Justice For All

The word “justice” has been intriguing me for some time now. It is often misunderstood, and it is a word that can bring both fear and hope. I think many people are confused about what justice means. Some think of it simply in legal terms as someone getting what they deserve, justice being served in a courtroom.

In fact, one of my favorite shows right now is a real-life documentary about a particular murder case. Maybe you are familiar with the current Netflix hit, “Making a Murderer”. There are two sides to this real life story about a man supposedly convicted of not one, but two murders. Some people claim he is innocent and the whole thing has been a conspiracy. Others, mainly those in the governmental legal system, clearly have decided he is guilty of the crimes. They believe that justice has been served. Whether he is in fact innocent or guilty, I’m not sure. But justice -true, pure, non-corrupt- like we see in the Bible is meant to bring hope and restoration.

As Christians we should desire to see justice carried out all over the world. This isn’t a desire for violence or retaliation, it’s a desire to put things back in order, to restore what has gone wrong.

In fact, the abandonment of justice produces insecurity and violence, deterioration in the quality of life, corrupt governments, and suffering of those who have the least.[1]

Imagine with me, if you will, a river. Not just any river, but a powerful river. This river is charging down from the top of a huge mountain. Imagine the force of the water breaking through boulders, trees, and debris at an unstoppable pace. Nothing can hold it back. Nothing can keep it from continuing its endless journey. This is what justice looks like in the Bible.

it’s a desire to put things back in order, to restore what has gone wrong

The book of Amos says that justice should “roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (5:24 NIV). So justice should continue always and never disappoint, grow tired, or weaken. Justice should roll. The rest of this passage tells us something else equally important:

I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions, I want nothing to do with your religion projects, Your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fundraising schemes, Your public relations and image making, I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music, When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

(Amos 5:23-24, The Message)

We go to church every week, we attend Christian conferences and events, and we sing our songs of praise. And all the while we forget to be a mighty flood of justice to those in need.

Justice is important to God and reflects his character. As Timothy Keller says, “God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to ‘do justice.’”[2] In fact, it has been said that when we deny justice, we are actually hiding God’s beauty from the world.”[3]

If justice is really all about making things right again, then justice is all about restoration. You don’t have to look far for a place to let justice roll: a hurting neighbor, a homeless man outside the grocery store, a couple going through a divorce, a friend mourning the loss of a loved one, a hungry child halfway around the world, or an entire country nearly destroyed by genocide. Opportunities for restoring hope through justice are all around us.

In order for justice to be served, we have to be willing to move from guilt to action. Jim Palmer says,

You’d have to be comatose not to feel God’s hurt and anger ooze from the pages of Scripture over the oppression of the weak and vulnerable…I can’t seem to get away from the fact that the main message of God to his people about injustice is to get off our rear ends and do something! This goes way deeper than feeling guilty about doing more; I’m trying to figure out how I got to the place where the things that break the heart of God are so marginal to mine. [4]

It is time once again for justice to roll like a mighty river. It is time for us to slow down long enough to see the world around us…to wake up to the real world.

Justice may not always come in the legal sense, but things can be made right again. Restoration can begin. Wrongs can be made right and hope can be restored. True justice can be served.

I heard it said recently that we are not saved from good works but we are saved for good works. And as God is sorting out all the brokenness in the world, He is calling us to help Him put things right- restore hope.

As Christ followers, isn’t that what our lives are really about? Jesus heals, rescues, restores, and redeems- that’s our one hope and the only story we have to share.

And isn’t that what justice is all about- a biblical form of justice? A justice that doesn’t just give people what they deserve but a justice that rights wrongs and restores hope.

You see if we are not living our lives Awake, restoring hope and pursuing justice… then I don’t think God cares that much about all this other stuff we are doing to make ourselves look good- our singing, our meetings, our conferences…no none of those things are bad in and of themselves, but without justice….they mean nothing.

That’s why pursuing justice is so important. We are offering people a glimpse of an eternal hope. Where justice thrives, so does hope.

[1] Isaiah ‪1:21-23: God’s Justice, NIV Bible

[2] Timothy Keller, Generous Justice, 4.

[3] Ibid.,9.

[4] Palmer, Divine Nobodies, 146.

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Refugee Crisis: Do Something

The recent Paris attacks have made one thing abundantly clear: we live in a dangerous world. It means that we should cherish and hold our children close and be diligent about their safety and security. But in places like Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, it is far more difficult for parents to keep their children safe . . . that’s if their parents are even alive. In the debate over the refugee crisis, one thing is not up for debate—hundreds of thousands of people have not only been left homeless, but they face constant fear, uncertainty, and risk of death.

Across America today, people are choosing sides. Not just for the next presidential candidate, but we are choosing sides on an issue that lies closer to our hearts, our faith, and our sense of humanity.

Close the borders . . . Take a pause . . . Only let Christians in . . . Stringent vetting process . . . Help the children . . . Keeping them out is un-American . . . Send them all back to their home countries . . . Create safe zones . . .

While we struggle to choose a side, we are simply prolonging the very issues we are fighting for and about. And while we delay, the victims continue to be oppressed and innocent children continue to suffer while we continue a debate that we will never agree on.

The truth is over 95% of the people displaced by the ongoing war in Syria and the fight against ISIS are still living in the region. They are in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Syria. And most of them hope one day to return to their homes to live in peace.

World Help’s work has been on the ground in this region for over 10 years and that is where we will remain. This decision is not one made out of fear, but because it makes the most sense. This is where we have the opportunity to make the greatest impact.

World Help is providing food, clothing, housing, medical attention, a chance for children to return to school, and small business opportunities in Iraq and Jordan. These resources are helping to sustain their lives and give them hope until they can once again return home. No matter where you stand on these issues, this seems to be an opportunity that we could all agree on.

Unfortunately, all the media attention, talk, debate, and fear of letting a small number of refugees into our own country has lead to decreased attention and funding for the overwhelming number of people who are not even trying to get in.

Unless something changes . . . and changes quickly, years from now history will write this as a moment of failure for the American church. We will have to answer to our children and grandchildren why we stood paralyzed out of fear in the face of unspeakable violence and suffering.

Movies will be made and stories will be told about the heroes of our generation—the ones who helped despite great risk.

But my greatest fear is that my name will not be counted among those who made a difference.

The famous Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.”

So, in the wake of controversy and fear, I will not stand idly by while people suffer. I will not be boxed in by the talking heads and labeled by one opinion. Instead, I will simply do something to help.

I believe that is what my faith requires of me—a faith that claims to love my neighbor. I don’t have to choose a side, but I also should not sit on the sidelines out of fear. Instead, I can embrace a posture of compassion and love.

Edmund Burke reminded us, “for evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”

May we not let our fear of choosing sides rob us of all common sense. Our politics may divide us, but our compassion should unite us.

For more information on World Help’s work with refugees and displaced people in the Middle East and how you can help make a difference, click here.

Iraq_Mar15_140[1]

 

Shamu, Extreme Poverty, and You

Today, I am sharing over on the Leading and Loving  It blog. I am talking about poverty and how you can act by being the hope to those in need. I would love if you would head over to their site and check out the post!  You can view it here.

Will you be the hope? What step will you take TODAY to be hope to someone in extreme poverty?

Alternate Endings

I read recently that in the 6th Episode of the Star Wars saga, Return of the Jedi, Harrison Ford’s character, Hans Solo, was actually supposed to die. The original script included his death during a raid on an Imperial base. But, reportedly George Lucas was worried what killing off one of the main characters would do to sales, merchandising, and the massive franchise Star Wars had become.

Nikki Noel NIldo

So, instead what did we see? An alternate ending – one that the audience could be much more comfortable with. One that left us feeling good and hopeful – one that kept us coming back for more. We saw the Ewoks and a “teddy bear luau” [1].

Alternate endings are prevalent in the film and television industry. Some endings are simply left on the cutting room floor only to go down in movie trivia history. While other deleted scenes are included in the actual release of the film letting the audience choose the ending they like best.

Usually I don’t want a choice. I like to know how a story ends and there should only be one ending. But every once and a while, a movie takes me on a journey that leads me to believe an expected ending is coming. But when it doesn’t end the way I anticipated, I am left feeling unsatisfied and confused. The movie leaves me in a place that does not feel quite right. It’s not where I thought the story was going- not the ending I would have chosen.

My mind wanders with “what if’s” and I begin to create my own alternate ending in my head. I come up with a conclusion that I like much better and that leaves things neatly wrapped up and resolved.

In the past few weeks I have found myself desperately longing for an alternate ending to real life – not a movie – but my real life story. It’s a story I have been telling nearly as long as I can remember. I guess you could say, in some ways, it’s the story of my life.

You see more than 25 years ago I met a special little boy on the streets of Brazil. His name was Nildo. He was a street child. His father had abandoned him and his mother could not afford to care for him. He slept on a bench and had no clothes or shoes. He was dirty and hungry.

Meeting this young boy changed my life. It taught me an important lesson – I may not be able to save all the hurting children in the world, but I could make a difference for one. And years later, I have never forgotten.

He grew into a fine young man, helping other children and even starting a family of his own. He was able to come to the states for a visit where we were able to see each other again and reconnect. His story has literally touched and inspired thousands around the world. And to say his life changed mine would be an understatement.

Nildo Recent


(I write about Nildo in my book, Awake and you can watch a short video about his story here.)

A few weeks ago I received some tragic news. It was unexpected and a total surprise. The story of my life, Nildo, was gone. My inspiration, my motivation, and my success story to prove the work that I do is important – it had disappeared in what seemed like an instant.

In our connected world today there is no time for grief – no time to process things privately. We are expected to instantly post, comment, “like” and have 140 characters to wrap it all up in.

But I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. I needed time. I needed to ask God all the questions a good Christian girl is not supposed to ask. I needed to ask “why?”

I was stuck in the first two stages of grief … denial and anger. And the anger was winning.

I couldn’t talk about it. Instead I fumed inside. The lyrics to a Dixie Chicks song played over and over again in my head – “I’m not ready to make nice – I’m not ready to back down. I’m still mad as … ” Well, you get the point.

Yes, I was mad. Because, this wasn’t part of my story. This was not the story I had created. This was not the story I had been telling people all these years. This was not the story I had just filmed for a special online conference that aired just days after Nildo’s death.

No, this was not my story. My story had a happy ending, one I could explain and tie to a practical inspirational truth. My story made sense.

This story – this reality I was being forced to consider – felt like some alternate ending to a movie I didn’t even want to see.

My story gave people the ending they craved. It kept them coming back for more. It gave them hope. And, it neatly wrapped up an important truth. If we reach out and do our part, lives can be changed. Nildo was that shining example of a life transformed. He was inspiration to look past the masses and zero in on the one child, the one person God has put in your path. He helped us “see the one”.

That is what I thought his story was all about. That is what I thought my story was all about. And that is how I thought God wanted to use his story.

So, the tragic news stopped me in my tracks.

These past weeks I have been mourning the loss of his life. That little boy I met so many years ago that grew to be such a loving and caring young man. I have been mourning the loss of a father and husband who leaves behind a wife and three small children, one born just days after his death. That little girl will never know her father and what an incredible man he was. I have been morning the loss of a friend – a son.

But I have also been mourning the loss of the story – my story.

I am realizing now more than ever before that Nildo’s story was never my story to begin with. I was just a small part of his story. A big beautiful story but one that I cannot write all the chapters in. There is no alternate ending to choose from, just one tragic end to a life beautifully lived.

And here’s the question I have started asking myself: How much are we willing to risk to let God write our stories? Am I really brave enough to let God write my story … my whole story – with no alternate endings to choose from?

You see, we get into trouble when we start to think we can save the world. Yes, we can make a difference, but we cannot save. And, we cannot write all the chapters in the story.

We are all just supporting roles – up for Best Supporting Actor, or Actress. But make no mistake, there is only one writer and only one person up for the Oscar for Best screenplay. This is God’s story and he is writing it His way – one changed life at a time.

If I am honest, I am still angry. But, my anger is a righteous one. As Bill Hybels calls it – it is a “Holy Discontent”. One that longs for a world where children are never abandoned and forgotten. One that longs for a world where children don’t have to live with those scars and fight those fears the rest of their lives. For a world that allows full healing and recovery on this side of heaven. A world where love does win … I long for a new world.

And maybe this is what living out an authentic faith truly means … Maybe this is what we are supposed to do, supposed to think about. Maybe that longing is what drives us, pushes us, and inspires us to keep going against all odds.

That desire to restore hope and bring God’s kingdom to life here on earth … not in the future, but now in our time. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In the end, that is what hope is all about, and what our lives should be all about.

Hope restored to a hurting world.

The one thing I know is this:

Nildo lived.

He lived and because he lived – I lived. I have lived a life that would have been very different without meeting him.

Because he lived his story touched thousands – hundreds of thousands – inspiring them to get involved.

He lived and became a son, brother and true friend loved by many.

My one comfort is that this child who bore the scars of abandonment, fear, loneliness, and pain now rests in the arms of a loving God – truly rescued once and for all.

Right now Nildo’s death feels like the end to a spectacular story. But I have to believe God is not finished yet. And personally I am not ready for this movie to be over. I don’t want to see the words “the end” appear on the big screen.

There might not be any alternate endings to choose from, but I do believe this is just one chapter in a never-ending story … a story that God is writing everyday.

So, goodbye sweet Nildo. How could I ever forget you? Because of you, I am forever Awake to the needs of the world. You changed my life and I truly am the lucky one.

To give a gift in Nildo’s memory to help support his family click here.

[1] http://www.avclub.com/article/gary-kurtz-outlines-original-darker-ewok-less-endi-44162

Going Beyond the Rescue

When I began traveling to Guatemala, one of the first things I noticed was the alarmingly high rate of birth defects. Malnutrition, sickness, and poor prenatal care take a permanent toll on both the mothers and children in this impoverished nation.

Disorders like cleft palates, deformities, and other handicaps are tragic for any parent . . . but I’ve learned that in Guatemala, they can mean a death sentence.

In fact, Guatemala has one of the highest national percentages of spinal and brain birth defects in the world. Like most developing countries, Guatemala has very few specialized healthcare facilities, let alone pediatric care for children with disabilities. The majority of these families are too poor and isolated to seek the help they need. As a result, many children are left untreated and some will die. Thousands of these children are in immediate need of critical care.

Our partner Carlos Vargas is close to celebrating the completion of a new special-needs home that World Help was able to provide near the Baby Rescue Center. I’ll be traveling to Guatemala this month to dedicate this new branch of Operation Baby Rescue, and I couldn’t be more excited. For hundreds of families in the surrounding regions, this new home means that their children will finally receive the care they need to live healthy, productive lives.

Please watch the third portion of a three-part interview as Carlos explains what this new home means for the families caring for these special-needs children: exclusive treatments, therapies, medicines, and each child will receive adequate nurturing on an individual level. The home will also serve as a rehabilitation center where children can come on an as-needed basis.

As the home nears its final stages of construction, I ask you to join me in praying that it will restore hope to countless families in Guatemala. You can also support the home by giving a one-time donation or pledging any amount toward the start-up and sustainability of the program. No matter how you pray or give, your action invests in those who need it the most.

 

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Rescue a Life: Create Sustainable Hope

Baby Rescue does more than just save lives—it’s reversing the cycle of despair in Guatemala through the hope of sustainability.

A child rescue is a family affair. We believe true health takes teamwork, unity, and the bond of community. Operation Baby Rescue not only saves the lives of children, but it invests in their parents as well. The initiative is intentional about making sure families have the workable knowledge to provide their children with lasting health.

I’ve spoken with mothers who have no idea that the dirty water their children drink keeps them from absorbing essential nutrients. It’s not surprising that the malnutrition rate is so high in this country. It’s not that these families don’t care . . . they just don’t know. But through Operation Baby Rescue, we can help change that!

In addition to families, every child rescue seeks to involve an entire village, giving it essential provisions and tools for sustainability that will prevent further heartache. When a community understands the achievable cycle of health, true well-being will become the norm. A communal awareness of development is so absolutely crucial if we want to bring permanent change to impoverished Guatemalan villages.

Watch the second of a three-part interview with our partner Carlos Vargas as he explains how rescuing children in Guatemala is beyond simply removing them from hazardous environments. It’s about creating a cycle of sustainability that sets the stage for lasting hope.

I hope you understand that when you support Operation Baby Rescue, you help establish futures of health, promise . . . and hope for all.

Will you join the rescue?

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I see you, sweet boy

I love people who are positive. I am drawn to people who are happy. I enjoy people who don’t complain.

I wish I could say that I am always one of those people, but I can’t. However, I want to be.

And I think that is what I love most about Bob Goff. I heard Bob speak at a recent conference and loved his simple yet powerful message: Love God, Love People – Do Stuff!

That’s it. That is his whole message. And when you think about it, that is really all you need to know.

If you’ve ever read anything by Bob or heard him speak in person, you’ll know that he’s an extremely positive person.

Don’t get me wrong: He doesn’t try to call a tragedy a positive thing. He tells the truth about it. The heartache, the pain, the confusion. But he doesn’t stop there.

Bob has mastered the art of finding redemptive perspectives, so that he tells even the most tragic story in a way where you can almost see hope rising to the surface.

I want to be like Bob.

Because it seems like every day I am confronted with a tragic story. Stories I want to share, but ones where I struggle to find the redemption. Stories that, if I am not careful, leave me in a state of despair.

This is one of those stories.

I met Jenri (Henry) a few years ago in Guatemala. He sat in a swing in our baby rescue center . . . barely moving. He was skin and bones. He had been rescued, but had a long battle ahead of him. His prognosis was uncertain.

At first glance he appeared to be an infant . . . maybe 6 months old. But to my surprise, he was two years old and weighed only 10 pounds.

His story was nothing new, at least not in this part of the world. A life of extreme poverty and malnutrition had taken its toll.

For two years Jenri fought for his life surrounded by people who loved him—the caring workers in the center and the countless people who visited him and held his frail little body in his arms.

People like Lauren.

I first met Lauren on a World Help blogging trip to Guatemala. We asked her to come and help us share these rescue stories. The day Lauren met Jenri is a day that changed her life. She writes about this in one of her blogs, saying, “I saw him and touched his skeleton body and talked to him and told him, ‘I see you, sweet boy’.”

This was the beginning of Lauren’s beautiful journey . . . a journey that has made her an advocate for these children, a journey that led her to the process of adoption, and a journey that continues to lead her to be a voice for the voiceless.

But not every story has a happy ending. Just days ago, and a month
before his 4th birthday, Jenri lost his battle and the world lost a precious soul.

And as I share this story with you, this is where I have to make a conscious choice. I must decide whether to sit down and cry . . . to ask the never ending question “Why” . . . to shake my fist at God . . . to throw my hands up in despair and say, “The fight is just not worth it” . . .

Or to add this . . .

This is not where the story ends. You need to know that Jenri was loved. Jenri was treasured. Jenri mattered. And Jenri’s life will be the inspiration to help so many more children.

Jenri’s short life was filled with pain and struggle. But, when he came to the end, he had what really mattered.

His life changed the world . . . because Jenri’s life changed the lives of Lauren and countless others who held his frail little body, looked into his big brown eyes, and whispered in his ear, “I see you, sweet boy.”

Today we honor Jenri . . .

We still see you sweet boy, and we will continue see you in the eyes of every child who is saved . . . because you once lived.

Photo by Hope of Life International

 

Don't talk about Jesus dying on the cross _ Noel Yeatts

Don’t talk about Jesus dying on the cross …

Noel Yeatts - Don't talk about Jesus dying on the cross - blog

A little known fact about me is that for years I played the harp. I played at weddings, church services, receptions, parties, and special events. Besides having to lug that heavy thing around, load it in and out of my car, and deal with a few crazy brides … I loved it.

I received a request one time to play at a church. I was not familiar with this particular church or the denomination, but I agreed to play. Everything was going fine until the music minister informed me that I could not play any songs that talked about Jesus dying on the cross, or the blood of Jesus.

I literally thought … wait a minute … did he actually just say that?  Don’t talk about Jesus dying on the cross?? Are you serious?

But, oh yes, he was serious. And so, that is exactly what I did. The music I played was more “easy listening” than hymns and everything made a little more sense when the service closed with the congregation standing in a circle, holding hands and singing “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me …”

I was thinking about this today as Easter is only days away, and wondering how do you celebrate Easter without the cross? How do you worship without acknowledging the blood that was shed for our sins?  And for that matter, how do you even have a church without these essentials? There is no church without the blood, death and resurrection, right?

Now, I am all for peace on earth and for letting it begin with me. But what is more important is why I believe that. So much of what I do is about giving people physical help … meeting their immediate and desperate physical needs. But, what I love most about what I do is the holistic approach that we take … meeting physical and spiritual needs. It is never one without the other.

Because there is no help without hope. Because without the hope that only comes from the cross, meeting these physical needs, is just a short-term fix.

 

And the same is true in our lives. We all have needs and there is only one way to truly meet those needs … Jesus. No matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we work, no matter how good we are … the cross is still the only thing that saves us.

So, let there be peace on earth … let it begin with me. But, let it begin with me because of what He has done for me. I have been rescued by the cross so that I may now rescue.

Rescue Story: Marta

On my last visit to Guatemala, I met a precious baby girl who was literally snatched from death’s grip. If it hadn’t been for Operation Baby Rescue, Marta would only be a memory. Please watch her story, and see the transformational difference we can make in the life of a malnourished child.

Operation Baby Rescue was launched to give these very families and their children the opportunities for restored health, peace, and hope. With your help, we’ve rescued more than 4,000 children in the past several years—and in 2012 we want to rescue 1,000 more.

Can you imagine watching your child suffer? Completely unable to help or provide comfort? Every year, thousands of impoverished Guatemalan families must watch helplessly as their children fade from life to death—malnutrition gives them no choice.

In some of the rural villages of Guatemala I’ve visited, four out of five children are affected by severe malnutrition. The pain and anxiety they experience is beyond my comprehension. But along with World Help, I’m determined to provide these innocent children with relief and protection from a disease that can be easily treated.

Life is so precious . . . so valuable. And every child, just like Marta, deserves a healthy future. Will you join Operation Baby Rescue and bring healing to some of the world’s most desperate children?

Visit worldhelp.net/rescue to invest in the health and well-being of a child today.

Join the rescue!

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The other side of rescue

“If you had not found me, I would not be alive today.” The young girl standing before us passionately shared from her heart. A heart full of thanks. A life changed.

Katie and the young adults gathered around her were the first children World Help met in Gulu, Uganda years ago. Their world had been totally turned upside down because of the terror of Joseph Kony and the LRA. Some had been forced to leave their homes and live in IDP camps. Some had been abandoned. And, some had been kidnapped to become child soldiers … forced to do the unimaginable. These were the children the world had forgotten.

Sponsored Children from Uganda

But, you would have never known that today. Today they were joyful, happy, thankful, and praising God. They are now teachers, fashion designers, welders, and beauticians.

As Katie finished sharing her story with us, she fell to her knees, overcome with emotion and gratitude.

The moment was moving and humbling. As I sat in my chair, trying to control my own emotions, I couldn’t help but think … this is what the other side of rescue looks like:

renewal … redemption … restoration.

But that is not where rescue begins.

I thought about the day before, standing in the hospital where malnourished and sick babies are abandoned. I thought about the little 7-year-old boy who looks like he is 3. He is alone, but finally well enough to make a move to our Baby rescue Center at Destiny Villages of Hope. Today he will begin his rescue journey. Today his life will begin to change.

Noel Yeatts and litte Ugandan boy

The change will not come overnight. Sometimes a rescue is years in the making. It takes commitment and dedication.

Rescue begins in a dirty, desperate place.

But on the other side you find something beautiful … grace … justice … love. On the other side of rescue, you find hope.

We found that today.

We are halfway towards our goal of providing a new baby dorm that will house ten more children!
Learn more and Join the Rescue by clicking the link below.

World