Exodus House Orphanage, HOPE, Our Journey: Adopting from Africa

It took a whole year, but we saw a “birthday” miracle!

I just had a great coffee date.

Nothing like a few hours and a good cuppa joe to bring clarity and passion back into life!

My darling-est friend sat across from me and reminded me of the beloved story of the loaves and fishes from the book of Matthew. Actually there are two similar stories there, which start out with a huge crowd of hungry people and both times Jesus was offered an inadequate amount of bread and fish to try to feed the masses. Both times thousands of people ended up fed from the meager offering.

IT WAS MULTIPLIED!

Our present-day loaves and fishes story began just over a year ago when our family had the idea to buy a fish tank for the orphanage our Elisee is from. The tank we had in mind holds over a hundred gallons of water and up to 400 North African Catfish. With this tank, the orphanage can raise enough fish to feed the kids AND enough to sell in the market. The money made would then restock the tank with new fish, buy grain or vegetables and the kids are eating for free! This cycle can replay up to 5 times a year per tank.

The amazing Patrice (our friend who runs the orphanage in Benin, Africa) has dreamed of this fish tank on the orphanage’s new property. While we were with her several years ago, she took us to a farm in another village to see one in operation. It was an unassuming cement well-sort-of-thing with a tin roof. The water inside was smooth until a loaf of stale bread was thrown on top. Then the water came alive with enormous fish surfacing, rolling and battling for bites of the bread. It was such a ruckus! I was astonished at the quantity and size of these fish.

Africa 2015 4616

Our Elisee LOVED the picnic we ate at the Farm!
SO the Schuiteboer’s decided that giant stinky fish were our new family goal! It was Spring and we all had yet to celebrate our birthdays-or any holiday for that matter. We decided to use each celebration- for a whole year- as an opportunity to ask for or make donations toward “Elisee’s Fishtank.” The kids eagerly gave up the idea of birthday presents and experiences- opting for small parties at home with cake and ice cream- and our invitations asked for no gifts but money for the Fishtank instead.

And guess what??

Our friends and family BLEW US AWAY!!

I should have known… I mean these are some seriously generous, creative and passionate people. I knew that already but when the first party came around I sat down in the garden with a gaggle of 6&7 year old girls and a globe, their eyes came alive. Each girl was so thrilled to learn about Africa and Elisee and fish! They asked questions and shared their own ideas and then came an abundance of cleverly wrapped donations. Money was wrapped up in packages, cards, hand-drawn pictures, and folded into origami fish for goodness sakes! My sweet Makenna raised $77 on her 7th birthday for a brother she hasn’t met yet!!

Summer is our Birthday season. We have a June, a July, 2 Augusts and 2 Septembers. It’s sort of like a Marathon of Birthdays where we take off and build up speed for the finish line of Carter & Elisee who are one day apart. The glory of this particular birthday season was the jar we kept in our kitchen with “Elisee’s Fishtank” written on it. Each birthday brought another chance to fill it up and watch our collection grow. Each celebration brought a sense of pride and ownership to the person being celebrated who got to put their “presents” in the jar and dream of a hundred kids eating until their bellies were full.

Our jar filled and overflowed and we were sure it was getting close to the amount needed. After our crazy birthday season we knew Christmas was ahead of us. It was our one last hurrah before the end of the year and our goal was to have the money raised by Patrice’s birthday-to share our birthdays with her as a complete surprise just for her. I added up the money as the kids eagerly waited & sorted change. The atmosphere was sort of static as we waited to hear a big number.

HOWEVER, here’s the deal, this whole idea was a huge undertaking. The fish tank itself is darn expensive. It requires a backhoe and cement trucks and supplies that are not easily found in the African Bush. We were shooting for the stars. We have some seriously amazing people who gave and gave and the Schuiteboers saved every bit of change and allowance but we came up short. Like WAY short. We still needed $2000 for the tank plus a little extra for the fish and the cost of sending so much money across an ocean. We were more than a little discouraged, but isn’t it just like our God to hold out for the big finale!?

One week before Christmas I added my birthday money to the jar. I was glad to relinquish my annual new pair of shoes and pretty dishes in hopes that Patrice would have her dream come true in just days. I tallied the money again and prayed for God to provide a miracle and not just any miracle… A miracle of ABUNDANCE. Days later, over dinner, someone gave Collin a white envelope. Yep. You know… All good checks come in white envelopes. This incredible couple usually makes a big donation at the end of the year to an organization of their agreed choosing, but this year they decided to split the donation and send it out in chunks. The amount they gave to us was enough to send a fish tank’s worth of money to surprise Patrice for her Birthday AND pay off the kid’s school bill. What!? We didn’t even think to ask God for that yet! (So it was a little overdue…Prayer worthy? Not quite yet!)

Guys, God is a God of MULTIPLICATION! His abundance is far-reaching and SO MUCH MORE than we imagine! I have been blown away more than once, but let me tell you, this literal loaves and fishes story is one that will stick with me for a long time.

Where does God want to blow YOU away?

In what way is he planning to show you His ABUNDANCE?

Have you asked him yet?

Exodus House Orphanage

Welcome! Bienvenue! Quabo!

I love to see a changed life.

There is nothing like a good transformation to inspire a soul.

And, of course, I love a good story. I love to hear people tell their stories and if it’s a transformation story – all the better!

So here it is : a powerful story of a changed life:

Welcome! Bienvenue! Quabo! Three languages, one word. Also the name of an amazing young man in Benin. He teased us for days with his name. We thought he didn’t understand English and he knew we didn’t understand Fon or French. We frequently saw Welcome hanging with the older boys as they practiced their soccer skills. We also saw him helping the little boys and speaking encouragement to the days’ cook. He was honestly sincere and respectful of each person. Finally, we had the chance to sit down in the shade and ask Welcome his story.

Welcome was from a poor family in the village. His mother and father worked very hard and barely made ends’ meet. They were gone more than they were home and Welcome and his siblings were left to figure life out on their own. His older siblings had become involved with drugs and alcohol, some were married, some had children, but none were happy. Welcome is an observer by nature, he saw all of this and he learned a lot from his siblings. He also saw his friends from Exodus House who had TRUE joy. Over 100 of them shared one Mama who was busy yet somehow still present and they shared a Papa God who loved them relentlessly and gave them wisdom beyond their years to make healthy decisions and live purposefully.

This true joy is what Welcome wanted more than anything! He asked Mama if he could be one of her children and her response was “You already are.” He came to Exodus House daily to learn from Mama and the children. He began attending school and church services, taking on regular responsibilities, and building relationships with the rest of Mama’s kids. He is a part of the family. There is nothing Welcome has that he does not share with his new family and vice versa. When we were sitting with him, he asked “Do you see the chickens here?” Of course we did, there were plenty pecking around our feet and crowing in the wee hours of the morning. “I bought those for Mama and the children. My brother sent me money for a new phone and I knew they needed food more than I needed the phone, so I bought chicks and surprised the children.” He had the biggest grin on his face! Between laughs and stories he would pull out his cell phone with a huge crack on the small screen, send a text or show us a photo of his nieces and nephews, then carefully re-tape the battery in place and put it back in his pocket.

Elisee & Chickens
Elisee with Welcome’s Chickens

Welcome had found true joy in becoming family, loving Jesus and now in giving this gift.

God has blessed Welcome. He is studying for the National Exam and plans to go to University next fall. He has bright hopes of coming back to his village and changing the world for one kid after another. “They are just like me,” he told us. “They feel lost but I know God sees them.”

Exodus House Orphanage

Exodus House Orphanage

For those of you wanting a little more background info on the Orphanage where our Elisee has been the past 4 years, here’s a quick synopsis!

Exodus House Orphanage and Amazing Grace School were both started by one amazing woman with a heart for God and her own people. Patrice (who has been re-named to protect her identity) put herself through nursing school after her family ex-communicated her for loving Jesus. When she needed to flee her family’s influence, she traveled two countries away to attend seminary. It was there that she was overcome by the plight of the children she saw everyday in her village and throughout West Africa. She returned to Benin and one by one she took in children, nursed them to health, and advocated for their education in the local schools. She loved each one like her very own. Even today with 120 children under her care, Patrice knows each one’s story, their heart, and their needs.

Tiny Esther
2 year old Ella came to Patrice with her big sister and 3 older brothers last year as refugees from Nigeria.

Exodus House Orphanage was soon founded to give legal rights to Patrice as caregiver and protection to the children in Patrice’s care. Social workers, teachers and local women are now part of “the family” who see to the needs of the children ranging in age from zero to twenty-something. Each child has responsibilities within the orphanage to cook or clean, make or sell jewelry and food in the market, take care of the buildings and garden, or watch the smaller children as well as maintaining their own schoolwork and living space. The focus of Patrice’s care is to raise up these children who are seen as “the least” to become the future leaders of Benin. She takes special care to train up pastors , influencers, worshipers and teachers. The expectations are high for these kids and they fully live up to those expectations!

Soon after the orphanage was founded, Amazing Grace School was born. The school contains a Primary School and Secondary School as well as preparation for National Exams so the students can apply to attend University. (Just this year, 19 students went on to take this exam and passed! An incredible feat for kids who are said to “have nothing!”) Children from the village are welcome to attend Amazing Grace School alongside the Exodus House Children. Their school fees help to cover the cost of teachers and supplies for everyone. All students are taught from the Bible as well as 3 languages and the standard requirements of reading, writing and arithmetic.

One of the beautiful new school buildings built in Tori, Benin!

Another part of the education offered at Amazing Grace is a certification program for women. It is the only program in the country recognized by the government. Women of any age and background can come to live and attend classes in fabric weaving, hair styling, and tailoring. It is a three year commitment and at the end of the program each graduate is given a certificate to start their own business as well as all the necessary tools to work in their trade. This program offers value and a voice to women who might otherwise be seen as a pawn for their family’s advantage. Once a woman in Benin gains an income, she has a say in any family matter and in her own life.

Powerful changes are taking place in each life touched by Exodus House Orphanage and Amazing Grace School. One woman (Patrice) has made an incredible impact on the country she loves and the people within it! Your support is a huge part of her ministry. Both prayer and financial support are what bring the Kingdom to Benin. (And of course, if you wish to support financially, you can give through me on either PayPal or GoFundMe or by purchasing the children’s handmade jewelry at Feed The World Cafe in Kalamazoo MI.)

Thank you for joining with Patrice, the Schuiteboer family and so many others to raise up leaders in Benin!

Exodus House Orphanage

Joanna

My heart is so deeply affected by the plight of the orphan. I can’t even tell you. I have prayed more times than I can count : “Lord, let my heart mirror yours” and I’m realizing now the full and profound impact of such a prayer. My heart aches deeply to know children who are in such a state of being as the orphan. I’m struggling to put a definition to this group of people- children and adults alike without family or belonging.

This, of course, leads me to want YOU to know also. I want- no, I NEED- to share with you the stories of a few of the beautiful children who I call my friends and who weigh heavy on my heart at night when I can’t sleep and I ask God who needs prayer. To start, I’d like you to meet Joanna.

Joanna was born to a woman who was insane. My friend Patrice would visit her village and see the woman sleeping on the side of the road while her baby cried beside her. Patrice would feed the baby and swaddle her then leave. All the while she prayed the mother would awake and take care of herself and her child. After almost two years, Patrice realized this situation would not improve and went to the authorities for permission take the child to her orphanage. She was granted custody of the baby and when she was finally able to bring the baby home the authorities informed her that there was no record of birth for this baby at any hospital and by the way, she didn’t have a name. She was two years old.

Patrice named the baby Grace because God was her Papa now and she was a child of the King of Grace. She raised Grace in her own home until she was old enough to go to the orphanage. Grace was given the opportunity to go to school and learn to read and most of all to love Jesus. Praise God for rescuing her from the side of the road! Then one day, the very best opportunity came to Grace: she was adopted by a local pastor and his wife. They had no children and loved God so much that they shared His heart for the children at the orphanage. They financially supported the orphanage’s school and much of the ministry Patrice did in the city. The best news of all was that Patrice would still get to see Grace grow.

It was the best day of Grace’s life, I’m sure. She went to live with her new parents in the city and they changed her name to Joanna. (It is customary in Africa for a person to change their name to document such an exciting life change). Joannad lived for 4 years as the daughter of a pastor and was settled in her new school and neighborhood. She had a Mama and a Papa who loved her and saw her friends at the orphanage regularly. Then one day, her new Papa fell sick. He died suddenly and went to be with the Lord- causing shock to his congregation and friends. His wife was not a citizen of Benin, and so was exported to her native country. And Joanna? Joanna was returned to the orphanage since her mother had no rights and her father was dead. In a moment the happy dreams Joanna had once been blessed to live were gone.

When I met Joanna she had been back at the orphanage for the second time almost a year. One year after the death of her Papa, she is a shell of the joyful child I hear that she once was. Her eyes are haunted by tears over the family she had and lost. She doesn’t revel in the “family” of 100+ kids she now lives with as some children do. She isn’t ungrateful, but she knows better. She knows love and has lost it. She knows what it is to be tucked in at night and now she goes to bed without a kiss. Her smile is still beautiful but her heart is shattered. I spent a whole day with her covering her in hugs and mom-kisses and interceding as I held her hand, but at the end of the day, I received this glorious smile and I knew. I knew she was changed. I knew while I was holding onto her and dragging her with me as we played chase with the little ones, God is not finished with her story. There was a shift in her spirit that day and perhaps even she didn’t notice. But I did. And I got a smile.

Joyce.jpg

Joyful Joanna

Pray with me for Joanna’s future. My prayer is that she finds a family-either in Africa or another country- that she will be adopted again.

Exodus House Orphanage, HOPE

Extravagance

God is so stinking extravagant!!

I’ve spent days and weeks laying certain needs before the throne of God. I know He knows my needs and I know He is so glad when I give them over to Him but I’m seeing a little pattern here. I lay them down and He leaves them there only to walk over to the other side of the throne and pick up something even better-even bigger-even more than I would think of- and He delivers. Not only does God seem to be filling my needs, He’s fueling my dreams!

For example: last week. Friday to be exact. I needed $550 for application fees for the adoption. I told Him “Hey, you got this, right? It’ll be in the checking account?” And He said “Actually, I’d like to take you out to coffee since you haven’t done that in a while.” (Free Coffee? Well, OK!) “And while we’re out to coffee, I’d like to remind you that I haven’t forgotten your dream kitchen that’s been put on hold indefinitely. I’m working on that, don’t worry. Here’s a multiple-thousand-dollar appliance just to remind you. Oh, and those family pictures you dream of updating but couldn’t quite bring yourself to do? I’d like to offer the best photographer at the lowest price. And don’t get all worked up and crazy about outfitting and coordinating. Let’s just do it now before the crazy sets in and you scream at your family and their hairstyle choices making the experience miserable AND documented for eternity. I know you. I love the things you love. I like making your wildest dreams come true.”

And just like that, literally within 4 hours I had the beginnings of a kitchen makeover and the first glimpse of our finished and practically stress-less photo shoot. To top it off, my family was eating gifted pizza from our favorite pizzeria to celebrate by 5:00. BAM! Extravagant, no? That $550 has nothin’ on my Pappa.

My friend from Africa tells me all the time how much “I owe her.” She “charges” me for translating at each judge and government office and every restaurant we eat at. I go with her to the market and she “charges” me for recommending the best vendor. I offer her a compliment and she says “Well, you DO owe me.” When I say “How could I ever repay you!? (wink wink)” she says “You can’t. It is too much! BUT I know your Pappa and He is very rich. I think maybe He will pay me with…(wait for it)… a car. Or maybe a nice house. I think maybe He will pay me 1 million US dollars and I will be very rich too.” Of course I laugh and say yes and her response is even more honest. “But if your Pappa does not pay, I know MY Pappa will. You see, my Pappa is very rich too!” ha ha ha. Of course we die laughing at this point. And I agree that yes, I owe her everything and thank goodness our Pappa pays up so we don’t have to.

I have such relief to know it’s not on me to bring in this $550-or the kitchen renovation for that matter. It’s not up to me to force something or to scrounge and figure and add and subtract. I will do as much as I possibly can, and the rest is up to Him. Not only that, but He WANTS to do it.

Now the enemy is wiley and I have to admit I’ve had a moment or two where I thought “BUT God…. that’s not what I asked for! What I need is money and these pictures won’t pay an adoption agency.” But how selfish is that!? Who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth? Who am I to demand what I want and nothing less? And what kind of big picture do I have-to know that this is not the best and what I was asking for was 2nd rate? Humility takes a step back and reevaluates. Do I really need the thing I was asking for? Is there nothing I can do to bring that money to fruition? And is His provision already what I was asking for on another level?

When I asked God, I knew lots of places the money COULD come from (in my I’m-the-center-of-the-universe dream world), but my real worry was whether God saw the whole enchilada. $550 is nothing compared to the tens of thousands we will still need to pay. Does God see all those zeros? Is He going to come through for each one of them? And is He going to do it quickly so my boy doesn’t have to wait eons for me to come back to Africa?

Yes. His answer was a resounding yes.

He’s going to come through for this adoption and also for all the sacrifices we’ve made to get this adoption to where it is. I’ve sacrificed lots of coffee and that might as well be my love language. He knows that. I’ve sacrificed other dreams and plans and hopes for this thing and God knows that too. And He doesn’t forget. Instead He promises MORE. Because He’s extravagant like that!

Summer 2015 578
My friend Patrice with a rich Pappa (who loves to pick blueberries in Michigan!)