Vision to find families for vulnerable children grows
Eight years ago, Thomas and Rachel Abbott left Norwich for Thailand with Care for Children to launch a new project. They returned this year, with three young children of their own, and an even bigger vision for their work.
In 2012, a young couple from Norwich sold their possessions and moved to Thailand with Care for Children to launch a new project with the Thai government to find families for vulnerable children living in orphanages.
Thomas and Rachel’s goal was to set up a project with the government of Thailand to move children out of orphanages and into local families. They started with a pilot project in Chiang Mai, which saw 50 children placed into families within three years.
In 2015 the project expanded nationally, and now all 29 government orphanages have been trained by Care for Children, with most of them now running local foster care programmes. Thomas said: “The development has been remarkable. One little boy said to me, ‘even if you offered me one million Baht (Thai currency), I wouldn’t leave my family and go back to the orphanage’.
“The orphanage wasn’t an intentionally abusive place, and the staff did their best, but it was so clear to everyone, and especially that boy, that families are infinitely better for children. And it’s no surprise when you remember that God designed the family to care for children! We’re just working with governments to make sure they have a welfare system in place that honours God’s design.”
The project was a success, with all but one of the nine office staff being Thai nationals. The couple felt they should move on to the next challenge so they led a newly established team in Vietnam to start a similar project for Care for Children in Hanoi. Rachel said, “Vietnam is a poorer country than Thailand, and that was clear from the beginning, so there were some aspects that were more challenging. But we loved the ‘old quarter’ market in Hanoi, and we would often go to Hoan Kiem lake as a family on the weekend. We loved the food, especially the local speciality ‘pho ga’ (chicken noodle soup).”
Now back in Norfolk, Rachel and Thomas are enjoying reconnecting with family and friends. Rachel said: “It’s been seven months and it still feels like we’re transitioning. There is definitely a mental re-adjustment needed. And a physical one too – we haven’t had to live through a long winter like this for a while!”
Returning to the UK, the Abbotts are now a family of five. Rachel fell pregnant within a few months of arriving in Thailand. Theo was born in 2013, Barnabas in 2015 and Lovella in 2018. She had been working full-time as a midwife in Norfolk, but gave up her career to move to Thailand, and quickly had to adjusted to becoming a full-time mum.
She said: “It was certainly hard at times without family and long-term friends nearby, which is your natural support network when in your home country. It took effort to make new friends, but they were often in the same situation as us, especially other expats, so we learnt how to support each other. There were many positives though, especially watching our children flourish in a culture that is different to your passport country.”
Becoming parents affected Thomas and Rachel’s outlook on their work in Thailand. Thomas recalls a moment soon after Theo was born when the significance of their work touched him as he observed some of the boys at the Chiang Mai orphanage play football.
“When one of the youngest boys ran past me, in that moment, I couldn’t help but see Theo in him – my own precious son! Not only did it break my heart to think of Theo in an orphanage without Rachel and me to love him and be parents to him, but I suddenly realised: that’s how God sees us! When we dash past Him, He sees in us His own precious son Jesus. It was like I suddenly had a shared understanding of our Heavenly Father’s heart for His children that we read about so clearly in the Bible.” It was a powerful lesson to learn, and allowed Thomas to see and feel the significance of the mission he was called to in a much deeper and holistic way – both for the children who need families, but also for the nations that Care for Children has been called to serve.
With the Vietnam project up and running in capable hands, Thomas and Rachel have come back to join Care for Children’s international project support office in Norwich to oversee all country projects, as well as developments into new countries. The charity is launching a project in Cambodia this year.
Thomas said: “We have a very exciting new global vision and mission to reach the nations, and I believe caring for vulnerable children in families uniquely reflects God’s heart, so we’d love to share more about this with churches in Norfolk, and how they can partner with us.”
The church in the UK has a long and rich history of supporting mission work overseas. Care for Children wants to channel the support for orphan care ministries into placing children into families, rather than keeping them in orphanages. There is the opportunity for churches, families and individuals to become ‘Family Champions’ with Care for Children to help them achieve this mission.
You can learn more about Care for Children or the Abbotts by writing to: email@example.com. To become a Family Champion, please go to: www.careforchildren.com/familychampions
Click here to read our previous story on the Abbotts in 2012