Pastor Arnulfo Gallegos talks to a group of children in a marginalized community in Saltillo, Coahuila, in North Mexico, as part of the ministry to provide care and attention to vulnerable children in many neighborhoods near the church’s community center. [Photo: North Mexican Union]
United States | Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

“We need to go out of our comfort zones—out wherever we are—and look at others around us, making sure we are the hands and feet of God,” said Pastor Elie Henry, president of the church in Inter-America, as he encouraged church leaders and members to hear God’s calling to help orphans and vulnerable children. Pastor Henry challenged leaders to be more intentional in serving the community as the world church focuses on World Orphans and Vulnerable Children Emphasis Day, November 20, 2021.

“We have a lot of orphans in our midst, and whatever their situation, it’s great to care for them, so we must provide what God wants us to do for them,” said Pastor Henry.

With just a handful of orphanages operated by the church and other Adventist foundations, there’s an urgent need to shed more light on a ministry that is calling out for Christians to help, said Pastor Samuel Telemaque, Possibility Ministries director for the church in Inter-America and main organizer of the territory-wide event.

Focus on the Most Vulnerable

“Today, we begin a strong focus on some of the most vulnerable in our local churches and our communities: orphans, children, and young persons without a parent,” said Telemaque. “We have a marvelous opportunity to seek them out and encourage them to help find their identity in Christ.”

Orphans and vulnerable children are one of seven ministries under Adventist Possibility Ministries, which also serve the deaf, blind, physically immobile, those who have mental health issues, those mourning the loss of a spouse, and the support of caregivers.

Themed “Restoring My Identity in Christ,” the online event was about creating awareness and sending a clear message that orphans and vulnerable children in the community need to know they, too, belong to the family of God, said Telemaque.

Being Intentional and Making a Difference

In his message, Pastor Stepan Avakov, director of the Adoption Support Center in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, addressed some of the challenges orphans and vulnerable children face. Avakov encouraged leaders and members to be intentional about making a difference. “We have a commission from Jesus to help orphans and vulnerable children restore their identity in Him,” he said.

With an estimated 155 million orphans and vulnerable children around the globe, many more broken lives are unaccounted for, said Avakov, adding that as Christians, “We can answer the call and fill in the gap and stand up for their salvation.…? vulnerable children are deeply wounded, and we must pray for them and respond lovingly to all their fears.” 

Leaders estimate there are about 8,000 orphans in the territory of the Inter-American Division (IAD), said Telemaque.

Establishing a Task Force of Coordinators

For months now, each union has set up a task force of coordinators responsible to assess the needs of orphans in their respective territories and implement relevant ministries to assist them in developing trust and finding an identity and wholeness in Christ, Telemaque emphasized. “We are using a disciple model of empowering the local people who have the skills and experience in a specific disability to assist unions, conferences, and local churches.”

Shelly Ann Hunte, the task coordinator for the orphan ministry of the Caribbean Union, challenged leaders to look closer into their communities. In Trinidad and Tobago, there are 40 community residences, or children’s homes, overseen by the government, she reported. The overall capacity is 740. 

“These are children growing up without the tangible family unit; many don’t know Jesus Christ,” said Hunte. There was a recent call by the Children’s Authority Act in Trinidad and Tobago for Christian organizations to assist in these children’s homes, and it’s an opportunity for the church to step up and help, she added. “In your neighborhood or church, there are children that are in need of guidance and protection; we must pray for the children.”

In East Venezuela, a new community center especially geared toward those who have special needs assist many with autism, down syndrome, and other special-needs activities every week. Socio-emotional support is also offered to parents every week. The center offers workshops in baking, massage therapy, cooking for parents, and family activities as well, organizers said.

Impact in North Mexico

In North Mexico, the church across its 11 conferences and missions held a special Possibility Ministries emphasis week on November 6–13, ahead of World Orphans and Vulnerable Children’s Day, to bring about more awareness to the needs of this group and engage members to commit to the ministries. Not only did this ministry draw focus during the week, but the {six?} other ministries in need under Possibility Ministries were also emphasized, said Pastor David Maldonado, Possibility Ministries director for the church in North Mexico.

The action plan is to connect more closely with children’s centers, aka orphanages, to better assess the needs there and work with the local authorities on the course of action, said Maldonado. “It’s not as easy to visit these centers, but members are visiting as much as they can at this point.” Another impact on which the church has been focusing is helping thousands of vulnerable children and their families who have traveled from Central America to seek refuge in several northern states.

Recently, in Saltillo, Coahuila, the local church, through its community center, has been assisting vulnerable children by providing meals, involving them in activities, and teaching them how to grow vegetables, as well as providing psychological help. Similarly, in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, the church has organized Pathfinder clubs with refugee children in a park every week, and they provide food for them as well. The plan is to care for 4,000 families and vulnerable children for the next six months. 

“It’s a project that has brought the union and ADRA to work together to assist and make a difference in these refugees and many of the marginalized communities in the region,” said Maldonado.

As the Inter-American Division is steadily becoming more inclusive in its focus on multiple realities, the ministry needs to focus on changing attitudes toward orphans, said Pastor Telemaque. “We want to help unions to source funds to build orphanages, encourage more adoption of orphans, and move church leaders from a theological understanding of the ministry to focus on the needs, aspirations, and assimilation process of orphans. We want to release all the giftedness in our churches and empower more church members to do more for those in need.”

This article was originally published on the Inter-American Division’s website