November - December 2013
"Coming Home" -- Sarah's Story and Reflections on Christmas
This Christmas, I would like to share a story with you that impacted me very deeply this past month - and about another Christmas that impacted my life thirty years ago.
Sarah Last Year Sarah is one of our young adults in the Philippines. Sarah's father died when she was very young. Her mother moved to Manila to work and left nine children behind to care for themselves. Two of the children died during their mother's absence, and the younger children - including Sarah - dropped out of school and spent their time gathering and selling seashells to earn money to buy food.
When she was 12 years old, Social Services brought Sarah to Arms of Love, and she became a part of our family in 2002. Today, Sarah is 23 years old and is pursuing a college degree in agriculture at Visayas State University on the island of Leyte. VSU is one of the leading universities in Southeast Asia for research in agriculture. Two of Sarah's siblings - Mara and Ronel - still live at the Arms of Love children's home, and another sister who graduated from our program, Mary Mie, lives nearby on Bohol.
At the beginning of November, 2013, Sarah had a three-week break in her college classes, and she decided to come home to Bohol to spend time with her siblings and the Arms of Love family. Little did Sarah know that on November 7, the eye of Super Typhoon Haiyan - now considered the strongest storm to make landfall in recorded history - would directly hit the island of Leyte, where she attends VSU. But because she came home for the break, she was spared the worst of the storm.
Haiyan inflicted enormous damage at VSU. Trees were snapped or uprooted and fell on academic buildings and residences. Power and phone lines were down and water lines were cut. Dr. Bacusmo, the President of the university, said afterward, "The campus looked like a war zone." At least a few of the students lost their lives, and many others lost their loved ones.
Two weeks after Haiyan, Sarah went back to her boarding house at the university. In addition to her schoolwork in the new semester, Sara has been volunteering her time to help repair the house where she lives, and her university is involved in the ongoing relief efforts. The road to recovery on Leyte will be a long one, and Sarah will be a part of it.
Sarah's story impacted me deeply. Since I started Arms of Love in 1999, my heart has always been to provide a family for children who needed one, a place that they could always call home. Over the years, many of the Arms of Love children have grown and have left home. Yet most have kept in touch with our Arms of Love family, and many return home for visits during holidays or breaks. The fact that so many of our young adults come home to Arms of Love is a testimony to the fact that God has helped us realize our vision - and that He given us the privilege of having a special, permanent place in the lives of our children.
As I have been reflecting on Sarah coming home for her college break last month, I have been reminded of another Christmas about thirty years ago. My biological mother, Teresa, abandoned me when I was a toddler, and years later I was adopted by her parents. I grew up in the same home that Teresa grew up in; in fact, I even lived in the same bedroom.
In 1982, Teresa came home for a visit shortly before Christmas. That same year, her only sister, Pat, also came home for Christmas. It was the first time that I had ever met Teresa, and it was also the first time that Teresa, Pat, their parents and I had all been together since I was an infant. For one fleeting day, we were family. We talked, we sang, we played the guitar -- and the memory is forever etched into my mind.
Two months later, in February 1983, we received the news that Teresa had drowned in the ocean at Davenport Beach, near Santa Cruz. That Christmas season in 1982 would be the first and last time that we would see each other. But God gave me that memory to cherish - because Teresa came home at Christmas.
Four months ago, my oldest daughter Jessica went away to college - and for the first time since moving away, she came home for Christmas. Last night, I cherished the moment as I sat in our living room, gazed at our Christmas tree, and listened to Jessica play "O Little Town of Bethlehem" on the piano. I felt so blessed to be with her, in that moment in time. Because she was home again.
Yet as I treasure these moments of my family being together at home on Christmas, my mind keeps being drawn back to those children who have lost their homes and their families - especially last month, when Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines. For those children - those who are clinging to hope and others who have already lost hope - my heart is breaking.
In this coming year, I want to give a new home to some of the children who were orphaned in these recent disasters. I want to bring them into our Arms of Love family. I want them to enter into an environment of love and relationship. I want to work through our Filipino staff and partners to bring healing to the trauma that has devastated their lives. And I want to share the love and words of Christ with them, so that someday, when we come home into the arms of our heavenly Father, we will be together again.
God once sent His only Son, at Christmas, so that we could become His adopted sons and daughters and become a part of His family. It is that same adoptive love that we are called to bring into the lives of others, especially those who are orphaned.
I invite you to join with me as we answer God's call to care for the orphaned in 2014 with a gift matching opportunity. To properly care for orphans involves so much more than feeding and clothing them. We are called to love them and care for them so deeply that they identify with us as their new family. So that when they are grown, we will see them again from time to time, when they come home.
May God bless you and your family this Christmas.
Robert Benson, Founder
Double Your Impact!
A generous donor is matching all gifts in December up to $10,000! Your tax deductible gift will effectively be doubled this Christmas season. Help Arms of Love get off to a great start as we usher in 2014 with a generous year-end gift.
New Partnerships Make an Impact this Christmas
We want to thank our friends from the Boise Vineyard, who have partnered with us this Christmas! They will be donating their Christmas offering to our children's home in the Philippines, which will help us receive new children who were orphaned by the recent earthquake and Typhoon Haiyan. View the video they made illustrating the power of our partnership in Nicaragua and the Philippines:
Click Here for Video
We also thank Action International, another one of our new partners, for donating relief supplies such as plastic mats, mosquito nets, bed linens, and tent materials to our Arms of Love Philippines home. With their generosity, we were able to help many devastated families in our community. Arms of Love is also partnering with Action International, local community governments, two Vineyard churches and a Baptist church to conduct supplemental feeding programs over the next six months, helping families and malnourished children in the four counties on Bohol that were the most impacted by the 7.2 earthquake in October.
Additionally we are very grateful to Extreme Response for working with us the Philippines. They will be sponsoring the Christmas party at our children's home later this week, as well as organizing an upcoming 3-day retreat for our staff. They have already organized a trauma intervention team that provided professional counseling to our staff and children.
We firmly believe in the necessity and effectiveness of partnering with churches and other organizations in caring for children-at-risk and maximizing our impact on the communities in which we serve.
If you would like to get your friends or church more directly engaged in working with our ministry, please send us an email and we would love to have an opportunity to discuss opportunities for partnership.
The Road to Recovery at Arms of Love Philippines
Thanks to your support, our children have finally been able to move back into their homes, after the recent destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan and the 7.2 earthquake. But the road to recovery has just begun – and with your help this December, we can soon receive new children who were orphaned by this disaster.
We are deeply grateful for the special gifts we received. With that support, we have been able to give our children needed medical treatments, conduct debriefing and trauma interventions with counseling experts, repair damage to the children’s homes, purchase an electric generator, provide our children with extra tutoring to catch up on their lessons, and provide assistance to our staff members who lost their homes.
Moreover, with a powerful new generator pumping water from the well on the Arms of Love property, we have been able to provide fresh water to meet the needs of families in our immediate community, who continue to be without electricity or running water – which may not be restored until early 2014.
Now – with your partnership – we have another opportunity to help. We are obtaining approval from the Department of Social Welfare to receive up to 10-15 children from the island of Leyte who were orphaned by Typhoon Haiyan. With your support, we hope to begin receiving new children in the near future.
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