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  • Writer's pictureThe HUGG Collective

Several years ago, John Piper wrote a short-book called Don’t Waste Your Cancer. Written on the eve of pending cancer surgery, he challenged readers affected by cancer to find hope in the painful journey; to not waste this part of their story for it was still a vital part of God’s plan.

My mom, who lived with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer, exemplified a life radically changed by this disease. She squeezed joy and contentment out of everyday moments. Whether it was the sun peeking through the curtains, an icy cold Margarita, a good Salsa dance, giggling grandchildren; she soaked it all in with a smile. Although her body was dying, a heavenly healing entered her spirit that allowed to her to give and receive love in a way that she had never experienced before.

My mom chose to use her traumatic experience with cancer as a way to draw nearer to others and to God. Because she wasn’t working the last few years of her life, she made herself available to people. She used her time to counsel many friends and family and help their own healing process. In the same way, we all have our own sad, painful stories. Many of us have walked through trauma and even though we didn’t understand it at the time--for many of us, God eventually weaved our trauma and healing experience into the restoration of other people’s lives. God is good like that.

My Trauma

I grew up under the tyranny of an abusive father. He ruled over my mom, brother and me with destruction, manipulation and chaos and it wasn’t until age 20 that I was fully able to extricate myself from his abuse. I soon found myself serving inner-city teen girls through a weekly bible study. Although I was still very raw from years of trauma, my experience at this inner-city church was an inkling of restoration to come. As I walked alongside these tough 7th grade girls with their rough exterior and financial problems, something began to change inside me; my helping them brought healing to me.

In a mysterious and providential way, God brings healing to people who don’t waste their trauma. It takes one broken yet obedient person to bring healing to others.

Last Thursday, I spoke to Co-Founder of Radiate Coalition, Valina Perry and the thought I was left with after talking to her was that she did not waste her own personal trauma and in fact has shared her walk with Honduran girls in hard places. Sometimes broken people just need to know that you were THERE just like they are and your success gives them the hope they need to know that their healing is possible.

Hello Honduras!

Imagine getting married at 23 years old and two months later expanding your family by 25 people in another country?

This is the story of Michael and Valina Perry when they answered God’s call to go serve young women rescued from trafficking, exploitation or abuse. They had visited a month prior to the move and in Valina’s words, “We knew that we had to be there.”

Having that affirmation kept them going through budget cuts, leadership shifts and third-world obstacles that would have sent many young couples back home to the States.

Yet it was evident right away that what these young women needed was consistency and leaving them was not an option. Even though they didn’t have prior training, Valina learned that there was much to bring to the table by just being available and that is exactly what she did through the ministry of being present.

Consistency. Care. Counsel.

Valina discovered her own inner healing from repeated sexual abuse in her past. Through her identity in Christ, she was able to be restored and, in turn, bring restoration to past relationships. It wasn’t a story she shared readily until she realized the potential of her story to bring freedom to women with similar pasts.

“Trauma-care goes hand in hand with walking each young woman through the Bible. They learn that they can overcome through His Truth, Faithfulness and the Healing He offers.”

For the leaders of Radiate Coalition, trauma-care is synonomous with discipleship and mentoring.

What Makes Radiate Coalition Unique?

While there is a world-wide movement of rescuing people from human trafficking and sexual exploitation--Valina and Michael focus on the after-care of these girls through licensed counselors, devoted house parents and discipleship. “Whole-person aftercare” is their focus and they’ve pioneered restorative practices that they wish to see implemented among other after-care practitioners.

Life in the States

As a mom with young children, Valina is in a position of leading by example and advocating for Christ-centered counseling and whole-person care. Although they now live in Conroe, her family considers Honduras a second-home and she and her husband continue to raise awareness for Radiate Coaltion so that the girls they serve can continue to come out of the darkness and step into their destiny.

I’m thankful for Valina’s transparency that is rooted in her idenity in Christ. Our traumatic stories are not easy to share but somewhere along the road, we calculate the risks of our vulnerability with the potential reward that it offers someone who needs to hear our story. Speaking our past is a way to NOT WASTE our trauma. Afterall, when you heal, you in turn can become part of someone’s healing story.

Did this story speak to you? Do you have questions or comments? Please email me at or drop a comment below!

Be sure to follow Radiate Coaltion and support their work here!

  • Writer's pictureThe HUGG Collective

I recently read a post by a young woman who had visited an orphanage in a developing country. She described her entrance through the gate as a utopian experience with happy children who’ve “never met a stranger.” She was struck by their joy and how readily they grabbed her hand and became “instant friends.” It is a common reception that moves kind visitors. It is a story that feels good and motivates people to give to the orphan.

What if I told you a different story? That although surrounded by people, children in orphanages describe an incessant loneliness. That those happy children have histories rooted in trauma and that their adaptability to new people rob them of their ability to bond with anyone. What about our visits that add to their vulnerability by giving them the false sense that all strangers are nice?

In my years of working in orphan care, I’ve learned that there are common myths that shape the way we serve vulnerable children. It’s an inherited narrative that perhaps was appropriate in the past or under different circumstances, but research and experience is showing that we must change the way we “help” vulnerable and orphaned children.

I want to start by busting 5 Common Myths about Orphans that keep us from addressing real issues and from being effective in tackling the root of orphanhood.

An Essential Filter Before We Dive In:

Permanency. It’s what our own children have. They know they have a safe place to land every evening and that they will not go to bed hungry. They know you love them unconditionally and will put up with their crap because they are yours. It’s essential to their well-being and something we wish they wouldn’t take for granted, right? This is something lacking in orphaned and vulnerable children. Not having this in their young lives shakes their core causing all sorts of deficits and they learn really quickly to overcompensate to ensure their own survival. Even if it means showing a friendly smile and reaching out for a stranger’s hand.

We must look at the children we serve as if they were our own children. What would we wish for them should they find themselves without you? This golden rule approach guides our actions and suddenly--things that seemed innocuous before seem unhealthy, almost tragic. We must not settle for substandard care for God’s children. It’s that simple.

MYTH #1-- It takes our “yes” and God will do the rest.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to zealous believers eager to help orphans say that their “yes” is enough. That even though they are untrained all it takes is love and compassion to provide for the children they wish to serve. This approach doesn’t make sense. If I need heart surgery, I want an experienced heart surgeon to crack open my chest and not a compassionate dentist who took a weekend course. As a former foster parent and adoptive parent, it was my responsibility to not only walk through required agency training but also do extra reading and ask others with experience. I’ve seen people throw in the towel with foster care because it didn’t fulfill them like they envisioned. I’ve seen failed adoptions because compassionate adoptive parents were ill-prepared for what came their way. We can’t over spiritualize something as sensitive as taking care of little hurting humans. Please HEAR me--I ask Jesus to give me wisdom with every aspect of my life--but He still has things that He requires of me. He wants me to work hard and to use that BRAIN he gave me. I feel like sometimes compassionate Christians drop a little common sense when it comes to helping marginalized people in general. God wants our “yes” but He also wants us to be smart about our approach.

MYTH #2--All children in orphanages are orphans.

There are an estimated 140 Million orphans in the world. This number includes children who have lost one or both parents, known as Single or Double Orphans. Out of the 140 million, 90% live with either Mom or Dad (single orphan) or with another family member (double orphan).

That leaves almost 10 million children worldwide living in orphanages. It is estimated that anywhere from 80% to 90% of these children are what is called “social orphans.” They are in care because family members are no longer able to provide for their basic needs.

Why is this important? This number shows that the vast majority of vulnerable children aren’t in need of adoptions or institutionalized care--they are in need of family support. Knowing this should change the way we approach international adoptions and cross-cultural relief work. Our primary goal, as here in the U.S, should be to reunite children to families and use institutional care as a last resort. Our partners, Grangou, work hard to keep children with families. The majority of children in their care are street boys rejected from families or who escaped abuse. However, if resources were funneled specifically to support families, there would be a lot more effort in the area of training and supporting families who want to keep their children in their care. It would be no greater joy for us to see some of our boys placed back with family members. When donors understand the statistics, we can work together to make this a major area of improvement.

I don’t want to get caught up in the numbers as experts understand that there are even more “invisible” children across the globe. I like the way, CAFO, explain summarizes their stats report:

At the same time, we should understand that the biblical concept of the “orphan” and “fatherless” includes more than just the boy or girl who has lost one or both parents. Rather, it describes the child who faces the world without the provision, protection and nurture that parents uniquely provide. No statistical analysis will ever perfectly capture the global number of children fitting this description. Regardless, God calls His people to reflect His heart and character in choosing to “defend the cause of the fatherless,”to “visit the orphan and widow in their distress,” and to “set the lonely in families”—whatever the details of his or her situation may be.

MYTH #3--The only way to help foster children is to become a foster parent.

Most people won’t consider helping our local foster care system because they assume that the only way to help is to become a foster parent. While the child welfare system is always in need of families, there are other valuable avenues to support vulnerable children in our backyard.

  1. Become a Baby-Sitter: Did you know that foster families need respite care providers? In other words, become a baby-sitter so foster parents can enjoy a date. Unlike our own children, baby-sitting foster children requires training and licensing. This is a HUGE need for families in the trenches and self-care will most likely allow them to hang in there for the long-term. You can call your local Child Protective Services to see how to get started.

  2. Become an Advocate: Another way to serve is through agencies like CASA, a Court-Appointed Special Advocate. Personally, our CASA worker was a bigger support than our CPS worker. Her kindness and consistency got us through hard days and she was even there to oversee some family visits when I was unable to. I get teary-eyed when I think of how precious she was and know that one day when my children are out of the house, I would love to become a CASA worker.

  3. Become a Mentor: One final way to help support your local foster care system is by becoming a mentor. In our community, there are several organizations specializing in walking along teens who age out of care. Check out these statistics from Children’s Home Society. While adoption is ideal, there are many programs that exist to at least provide children with a forever friend and mentor. This can be the difference between homelessness and gainful employment.

MYTH #4--Loving on Children in Orphanages is a good and godly thing

We’ve all seen the photos of U.S visitors surrounded by smiling dark-skinned children. I have taken many of these trips and taken these pictures and there is no doubt that a lot of good has come from short-term mission trips. But it also has opened windows for a lot of harm, corruption and wasted resources.

We have to do better.

With human trafficking awareness at an all time high, it has never been more important to ensure that we are protecting children from existing and future predators. While I do think there is a time and place for Short-Term Vision Trips, we must radically reform the way we engage with both children and staff. While I intend on specifying ways on a future post, I will take this little space to say that the emphasis should not be on the children. Rather, we should focus on ministering to staff, local families, local church and figure out ways to equip them so that they can run their own programs. Once we shift focus, we will find that we need better equipped volunteers and better training to make sure we are clear and focused and reduce our “carbon footprint” so to speak. We must tread lightly when it comes to approaching another culture in an effort to serve them.

And do me a favor…. please don’t say you’re going to go “love on children” for your next Short Term Mission trip. It sounds creepy and you wouldn’t say that about serving children here. The truth is, “quick short-term loving” on children is cheap and it’s time we reassess our strategies and think of PERMANENCY.

MYTH #5--Helping Orphans is a calling and it is not mine.

One day, I fully intend to count how many times the bible commands us to serve the fatherless, widowed, marginalized, foreigner and the “least of these”. The reality is that serving any one of these people groups is a gesture towards preventing children from becoming orphans and stopping generational poverty. Time and time again, God makes promises to protect these groups of people and He fully intends to keep His promises through his earthly hands and feet--yup--that means YOU. It is a huge ASK but He rigged it this way so that together, we can usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. When we engage in meeting the needs of people in a loving, dignified and smart way--we affirm our roles as priests to the people. We each personify the love of Jesus to those who are in desperate need of it. It is NOT an option, but it is a privilege.

Want to know a secret? Sharing this message with you is hard. I’d rather make you laugh and show you some yummy taco tuesday recipes. Yet, my work in orphan care has cast a fire in my soul that I can’t quench. I know God’s Spirit is moving in His Church as He calls us to go deeper and love His people in a way that respects their personhood and draws them to a place where they too, can be reminded that they are a royal priesthood.

  • Writer's pictureThe HUGG Collective

Last week’s blog sparked interesting conversations with some of our supporters. We wanted you to chew on it for a spell and appreciated the feedback!

Today, we will finish up with the final 3 things that are VITAL to know about a non-profit before you donate!

5.How many people are on staff and how does that directly affect your programming?

Non-profit work is tough and no doubt large teams are sometimes needed to ensure that

all aspects of the organization are being handled with excellence. However, just like any company, it is important that efficiency is high and that dollars aren’t being poorly stewarded on excess employees. I personally know non-profits based in the U.S that work overseas and have HUGE U.S staff. What can so many people be doing here day to day for the people they serve overseas? Are they really needed as full time employees? Again, I have to be careful how I phrase this as there are many moving parts to organizations but take a look at the impact--look over their website and pick out a few titles and ask what they do day to day. You aren’t interrogating to be a snoop--you want to make a difference.

6.May I speak to one of your Clients or Long-Standing Donors?

While this one is not always feasible especially if clients are children or located in another part of the world, there are other things you can do. In these cases, you can ask to speak to a like-minded donor. You could ask, “Do you have a long-term donor who is similar to me in demographic? Would he/she be willing to talk to me?” However, if you do have an opportunity to talk to a program participant, a low-key conversation can include questions like the following:

What do you like best about this program?

Is there anything you would change about this program?

How has this work helped you?

If you choose to volunteer prior to donating, you may have the opportunity to work directly with clients and these type of conversations can happen organically over time. In many instances where vulnerable populations are being served, you may not have these type of opportunities. It was through these type of questions that I discovered that nannies in Haitian orphanages were generally disregarded by volunteer groups. They are the mamas to the children we help support and need to be invested in and trained. It seemed silly to come and serve children without empowering the women who care for them everyday. Of course, these questions led to deeper issues and ultimately led to an overhaul of mindset when it comes to overseas missions in general, but that is another blog for another time.

7. What sets you apart from others doing this kind of work?

Non-profits are usually started by passionate people who encounter a desperate need so powerful that they lead the way in alleviating it. I know for me, I was so passionate about giving young Haitian orphans a “handup” that I didn’t take the time to explore if there were already organizations meeting that need. I wanted so badly to help our partners, Grangou, that I jumped off the cliff and built wings as I fell (in the words of Annie Dillard). In our case, it turns out that there weren’t any other social enterprises in Haiti specifically working with young men aging out of orphan care. However, there are many non-profits out there who would do best to join efforts with other organizations already doing the work. I always encourage people who ask me about starting their own nonprofits to take their time and research to see if they can help build up an existing company. That’s why I think it’s important to know what the organization’s niche is--how they are different and why their work is invaluable.

There are 1.8 million non-profits in the United States and 10 million in the world. From trying to cure cancer to trying to protect the earth’s resources, there are plenty of people who need your support so they can gather strength to keep doing the work. However, in this number, there are many organizations who claim to make a big impact when in reality, they are building up a brand. I know these questions might seem like they take up a lot of time and energy but I promise a lot is riding on your investment and I know you want to see a meaningful return.

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