When Canyon Lake resident Janelle Basham used to think of Africa, she would picture safaris and exotic animals, but after spending time this summer at the Breath of Heaven orphanage in Zambia, all she can picture now when she closes her eyes is the faces of smiling children radiating with hope for their futures.
Janelle and her twenty-one-year-old daughter Jocelyn (Canyon Lake Youth of the Year 2014) were part of the 16 members of the Elevation Church in Menifee to travel on a mission trip to an orphanage, The Breath of Heaven Children Ministries, in Zambia, Africa. This village was created by Pastor Ted Lawler who was a local pastor at Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in Temecula and Wildomar. Pastor Ted now finds himself on the other side of the world with his wife Judy. “In 2007, this precious couple was obedient to what they felt was their ‘calling’ to start the Breath of Heaven,” said Janelle.
Pastor Ted and Judy were drawn to this ministry because of the HIV/AIDS induced orphan epidemic in Zambia. The growing number of Zambian orphans, by some estimates, has surpassed one million. Thousands of children are living in the streets of its capital, Lusaka, giving Zambia one of the highest populations of street children per capita in the world.
It was 2014 when Janelle first heard about the Breath of Heaven. The kids had heard at youth group that Elevation was putting together a team to visit an orphanage in Africa. When Janelle’s daughter Kaitlyn was 14 years old, she felt a stirring in her heart to serve there. “She was very disheartened when I told her there was no way she was going to Africa. I told her she was too young and it was too dangerous,” said Janelle.
When Kaitlyn’s older sister Jocelyn saw the video at church the following Sunday, they both had made up their minds that it would be a “sisters mission trip”. Janelle said, I immediately let them know again that although I loved their hearts, there was no way they were going to Africa.” Jocelyn reminded Janelle that she would be 18, a legal adult, when the trip would take place.
During this same period of time, Janelle’s husband John was spending a lot of time flying in South Africa. He told the girls that he was willing to check out the village and make sure they would be safe. John flew from Belgium with enough Belgium waffles for every orphan at the village. From the moment he stepped on the property, he knew immediately it was a wonderful opportunity for their daughters and one they would never forget. “John gave his blessing and before I knew it, we were renewing passports and getting immunizations,” said Janelle.
In July, Kaitlyn and Jocelyn headed to the other side of the globe to the Breath of Heaven orphanage where they spent two weeks at the village. The trip was a life changing experience for both. “Breath of Heaven became part of their hearts,” said Janelle. Each of their stories they shared upon their return was so inspiring to Janelle that she promised herself she would one day make the same journey and visit the children that have overcome unimaginable pain and suffering.
This year, when our church decided to put together another team, Jocelyn was first in line and had her mother by the hand. “Mom, you have to go,” she said. Although Janelle had a yearning to go, she knew the funds she would have to raise for the two of them go would be difficult. Not only is such a trip an expense monetarily, but there was also the hurdle of Janelle taking that much time off work.
“I work for My Choice Senior Care as a marketer and patient care liaison. We are a small family owned business, so I knew that leaving for 18 days was going to put pressure on the entire office team,” said Janelle. “God works in mysterious ways though.”
Robin Suitt, the sister of My Choice Senior Care owner Julie Zimmerer had also been on a mission trip to the Breath of Heaven in 2008. “Robin’s experience at the village was incredible and she is still very involved today with supporting this very special non-profit,” said Janelle. Julie had heard Robin speak many times of this Breath of Heaven village, so she not only gave Janelle the time off, but she supported a large portion of her fundraising. “It was meant to be that I go,” said Janelle
Janelle and Jocelyn were joined with Canyon Lake residents Tina Crawford and Teal Lundgren. Tina, Pastor Kasey’s mother at Elevation, became “grandma” to everyone at the village. “She was also able to meet the amazing young man ‘Gift’ that she sponsors. Meeting him was a gift to her spirit and watching them develop a deeper friendship was so precious,” said Janelle.
Teal graduated from Temescal Canyon High in 2014 with Jocelyn. This was her first time at the village. She plans on becoming a teacher and her love for these little ones was like a light. Janelle said, “They followed her everywhere! There was one very special little boy named “Sunday” who became her little shadow. This trip confirmed her goal of becoming a teacher as she begins her senior year at California State Fullerton.”
The girls brought many planned activities to the village, including a vacation bible school focusing on David and Goliath, wood burning projects, small group discussions with house moms and aunties, and soccer practice with the Breath of Heaven soccer team.
Kaitlyn’s advice to Janelle was to “savor the little moments” with the kids. “She was so right,” said Janelle. “It was the simple moments of just hanging out with the kids that meant the most to me and created the deepest connections. Coloring under the trees, watching them sing and dance, reading to them or shooting the hoop. Each activity let us see their individual loving personalities. As our relationships deepened, so many shared of their losses and it again reminded us how lucky we were to be there to simply love on these beautiful children.”
Janelle said the most special moment for her was when one of the little girls, Vanessa, asked if she could call her “mama.” Janelle has already partnered with Breath of Heaven to help pay for Vanessa’s expenses. “Meeting her was pure joy, and I miss and pray for her every day,” said Janelle.
Janelle said she has learned so much from the children at the orphanage. “Even after all they had been through, they loved like I have never seen. They love like Christ loves us, unconditionally. They treasured every small thing that was given or said to them. For those of us on our mission team it was a journey of the heart,” said Janelle
Jocelyn plans to go back and spend an entire summer at the orphanage after she graduates from college. She shared in her blog, Servants Soul, “I couldn’t be more blessed to return to the village three years after my first trip. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my kids and how much I miss them. I pray and wish they are doing well with their health, school and faith daily. Each child touches my heart in a different way and it’s an overwhelming kind of love that these kids have for God and the people who are blessed enough to come visit them. My trip was full of smiles and tears as I watched the work God is doing in each of their lives.” Jocelyn has made connections with even more children than the last time she visited the orphanage. She’s now the sponsor of six-year-old Nandi. “I will forever be her supporter, not just financially, but emotionally, spiritually and any other way she needs,” said Jocelyn.
“It’s an honor to be able to watch these kids grow up into such inspirational people. It is so important for these kids who come from nothing to feel like they have a purpose in life. Africa, Zambia and Breath of Heaven have my heart forever. These BOH children have become part of me.”
Jocelyn said the village has become her home away from home and where she feels safest and most peaceful. Both Jocelyn and Janelle look forward to going back.
The Breath of Heaven Children’s Ministries is dedicated to helping meet the needs of a growing orphan population in Lusaka, Zambia. The mission of the orphanage is to educate the children in a loving, family atmosphere and give them a hope and a future. “Our desire is to provide a stable, secure, family-like environment that will enhance the children’s interaction with their neighboring community,” said Pastor Ted.
Breath of Heaven has an immediate mission to develop a sustainable Children’s Village consisting of 14 children’s homes (there are currently 8), school, medical clinic and a church. When built -out entirely, Breath of Heaven will provide shelter and well-rounded care for 168 underprivileged children and widowed house mothers.
Janelle has started a personal fundraising effort for Breath of Heaven called “ Give Me Five.” She set up a donation box at her office, 31610 Railroad Canyon Rd., Ste. 4, for those who would like to donate.
For more information about Breath of Heaven, visit bofheaven.org.