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Dear Friends, Family, and Visitors,

 

The past year has been full of change and discovery as I have stepped out in faith into new experiences while continually leaning on my faith to direct my path. In my pursuit and desire to serve others, I have welcomed a new opportunity to be part of a dynamic organization called Children of the Nations (COTN) as their Social Care Program Leader. 

 

COTN’s vision is a simple one: To raise children who transform nations. They do this by partnering with local people in each country they serve, to provide holistic, Christ-centered care for orphaned and destitute children. It is not about relief or handouts. It is about providing for every aspect of a child’s care—meeting their physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual needs—in the hope that this care will enable them to grow into well-rounded individuals who create positive and lasting change in their nations. COTN currently cares for more than 4,000 children in Sierra Leone, Malawi, Uganda, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.  

 

Join my prayer team:                                                                                    

I would like to ask you to join and come along side me to live out my passion by being part of my prayer team. This work can be emotionally and spiritually difficult, as I am working with one of the most vulnerable populations in the world. Your prayers are daily coverings of strength, protection, and perseverance. As you pray for me, the children, and the social care teams in each country, you are helping in the work to raise emotionally healthy children who transform nations, and I am so grateful.   

 

My journey to serve:                                                                          

I was introduced to COTN at the beginning of my graduate program in 2019. After discovering what COTN was accomplishing, my desire to work in the development sector in the area of social work was further ignited, encouraged, and confirmed.  

 

My path to social work started when I was living and working in a village in Sierra Leone, West Africa. It was both one of the best and hardest experiences I have had in my life. It was difficult physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I was immersed in a foreign land, culture, and language. Resources were sparce and poverty enveloped the country. My eyes were open to both the struggle and the resiliency of the people. The locals greeted me with generous and gracious hearts, teaching me the importance of approaching life with humility and gratitude every day and in every situation. In a place with truly little, they gave abundantly. It was a pivotal and life changing experience and one that I deeply relied on my faith. It changed the way I approached my life and work because it instilled the value of proximity (coming along side others) and people-centered work.  

 

It became clear to me that the practice of social care was one that aligned with both my natural heart's desire and passion for seeing others socially and emotionally healthy. As a result of my experience in Sierra Leone, I was led to pursue further credentials by applying to social work graduate programs, to be professionally equipped to serve others in a responsible way. To be serving with COTN today is full circle. I can see how my past experiences prepared me for this role today. I am truly looking forward to supporting each county and being part of COTN’s vision. 

 

More about COTN Social Care:                                                              

The holistic area of Social Care addresses two primary areas of a child’s growth and development: finding their place in their family and culture and their emotional and mental health.  Within each child is the desire to know who they are, where they are from, and how they fit into the world. Because the vision at COTN is to raise children who transform their nations, part of the Social Care department’s desire is for our children to develop a full understanding of where they come from and how they can be agents of positive change within their culture. COTN children are raised by caregivers of their own culture, in their own country. Traditional ethnic music, dance, storytelling, and dress are encouraged as an important part of their heritage. By partnering with village or community leaders, our children grow up with strong ties to their communities. We also provide opportunities for our children (especially our orphaned children) to maintain connections with relatives or extended families.  

 

Many of the children we serve have experienced trauma, abuse, and grief. Orphans, a vulnerable, unprotected group, have not only experienced the immense grief of losing one or both of their parents, but are also at especially substantial risk of abuse because they have no one looking out for their best interests.  

Many children in the African countries we serve have experienced trauma in the midst of war—witnessing death and murder, or in some cases being forced to commit murder or other atrocities themselves, often beginning with their own family members. Understandably, these experiences have left these children broken, guilty, angry, untrusting, and in need of emotional healing.  

 

In many developing countries, where basic medical care is unavailable, mental health care and counseling services are unheard of. COTN counselors work with children and adults in an effort to provide healing and restore emotional health. Using individual and group counseling therapies, COTN staff have seen great strides toward emotional healing.  

 

How you can support:                                                                                                                                             

I would like to ask you to prayerfully consider financially supporting my missionary work with COTN, partnering with me as I use my gifts, past experiences, education, and talents to make a difference in the lives of children in need. I am seeking to partner with friends, family, local churches, and businesses who would like to share in making this mission possible.  

 

As the Social Care Program Leader for COTN, my primary duties will be to help support and advocate for critical social and emotional care for children from traumatic backgrounds and to provide development support to local staff who provide direct care to children in Sierra Leone, Malawi, Uganda, The Dominican Republic, and Haiti.   

 

I look forward to sharing many more details and encouraging stories with you in the near future.   

 

With Kindness,  

 

Johanna Larson

Social Care Program Leader 

 

Join my prayer team by email johannalarson@cotni.org  

Tribute to Mr. Samuel Ngoneh

Published Mon, Dec 20, 21. Written by Nate Hersey.

 

The entire family of Children of the Nations has been shaken by the tragic loss of our Sierra Leone Country Director, Mr. Samuel Ngoneh. Samuel was loved by the children and young people he served so sacrificially for the last 14 years, and in that time, he impacted the lives of thousands. He was loved by those he served with, who knew him as a true partner; a collaborator; an incredibly hard worker; and a man of faith, respect, and integrity, gifted with wisdom and humility. The sound of his laughter and sight of his broad smile would lighten the heaviest of moods. With the loss of the deepest friendship comes the deepest pain, and today, our hearts are broken.

Mr. Samuel Ngoneh joined Children of the Nations as a teacher in 2007. Samuel would later speak of a very specific sense of calling from God, but that calling was immediately tested when he arrived in Banta and walked down the narrow bush path to where the first teacher’s quarters had been built in this remote corner of Moyamba District. He questioned his decision, wondering what God was asking of him and why. But this was a doubt that lasted only until his first visit to the Children’s Home. At the Home, he met children who had been through desperate tragedies, which he could relate to from his own life experiences. That was when he understood the vision of Children of the Nations, a vision that would guide his service with our ministry from that moment right until the end of his life.

The loss of his father at an early age had a profound impact on Samuel’s life and character. Anytime he would tell stories of his life from before his work with Children of the Nations, you would hear of the beginnings of character traits that had become his defining features. You could see how his passion for education and the empowerment of women and girls was formed by seeing how his mother had struggled after the death of his father. In his story of assisting a village bakery in exchange for his school fees, you could see the forming of his incredible work ethic and sense of stewardship. When he shared his testimony of coming to faith at a Bible study in Freetown in 1997, you could hear the humility of a man who recognised that he had been graced with salvation by our Father in Heaven. When he talked about his years as a technician for electrical installations and refrigeration units, you could see the dedication to excellence in his work that ensured the trust of those he served with. Samuel began his career within Children of the Nations Sierra Leone first as Teacher, then Resource Coordinator, then to Centre Supervisor, promoted to Operations Manager, and then to Country Director. But in his story of coming to Banta for the first time, and not feeling settled until he had spent time in the Children’s Home, Samuel’s real heart for ministry and the compassion that would make him such an incredible advocate, such a passionate mentor, and such a determined leader, were seen. Samuel was always willing to share these often difficult stories from his life with colleagues and children in need of hope that real transformation is possible. This vulnerability and openness is another measure of the man and a key reason that his life has had such a profound impact on so many.

This year, under Samuel’s leadership, Children of the Nations Sierra Leone completed work on a five-year strategic plan. The twin focus on compassionate care for children and careful stewardship of all the resources God gives were developed by the entire team, but Mr. Ngoneh’s influence is clear. Samuel’s passions will continue to change the lives of children in desperate need for years to come. Samuel used to talk about how he would always be willing to serve at Children of the Nations as long as he would be given the freedom to preach the Gospel to the people of the surrounding communities. His work with Church of the Nations over the years has been incredible, as he often used his own resources and his spare time to bring up disciples in places like Ngolala and Jiminga. His love of these communities and the families of Upper Banta was a constant source of inspiration, and his work with community leaders was a model for others to follow. He championed issues of child protection at every opportunity and showed courage and boldness in the face of injustice and abuse. It is our prayer that others will take up these mantles and continue the work of bringing light into the darkness with the confidence that Samuel always clung to, knowing as he did that God goes before us.

From afar, we had the joy of seeing the relationship between Samuel and Alice blossom into one of love and respect and, in 2010, marriage. Samuel loved his wife, and in their partnership, they provided a beautiful example of a union that puts Christ at its center. Samuel was a loving father to Arlene and to Samuella and took such pride in them. He was determined that they would readily have opportunities that he'd had to suffer and toil to access. Alice, please know that we are mourning with you, that we are praying for you, that we wish to be here for you when you need us. Psalm 34, v. 18 says, “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” It is our prayer that you will be comforted by the close and loving embrace of your Father in Heaven.

In a couple of days, we will celebrate Christmas and the hope that the coming of Jesus Christ gives to each of us. Samuel loved Christmas and loved making it special for the children of Banta. Every year, he would choose to celebrate Christmas with them and try to imagine how he could make it even more memorable than the previous year. It breaks our hearts that it is during this Christmas season that we have lost him. And yet, Christmas is the time when we are so powerfully reminded that God has a plan and how that plan rarely unfolds in ways that we would expect. The coming of Christ at Christmas set our salvation in motion, and for our dear friend Samuel, and all those who give their lives to Christ, this leads to the truth of Revelation 21, vs. 3-4: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Samuel, your greatest impact was in the way you shared your life with others. It was in the way you challenged our faith. It was in the love you showed us, quietly and without looking for the praise of men. It was in one-on-one conversation, listening to what others had to say, sharing a joke and a story, encouraging those who needed it, meeting a need when you could, showing gratitude, and offering praise when it was earned. Our hearts are broken because we will miss you, and the world seems a harsher, lesser place without you in it. But we draw inspiration from your faith in the God of this world, and we know that you now bask in His almighty presence. You served with vision and faithfulness. And we will be together again.

May we all know the peace and comfort of our Wonderful Counselor at this difficult time.

 
 
Rev Chris Clark


International President, Children of the Nations International

 

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Miracle in Malawi—A Modern Loaves and Fishes Story

Published Mon, Sep 27, 21. Written by Kelly Flannery.

Camp is a special time at Children of the Nations. It’s a time for children to play games, sing songs, do arts and crafts, and learn about God’s love for them. It’s where many children learn about God for the first time or commit their lives to Him. So, what better place for God to perform a miracle?

 

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Francisco is our spiritual care director in Malawi. When he was planning for this year’s summer camp for the primary school children, he knew to plan for more children than usual. This was going to be one of the first community events after the pandemic lockdowns. We typically have about 500 children at our camps, so Francisco planned for about 800.  

 

But God had other plans.

 

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About 1,800 children showed up to camp, more than twice what Francisco had anticipated. Francisco says, “Then we had to deliver the same activities we planned and not compromise any quality of our programming.”  

 

They had games and teaching like originally planned. Francisco then gave an altar call, and over 186 children gave their lives to Christ!

 

Normally, we hold camps on our campus, but this year we held them in the communities we serve. This meant children who normally couldn’t have attended were able to come to camp this year.

 

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It was then time to hand out food, but they only had enough food for the 800 children they had anticipated. How would they possibly be able to feed the 1,000 additional children that had shown up?

 

But after handing out food to 800 children, there was still more. They reached 1,000, and there was still more. They reached 1,200, 1,500, 1,700…all 1,800 children received food that day.

 

Francisco says it was a loaves and fishes moment. He had packed the truck with the food for that day himself, and he knew there was only enough for 800. But somehow all 1,800 children got something to eat.

 

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In the book of John, Jesus has a crowd of 5,000 people following Him. He wants to feed the crowd, but all they have is five small loaves of bread and two small fish.

 

Jesus uses this small amount of food to feed all 5,000 people. “Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.” (John 6:11 NIV)

 

God used this same miracle to feed all the children at camp that day.

 

The theme of this year’s camp was, “I Can Do All Things Through Christ.” Francisco says, “Our emphasis was to encourage and remind our children that despite the season and time we are in where everything seems so impossible to achieve, they can still make things come to life again as far as they put their faith and trust in God.”

 

In this miraculous moment, God proved once again that anything is possible when you trust in Him.

The Life of a Stateless Child

Published Fri, Sep 03, 21. Written by Kelly Flannery.

When the COVID-19 pandemic threw the world into chaos, many governments tried to provide aid and relief to their citizens. But what if you weren’t a citizen of any country?

 

Many of the children we serve in the Dominican Republic would have been left to face the pandemic alone. They are stateless.  

 

These individuals were born in the Dominican Republic (DR), but because their parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents are from Haiti, they aren’t recognized as citizens.

 

In the eyes of many in the Dominican government, they do not exist.

 

That means more than 133,000 people in the DR don’t have access to any public services like education, medical care, clean water, or government aid. They can’t vote. They have no rights.

 

This keeps them in a vicious cycle of poverty that is nearly impossible to escape.

 

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Imagine being told you don’t belong in the only home you’ve ever known. That you also don’t belong in the country your ancestors are from. That you aren’t worthy of the care and compassion the other people around you are shown. What would that tell you about your worth? How could you feel any sense of dignity?

 

In the DR, one of the most dire secondhand effects of the pandemic has been the food and hunger crisis. While Dominican citizens received food from the government, children and families who are stateless have not.

 

This affects many of the children that Children of the Nations (COTN) serves in the DR. About 50% of them are stateless.

 

COTN usually receives funding and meals to feed these children through the school system. But this support went away when schools closed during the pandemic.

 

Francisco, our country director in the DR, says that during the pandemic many of the parents weren’t able to leave their homes to find work—it seemed that there would be no way for them to feed their families. But “Thanks to [Children of the Nations], during the pandemic the children had food on their tables every day.”

 

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Thanks to your generosity, not one child in the communities we serve has gone hungry during the pandemic. You helped feed 1,451 children and their families throughout 2020.

 

You also provided clean water, hygiene kits, medical distributions, health checkups, and more to keep children and their families safe during the pandemic. Without your help, the children would have no access to these resources.

 

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The problems Haitian-Dominicans face are a big part of why Children of the Nations came to the Dominican Republic. Now, you are changing the lives of thousands of these children—children like Luisa.

 

Luisa grew up without any basic services. She could not dream of attending school—her community had none. “In the past,” she shares, “it was very difficult to study because we did not have a school and we were discouraged to study.” But that changed when COTN came to her community and built a school. Finally, Luisa could get an education and dream of a better future.

 

Now, she works as a teacher for COTN and is an inspiration to the children in her community. “Many children say they want to be like me in the future, a teacher,” says Luisa.

 

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COTN also serves Haitian-Dominicans through our medical clinic. Because of this clinic, children and their families who can’t afford medical care are able to receive the life-saving surgeries, medicines, and treatments they need. Hundreds of surgeries are performed there each year through the help of visiting surgical teams.

 

Because of you, lives and communities have been transformed. But there is still much more work to be done.

 

The DR has been hard hit by the pandemic, and they had another severe spike of cases in June. During this spike, schools had to return to virtual learning, ICU capacity filled up, food prices skyrocketed, and some of the children and staff were infected. The challenges of this pandemic aren’t over yet.

 

But with you by their side, these children will have the physical, educational, social, and spiritual care they need to become the next generation of leaders. These children will know they matter, they are worthy of care, and they belong right where they are.

 

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P.S. To help children in the Dominican Republic, donate to the Dominican Republic - Most Urgent Funding Needs fund.


Contributions are solicited with the understanding that Children of the Nations has complete discretion and control over the use of all donated funds. Children of the Nations will attempt to honor gifts preferenced to support particular workers, but the final decision on the use of all funds rests with the organization.