When Invisible Children Sing

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“When Invisible Children Sing,” by Chi Huang

As a fourth-year medical student in 1997, Chi Huang took a break in his training to provide medical care in two orphanages in La Paz, Bolivia. The book “When Invisible Children Sing,” details his experiences on this mission.

When Huang arrives in Bolivia, he is met by a no-nonsense nurse who puts him straight to work in the girls’ orphanage, Yasella Home for Street Girls. His first patient is a teen girl named Mercedes who cuts herself with razor blades. He discovers more than 20 razor blade scars on one arm, including a fresh cut needing treatment. The 15-year-old’s other arm is the same.

After treating Mercedes’ arm, Huang discovers the teen also has a venereal disease. This is Huang’s welcome to the world of Bolivian street children, and it’s only the beginning of his adventure.

Huang also works at a boys’ orphanage, Bururu Home for Street Boys. The word bururu is what street children say when they are cold.

Despite long hours at both orphanages, it is Huang’s desire also to treat the children living on the streets of La Paz, those who either don’t want to live in an orphanage or aren’t welcome in one. To do this, he must visit the streets late at night, when the children and many undesirable adults inhabit the city streets.

Huang shows great patience in gaining the trust of these children, though he is faced with many difficult situations. He discovers the children are always high from sniffing paint thinner, which they do to stay warm and to escape their realities. He also learns that there are certain adults who wish to clean up the streets by rounding up the street children, abusing and even killing them.

Despite these and many other obstacles, Huang is able to show Christ’s love to these children, to gain their trust, and to help some of them. Today he is the founder of the Bolivian Street Children Project.

This book is difficult to read at times because of the devastating situations in which the children live. It is well-written, and provides a very clear and touching description of these children’s realities.

For more information on the Bolivian Street Children’s Project, you can visit http://www.kayachildren.org.

Kisses from Katie

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“Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption” by Katie J. Davis

It’s not often that you run across someone who has determinedly decided to forgo the “American Dream,” but that’s just what a young woman from Nashville did.

At 18 years old, Katie Davis traveled on a short mission trip to Uganda over Christmas break during her senior year of high school. It was a trip that changed the course of her life, causing her to make decisions that surprised her family, boyfriend and friends.

Upon returning home after the trip, Davis continued to feel the Lord calling her back to Uganda. She decided to answer that call by giving up college and returning to the country that had captured her heart.

It was a shocking decision made by a young woman who seemed to have everything going for her. Her book, “Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption” tells that story.

Davis wrote, “I hadn’t realized what a transformation had taken place while I had been in Uganda, the spiritual richness I had experienced in material poverty and the spiritual poverty I felt now in a land of material wealth.”

Hers is an amazing story of faith and determination, and I can’t help but be in awe of how the years have played out for Davis. Facing extreme poverty, hopelessness, disease and sometimes death of those she cared for, it is incomprehensible that this young woman was able to hold up under such pressure.

But hold up she did, and years later, Davis remains in Uganda, making a difference every day.

Davis established a ministry called Amazima in 2008, which sends 600 orphaned and vulnerable children to school through an education sponsorship program. It also feeds lunch to more than 1,200 children in the slum community of Masese every week day. Amazima hosts Bible studies and worship services and implements vocational training programs in the area.

And as if all this weren’t a huge accomplishment, by the end of her book, Davis is in the process of adopting fourteen girls, who live with her in her home in Uganda. She cares for these children daily, as their mother, all the while, caring for members of her community as well.

Davis’ inspiring story is well worth reading, and for more stories after the book ends, visit her blog at http://www.kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com.

“I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that,” Davis wrote. “I can, however, change the world for one person. I can change the world for fourteen little girls and for four hundred schoolchildren and for a sick and dying grandmother and for a malnourished, neglected, abused five-year-old. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for.”

To donate to Davis’ ministry, Amazima, visit http://www.amazima.org.

The Queen of Katwe

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“The Queen of Katwe,” by Tim Crothers, is the story of an incredible young girl, who against many odds, surprises many by learning and mastering the game of chess.

Phiona and her peers are growing up in the Ugandan slums of Katwe, an area in the country’s capital city, Kampala, where children don’t know their birth dates or even how to spell their own names. It is a place where children struggle to eat each day, where parents die of AIDS regularly, and where families move from shack to shack, living wherever they can afford.

In this life of day-to-day survival, one young man, Robert Katende, working for Sports Outreach Institute, begins a ministry first focused on soccer, then on chess, and the game captivates the children of the area. Katende relates well to these children, as he, too, grew up in the severe poverty of Katwe. In fact, Katende’s story of survival and pulling himself out of the slum is quite as impressive as Phiona’s.

Considering these circumstances, it’s no wonder that a bowl of porridge is what first attracted the children to Katende’s group.

Phiona is a bit of a late-comer to the group, but after following her brother there one day, she becomes a fixture. She learns the game first from a much younger girl, but soon surpasses many in playing ability. She later practices using bottle caps and a chessboard drawn on scraps of cardboard.

As Phiona travels out of the country and experiences other cultures, her eyes are opened to the fact that there is more out there, more to reach for, than Katwe. On these trips to chess tournaments, she sleeps in hotel rooms on real beds and eats from buffets with endless amounts of foods offered. But after each tournament, she must return to the reality of her home.

It won’t be an easy road for her to reach her goal of becoming a Grandmaster, as many young women much more privileged than Phiona can attest. But where she had nothing to strive for before, she now has a goal and, more importantly, hope.

Too Small to Ignore

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Sometimes when a book relates upsetting stories, and especially when those stories involve children, I have to take frequent breaks from reading. I have to put it down and walk away so that the pain coming from the pages reaches me only a little bit at a time.

Wess Stafford’s book, “Too Small to Ignore,” was definitely one of those books.

It took me quite a while to get through it. It was well written, but the stories of child abuse and children in poverty were very difficult to read.

Stafford was a child of missionaries who spent part of his childhood in Africa. There, he essentially led two lives.

One was the idyllic childhood in the small African village where his parents were working. There he enjoyed learning and growing in a close-knit community, watched over by many loving adults. It was there that he also witnessed poverty firsthand. As a child, he saw many close friends in the village die, giving him his first glimpse of the destructive effects of poverty.

The other life Stafford led was at the unspeakably abusive boarding school he attended each school year with other children of missionaries. Here children were punished, beaten and abused daily in unfathomable circumstances.

Stafford used these situations in his life for good, though, committing his life to helping children in poverty. Today, he is the CEO of Compassion International, an organization that serves children in 26 countries, with a strong commitment to Christ, children, church and integrity.

Despite the difficult obstacles Stafford faced as a child, he has become a champion of children everywhere. He urges readers to rethink the importance of children and their role in our lives, putting them first, treasuring them and pouring our time and love into them, whether they are our own children or children in a faraway village.

As he explains the effects of both financial and spiritual poverty on children, he challenges the reader, “Now that you know, what will you do?”

This book is eye-opening, thought-provoking and inspiring, and I highly recommend it.

Unshaken

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Dan Woolley traveled to Haiti in January 2010, where he was working for Compassion International. He and co-worker David Hames were there to shoot video and photographs documenting Compassion’s work in Haiti.

After a day in the field, the two arrived at Hotel Montana, and as they walked through the lobby, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit. The hotel collapsed on top of them.

Woolley survived, but Hames did not.

More than 200,000 people were killed in the earthquake, and more than 3.5 million people were affected.

“Unshaken” is the riveting story of Woolley’s survival. Trapped beneath the hotel rubble, Woolley used the flash from his camera to light his path to an elevator car, where he waited 65 hours for rescue.

He suffered a broken foot, a bleeding gash to his leg and a head injury, as well as dehydration. Alone in the dark, he also battled depression, hopelessness and guilt over a strained marriage and home life. He turned to God for help.

Woolley scribbled emotional goodbye letters to his wife and two young sons in his journal as he spent those long hours thinking he would never see them again.

From the time the earthquake hits to Woolley’s dramatic rescue, his story keeps the reader anxiously engaged.

“Unshaken: Rising from the Ruins of Haiti’s Hotel Montana,” is written by Dan Woolley with Jennifer Schuchmann contributing.

For information on Compassion’s ongoing work in Haiti or to sponsor a child in Haiti, go to Compassion’s web site at http://www.compassion.com.

One Thousand Gifts

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Ann Voskamp begins her story recalling the tragic death of her toddler sister, who was run over by a truck in her driveway. She recounts the sadness and grief that overtook her family during that time.

Through this and other personal stories, Voskamp gives readers a look at events in her life that might lead anyone to search for happiness.

Instead, Voskamp accepts a dare from a friend to write down a thousand gifts from God to her. As she adds these gifts and blessings to her list daily, she finds joy and peace.

It is a captivating experiment because the reader begins to see that in a life full of thanks, there is not much room for the opposite.

Voskamp’s writing style is poetic, artistic and simply beautiful to read, and her journey is beautiful as well.

For more talented writing by Voskamp, check out her blog at http://www.aholyexperience.com.