Where would you go if your family were on the verge of separation because you could no longer afford to feed your children? What if your support system—family, friends, community—were all in the midst of similar circumstances themselves and unable to help you? Whom would you trust? In Zimbabwe, Forgotten Voices highlights how the local church is in a unique position to support family preservation, and how this kind of work is pursued with tenacity and faithfulness. Otto Monroy, Vice President of Forgotten Voices, believes that strengthening the church is a critical approach to orphan care. Forgotten Voices partners with local pastors on the ground, carrying out the vision “to innovate orphan care through the local church by catalyzing a sustainable, community-based response to the orphan crisis” in Southern Africa. In Zimbabwe, where the majority of people are unemployed and every person knows someone who has been orphaned, this is a tremendous undertaking.
When Forgotten Voices connects with a church in Zimbabwe, they start by listening. They listen to the local pastors and community leaders who are already doing the needed work. From the formation of the organization, the leadership of Forgotten Voices has felt that bringing good questions is far more important than bringing their own good ideas from the United States—which has proven to be a critically important aspect of their approach. One pastor they worked with told them, “I have been in orphan care for 20 years, but I have never been asked my perspective.” Starting from a place of humility, their approach recognizes that they do not know all the answers to the multitude of challenging questions and contextual nuances. This commitment to listen and come alongside others with open hands builds trust and makes for more effective solutions for children, as interventions remain relevant to the local community.
To implement orphan care best practices, the first piece of support they provide to churches is to assist in identifying areas of opportunity and strength. The church leadership works with a Forgotten Voices staff member to create a custom plan inspired by what the church is already doing, what they envision needs to be done, and what materials and human resources already exist in the community. Forgotten Voices shares best practices and helps to shape the plan by providing structure. Only when community leadership approves the custom plan does Forgotten Voices provide financial investment.
Based on previous lessons learned, investment does not exceed a level beyond what the community could eventually raise on its own to fund orphan care. Local pastors have expressed that partnerships must be smaller than what may be available for investment so as not to disrupt the balance of self-sufficiency in the community. Church leaders want their congregations to continue tithing, assisting each other, and not develop a mindset that their contributions to the community do not matter because help will eventually come from outsiders. This empowerment model is complemented by Forgotten Voices’ unique commitment to what they call quiet investment, which means that people receive care through the support of their local churches instead of through the name of Forgotten Voices. Monroy emphasizes that “Whenever possible, children and caregivers who benefit do not know about Forgotten Voices. Their ongoing relationship is with the local church, not us.” Ultimately, the Church in Zimbabwe had the desire to provide more holistic care to orphans by helping fewer children but providing more support. This necessitates smaller project size, but means that investment can create more comprehensive interventions for children and will be more sustainable over time for churches.
In the town of Bulawayo, this work has impacted the community of Nguboyenja Brethren in Christ Church. Anashe* is a teenage girl whose father passed away and whose mother disappeared and was not in touch or supporting her. She was living with her aunt’s family, which was struggling to properly care for her as they already had four children; she was at risk of being sent away from the family to live on her own. Pastor Ayi became aware of the situation and began to build this family’s needs into the church’s plan with the support of Forgotten Voices. The church was able to provide the family with basic necessities for Anashe, including school fees and consistent support through regular family visits. Her aunt participated in a caregivers’ workshop that included training on how to support Anashe in her education. This level of intervention was possible because Forgotten Voices connects churches with partners such as Hope for Grieving Children, an organization that trains caregivers in walking with children through the grief of losing their parents.
Because of Pastor Ayi’s knowledge of his own community, he and the church were able to say to the family, “You have a functioning family; do not send her away,” and then provided the necessary interventions. This scenario is not unique, as the majority of the families in Zimbabwe are caring for someone who is not their biological child, making a culture of alternative family care commonplace. As widespread as kinship care is, it is also one of the least adequately supported forms of alternative care. Nguboyenja Brethren in Christ Church is just one example showing how the local church can strengthen and support families to care for orphans and vulnerable children. When the local church directly impacts its community, God’s love for those people is made visible. All around the world, God’s children have a distinct and critical role to play in the work of his Kingdom. This privilege is not reserved for people born into the wealthy American church, but is something we are all called to step into.
The partnering and empowerment model that Forgotten Voices uses improves after each interaction with a local church community. For those who are new to the model and interested in investing in orphan care in Zimbabwe, Monroy shares a simple way to communicate the importance of family-based care and family preservation. He believes, “In our gut we understand that children should remain in families, but somehow when we cross an ocean, we change the rules. If we died, we would want our children to have the closest thing to a family experience as possible. We don’t send our children to orphanages here.” Because of the quiet investing that Forgotten Voices is doing with churches in Zimbabwe, more orphaned children are able to remain with their families, in their own communities, and see the love of God shown through their local church.
*Name has been changed.