I met Tom Davis a few years ago at K2 Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was there to check out the cool warehouse-church with the beach sandal billboard; Tom was there to tell the church about suffering orphans, young girls entering the sex-trade, and a generation decimated by HIV/Aids. Three minutes into Tom’s story, the billboard became insignificant.
Tom Davis is the author of Red Letters: Living a Faith That Bleeds, Fields of the Fatherless: Discover the Joy of Compassionate Living, Confessions of a Good Christian Guy: The Secrets Men Keep and the Grace that Saves Them, and his latest book is a work of fiction titled, Scared: A Novel on the Edge of the World. He’s the CEO of Children’s HopeChest, encourages us all to drink Saint’s Coffee, and daily lives James 1:27.
Bryan: Tom, you went from a post-modern church planter in Texas to an advocate for orphans all over the world. What sparked the change?
Tom: In the mid-’90s I started making trips to Russian orphanages. The kids I met in those places changed my life forever. These orphans stopped being statistics and became human beings. They were beautiful kids filled with hopes and dreams for their futures but without help, there was no way to fulfill them. Most of them were forced to leave the orphanage at fifteen to sixteen years of age. 15% of those kids would end up committing suicide in two years, 70% of the girls would end up as prostitutes and 80% of the boys would end up on the streets or in jail. Those statistics shot an arrow through my heart. I couldn’t walk away and do nothing.
Bryan: What has been the most rewarding moment of your ministry?
Tom: Only one?! I met this little girl named Valya in Russia. She had a terrible story about being severely abused by her father who was later killed. Her mother was an alcoholic and blamed her for her father’s death. She was so upset with her she beat her incessantly until one day she couldn’t stand to look at her anymore and dropped her off at an orphanage. Valya never heard from her mother again.
This little girl was so amazing. Talent and beauty radiated from her life. Her dream was to enter college and play the flute. This was impossible because she could never afford it. We were able to buy her a flute, help her with her education, and take her to St. Petersburg to see the symphony and a ballet!
Bryan: What do you find most challenging about your ministry for orphans?
Tom: The need is always greater than our ability to meet it. We go into villages in Uganda and people are eating cow dung and boiling grass to survive. That kind of desperation is overwhelming. With the help of our partners, we meet those needs only to find out there are fifty villages within a few hundred miles just like it. We keep going, by God’s grace, helping as many as we can.
Bryan: It has been said that America is becoming more homogenized, often influenced by our media and entertainment outlets rather than the circumstances of our neighbors. If you think this might be true, what does it mean for orphans around the world? Has this hurt or helped? (What are the effects of say, Bono’s One Campaign or the movie, “Orphan”—no matter how bizarre the twisted ending might be?)
Tom: I hate making blanket statements, so forgive me in advance. Media has numbed most of us into thinking that people starving in Africa and girls in the sex-trade industry are just stories made up in Hollywood. The sensory overload causes people to shut down because they hear it all the time and many people think others are handling the issues.
Every single Christ-follower, has a biblical obligation to get involved in helping the poor. There are over two thousand versus in the Bible talking about poverty and many are commands for us to help those in need.
Bryan: Where do your see your ministry for the orphans in five years? Ten? Twenty?
Tom: I’ll do this the rest of my life. The goal I’ve set for myself and Children’s HopeChest is to care for one million orphans over the next thirty years. There are over one hundred and fifty million orphans in the world and trying to reach them is a daunting task. But if we can reach a million, a generation, then that generation will reach themselves. One million will reach one hundred and fifty million.
Bryan: When given the opportunity, what do you tell the churches you visit?
Tom: I tell them about how passionate God is about them caring for widows and orphans. If “pure and undefiled religion is caring for widows and orphans,” (James 1:27), then every single church on the planet must to be involved in orphan ministry.
Bryan: What lessons do you feel the American Church should learn from your ministry and experiences overseas working with orphans?
Tom: Every time I go overseas I fool myself into thinking it’s about me helping them. Although that’s true, I end up receiving way more from them then I’m able to give. Being with the poor is one of the greatest activities on earth. As Mother Theresa said, “When I’m with the poor, I’m with Jesus.”
Bryan: In what ways can someone get involved, from the lowest level to the highest?
Tom: Contact me at email@example.com or check out the Children’s HopeChest webpage at www.hopechest.org. We’re all about involvement. We’ll take you overseas, get you connected with orphans and entire orphan villages. We’ll even show you how you can help a child for the rest of their life, for less than you spend on coffee each month. You can even buy coffee that fights poverty at www.saintscoffee.com. For every pound you buy, you feed an orphan for a month.
Bryan: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Tom: Helping the poor, the widow, or the orphan changes your life forever. There isn’t a better way to connect with the heart of God. In Matthew 25 Jesus talked about how significant these acts are in the kingdom of heaven. God turns to the righteous in eternity and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was naked and you clothed me, sick and you came to me, in prison and you visited me.” Those are the words I want to hear.
Twitter users, follow Tom Davis @cthomasdavis.
*I have no material connection to the books mentioned in this interview.