Living Out Loud

A mom steps out of her comfort zone to help children in need at a Winter Jam concert

by Karon Decker


Last night, I went out of my comfort zone. Way out. I went to a very loud, very crowded (16,000+ people) Christian rock concert in downtown Birmingham, with a 5-year-old old who has some socialization issues. Now, on one front, I was smart. I left John and Emerson at home. I am sure this is the reason I am alive today and able to write this post.

Why, you might be asking, did I go so far out of my wilderness, my gardening, and my secluded state? For those of you who don’t know me personally, you might not know that the types of things I find comforting are, well, not in the main stream. I don’t mind sleeping outside, I like snakes, I find bugs that don’t bite or eat my garden intriguing, I grow almost all my own food, and we don’t have a TV….

So, here’s the reason I went anyway: I got an e-mail from Holt International, the agency that placed Isaac with us, asking if we would volunteer at the concert to sign up child sponsors. I couldn’t in good conscious say ‘no’ given how morose I have been about the world around me being oblivious to the “real” issues going on. This was my chance to go and sign people up to sponsor kids who are hoping to be adopted – kids like Isaac. Unfortunately no one ever chose to sponsor Isaac when he was in care. Continue reading “Living Out Loud”

Season of Love, Gifts of Hope: Chickens and Pigs Keep Children Healthy, Families Together in Vietnam

Sometimes, all a family needs is a little help.

Many of the children who enter Holt’s care have living parents or relatives whose lack of resources, not lack of love, compelled them to seek outside care for their child. Rather, relinquishing a child is an act of love. What parent wouldn’t rather separate from their child than watch their child grow sick and malnourished?

At Holt, we believe poverty – or disease or discrimination – should not prevent children from growing up with otherwise loving birth parents. That is why, everywhere we work, we strive to keep at-risk families safe, stable and together.

To that end, we provide basic nutrition and medical care for physical health, and counseling for psychological wellbeing. We assist with education, sending children to school and training parents in income-generating trades. And through microloans for small businesses, we help families achieve both self-reliance – and lasting stability.

One small business is particularly adaptable to many of the regions we serve: raising livestock. After Holt provides the resources and know-how, families can quickly take the reins.

Here are three short family stories from Vietnam, a country where – with international adoption suspended – family preservation efforts have become a major focus, and livestock a major source of support. All three of these children are supported by Holt’s sponsorship program as well:

 A few little chicks can make a big impact…

When Cara’s* mother died in November of 2009, she and her three siblings went to live with her grandmother and aunt. For income, the family harvested rice and raised a few chickens. This barely provided enough to meet their basic needs, however, let alone pay the fees for the children to attend school. Cara and her siblings were at risk of dropping out of school when the local district referred the family to Holt-Vietnam.

To ensure that Cara and her siblings could stay in school – and with their family – Holt provided funding to support the family’s chicken-raising efforts. Holt social workers regularly visit Cara’s family to check on their health and wellbeing, and to advise her grandmother and aunt on how to manage their small business.

Today, Cara and her family are doing well. Now 4, Cara attends kindergarten and is developmentally on track. “She walks, runs and jumps without any problem,” a Holt social worker wrote in a recent sponsorship report. “She is learning colors and counting from 1 to 100.” Continue reading “Season of Love, Gifts of Hope: Chickens and Pigs Keep Children Healthy, Families Together in Vietnam”

For the Least of These

New York Times best selling author Donna VanLiere recently returned from India with Christian music group NewSong.  “God is here.  Among us,” she says.  “Disguised as an 8-year-old orphan.”

by Donna VanLiere


Years ago, I read that the apostle Thomas made India his mission field. Remember Thomas? He was one of the twelve apostles who made it clear that he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw the scars on His nail-pierced hands. Doubt nips hard at the heels of belief. That was Thomas’ problem. In John 14, Jesus was speaking of Heaven and said, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas, always confused, always doubtful, said, “… We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” We can’t be too hard on Thomas. Even the wisest among us doubt and question and scratch our heads.  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is a crucial moment for Thomas. A choice has to be made…believe what Christ says is true, or that he’s either a diabolical liar or clinically insane.

Time marched on and doubt and disbelief still drummed away at Thomas’ mind and nerves. When Christ was crucified, then flung off his grave clothes three days later, the other apostles came to Thomas and said, “Great news! He’s alive!” Thomas shook his head. That’s the nature of doubt. It’s a head-shaking disease.  His reunion with Christ is laid out in John 20. Jesus held out his hands like a magician proving there was nothing up his sleeves.  “Go ahead,” he said. “Touch them. They’re real. Stop doubting and believe.” And Thomas did. The last time the apostles were with Jesus he gave them a simple directive—Go into all the world and spread the gospel. “Go Thomas. Be brave. I am with you always. Remember, I tell you the truth. Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” According to ancient records, Thomas traveled farther than any other apostle. His life reveals that he came to know Christ best through his missing him. His desire grew stronger and his longing deeper.  He loved and fed the people of India as if feeding God himself and Thomas gave himself for that love, dying at the end of a spear.

I just returned from a 9-day trip to India. My husband Troy and I went there with members of the Christian music group NewSong.  In Bangalore, we visited a care center run by a beautiful, saintly woman named Mary Paul. One night at dinner, NewSong member Eddie Carswell and his wife sat with Mary Paul and she told them that twenty generations ago her great, great, great (do this twenty times) grandfather met the apostle Thomas and Thomas shared the truth with him. I doubt I will ever again meet anyone who can trace their faith journey directly back to one of the apostles!

Ancient documents do not describe Thomas as a dynamic orator like the apostle Paul, but rather, a quiet man who drew people to the gospel of peace through his saintly ways and the message of truth. Twenty generations later, Mary Paul sees God dressed as abandoned children and shares hope and love with them.

You would expect me to write of the misery of the orphans, but that’s impossible to do when writing about the care center Mary Paul runs. The walls are bright, the staff is warm and the children are loved. Very loved. They smile and laugh easily and are quick to wrap their pencil-thin arms around you. A little boy walked up to Troy and I, grinning. “My name’s Vanej,” he said. “I’m nine years old.” NewSong sang a couple of songs for the children and then the children sang for us, little Vanej holding one of the two microphones and singing loudly. Eighteen months earlier, Vanej was on an outing with his parents when he was somehow separated from them. The orphanage advertised in the papers, on TV and radio, looking for his parents. They traveled where Vanej said he lived and put up flyers and talked with people on the streets, with no results. In a country of 1.1 billion people, it’s much like finding a needle in a haystack. Vanej talked of missing his mother and his sister. It was heartbreaking, but he still smiled. Continue reading “For the Least of These”

Follow Us All the Way to Winter Jam!

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Go and Sponsor a Child…

Over a year ago, Corrine Cook attended a concert on the Christian music tour Winter Jam. Between performances, members of the band NewSong shared a moving presentation about Holt’s child sponsorship program.  Corrine chose to sponsor a girl in Cambodia.  Earlier this month, she had the exceptional opportunity to meet her!  A Holt intern already wrote a blog about their meeting. Here, Corrine tells her own story…

Corrine exchanges gifts with Srey Lam, the 12-year-old girl she sponsors in Cambodia.
One-and-a-half years ago, I sat in a full stadium with music blaring, people singing, and lights shining.  All of the sudden, a quiet hush flowed in from the front to the back as all the lights went down to a single spotlight.  As the strong voice echoed in the stillness, I sat forward in my seat, my eyes riveted to the stage.  The testimony of one man brought tears down my cheeks and a whisper to my ear.  “Go and sponsor a child.”  Now, I made hardly any money with which to support myself, much less someone else. However, I knew I could not resist that still, small voice of the Almighty’s because of the power behind it.  So it was there at a concert that God challenged me to give His money that He had bequeathed to me to a child who was way less fortunate than I.


Six months later, I strode on the high ground of a railroad track on the last leg of my journey.  As I stepped onto the trail which entered the small village, I was greeted by many people from a small village in the heart of Cambodia.  One of the first people I saw was the little girl whom God had called me to support.  A great smile crept onto her face as her inquisitive eyes stared up at me.  Even with the language barrier, non-verbal communication radiated between us.  Thankfully though, we were able to carry on a short spoken conversation through an interpreter who also read to me the letter she had written.

It was amazing and heart-wrenching to have the privilege of seeing Srey Lam*, my sponsor child.  To see the small hut they called home with a single mat surrounded by mosquito netting was saddening when I think of the luscious bedroom I am blessed to have.  I have always heard that we are spoiled here in America, but now I know it to be true.  What struck me is how we have so much and are still unhappy and want more.  In Cambodia, they have next to nothing.  They are doing well to get enough food to eat for their next meal, and still, they smile.  They are so willing to give and share their best with us regardless of the fact that they have so little.  Oh, that we could learn from their example.  Although not wealthy by American standards, I am a millionaire to them.  I know that I have been moved to share the abundance that God has given me.

In Cambodia, Holt International works with their local partner organization, Pathways to Development, to provide food and necessities for vulnerable families — such as building restrooms or getting the family animals so they can make money.  They have worked hard and have built and are now running a rice bank from which needy families can borrow until they have their own harvests, and then pay back with a little interest on what they borrowed.  This keeps the families alive until their own harvests come.

It was so amazing to see the work that Holt International and Pathways were doing with these families to make a difference in their lives.  I went there to see what was being done with the monetary gift I was giving Holt, but discovered something much better.    The gift was not the money I send to support Srey Lam and her family, but the knowledge that God is using me to further His kingdom. She was precious, a gift of God to me, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet her.  God is so good!

* name changed

To learn more about Holt’s child sponsorship program, click here.

For more information about Holt’s work and history in Cambodia, click here.

For the first time ever, Winter Jam is coming to the West Coast!  Holt needs volunteers to sign up new sponsors. See tour dates and sign up to volunteer here!

From Sponsor to Volunteer

A long family history with Holt inspires Raylene Merino to give back to the organization


Holt International has, literally, always been a part of my life. My grandparents, Raymond and Mable Proxmire, were friends of Harry and Bertha Holt, the founders of Holt International. My grandmother worked alongside Bertha Holt to help families successfully adopt internationally, and ended up adopting four children from Korea, including my father and aunt, who would eventually raise me as her own. As a child, my family would often attend the various Holt-sponsored events for adoptees, and we always had copies of the Holts’ biographies on our bookshelves. Growing up as a Korean-American had its difficulties, but instilled within me was always a deep sense of pride to be tied to such a loving and life-changing organization.

My husband and I first began to sponsor a child about four years ago. We had been married less than a year, and I really wanted to incorporate my Holt history into our married life. After researching the sponsorship process, we signed up online and soon received our paperwork that we had been assigned to an adorable little baby boy from Korea. The information packet was complete with a picture of our sponsored child, and we proudly displayed his picture on our refrigerator. It was great to receive the updates throughout the year; we could read about our child’s health and progress, and we would pray for our child as well as the family that would one day become his adoptive parents. Since beginning our sponsorship, we have seen five of our sponsored children adopted. I expect to never meet these children, but we are all children of God and it means so much to me to be able to help a child while they wait for their “forever family” as Holt refers to it.


Having moved from California to North Carolina, I discovered that there weren’t many local Holt activities to get involved in. Through a Holt e-newsletter, I read about the need for Holt volunteers at the Winter Jam concert that would be touring through the state. Winter Jam was an amazing experience! My husband and a friend went with me, and as Holt volunteers, we were given free admission into the concert and some amazing bands performed that night. But most importantly, I was able to share my passion for Holt’s mission as we promoted new child sponsorship. Thanks to Winter Jam, we signed up approximately 300 new sponsors! Praise the Lord!

My love and appreciation for the Holt family and organization continues, and it is my desire to pass on this passion to family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Child sponsorship is a joy and a blessing, and I hope to continue the Holt legacy in my own family one day by adopting and providing a precious child with a forever family.

Volunteer at a Winter Jam concert near you!  Click here for concert dates and locations!


An American Girl in Haiti

Last July, Tiffany Marshall spent a month volunteering at the Holt Fontana Village, the childcare center Holt supports in Haiti.  An elementary school teacher in Portland, Oregon, Tiffany put her skills to use setting up a child-friendly space for the children at the village.  She organized the children’s toys and games into three themed rooms – one for reading and writing, one for arts and crafts, and one for playtime.

During her stay, she also helped develop an educational sponsorship program for students in the communities surrounding the village.  Tiffany joined Sarah Halfman and Mansour Masse – Holt’s country directors for Haiti – to identify possible schools.  Together, they interviewed 10 school directors in two days, and unanimously chose four schools to support.  At each school, Holt will sponsor between 50 and 100 children – funded entirely by the Holt sponsorship program.

In Portland, the school year has begun and Tiffany is back in the classroom — educating and inspiring her fourth grade students.  But for 23 children at the Holt Fontana Village, her presence is still felt.  She has enriched their lives by creating a space for them to explore, learn and play.  It seems they left an impression on her as well…

Read excerpts from Tiffany’s blog, An American Girl in Haiti, below…

Continue reading “An American Girl in Haiti”

A Heartfelt Encounter in Cambodia

A Holt sponsor meets her sponsored child.  A Holt intern meets the children and families she set out to serve.

In the coming months, Oregon State University student Lauren Fletcher will shine the spotlight on our work in Cambodia, as she completes a three-month IE3 global internship with Holt partner organization Pathways to Development. Lauren, a human services major, just arrived in Phnom Penh.  And already, within her first few days, she accompanied Pathways staff on a journey to visit sponsored children in rural Takeo province.  Here, she also witnessed a truly extraordinary event — the meeting between a young woman named Corrine and the 12-year-old girl she helps support through Holt’s sponsorship program.

Corrine meets Srey Lam, the girl she sponsors through Holt.

Yesterday was a big day for me. Mr. Born, Mr. Chenda, a sponsor named Corrine and her sister and friend gathered at 7am for a journey to visit the child Corrine sponsors through Holt International. Corrine’s sister has been working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the last seven months.  When Corrine decided to travel from her home in Kentucky for a 10-day visit with her sister, she made sure to dedicate a full day to visit the child she began sponsoring this past summer.

The drive to the child’s home lasted about two hours, and concluded on a rough, hard-to-access road through rural Treng district.  Along the way, I saw many people planting rice. Born explained that local farmers will help one another to plant and harvest each other’s rice. To sell their produce, farmers keep bamboo stands alongside the road, where sellers sit and wait for customers in hammocks tied between the poles of the stands.

Once we arrived at our destination, Srey Lam* — the sponsored child — and her family walked up to greet us with hands traditionally placed palm-to-palm before their faces.  Because of the language barrier, we walked towards Srey Lam’s home in silence, but this did not inhibit communication between us. Everyone wore smiles on their faces, especially Srey Lam’s mother and father, while the younger siblings looked on with curiosity. Sitting in the shade of their home – an elevated hut – the thick, sweltering air of Takeo province almost felt bearable. A couple dozen people gathered around us, with gentle smiles gracing their faces.  We sat in the shade, happily sipping raw coconut juice directly from the coconut – through bendy straws inserted into their centers! Continue reading “A Heartfelt Encounter in Cambodia”

Winter Jam to Hit the West Coast this November!

NewSong visiting children in care at BSSK, a Holt partner organization in India.

It’s official!

For the first time ever, the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular will rock the West Coast – kicking off November 3rd in Denver, Colorado.

This is BIG news for West Coast fans of popular Christian music artists, including Kutless, Newsboys and tour host NewSong…

It’s even BIGGER news for children!

For six years running, Holt has teamed up with NewSong to raise awareness of orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children overseas. Every year, in jam-packed stadiums from Georgia to Ohio, NewSong artists inspire thousands of people to sponsor a child in need.

Already in 2011, Winter Jam has beat all records – recruiting more Holt sponsors, and changing more children’s lives than ever before!  Thousands more children now have food to eat, clothes to wear, a safe place to sleep and a loving person to care for them.

And NOW, this fall, Winter Jam 2011 will continue out West – rocking the hearts and minds of Christian music fans in 11 more cities, from Ontario, California to Tacoma, Washington!

At Holt, we can’t stop thinking about what this means for children.  This could be huge.

But first, we need your help. We need 100 volunteers to sign up sponsors at each concert.  Volunteers are critical; they provide the vital link between children and potential sponsors.  Turnout on the first leg of the tour was amazing!  Over 4,700 dedicated, compassionate people volunteered their time and energy…

It’s time, West Coasters, to show Winter Jam what we’re made of!  Volunteering is easy and fun, comes with FREE entry and a FREE CD, and takes 4-5 hours of your time – all to change a child’s life forever.

Tell your family!  Tell your friends!  Rock the House with Holt and NewSong this fall, at Winter Jam 2011!

For more information and to volunteer, visit us online at or email

Volunteering is easy and fun!

When you send a girl to school…

After completing her education, Shyla returned to VCT to teach children at the care center.

“In the Indian culture, when you send a boy to school, you change his life and that continues to be so important. But when you send a girl to school, you can change an entire generation.”

So says Mary Paul, director of Vathsalya Charitable Trust (VCT), a Holt partner organization in India.  Every year, Holt’s wonderful sponsors send hundreds of children in India — mostly girls — to school.  Most of these girls would otherwise be working as domestic servants, earning income to help support their families.

Recently, the Center for the Study of Women in Society at the University of Oregon featured the story of one girl and her strong single mother* who, determined to give her daughter an education, asked VCT to sponsor her education.  That was 11 years ago.  Today, this girl is 29 years old.  She works as an assistant teacher at the same place that gave her an education — teaching children in care, and changing generations to come.

Click here to read Shyla’s story in full.

To learn more about Holt’s work in India, click here.

Click this link to read about Holt sponsorship and how you can send a girl to school in India.

* Correction:  In the story, Shyla’s mother is described as “unwed.” She was in fact married, but raised Shyla on her own as a “single mother.”