“He is my light, and hope, and salvation,” Jose says when asked what Jesus means to him. For Jose, life has not been easy. Before coming to live in an orphanage in Bolivia, Jose's “home” was the hollow shell of an ATM, where he stayed during his two-year stint on the streets to avoid his abusive parents. He was hungry and cold all the time, Jose recalls, but now he is safe, happy, and warm. Jose has a roof over his head, a warm place to sleep at night, and his very own Bible.
God helped him when he was living on the streets, Jose says. And when he has problems, he knows he can turn to the Lord, because he believes that God will answer his prayers. He says his Bible has “changed his life,” and is committed to praying for the donors whose gifts made his Bible possible.
Stories like Jose's, of loss, abuse, and abandonment, are an unfortunate reality for many of the estimated 153 million orphans in the world. Last year, American Bible Society launched a campaign specifically designed to help bring the Good News to orphans at Christmas. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, ABW was able to distribute Bibles, and change lives, in Bolivia, Romania, India, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other countries around the world.
Jose is eternally grateful for the blessing he received last Christmas, a gift that moths and rust cannot destroy and no thief could ever steal: the knowledge of God's love through his written Word.
Delight in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) lies at the very heart of Africa. Its lush, tropical climate boasts myriad rainforest animals — from elephants to chimpanzees — and the DRC is home to over 71 million people. But the country has been ravaged by the second Congo War, with total deaths — numbering nearly five-and-a-half million — almost rivaling that of World War II.
In the wake of this devastation, the DRC is currently considered one of the worst places in the world for violence toward women, which has a direct impact on the lives of their children. The DRC is trying to cope with a staggering number of orphans. Although the exact number is hard to determine, due to the number of undocumented orphans living in rural areas, imprisoned in brothels, or serving as child soldiers, estimates are approaching five million — or 15% of the population under age 18.
ABS is committed to bringing these vulnerable children the Good News that Jesus loves them.
Thanks to the generosity and support of our donors, American Bible Society was able to travel to the DRC last winter to distribute children's Bibles and Bible materials to orphans in the DRC. John Walter, Executive Director of Restoration Programs at ABS, traveled with the team and helped distribute Bibles to the many orphans at the Flames of Love orphanage in Goma, DRC. “I'm glad that we have the opportunity to bring them Bibles so they can learn of God's real character and call on their lives,” Walter says. Imagine the smiles on these young faces as boys and girls hold out their uplifted hands to receive the treasure of God's Word, ready to hear that they have a Father who knows each one of them by name. Imagine children's tiny fingers wrapping around their very own Bibles, clutching them to their chests, ready to learn that God loves them and has a plan for every single one of their lives. This was the scene at the orphanage in Goma, as Bible Society workers had the privilege of being God's hands and feet in the
DRC, distributing his Word to his precious children.
Sister Alvera Nyaramasuhuko runs the Flames of Love orphanage. “My joy is to see how God gives to these people every day. That is why I am joyful,” Nyaramasuhuko says. “I'm very happy to see people [the Bible Society of DRC] is sending to visit us.”
“Continue to pray for us,” Nyaramasuhuko asks.
Reading the Word in Romania
Home to approximately 19 million people, Romania sits on the cusp of Central Europe and Southeastern Europe, and is about the size of Oregon. Replete with one of the largest undisturbed forests in Europe, Romania boasts a diverse wildlife, from brown bears and wolves to white pelicans. Yet for the 290,000 orphaned children living in Romania, this idyllic country is anything but ideal.
The desperate plight of Romanian orphans became worldwide news when leader Nicolae Ceausescu was deposed in 1989. Thousands of children were literally wasting away in appalling conditions, spending their entire lives contained in cribs and receiving, on average, five to six minutes of adult attention per day. Although relief agencies have worked tirelessly to improve the living conditions of Romanian orphans, the sheer number of orphaned and abandoned children leaves these little ones at risk for exploitation, trafficking, and other hazards of life on the streets. Today, an orphaned girl can be bought for a price, somewhere between $3,000 to $6,000 Euros.
Into this bleakest darkness, the light of Christ shines.
In November 2011, ABS Community Giving Director Bob Hobbs joined a team of people traveling to Romania to bring the Good News to these orphans. The team visited five different centers that care for orphans, bringing them clothing, toys, and most importantly, Bibles.
“I watched them as they received their Bibles,” Hobbs says. “Their eyes were all focused on the Bibles.”
One facility the team visited did not have heat, and the children wore multiple layers of clothing to try and stay warm. Imagine their delight to receive from the Bible Society not only warm clothing, but children's Bibles. The facility was cold, but the smiles on their little faces were warm, Hobbs says.
Another treasure Hobbs and his team were able to provide the orphans was prayer cards that donors had filled out when they made their gifts to ABS. The team took these cards to Romania, and gave them to the children along with the Bibles. Receiving a donor card was thrilling for the children, as they tucked them carefully into their new Bibles and promised to pray for their donors, eager to thank these unknown saints who had touched their lives with the ￼power of God's Word. In halting English, one young girl pored over her donor's prayer card, eager to connect with the person who brought her the life-changing message of the Bible.
“It's because of your gifts that we're able to be here today, and have this distribution,” Hobbs says.
Incredible Gifts for India
A citizenry of nearly 1.2 billion makes India second only to China for being the most populated country in the world. With varied climates ranging from arid deserts to humid tropics, India supports a famed host of wildlife species, from lions and tigers to monkeys and peacocks.
Nearly a third of those living in India subsist beneath the poverty line. Child abandonment is a significant problem, and some estimates place the number of orphaned and abandoned children at over 20 million. India's population of orphans living with HIV/AIDS is the largest in the world, and increasing at unprecedented rates. Because many of these little ones are considered “untouchable” due to remnants of India's caste system, their future looks bleak.
But God has promised all his children “hope and a future.”
American Bible Society Executive Vice President Simon Barnes and his wife Lucy visited India in November 2011 to bring Bibles to orphans for Christmas. As the team distributed God's Word to the orphans, they brought a message of hope, of love, and of eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Barnes clearly recalls the delight of the children as they accepted their Bibles. After receiving the Bibles, some of the children immediately started to pour over the illustrated pages. The rest of the children ran back to their beds to put their Bibles in the only space that was truly theirs: a small box that contained all of their worldly possessions, including a blanket, a mug and a special toy.
But the young children were not the only ones to receive new hope through God's Word. Several youth in their late teens and early twenties served as junior caretakers in the orphanage. The caretakers, who had once been orphans themselves, gathered regularly to study the Bible. But they had few resources to aid their study. After learning of their need, Barnes' team provided study Bibles to the group.
“India is a country of hope,” Barnes explains, “As the gospel increases its presence, hope also increases.”
Bibles for Bolivia
Ten million multi-ethnic people name Bolivia as their home. Located in the west of central South America, Bolivia claims elevations ranging from 21,463 feet at the peak of the Nevado Sajama mountain to 295 feet along the banks of the Paraguay River. Bolivia is home to thousands of species of wildlife, from chinchillas to pink dolphins.
Nearly thirty percent of the Bolivian population is made up of children under the age of fourteen. An estimated 320,000 of those children are orphans. Extreme poverty, poor health, and child abandonment combine to leave these young children vulnerable to evils such as child labor and prostitution. For many, an orphanage is their best hope for being fed, clothed, and loved.
Yet the hope of glory exists even for the “least of these.”
Kim Carter, Community Giving Project Manager for ABS, traveled with a team to Bolivia to help make these orphans' Christmas wishes come true.
While there, Carter and her team traveled to 12 different orphanages, distributing children's Bibles, Bible materials, and donor cards.
The children were “absolutely captivated,” Carter says of the Bible distribution, and “loving that Bible.” After receiving their gifts, Carter says, they were “all off in their corners, reading their Bibles.”
Mariela was abandoned when she was eight years old. Her mother left for Spain without her, leaving Mariela to care for herself and her two younger siblings. Her father was never in the picture. Now, Mariela lives in an orphanage in Santa Cruz, where she's discovered that one of her heart's desires is sharing the love of Jesus with the younger girls in the orphanage.
Mariela owned a Bible prior to the distribution, but not one with pictures. The illustrated Bible she received, she says, “will help me train the other girls.” As Mariela makes plans to use the stories and pictures in her new Bible to teach others about God's love, she says she is thankful for the donors who gave so much, so that she in turn can give to other girls.
“Thank you for the Bible,” she concludes. “It is much needed, and we hope to receive more help.”
Carrying the Mission Forward
Joseph Pierce, Director of Mission Advancement, says he is grateful to the donors who give to American Bible Society, because they are the reason these little ones could receive the hope of Christ at Christmas. “Thanks to the generosity of our donors,” Pierce says, “hundreds and thousands of orphans around the world were provided with hope that they didn't have before, through the Bible.”
Plans are currently underway to expand Christmas Bible distribution to more orphans, this time including Egypt, Peru and other countries where the numbers are so large. “The need is still great,” Pierce concludes.
Carter says she wishes she could “convey to our donors the life-changing moments their donations are making happen for children half way around the world. Only in heaven will our donors discover the tremendous impact of their sacrificial giving.”