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Beyond Rescue to Restoration (#ServeOrphansWell)
by Ronne Rock
Posted on Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4 ESV


News stories paint a picture of trafficking as young women being kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Those stories do exist, but Mike Douris of Orphan Outreach says the reality of sexual exploitation of girls and women goes much further. And providing rescue and restoration to victims is as complex as the issue itself.

“When you look into orphanages, a high percentage of girls – and also boys, but particularly girls – have been sexually abused.”


More than half of all victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation are women and girls, according to the UN, and almost a third of all exploitation victims are children. In India, 70% of all women report abuse – primarily from family members. In Honduras, one in three girls have been victims of sexual exploitation – but statistics are difficult to come by because so few women choose to come forward.

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A recent study in Guatemala revealed that 8 out of every 10 girls and women have experienced some sort of abuse. “Usually it’s the more severe cases that end up in the orphanages or in programs that specifically work with those girls who have experienced that,” Douris explains.

Unfortunately, most abuse and exploitation comes at the hands of family members. According to Soroptimist, “One overriding factor in the proliferation of trafficking is the fundamental belief that the lives of women and girls are expendable. In societies where women and girls are undervalued or not valued at all, women are at greater risk for being abused, trafficked, and coerced into sex slavery.”

In developing countries like Guatemala and Kenya, a very small percentage of girls finish high school. Douris says many end up pregnant and have to make the difficult choice to step away from an education. “Education is such a key ingredient to really breaking the cycle of poverty,” he shares. “Sexual abuse has a lot of unintended consequences.”


In Bungoma, Kenya, Elizabeth Ayumaah serves as social worker for Yatima Outreach (Orphan Outreach’s partner NGO). Her ongoing work with the students of ACK Madeleine School has resulted in improvements in the lives of their families – from hygiene to nutrition to literacy levels.

But sometimes the counseling reveals a much darker reality, and Ayumaah’s persistent tenderness helps the child open up about abuses in the home. “I have to set the climate, to reassure the child that I’m there for him or her, and in case of other trouble or trial I’m still there. When that child knows I’m trustworthy, that child opens up and tells me everything. Sometimes I involve the teachers where necessary. But I always summon the parent to come to my office to talk to them.”

Even with the families, careful persistence rules. “I never just come out and boldly accuse. Instead, I have to start from afar, to first talk about the children’s performance in school – that it’s challenged for some reason. I talk to them about the possibilities it could be – family background, or living environment, or proper care. And it’s then that I let the parent or guardian know what I have identified. I don’t necessarily say, ‘your child said this or that,’ but I am firm in telling the parent what I have identified from my time with the child both in conversation and in observation. I’ll talk about behavior that indicates trauma, talk about performance in school, talk about how the child interacts with others.” The child must be protected at all costs, and Ayumaah becomes that protector. “We’ve had cases of defilement that have gone to the court level. We must do whatever it takes.”


Currently in Guatemala, Orphan Outreach supports two ministry programs that specifically target girls who have been sexually exploited. Hope & Future provides sanctuary, education, life skills training, and Christ-centered care for teen moms and their babies. Douris says the second ministry is a government facility in Xela that is home to around 130 girls – “some who have been sexually abused, others who are pregnant or have babies.”

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Douris believes providing care for those who have been rescued needs to go much further than simply providing shelter. “The first response we have taken is to provide therapeutic services. Many times these girls are removed from their community and they try to find a place for them to go – and many of the orphanages and residential programs take these girls in with their babies but do not have adequate therapeutic services. The first step to healing with these girls is really more emotional than anything else, and that takes skill and time to work with all the emotional impact of sexual abuse in these girls’ lives. And also, if they have a baby, then helping them be able to get to the point where they feel attachment to the child they’ve had, because many of the girls because they’re so young, because they’re still kids themselves, they have a difficult time attaching to their child and ultimately have to make the decision whether or not they’re going to raise that child or they’re going to place that child for adoption.”

It takes skilled caregivers and counselors to help a girl go through the process of thinking through such an important decision. Douris says part of the counseling is in assuring the young mom that there’s no real “right or wrong” in the decision they make. He says, “Some of the most courageous girls I’ve seen have placed their kids for adoption because they realized they’re not in a place to provide a safe and nurturing home.

“I would do ceremonies where the birth mothers would actually hand their child to the adoptive parents. You have the parents who are adopting crying for joy that they’re bringing this new life into their home, and then you have the girl who’s giving her child to that parent in tears because of that heartbreak, that sacrificial gift. It’s very emotional but also a picture of what love really is, and it’s looking out for the best interest of your child like Christ dying on the cross for our best interest – our eternal life. It’s a beautiful picture of what Christianity’s about.

“But then there are girls who feel that they can raise and they want to raise their child, and so they need guidance and how to go about that, and how to raise a child when they’re so young and reintegrate into the community.”

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Lily Ferrer is the founder of Hope & Future, a children’s home focused on serving teen moms and their children. Every one was a victim of sexual exploitation. Rape and incest clawed away innocence, and childbirth has left scars on bodies too young to understand. She listens as her “family” shares their testimonies of redemption and restoration. The youngest, just 13, watches her four-month old son as he sleeps. She was a slave when they found her, when they rescued her and brought her to the home. A 16-year old cradles her toddler with one arm as she raises her hand to the sky. Next to her, a 14-year old closes her eyes and smiles as she proclaims every word. Little ones play as their moms share their stories.

“I believe God brought me to this place so He could bring me home to His love.” 

“I am learning to forgive my abuser. I am being set free.”

“I have hope.”

For Ferrer, restoration is a long road commitment. "More than anything, I dream for every child who is part of our family here. I pray their hearts are healed, so they will be opened even more to learning and growing. I want to see each of these children grow and be successful in whatever they chose to do in their lives. I dream that it will be Tia Lilly at each of their weddings as their mama. The older girls have shared with me that they want to marry Christian men. I share with them that those men are out there - and they are praying the very same thing - that they'll marry good-hearted Christian women. I dream about those days. What a celebration that will be."


Douris says that same investment is at the heart of all the programs Orphan Outreach supports. “When we make an investment in these girls’ lives, it’s a long-term investment. It’s not intervention that can be done in a few months. It’s really years of working with the children, to help them cope with whatever decisions they make concerning a child if they have a child. But also, if it’s been sexual abuse, how to cope with that and how to move on and how to forgive and how to build a healthy relationship beyond the pain of their past experiences.

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Though he’s seen transformation take place in the lives of children around the world, Douris tears up when he thinks of one girl in particular – Michaela at Little House of Refuge in Xela, Guatemala. Profoundly deaf, she was abused by multiple family members who believed they were safe because she was unable to cry out for help. “When she first came to Little House, her behavior was challenging. There was so much pain in her life because of the sexual abuse, and because she couldn’t hear or talk, she had no outlet for the anger, the sorrow and the pain. I watched the change in her life, with the counseling that she got, and really just patient love of the caregivers there over a long period of time, and with our volunteers that came in that really “adopted” Michaela like she was one of their families. You could see the healing over time beginning to take place, and I remember particularly when the judge in that community wanted to take her out of the orphanage and place her with an uncle, Because of the work that the staff had done with her and the teachers had done with her, she could communicate. When she got to the courtroom, she was able to communicate to the judge that that particular uncle was one of he people who had abused her. So they ended up not placing her with that uncle. Since that time, she has really blossomed and she’s using art as an expression of her feelings. She’s an amazing artist. She’s doing much better at school and you can just see joy in her life where you couldn’t see that before. This has been happening in the time that we’ve been working there – over several years of work with her to get her to the point where she is now, where she has a hopeful future rather than one that’s dark and full of anger and hopelessness.”


Orphan Outreach is now working with ministry leaders in Guatemala to develop a network of care with local churches. For young moms, reintegrating back into the community can be overwhelming. Douris shares, “They know how to raise children properly and give them the proper nurture that they need. But then it’s also the practical things of ‘I’ve got to make a living, so how do I provide adequate daycare for my child at the same time that I’ve got to be able to develop vocational skills so that I can actually have a job that supports my family?’ And then there’s the issue of relationships – these girls are going to get married at some point, and so what is an ideal, healthy look like with a male, because the experience they’ve had has been dysfunctional. They’ve either been through sexual abuse or sexual trafficking or prostitution. They don’t have any positive role models to know how to have a healthy relationship.”

The goal of the network is to provide full wraparound services for the girls. “There’s an African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” says Douris. “ And these girls really need support from many people to be able to make it through the challenges they’re going to face. The Church is the perfect vehicle for that, so we’re really going to challenge the Church in Guatemala to adopt a girl and then pour into them and provide resources, support, prayer to help the girl reintegrate successfully back into their community.

Douris says there are a number of ways people can invest in the lives of orphans and vulnerable children who have been impacted by trafficking and sexual exploitation. The first is prayer. “Praying for the children that we’re caring for and the programs we support around the world, and praying for our staff on a daily basis. The work that they do is really amazing work, but it drains a lot out of them as they serve. Pray for strength and also for wisdom, because these issues and the pain these kids have gone through – it takes a lot of wisdom to know how best to meet their needs on a daily basis. Prayer is such a powerful force in providing for these kids.”

“The other is to go on a trip,” shares Douris. “I think that, to be able to meet these kids and see the strength that they have, the hope that they have, and the power of relationship is such an encouragement to these children. So if you have the ability to be able to go on a trip to develop a relationship with the children, to get connected, so that you can pray more thoughtfully but also be an encouragement to them.”

Making a financial commitment to the work being done by Orphan Outreach and its ministry partners is a powerful way to invest in the future. “You have to hire very good quality staff to get good quality results. Not only can you connect with a particular kid and pray for them, but that money is pooled to provide the resources and expertise needed to meet their needs.”


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