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It Began with Folding Chairs (#GrowDeep)
by Julie Cramer
Posted on Tuesday, February 14, 2017
As Orphan Outreach celebrates a decade of care for orphans and vulnerable children, we're inviting our US-based staff to share their thoughts about the ministry and its mission - and we're giving a sneak peek into their lives and loves. This month, our President and Founder Mike Douris takes us back to the beginning - and shares his vision for the future.

A tight-knit group of friends, who at the time worked together at Buckner International, felt God prompting them to start a new ministry in 2007. For Orphan Outreach’s founder and president, Mike Douris, starting over at 55 had not been part of his plan. Yet, he set out with his friends to develop a ministry plan, and then prayed that God would provide the seed money to start. Within a few months, they had the money.

“So, we took the step of faith and the rest is history,” Mike says.

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In April of 2007, the team gathered in office space off Dallas’s busy LBJ freeway, setting up folding chairs and a folding table for their first meeting. The chair that Mike had carted from home was broken, which he quickly discovered, as he sat down to convene the meeting. And thus began a decade of surprising—and wholly fulfilling—ministry, despite some unforeseen challenges.

The first real surprise came when people—after learning about their venture—eagerly lent their support, and growing the budget from an anticipated $500,000 to an actual $750,000 and a few mission trips that first year to boot. During all this activity, Mike Douris and board member, Steve Spencer, were flying on “world tickets” to Guatemala, Honduras, India, and Russia to scope out prospective ministry partners.

On their first stop in Guatemala, Mike and Steve were getting a bite to eat in a restaurant in “the middle of nowhere” when the First Lady of Guatemala, Wendy de Berger, walked in, spied Mike, and offered her support. Divine appointments such as this happened in every country.

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In India, for example, a pastor in Delhi recommended a successful businessman to Mike for the post of director of India programs for the fledgling Orphan Outreach. Mike was mid-spiel with the businessman, Uma Shankardas, when Uma stopped him and agreed to join the team—even at a great financial loss to him and his family. It turned out that God had been impressing on him and his wife that he needed to quit his job and go into ministry. But what ministry? Uma felt God was telling him to wait for him to reveal the opportunity. And then Mike Douris showed up.

The partnership with Lucy, the director of the Gan Sabra HIV/AIDS Home in Mizoram, proved also to be providential.

“A friend of mine heads up a big adoption agency, and he wanted me to check out this one baby home in Mizoram. I did an evaluation of the program, and while I was there, the social workers told me to go see about this AIDS program. We decided to do it,” Mike says. “We went to this little house in the hills, and as soon as I put my foot in the door, I knew the Lord wanted us to work there. I had some money in my wallet, and I gave it to Lucy as a down payment. It was $500, the largest single donation she said she had ever received.”

What’s next?

And so, Orphan Outreach has grown in the last decade—through divine appointments and spiritual discernment. While most good orphan care programs share similar characteristics, Mike says, Orphan Outreach’s basic core value has remained the same: “To proclaim Christ in all we do.” Therefore, the board and staff decide next steps and courses of action through this grid. “‘Good enough’ is not enough; that’s the standard that Christians should have for orphans,” he says. “We’re going to be a voice for the kids and advocate for best practices. We’re going to get criticized, but we’re going to do what’s in the best interest of the kids.”

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As he reflects on the growth of Orphan Outreach, Mike now is asking what’s in the best interest of the ministry that started with a group of friends sitting on folding chairs, around a folding table.

“Because Orphan Outreach is bigger and we have more to manage, we must be intentional about how to expand our infrastructure,” Mike says. “We have 25,000 people on our ministry list, and thousands of donors. We’re relational and we want to maintain that. We are determining how big we want to be so that we can maintain that intimacy. The measure isn’t how big we are. It’s how effective we are. My prayer is that we’ll never forget that it’s all about the kids.”

What’s not in question, however, is whether Mike will remain a familiar face around the office—now located in Plano, just north on the tollway from its original address—when he passes the reins of leadership in a few years to Rey Diaz, who he calls his “heir apparent.” Indeed, for Mike, retiring isn’t an option as a follower of Christ, but he says his focus will shift to continued involvement on the board, and addressing bigger international issues in orphan care.


He’s looking forward to investing in some skills that have become rusty and some hobbies that have become dusty after years of a demanding travel schedule. Picking up the cello, tops his list, as does reading the New Testament in Greek—something the Dallas Theological Seminary graduate says is thankfully returning to him quickly. He and his wife, who live in Grapevine, Texas, will join Orphan Outreach on mission trips as well as visit their three children and two grandchildren who live in New York, Washington, D.C, and the Dallas-Forth worth area.

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He will also have time to read more “obscure” books and write his own. Yet, even as head of Orphan Outreach, Mike has always read voraciously, with his library boasting works on textural criticism, Russian literature, music, Bonhoeffer, and church history to one of his latest reads, The History of the World in Six Glassesby Tom Standage, which explores culture by examining beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and cola.

His own book, which he is working on now, will focus on orphan care and the lessons he has learned throughout his years of caring for vulnerable children.

“Just doing ministry with the kids has taught me so much about God and the devastation that sin reeks in our world. We minimize sin because it’s not a popular subject,” he says. “But the reason we have orphans is because of sin. We live in a fallen world. There is true evil, and in some of the places we work, you can see it and sense it.”

Yet even amid sorrow, God intervenes with grace, hope, love, he says. “Trust God that you are on the path he wants you to be on. The big lesson I learn day after day after day is to trust him. The second thing is that Christianity is about relationship. It’s not about what we provide—playgrounds, building, salaries, backpacks—but it’s about creating atmospheres where true relationships can happen. It’s about the relationships with the kids that provide healing, hope, and unconditional love—and all the fruits of that—that make a difference in kids’ lives.” At the end of life, Mike says, “It’s relationship that you’re going to remember.”

Mike’s life (and memories) brim with relationships and the daily challenge of having faith in the truth of Ephesians 2:8–9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (niv). “In other words,” Mike says, “Our salvation and the ministry of Orphan Outreach is all grace … it’s all God. He’s going to make provision.”

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