Feature

Fixing a Hole

A vision and a changed life

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Abuse, two pregnancies, two miscarriages, drug addiction, deep depression and slit wrists. This was life for Janet. By the tender age of 15, she had already experienced more than any person should. Her depression had become a black hole from which she felt she could never emerge.

Life in Santiago, Chile, had not been kind to her. Janet’s entire existence was defined by rejection. She never knew her father. When she was an infant, her mother sent her to live with friends and foster families. These homes were tough, and inevitably she was passed from one family to the next.

Finally, when Janet was three, her mother took her back. However, Janet was physically abused and ultimately rejected—thrown out of the house before the age of 12. She began living with a boyfriend in another community, where she was introduced to drugs and promiscuity. After her second pregnancy and miscarriage, Janet lost all hope and attempted suicide by overdosing on barbiturates and slitting her wrists.

At 15, Janet journeyed back to Santiago to live with her mother. At first, things seemed better. They got along, and Janet had a place to sleep and food to eat. She began to feel she could climb out of the hole. Yet, before she could reach the top, she fell deeper than before. Her mother once again put her out on the street.

The refuge of a friend was Janet’s only option, but this situation was also dark. Her friend was as deeply depressed and as suicidal as Janet. Eventually, the teen left with no place to call home. The hole was deep and empty with no apparent way out.

A Glimpse of Light

Unfortunately, stories like Janet’s are common in Chile. Abuse and abandonment of children are particular problems in large cities like Santiago.

Since its inception, The Alliance has been involved in fulfilling the biblical mandate to care for “widows and orphans in their distress” (James 1:27). In 1886, A. B. Simpson opened the Berachah Orphanage in Long Island, New York. His philosophy of ministry required that God’s people take care of the least and the neediest. In the same year, Simpson wrote, “We should give for the relief of God’s poor and suffering children . . . allowing no true child of God to be in want or suffering” (The Birth of a Vision, Buena Book Services, Horizon House, 1986).

In 1913, Ana LeFevre, a C&MA missionary, began the first Alliance orphan home in Santiago, Chile’s capital. The work expanded in 1960 as The Alliance responded to a devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami. A new home was constructed in southern Chile. In the 1970s, the girls moved to their present location in Santiago and the boys were eventually moved to Linares, about four hours south of the city.

Janet finally found herself in the Santiago orphanage, staffed and administrated by the national C&MA church in Chile. It was not an ideal place to live, and she was still in a life-and-death struggle with depression and drug abuse. Nonetheless, she had a roof over her head and food on her plate. She soon learned that there was something different about this place—people cared about her. Janet wasn’t sure how to handle that.

She came under the care of a tia (“aunt ” in Spanish). The tias are selfless saints who spend their lives caring for orphaned girls. Each tia is on call, with limited personal time or space and very little pay, and is responsible for a group of seven to ten girls. This kind of selfless love began to impact Janet. There was light at the top. Perhaps there was some hope.

Way Beyond Quaint

While the girls’ home in Chile was better than the street, if Janet had arrived a few years earlier, she would have found the orphanage in a much different condition. Through years of wear and weather, the wooden buildings were in a state of disrepair. The roof of the dining hall leaked, and walking across the rotten floor required great skill. Vermin infested the children’s food. Although not fit for use, this building was essential for the daily operation of the home.

The girls lived in small dormitories behind a security wall that was crumbling and full of breaches, allowing thieves to have easy access to the few valuables the home possessed. Staff found it difficult to provide basic needs and a secure sleeping area for the residents.

The administrative buildings barely stood, and it’s a wonder that they didn’t collapse. Resources for the kind of work that was needed to make these buildings merely adequate were nonexistent. Help was needed.

Assistance came in 1996. While taking a family vacation to visit The Alliance’s work in Chile, a layperson saw the state of the orphanage and had a vision for what it could be. He organized teams from C&MA churches in the United States to work on the orphanage facilities and raised funds to complete various projects through an initiative named Vision for Chile. Now in its tenth year, Vision for Chile has reconstructed the wall and built a new dormitory. The dining hall has been re-roofed, has a new floor and is vermin free.

More than a Building

Vision for Chile is just one example of how churches can work together. The improvements that have been made and the work that has been accomplished have had a tremendous impact on the orphanage.

“God blesses those who help the orphans,” said Bob Fugate, an Alliance missionary to Chile. “Our homes not only provide physical refuge, but also spiritual nourishment to boys and girls. Vision for Chile carries on a 93-year ministry to children that is the fruit of the gospel message. It has provided a safe and loving home for our girls.”

This is good news for Janet. In one of these new dormitories, Janet gave her life to Jesus Christ. Her testimony is powerful. “I remember walking downstairs in my dorm and hearing Christian music playing. It was at that moment that I gave my life completely to God. I realized that without Him, I could do nothing. My life started changing radically. . . . I started climbing out of the empty hole of depression that I was in. I was actually able to get out!”

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