This story is about a group of people who live in my small, Midwestern town whose vision is world-wide. Their work to help poor, neglected children around the world is phenomenal. Information to contribute to this ministry is listed at the end of the article. Please consider helping them.
Twenty-seven million people in the world are involved with human trafficking. The illegal trade of humans, mostly women and children, for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor is considered by many to be the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. This modern-day form of slavery is projected to involve 100,000 people daily in the United States; 80 percent are children under the age of 18.
Though the numbers of people forced into human trafficking is staggering, Bluffton pastor Matt Hartsell refuses to become discouraged. “I’m excited to be part of the solution of saving children around the world,” he said. “There’s something special about doing something eternal.”
Hartsell is Associate Pastor of Adult Ministries & Counseling of Hope Missionary Church in Bluffton. In 1999 he founded a ministry called Forgotten Children Worldwide (FCW; it was formerly called Forgotten Children International). Today he is Executive Director of the organization.
According to Hartsell, the idea for FCW began when he and his wife, Barb, adopted a 5-year-old daughter from Russia. In 1996 the Hartsells, who already had three biological children, adopted a daughter from China. During each of the adoption processes, the Hartsells toured overcrowded orphanages. “They were like warehouses for children,” Matt recalled. The memories haunted him so much that he woke his wife one night. “It is wrong to do nothing when we know children are suffering,” he said. “We have to do something to help children around the world.”
Matt Hartsell grew up in Swanton, Ohio, and graduated from Fort Wayne Bible College as a Christian education major. He later earned a Master’s degree in Psychology from University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne. The first thing he and other volunteers did was send boxes of clothing to orphanages in Russia.
The mission continues today with beige bins with green tops and signs promoting Forgotten Children Worldwide are located at several area churches and business in Allen, Adams and Wells counties. In the Ossian area bins are located at the BP gas station, United Methodist Church on Mill Street and at Living Faith Missionary Church.
In Bluffton a bin is placed at Forgotten Children Worldwide main location at 650 N Main St. Crossroads Pantry in Markle, The Chapel and Avalon Missionary Church in Fort Wayne, D&D’s Time Saver Gas Station in Decatur, Abracadabra Hair Salon in Geneva, and Marathon Station in Monroe also have bins. Volunteers drive trucks to each of the collection sites on a regular basis. “Forgotten Children Worldwide is primarily a volunteer-powered organization,” said Hartzell. The group collects clean, gently-used clothing, shoes, jackets, and coats and book bags. Sizes of clothing range from infant to medium adult. No undergarments are accepted.
For several years Hope Missionary Church in Bluffton allowed the use of a 40×60-foot warehouse behind their main campus on Dustman Road to accommodate donations. The organization moved to the Main Street location in spring 2012. “The church is a partner with us,” said Hartsell. “We have a strong volunteer base from this church, but FCW is a non-denominational ministry. Everyone is encouraged to help.”
During its first decade, the ministry mailed many 20,000-pound containers, packed with clean children’s clothing, to the Ukraine and India. Over the years Hartsell and others associated with the organization have traveled to these countries to meet with religious leaders to promote the distribution of the clothing, construction of orphan home, self-sustainability projects and wells. “A vast group of passionate volunteers is the energy behind the growing organization,” said Hartzell.
In summer 2012 Hartsell traveled to India to meet with religious leaders about the situation of temple prostitutes. “Human trafficking is part of the Hindu culture,” he said. “When female prostitutes bear children, they often traffic the children to pay their debts.”
Hartzell’s plan is to have native Indian leaders work with Hindu women, convincing them to forgo prostitution and not involve their children in sexual slavery.
“Pastors in Uganda and Kenya will find foster families where orphans may live, instead of orphanages,” said Hartsell. “These children can be sponsored for $25 each month to care for the child. Each of the children living in a home through the Forgotten Children Worldwide sponsorships receives daily food, clothing, and devotions with Christian house parents. They attend church and are prayed with daily. The money is also applied towards a child’s physical and medical needs, spiritual training, and schooling.” He adds that nearly 400 children around the world are currently sponsored through this program.
As the ministry of Forgotten Children Worldwide has expanded, so has Hartsell’s vision for the ministry. He is now working with people in Uganda and India to construct orphan ‘homes’. “These are different from orphanages as they would only house up to twenty children and a set of house parents,” he said. “Thousands of children have no family or food or places to live. We want to help them feel safe and cared for.”
From the orphan home concept evolved a self-sustainability approach the FCW team is devising to help children be cared for in Uganda and other countries. “We started a heifer farm in which a family cares for an orphan who is sponsored through Forgotten Children Worldwide,” he said. “This indigenous ministry would receive a loan or grant to raise a cow. When they sell the milk, the income supplements the cost of caring for the child.”
For more information about Forgotten Children Worldwide go to http://www.forgottenchildren.org/.
Forgotten Children Worldwide
650 N Main Street
Bluffton, IN 46714
Toll Free: 888.353.1580
Cutline: Matt Hartsell, director of Forgotten Children Worldwide, poses with Ugandan orphans during a recent trip to the African country.