A Journey Into Orphan Work
By ANNIE WESCHE
A Heart Gripped
I simply couldn’t process the horror of it. Twelve years old and just becoming aware of the plight of orphans in our world, I had been soaking up as much information as I could on the subject — online articles, statistics, and then … that documentary. My young, sheltered heart sank and my eyes welled up with tears as I learned of the secret “dying rooms” in some state-run Chinese orphanages, where vulnerable and sick babies would be locked away to die.
I was shattered.
As I watched the undercover film about these horrific places, I felt a depth of heartache unlike anything I’d ever known before. Sitting there at my parents’ computer, I wept. As the children’s small faces became engraved upon my heart, I cried for them until my own face ached and I thought my heart would burst from anguish. In that sorrowful moment, I turned to the Lord and, for the first time of many more to come, asked God to somehow use my life to help orphaned and vulnerable children.
God had opened my eyes to a truth I hadn’t yet known, and He gripped my heart with it — a grip that has held fast. Over the years, in beautiful faithfulness, God has answered that cry in my heart in ways far beyond what I could have imagined: visiting orphanages in other countries, traveling as a photographer for an adoption agency, leading an orphan advocacy and awareness class, and spending 29 months in Haiti caring for cherished little ones.
As I’ve shared stories from these experiences, I’ve often been asked by other young women who burn with a similar passion: How did you get started in orphan work? How did you find those opportunities? How did you prepare? How do I get started too?
My answer for each of these questions is unapologetically simple — Jesus is how. It was He who first opened my eyes to the orphans He loves so deeply, and He who set a desire within my heart to love them too. And as I came to Him with a broken heart and fervent prayers, He has been the One to unfold and accomplish every opportunity and adventure that has come into my life.
I could end this article right here, and with a championing smile look into your eyes and tell you to run to your knees seeking the One who has amazing plans in store for your surrendered life — plans far beyond anything you can imagine! And dear reader you should, for there are treasures found at the feet of Jesus in prayer!
Yet I know that there is also a precious power in our testimony when we share with others our story, the lessons we have learned, and the things the Lord has done. My own life has been richly edified, strengthened, and inspired by countless other Christians who have shared their testimonies. So, I write this article in order that God might use it in some way to speak to your heart, with the spotlight of the story solely on Jesus and His enabling grace all along the way.
A Way Made
Learning about the dying rooms in overcrowded orphanages in China was my first, real introduction to a small portion of the orphan crisis. It set within my heart a longing to somehow go to China one day and visit an orphanage there. But as I grew up into my high school years and became occupied with first jobs and local volunteering, the desire quieted into the corners of my heart.
Until one day, when my mum and I ran into an out-of-town friend of hers while shopping. There we stood in the Costco food court catching up on life, when something unfolded that could have only been orchestrated by the Lord. Mum’s friend was excited to share with us about an upcoming trip she was taking with a team to China. I didn’t make the connection, but my mum didn’t miss a beat! In her usual, radiant boldness, she reached out to touch the arm of her friend and exclaimed, “That sounds so wonderful. I’m thrilled for you! Do you think Annie could go too? She’s always wanted to go to China!”
Much to my surprise, Mum’s friend looked over at me, and simply said, “You know what? I think she probably could!”
We parted ways that afternoon with my heart fluttering full of excitement, fear, and bewilderment. That very night we received a call from Mum’s friend to say that the trip directors had approved my joining the team! I would just need to pay my trip expenses immediately, in full. Well, I thought, it’s all been a nice daydream, but I don’t think this will work out. After all, the cost is surely far more than I have. But when I was told over the phone what the amount was, I leaned back on the counter in utter amazement. The cost needed was within dollars of what I had sitting in my bank account. Wonderment filled my heart as I realized — this wasn’t a mere daydream. God was doing something significant.
Truthfully, I was afraid. I’d never been on a mission trip, I dreaded the thought of getting sick in a foreign country (or anywhere, for that matter), and was not the carefree and courageous sort. But God’s sustaining hand lovingly rested upon me in that moment of decision, with the enabling grace to say yes.
It became impossible to deny that God was opening this door to China. There was, of course, the way we heard about the trip and the ready finances in my bank account. But then we learned that it was actually a medical trip with a team of doctors, nurses, and physical therapists. My level of medical training? Nada. In addition to that, the team was from the other side of the state, I knew only one person going, and even though they had all been meeting together for nearly a year to prepare, they agreed that I could meet up with them just a couple days before departing. It was wonderfully surreal how the Lord kept leading the way and supplying everything needed to walk in it.
While on that trip to China, I did go to a Chinese orphanage, and it forever changed my life.* The Lord gave me an entire afternoon to hold a bit of Heaven in my arms — several beautiful, precious babies — and pray over each one of them. But beyond that dream come true, the rest of the trip was also an incredible adventure and gift from God. It challenged me continually, extending the boundaries of my confidence in the Lord’s care, protection, and leading. It brought to life His promises as I clung to them in my weakness. It strengthened my trust in God’s Word and faithfulness, and allowed me to step into adventure with the Lord and see Him care for every need. And in the years that followed, those steps of faith anchored me for much, much harder challenges and experiences to come.
So, looking back, how did I get started in orphan work? At twelve years old God opened my ears to hear the cry of the orphan. Over the next several years, He grew me and continued to keep China’s orphans deep within my heart. At just the right-and-ready time, He orchestrated a perfectly-timed meeting with a long-distance friend of my mother’s. He opened a door that only He could open, putting me on a mission team I was unqualified for. He set His hand of grace upon me amid my fears and insecurities, enabling me to walk by faith. And He made a way for me to China!
A Burden Given
God has more than one reason for His delays. Often it is to test the faith of His children, to develop their patience, to bring them to the end of themselves.
China was a cherished first step into overseas work and orphan advocacy, but after I returned home, the desire to continue with orphan work was once again held deep in my heart as I tended to life and family responsibilities. It was, again, years later in my early twenties when God drew this desire back to the surface and began to stoke the quiet embers into passionate flames.
I was living alone at the time, which made way for long evenings of prayer and time with the Lord. I would often pace the hardwood floors of the living room and, by the soft glow of lamplight, pray aloud late into the night. I prayed for my family, friends, ministry projects, and future hopes. But then one evening, there it was again — that burden. I felt anguish over so many children left orphaned and vulnerable all over the world, and before long, I was on my knees. My prayers flowed with passion, my eyes gave way unto tears, and I cried a deep, aching cry, “Lord, use me! Spend me for these little ones!”
With this burden reawakened, throughout the day I began to long for the evening when I could return to the secret place with the Lord to cry out on behalf of these children. Night after night, the yearning grew deeper. My prayers seemed to flow without effort, pouring from a sacred place where God was moving. And night after night I would come to tears, pleading aloud, “Lord, use me, use me in some way to love these children!” These nights became heavier and harder as they went on. When I closed my eyes, I could see faces of little ones crying out for the love of Christ. I longed to be with these children, holding them. I pleaded with the Lord, yet no answer came. He had set His spotlight on the needs of these children, yet His light wasn’t leading me any further. I couldn’t see the road ahead or the “next step” to take.
Weeks passed until one night, I cried out in exasperation through tears, “Lord, what is this all for?! Why are You doing this? I know this burden must be from You, but why aren’t You showing me what to do? Please! Either take this away, or show me what to do!”
And then He answered. I can remember it so vividly. Suddenly there came a gentle calm that filled the room and fell on my weary heart and body like a blanket of peace. In the quiet, Jesus whispered into my heart, “How can I send you, unless I first share with you My burden? How can you minister My love, if you do not first experience My heart for these little ones? I am answering.”
My desperation melted away and a deeply restful gratitude filled my heart. God knew what He was doing with these long nights of prayer and tears. He was purposeful with all of it.
“Oh, Lord … I see now. Thank You, thank You, thank You … Do the work You need to do. Share with me Your heart. Grow me. You know how to prepare me and equip me. I’m Yours to burden, teach, fill, and spend … how and where and when.”
“Oh Lord, You know.” (Psalm 40:9b NASB)
God knows. Have you ever pondered with awe this glorious truth? God knows. God Almighty, Creator of all things, Lord over all things — knows all things. He knows all that’s heartbreaking in this broken world. He knows all the pain and suffering, great and small, and every individual soul experiencing it. And He knows the solution needed — Himself.
God knows you. He knows your burdens. He knows your longings. He knows your dreams and hopes. He knows your weaknesses and fears and doubts and struggles. He knows all your tearful prayers.
God knows how. He knows how to overcome weaknesses. He knows how to set free and strengthen! He knows how to open doors and move mountains. He knows how to equip you and I. He knows exactly what each of us needs in order to do the work He has prepared in advance for us to do. He knows every small task that will teach us to serve with gladness. He knows the nights of prayer and tears of anguish we need to have with Him. He knows the hard things that will deepen our faith and teach us to give thanks in all things. He knows the waiting that will bring us to the end of ourselves and to that ready place of full surrender unto Him.
God knows how to lead. And when the time comes to move you forward, He is marvelously good at making it known to the heart that fully belongs to Him and is ready to obey.
There’s more to my personal journey and the faithful ways God has led me in orphan work, and I’m excited to share that with you in the following issue! Until then, whatever your own entrusted burden and passion may be — a burden for the fatherless or perhaps something else that He’s set within your heart — may you rest your full trust upon the faithfulness of our God to accomplish all that concerns you! He has set that burden there within your heart. Do not grow weary with waiting or become anxious for the future. Allow Him to write your story. Be faithful right where God has you, pour your heart out like perfume at the feet of Jesus, and continue to offer your life for His glory each and every day. He is at work. And though the waiting and praying seasons of our lives can often be some of the most difficult, they also can become some of the most beautiful — growing us in intimacy with Christ and making us ready for what He wants to do!