Guatemala (MNN) — As memorial services begin for the 40 girls who have so far died after fire raged in a Guatemala government orphanage, President Jimmy Morales has called for a complete revamping of the country’s child welfare system. “This is a rigid system that has become insensitive,” he said, in regards to the country’s care of orphans and vulnerable children.
Questions remain as to what will happen to the more than 700 children who were housed at Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción. Some have been returned to families, and more are on their way to a number of public and private children’s homes around the country. And as the country continues to grieve, Guatemalan government leaders have reached out to a group of community leaders for advice and collaborative discussion.
Mike Douris is the president of Orphan Outreach and a founding board member of the Christian Alliance for Orphans. He and other orphan care leaders were instrumental in the development of the Alianza Cristiana para los Huérfanos (ACH) in Guatemala, an alliance of nonprofits and churches focused on providing quality care for orphans and vulnerable children.
“It’s been encouraging in this situation — with what happened at the government orphanage — that ACH is playing a central role,” he shared in an interview on Friday. “Representatives of ACH met with the First Lady and had discussions, and then today they’re meeting with members of congress and representatives from the president. That’s very encouraging that the Church is having a significant voice, given the severe nature of this tragedy, to look forward at what can happen for the kids in Guatemala.
“Many times when we look at the enormity of the problems, you think, ‘There’s just no way I can make a difference, and I can’t make an impact.’ But the reality is God can make a significant impact, even just through one individual. But then when the Church works as it’s designed to work, where you have multiple Christians who are working together in unison to care for these kids, you can make a huge impact on a whole country.”
Douris believes the Church in the United States can also play a significant role in Guatemalan orphan care. He says it’s now time for believers in Guatemala to rise to the call of James 1:27 — of caring for widows and orphans. He believes that their involvement in all areas of orphan care is the key — from support of children in residential care to fully embracing adoption and foster care, including providing wraparound support for families who make the commitment for a season or a lifetime.
But in order for the Guatemalan Church to serve well, “they’re going to need partners in the U.S.,” he says. “You know, part of the philosophy of missions is not going down and just doing it yourself, but empowering the people in that country to address issues so if you ever leave, that work continues to go on. We need to help the Guatemalan Church really tackle this issue.
There are several ways for both individuals and churches to get involved, according to Douris, and he encourages that involvement to be with quality organizations that are already “boots on the ground” in Guatemala.
“Many times people from the U.S. who want to get involved have the passion, but they don’t develop the skills and understand the best way to go about making an impact. My encouragement is for those who do not have that experience is to walk alongside people who do. Orphan Outreach and other organizations that are working in Guatemala have the passion to do that and also the expertise to provide the skillsets needed to address those issues. It’s also important to pray — pray for the organizations that are working there, for the children, for the government.”
And Douris says involvement doesn’t stop there. He encourages engagement through mission trips and child sponsorship. “Orphan Outreach does mission trips in Guatemala, and we work with several different children’s homes and also in communities and schools with children at-risk.”
One of the primary ways Orphan Outreach helps to impact change is by connecting churches in the U.S. with ministries in-country. Programs range from family preservation to rescue and restoration, and all glorify Jesus Christ by helping to meet the physical, spiritual, emotional, and educational needs of the children they serve.
As Guatemala now looks for ways to better care for orphans and vulnerable children, Douris says prayer is essential. “Pray for the church leaders and ACH, that God would give them courage to speak out. But also to give them a voice of hope for these kids and advocate on all the tough issues in order to have a better way forward than what’s been happening in Guatemala in the past.”
To learn more about the orphan crisis in Guatemala, read part one of this special interview with Mike Douris. You can work alongside Orphan Outreach and its Guatemalan ministry partners right now to help provide for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of children who were witnesses to the tragedy at the government home.