Cover Story: Mike & Beth Fox
Uplifting Spirits: The Global Orphan Project
Home in the Northland Magazine, December 2011/January 2012
Words: Pete Dulin | Photos: Contributed by The Global Orphan Project
Sometimes, the basic needs of people separated by time, geography, and resources converge in a remarkable fashion. The story of the Global Orphan Project, based in Parkville, exemplifies how people located here and there are drawn together by a powerful connection.
In 2003, 17 orphan children from the Karen tribe reside in a refugee camp. They are a few of thousands fleeing military conflict in Burma, now Myanmar, and seeking safety over the border in Thailand. The story of how these children inspire love and benevolence begins much earlier.
It’s 1992. Mike Fox is a salesman in the propane gas industry. He starts and loses his business. His marriage fails. His life is due for a change.
In 1993, Mike meets Beth. He becomes a successful leader and minority owner in Inergy, an anchor company in the propane gas business. Beth forges a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry.
It’s 1994. Life is mercurial. Beth has a brain hemorrhage with minimal chance of survival. As she is wheeled away for brain surgery at a hospital, Mike kisses her goodbye. Time passes; the outcome uncertain. When Mike and Beth realize that the surgery has saved her life, their future will never be the same. They focus beyond the scope of their marriage and life together. An internal axis shifts, geography shrinks, the needs of 17 children will one day cross a threshold into their lives.
The Global Orphan ProjectPost-surgery, three key shifts happened in the lives of Mike and Beth. “First, our attitudes changed. All of us are terminal. We just don’t think or act like at,” says Beth Fox. “We stopped taking the precious gift of life for granted so much. We gained more urgency and fullness. Second, our financial situation significantly changed from Mike’s business life. Third, Mike’s spirit changed from the inside out. Mike surrendered his life to Christ. That process changed our hearts and changed our eyes to see. We started loving others a whole lot better.”
The Foxes understood that their transformation didn’t come from urgency or money, but from Jesus Christ. Their hearts were stirred by new purpose. They sought a chance to help others.
Back to 2003. A Filippino missionary told Mike and Beth about the opportunity to help a pastor caring for 17 Karen orphans in a Thai/Myanmar refugee camp. The couple acted and wrote a $750 check for a small shanty. A seed began to grow in Mike’s gut.
In August 2003, Mike took a leave from work, packed his bags, and traveled to South Asia with Beth’s blessing to visit those orphans. “I went to deal with something growing inside of me. I thought that we’d send some money and that would be that. Like paying a utility bill. But there was something more,” Mike says.
He kept thinking about the orphans. “I needed to go and meet those kids. To see if it was real,” he says. “I found that they were real, beautiful, and vulnerable children without parents. And there were too many others to even count in that single refugee camp. I’m not sure what surprised me more. The heartache in seeing all of those children or the joy the children in that home gave to me.”
Eventually, Beth and Mike funded a few children’s homes through money he earned in his propane gas business. In 2004, they started the family ministry C3 Missions International named after C3H8, the chemical name for propane gas. Word spread, friends began to help, churches and businesses began to sponsor entire villages, and the ministry grew.
In 2010, C3 Missions International became the Global Orphan Project. The founders wanted to shift attention away from them. “The story is this growing family of incredible people making these children their own personal priorities, and having their own lives transformed in the process,” says Mike. “People and organizations use our ministry as an outlet to do their own global orphan projects.”
Beginning with one hut in a Thai refugee camp, the ministry has impacted more than 3,500 orphans through full-time residential care, more than 6,000 children through schools, in 15 countries. “That hasn’t happened because of the Fox family,” says Beth. “It’s happened by a movement of God through caring people willing to take big risks for little kids.”
Today, the GO Project connects the philanthropic interests of people in the United States with the needs of orphans worldwide. The Fox family and other donors cover the overhead of running the nonprofit, thereby addressing concerns about public donations underwriting an organization’s administrative costs. “Instead, givers can leverage 100 percent of their generosity for the work in the field,” explains Mike. “Ordinary people can combine to make an extraordinary impact.”
For example, a family in Riss Lake used a family birthday as an opportunity to bless children via a donation. The Moyes Eye Center supported an entire village in Thailand and 100 children around the world. Liberty Christian Fellowship and numerous other churches have launched global orphan projects using a similar model.
These combined efforts help true orphans like Renise. Beth recounts her story. “Renise’s parents died. At age 14, she was working as a slave girl for a family in Port au Prince, Haiti. While fetching water one day, she was assaulted at gunpoint and impregnated. Her owners had no use for a pregnant worker. Before the 2010 earthquake, Renise’s owners turned her to the streets. Today, Renise and her healthy baby live safely and securely with one of our local church partners in Haiti. Her child started kindergarten in 2010 and remains in school today. Renise is learning how to sew. Most importantly, this child has learned the love of God for her. She has learned that she greatly matters to God, more than she ever fathomed.”
The GO Project does more than raise funds; it works by facilitating local church-based care. Local church partners are enlisted to care for children like Renise. “From infrastructure, like basic children’s homes, to planning the cost and expectations of basic care, we work with our local church partners to expand their capacity to care for kids,” says Mike.” When planning and budgeting is complete, we bring the needs to our headquarters in Parkville and present, via our network, opportunities to help.”
Funding from donors is matched to specific needs overseas. Aligning efforts with local churches that provide community services is a key factor. “We want the children to blend into their communities, and to understand that their care comes from their own people, not from a foreign organization,” says Beth. “Many of the children in care don’t even know who The Global Orphan Project is. And we like that.”
Underlying this person-to-person network is a Christ-centered orientation. “Our faith in Jesus Christ is central to our DNA,” says Mike. “Apart from Christ this never would have been started.”
Children gain access to food, shelter, clothing, and education through the assistance of the GO Project. An introduction to the redeeming hope in Christ is an even more powerful resource. “If you met Renise, knowing what she’s been through, her uplifting spirit may stun and shake you to your core – in a good way,” says Beth. “She wasn’t that way in the beginning. She gained that spirit from the relentless love of Christ, the only love big enough to overcome the unfathomable wreckage in her life.”
Thinking of the many orphans impacted by the GO Project family, Mike adds, “We no longer think that we’re here to ‘rescue’ them with our money and intellect. Children like Renise are here to rescue many of us from the shallows.”
Despite their far-reaching impact, the GO Project faces daunting challenges given their mission. “Our greatest challenge is that end-of-the-line orphan care is brutally hard,” says Mike. “Many in our world take advantage of orphans to raise money. These precious children become marketing fodder to titillate emotions for dollars. And when the money starts flowing, the kids at the end of the line, like Renise, often do not receive even the basics of care that they need. These are the hard realities of global orphan care. These are the realities we must constantly address in the process of what we do.”
“Christ’s character was to leave the ninety-nine sheep who are safe to go after the hard-to-get-at one that’s lost,” concludes Beth. “In the enormous realm of global poverty relief, we adopt that specific spirit. We want to go after the Ones. And we have found so many here in the U.S. willing to undertake this journey with us.”
To learn more about the Global Orphan Project, visit theglobalorphanproject.org or by phone at (816) 536-8333.