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Jan 07, 2015

How One Church Has Responded to the Global Orphan Crisis

Today’s guest post is contributed by Natalie Lederhouse.

It was a cold and rainy night when I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, after a 15-hour flight from Atlanta. I had joined Bethany Christian Services to get a global snapshot of their ministries. It was the beginning of a 10-day trip, but within three days, I had seen enough to be inspired—inspired by the initiative of a stateside church in Holland, Michigan, called Christ Memorial Church.

Several years ago this church decided it wanted to make a difference globally, according to Paul Scholten, Christ Memorial’s South Africa Ministry Coordinator. But they didn’t want to just send their dollars overseas and never be personally invested in the ministry they created. So they decided to start Lebone Educare Center, a daycare center in Botshabelo, South Africa, almost a five-hour drive southwest of Johannesburg.

Christ Memorial soon had too many kids for the facility; the need for daycare there was too great for them to meet it alone. So they asked Bethany Global for help. Tendai Masiriri, Bethany’s vice president of Bethany Global, says, “Christ Memorial had a history of working with Bethany and knew what we were doing in Africa, especially in Ethiopia, and came in and said, ‘What can we do here? Can you help us?’ So we went in and did a community assessment, collected information, and analyzed it.”

“It’s easy for a Westerner to drive through Botshabelo and think it’s dirty and all they have is physical needs, but that’s not the case,” says Ruth Olsson, Bethany’s Strategic Partnership Consultant. “You can keep kids alive, but what’s the most fundamental need of a kid? It’s family. They need a parent.”

And Ruth is right. Bethany’s analysis revealed that the number one need was for a child protective organization to be located in Botshabelo. The community needed families to rise up and protect their children. Many of its youth were engaged in gangs, drug abuse, and violence, and some of its children were being raped on their way to and from school. So Christ Memorial took steps toward creating an organization that would protect children. “But in order to do this long-term, they need to engage the community,” Masiriri says. “If they get help from just Bethany, then it won’t be sustainable. The community has to take ownership, which comes with a lot of education and motivation. The dream is to have an engaged community, and an engaged community for the protection of their kids and valuing that kids need a safe environment.”

Christ Memorial Church and Bethany partnered to open Setshabelo Family & Child Services (SFCS) in Botshabelo a little over a year ago. SFCS recently received its certification to be an official child protective organization, which means they can now provide adoption and foster care placements for children who need a healthy family life in the Botshabelo area.

With guidance from Bethany, SFCS is led by South African natives. Keabetsoe Sekoboto is a native of Botshabelo and a former government social worker who helped with the initial assessments of the community. She is now the director of SFCS and oversees her team of five.

The social workers at SFCS have been assessing families since the training Bethany held at the beginning of 2014, and as of November, nine families have been approved for the next steps in SFCS’s foster-to-adopt program. “Some of the families are saying, ‘You know, I’ve always known that I wanted to do something like this, but I didn’t know where and how to do it,’” Sekoboto said. “So SFCS here has created hope for those families who might not have necessarily had that joy of just taking care of children.”

While we were in Botshabelo, we met with these nine families that have committed so far to adopting a child who is not related to them. While non-relative adoption is seen as a normal option for parents to consider in the United States, this is actually a new and foreign concept for many families in Africa because they typically only “foster” or “adopt” children in their own extended family (a grandparent or aunt or uncle takes the child in). Yet as we walked through the mud-filled roads from the two days’ of rain and we talked with each family, I could see the hope in their eyes Sekoboto talked about. I could hear it in their voices—in their stories.

And it all started when a church in Michigan decided to make a difference across the world.

Natalie Lederhouse is assistant editor of Today’s Christian Woman. Natalie graduated from Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana, with a B.A. in both Journalism and Biblical Studies and has a master's degree in Christian Formation and Ministry from Wheaton College. You can follow her on Twitter at @nataliejean.


Listen to Bethany Christian Services’ Every Child podcast for more on issues relative to vulnerable children. From adoption and foster care to the introduction of sustainable social services in developing countries, Every Child features an informative discussion, led by Bethany’s President/CEO Bill Blacquiere, with leading voices from ministries and nonprofit organizations, as well as Christian authors and artists.

Read more from president and CEO, Bill Blacquiere’s Every Child blog on Christian Post.