Caring for 5,500 Orphans
20 DEC, 2016 | NEAR EAST
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” – James 1:27 (ESV)
Behind the high stone wall blocking Sharine’s* house from street view, plastic bags pile up in her courtyard. A small aisle to the front door snakes through boxes of children’s clothing and bulk packages of rice, lentils and flour. Her kitchen looks the same. Preparing tea for a handful of visitors one afternoon, she worked around the large cardboard boxes parked on her counters, full of supplies to give away. As the guests surveyed the scene, she asked them to ignore the mess. “My house is like a store,” she laughed. “I have to check all the products before I can give them away.”
The intended recipients—5,500 orphans in one of the country’s largest cities—lack even basic necessities, so Sharine has dedicated her life to caring for the thousands of children she now claims personally. “My orphans, no one will give [them] anything,” she stated.
One issue affecting the orphans is access. Although Sharine and her son, Hamid*, visit them once or twice a month, they risk a long and increasingly dangerous journey. According to Hamid, the route takes six hours if the old road is open, 11 hours if not. “You have to drive very fast,” he added. “There are areas you can’t stop the car because there are ISIS snipers.”
During a summer trip to distribute food and supplies, for example, Sharine and Hamid took an hour-and-a-half army-mandated detour onto a dirt road, necessitated by fighting between ISIS and national soldiers occurring on the route. Even standard checkpoints have deteriorated in terms of security, Hamid mentioned, as ISIS has also appeared in some areas wearing local soldiers’ uniforms.
When asked why they continue to travel to the orphans in light of the security situation, mother and son agreed their motivation was God. “We are accustomed that anything can happen to us on the way,” Hamid said.
Sharine, who has helped establish dozens of house churches throughout the country, started her current ministry by visiting 60 culturally Christian-background orphans living in a house together. After falling in love with the children, she began speaking about them to the people she encountered.
While she was still working at her previous job, a colleague overheard Sharine talking on the telephone about the orphans. “Please, sister Sharine,” she said, “I heard you speak about orphans. What orphans are you talking about?”
“I have 60 orphans,” Sharine replied.
“Yes,” the colleague continued, “I hear the church will help only Christian orphans… We have many orphans in this country. Please, if you can, visit them. Don’t give them anything, just go and see what will happen.”
Shortly after that conversation, Sharine visited Muslim orphans in different locations around the city. “When I saw the places, I was very surprised,” she remembered. “I have 60 orphans, but they are staying in a small house. But these Muslim orphans [were] in tents without electricity, without water.”
The next day, when Sharine went to work, her colleague asked about her experience. “I couldn’t sleep yesterday, thinking about this,” she said, referencing the 1,500 Muslim orphans she’d visited.
“I will send you to another place, where there are about 2,000 orphans in tents,” her colleague responded. “In some places, there are no tents, just blankets strung up or holes in the ground.”
Having seen the first 3,500 orphans, Sharine decided to quit her job to focus full-time on her ministry.
While the house churches she knew had been able to help the 60 Christian-background orphans, Sharine’s connections in-country lacked resources to care for the thousands of orphans, including Muslims, she now claimed. So she travelled abroad to fundraise amongst outside organisations, visiting churches and family members.
One organisation pledged $6,000 USD. A wealthy aunt gathered $10,000 USD from her family and friends. Another organisation planned a month-by-month partnership with Sharine. This summer, OM also added relief funds to her efforts.
Every year, Sharine holds two parties, inviting around 1,000 orphans to each celebration. The events afford opportunity to distribute new clothes, toys and an even more important message. “I call many pastors…and the pastors will speak about Jesus,” she said. The parties, therefore, serve a dual purpose for the orphans: “not only to give food and help but to let them know this is not from Sharine, this is from God.”
And according to Sharine, the orphans understand. “Most of them are Muslims, but they love Jesus. They say, ‘Jesus, Jesus. We love Jesus.’”
The wider community also commends Sharine’s work. “The police, before, [used to] ask me what is this,” she recalled. “Now the police say, ‘Thanks to God. We pray for you because you will help the orphans.’”
When Sharine told another man, a Muslim merchant, about her work, he asked how she, a Christian, would care for the needs of the Muslim orphans. “Jesus gave me this love for everyone,” she replied. In return, the man gave her extra clothing and good prices on items she wanted to distribute.
Prices are cheaper where Sharine lives than in areas close to the orphans. Transporting clothes and supplies, however, proves problematic. Beyond packing her vehicle full on the trips with Hamid, Sharine sends extra supplies with friends whenever they travel to her area for meetings, storing the rest in her house-turned-warehouse.
Still Sharine struggles to transfer money to like-minded individuals who live closer to the orphans and could provide food to them. Before distributions can take place, Sharine has to get the money to her friends, who prepare the packages using locally sourced items—a relief cycle demanding constant planning and coordination amidst an impossibly fluid security situation.
Near the end of a visit with guests at her house one evening, Sharine pulled up some pictures of her orphans on her phone. She scrolled through images from a recent party, stopping on a photo of her with a young girl. “This is Mina*,” she said. “She lost her father and mother. The thief came and killed her parents in front of her.” Now her only family are Sharine and Hamid, who Mina calls “Uncle”.
“Pray for us,” Sharine asked her guests. “I’m a widow. I [use] all my time for my family and my service… Please, if you can help my orphans, this is my special need.”
If you would like to contribute to Sharine’s ministry among thousands or orphans, please visit www.om.org/give and designate your gift to “Syrian and Iraqi relief”.
Nicole James is a journalist, ESL teacher and adventurer. As a writer for OM Middle East North Africa, she’s passionate about publishing the stories of God’s works among the nations, telling people about the wonderful things He is doing in the world.