Saturday, October 27, 2018

pastors' response re: OCC

Last year, I wrote a blog post concerning Operation Christmas Child in Zambia and the breakdown in expectations between box packers and what is happening on the ground. I particularly highlighted that churches are paying money to the National Team to receive their boxes. Since this post has recently re-gained traction, OCC has published an official response.

The original blog post can be read HERE, and OCC’s response can be read HERE.

As many, many people have forwarded OCC’s note and asked me to respond to it specifically, I feel morally obligated to do so. However, not wanting to speak on behalf of our region’s Pastors without their input and permission, my husband, Jeremy, and I chose to first sit and talk with the leadership of the Mansa Pastors Fellowship. What they had to say was challenging to say the least. Desperately wanting to see change, the pastors requested that their words be shared with the larger audience that continues to follow this issue.

To provide readers with the most accurate account, I’ve chosen to transcribe the conversation with our local Pastors. My words are italicized, and all plain text are direct quotes from the Pastors. The transcription has been edited slightly for readability and length, but none of the pastors words or sentiments have been changed. Bracketed text has been inserted for clarification purposes only.


26, October, 2018
Location: Wetuna Gardens, Mansa
In attendance: Missionaries Jeremy & Bethany Colvin, and four members of the Executive Leadership of the Mansa Pastors Fellowship.


The number one question I’m getting is, ‘has this issue been resolved,’ and I’ve been avoiding giving the answer because I don’t feel like it’s my place to give your response.

[Reading of OCC’s official statement, passing out to pastors, after which the pastors take turns speaking.]

Some more than ten years ago, the same [National] team came to Mpika with one gentlemen from America and his wife. I was just invited, I wasn’t in the management team. During the discussion, that gentlemen from America was explaining that these shoe boxes reach the beneficiary free of charge. ‘It’s free. It’s covered in the costs.’ So… when his explanation was heating up, it was perceived it was going to attract questions, like, ‘why are we paying?’ and so [National Team Member] came out and spoke in Bemba, saying, “Bane, ifya ku sosela tafyawama…” (Brothers, tattling is not a good thing, let us not report each other.) And the gentlemen from America asked, “What are you saying” and [National Team Member] said, ‘I’m just clarifying for them,’ as if we weren’t getting what he was saying. And so in a matter of ten seconds, he [National Team Member] changed everything that the gentlemen from America was saying. To shut us up. And no one could speak against that. And it has haunted me for years that none of us was bold enough to tell the truth. And that gentlemen went with that perverted version of what is happening. What’s happening now is just a repeat. When they came to Mansa they brought a pre-typed letter saying that everything has been resolved and we the leaders refused to sign it.

I was very disappointed when I read this letter from OCC because they are shooting these gentlemen [fellow pastors around table] and hiding criminals in the name of this update. The least they could have done would be send some folks who are not a part of this, and instead they send [the National Team] to come and ask us questions. But there was nothing like questions, they just came to threaten us by saying “your children will not benefit from this.” And they have carried out their threat. Last year we did not receive boxes and this year, since we have not heard anything, we conclude we still aren’t receiving. They came to shush us. It was a rebuke. As if we are doing something scandalous, trying to stop something that’s beneficial to the children, when actually the key issue is trying to expose an immorality that has been going on.

They [the National Team] are the principle suspects. They are cashing in on the program. Why should they be sent to investigate? [OCC] should have sent an independent person or group to come and hear from us. That could have given us a fair trial. But now the same group comes here… what kind of investigation is that? They’ve been in this thing for more than ten years. And they have been manipulating the system.

[National Team Member] has bought a truck, and that is the same truck he uses to deliver the boxes. We suggested here, “Can’t we send our own truck to collect the boxes” and he said, ‘no, you have to use our truck,’ because it belongs to him and he charges [for its use], and that money goes into his pocket. Is that not corruption?

When we were told how much we should pay per box, for Luapula Province, it was more than K200,000 ($20,000) and for Mansa specifically it was K40,000 ($4,000). To bring a truck from Ndola to Mansa, you can hire that [a private truck] for K3,000 to K4,000, now they’ve charged K40,000 and where has the rest of that money gone?

Before the boxes come, they [National Team] has to come and do a training, but when we look at the cost implications of the [training], we pay a flat fee per church but then each individual Sunday School teacher has to also pay and you are required to send a set number of people to the training per X number of boxes you are to receive which forces the churches to send more people to the training, each of which have to pay to attend. The [National Team] says the money goes towards their accommodation here, but what happens is they will come and see us in Mansa, Samfya, Nchelenge all in one trip without sleeping here yet still having collected all that money. And this doesn’t include the payments the children have to make.

And when they [National Team] came they said, “No, the reason why we are charging you is because there are other regions that are more vulnerable, like Shangombo,” and then when you call Shangombo, you find out that they’ve paid too, so its all a lie.

They [the boxes] are not helping in terms of building the church. If anything they are destroying the church. Our colleagues from Ndola have not been faithful. We are not against paying something, but when the money does not go for what it was said it was for, it’s going into someone’s pocket, and then they declare that God has blessed them… that’s what we should discourage. And so if the same individuals are being entrusted with the task, then I would say, its better not to have it. Unless if they [OCC] can find a fairer system to help the churches. Because like our brother said, they [the National Team] has been doing this a long time. This is something they [National Team] has gotten used to, they aren’t going to change. If they [OCC USA] is going to keep using that same channel, then I think let it not come to us.

The little I know about Americans is that they champion the spirit of openness, the free mind, freedom of expression… now when we want to express ourselves, someone comes and says ‘shut up’ and follows with an action – suspension – now are they representing the spirit of the donor? Let the American people know that when things are pointed out by the locals here, they [National Team] stop giving boxes to people who are reporting those wrong things.

We are the people on the ground. We know ourselves. We are Zambians. And these people are Pastors. How can I submit to [National Team pastor] who is cheating me? If it were just a secular person we could just say, ‘well they are sinners,’ and let them go. But these are people with collars, showing the world that ‘we are servants of the Lord.’

What has to be highlighted is that an investigation has not been done. What was done could just be termed as a cover up – an intimidation. OCC, Samaritan’s Purse from the United States has not investigated. What’s missing categorically from this process is an independent inquiry towards the actual interest of protecting the huge investment that is being put into all this. It’s no longer even what we can call a gift box. They [the donors] would be amazed to learn that the children are buying these gifts and those people are proud to sell. I remember one of them [national team during training] trying to encourage us, “even I’ve benefited a lot just from doing ministry to children.”

In this section on the official response, it specifically says that the $9 covers shipment to the countries and to the 1,100+ delivery sites within the country. I don’t know how you read it, but it makes it sound like boxes are supposed to be sent from Ndola to Mansa and then from there the distribution costs are upon you. But what I hear you saying is that you were even willing to help cover the Ndola to Mansa cost – which just shows how much grace you have in the situation. But this is what a few hundred thousand people in the US are waiting to hear, whether this issue has actually been resolved in terms of the churches still being charged to cover transportation to the distribution sites – Mansa, Solwezi, Choma, Chipata etc. That’s what people are waiting to hear.

Actually I just called Reverend [name withheld] since I know they are still receiving boxes and I asked, ‘Were you charged anything this year?’ and he said ‘Yes, we paid for the boxes as a church.’ And he explained that they were told, ‘Don’t charge the children but you as a church pay for the boxes,’ and they were given an amount to pay and he also said, ‘We know how these people are, they’ve really benefitted from these boxes so just know that the way you’ve started talking to them, you’ll not be receiving boxes,’ and I said, Exactly! We didn’t receive and the Reverend said, ‘yeah, that’s what they do.’

These things are not gifts any more. These are enterprises. Those people are no longer qualified to represent Samaritan’s Purse. We speak for Zambia. We have to do whatever it takes for the sake of the children we are representing here. We know that those people are stealing from the children – it’s not speculation. It’s not rumor. Because [states denomination/branches around the whole country] has paid money each year for the children we have registered. We have receipts. It’s everywhere. It amounts to thousands and thousands of dollars. That’s what has been covered up. And no one seems interested in that.

Are there things that you want HQ to know?

We don’t agree with the statement that the matter was resolved because those who came to investigate are the suspects and secondly, the whistle blowers have been suspended for two [cycles] so far. Was this the resolution? Or is America aware?

We have not seen the values that OCC has projected to us applied in our region. If OCC can come up with a different [National] team whilst they are carrying out a proper investigation it will really serve us.

How connected in the past have boxes been to child evangelism. Are children coming to know Christ or are the boxes just a demonstration of Christian love.

The program is not happening like its supposed to. The same kids get the boxes over and over, and it’s the ones that can pay for them. [Evangelism] has been the emphasis [of training] in the past but practically, no. When they [National Team] comes they conduct those programs and say, ‘this is a tool for evangelism, and the emphasis is that the child will know how Jesus loves him through another child sending them this.’ But this is not evangelism. A lot of people are participating thinking we can just pay ten kwacha and get a box and go home.

If we could convince them [the donors] to just send it [the funds], it would be a very good idea, because I feel that even though this is for the sake of Christmas, the things that the kids get, and we thank God that what they are getting is American standard, but still it doesn’t really meet the needs of the children. These kids get a box – they’ve never been to school! They might get a toothpaste that is of a higher American standard, but we also have toothpaste here. So it’s nice that Christmas comes once but we can use cheaper things and in that way Christmas can go on and have a more lasting impact. Maybe we can convince some to just turn that [their box] into money. Because child-centered programs are incredibly important. And there’s a lot that can be done to mitigate the challenges that the children are facing.

People have asked us if there are alternatives. What if we were to put together a list of needs within the churches (school fees, blankets, clothes etc.) and collect funds to connect people with Mansa directly to meet tangible needs?

It can really have a lot of impact. We would be more confortable if our friends in America would be able to convert their boxes into cash so that we partner with Jeremy & Bethany [] in terms of administration and accountability for those resources. As we partner with you [Colvins] it would be an opportunity for the Church to focus on what it’s supposed to do and in a way that its supposed to be done. We have to go the Biblical way with structures of accountability. It’s not about dishing out money, its about making sure that things are done Biblically and people are accountable to leadership that is set.

We didn’t know what to do about this whole thing but the sharing you did, God used it to try and help us find the way to really address an injustice. We were stuck. We thought they [the National Team] was the beginning and the end. We didn’t know there was elsewhere we could report and other contacts we were able to get through to and you were able to do that for us and I think that was a major breakthrough. And now we are hoping that we can use our voice and correct this – even if they [OCC] doesn’t support us any longer – but maybe correct it for the other regions that are receiving, that would be a major breakthrough, and God will have really helped us.

I think the transparency of this is really helpful and people are going to thank you for taking something that was previously in the dark and putting it into the light.


Meeting closed in prayer. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

you didn't fall in love with Africa

Remember that time I accidentally dated Jeremy for two years and then we decided to just do that forever so we got married? Not once did we go out for dinner and a movie. We never even went bowling! We did dine by candlelight, but that’s only because my hut didn’t have electricity.

So I clearly have no idea how modern romance works.

I fell in love in Africa, which, of course, is a very different thing than falling in love with Africa – something that seems to happen quite regularly for other people. I gladly accepted living in Zambia. But I loved Jeremy. And we felt like God had ordained that our work was to continue here. So we stayed. But lovie dovie feelings for the country itself were never really a part of the equation.

my earliest photo of the now husband

I think this is why I’m so intrigued by the number of people who travel abroad – to Africa and elsewhere – for a two week trip and “fall in love.” And sometimes those people who visit for two weeks and vow to return really do make their way back to the continent, which is equally intriguing to me.

For me it begs the question, what does it really mean to love a place?
There are many things I love about Zambia:

I love the fresh air.

I love that there is no such thing as a bad time to visit your neighbor.

I love the way the flying termites come out after the first rain and all the kids and birds run around like crazies trying to catch them.

I love that you will always be invited to dinner even if they hadn’t planned on you.

I love the footprints down every bush path showing big toes and little toes.

I love that the clock controls nobody.

I love that any woman will mother my children like they are her own.

I mean, what's not to love about this picture?

Zambia is an extremely loveable place. It’s easy to understand how someone could come here for a short trip and “fall in love.” But as my story with Jeremy reflects, I’m not exactly the romantic type. I love Zambia for reasons beyond its natural beauty and inherent charm. In fact, I love it despite its flaws – of which there are many.

I love it despite the fact that “I’m coming” does not in fact mean “I’m coming.”

I love it despite the fact that the same roads have been under construction for a decade with no finish in sight.

I love it despite the fact that venomous snakes are constantly watching me with their beady eyes.

I love it despite the fact that people are more concerned with being cursed than of being honest.

I love it despite the smoldering trash heaps lining every road of every town.

I love it despite the fact that no one can tell us the rules of the country, including the rule makers.

I will never love this. Look closely to count the eggs in that snakes belly. That was my breakfast, spawn of Satan.

 And this is how love goes – in marriage and in residence. True love does not put the good and bad on a scale and choose to follow which ever side carries more weight. True love is about choice and commitment which means that Zambia’s virtues and vices are, in many ways, irrelevant to me. I love this place because I have committed to it whether it scintillates my senses or grates on my nerves.

And this is where all the short term missionaries who in two weeks time announce that they’ve “fallen in love” with whatever third world country make me nervous. I see this happen every year as fall arrives and the season of short-term missions comes to an end. In all the reports, the love theme is prolific. From what I gather from most fresh returnees to America, excitement and wonder are captaining the good ship happy-feels and it’s apparently too easy to believe that this is all one needs to know.

This whole scenario probably wouldn’t even catch my attention (I mean, what kind of cynic poo-poos on love?) except for the number of short termers who “fall in love,” vow to return, and then actually act on it. It happens more than you think – we meet them here, and learn about them elsewhere: missionaries who have moved overseas on a long-term basis with their main explanation being, “I spent two weeks here last summer and totally fell in love.” And every time Jeremy and I bump into this story, we take two steps back, fully anticipating the fairy tale to blow up at any moment.

The pitfall is obvious if you borrow from the marriage analogy again. Anyone who dates for two weeks and rushes to the alter would be well advised to slow things down lest they find themselves rushing to divorce court soon after. Of course it works for some, but not for most. There’s a missions equivalent to this too. Short-termers who fall in love and rush to sign up for forever have basically speed dated an exotic country and mistaken infatuation for committed love. And their happy story doesn’t end in divorce, but rather missionary attrition which is helpfully well-documented. The mis-step here is ignorance to the universal law that true love can only be substantiated through the test of time – a luxury that short-term workers do not have. 

One of the hardest parts of our long-term work here is the constant. The constant requests. The constant threats to our work and wellbeing. The constant push to make things happen. The constant barrage of people coupled with the constant feeling of isolation.

When a team or individual comes to partner with us, their experience is categorically different. As good hosts, we’ve dealt with most of the hassle ahead of time so that their work can come off without a hitch. We’ve mitigated risk so that challenges and inconveniences are minimized. We’ve made arrangements that set a team up to complete a successful project in a specific amount of time.

In short, we work hard to buffer short-term visitors from real life. Our ‘constants’ do not phase the short-termers because their time has a liberating end.

I’d be enamored with my life too if it always ran so smoothly. But in reality, it doesn’t. And it can’t. Not on this scale – not for this duration. Dealing with hassle is a default setting. Risk of failure, injury, disappointment and disaster are every single day occurrences. Nothing happens in a two-week time frame. Not. One. Thing. And vacillation between triumph and tragedy is just inherent in moving a ministry forward.

Efyo caba. That’s how it goes.

But in contrast, for those two weeks, everything stays (relatively) golden for our visitors because the time-frame ensures it. When folks walk into an African hut and find it “cozy” and “romantic” that’s because that grass roof hasn’t dripped on you every day for half a year. Truly, a person can sleep anywhere, eat anything, interact with anyone for two weeks. This is not hard and requires no real adjustment. It’s easy enough to hold your breath for a fortnight. But long-termers who too once held their breath have all had to exhale… and then inhale again. Our time-frame ensures it too. The lumpy beds that were comical for two weeks are tortuous after two years. The kids on the porch who ask for sweeties every day are endearing at first but eventually become emotionally draining. The local cuisine is no longer “delectable” once the stash of Cliff Bars has run out. Time will always do its work, and there is no speeding that up.

And how we watch this play out time and time again is that last-summer’s short-termers who come back as newly arrived long-termers typically try to function in ways that are reminiscent of their previous trips. Perfectly understandable, but detrimental still. In most cases, these folks try to live a life that is both unrealistic and unsustainable for long-term work and they burn out so fast. They run full speed through a parallel and imaginary universe where everything is magical until their bodies, minds and souls collapse from disillusionment and unmet expectations. Over the years, our observation is that every last one of them cries out, “this isn’t how it was before!” and then goes home.

And its my compassion for this scenario that underwrites this post. At this time of year, when so many people are still riding on the highs of the trip they took this summer, I pray these words speak a most gentle truth into the swirl of excitement.

For those of you who went on that trip, I know some of you are committed to returning. Your lives were changed and now you feel you need to get back to where you went and this time its going to be forever. I love the passion wrapped up in this. I want success for you. I don’t want you to become an attrition statistic. I want real and lasting joy for your service. And I truly believe that the best way to achieve that is to be brutally honest about the ways that short-lived emotions tell a fabulous and false story.

My challenge to you is to put it all on ice for a while and take the time to assess the source of your confidence. If your desperation to return to your host country is fueled by your love of the people and the warmth of the culture and the inspiration of the work, then stop looking at one way tickets. You are setting yourself up for tears and a demoralizing flight home. Those loving people will eventually sin against you, and the culture will eventually stand on your last nerve and the work will eventually feel overwhelming and then the good feels will be gone.

If, however, you feel like God is asking you to go, then pray into that. Happy feelings alone will always fail you, but a call of the Lord will sustain you in the dark nights. Only God can give you a love for a place teeming with corruption and trash heaps and juju and when he places that kind of love in your heart, you’ll know the peace of living sent.

Seasoned missionaries: Anything you’ve observed that you’d like to add?

Short-termers hoping to return: Anything you’d like to ask? How can we support you better?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

lies from the orphanage

I live in a culture that loves stories. History, traditions, social norms - and of course a healthy amount of gossip - are passed down and disseminated through stories. Stories are shared around the cook fires late at night (and there’s a story behind that too.) Ask a question of my neighbors that requires a culturally-informed answer and you’ll surely hear the words, “Let me tell you a story.” My friends here have inspired me and I too long to be a great story teller.

In addition to having my imagination tickled, I love the power that stories hold. Michael Margolis, strategic story teller and CEO of Get Storied, once said, The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world. You need to change your story.

Different sectors leverage stories differently to effect change. Many depend on the stories they tell in order to safeguard their own existence. For example, orphanages in Africa. 

I’ve written before about my conviction that we need to be doing orphan care better, and how that fight has become personal to me in recent years. Still as time passes, whenever I see another round of praise for Traditional Orphanage X, my heart sinks. Why are we still on this path of heartache? Despite the ample research that shows the negative effects of institutionalism – and not to mention the social movement that led the U.S. to denounce orphanages decades ago – Americans are still obsessed with orphanages on every other continent. Why, I wonder aloud?

Then I remember my community. And the cook-fire. And the stories told that teach people what to believe. And the orphanage disgrace makes more sense. It’s the power of their stories. The stories the orphanages tell – stories of the kids in their care and the importance of their work – these stories are exported across an ocean and reach the ears of those primed to hear and respond and send money back the other direction. And that set of stories becomes an anthology with undeserved acclaim.

I understand on one level. "Liking" a facebook post of a cute baby in an orphanage is much less taxing than digesting an academic brief on the traumatic effects of institutionalism on children. When reality is too complex, the stories told by the orphanages curate everything down to a manageable size. The only trouble is that the stories being told represent a very specific bias.

I’ve seen it a few hundred times: Traditional Orphanage X posts, “Lie, lie, lie, all the lies, pray for us and our lies,” and instead of being disturbed by the falsehood, donors with all their power are moved with the emotionalism that these lies induce. The words coming from these orphanages is what drives the culture of orphan care around the world and I am desperate to see the storyline change for the better.

As per my title, I want to flesh out five lies orphanages tell. 'Lie' is an awfully strong word, I know. And I use it discourteously on purpose. A half truth, a partial truth, an over-generalized truth, an extrapolated truth – these are all lies with bow-ties on. But they are still lies. I’m sorry for being all prickly, but my patience is up. Kids are being abused every day and its for their sake that I’m willing to call it like I see it.

And so, with that bit of background, let me share with you the most common lies that I see coming out of orphanages.

five lies from the orphanage

Lie One: “Nobody wanted them.”

Such a heart wrenching statement, only sociopaths would remain unmoved, particularly when the post includes a picture of a beautiful baby with big eyes and dimples. And the moment those words go public, the orphanage workers are instant heroes for being the ones who DO want him!

Ugh. And my heart sinks. Out of all the lies, this one breaks me in so many ways, mostly because of how the conclusion is derived. Many people assume that if a mother willingly drops her child off at an orphanage, she MUST not want him. Likewise, it is assumed that if mom dies in childbirth and no one steps up to take the child that clearly the family MUST not want him either. What is often overlooked is that this conclusion is a sandcastle of assumption, and from where I’m standing, the mishandling of limited information is negligent.

The truth is that most abandonment and relinquishment happens not for lack of love (wanting the child) but because of fear. Fear that she won’t be able to feed her child. Fear that their home is inadequate. Fear that she’s “less than” what her child needs. Barring mental illness, which can absolutely lead a mother to do the unthinkable, one cannot hold her child in her arms and say, “nope, don’t want her.” We are designed by God to feel attachment and connectedness – a biological bond that does not “just” drop a piece of her heart off with strangers. A face value conclusion of “nobody wanted them” ignores the most profound workings of our own biology.

And so when a child is brought to an orphanage and the staff is told, “no one wanted him,” too many orphanage owners respond too quickly with, “Great! We do!” and immediately post excited selfies with the new baby while failing to acknowledge the shambles of a broken heart they’ve just shut out on the other side of the gate. A more compassionate and controlled person asks the question: “Did they really not want him or did they just not want to fail him?” The answer to that question is discovered by slowing down the dialogue and digging to the heart, where more often than not, one will find not cold and uncaring family members, but deeply concerned and fearful ones. The lack of due diligence in NOT having these conversations with biological families is irresponsible to say the least. We owe these families more respect and support than Lie One affords them.

Lie Two: “The family couldn’t take care of them.”

Ahh, a favorite in the orphan care world. I’ve debated this one with more than a few people and the most important question I can ask is, “What do you mean by that?” If I’m speaking with Americans, they will talk about food and clothes and education and the size of house. If I listen to a cursory assessment of said child’s situation… “There were like eight kids in that family! All of the kids were sleeping on the floor! They only had one change of clothes each! They ate the same thing for every meal!” and so on and so on… I almost want to chuckle as I decide how to delicately drop the bomb of relativism on the concerned American. Pardon my candor, but you just described 85% of rural Zambians. Do you really think we should institutionalize all of them?

Orphan care providers do no one justice by going to a foreign country and whipping out an American measuring stick. Yes, in the United States, multiple kids sleeping on the floor without clean clothing and eating cereal every day is probably going to get CPS involved. But there has to be a translation of standards whereby we accept and embrace what is truly acceptable in the orphans’ context.

What I find really interesting is the juxtaposition of this Lie with fundraising efforts. How many times have I seen, “Look at our new baby! His family couldn’t take care of him, so they brought him to us. Who wants to sponsor this little angel?” And every time, I’m all HOLD THE PHONE. Are you seriously with a straight face saying, “His mama didn’t have the means and hey, hey, neither do we! Huzzah!” In short, you’re brazenly admitting that the only reason why you get to keep this baby and his family is because you have rich friends and a PayPal account and they don’t. Shameful doesn’t even come close.

Every family considering relinquishment because of poverty deserves to hear,
“You can manage. And this is your child. And he needs you! And I will leverage my connections to make sure you have what you need. I will not rest until you feel safe and successful again.”

Lie Three: “They deserve a ‘better life.’”

Privilege on a platter with a side of the American Dream, I have little patience for this ugly little sentence. My only rebuttal is: No. They deserve their real family. I think most orphanages exist under the pretense that physical care is the most important thing a child needs and that it must be provided without regard to the emotional price-tag. In fact, orphanages basically have to think this way otherwise they’d have to close themselves down.

While orphanage workers are so concerned about the food and clothes that the child isn’t getting (and won’t ever get as long as Lie Two is still in play,) what isn’t being taken into account when children are being admitted to institutions is the primal wound that is being inflicted upon the child by separating him from biological family. Abandonment is perhaps the most traumatic event that can take place in a human’s life and no amount of new clothing and fancy food can replace that.

And so, this “better life” that orphanages are giving these kids? There’s actually no evidence of it. Children raised in institutions suffer physically, mentally and emotionally FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. Ignoring these facts is ludicrous and yet, for the love of orphanages, this is where we are.

Lie Four: “We saved a child.”

More blatant white-saviorism there ne’er was. A mother should never have to choose between feeding her child and keeping him. Orphanages dangle life and death before parents and extended family by saying, We will take care of your child and give him an education BUT you have to sign over your legal rights to us. Lies Two and Three  are used to strong-arm signatures of relinquishment that then become the anecdotes of Lie One and the fire burns in my bones as I type out the words, “You didn’t save them, you stole them.” When a child is robbed of his biological family, his cultural connection, his lineage, his identity, and subjected to the trauma of abandonment because the people with the financial means to help the family chose not to? There are no purple hearts for this.

Lie Five: “We’re doing the best we can.”

Mmm. So tricky. In case reading thus far has branded me as the worst cynic, let me lower my guard just a little and say, I hear this. I hear you. Because of the circles we run in, we know many of these orphanage workers personally. They are not monsters. I don’t know anyone who gives up a comfortable life to come and serve the least of these who is not honest-to-goodness trying their best. This Lie deserves at least that much acknowledgement.

But here’s the rub. Doing “the best that we can” does not absolve responsibility to do better. As has been noted, supporting orphans well means supporting their extended support network in ways that allow the child to remain with family. I’ve hashed this with orphanage workers before and there are several common objections:

We can’t just give money – drunk uncle will spend it all on booze.
If we give clothes and food, other children in the family end up wearing and eating it.
We don’t have the staff capacity to interact with the community on that level.
It’s too much effort.
Etc. etc. etc.

So, train family mentors. So, work through churches. So, clothe the siblings too. So, work on your community integration. So, bring in some actual social workers. So, do what it takes and don’t punk out because if that were your kid, you’d sell a kidney to make it work. These are not pie in the sky solutions. Where there is a will there is a way; but most orphanages just aren’t in the market for a new way.

And it’s here where I need to respond to everyone who has been reading through these Lies and is dying to rebut, “NOT ALL!!!” Let me join your chorus: Yes! NOT ALL!




We know organizations that are inspiring movements with their work in reunification. Groups that have heeded wisdom and now work tirelessly to get kids back with their real families. People who do everything they can to empower families to care for their children without guilt or fear. These are the angel warriors that give me hope. As a mother with a son who was cared for by some of the good ones, I know his caretakers would have moved heaven and hell to see him reunified, and when that was impossible, they moved heaven and hell to make sure he had a forever family. And on a larger scale, we should all be watching what is unfolding in Rwanda - on track to become Africa's first orphanage-free country! Bless.

But at the very same time, far too many orphanages exist that continue to thrive under the above lies. What is worse, new orphanages are being constructed every day. And every penny raised for construction costs is thanks to these five Lies.

Savin’ babies that nobody wanted and whose families never could have cared for them properly anyway and so how nice it is that we can give them a “family” and a better life.

And the donors of the first world just douse their consciences with white saviorism like hot fudge on a sundae and they think how sweet it is to be a part of this awesome work… all the while Jesus is weeping that his children are being exploited, wounded and sold.

A better story is out there. One of hope and healing. One of restorative justice. And as it is told, my deepest prayer is that the support for Lies would dry up completely. Because it’s funding that drives all of this, after all. And isn’t that a demon to be exorcised. Orphanages afraid to change their “business model” because it would be costly. Because this is how they’ve always done it, and it pays the bills. Paralyzed by the fear of, “who will fund us if we don’t have any babies on site to claim as our own?”

And that’s where God’s people need to step in and say, We will. We will fund reunification and first families. We will support mothers and extended kin. We will fight trauma with our financial power. As key stakeholders in this hot mess we believe that better can be done and we unleash the purse strings to see that happen.

And when that story gets told? I promise you, it will change everything.