Andy and Rose Roberts were bothered. Bothered enough to act on behalf of abused and exploited children they encountered on the streets in Brazil. Having pioneered ReVive, the first ministry of its kind in Olinda, they intend to keep on innovating. Here they share their next steps
BY JENNY MUSCAT, SENIOR EDITORIAL CONTENT PRODUCER
Andy was 14 when he first heard about children living on the streets in a talk at his church.
After finishing school, Andy went to Olinda, Brazil, for six months with South American Mission Society (SAMS). He worked in My Father’s House, a home for boys at risk due to gang violence or abusive home situations. While in Brazil, he sensed that God was calling him to come back after university: “God was saying, ‘You need to give up your time.’” While in Olinda, Andy met Rose, who is from Brazil.
After university, Andy applied for a visa to go back and volunteer for My Father’s House – and be reunited with Rose. As Andy and Rose’s call became clearer, they went forward for mission partner selection with SAMS. Andy and Rose were married in the UK in 2009, and returned to Brazil as mission partners that year.
For the first few years they mainly worked at My Father’s House and were involved in youth and children’s work.
One day Andy and a colleague met three sisters aged eight, 10 and 12. They were being sexually exploited, and it transpired that their mother was the person sending them to work on the streets. Andy and Rose wanted to help, but discovered that there were no projects like My Father’s House for girls in the city. God prompted them to start something new.
By 2012 Church Mission Society had given the green light for this new phase. Andy and Rose stepped away from work at My Father’s House and worked towards opening a home for girls in 2014 – this was the beginning of ReVive.
Andy comments that CMS was instrumental in those early stages: “Being mission partners freed us up to concentrate on running ReVive, which needed our full-time input for vision and leadership.” He also highlights that, “when we talked about the vision at the start, it was a risk to take on pioneering something very new” – yet CMS was willing to take the risk.
Girls’ home gets the go-ahead
Andy and Rose drew on their experience at My Father’s House to work towards setting up a new home for girls aged five to 15. They found a house and were able to raise funds very rapidly to purchase it. They also read widely about others pioneering similar things. As the home became established, the team learned more about the specific aspects of working with girls.
One key difference was that the girls were much more likely to have experienced sexual abuse, leaving deep trauma.
The girls Andy and Rose were encountering had often been systematically abused, frequently by someone close to them. Andy commented, “We needed to learn about handling trauma and the behavioural issues it could trigger – of course this underlined the need for ReVive.”
ReVive remains the only home in Olinda that is exclusively for girls.
Girls at ReVive arrive scared, shy and suspicious. Girls like J and her sister, who had experienced physical abuse and neglect along with attempted sexual abuse. Both were broken and had physical, emotional and psychological scars, affecting their relationship with each other and with others. Over the years those family relationships have started to be restored.
As ReVive raise these young women and invest in their future, hope is born again for the girls. In J’s case this took the form of undertaking a business course, equipping her to apply for a job in marketing.
“No one would have given her a chance when she arrived at ReVive but over the years God has worked in her life and it’s a privilege to see the transformation.” J has also come to know Jesus and become a part of the local church family.
Andy and Rose continue to wrestle with questions as ReVive develops: “We’re always thinking how to improve – is it just babysitting for a few years, or something deeper?” They seek to provide food, a home and protection, but also to see lasting change, change that can only come through Jesus. Their key question is, “How do we take a child and bring them from one place to another? ReVive is here to transform their lives – how do we do that?”
They have found the most important thing is to open up space for God to move, as faith is the source of transformation. Constant learning has been a theme for ReVive, and Andy has been supported by CMS to complete an MA through the Open University and All Nations Christian College.
The ReVive home is now approaching its fifth birthday, so we might expect Andy and Rose to be slowing down and relishing that achievement. Yet that isn’t quite the case.
Future plans for ReVive include opening another safe house, increasing fostering and adoption, training others in developing projects with vulnerable children and working to prevent abuse.
The new house will offer care for 0–7s, as good provision is needed for younger age groups.
However, Andy and Rose believe that more safe houses isn’t the end goal – they are expensive to run and not always the best option for children. Andy says, “In the Bible we see the family as the God-given method for taking care of kids.”
As good as a safe house can be, it’s not a substitute for the love and emotional support family can provide. There is also a challenge in that care homes only support children until they are 18 – yet family support is crucial into the difficult first years of adulthood. While Andy and Rose acknowledge that in the short term homes in Brazil are much needed, they comment, “even as they are opening, we pray that they will close” as the need diminishes.
Research has shown that good fostering can provide the family context that an institution lacks. However, in Brazil only three per cent of children in need of foster care end up receiving it, and it is only available in the south of the country. In Olinda, there is no legislation for people to even register as foster families.
Andy and Rose are part of local government discussions in various municipalities to develop this model – and they also want to see the church getting involved. “We would love the ReVive legacy to be as one of the groups bringing fostering to Brazil.”
As for adoption, it is allowed, but is much more likely if children are under the age of seven, as there are fewer families keen to adopt older girls.
Despite the challenges, ReVive has seen some girls adopted. Recently, after some ups and downs, three sisters aged five, six and 12 left ReVive to begin life with their new family.
Andy comments: “We’re very pleased for them all as it’s quite rare for someone to adopt three siblings at once, including a pre-teen!”
Andy and Rose are keen to highlight to the local church the links between adoption and faith. “We are all adopted,” they point out.
“Kids waiting to be adopted have scars and behavioural challenges – this applies to us too, as sinners. Yet we were adopted [by God] despite this. Adoption should be part of our mission.”
Although Andy and Rose don’t think everyone is called to adopt, “the church is a great context to support those fostering and adopting”. Andy and Rose would like to see ReVive encouraging fostering and adoption in Brazilian churches, training families in fostering and presenting them to the local government. These families would then foster with the support of ReVive and their local church.
Through CMS, a number of people have gone to work at ReVive, both short-term and longer-term. Plans are now in place to create a regional mission training hub at ReVive, beginning in September 2018. This two-year programme will include learning that is both theological and practical, with a specific focus on setting up and running NGOs in Brazil.
The course will initially be in English, training foreign workers. Yet Andy and Rose would like to translate the course: “We want to train local leaders with passion for the work – so that there are good leaders here. This also makes the project more sustainable and accessible.”
Prevention is better than cure
The fourth future strand involves reducing the need to remove girls from their families by intervening earlier. Andy shared that the aim is to open a community centre to support families with training to avoid high risk situations. The hope is that CMS people in mission will be able to help to pioneer this in the longer term.
After hearing about the compelling vision that Andy and Rose have for the future, it really does seem that they are only just getting started.
The Call in Action: GIVE
If you’ve been inspired by Andy and Rose’s story, could you support other innovators in mission?