Rachel standing on a forest road

Celebrating 20 Years with a Love Letter to Children’s HopeChest

The Journey that Brought Me to Children’s HopeChest

Life certainly is beautiful because of the people we meet.

The summer of 1996, I went on my first trip across the ocean to Russia with Children’s HopeChest. That was my first exposure to orphans — to those who are cast aside by society. I was an idealistic teenager, about to begin my senior year of high school, and I had absolutely no idea how the trajectory of my life was about to change from that trip. 

I firmly believe that the Lord places desires and dreams in our hearts for a reason. As a teenager, I had a different perspective on what I experienced than I do now, but in that moment, on that trip, I had such a stir in my heart that I knew I didn’t want to come home the same person. I knew I wanted to learn more, experience more, and be a part of something bigger.

Children’s HopeChest was a lot smaller back then, and was only working in Russia. (And for a small period of time in Romania…I bet you didn’t know that!)

I prayed and prayed for a job here. I didn’t care what job it was. I knew I didn’t want to go to college. You see, school was very challenging for me. I struggled with learning disabilities and testing, and every test and assignment was such a struggle for me. The idea of paying enormous sums of money for four more years of “hard and struggle” in college filled me with anxiety. It is still vulnerable for me to express and talk about even after all these years, because it had such an impact on me. I knew I was created for something different from what society expected of me.

I worked temp jobs after high school but continued to travel as a volunteer to Russia with HopeChest and build those relationships. I was finally offered a job at HopeChest when I was 20. I was hired as an admin, answering phones, doing filing, running bank deposits, and planning the trips to Russia. To be able to see and watch HopeChest grow and expand globally was so exciting. Over the years, my role changed and grew as the organization changed as well. More people were hired, we launched our sponsorship program, we grew into other countries, and I began to travel a bit more.

 

Lessons From 20 Years of International Poverty-Relief Work

I have been in the hottest, most rural places in East Africa, God is there with the widow. I watched her praise Him and thank Him in her circumstances. 

People are more valuable and worth so much more than any label or title placed on them.

We grieve as a staff when any child or parent/guardian loses their life unexpectedly. The harshness of different levels of poverty can be so unforgiving.

I experienced God move in the most impossible situations – when government or evil tries to remove us or limit our work.

I have seen lives changed when a sponsor and child meet for the first time. What an incredible display of love, passion, and hope.

I have learned that it’s not about all the tasks before you. That you should ALWAYS check on each other’s lives on calls and meetings before you get to your list of discussion items. People first. Always.

Make your communication relational – not just transactional. There will always be time for the work part of it.

I have seen those who are cast aside and told they will never be anything prove society wrong. They are working with this next generation and changing their lives. They are my heros.

Those are just a few examples of so many, but behind those examples are people who have dedicated their lives or periods of their lives to caring for them and investing in them. They have been and are behind the scenes doing holy and important work.

 

The Relationships Who Have Shaped Me and My Work

I could share hundreds of stories from my time at HopeChest…Some funny, some incredibly tragic, some feel-good, but they all center around the same thing…the people who make this work happen all over the world. People ask why I am still here or what I love the most about the job. It is the people. It is the staff here in the U.S. and around the world. 

One of our core values is relationship. That includes: connectedness, intentionality, sacrifice, time, honesty.

 As I reflect on the last 20 years and what I wanted to write,  it’s really a love letter to those I have been able to work with and learn from. And even though I’m not going anywhere, I am who I am because of each of you who over these years have educated and transformed me to be the person I am today and the love, deep care and respect I have for this job and each of you.

George Steiner – Your passion and vision for what HopeChest was and creating this organization. Your heart is why I wanted to be a part of it.

Five HopeChest Russia staff stand together smiling
HopeChest Russia staff members

 All the amazing strong women in Russia who are STILL THERE TODAY. Katya, Masha, Sveta, Natasha(s), Irina, Yana, Lena, Olga, Marina — you are simply some of the strongest women I have ever met. You challenge stigma, you fight for justice, and you are simply just there for these youth. You are shattering glass ceilings with your grit and fierceness.

Rachel and Masha hugging
Rachel and Masha

Tom  – Your charisma is what helped begin to grow this organization. I loved watching God at work while you were here.

Matt – You brought calm to any storm and began investing in me as a future leader.

Samantha – Sharing hearts and passions created such a united culture here.

Ken — The leadership you push and desire in each of us. You certainly took a chance on me a few years ago, and I’m grateful for that. 

Rachel and Joseph posing together
Rachel and Joseph

As we grew, my worldview expanded. I learn from Joseph each day, “Invest in your people. Put God first. Create leaders. Trust and relationship is the most important thing when working with people.” He is one I know we can count on – full stop. 

Mickey, who walked into the impossible and made it more than possible and is a brother in the truest sense of the word.

Rachel and Carolina standing in the snow
Carolina and Rachel

Carolina – A strong female leader who is implementing change through her skills of organization and love for people. I value the friendship we have and how we encourage each other as female leaders and shape this work. 

Simon, who is a dad to so many – The respect shown to him in the most distanced of places is loudly noticed and affirmed. He displays grace and truth. 

Wil who is a pastor, brother, advocate, leader and one of the first people you call for prayer — We have walked long, hard roads together, and I’m so thankful. 

Rachel, Tesfa, Ken, and Mickey in Ethiopia
Tesfa, Rachel, Semeret, Ken, and Mickey

Tesfa, who developed Ethiopia into what it was from the beginning – Someone who has a unique perspective and a softness, but determination, that is needed.

Nate, who just gets it and who I owe much gratitude to for so many reasons. Who sees so much potential in this organization and constantly challenges and pushes in all the right ways,  for us to always be better. 

Rachel and Sam standing in the snow
Rachel and Sam

Sam, who is always thinking about the next best thing and always wants to explore, pray, change the narrative, and is a trusted friend. 

Justin — How you care for and invest in the team. You are someone you can just count on and will take an idea and make it better. 

HopeChest team standing in the snow
Rachel and the Community Partnership Team

Tom — For the perspective you bring and the way you teach. 

To the entire team here in the U.S. — We are small, but working with each of you makes this mighty, valuable, eternal work. You are each a part of something so much bigger. Be proud of the work you are doing. I am proud to work with each and every one of you each day. You make me better. You make this world better.

To our sponsors, donors, and travelers – Please know that there is an army of justice-filled people fighting and working so hard behind the scenes for the work we have invited you to be a part of. Thank you for being in this work with us. We value you!

I have learned and received an education far better than what any college can provide by being here. I am humbled and filled with gratitude. This is important work. And it always comes back to Christ’s love for us. I’m so thankful I get to be a small part of it.

Children’s HopeChest values people, their inherent worth, relationships, and connection.

Learn more about Children’s HopeChest work, here.

You can give a meaningful donation to where it is needed most, here.

 

 

The coronavirus pandemic has caused vast food shortages and limited access to adequate nutrition in vulnerable communities around the world. Help Children’s HopeChest move quickly to provide support.