‘He’s chosen me to help take care of His kids’

Published 9:04 am Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A weeklong mission trip three years ago has turned into a way of life for Brewton native Leigh Cooper, who abandoned the plans she had for her life when she realized God had a different path for her.
Cooper has spent the past year working at an orphanage in Guaimaca, Honduras, where she hopes to help children left to their own devices overcome their hardships.
Cooper, a 2006 graduate of T.R. Miller High School and Auburn University, first found herself on the campus of Orphanage Emmanuel in Guaimaca as part of a mission trip while attending First Baptist Church in Opelika.
“I made a trip with the church in May 2008 for a week,” Cooper said. “I didn’t like it very much, but after that trip the Lord began dealing with me to go back.”
Cooper’s trip to the orphanage opened her eyes to the devastation and chaos that surrounded the Honduran facility.
The facility, although modern and completely self-contained, was filled with children who had either lost parents or were taken from their homes because of prostitution, sex trafficking or other crimes. Dealing with children who have faced so much adversity was a daunting task Cooper wasn’t sure she could handle.
Despite her apprehension about the first trip, Cooper said she felt a call to return the next year.
“The Lord was saying to me that I had to go back,” Cooper said. “That didn’t fit in with my plans.”
As Cooper struggled with the call she felt, she said the Lord began to show her in tangible ways that she was meant to be a part of the work in Honduras.
“I made a second trip with the church in December 2009 for a week,” Cooper said. “The pastor of the church came to me and said he knew I didn’t like the first trip but wanted me to go again. The Lord just kept putting me in a spot to go back.”
In relating one event from her second visit there, Cooper said an encounter with a 14-year-old girl tested her strength in her faith and in her commitment.
Each day she would greet the young girl with simple words of welcome and affection: “I love you.”
Every day the girl cursed at Cooper and rejected her. Undaunted, Cooper repeated her words every morning.
After weeks of consistent messages of love and acceptance, the young girl came out of her shell of anger and resentment to accept the love Cooper had shown with a simple hug.
“They want to know they are loved in spite of themselves,” Cooper said. “It’s a test of faith and a test to see if we mean what we say.”
Cooper said after her return from that December trip, she knew the orphanage was where she was meant to be.
“In January (2010) I turned in my application to become a staff volunteer,” Cooper said. “I wanted to ignore it. I didn’t want to go. But, this is where he called me to be.”
Cooper said the nearly 500 children there come to the orphanage from a world filled with problems many cannot even fathom.
“The children at the orphanage have been removed from their home for protection,” Cooper said. “They are exposed to a life of prostitution, sex trafficking and so much poverty. We don’t know that kind of poverty here. They will do anything for money.”
Cooper said the children currently living at Orphanage Emmanuel are being taught more than reading, writing and arithmetic. The staff works to raise the children in a Godly manner while supplying their basic needs of housing, food and a compassionate hand of guidance.
“There are 480 kids there being raised up in the ways of the Lord,” Cooper said. “Our hope is that when they leave there, they will become missionaries in their own home.”
Cooper said she believes the children she works with are her own and she is responsible for their well-being and for opening their lives to God.
“These are His kids,” Cooper said. “It is an honor for me and very humbling. I’m not qualified to be there — He’s chosen me to help take care of His kids. It’s very overwhelming.”
The 20-member staff is challenged daily in caring for children who sometimes don’t want the help, Cooper said.
“We have children who come to the orphanage pregnant,” she said. “We have issues that we have to face including children who run away. When you are aware of a need, it’s your responsibility to handle it. I know the needs so I have to do this. I can’t continue to live my life knowing they exist. In order to change our lives, we have to give God an opportunity to bless us through people’s lives. Being obedient brings joy. The joy of being obedient is opening up more blessings for me.”
Cooper will return to Honduras Thursday for a year-long stay as part of the unpaid staff at Orphanage Emmanuel. Although housing is provided, she is responsible for living expenses while on staff — but she isn’t worried about where the funds will come from.
“I know that God will provide my needs,” Cooper said. “I have some wonderful people who have offered to make contributions for my expenses. I know that God will take care of me while I do His work. I’m not there for the pay. We work 18-hour days, seven days a week with no pay at all. But, I am a believer. I felt the Lord was calling my life and that’s where I will be.”
To make a financial contribution to expenses involved in her work, contact Cooper at leighcooper.emmanuel@gmail.com.
Orphanage Emmanuel began as a vision of David and Lydia Martinez in 1989 opening the doors for five children without electricity and running water. Since that time the compound has grown to a facility that can house as many as 500 children as well as the 20-member staff and a number of other volunteers. The facility is located in the mountains of Honduras about 70 miles northeast of the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
For information about the work of Orphanage Emmanuel or to find out how you can make a financial contribution, visit the organization’s Web site at www.orphanageemmanuelhn.weebly.com.

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