Serving Mercy to Vulnerable Children in Orange County

04/21/2017 .
David Huang

***Note: This is a corrected version of the story originally published in the bulletin at Saddleback Church on April 22 and 23, 2017. The original article misstated that the volunteers visited the foster care children at Orangewood Children and Family Center. The volunteers mentioned worked only with young adults that were no longer in foster care because of their age. The volunteers had no connection or contact with foster children under the care of Orangewood Children and Family Center. We deeply regret any misperceptions that Orangewood was not the professional and responsible care facility it’s outstanding reputation says it is.

Jan didn’t know what to expect when she walked into the room full of women. Since beginning retirement, Jan was focused on spending her time well. She was excited to get more involved helping others in the community, volunteer at church, and develop her relationship with God. Thinking a Bible study would be a good place to start, she headed to a Saddleback Women’s group at the Rancho Capistrano campus.

As she sat down at the table, Jan realized there was no leader at her table. No one sitting there wanted to lead the discussion. Jan took a bold step for her somewhat reserved personality and decided to take charge. While unsure of what to do, she felt brave enough to set aside her own insecurities to invest in the lives of the women at her table. She saw this as an opportunity to mentor these younger women and encourage them while they learned together.

After several meetings, her uneasiness dissipated. They continued to meet each week and had lively table discussions. Jan steadily built a supportive, caring, praying, laughing, and, most of all, loving women’s community.

When the group began studying The Miracle of Mercy, Jan wanted to put the mercy they were learning about to practical use.

“I wanted my women moving beyond talking about our great God to doing an activity that would show his love with others in our community,” Jan said.

The women searched the Saddleback Mercy Project website for ideas and opportunities, eventually deciding on a project with an mentorship program that assists children that have aged out of the foster system. Many of these young adults struggle to become self-sufficient. They grew up facing emotional, physical, and drug abuse in their unstable home life. Jan’s group decided to see how they could help.

The statistics shocked the women when they heard the harsh realities many of these teenagers faced. Several women in the group didn’t even realize this problem existed. The hopeless feeling of abandonment and loss the youth experienced moved the women to tears. They had to do something to help.

The group decided to put together care bags to provide some basic needs. Jan’s group felt this simple idea could make a difference and they stepped into action.

Everyone collected supplies, working with other small groups to collect gifts these teenagers could use: toothbrushes, shampoo, and other helpful items. Jan also felt strongly that the bags needed to give an element of hope and encouragement. They gathered copies of Pastor Rick’s booklet What Am I Here For? and encouraging Bible verses to place within each bag.

When the bags were finished, Jan and several group members went to deliver them in person. They arrived during lunch and planned to make a quick exit. One young adult asked them to sit at her table and proceeded to serve Jan and her group lunch. The women were caught off guard by this kindness they were shown.

“When you see a homeless person on the street, you tend to judge harshly,” Jan said. “But as this sweet young girl served us, we realized we don’t know always know the story around anyone’s circumstances. We came to give mercy, but mercy was shown to us.”

In this one moment Jan realized the significance of their group’s act of service. “Everyone has value and we must see them as precious because they are so loved by God,” Jan said. “We decided to continue giving care after our Mercy Project was finished.”

The women in Jan’s group continue to look for ways they can serve the youth. They have joined in some of the monthly events and meetings at the facility. This Easter, the group also plans to deliver care bags once more to the residents.

“The first step is always the hardest,” Jan says. “I learned that when I signed up for an on campus study and didn’t know what to expect. When I first left my job, I had no idea God would fill my life with these miracles. Every woman in the group came to the table with different gifts but they found a common goal to reach out and serve those in need.”

“My group also learned not to judge anyone by their appearance,” Jan recalled. “We don’t know how much hurt someone has endured. Give everyone dignity. Everyone needs hope, love and faith to walk through life’s challenges. Every life is valuable in God’s eyes.”

“When you feel dissatisfaction in your life, a hunger to do something more meaningful, take a step of faith and cooperate with God. You’ll be amazed how your life will change, and how you’ll be able to change the lives of others.

Click HERE to learn more about Saddleback's Orphan Care Initiative.

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