Humility and broadscale collaboration to help every child reach their God-given potential

Read the second part of an in-depth report about the 2024 World Without Orphans global forum held in Chiang Mai.

Vlady Raichinov

Chiang Mai (Thailand) · 20 MARCH 2024 · 15:25 CET

One of the roundtable sessions at the 2024 World Without Orphans global forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand, February-March 2024. / Photo: Vlady Raichinov.,
One of the roundtable sessions at the 2024 World Without Orphans global forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand, February-March 2024. / Photo: Vlady Raichinov.

The second plenary session of the 2024 World Without Orphans (WWO) global conference in Thailand, on 1 March, had the overall theme of “prevention” and featured 10 speakers.

First on stage was Marcos Vergara, vice president of the Evangelical Churches Association of Paraguay (ASIEP), and coordinator for the Children’s Commission of the Latin American Evangelical Alliance.

A pastor for two decades, Vergara has had a relentless focus for the most vulnerable groups in society. He shared his testimony with a quote from Romans 8, that “all creation is groaning” in anticipation to see the ultimate revelation of God’s children. After the first WWO Global Forum back in 2016, he joined a team of influential figures to start the Paraguay Protects Families movement.


Sex trafficking

The next speaker was Elizabeth Good, working against sex trafficking since 2011. She opened her talk with a quote from John 8:36, “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.” The word “indeed”, she said, contains the word “deed” – and it goes back to slavery when people were owned by other people by means of a “deed”, an ownership paper.

An author of bestselling books Groomed and Speak the Unspeakable, Elizabeth Good was recently honored as one of the 21 leaders of the 21st century in New York City. In 2018, she was instrumental for the launching of The Foundation United which fosters systemic change to eradicate sexual exploitation and addresses sexual abuse, the root cause of trafficking. Her team has created Real Talk, a systemic tool to protect and arm churches against sexual exploitation.

Elizabeth Good quoted statistics published by Columbia University in the US which say that the average person has 13 personal secrets, five of which he has never spoken out loud (and they are usually related to sexual perversion). “Billions of people on this planet are walking with an orphan spirit”, Good said. “They need us to be free so that together we can walk into a world without orphans”.



The next talk focused on the story of the Good Samaritan. The speaker, Gibstar Makangila, is the executive director of Circle of Hope, Zambia. He shared a revelation with the acronym of “RECIPE”: responsibility, empathy, compassion, integrity, passion, ethics.

After these three presentations, Susan Hillis (global coordinator for strategy and senior technical advisor with WWO executive team) spoke about the journey together from crisis to hope. She focused on Exodus 30, when Moses was leading the Israelites in a journey like that. God instructed Moses to prepare the tent of meeting and set it up for worship time. The word “anoint” is repeated six times, and at the end God blesses them.

She shared a letter from the president of Malawi to the children of his country on the International Day of the African Child. “Even though you are too young to vote for the president, you are also too precious to be neglected by the president”, he wrote.

Hillis said that there are several crises that overlap. Each of them leaves many children without parents. For instance, the Covid-19 pandemic took the lives of many people across the globe leaving around 12.5 million orphans. But somehow, we tend to neglect the children of those people. They still suffer. To fight a crisis, we need a combination of the best of science, and the best of the Lord’s Spirit and His Scriptures, she argued.


Hope groups for those displaced by war

The next part of the session was devoted to a panel on Hope Groups, an initiative that was started after the Russian invasion in Ukraine. The groups are an opportunity for Ukrainian refugee women in Poland to meet and share resources, inspiration and healing. Currently, Hope Groups provides a safe space for more than two thousand people who have been displaced by the war.

The material of the groups has been adapted for displaced people in other countries like Columbia.

The panel was led by Nicole Baldonado, program coordinator of Hope Groups, and it featured Sidney Tucker (public health, epidemiology and biostatistics expert), Zhenia Taradaika (director of the There Is Hope Foundation, in Krakow, Poland) and Lyudmyla Bryn (executive director of Children Mission International).

Humility and broadscale collaboration to help every child reach their God-given potential

One of the workshops at the WWO 2024 conference. / Photo: Vlady Raichinov.

Collaboration on a large scale

The third plenary session had six keynote speakers and was focused on “broadscale collaboration”. It first featured Shelton Taguma and Sue Austen. Quite a few ministries start with hope and end with a crisis, Taguma joked. This consultation was searching the key to the opposite direction. Understanding that we do not have to do our work on our own is foundational. There is a beautiful strength when we choose to join together in a brotherly collaboration.

Shelton Taguma serves as executive director of Forgotten Voices and is passionate about equipping the local church to be galvanized to stand up for and provide care for “the least of these”. Sue Austen was born and raised in Zimbabwe. In 2014, she founded Kukosha – a ministry securing consistent food security to high-risk families and foster parents, providing care for teen mothers using a foster care model, and advocating for local adoption where needed. Sue also works with Zimbabwe Without Orphans.

Taguma and Austen spoke about the values of a “learning community” – a space where workers share resources and learn from one another’s experience. It involves an intention and a commitment to contribute to a shared discussion, putting into action what is learned and agreeing to hold each other accountable. “We are all doing something good for children. But when we work together to move in the same direction, our impact is immeasurable”, Austen said.

In his keynote address, the WWO European coordinator, Richard Procter, shared a memory from May 2023, when Romania Without Orphans (abbreviated ARFO) was celebrating its 10th year anniversary. The Romanian minister of health was present to celebrate the progress of the ministry. A number of Christian NGOs came together to share data, analysis, and agreement for further steps. Only a year after ARFO was founded, 500 more children nationwide were adopted into a family. As a result of their shared expertise, ARFO was asked by the Romanian government to take a lead in the process of change.  

Procter also shared statistics from the development of system changes in Egypt which was mainly prompted by collaboration and unity among local Christians sharing the same vision. “God’s vision for your country is bigger than what one person or one organization can accomplish alone”, he said. His words were based on a reference to Ecclesiastes 4:12, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken”.

As regional ambassador for WWO Europe, Richard has been instrumental in shaping the ministry and vision of Home for Good, a fostering and adoption initiative in the United Kingdom. His life-long passion has been to ensure that “every child would have a safe and loving family where he or she can fulfil their God-given potential”.


The need for humility

A new panel was led at this point by Lubomir Hlavacka, who has served with the WWO since 2015. The panel participants were Ivan Minchev (Bulgaria), Anne Kasombo (Kenya), Nadine Mata (Egypt) and Gary Kamaal (India). They shared some of the greatest challenges and some of the success stories they experienced in the formation of national WWO movements.

They said that broadscale collaboration consists of several stages: contact, clarification, commitment, collaboration, community. All of these involve humility, willingness to trust your partners, communicative attitude and a global vision.

Ivan Minchev shared about how Bulgaria Without Orphans was first started. Some of the challenges involved fluctuation in the ministry team and need of stronger personal relationships. After some ups and downs, the team is working out of mutual trust, shared leadership and vision for partnership.

“We need collaboration because we cannot do this journey alone”, Anne Kasombo said. “God has called each of us in our respective places and our respected organizations. But we have to walk together, holding hands”.

The final speakers for the second evening of the convocation were Anu Silas and Gary Kamaal. Silas is founder and director of Vanitashray, an NGO that serves vulnerable children in India. She is also ambassador and facilitator with South Asia Without Orphans. “We are called to see every child in a loving family, embraced by a loving community”, Anu Silas indicated. “To achieve that, we need to leave our logos and egos behind – and come together”.

Gary Kamaal is director of Viva India – a network promoting collaboration between over 400 churches and ministries across the country. He shared data from a local initiative providing parental tips to thousands through a phone app. Through their ministry, the vision of WWO has been taking roots in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. In those countries, the movement is intentionally contextualized according to the requirements of local situation. The work is fostered by young people by means of a program called “Family for Every Little Heart” and a website young people maintain, Kamaal shared.

Humility and broadscale collaboration to help every child reach their God-given potential

Karmen Friesen, Lubo Hlavacka, Susan Hillis. / Photo: Vlady Raichinov.


The morning session on the third forum day in Chiang Mai included six speakers and more inspiring life stories. All of them were united around the important theme of “intervention”: how we respond when a child has already fallen into “the river of orphanhood”.

The first keynote was entitled “Pathway to Healing”. The speaker Tetiana Machabeli, executive director of Nehemiah Ukraine, shared how a program of medical, psychological and spiritual healing for people victimized by war was developed in Ukraine.

After the outbreak of the war, Nehemiah quickly grew into a regional center for refugee housing and support. As a result, Machabeli was invited by the UN Fund for Population Activities to implement a holistic rehabilitation program for women who have experienced sexual trauma during the war. The curriculum involves a process of seven steps packed in a small group discussion guide: What is trauma; Pathway to truth; Hope for healing; Physical wellbeing; Creative calm; Nutritional health; Spiritual rest.

After this testimony, the forum participants watched a video from Bulgaria. It told the story of a couple from the town of Sofia who adopted a 4-months-old baby. Today, four years later, Ivo and Mariana Atanassov shared their joy as a family of providing a safe and loving home for their son Stoil.  The video featured Ivan Minchev, who responded to God’s call to establish Bulgaria Without Orphans movement after attending the second Global Forum of WWO in 2019. Inspired by the vision received at the convention, Ivan returned home and set his efforts to form a team. Two years later, a Bulgarian non-profit was founded, with a purpose of promoting adoption and changing the negative stereotypes that often exist surrounding the adoption of Roma children in the former Communist nation. “Through our work in Bulgaria Without Orphans”, Minchev confided, “my desire is to help children learn that we all have a Father in heaven.”

Next, the forum heard a testimony by Maria de la Paz Zabala, WWO Latin America facilitator. Maria, known as Pachi, was born in Buenos Aires, and adopted as a young child. She shared her life story of how holistic support of vulnerable youth can transform lives.

After a moving video from Paraguay featuring an incredible adoption story of a girl called Esmeralda, the assembly was addressed by the next keynote speaker, Hazel Cedeño. For the past twelve years, she has directed Casa Viva Solutions, a ministry serving in Latin America. Her topic was, “expansion of services – from temporality to permanence”.

Hazel spoke about the path of restoration that involves various stages like prevention, restoration of biological families, kinship care, adoption, mentoring and providing life skills training for families. With her expertise in childcare, Cedeño has served as member of the Board for the Protection of Children and Adolescents of PANI (Costa Rica’s governmental child services agency). “We want to move from crisis to hope because hope is what children need. We as adults need it just as much”, she said.

The session ended with a panel featuring Philip Aspegren and Patrick Rutikanga. In a discussion called “The Journey Home”, they examined the difficulties and challenges in transitioning between a vulnerable lifestyle to family-based caregiving, with a focus on personal development and healthy identity in the healing journey of a child.

Philip Aspegren is co-founder of Casa Viva in San José, Costa Rica. The initiative seeks to expand the spectrum of alternatives for children who have been separated from their own biological families, through family reunification, national adoption or family-based foster care.

Patrick Rutikanga serves as organizational director of Gisimba Memorial, a foundation in Rwanda serving through afterschool and early childhood programs. He has worked at a therapeutic camp for adoptive families called Hope Connection. The camp utilizes Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), a trauma-informed practice designed to bring healing to vulnerable children. 

Aspegren highlighted that God is asking us to care about children well – not to build more orphanages. “We have confused our goal with our method”, he said. “The orphanage may be a method, but our true goal is to care for children well”. Instead of “deinstitutionalization”, we need to speak of “personalization of care” – making the right decision for each child and thinking of a fuller spectrum of care.


Living Refreshed

The evening session on Saturday included nine speakers. This time, the theme was “living refreshed”, and its focus was to examine the need to build spiritual, relational and practical care into the life of everyone who is involved with ministering among vulnerable children. “As we engage in the process of living refreshed by our relationship with the Lord, we are empowered to continue the journey together”.

The first keynote speaker, Greg Haswell, reminded the participants that there are many lives that depend on the caregiver receiving care for his or her own heart. “I’ve traveled to many nations and have spoken to hundreds of leaders over the past 40 years, and I can tell you that this is the biggest issue they face”, Haswell said. A vital part of what WWO does is to encourage leaders “to serve with the strength that God supplies”, according to 1 Peter 4:11.

With a reference to Gordon MacDonald’s timeless book Ordering Your Private World, the speaker reminded the forum that many leaders tend to prioritize what is urgent rather than what is important. “It is so important for us to seek the Lord, renew our souls and fight for our own peace – or else we’re in danger to fall into compassion fatigue”, said Haswell and added that we are in a marathon, not a sprint.

Next on the program was a panel of three speakers on the topic “How to Live Refreshed”: Sara Vargas, WWO ambassador for Latin America, Sue Austen from Zimbabwe Without Orphans, and Sean Mullens, director of Champion Engagement Love Justice.

“The devil is trying to steal your identity”, said Vargas. “And the Word of God is doing exactly the opposite: it is showing you who you truly are”. No longer slaves of sin, we are now living with a new status as children of God. In the Bible we find our identity, our value, our destiny.

In her address, Sue Austen underlined that we live in a broken world, and this impacts ministers and caregivers as well. “The first thing to do is to acknowledge what we go through”, she said with a quote from Psalm 91 where the word “dwell” actually means “to be seated”. In order to have an engaged conversation with God, having a moment of intimacy with Him, it takes an intention.

Sean Mullens started with a quote from C.S. Lewis: “to love at all is to be vulnerable”. It is a risk to build friendships and relationships – among ourselves and with God. “We need to regularly go to our Father and smell the deep aroma off Him. But then we need to find the same aroma in the fellowship of close friends who also love the Father”.

The next featured speaker, bishop Joshua H.K. Banda, was not able to attend. His place on the program was taken by Michelle Haswell, author of the book Living Refreshed. Much of the material from her book was used in WWO’s Roadmap with the same title. Michelle and her husband Greg are originally from South Africa, later called by God to plant a church in Atlanta.

In her talk, she directed the attention to Luke 5:16, “Jesus often withdrew”. Fruits are produced when we are firmly planted in God’s love, “like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3). A life that is submerged in the presence of God brings about healing, peace, an affirmed identity, power, courage, the fruit of the Spirit. Michelle reminded the participants that the same power that rose Jesus is the one abiding in us today. It is the power that is changing the trajectory of children’s lives.

The next speaker, Daniel Kagawa, is team director at the Alliance for Uganda Without Orphans. He and his wife Erika have four biological children. Besides that, they have fostered 51 children as well. They are also directors of Dove Christian School whose purpose is to help vulnerable children and orphans through food, education, and spiritual support.

Kagawa spoke on burnout due to a lot of work without rest. Many church ministers are driven to burnout – not only in Uganda, but also across the world. But God’s voice is just enough to bring peace and hope.

After this, a new panel on stage presented three more speakers: pastor Paulo Borges, co-Founder of Sal da Terra, Jephat Chifamba, chairperson of Zimbabwe Without Orphans; and Karen Springs, author of Adoption through the Rearview Mirror book.

Paulo Borges painted a mental picture of how Christians are called to sit at the same table as children of God. “We have strayed away from the important aspect of fellowship, sitting together. Our focus has turned more to salvation rather than reconciliation”, he said. “We are more about eating than serving. We think more of needs than purpose”.

He drew from a sentence in 1 Corinthians 11 saying that the church’s meetings were doing more harm than good. Borges was very firm in saying that as adults, we should come to the table to share, not to eat. Children thank God for their food. Mature people thank God for the opportunity to share. Let us be adults, Borges insisted.

“Some of us brought with themselves a person who is not supposed to be on that conference”, said Jephat Chifamba. We were hurt by someone, but we have not forgiven them. And now we are carrying that person in our soul wherever we go. Forgiveness is allowing us to let go. God wants to forgive us – and then prompts us to pass forgiveness. Sometimes we cannot go further exactly because we are holding on to unforgiveness, Chifamba added.

Karen Springs reminded the assembly that spiritual warfare is something all of us get involved in. As we throw children in families, there is a very real enemy who is set to kill, steal and destroy. In Ephesians 6, Paul reminds us to put on the whole armor of God – because we are in a battle against invisible spiritual enemies. The destiny of every child matters. To remain strong, each one of us is responsible to keep putting on that armor.

The plenary session ended with ample time for roundtable discussions and mutual intercession in small groups.


This is the second of three articles summarising the World Without Orphans 2024 Global Gathering in Thailand. Read the first part here.


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