“This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it.  It’s best to start small.  Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty.  The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.  You won’t lose out on a thing.”  Matt. 10:42

Testimony by Charlene Tinnesz, Founder of Heart for Orphans First

October 7, 2012

God first planted the seed for Heart for Orphans First in my heart in 2005.  At that time, I was doing the “Purpose Driven Life” Bible Study.  I remember struggling with the fact that I felt like I didn’t have a “purpose”.  Rick Warren suggested our purpose is to praise and worship God, and to serve; and we were made for a MISSION.  So what was MY purpose, MY mission in this life?

Then God put this huge ache in my heart for the little children in Africa who are orphaned by the Aids epidemic, many homeless in the streets, and others in orphanages with little human interaction.  I wanted to go and just hold them, rock them, give them a little taste of love….even if only for a few days.

Through a series of God moments and messages, and the support of my church, HighPoint Community Church, and others, I went on my first mission trip to Nairobi in 2010.  Without knowing anyone else on the trip, or what I was really about to do, this was a HUGE step of faith and trust for me; way out of my comfort zone….and one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  In addition to working in an orphanage there…..and wanting to bring back at least two of the little ones in my suitcase….I also experienced the second worst slum in all of Africa and children living in horrendous conditions.  The children in the orphanage were a 1000 times better off than those children living in these so-called “homes”.   But through World Hope Mission and the work they are doing there, many of these children are being given opportunities to come to their school and church and perhaps have a better future.

When I returned from that trip, I wasn’t really sure what God wanted me to do with all this; all I had seen and learned.  As I continued to struggle with the “now what, God?”, my friend Brenda Davis asked me if I’d like to go with her and her husband, Mitch, on a mission trip with her church to an orphanage in Haiti. That needed no prayerful consideration….the immediate answer was YES!  So in October, 2011, I spent 9 of the most discouraging, depressing, frightening, and yet meaningful days of my life at Caberet Baptist Children’s Home outside Port au Prince.  I was totally unprepared for this experience.  I had never seen such poverty or personally witnessed the corruption and the impacts it has.  I did not realize that the tent cities were still there….two years after the earthquake; there was still devastation everywhere.  I couldn’t see the hope I had seen in Nairobi.  I just kept thinking how hopeless this was while reminding myself that with God all things are possible.   I lay awake at night listening to the voodoo drums, as the cows moaned, dogs barked and roosters crowed all night long.  It was making me a little grumpy since it was interfering with my sleep!  Then one morning when the “noise” stopped, I heard the children downstairs in the orphanage singing hymns.  I couldn’t understand the words, since they were singing in Creole, but I could recognize the songs.  And I thought about the “symphony” that had been playing all night, and what a grand finale provided by the chorus of sweet little angels downstairs!

The conditions in the orphanage were heart-breaking.  There was a roof.. with leaking ceilings; a water filtration system that worked… some of the time; electricity…from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. .. maybe. There was no washer or dryer….except for a scrub board and basin outside, and a clothes line.  Clean was not a word that could be used, not because the workers didn’t try, but without windows and doors and in some areas with no walls, keeping out the dirt was impossible.  We washed the dishes with a Clorox solution to reduce the risk of…..well, I’ll just call it “intestinal distress”. The children have no toys; no TV; no video games.  Few books.   But the love was everywhere.  Despite the language barrier, nonverbal communication was easy.  The mission team was a magnet to these kids who loved the attention.  It was hard for me to remember their names sometimes because they were very different, like Rufael, the  little girl who would come sit with me and want to wear my flip flops .  One of the older girls was named Charlene.  The kids thought it was so funny that my name was Charlene too, only they called me “Chalene”, and soon, so did the whole mission team!

Despite our immunizations, medications, and precautions, eight of the nine team members got sick, and perhaps I got it the worst.  For two days, I laid on a cot in 100 degree heat watching the bugs crawl across the ceiling, and wanting to come home more than I can ever remember.   As I selfishly counted down the days till I would be able to leave, I watched two of the most selfless people I have ever known love, protect and dream of a better life for the children in this orphanage.  Bonnie and Mike, the directors of the orphanage, had sold their home in Mandarin, their car, and other possessions to respond to God’s call to go run this orphanage.  They dream BIG.  They pray to someday have a good stove and refrigerator; an ice machine so they won’t have to buy bags of ice at ridiculous prices; computers for the children’s education and entertainment; maybe a DVD player.  A washer and dryer would be nice, too.   There was one window AC unit in their bedroom, which Bonnie and Mike didn’t turn on because of the cost for the electricity….even though it was 98 degrees.  What could I do to help?  I wanted to pull out my checkbook and write a check to buy some of these things, but I knew that the check would have bounced all the way back to Florida.

Heart for Orphans First After returning home, as I was unpacking my backpack, I found one small heart shaped child’s earring in the bottom of my backpack.  I have no idea where it came from or how it got in there, since the children in the orphanage didn’t have jewelry.  I put the heart on my dresser, and every few days I’d pick it up and look at it and ponder how it got in the backpack and what it meant.  I’ll probably never know HOW it got there, but I do believe I know its message now:  Heart for Orphans!!

God has clearly given me direction for this mission, and I KNOW my purpose.  The passion (and compassion) I have for orphans and the desire to do something to bring both human love and Jesus’ love to them has uncovered the purpose God has planned for me!!  It only took me almost 6 decades to figure it out.  Thank goodness we have a patient God!  I am on fire to do this work, and God has been giving me clear messages on what I need to be doing to raise money to help orphanages through “fasting for orphans”.  The concept is to fast for a day, and donate the money you would have spent on food and drinks that day to “Heart for Orphans First”; the $5 at Starbucks, the money for lunch, the $15-$20 dinner.  While you’re fasting, you pray for these little ones.  And when you’re hungry and your stomach is growling, you think how it might feel to be hungry every day!   To wake up hungry and to go to bed hungry!

The money raised in 2012 will go to the orphanage in Haiti that has inspired this mission.  After that, God will direct what orphanages and where our monies will be used….Uganda, China, Russia….the need is so great.

And why Heart for Orphans First?   Because we have to perpetuate this…..it needs to be more than a one time thing.  The statistics give just a small glimpse of how big the need is. The answer to perpetuate the effort is in the First.  The first of the month is the day for fasting for orphans.  You can calendar it, make it your routine.  We can send you reminders.    Maybe you don’t do it every month; maybe you modify it to fit your personal calendar, but please, like Nike said, “Just do it!”

My dream is that this will quickly become a NATIONAL mission.  With the internet and social media, there’s an opportunity for this to grow tentacles and raise substantial money.  You know all those emails we get that say send this to 10 friends…..and how many of those friends live in other states?  That makes it a “national” mission!  And it also  creates a need to set up a non-profit corporation, have a business plan, register to be tax-exempt, have a web page, Facebook page…..whoa, what I have started here??!!  I know God has His hand in this, and He is guiding my footsteps.  This will be as big, or small, or successful as He wants it to be.  And I am sincerely humbled to think He might be using ME to help make a difference in these sweet little children’s lives.

Please prayerfully consider supporting this mission.  Fast for the orphans!  If you aren’t able to fast, or don’t want to fast, there’s other options for donating.  What an opportunity we have to serve the Lord and His children.  The Bible tells us in Hosea 14:3, “For in YOU, the fatherless find compassion.”   We can make a difference; one child at a time!