Friday, October 30, 2015

Meet the newest addition to the VO staff family: Jessica Gunn

I am so honored to be featured on VO’s blog today!

My journey with VO started back in 2012 when a friend of mine told me she was leading a trip to Kenya & Uganda with them. I immediately felt a whisper in my heart that I was supposed to join her team! The timing was crazy as my husband and I already had plans to serve on a missions trip to Alaska that same summer for a whole month, and between both trips and the cost of missed work, we needed to fundraise nearly $10,000! We took the step of faith and I told God that if He really wanted me to go on this VO trip, He would have to provide. Well, He did and less than a week after returning from Alaska, I boarded a plane to go serve in Kenya & Uganda. It was wild!

The entire trip was absolutely incredible in every way. I had been on many different missions trips before, but this trip absolutely impacted me the most as we specifically loved and served orphans. I love children and have a huge heart for orphan care so this trip felt like it was designed specifically with me in mind! I did not want to come home!

It was on that trip to Kenya & Uganda that my heart was wrecked in the most wonderful way. I purposed in my heart that I could not simply travel to Africa and not come home and take an action step to help make a difference. Upon returning home, I formed my own non-profit organization called Project Hazina (Hazina means “treasure” in Swahili). Project Hazina provides pillows, blankets, and mattresses to orphans as well as funding for projects in East Africa through the sales of fair-trade jewelry made by artisans in India! God has blown me away with his faithfulness in that journey as I have simply just continued to hand him my “yes”. When you hand God your yes, it is absolutely amazing to see what He does with it!

I am deeply passionate about orphan care and adoption and have worked in the adoption field serving adoptive families.

I have had a heart for missions since the age of 14 and have had the deep honor of serving in over 40 Nations all over the world. Growing up I always knew that God had called me to be a “goer” and His faithfulness to provide for every single one of my trips still leaves me in awe! Never let the fear of raising money keep you from going on a missions trip! Step out and watch God move! The process is truly so exciting!

I am bursting with joy and thankfulness to announce that I have the honor and privilege of being VO’s latest staff member! I have joined the team to work as a Missions Assistant, working in admin, a little bit of bookkeeping, and social media. I will also be working to help coordinate VO’s trips to Kenya, Uganda, and India! This is truly a dream come true and a huge answer to prayer, I’m still pinching myself!

To think that this journey started by simply feeling led to go to Kenya & Uganda with VO and now I am on staff, leaves me absolutely speechless. I cannot put my thankfulness into words! I am deeply excited to see how God uses me in this role at Visiting Orphans and cannot wait to dive in!

A little bit about me:

My husband Chris and I have been married for 5 years (next month!). We met in an airport baggage claim area and have been adventuring together ever since. Last year we sold everything and backpacked to 25 countries serving in missions wherever we went. It was the most incredible year of our lives so far and we are even writing a book about our trip! 

I love to spend time with my big family (I'm one of seven kids!) & friends and spoil my 4 adopted baby siblings. I love coffee, Chipotle, blankets, globes (my husband has banned me from buying another one!), running races, discovering companies that give back and shopping fair-trade whenever possible, watching the sunset at the beach, and going to see a movie! I am never without at least 2 books in my purse, I have a slight (major) obsession with cream cheese and I love to decorate my house constantly!

I have such a desire to get know each of you individually! Please leave me a comment and tell me how you came to join the VO family and what trip(s) you’ve gone on or are planning to go on and tell me about yourself!

I love all of my fellow world changers out there! I will be praying for each of your journeys daily!

With Love,

Jessica Gunn

***Follow me on my personal instagram: jessicagunn and also at: projecthazina***

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A past mission trip winner sponsors this year's giveaway!!!

I am so honored to be able to give back to this amazing ministry, VISITING ORPHANS, and sponsor this years Mission Trip GIVEAWAY. I was blessed to win the FREE mission trip giveaway in 2012 and am so excited to be able to use my business to help someone else have this amazing opportunity!! I started my own business this year with Rodan & Fields, the 4th largest and fastest growing premium skincare brand in the US created by the PROACTIV doctors. With my new business adventure I have been able to give back to so many different ministries that my family is passionate about while bringing in some extra income for my family.

I could not believe that I actually won the mission trip in 2012! I had actually been wanting to go on a mission trip with VO for awhile, but the funds just weren't ever there. I grew up in church my whole life, but never really understood until about 5 years ago what it meant to "have a relationship with Christ." One day God really spoke to me and challenged what I believed and why I believed it and got me to dig deeper into really communicating with Him and developing a relationship with Him. The more I studied, read my Bible, and talked to my heavenly Father....He pressed on my heart His calling for ALL of His children to look after the orphans, the poor, and the widows. I have been striving to do that DAILY since then. What you believe can not be different from what you do! I thought that I just had to go to Church on Sundays and be a "good person" and I would go to heaven. But the more I read God's word, that is not what He tells us at all. The parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 really hit home for me. You always hear the part "whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me".......but I had never heard the very next part where Jesus says ""what you DID NOT do for the least of these, you DID NOT do for me. Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." We are God's solution for the poor, the orphans, and the widows. It is not a requirement to serve, but a privilege.

Once I opened my heart to God, a flood of emotions came over me. It was like all of the hurt and the suffering that "the least of these" were going through.....I could feel it too. My heart broke for them. I immediately started serving locally, and have continued to over the past 5 years. Many people questioned why I would go on an international mission trip since I am already so active in my community. But I believe in reaching the lost and the hurting with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through acts of compassion in my hometown AND in other parts of the world. In Acts 1:8, the last thing Jesus told His disciples before ascending to heaven was, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea And Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

I pray that others would answer His Call to go to the ends of the earth to share the good news by going on an international mission trip. By entering this giveaway you can possibly win a FREE mission trip too. I am also going to continue to GIVE BACK to this amazing ministry by donating a portion of my proceeds from any sale through my Rodan & Fields business....just mention that you want your "GIVE BACK" portion to go Visiting Orphans! Contact me by email: or on Facebook here - let me help you get the best skin you have ever had AND support an awesome ministry at the same time!! Message me and get 10% off and FREE shipping.

.......and they will know us by our love,

Sarah Snell

Thursday, October 1, 2015

We're Giving Away A Free Mission Trip

The Visiting Orphans 6th Annual Mission Trip Giveaway

Watch our brand new 10 year video above and then get involved by supporting Visiting Orphans between October 1st and November 1st, 2015 and YOU could win a free 2016 mission trip to any of the 14 countries we serve in. Keep reading to find out how you can get entered to win!


1. Get 1 entry for every $10 donated to Visiting OrphansAll gifts are tax deductible and help support current and future initiatives of our ministry. You can give now at our special Giveaway fundraising link here.

2. Get 1 entry for every $20 purchase (pre-tax and shipping) on our online storeOne year the winner won the mission trip giveaway by buying Christmas gifts on our store! You never know - it could happen to you. 

3. Get 10 entries when you become a monthly supporter of Visiting Orphans and set up your monthly gift of $10 or more herePlus an entry for every $10 you give in the month of October. Monthly support is a huge way to invest in the work Visiting Orphans is doing to serve children and communities around the world. 

4. Get 25 entries when you sign up and pay the $250 trip deposit for any upcoming 2015 or 2016 Visiting Orphans Mission Trip. If you're signing up for a trip anyway, now is the best time to do that. You could end up going for FREE!

5. BONUS ENTRIES: After you've entered the giveaway through any 1 (or more) of the above 4 options, you can get bonus entries by sharing our social media posts about the Mission Trip Giveaway each day on your facebook, twitter or instagram with hashtags #VOMissionTripGiveaway #gobelove #visitingorphans. You may get 1 extra entry per day between October 1st, 2015 and November 1st, 2015 when our Giveaway posts are shared and the hashtags are used. Get 1 additional bonus entry PLUS an entry into an extra drawing for a $50 store credit to shop on the VO store when you create your own video encouraging others to participate in the Giveaway by supporting VO in any of the 4 ways above. Make sure to use the hashtags so we can track all the extra entries.

See our website for the official Visiting Orphans Mission Trip Giveaway rules and restrictions here


Special thanks to our sponsors who are making this giveaway possible.

Platinum Sponsor


Gold Sponsors

Assemblies of God Credit Union
Membership Changes the World™

Isaiah Industries
Manufacturer of unique and beautiful residential metal roofing systems.

MKI Group Travel
From where you are, to where you need to be.

Sarah Snell, Independent Consultant with Rodan + Fields
Changing Skin... Changing Lives

Silver Sponsors

Brotherhood Mutual
Insurance and payroll services for America’s churches and related ministries.

Custom Hand Painted Signs


Thursday, July 23, 2015

3 Reasons Why Visiting Orphans Needs (and is worthy of) Your Support

by Frank Pass

Over the last few days you have heard a lot about VO, our 10th birthday and supporting our ministry. You might have some questions like… “Why spend all the money to send teams overseas? Why not just send the money instead?” or “Why does VO need my support? Don't people pay for their trips?”

The truth is that while team members do raise funds for their trips, our ministry needs more than just trip fees to survive because our ministry is so much more than just sending teams. Here are 3 things you may not have thought about in regards to VO and why we would humbly ask you to consider supporting this ministry.

Going on a trip allows our team members to advocate for those they visit in a way that they could never do if they stayed home.

In Rwanda there are now 4 sponsorship programs, providing education, nutrition and hope where none existed before because VO team members went, saw the need and came home and told the story. In Haiti over 100 children now go to school because VO team members went and heard how this community lacked proper educational opportunities. In Uganda VO team members walked for hours with children to get water for their families and were heartbroken to see that the water they collected was dirty. Because they came home and shared the story, these communities now have wells. These stories are repeated over and over in all of the countries we visit.

We don't go just to see, we go to serve and more than that we go to walk alongside those we visit. When we experience life as they do, even for a short time, we are better able to come home and share those stories because they become our stories and people respond when we tell our stories.

Everyone knows VO works with children but we also bring encouragement and support to the teachers, workers and staff who serve those children every day.

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Out of the Ashes works with families who live in and around the city dump. Our recent team put on VBS for the kids here but we also took the staff to lunch, prayed for them, encouraged them and honored them. Donnie Manis, the leader of that team told us that you could see the difference that made in the faces of the staff.

Just yesterday we received this note from one of our partners in Rwanda, “The results of Visiting Orphans are in my hands!! How could I have met these precious ones if Visiting Orphans had not come? Thank you so much for ushering me to my calling!! I value this!!”

VO comes along side ministries and workers who are serving these children before we come and they are there after our teams go home. These are ministries that we have long-standing relationships with and the trips we send take place in the context of these relationships. It allows us to know them better and serve them well and by serving them well our teams provide encouragement so that they can continue in the work God has called them to.

VO trips bring transformation to the places we go AND to those that we send.

We could tell you about Tara Clapper and the amazing work that No. 41 is doing in Rwanda with former orphans. We could tell you about Ryan and Kara Higgins and the sponsorship program they started for kids at Kimisagara orphanage. We could tell you about Katherine Rowe, Sid and Wendy Harper, Courtney Wolfe and countless others who are serving full time on the mission field. We could tell you about Emilee Owens, Lesley Neeley or Glenn and Daria Leland who all lead others on teams. We could tell you countless stories of those called to adopt and foster and those called to serve in their churches and communities. The stories are too many to list here but they all have one thing in common, all these people and many more went on a VO trip and were forever changed.

Mission trips are never about us. At VO we believe they are about God and His call for us to go. But when we are obedient and answer that call, something happens and we are changed too. We hear those stories everyday.

There are a lot of ministries who do amazing things and they are all worthy of your support. We believe the work God has called us to is pretty amazing too that is why we humbly ask for your support.

In Romans 10 it says that those who go have beautiful feet, we love that imagery, but it also says they cannot go if they are not sent. Would you consider a financial gift to Visiting Orphans that will help us continue to send teams around the world?

Donations can be made here...

Thank you in advance for your support.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

WHY GO? WEDNESDAY: Bolivia Reflections by Chelsea Lee

As I think back on my week in Bolivia it is almost hard to put into words the things I saw and learned, but here goes. To be honest, before I went I didn’t really have a good reason for why I was going. First of all I wanted to see South America and I figured that another Visiting Orphans trip seemed like a good way to go. When asked, “why BOLIVA?!” my response was normally, “that’s a good question!” I didn’t have any connections, any ties, or any specific reason for going to this country…except that it is where God led me.

Before the trip I will admit, I had some doubts. Thoughts like, “this trip is turning out to be a lot of money. It’s only a week. Is it worth it? And why am I going?” all ran through my head at various times. Now looking back, yes, it was only a week, but a week so full and incredibly amazing that by the time I got home it felt like I had been gone much longer. It was truly worth every penny and every second because the things God taught me and relationships built there were invaluable.

Since life is rarely made up of isolated experiences or incidences perhaps it is necessary to be transparent and share a brief synopsis of what was going on in my life pre-trip. The past two years have been HARD. I experienced loss, had moments of feeling overwhelmed with grief and heartbreak, said goodbye to people I cared deeply about, struggled to adjust to a “new normal” as I faced big changes I never saw coming, and probably asked the question, “why God?” more than once. I was in a place where I knew in my head that I could trust God, but in my heart I was struggling to trust him on a deeper level. I wasn’t in a place I thought I wanted to be at this point in my life and in my pride I was struggling to accept that God’s plan truly is better than mine. Weeks passed as I wrestled with thoughts, doubts about decisions I had made, and the unknown of the future. 

Then, I stepped on a plane to Bolivia. Now did getting on that plane solve all the problems, change the circumstances, or answer all the questions? No. But here is what it did do. It brought me alongside one of the most amazing teams of people I have ever had the privilege of serving with, it took me to a new place with beautiful new faces, it gave me a fresh perspective outside of myself, and it changed my heart. 

Our week there was spent getting to know some long term missionaries living there, loving on and playing with BEAUTIFUL children, hiking in the Andes Mountains, painting and doing work projects, and experiencing the culture of Cochabamba. Through this God taught me some pretty amazing things, some of which I am still processing. One of the most important things he taught me during this time was just to simply be present. Although I may not be in a place in life I personally would have chosen, God has been showing me that he has me here for a reason. I need to stop looking back wishing I could change past decisions, and stop striving to figure out the future and make things happen that God doesn’t have for me right now. I need to walk each step in light of his presence, finding my joy and satisfaction in him. God is speaking and working good things right here, right now and I don't want to miss what he’s doing. Before I left I was struggling and praying for a deeper trust in God and his plan. Although I know this will be an area I will continue to struggle in, God really answered that prayer. He has given me a deeper peace and trust in his plan than I have felt in a long time. There are opportunities ahead of me that wouldn't be there had God worked details of my life according to my plans. I'm learning to be thankful for where he has me and excited for where he is going to take me. I love the Visiting Orphans motto: Go. Be. Love. I want to go. To step out in faith, even when I don't understand. I want to be. To be present right where God has me, making the most of each opportunity. And I want to love. To love God deeper and love those around me better.

Monday, June 29, 2015

MEN WHO GO MONDAY: Carter English, Uganda team member

It’s been several weeks and I'm still trying to wrap my head around what I experienced and the life lessons I learned while in Uganda. I have always had the desire to work in an orphanage in Africa, but never could commit to finding the “right” time or even afford the financial backing to go.

In 2014, I came to a crossroads where I kept reminding myself that, “I want more out of life…” By all accounts, I have an amazing family. I have great friends. I have a good job. All of which contribute to my happiness, but if I were to be completely transparent, I felt I was missing something. I think every human being at the core of their inner soul, simply desires to be loved and express love. Through this realization, I began focusing on myself, my future, my desires, my needs, my pleasures, which only added to mounting seeds of depression, discontent and entitlement. I decided I needed a little life perspective in 2015. After talking with a friend that had traveled with Visiting Orphans, I thought what better way to get life perspective then venturing approximately 10,000 miles over 30 hours to a third world country with 17 other strangers. (This is sarcasm) It may seem crazy, but it proved to be a journey of a lifetime; one that I will never forget. There were lots of laughs, dancing, flat tires in the African bush, boda rides, french fry eating monkeys, boat rides on the Nile, and numerous pranks to name some of the most enjoyable. A few of the more intimate experiences were times in which tears were shed, broken hearts were mended, physical healing occurred, teammates encouraged one another, and seeing God’s provisions in both the small and big things. Below are a few additional takeaways from my trip.

It may not look like how you want or come in the nice, clean, package you envision, but God provides. Somehow there is always a lesson to be learned while waiting for His provisions. He turned my anxious thoughts of fundraising and provided well above and beyond what I ever imagined. He provided a team of 17 unique individuals that I could share this incredible journey with. He draws me closer to Him on days when I go my own way and offers perseverance and encouragement when life gets tiresome. As scary as it is to step out in faith and surrender control, He has shown me that the return on investment can be so much greater.

We as Americans have no clue how people around the world suffer on a global scale. Several days we provided medical treatment to patients, most of which were children that suffer from jiggers. Jiggers are sand parasites that burrow into the skin of people that do not have shoes or inhabit less than impoverished living conditions. The first patient I worked with had over 115 jiggers removed from his hands and feet. Removal is done by extracting the jiggers with safety pins and razor blades. Unfortunately, anesthesia is not provided unless you consider lollipops a remedy for the pain. For more information on #zerojiggers, visit Another great organization we were able to work with is

While in Africa, I learned the importance of living life with a sense of urgency. I have to remind myself daily that there is so much more to life than the American dream, materialism or even myself. Wherever we're at, we're called to make a difference. There is a void in the lives of children all around the world who are in desperate need of seeing positive role models, especially among men. Whether we're called to invest in friendships, minister to a stranger, buy a meal for the homeless or take a trip with Visiting Orphans, all people have some need emotionally, physically or spiritually. Anyone that would say otherwise, needs to get to know the people around them a bit better. Going to Africa, I wanted to help everyone suffering from poverty, malaria and HIV, but the reality of the situation is we cannot be everything to everyone. God has entrusted you to make a difference in your community, neighborhood, place of work, relationships, etc.

People come into our lives for seasons and likely reasons we won't know until the other side of eternity. Whether it’s a relationship of two weeks or 25 years, Africa has reminded me to be present in the here and now because we never know the impact. Some of my VO team members encouraged me in ways I will never forget. I'm also reminded of the day-to-day blessings I have with family, friends and acquaintances back home. Perhaps the highlight of my trip was getting to meet the people of Uganda-Moses, Santa, Henry, Ochino, Gersache, Muwaya, Makayla, Lawrence, Gweda, Samuel, Abraham, Roger, Matthew, Kempey, Tadio, and Denis to name a few. Never in my life have I seen such elation from simply smiling. Their desire to help others, live joyfully, and give back is inspirational.

I've heard in the past, we're all one-phone call away from our lives being flipped upside down. Life is short. We live in a broken world where struggles, trauma and hurt are inevitable. We're all living for something or someone. Everyone has a story. Mine has taught me that I don't have to be perfect. Religion filled with rules and regulations is exhausting and isn't how I define my faith. I don't have to have all the right answers because I trust in a Savior that’s greater. My prayer is that when all is said and done, my life can be one characterized by faith, joy, grace & love. Dare I end with asking, what is your purpose?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Don't Do Nothing!

written by Autumn Kerr, Executive Director of Visiting Orphans

Probably once a week I see a post come across my facebook feed and I click to read how short-term mission trips are a bad idea, how you should never visit an orphanage, how you shouldn't adopt internationally and so on. Before I go on, let me say that most times there are some things I agree with within these posts. However, I just cringe when I come across the ones that are very one sided as if orphan care or adoption or ministry has just one possible solution. Oh how I wish it did. But ministry and orphan care and reaching the hurt - it's all messy. And hard. And complicated. And broken. Because people are involved and people are broken.

The most frustrating thing to me is that I read these posts and I imagine myself 8 or 9 years ago prior to serving overseas, prior to adopting as a single mom, prior to learning all that I've learned in my 6 years at VO and I know that posts like that would have scared me from doing anything. I have conversations with people and they tell me that they are afraid to do anything because they are so afraid of hurting or doing things the wrong way. I absolutely never want to hurt or do something the wrong way. But even more than that - I do not want fear to keep me from doing anything at all. Will you make mistakes or mess up? Most likely. I am, and you are, human after all. But we can learn from our mistakes, we can change and grow, we can go to those we may have hurt by those mistakes and apologize, talk it out and seek new solutions. And honestly in my friendships, those are the times that take our relationships to a new and deeper level. Because we don't just bail when it's hard or messy or one of us messes up - we work through it. And we come out stronger in our relationship on the other side and of our understanding of one another. It requires humility to admit when we are wrong and commitment to stick it out when things get tough.

That's why it has to be about relationship. Because in a relationship, there's a commitment to one another. And a willingness to work through the messes and misunderstandings and even cultural differences. I agree that international adoption is not the first resort because keeping a child with his/her birth family should be the first choice whenever possible. But the reality is - that isn't always possible. I agree that you shouldn't just stop in and visit an orphanage, take pictures and parade around like a tourist. Children are not tourist attractions. But they do need love, to be held, prayed for and reminded they are not forgotten. Those that care for them need support and encouragement and love too. If you have a relationship with a ministry that happens to be an orphanage and it's a long standing one in which you send teams to the same place over and over again, including a lot of the same people and leaders on those teams who return over and over - I see that as a good thing. Not a perfect thing in which we are guaranteed to never make any mistakes. But a beautiful thing where Jesus can be glorified. I've been on teams that had return team members and I will tell you how much that means to those kids - to see those familiar faces and to know that they have come yet again to visit that child. It matters. Sharing Jesus with them matters. Loving on the caregivers matters. Supporting amazing ministries who are serving children and communities day in and day out - that matters. We go to support those on the ground and to come alongside the work they are doing in the countries they serve. We don't go on a 1 or 2 week trip expecting to change the world. We don't go to tell ministries how we think they can do things differently or better. We go to be love and that starts with building relationships. We go to learn from one another and to be a blessing - not in the ways we think will be a blessing - but we ask the ministries what would bless them and serve them in that way. They know far better than we do what that is. We don't go in with our own agenda. We go to serve and to love, whatever that looks like in each particular place. Sometimes that looks like throwing a party for the staff and volunteers like our recent Uganda team just did at Sole Hope. Yes, we do visit some orphanages - ones that we have relationships with and send many teams to. We also work with a lot of ministries that are working in communities helping keep families together. We work with a lot of different types of ministries because orphan care and preventing kids from becoming orphans is not simple nor is there only one solution so we want to partner with organization that are helping in many different types of ways. 

On a personal note, as a mom who adopted a child from an orphanage - I am forever grateful to all of our past team members who visited my son, loved on him, helped meet his needs for food and basic necessities. A few of those past team members moved to Ethiopia for a season and served at that orphanage longer term. I am thankful for them. When I was waiting and couldn't be there to hold him and love on him - I was so thankful that others could be. So thankful. Because what is the alternative to visiting? Not visiting. Not checking in on or helping meet needs of or holding kids who rarely get held for more than a few minutes at a time simply because there aren't enough caregivers to go around. What about James 1:27 that says "to visit orphans and widows in their distress?" I'm thankful for all those who took that scripture seriously and visited my son.

There are always right and wrong ways to do things. There are things that might work well in one location and not another. There are things that work well for a time but then stop working. What I'm learning is that there isn't one easy answer. There isn't one cookie cutter solution to how to do orphan care. It is complicated. But we can't give up dear ones. Galatians 6:9 says: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

A lot of people give up. I understand why. It is messy and hard and we do have to be willing to admit when we are wrong and to change the way we do things. We have to be open to what God will teach and show us. And we have to be committed. Giving up would be far easier than sticking with it. But God isn't after what is easy. He's after our hearts and He's about transforming us more and more into His likeness. And if we will commit to not give up, we will reap a harvest. And there will be much fruit.

Do be wise. Do pray and seek the Lord. Do pray for wisdom and discernment. Do seek counsel from those who have gone before you in the things God lays on your heart. But please do not let fear of failure or what ifs keep you from doing anything. Don't do nothing! Do something. Not just anything - but the something God is calling you to. And commit to it. If God is calling you to adopt or foster or start a ministry, don't let fear keep you from moving forward. If God is calling you to go on a short-term mission trip or a long-term overseas missions assignment, be obedient and continue to seek him as you step out in faith in that calling. Be brave. Be bold. And commit to being committed to letting God use you, shape you and change you. But whatever you do, please don't sit back and do nothing at all. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

WHY GO? WEDNESDAY: Reflections from Uganda

We have a team in Uganda right now. They've been serving for the past few days with Sole Hope. Danielle, Sauvage Story blogger, is on that trip. Here's an excerpt from her most recent post. You can (and should) read the whole blog post here.

"So as I watched this little boy have egg sacks pulled out of his feet with a razor blade and a safety pin, I felt ashamed.
Ashamed that I have always looked away.
Ashamed that I have contributed to a culture that looks away.
Mother Theresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
I belong to those suffering with jiggers and so do you."

Monday, April 20, 2015

MEN WHO GO MONDAY: God wants us just as we are.

by Justin Olson - 2015 Costa Rica team member

The name of the organization that set up this trip is called Visiting Orphans, but the compound we hung out at wasn't actually an orphanage. In spanish, the word is 'albergue' which translates to shelter/refuge. The facility was a government run transitional home for children less than one year old up to 18 years old. These kids would be removed from homes where where the parents could not provide for the children, or because it was an abusive situation where the child was not safe. In many cases the kids aren't old enough to understand why they are being taken away from their home. Needless to say, they were excited to have people to come and love them!

The group I went with had 9 people total. We were a large mix of ages - from a woman who could have been most of our mothers all the way to her 16 year old daughter! Some of us were from Minnesota, but Texas, Philly, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Illinois were represented as well. As random as our backgrounds were, God knew exactly what he was doing bringing us all together. I can't imagine what the trip would have looked like with anyone else! 

After arriving in Costa Rica late Saturday night, we spent the night near the airport. Sunday morning we met the whole group officially for the first time before starting our drive to the eastern coast. Over the mountains and through the rainforest, spotting toucans and sloths in the trees! 

Far from what I normally see in Minnesota. We arrived at the transitional home in Limon around 4PM and stopped to take a tour and see the kids for a while. There were three different houses for the different age groups – 0-1ish, 2-10, and 11-18. while we were there, there were 2 baby girls, 10+ toddlers/young kids, and 5 teenage girls. After visiting them we went to our hotel in Puerto Viejo to settle in for our stay.

Monday and Tuesday we brought crafts, stickers, a volleyball and a soccer ball to play with the kids. The girls enjoyed the crafts immensely, and the boys couldn't get enough of kicking the balls around. Our whole trip was dedicated to making the kids smile, so we did whatever they wanted to do. I even got my nails painted by a 2 year old boy and 4 year old girl! Most of us did, actually, which the kids loved. I got to be a human jungle gym and tossed/spun/dangled kids repeatedly during the day while they giggled and squealed and smiled big smiles.

Wednesday and Thursday were our event days! Wednesday morning looked like the previous two days, but when lunch time rolled around we headed to Burger King in a PACKED bus full of kids and chaperones. Inside this particular Burger King was a huge play places that we let the kids run around for a few hours after a treat of burgers and cardboard crowns. They loved it. Thursday, our last day with the kids, we spent at a pool in the area that we rented out for the day. We brought lots of water wings and other inflatable toys that let the kids learn to swim for the first time without being too scared. They loved it, and there was enough cloud cover to protect us from the sun in large part. It was a great day =)

I'll finish with a story about the moment I'll remember most about the trip.

There was a little girl at the transitional home who only had one hand. She constantly walked around hiding her stump - in her shirt, behind her back, clasped in her other hand, etc.. on our pool day, she was pushed in by another kid who was too young to understand what he was doing. She didn’t know how to swim, and immediately reached up toward Dorothea (who was already getting ready to scoop her out) with her shorter arm. The image is burned into my mind. All inhibition was gone, replaced instead with fear and desperation. It was a striking image of how we reach for God. "I need your help. I am ashamed of myself. This is all I have to offer - a broken body. Dirty rags.” And the best part is that He wants us just like we are. Wow =)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

WHY GO? WEDNESDAY God uses short-term trips!

We love sharing stories of how God works on our mission trips - in the lives of the children as well as the team members.

Here's a glimpse into what God is doing in Costa Rica Team Member Mary Kate Dever!

I just wanted to give you a little overview of my trip to Costa Rica and how it impacted me in so many beautiful ways... Here it goes!

What God taught me: His plans are far greater than my own. FAR greater. Just this past August, not even a year ago, I was preparing to begin my freshman year at University of Pennsylvania, an ivy league school. I had at least the next four years of my life set, none of which I ran by God to get some sort of approval or anything. For some reason after I left high school, I felt as though I was able and well enough to steer my own plane. It was only four weeks after adopting this new attitude that everything started to fall apart. Four weeks into school I got two concussions within a week during a freak accident playing rugby. Not knowing I had the one, I continued to play and then lo and behold I sustained another one. I fell into a deep anger and hatred for life- something completely polar and foreign for me. Yet it took hold of my mindset, especially when I found out I wasn't going to be able to make up the work I missed which resulted in me needing to take an entire year off for medical leave. Right before I left school, the thought that I needed God in my life perpetuated my mind but didn't stick until I was home for about a week. The first week after having to leave school had to have been one of the darkest times of my life- having nothing to do but sit with my feelings, practically drowning in them. All of a sudden, I realized I could get out of this misery, step out of the darkness. All I had to do was reach up for God's hand. All that time God had watched as my self-propelled fighter plane took a nose diver back to reality and humanity- and right before I hit my breaking point, He wrapped me up in his love and took control of my winds. He slowly mended the damages and steered me in a direction I did not except in the slightest. It was then that He opened my eyes up again to one of my dreams I've had since I was a sophomore in high school, go on a VO trip and spread His love. After feeling such incredible love from my Father in such hard times, there was nothing more honoring than to be able to share his love with His people, my family.

How I saw him work: There are two specific instances that really stick out to me when I think about this, among the millions that occurred this past week. The first was through my team member Ruthie. Ruthie is 16 and literally so full of joy and love it's almost tangible. Anyway, when we get to the transitional home one, she is drawn to one little girl. It was only shortly there after that Ruthie ran over to me with distress, explaining to me that this little girl was missing her hand and she hid the fact, pointing out that she was obviously so mortified and self conscious. Yet as the week went on and the two of them spent more time together, it got to a point where you could just tell the little girl forgot that she didn't have a hand. It was such a beautiful thing to see the tangible healing powers of love and the mysterious ways they work. Nothing sort of extraordinary.

The second instance deals with one little boy that will probably forever hold a piece of my heart. This little guy is only 2 and a half and has to be the cutest, sweetest little ham I've ever seen with a laugh that could put you into a coma with it's adorableness. The day we took the kids to Burger King was such a special day because I got to spend a lot of time with him. I heard him starting to cry right before we were leaving, knowing he was probably exhausted, and within ten minutes he was passed out, drooling on me. It was such a beautiful thing, almost as if God allowed him to feel comfortable with me. It was such a blessing, to be loved so much and trusted by such a sweetheart. Then we proceeded to get on the bus to get ready to go and he woke up. It hit me then that it was probably the first time he was leaving the confines of the transitional home, and I could see the confusion and excitement in his eyes. About five minutes in, I heard a shriek coming from his mouth and immediately panicked. Then I noticed he wasn't scared- he was screaming out of wonder at the ocean as we passed it. I was so appalled and humbled to tears actually. He saw the beauty of life that we can get used to, and it was just so evident that he appreciated what God had made and proclaimed "good." It was such a simple moment yet one that I'll remember my entire life.

What I learned (or am learning): When I returned home, I had all expectations of being so happy to see everyone, sleep in my own bed, not have to practically bathe in bug spray, and continue on with the technology and normalities of daily American life. Boy was I wrong lol. I was definitely happy to see everyone, and I was pretty happy about eating some American food, but something felt off. I have been feeling very strange since I've been home. I feel like its not fair that I just get to return back to life in "better" living conditions while those kids are still left in the same situation: the unknown surrounding their families, living day to day not knowing what to expect. I want to do more for those kids, the very kids who broke my heart when I learned their stories and felt their pain. The very kids who put it back together with every smile, every hug, every adorable hug and incredibly contagious laugh. Yet I feel as though I left a piece of my heart there. There was no way I could leave such beautifully broken place whole- I left a piece of me with them so that they could be whole, in Jesus's name. Yet I still wish I could do more, and that's when I realized that I just really need to press into Jesus and ask for his guidance s to what to do with the stirring in my heart, what's next, and for the protection of my little guys. It's complete trust in Jesus and the surrendering to his all-powerfulness that's so important. Humans have limits but He has none.

What's next: Great question!! Lol I have not a clue, but I am praying that it will include VO. I fell in love with the organization 3 years ago and I would love to continue to live out "Go. Be. Love." again and again and again. But I've learned not to get too ahead of myself lol. I know God is stirring my heart so for a reason, and I'm trying to figure out what He wants next from me. I would love to adopt one day when I'm older and long term mission work is definitely something I would be honored and beyond blessed to get my hands on. This trip has set me afire and I just need to do something with my burning love for God. I promise this isn't the last time VO will hear from me!

Thank you again for all you have done for us, I can't thank you enough. Have a great one and I'm so sorry for the lengthy email! Once I get going I'm hard to stop lol!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

WHY GO? WEDNESDAY Because your heart will be broken....

Why Go? Because of stories like this by VO team member Dorothy York:

I went to Ecuador in December 2012 hoping to get something out of my system and when I came back it only grew thinking of the children I met and everything I got to see. It was like God
finally said you found it. Needless to say, I enjoyed it. In June 2013 I went to Gressier, Haiti with VO to visit Respire Haiti.

After this year I will be going to Youth With A Mission and doing a Discipleship Training School for 3 months in Australia learning, and 3 months outreach. I'm hoping somewhere in Africa. I've been called to Africa since I was 5 and after my DTS I will be moving to Rwanda and eventually if God takes me there to the DR Congo.

I always say VO broke my heart, but it broke it in the best way possible.

-Dorothy York

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

WHY GO? WEDNESDAY spotlight: Ukraine team member Laura Robie

My trip with Visiting Orphans to Ukraine changed my life individually and my whole family's life.  Even before leaving, the amount of research I started doing to prepare myself for the trip about orphans and what issues these kids are dealing with on a day to day basis and how being in an orphanage affects their lives as they grow older greatly opened my eyes and heart to helping orphans and I also started considering adoption.  After coming back from the trip, my heart ached to leave the kids and I knew I could love these kids as my own.  My husband and I started praying about adoption, something he was opposed to at first.  During this year of prayer, as a family we decided we wanted to do more for orphans around the world and to help keep kids from becoming orphans.  We now sponsor a child through Compassion, decided to sponsor three children through House of James which my team visited while in Ukraine, helped at a Compassion table during a concert, and held two Compassion Sundays at our church where other kids were sponsored.  We also set up a special ministry savings account that we use to help vulnerable children locally and around the world.  


At the end of a year of praying, my husbands heart was changed and he was seriously considering adoption.  We went to Summit 9 held by Christian Alliance for Orphans and that really bought unity to our decision to want to adopt.  We are now in the process of adopting a child from China and we are so excited! Without God prompting me to look up on the internet different groups that visit orphans, and finding Visiting Orphans right away, I don't think my family or I would be doing any of the things we are now.  I'm so grateful for the trip I took with Visiting Orphans and I encourage anyone I talk to to go.  I have bought many VO t-shirts to wear to spark the conversation! :)  I think Visiting Orphans does a wonderful job helping and not hurting orphans and trains their leaders and staff so well that everything is run smoothly, efficiently, compassionately and ethically.  Thanks for all you do! 

Laura Robie

Monday, February 9, 2015

MEN WHO GO MONDAY spotlight: Ecuador team leader Aaron Hedges

Leading a team to Ecuador was truly an amazing experience! Seeing some results of the work that has been done one year ago was great to see. Though it is fun to see some of the same children we saw last year, it is encouraging that many of them had been adopted or placed with families. 

Denise and Oswaldo (the missionaries on the ground) have done an amazing job building relationships with the children and staff at 15 different locations. They have a new ministry called ‘Contigo’ which they hope to grow through the efforts of visiting teams and supporters. One of the ministries that Contigo is partnering with is Pisuli, a neighborhood mission. Pisuli is a neighborhood in Quito that is very poor. The goal of this ministry is to give kids and parents proper health training, food, clothing and the overall opportunity to sustain an improved life by showing the love of Jesus. The monthly rent to sustain the place where this mission resides is $200 per month. This is a small amount of money compared to the large impact that is being made here.

Jesus gave us a command to care for widows and love on the orphans. There is no greater blessing than to share God’s love with kids of all ages and to ensure them that they are indeed NOT fatherless.

- Aaron Hedges, Ecuador Team Leader

Join Visiting Orphans on an upcoming Ecuador team. See all the upcoming trips here.