We don't have cookie-cutter programs.
— Mary Kathryn Tiller · Tuesday, February 25, 2020 —
While many stories are told of the names and faces “on the ground,” there is a network of dedicated men and women who serve passionately behind the scenes at Orphan Outreach. Katherine Cheng, a self-proclaimed ‘administrative type,’ is one of those team members. She spends her days dreaming, planning, and supporting her brothers and sisters around the globe, who are serving in the field.
Katherine shared, “As Vice President of Programs, I manage all of our programmatic initiatives and teams, like our Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) staffs overseas. My responsibility is to make sure our directors have what they need and that Orphan Outreach’s long-term vision is clearly communicated and disseminated. I help them establish their organizational structure and integrate our policies and procedures so there is consistency across all of our countries, around the world. Of course, while Orphan Outreach has a certain way of doing things, we want each NGO to function within the context of its own culture.”
According to Katherine, Orphan Outreach seeks to empower their NGOs to be more functionally independent by equipping their staff and leadership, so they can do their work and go on to hire and train even more nationals, as their organization grows.
“It has been neat to see communities, like in Kenya, who don’t even know the name Orphan Outreach. They just know the NGO, Yatima Outreach. That’s a beautiful thing because it’s not about Orphan Outreach, it’s not about our name, it’s about equipping these organizations and ministries to do the work God has called them to do,” said Katherine.
Katherine began working with Orphan Outreach six months after it was founded, in October 2007. She came on as a part-time administrative assistant while attending graduate school at the University of Texas in Arlington. She had always felt called to work with children, and over the course of her high school and college years, was provided a series of opportunities to travel abroad and see firsthand the ministry of orphan care.
“The summer after my junior year, my high school youth group put together several different missions trips. The one that stood out to me was an orphan care trip to China through Buckner International. I am Chinese; I was born and raised in Houston, but my parents had immigrated from Hong Kong and southern China. So, that trip felt like a win-win-win. It allowed me to experience some of my heritage and background, it involved working with kids, and honestly, my friends were signing up to go,” Katherine said, laughing.
As the Lord would have it, her trip leader was none other than Mike Douris. Mike led the group of students to Northwest China, to serve children living in a government orphanage.
“The orphanages were very well run, you could tell the staff had a heart for the kids and wanted to be there. But it was my first experience with orphans and my first exposure to the fact that there are kids who are discarded by society. The Lord just broke my heart on that trip.”
Katherine returned to China two more times with Buckner (once more with Mike) each time returning with a strong desire to serve orphaned and vulnerable children.
That desire ultimately led her to Orphan Outreach, where for the past twelve years, she has worked in a variety of positions. One of her favorite experiences, however, was the summer she spent living alongside their ministry partners around the world.
“From May to October 2010, Orphan Outreach sent me overseas to spend about a month in every country,” Katherine shared. “At that time, we were only in Guatemala, Honduras, India, and Russia. I loved being able to spend an extended period of time in each place. I got to stay at the orphanages with our staff and got to see the day-to-day things that mission teams don’t always get to see. I loved getting to know our staff and seeing firsthand what they do. It was a once-in-a-life-time opportunity!”
Over the years, Katherine has learned a great deal about running an international orphan care ministry. Perhaps the most important, is the need to remain open to the needs and differences of each country, program, and child.
“One of the many things I love about working at Orphan Outreach is our ability to take a step back and really consider the work we are doing. We have this ability to adapt based on the current needs of our programs. I love that our focus is child-specific. We try to address each need of every child, uniquely. We don’t have “cookie-cutter” programs,” Katherine explained.
That is particularly important, Katherine explains, in the world’s current political climate:
“The places in which we work are very volatile, very anti-Christian. So, we’re having to ask questions like, ‘Is the work we are doing sustainable without compromising our values, without jeopardizing the ministry, or without putting our kids at risk?’ I think we’re continually asking ourselves, ‘Does this still make sense?’”
Despite the difficulties and the unknowns, Katherine and the rest of the staff at Orphan Outreach are certain of one thing: They are in this work together with God.
“Having been here all the years, Orphan Outreach really is like a second family to me,” Katherine said. “This is not just a job. This is what God has called me to do and He’s equipped me with the family to do it with. Caring for orphaned and vulnerable children is not a burden we bear on our own. We get to seek the Lord in whatever problems and issues we are trying to tackle. God equips us with exactly what we need whether that be staffing or finances. This is His work and we just get to be a part of it. It’s all about Him and His heart for these kids—which is so much greater than our own. He is all these kids need and getting to be a small part of His work in their lives is humbling.”
As Katherine reflects on her work at Orphan Outreach, she has one hope for the years ahead:
“I want to help people see God's heart for orphans. I want to help them figure out how they fit into His vision. Then, I want to help them get on board and get involved.”