About 23 years ago I was lying in bed unable to sleep. I turned on the TV and on came an infomercial about an organization that brought food to children in war-torn Croatia, an area very sentimental to me having grown up in a town that had a strong Croatian community. In this infomercial were kids hovering in blown up buildings and running from bullets hiding in fear. When trucks with food showed up, these kids faces lit up! The man delivering the food made them laugh and smile and I thought, I want to bring joy to kids in situations like that. My heart was profoundly moved. I knew instantly what my calling in life was at that moment. I was not sure what it looked like, but I wrote in a journal that night my God-given purpose in life was for the underdog, to fight for those who could not speak for themselves. Shortly thereafter, I remember watching the movie Schindler’s List and how he saved so many from death risking his life. I was impacted by the display of how his ring could have saved two more lives. I wanted to make a difference. I got involved locally in everything I could serving at parties and events for kids in foster care for over 10 years; volunteering at numerous Teen Leadership and Leadership Development camps for foster kids; mentoring a mother through Child Abuse Prevention for 6 months who had regained custody of her children due to drug abuse; caring for babies at Orangewood which is Orange County’s main receiving center for abused kids; advocating for Court Appointed Special Advocates (C.A.S.A.) for 7 years; spending a year as a Volunteer Chaplain for Olive Crest with their two foster siblings homes; being a representative for Compassion International for eleven years to share child sponsorship with others; teaching an after school bible study to local public school students with Child Evangelism for 3 years; leading a mother/daughter program for six years called “Daughters of the King” to help teach my friends and their daughters how to read God’s Word and have fellowship raising our daughters to love Christ; teaching bible study to both 4th and 5th graders at my local church Watermark; and then starting Orphan Gospel for severely malnourished children. I love God and his word and I have a heart for children, especially children who are not given the opportunities that loving families give. My heart for any child suffering is heavily burdened. I started Orphan Gospel to help kids in Lira, Uganda that were days away from dying from starvation. Our ministry has expanded to helping malnourished children in Haiti, Nepal, India, Lebanon and abused children in California sending them to Christian Camp to hear about a loving Father. My heart and passion is caring for my family and the children of Orphan Gospel. For 25 years, helping the orphan was and is my passion, my God-given purpose in life.
I got involved with orphans internationally by first serving kids in Mexico at the Estado 29 orphanage traveling every month to the town of Tecate for 3 years with my husband. My dear friend Lisa Taedter who is Advisory Council on our board invited me to go on a mission’s trip to Romania. I remember years past seeing news clips of sometimes 40 naked kids shoved into one room in Romanian orphanages which haunted me and immediately said “Yes”! I never knew how much it would change me. Day two of my trip I fell in love with a baby boy who had been abandoned in a hospital in Bucharest named Marian. God had strongly placed this boy on my heart. I felt love for him as if he was my own child. After I returned home, I found out his parents came to get him from the hospital and he was gone, but they were horribly poor. Two years later my husband Joe and I returned to Romania to find him. My friend had an idea where he was but had no address. It was 5 hours away and we drove aimlessly looking for him. We stopped everywhere asking “Have you seen a baby boy named Marian?” “No”, everyone said. Only by the grace of God, did he connect us to a woman who overheard us and just hopped in our car and said “I will take you to him.” We found him and he was beautiful and he had the same scrunched up expression I remember and affectionately adored about him. This boy in my mind was my adopted son. We cared for his family (he had a baby brother that had already been given away and a new baby brother just born) providing food and bringing clothes and diapers. I never wanted to leave. I found out later upon my return back to the U.S. his Mother had left the Father since for a boyfriend and the Father gave Marian up abandoning him once again. We have tried to find him, but it has been difficult. I am confident we will be united again one day. I pray for him often as Marian has never left my heart.
Not too long after, I went to Uganda on a missions trip I was blessed to co-lead so we could all meet children that we sponsored through Compassion International. My heart was moved by the children and their joy from knowing Jesus despite their circumstances. I was able to meet our girl Olivia that we sponsored and had grown to love. I also fell in love with another girl Damali (on left) while on my trip that I clicked with immediately at the first project I visited. We danced for hours teaching each other songs and motions and she was so spunky. When I was leaving she stood in front of our bus refusing to move so we couldn’t drive away. I got out and promised her I would never forget her. I was able to track her down recently and was able to have gifts delivered to her from my friend passing through her way and he said she had not forgotten me. I was so inspired by Olivia and Damali. More children needed to know they mattered. While waiting for our flight in the airport to return home, a group of us planned and prayed about how to share child sponsorship in more countries with others through Compassion International. I love being an advocate for the orphan, the fatherless and am presently still an advocate for them.
Upon my return from Uganda, I was blessed with children of my own. I took a season to nurture my own children while they were young, but was still an advocate for Compassion International speaking on their behalf at events about malaria not really realizing the severity and easy prevention of this disease. I also shared Child Sponsorship at concerts. My girls are now 12 and 13 and throughout the time I cared for them as babies, my heart grew for the Mother of the orphan as well. How could a Mother dying of AIDS during childbirth leave her child knowing someone may never take care of them? Or what is it like to be a Mother watching your child cry daily in hunger with no means to provide for them? My friend from Uganda sent me a picture one day asking if we could help? Many of his friends worked for NGO’s and said that very few organizations were helping in an area of Lira where there was great need. He said babies and young children were dying and whole families were being wiped out in that area. He sent me a picture and shared the story of this little boy Opio and he was bones. I looked up Opio’s name and it meant “twin”. I wondered where was his twin? So I asked my friend and Opio’s twin brother and two other siblings had already passed away from starvation. I wept, heartbroken. I live an abundant life, a blessed life and couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be Opio’s Mom. I know many stories of orphans, but sometimes God uses just one to bring you to your knees. I recently heard a saying, “We got tired of burying the dying so we started praying for the living” in regards to orphans. We want to do the same. When I was in Uganda many years ago, we drove through a town called Kasese where there were severely malnourished children everywhere. I wanted to stop, but we couldn’t. How could we just drive by? I knew that day God said, you have to do something. We can’t just drive by. It is time to stop the bus. And get out and do something. —-Shannon Meade