Holt at 60: The Role of Faith in Our Organization

For 60 years, Holt International has continued our mission, always remembering our Christ-centered history and always in prayer for the children and families we serve.

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending our city’s prayer breakfast, a time for citizens of our community to come together in prayer for our nation, our city and our respective organizations. As president and CEO of the largest international adoption and child welfare organization in the world, I recognize the overwhelming power of prayer in the work that I am honored to be a part of. Without continual prayer and our Heavenly Father’s guidance over the past 60 years, Holt could not have impacted the lives of so many of the world’s most vulnerable children and families. Holt International began when a couple from Creswell, Oregon prayerfully decided to come to the aid of children left orphaned or abandoned in the wake of the Korean War — a mission deeply rooted in following Christ. And today, we continue the legacy of our founders by serving as the hands and feet of Jesus in 13 countries around the world. While we have expanded our work and will continue to seek new ways to help vulnerable children, our organization will never lose sight of how we began — as an organization built on prayer and the Lord’s guidance.

I’m thankful that throughout our six-decade history, it has never been hard to find the Lord’s hand in Holt’s work.


One night in Korea, 1955, after Harry Holt had traveled the long journey from Oregon to bring home eight children through adoption, Harry lay awake — seeking further confirmation that he and his wife, Bertha, were, indeed, on the right path. As he had done many times before, he prayed. Shaking his Bible open, he closed his eyes and pointed his finger on a Bible verse. He then turned on the light and lifted his finger. There, before his eyes, was Isaiah 43:5: Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you”a visionary verse that reminded Harry Holt that they were, undeniably, doing the will of God. A year later, feeling led to help more homeless and vulnerable children, Harry traveled to Korea once again — this time to set up the Holt adoption program.

Today, because of our founders’ faith and determination, Holt International has united over 50,000 children with loving families in the United States. Thousands of children’s lives changed all because one couple from a small town in Oregon answered God’s call and moved forward in faith. When Harry passed away unexpectedly in Korea and Holt International fell on hard times, Bertha Holt once again referred to her faith. “This was always the Lord’s work,” she declared. “If He wants it to continue, it will.” And for six decades, it has.


Through the years, Holt has grown and changed in many ways — developing from primarily an adoption organization to an organization that serves tens of thousands more children every year through programs that help children remain with their birth families. But in all this time, we have always remained true to our roots— roots that are firmly based in our Heavenly Father.

And with the knowledge that He is always on our side, we use the principles in James 1:27 to guide us:

“Pure and faultless religion is this: To look after orphans and widows in their distress.”

That says it all, doesn’t it? God not only wants us to care for orphans and widows, He commands it in his Holy Word. For 60 years, Holt International has provided vulnerable children with the care and love they need to survive. Our mission is simple: We are a Christian organization committed to expressing God’s compassion for children by providing services that ensure children will grow and develop to their fullest potential.  And today, our mission can be seen in the hearts and hard work of our staff both in the United States and overseas, the loving families who persevere through hardships to ensure their children reach their full potential, in the foster families who sacrificially give their love and time to children waiting to reunite with their families or join a family through adoption, the adoptive families all over this country who have welcomed children into their hearts and homes, and the adult adoptees who have grown into accomplished and caring individuals.


Most importantly, Holt’s faith-filled mission can be seen in the significant events and compelling, hope-filled stories that thread throughout our 60-year history.

Forty years ago, on April 5, 1975, Holt evacuated 409 children from Saigon in what has now famously become known as the “Vietnam Babylift.” Today, we continue our work in Vietnam through life-changing family strengthening efforts and an adoption program for children with special needs. Last month, the first child to be adopted from our pilot program in Vietnam came home to her family.


In 1983, Holt established heritage camps for adoptees. Today, our post-adoption services for young and adult adoptees have expanded to include adoptee heritage tours, adoptee camps centered around identity rather than culture, birth family searches, counseling and support groups, and many more vital resources to ensure lifelong success for both adoptees and their families.

In 1993, Holt began work in China — establishing model foster care services, an international adoption program and ultimately, family strengthening programs to help children remain in the care of their birth families. In China and many other countries where we work, Holt has also cultivated a unique expertise in finding loving families for older children and children with special needs. And to date, Holt has placed more children with special needs than any other agency.


Through the years, Holt has established adoption and family strengthening programs in countries from India to Cambodia, Thailand to Mongolia, Uganda and Ethiopia to the Philippines and Vietnam. In 2008, Holt expanded our family strengthening and preservation work in Ethiopia, helping struggling families overcome poverty. The following year, while on a trip to Ethiopia, I met Ejamo, a father struggling to provide for his family. After we gave Ejamo a microloan to start a small-business, income-generating livestock and materials to build a new house, his family began to thrive. “My father never gave me anything,” Ejamo said. “Holt International has been like a father to me.”

This sentiment touched me greatly. It also captures Holt’s primary goal: to serve as the hands and feet in every country we work, and to give the glory to Him when children thrive and when families succeed.

And when tragedy strikes a country we support, prayer and hope are never far away.

In fall of 2010, lives changed forever when the worst monsoon season in more than 50 years hit Thailand.  Nearly 300 people perished and 8 million were affected. Homes were destroyed, hearts were broken, but the spirit of Holt’s foster families could not be crushed. In the face of such devastation, Holt took comfort in the inspiring stories brought to us from the field. Although many of our foster mothers lost their homes, they never wavered in their faith and their devotion to their foster children. “My foster children are my family,” said one foster mother after the disaster. “There was no question that I would continue to provide for their care.”


And when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti that same year, crippling devastation took hold of the region. But out of destruction came hope, as 21 children in Holt’s care centers were given parole visas to join their adoptive families in the United States. And while Haiti continues to rebuild to this day, Holt International remains — helping to empower women and struggling families, and providing hope in the midst of tragedy. In fact, we have extended this type of empowering and strengthening care to 13 countries around the world, and we have done it with the support of generous individuals and partners who have prayed for us and helped us along the way.

In 2006, we partnered with Christian band NewSong, and for the last decade this talented and compassionate group of musicians has helped bring thousands of generous individuals to Holt child sponsorship through their Winter Jam concert series. And today because of these loyal sponsors and donors, once-orphaned children now have families, once-struggling single mothers are now able to parent their children with great success, and once-impoverished parents can now independently provide food, clothing and medical care for their children.


Sixty years ago, Dr. David Kim, our President Emeritus and one of Holt’s founders, stood beside Harry Holt, looking down at the graves of Korean children who had lost their lives during the Korean War. David turned to Harry and said: Who will answer for these children when we stand before the Lord?

Today, Holt International strives to be the answer to that question.

And it is my hope, as a man of faith, that I will continue this organization down a successful and ethical path. And as we move into our next decade of serving orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children, I will be in continual prayer for our organization, for the staff who take care of the children, for the children who have come before and for the children who will continue to need our support.

Prayer will be a hallmark of our mission — and from prayer we will see remarkable things for our organization and for the children and families we serve. That is, after all, how it was in the beginning, and that’s how it should be now: An organization always seeking the Lord and in constant prayer for the children we serve.

Phil Littleton | President & CEO

Read more of Holt’s 60th anniversary blogs.

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