Spirit of the Most High God can mobilize thousands and thousands of churches to touch orphans around the world. We know this because we have seen what He can do through just one church and just one family…one child at a time.

God accomplished a lot of amazing things in 2010 through the ministry of Hope for Orphans. We were able to go near the orphans of Haiti and help almost 25 come home to families after the horror of the January earthquake. We have seen more churches launch orphans ministries. We have seen the seeds of orphan ministry on the college campus come to life and students saved through going near the orphan. Hope for Orphans Kids is bringing vision to children in churches across America. But still it is the stories of specific children that stick with me and show me that God is truly at work.

When Yang Wen Sha was born in China, there was a problem. She could not hear. Soon she was in an orphanage, but through God’s providence, there were Christians at the orphanage caring for her. A few years later, our friends Dr. Andy and Trisha Wells connected with Yang Wen Sha through a Hope for Orphans contact.  Dr. Andy is an ENT, and with his help, Yang Wen Sha was able to receive the specialized hearing aid that she needed.  It was not just a coincidence that Andy and Trisha came into the life of this child.  You see, God had been working on Andy and Trisha’s hearts for some time about adoption, and now they dared to pray and ask, “Could Yang Wen Sha be our daughter?”  They had ears to hear how the Lord wanted to use their lives.

In a story of divine intervention (which perhaps we can share one day through our e-newsletter), the Lord did what only He can do and in July of this year, Yang Wen Sha became Kari Christine Pennington Wells. She now lives in a beautiful home in Augusta, Georgia with the forever family that God chose for her. I sort of think maybe in her little 5-year-old mind that when the Wells welcomed her into their family, she could hear the angels singing in her ears.

Our ministry is about providing the vision, resources and onramps for millions of Christians to step forward to love the fatherless. This month, we have an amazing opportunity to grow our ministry. A donor has agreed to match, dollar for dollar, all gifts to Hope for Orphans received before December 31st. If the Lord leads, please help us help more churches to bring the Hope born in Bethlehem to more orphans in 2011 than ever before.

Happy New Year.

Paul

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…They began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Acts 2:45

“If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Matthew 19:21

From the beginning of the church, there has been a connection between the Good News and loving those in need. That connection usually means sacrifice. North American Christians as a bunch are not quite as keen for sacrifice as those in the early church, perhaps because there has been a drift in teaching away from Biblical truth and grace. The new direction has been towards more motivational and frankly “me-centered” teaching. However, as we approach the annual Cry of the Orphan Campaign and Orphan Sunday, we are seeing churches all over America who are launching lay-led, people-to-people orphan ministries, in which there is not only sacrifice but a laying out of lives for the fatherless. The impact, not only on orphans, but on churches, has been amazing.

At the beginning of Hope for Orphans, we worked with a small church in South Texas — a fledgling orphan ministry started by two adoptive moms who had a vision and conviction that loving the fatherless was not optional. This led in fairly short order to 29 kids coming for a summer hosting program. The Russian-speaking kids who came had an impact that reached much further than a handful of kids getting families. This church had a revival of sorts through the love of these orphans that introduced the entire congregation to a country most had probably never heard of. The Lord used orphan ministry to give this church a new passion for missions, evangelism, reconciliation and the Gospel that was truly supernatural. 29 kids became 41 and from there this church and its orphan ministry has helped mentor churches in many places to similar results. The compounded impact for children in foster care and around the world is wonderful. The transformation brought about by seeing the visible gospel by the whole congregation has been priceless.

The point is…One Church Can Make a Difference…a difference that impacts generations for God’s glory. Will you be an orphan ministry leader in your church? One way to give a vision to your church in these next few weeks is through the Cry of the Orphan Partners’ one-hour content-on-demand video special Answer the Cry. This free resource can be used in Sunday schools, small groups, youth groups and even in a special worship service to introduce your church to God’s heart for orphans. This and other resources will be available at www.cryoftheorphan.org. This special program will also be available on DVD in limited supplies at Family Christian Stores locations across the country.

We even have a promo video that you can show leadership in your church or maybe use to promote your own event. You may watch the preview now by clicking here.

Also, at Hope for Orphans, we have a new video that speaks to how God is using the church. You may see that video by clicking here.

So this Orphan Sunday week, consider a sacrifice of your time to give voice to those kids who have none. Consider how God wants to use your Church for loving orphans and waiting children.

Blessings
Paul

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When Minh Ho was born in Korea, it took a whole month before doctors began to realize that something was wrong. He appeared normal, except that his color was not right. It was later learned that Minh Ho was born with a single ventricle, or basically half of a normal heart.  His pulmonary valve and arteries were genetically flawed as well. His birth mom was a teenage girl who handed him over without even knowing he had a heart problem. It was his foster mother who took him to the doctor who discovered his heart defect.

Minh Ho had two open-heart surgeries in Korea.  The only caregivers in his life were paid; he didn’t have a family. This was a child with a very poor prognosis; in fact, he wasn’t expected to live more than a year or so. The only possibility for any sort of repair to his heart was in the United States.

A young American military couple heard about Minh Ho. God led this couple to do something hard — something radical in this world’s eyes. They adopted a child who, even with intervention, would probably not live long. The enlisted man and his wife gave this child something he could not yet appreciate, not because of what he had to offer them, but because of what they could offer him…a family…a family for Minh Ho no matter what would lie ahead.

When Minh Ho came to America (and Texas) to join his big new extended family, it was a day of joy and celebration. A place had already been prepared for the little boy with half of a heart and he got a new name…Benjamin. Through the years to come, Ben has endured more surgery, more needles, more medicine and some days when it was a struggle just to get enough air. But there have also been many, many good days as well.

Ben has a family. He loves his family and enjoys reciting every name. He has even gotten to ride a school bus and open presents on Christmas morning and see the faces of all those he loves singing “Happy Birthday” just to him. God’s solution for orphans is a family. Grace revealed through adopting a special needs child produces blessing beyond measure for those who are called.

Almost three years ago, Ben got very sick. The doctors said it was time to bring in hospice; they believed that they had done all that could be done for his heart. But thankfully, God’s plans are not our plans and after six months of hospice care and then a flu which left him in nearly a coma-like state for 10 days, Ben woke up, saying, “I want spaghetti!!” I think I will always think of Ben when I hear the word “spaghetti” and then I will be reminded how God is the One who gives life and no one else. Ben ate a huge plate of spaghetti that day. He recovered and has now been with us now for three more birthdays and Christmases. You see, Ben is Robin’s and my grandson. His mom, who risked her heart to love and graft this child into our family, is our daughter. His dad, our son-in-law, has served our country in the Army now for almost eight years.

As I write this, Ben is lying in a hospital bed next to me, waiting for a CAT Scan to determine if he may have a blood clot that needs attention. We never know when he might leave us…but the Bible teaches us that the Lord has all of our days numbered and that we cannot add one. Life and family are precious every day. Ben’s mom and dad have walked in faith and given Ben something that the Lord gives to spiritual orphans and physical orphans more and more through His church…a family. Ben’s mom and dad are like so many involved in orphan ministry…ordinary people who give action to their faith by loving the least of these.

This week on FamilyLife Today, Dennis and Bob will be interviewing other folks who have walked in faith…special friends whom God is also using to love orphans and those needing a family. On Thursday, September 16th and Friday, September 17th, you will not want to miss the powerful stories of how God is working in orphan ministry. You just may hear through these stories what God’s invitation is for you in ministering to fatherless children.

Ben, who is now five years of age, told one of my sons this week, “Jesus is going to ride with me in heaven in a red car!!”

Jesus is coming soon for all of those who are called the Children of God and joint heirs with His beloved Son. When Ben rides with Jesus in that red car one day, it will be a very painful day for his family. We will miss him more than we can imagine right now. But I know that he will be there when we get to the banquet of the Lamb and I’m sure he will be eating spaghetti with that huge smile of his.

Paul

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Next week, Monday through Friday, FamilyLife Today will host Steven and Mary Beth Chapman.  The Chapmans have been tireless champions for the fatherless for years and have continued to speak up on their behalf, while helping mobilize the church to care for them in many ways, through their ministry, now called Show Hope.

In the first three days of interviews, the Chapmans will talk about, among other things, how they met, Mary Beth’s new book, entitled Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope, and some of the darker times in their lives, including the tragic accident that took the life of their precious daughter, Maria Sue, and the way God has demonstrated His grace in the midst of those times.

On the final two days of interviews, the Chapmans will talk about Maria’s Big House of Hope — the latest initiative from Show Hope — a six-story, 60,000 square foot orphanage that houses and provides medical care for special needs orphans in China.  They will also share music from and talk about Steven’s latest CD, Beauty Will Rise.

Please be sure to tune in to the broadcasts next week, August 30th through September 3rd by clicking here.  Also, take this opportunity to share this link with family and friends who may not be aware of what God is doing through the Chapmans and others on behalf of orphans all over the world.  You and those in your circles will be richly blessed by these programs.

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