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I had an Epiphany yesterday. No, it didn’t involve angels nor a bright light but it was an “illuminated discovery” right in the middle of a prayer.

Before I share this epiphany, I first want to tell you a story about my dad, Kenneth Ramirez.

He was born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1953. He was the middle boy between two sisters and each one of the siblings had a different father. None of them knew who their father was. Kind of scandalous for 1950s Venezuela. Their mom, my grandma Gladys, was quite treacherous and beguiling. Think of a pint-sized, Latin version of Joan Crawford as depicted in Mommy Dearest and you’re close to getting an accurate idea of who she was. I grew up hearing just how awful she was to her children–merciless beatings, manipulation and an overall lack of a mother’s love. When my dad was 13, he went on a beach getaway with a friend’s family and when he returned, the house was empty. Vacant. His mom had moved and told the girls not to tell their brother where they were now living.

Instead of feeling sorry for himself, my dad took to the streets very well. He was an autodidact and taught himself how to sew and was soon working as a tailor. He also made leather goods and even learned to play the flute and earn money on street corners. In other words, this resilient hippy-tailor learned to survive.

He met my mom in the 70s, had my brother and I and moved us to the United States when I was a newborn. As we all know, hurt people, hurt people. And that is what my dad did to us. His tumultuous past coupled with untreated mental illness prevented our family from ever knowing the feeling of “home.” We were made to work constantly and were physically and mentally abused.

By the grace of God, I encountered Jesus when I was 12 years old. My faith gave me the hope I needed to make good choices and to dream of a life different than the hell I was living. I prayed constantly for our family to be restored. My brother, on the other hand, inherited the legacy of brokenness and began making decisions that would lead to a hard, tumultuous life.

Fast-forward many years and my amazing husband and I began working with vulnerable children. We wanted to help children in the same way that I had wished someone had helped me. Doesn’t take a genius to put that together, but what did leave me scratching my head was why, in 2014, God called me to work with street boys who were aging out of orphan care in Haiti.

As we engaged head-first into the work, I soon discovered that young men are an underserved demographic when it comes to orphan prevention work. We realized that by educating and

equipping and loving these young orphaned men–we were helping them stop the cycle of orphanhood and violence in their spheres of influence. We were preventing future women and children from having to experience the sting of violence and abandonment.

And that’s where my Epiphany comes in.

Yesterday, I was praying for an upcoming women’s conference alongside a group of women and God laid on my heart to start praying for women who had a “bad relationship” with their fathers. Women who had been abandoned, abused or neglected by their fathers. Women who inherited a skewed idea of who their Abba Father is because the men tasked with the job of providing and protecting them failed them.

And that is where I had my Epiphany:

God led me to work with young orphaned men because I wanted to give them what No ONE ever gave my father.

No one stepped into the margins of his life to help him. No one preached the gospel to him. No one gave him trauma-informed care. The lack of intervention led him to stumble into a family and repeat what had been done to him.

What if someone had intervened? He would have had a different legacy to leave behind and perhaps my brother would have a different story to tell.

Young orphaned men deserve our love and attention and just as importantly; their future wives and children deserve our love and attention just like my mom, my brother and I deserved a restored dad so many years ago.

Our work with BCB is more than just healing orphaned men. It is about redeeming and restoring families with a legacy of violence, abuse and poverty.

These families are down the street from us.

They are in the apartment buildings of the boys that E:2:10 Ministries takes to Colorado.

They are caught in our child welfare system.

They are less than 1000 miles off the Florida coast in a little island nation called Haiti.

When we help these young men, we help future families become strong. And strong families make strong communities. THAT is why we come together as Better Community Builders.

I ask you to do three things:

  1. Make BCB a monthly priority. Block out the first Thursday of every month in your schedule to reduce conflict schedules.

  2. Invite 3 friends to visit BCB at next month’s event. We will have a GRAND PRIZE to any member who brings the most invited guests next month.

  3. Join our leadership team. Help us blow up the BCB Mission so we can make a bigger impact both locally and in Haiti. Email to learn more.

  • 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.

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