A Trip that Changed the World

In 1999, Miami attorney O. Frank Valladares reluctantly consented to tag along with his wife on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. He figured the trip would be a needed vacation to escape the stresses of work and catch a little scuba diving. What happened when he got there changed his life.

A doctor friend of theirs invited them to meet him at an orphanage. Frank was not prepared for what they were about to see. Listen to how Frank describes it: “I had never experienced such deplorable conditions in my life. The first thing that hit me as I walked into the orphanage was the stench of human excrement and urine, which permeated all of my clothing and even my skin, and made breathing an arduous task” (from “The Trip of a Lifetime” by O. Frank Valladares in PROJECT Childhelp, June 2000).

The building had no running water, no air-conditioning, no working toilets, exposed electrical wiring, broken windows, deteriorating walls and leaky ceilings. Here, 75 deformed, dehydrated, abandoned, starving orphans were housed.

Frank focused on an eight-year-old boy they nicknamed Cappuccino (nobody knew his real name). Naked, the boy was locked in a three-foot-by-four-foot cage.

“Why is he imprisoned in there?” Frank asked.

“Well, because he is hyperactive, and that’s the only way to control him,” a staff person answered.

Meanwhile, his wife Lourdes watched a little boy afflicted with cerebral palsy dragging himself along the filthy floor with his elbows and knees. It was the only way he could move.

Frank describes that moment as a time when “God grabbed our hearts.” No longer could Frank justify his cushy life of ease and still claim the name of Christ. He was captured by a calling to act.

Following the mission trip, the Valladareses established a nonprofit Christian organization headquartered in their garage called Project Childhelp. Their mission is to provide humanitarian help to the orphans in the Dominican Republic. Frank recruits doctors, nurses and everybody he can to visit and help the children. Every time Frank has a vacation, he spends it taking 5,000 pounds of medicine, food and clothes to “the forgotten children.” American Airlines heard what Frank was doing and offered to ship all the supplies for free. And now there are kids who eat three times a day (rather than once every other day) and who get bathed every day (rather than once a month—if at all). They get touched and held and loved.

And it’s all because somebody opted to love—not just in word but with actions. Frank and Lourdes were willing to have their hearts broken open by things that break the heart of God.

How about you? How willing are you to love? Not to pay lip service to love, but life service? Will you obey the invitation of scripture? “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

If Frank’s story teaches us anything, it tells us this: one person can make a big difference. Never underestimate the power that God’s love can have in your life. You really can change the world through His love.

So what are you waiting for?

November 01, 2003 / Fresh Start

Karl Haffner writes from College Place, Washington, where he serves as senior pastor of the Walla Walla College Church.