Last month, I mentioned that I’m signed up to go on a mission trip to Swaziland, in southern Africa. I explained that our church has partnered with Swazi believers to create a care center in a country struggling to provide for tens of thousands of AIDS orphans. Rather than build orphanages and remove the children from their communities, the goal is to provide enough support for them and their caretakers to thrive. (You might want to re-read my post on this successful strategy.)
A third partner in this endeavor is a wonderful ministry called Children’s Hope Chest. Several years ago, I recommended a book written by the CEO of this organization, Tom Davis. Scared: a Novel on the Edge of the World puts forth in fictional form the true story of many African children. Read this book, and you’ll understand a major reason why I’m going on this trip.
Children’s Hope Chest (CHC) has been around since 1994. They started in Russia, where the fall of the Iron Curtain left many children with devastating needs. CHC now works in Swaziland, South Africa, Ethiopia, Uganda, Haiti, Guatemala, Moldova, and India as well.
Coincidentally, the organization’s founder attended the same church we did, and I offered to help by typing up their incorporation papers. Little did I know that I’d be volunteering with this organization years later.
Unlike most other ministries to orphans, CHC makes a point of partnering with churches, businesses, and other Christian groups, rather than individuals. As their website explains,
This unique “community-to-community” sponsorship leverages the power of one community of Christians making a long-term, transformational impact on a community of orphans and vulnerable children. Ultimately, these relationships and resources empower orphans to survive, thrive, and succeed within their home culture.
Does this mean that individuals can’t get involved? No, you can sign up to sponsor a child (it’s $34 per month), just as with World Vision, Compassion, or other well-known ministries. When you do, you become a member of their online “Connect Community.” It’s more than just semantics. As they explain,
By joining a Connect Community, you become a part of an online social network that shares information, encourages, and mobilizes to respond to the urgent needs of the orphanage or CarePoint you support. You will receive blog updates, prayer requests, photos, and videos of your supported location. Additionally, you will have access to the development plan and other resources that will keep you informed on how HopeChest is implementing its vision and strategy at the location your Connect Community supports.
Additionally, you can actually go meet your sponsored child; CHC runs trips once or twice a year so sponsors can see firsthand what they are supporting. There’s a family (mom, dad, and kids ages six and nine) going on the trip with me this fall who supports a child in Swaziland. The parents are eager to give in-person hugs and the children can’t wait to play together.
Another aspect of this ministry that I greatly appreciate is their insistence on being partnered with believers in-country. Too often westerners come in with ideas and strategies that sound impressive, but which are totally inappropriate in the local context. Even worse, this leads to dependency, convincing the locals that they aren’t spiritual enough, smart enough, resourceful enough, to help themselves. CHC stresses that any “development plan is driven by ‘in-country’ staff, not by a western mindset.”
Finally, CHC places the gospel front and center. While many relief organizations focus on physical needs, CHC considers discipleship to be the heart of their ministry. Consider this quote from their Swaziland page:
The most important part of our work in Swaziland is through our Discipleship Program. We have hired local believers to mentor, build relationships, and most importantly to look after the spiritual well being of the children. They do this through weekly Bible studies and counseling sessions with all of the children involved at our CarePoints.
I’m excited that our church is collaborating with CHC in Swaziland, and that God has called me to go and contribute to the work there.