Spring 2014

Making Room for Dreams

How GlobalFingerprints is opening up the future for children around the world

by Caroline Eberly

W“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s a question most happy, healthy kids answer in the form of big dreams: a doctor, a firefighter, a pilot. The President.

Yet when GlobalFingerprints coordinator Jim Snyder first began posing the question to at-risk children in Congo, they simply wanted to work in their gardens or take up their father’s occupation.

Since GlobalFingerprints has begun coordinating sponsorships for these children, however, Jim has noticed a shift, one that softens him to the core: “Now,” he says, “they’re talking about being nurses or doctors and lawyers.”

When you take away hunger and sickness, you make room for dreams.

To sustain the needs and hopes of vulnerable children around the world, this EFCA child-sponsorship program draws upon the compassion and resources of the American church, and utilizes the heart and hands of the local church in each country. Both children who know Jesus and those who don’t, yet, are helped.

Rachel Bliss, GlobalFingerprints coordinator in Southeast Asia, says the plan is to care for children of all faiths, “whether they’re Catholic, Protestant, Kimbanguist, saved or unsaved.”

The program’s primary hope is that each child would live within a home, either with parents or another family. When living with a family is not possible—as is currently the case in Zambia—the partner ministry on-the-ground provides orphanage or residential care for children. Always, the local church is the primary player in creating these healthy communities.

“The church is God’s ordained entity for community, for gospel transformation,” says Steve Spellman, country coordinator in Haiti. “We want GlobalFingerprints to support the local church, which supports the local family.”

Through this approach, the local church then starts to become the family of families.

Each month, a caseworker from the local Evangelical Free Church or partner church visits the child in the home, assessing his or her well-being in four different areas: education, nutrition, health and spirituality.

These local advocates experience the home environment, check in about schoolwork, see what’s in the cupboards and ask thoughtful questions. They evaluate children on a scale of one to four (one, they’re healthy and smiling; four, they need immediate intervention). From there, they make plans to meet needs.

One child might need $10 a month to stabilize his or her family’s food supply; another might need eyeglasses, medication or tuition funds—all provided by sponsorship funds (see below). Caseworkers teach about the gospel during monthly visits and encourage (but don’t force) children to attend church.

“We’re empowering the local church to see the needs of the family and meet them accordingly,” Steve adds.

These caseworkers have their own family of support: site directors and pastors from the local church, who are, in turn, supported by U.S. country coordinators like Jim, Steve and Rachel. These coordinators visit several times a year, coach and cheer on the different members of the program, and give witness to churches back in the States about the wide, deep needs at hand.

In six different countries and four different continents (and counting), the program follows the same guiding principles. But it’s hardly a one-size-fits-all approach. No family or relationship ever is.

In addition to providing caseworkers, each local church serves as a GlobalFingerprints field team—helping the communities of sponsored children with new projects such as wells or gardens. In one corner of the world where the gospel can’t be spoken freely, a team partners with a local literacy outreach in order to serve.

It’s these persistent, tailored efforts that are, month by month, visit by visit, changing the way children live and think and dream. And when you give children the space and support to dream of becoming doctors or lawyers, they just might do so. They just might grow up to bring healing and justice to the world.

Caroline Eberly is a writer and editor with Journey Group in Charlottesville, Va.