I don’t typically post on Saturdays, but I wanted to give you all a chance to get to know John McCollum and his family a little bit before we dive into our Q & A session on orphan care next week. If you missed yesterday’s post, we started a discussion about orphanages and whether or not they’re the best thing for children.
I always smile when I think about the first time I met John and Kori McCollum and their three kids. Because it was at an orphanage outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They were spending most of their summer vacation in Cambodia and Thailand, visiting and encouraging all of the Asia’s Hope orphanages. And we were there with a small team from our church for just a week, visiting the Asia’s Hope orphanage we sponsor.
The funny thing is that John and Kori live about 10 minutes from Gabe and me, yet we met on the other side of the world. After we all got back, the four of us had lunch and got to chat about what was going on in our head and hearts.
They’re great people with huge hearts for orphans, but enough of me talking. I’ll let John share his (their) story.
Me: Hey there, John. Tell me a little about you and your family. How did you get involved with orphan care and with Cambodia?
John: First of all, Marla, let me just say that it’s great to have the opportunity to talk with you about these issues. I know that you have worked tirelessly to advocate for orphans, and that many of your readers have provided you moral and financial support. So, thanks!
Me: You betcha. It’s my pleasure. Truly.
John: Well, my wife Kori and I were high school sweethearts. We’ve been married for 18 years. We live in Columbus, Ohio with our three kids, all of whom were adopted. Chien, 14, is from Vietnam. Pak, 13, is Korean and Xiu Dan, 6, is from China.
We adopted Chien in 1998 while Kori was working as a mechanical engineer, and I was working at a small graphic design and marketing firm I had just started. Our trip to Vietnam changed our lives for a lot of reasons. First, it introduced Chien to our family. Also, it planted the seed in our hearts that would eventually grow into full-time, vocational orphan care and advocacy.
Me: Oooh, I love this story. Sorry. Go on.
John: To be honest, neither of us had any specific interest in Asia prior to Chien’s adoption. We knew we wanted to adopt (we’re not infertile, as far as we know), and at the time, Vietnam was a relatively easy program to apply for. So, we did it. But during the adoption process God really drew our hearts to Asia, and then sealed the deal when we went to pick up Chien.
After Chien’s adoption, we couldn’t stop thinking about Vietnam. We couldn’t forget the people we met, especially the orphans and street kids. We began to believe that God might be calling us to full-time vocational missions work in Vietnam.
Me: Can totally relate.
John: We spoke with our church, we approached various missions people in our denomination, and none of it really panned out. It seemed like the doors just weren’t going to open for us.
Meanwhile, God had plans to bring our son Pak into our lives. He was born in the U.S. to a young Korean woman, and came rather suddenly into our lives. In fact, he was born the day after Chien’s first birthday, and was in our family the day after that. Later, in 2006, we would travel to China to adopt Xiu Dan.
So, anyway, in 2000 the youth pastor at the church we were attending approached me and said, “John, I know that you and Kori are really in love with Vietnam. Would you ever be interested in Cambodia?” To be honest, I didn’t know much about Cambodia, except that it was next door to Vietnam…
Me: Well, that’s something. I can’t tell you how many people thought we were in Africa over Christmas.
John: … and that it was desperately poor, having been beat to shreds by a brutal civil war. I said, “Well, sure. Why?” He told me about a pastor from a church in our denomination about an hour away from Columbus. “He does something in Cambodia. Not sure what it is – you should call him.”
I called the pastor, and basically invited myself along on his next trip. He graciously allowed me to come along on what was pretty much a run-of-the-mill short term missions trip. But while we were there, God gave us a vision to move beyond a once-a-year visit evangelism and teaching gig. We met so many amazing Christians in Cambodia – they had everything they needed for successful ministry – the organization, the passion, the gifting, the spiritual authority – everything but money. And we as American Christians had the converse – money, and a willingness to help, but very little else to bring to the table.
Me: I hear ya. It’s been hard for us knowing that our biggest asset is something as dumb as money, but it was soooo encouraging to meet some unbelievably awesome Jesus-serving people in Cambodia and Thailand.
John: It seemed pretty easy at first. Let’s make a commitment to fund a small project, and then we’ll go back to America and ask our friends to donate. So, that’s what we did. We agreed to help a church in Phnom Penh rent a building for ministry to college students. It was something like $700 per month. Not a very big commitment. So, we set about raising funds, and before long, enough people had given that we had to start thinking about get serious. We incorporated as a non-profit in 2001.
For the first few years, we had a bit of a scattershot approach to our work, funding everything from medical clinics to outreach to military officials. When the opportunity came to start our first orphan home in 2004, I knew I’d found what I’d been looking for. Over the next few years, we narrowed our focus to residential orphan care, and expanded to Thailand, opening our first home there in 2005. Today, we operate 23 homes in Cambodia, Thailand and India, providing comprehensive care for about 600 kids. We have about 150 indigenous staff – moms and dads, teachers, nurses, cooks and administrators.
The co-founding pastor served as our full-time Executive Director until February 2009. After he left the organization, I took the directorship, and I closed my design business shortly thereafter. I love what I do, and can’t wait to see what God does with this ministry over the next few years.
Me: Thank you so much, John. I love how God works. Looking forward to having you address some questions and concerns about orphan care next week on the blog.
If you’ve got any questions for John, feel free to ask him in the comments. He’ll respond as he has time. Thanks!