By Corey King
He keeps moving forward no matter the weather. Even Blizzard Jonas’ freezing temperatures and the snow-smothered roads failed to keep him from running six miles closer to his ultimate goal: helping orphan children around the world. Virginia Wesleyan adjunct professor, Rev. Wayne Lavender, is running, walking and driving across country on a five-month trek to raise awareness and funds for orphan children.
Lavender began his adventure in Virginia Beach on Jan. 1, and will arrive in Portland, Oregon in May.
Lavender plans to stop in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Colorado and Oregon along the way. He organized his schedule so he will arrive in Oregon just in time for the General
Conference for the United Methodist Church being held in Portland.
Lavender’s trip came to him as an idea randomly during a jog.
“One day, while out jogging, it occurred to me that I could run across the U.S., from Virginia Beach where I live to Portland in time for General Conference,” he said.
The trip is titled “The Oregon Trail: A New Frontier For Orphans and Vulnerable Children.”
“It is my hope to raise awareness and support for this resolution as I journey across the nation,” Lavender said.
Lavender started an organization named Foundation 4 Orphans in Iraq in 2011. He was teaching at the University of Human Development in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, when he established a chapter of the Foundation 4 Orphans. The foundation was set up as a mentor program with the university he was teaching at as well as nearby colleges to help young orphaned children in the city. The goal for the foundation was to aid in preventing the children from becoming a part of the ongoing war in Iraq.
“Despite the fact that there are some great organizations already doing work with orphans, the statistics continue to haunt me: 26,000 children die daily from extreme poverty. We have the technological knowledge and resources to severely mitigate this unnecessary suffering, what we lack is the will to do this important work. Maybe in some way the Foundation 4 Orphans can make a difference,” Lavender said.
Lavender also said his other reason for starting this organization was biblical.
“30 separate times, the Bible tells us to care for orphans” he said. It takes a dedicated person to take on a task as large as this, but Lavender said he is up for the challenge.
Lavender’s goals for his travels are in tandem with his goals for the General Conference.
“The United Methodist Church is in great decline and usually General Conference spends much of its time and energy arguing and debating theological issues while so many people, especially children, suffer. I, along with Chaplain Greg West from VWC, submitted a resolution to General Conference asking the church to embrace orphans and vulnerable children as the missional priority of the denomination,” Lavender said.
While venturing across the United States, Lavender will be stopping at various locations to speak about the efforts of his organization as well as the epidemic that is going on in the world around us. He will speak at primarily United Methodist Churches.He said he already spoke to a Boy Scout troop and two colleges.
He also said he plans on speaking at many public libraries, but at the same time still has many dates on his calendar open.
According to Lavender’s website, his foundation plans to utilize fundraising money to raise awareness of orphans and vulnerable children in the global south, and raise funds for new orphan projects in Mozambique, Iraq, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Lavender also plans to generate support and signers on a petition to General Conference encouraging the UMC to embrace orphans and vulnerable children as the missional priority of the denomination. The official petition has already been submitted but they say they are hoping to add thousands of signatures to this pending legislation.
Lavender has high hopes for the future. He set up a mentoring program between college students and orphans in Iraq. The students receive sensitivity and listening training and are then matched with an orphan. The students sign a pledge to remain in contact with the child until the child turns 18. Lavender’s foundation operates on budget of $60,000 per year to run this program.
Lavender said he is excited to meet many people along the way and see all of the beautiful scenery of this country. However, he said his biggest goal is to have his mission accepted by the Methodist Church.
“My biggest hope is to have the denomination accept our resolution and embrace orphans and vulnerable children as the missional priority of the United Methodist Church. This would enable us to unite the church again around a great mission, help lots of children and find our voice again,” Lavender said.
If you would like to find out more about Lavender and his mission, head to his website http://www.f4o.org/trekking-4-orphans-with-wayne.html or follow his Twitter account to see daily updates of his travel https://twitter.com/waynelavender1.