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18-year-old Holly has been in Orange County foster care since 1998.  She was removed from her home after allegations against her mother for failure to protect, serious emotional damage, sexual abuse, and living in unsanitary and unhealthy conditions. Reunifying with her mom was ruled out many years ago due to Mom’s drug use and reckless parenting. Holly had sporadic monitored phone calls and visits with her mom and has come to the realization that it will never be a healthy and nurturing relationship. Holly’s CASA, Joann, recognized that although Holly is 18 and had agreed to stay in the system until she finished high school, she was lacking the strong and positive family bonds she needed to help her succeed post-emancipation.  Joann spoke to Holly to see if she had interest in a search being conducted for her biological father, whom she had never met before.  Holly agreed to CASA Family Connections doing a search, but was a little doubtful there would be any success.  Holly knew very little about her father and was only able to contribute his first name, Michael, and the past descriptions from her mother of her father being a “bad” and “mean” man.

CASA Family Connections immediately got to work on searching for Holly’s paternal family.  After reviewing her file it seemed like it may be a lost cause.  Social Services had tried numerous times in the past to get in touch with Michael.  According to records, contact was made once before and it looked as though he had no interest in establishing a relationship with his daughter.

After finding a date-of-birth for Michael things began to snowball and an updated address and telephone number were found within a couple days.  Upon phone contact, Michael stated he had been waiting and praying for this moment for a very long time.  He had become a Reverend and was now married with two young children living a healthy and positive life in Iowa.  Immediately Michael was very anxious to be given the opportunity to speak with his long lost daughter.  When asked about previous efforts by Social Services to contact him – he stated he was only told there was a possibility of Holly returning home to her mother, a woman whom Michael had briefly dated and who suffered from psychotic episodes that Michael could not be a part of.  Michael admitted that he had made a mistake and should have fought harder to protect the well being of his daughter.

Holly entered the CASA office again, less than two weeks since her initial meeting with Family Connections and exclaimed to her CASA Case Supervisor, “Did you hear? They found my Dad!”.  Holly was clearly very nervous, but with the support of her CASA she was able to muster up the courage to begin a new chapter in her life.  That day Holly was able to speak to her father for the first time in her life!

Holly was given the opportunity to ask her father anything she wished – which she took full advantage of.  Questions ranged from the blunt and serious, “Why did you leave me?” “Why didn’t you ever look for me?” to the seemingly trivial “What kind of music do you listen to?” “Do you have any animals?”.  In a beautiful moment, Holly discovered that like her, her father likes to write songs and sing – so they sang to one another songs they had each written lyrics to.

CASA Family Connections was able to fly out Dad and her Step-Mom a few weeks later and you would have never imagined that they had never been a part of one another’s lives for Holly’s whole existence. Holly’s Father and Step-Mom enjoyed a great weekend together where they were able to connect and learn about one another, as well as do some fun activities like bowling, going to the beach and the aquarium, as well as meeting some of her teacher’s at school and kids and staff members at Holly’s group home.

It wasn’t too long after the visit that Holly decided she wanted to go to Iowa herself and see what it would possibly be like to live with her newly found Dad. CASA Family Connections planned a trip for Holly to fly out during her spring break in March of 2012 and spend a week there. Again, it was a beautiful weekend, where Holly was able to meet her Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, her two younger half-siblings, as well as numerous members of their congregation who were extremely excited to meet her. Holly later told us that she felt very much at home – for the first time in her life.

Holly and her Social Worker decided a week after she had come back from the trip that she would like to move to Iowa and live with her family once she finished high school and emancipated. Her father, Michael, was absolutely thrilled that she had made this decision. Holly graduated in June and again CASA Family Connections was able to fly her father and stepmother out to be part of the celebrations in Orange County. Best of all – Holly was able to fly home with them, back to Iowa, two days later!

Holly has since got a job in Iowa and enrolled to begin taking classes at a technical school in Iowa. Holly is excited to be spending her first Thanksgiving and Christmas with her new family and her new home!

 

Ordinary volunteers from CASA-OC Family Connections made it possible for Holly to find her family – through things as simple as searching on Facebook. You can make a lasting impact in a child’s life as well and help move them closer to a permanent family by joining the CASA program. Learn more here, or attend the next information session on May 2nd.

 

Questions? Email us at orphans@saddleback.com

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Ariana Crary plays soccer, works hard in school, and goes to church with her family. She is an average thirteen-year-old girl, and this past summer she chose to go with her family to Rwanda to serve on an Orphan Care PEACE trip.

During her time in Rwanda, Ariana learned about the plight of vulnerable kids her age who live half way around the world from her, and she learned that her life can have a global impact.

“It was very moving,” she says. “When we went to the Genocide museum and it made me realize what these survivors really went through and how so many kids were orphaned Then the first orphanage we visited was for special needs kids. I couldn’t imagine living there, but the kids were delighted to see us and play with us.”

Ariana and her family experienced stories of lives changed first-hand, going on home visits to families that had recently adopted children from the orphanage.

“In the home visit that I went to, a girl was reunited with her uncle. I was inspired by the way she described the differences between living in an orphanage and a family.”

Over the course of the trip, the Crary family saw their family grow closer as their lives changed together.

“Going to Rwanda has changed my life,” says Ariana. “Through my trip to Africa, I became exposed to the harshness of reality people have to deal with. It inspires me to help. I think this trip’s experiences and its impact will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Her mother, Brenda, states “One of the most fulfilling parts of the trip for me was to see my kids step up and into their role to serve others, no matter what it took. It was by far the best family trip I have ever been on with my children. It brought us closer as a family and we’ll forever have the memories of Rwanda.”

If you and your family are interested in an Orphan Care PEACE trip to Rwanda, contact us at orphans@saddleback.com or call the Orphan Care line at 949-609-8555 for more information.

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Rwandan newspaper The New Times (Kigali) wrote the following article chronicling the country's decision to empty all their orphanages and place children into families. The article features Mary Kamanzi, who heads up the Orphan Care efforts for the PEACE Plan in Rwanda. Read the full article online or check out the except below:


While on a visit to Nyungwe National Park, I found a group of children milling along the road. Some appeared as if they were playing while waiting for their parents tilling a nearby garden. But the children, the oldest being about six, were on a mission to beg.

I confirmed this when Darmascene Byukusenge paused to ask: "Wampaye ijana nkagurira umwana irindazi," (Please, give me Rwf100 so I can buy my younger brother a cake.)

Byukusenga and his brother are not alone in destitute life and it is their plight that the government is addressing through on-going efforts to reform child care policies and programme in the country.

Under the new reforms, the government is refocusing the system by transforming Rwanda's current child care and protection into family-based system. The aim is to support vulnerable families to remain together and promote positive Rwandan social values that encourage all Rwandans and their communities to take care of vulnerable children, through fostering or adoption.

The reform also states that children living in institutions should be integrated into foster families or alternative family-based care systems as opposed to orphanages.

Zaina Nyiramatama, the executive secretary of the National Commission for Children (NCC), says child care reforms are not only meant to encourage fostering and adopting in Rwandan society but also to emphasize "Rwandan identity in these unlucky children and break adverse stronghold in their lives." 

Nyiramatama added that children not only need material care but psychological care that she describes as software-care. It is this type of care that enables them to grow well and become responsible citizens.

"For a child to become a responsible citizen, they need software-care much more than hardware-care. Food, clothing and shelter are good for a child but beyond that (is the need for) affection and sense of belonging that determine a child's character and personality. This is what every child needs and it's hard to find affection in an orphanage," she added.

The National Population Office estimates that pregnancies as consequences of sexual abuse during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi resulted in the birth of children who bring back bad memories. There is also a problem of abandoned children due to mass displacements during the same period - all resulting in over 3,000 of unwanted and abandoned children. The main challenge therefore remains rebuilding lives of these children and providing them with good health facilities.

According to Nyiramatama, over 1,000 children have since been integrated into family life. Able families are being encouraged to embrace adoption and fostering policy to give vulnerable children a chance to grow up in family life.

The church has bought into the idea and has come out to promote the new policy as it starts to see family care as a right to life; suggesting that every child should belong to a family not an orphanage. 

In May 2013, the ministry of gender and family promotion in conjunction with Peace Plan Rwanda - an umbrella organisation that brings together all religious leaders - organised a consultative meeting to discuss the draft family policy. 

The religious leaders called for stronger families with good moral values as the best environment for children to grow in. The emphasis was to promote child care reform by encouraging Christian families to adopt or foster street children or those from orphanages.

According to Mary Kamanzi, the director of family and child care unit in Peace Plan Rwanda, this policy is aimed at preventing future child neglect and design appropriate preventive mechanisms for teenage pregnancies and other resultant problems.

"As Peace Plan Rwanda, we are committed to supporting and helping these children to grow well - psychologically, physically and emotionally. We hope that encouraging Christians to adopt or foster orphans will give these unlucky children a taste of home and a sense of family-belonging," Kamanzi said.

 

You can be a part of helping local churches get children in Rwanda get out of orphanages and into families on an Orphan Care PEACE trip. Email orphans@saddleback.com for more information.

Did you know that for $38 a month, you can change a child’s life? Saddleback’s Rwanda Orphan Sponsorship program provides hope for children in orphanages by sponsoring families who need a bit of financial support to bring a child into their home. When orphans gain a family they become permanent sons and daughters.

Listen here to Kay Warren’s message on how you can get involved:

Hi I’m Kay Warren. I’d like to tell you about a new kind of child sponsorship. Children need the love of a family, which is why we’re working in Rwanda to help them empty all their orphanages and place those children into permanent caring families.

Of the 3000 children in orphanages, 1200 now have families to call their own. There’s still more to be done. You can help empty orphanages by sponsoring a family in Rwanda, helping a child reunite with or regain a family.

Sponsorship helps a family provide school feels, food, clothes, and health insurance for the child. You can learn more at saddleback.com/sponsorship. When you sponsor you are helping an orphan become a son or a daughter again.

To begin sponsoring a family in Rwanda visit saddleback.com/sponsorship. Thank you.

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Mike and Brenda Crary are ordinary Saddleback Church members who responded to Pastor Rick’s challenge to step out in faith by going on an Orphan Care trip to Rwanda in the summer of 2014. They decided to bring their entire family, and together through Saddleback’s Orphan Care Initiative they learned how to help equip local churches to empty orphanages. They thought they knew what was in store for them, but as often happens on a PEACE trip, God used them in a way they never expected.

As part of their home visits made with local church members, Mike and Brenda stopped by to check in on a family prior to their reunification with their 17-year-old daughter. This family had placed their daughter in the orphanage long ago thinking it would be the best place for her. It wasn’t until they heard from their local church about the harm caused by institutional care that they decided to reunite.

The mother, Mama Evette, was tending to newborn twins as she waited with anticipation for her daughter to return home from the orphanage for good. As the Crarys held the newborns and chatted with the family, they learned that Mama Evette was a genocide survivor who had given her life to Christ at a local church sometime after the genocide. Soon after, she married her ex-boyfriend when he gave his life to Christ. They had recently had the twins whom the Crarys were now admiring.

Noticing the babies’ strong startle response, Mike shared how all babies have the inborn reflex to raise their hands when they feel the sensation of falling. Mama Evette was astounded. She told the Crarys how she had been praying about this behavior and was deeply worried her babies were experiencing demonic attack. Friends had even visited and advised Mama Evette to take her baby to the witch doctor for treatment. But in faith, Mama Evette had refused to go because she was now a believer in Jesus.

Brenda further explained how premature babies exhibit the behavior more frequently because their developing nervous systems are highly sensitive. Mama Evette confirmed that the twins were born prematurely. Excitement filled the room as this mother realized both her babies were healthy and growing normally. God had listened to Mama Evette’s prayers and responded by granting her the reassurance she craved through the Crarys’ visit.

God could have chosen anyone to answer Mama Evette’s prayers, yet He orchestrated that the Crarys would travel to Rwanda to be the vehicle of his love.  It didn’t take any special skills – just knowledge they already had, training they received, and a willingness to say “yes” to God. Because the Crary family had the faith to go, God used them in the lives of Mama Evette and her babies.

If you are interested in joining Orphan Care on a PEACE trip like Mike and Brenda, join us at the monthly PEACE night gathering on at 6pm in Tent 3 on the 4th Saturday of every month, or contact us at orphans@saddleback.com or by phone at (949) 609-8555.

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