COLLEGE STATION, Texas (BP)–Amid the scenic beauty of El Salvador, Robert and Ann Horton are working to alleviate human suffering among children victimized by the ugly, crime-ridden side of the Central American country.
Robert, a homebuilder, took his first trip to El Salvador in 2004 at the request of a missionary friend who had encountered a Salvadoran believer caring for orphans in an abandoned school.
Since then, the Hortons, members of Central Baptist Church in College Station, Texas, have made 20 trips, founded a nonprofit ministry to the needy in the United States and abroad, and have purchased property in El Salvador to construct dorms for abandoned children.
It all started with a Salvadoran believer named Johnny. Walking near his home, Johnny would see hungry, abused and abandoned children. Moved with compassion, he’d bring some home with him for a meal and a warm place to sleep. This continued until it became known to others, including the government, which decided to give him a small compensation of $200 a month and a small abandoned school in which to house the children.
The assistance hardly took care of the needs, which is when a medical missionary in El Salvador who had met Johnny got in touch with the Hortons.
The couple decided to go meet Johnny after he had found some property and wondered if anything could be built on it.
“It didn’t work out like we expected,” Ann said. “We just fell in love with the kids.”
Children under age 14 comprise more than 35 percent of the Salvadoran population, amounting to approximately 2.6 million children. Recent studies by both governmental and nongovernmental agencies show thousands of Central American children are being exploited for sexual purposes in a region with a high rate of violence. The violence often is compounded by sheer poverty, and children often don’t find refuge at home.
Following their initial trip, the Hortons helped begin Shelter the Homeless International Projects (SHIP) in December 2004. SHIP’s mission is to help the homeless and needy in the United States and other countries with housing, food and humanitarian aid. They also provide decent and affordable housing and care for low-income and handicapped individuals and families in Texas.
With $100,000 raised through individual contributions, they bought 12 acres of lush land in El Salvador, and since 2004 they have made many trips, all at their own expense. After meeting with an architect they had encountered at a prayer breakfast, they estimated the total cost for everything from the land to the excavating to the building of a new orphanage at $250,000.
With 38 orphans already housed in the abandoned old school, they are building for 64 and expecting perhaps 80, which creates the need for even more space, Robert said. The Hortons have plans to build two houses eventually, one for girls and the other for boys. With each dorm able to house about 100 children, there is still enough room on the property to build another dorm.
Most orphans in El Salvador either have been abandoned or are in government custody because they have been abused. Such is the case with many girls in the orphanage. One 14-year-old had been raped repeatedly by her 70-year-old stepfather who left her pregnant.
“It’s sad to see her trying to play with the other children with a baby on her hip,” Ann said.
“Johnny and his wife Elena, who are the directors, have three children of their own, yet every child in the orphanage is treated like one of their own,” she added.
God has provided thus far, Robert Horton said, and they trust Him to provide the rest of the resources to care for the orphans.
“With some of the children being disabled, including two who have muscular dystrophy, medical supplies are needed as well,” he said. “Some of the young boys have made wheelchairs out of plastic chairs and bicycle wheels.”
Emily Crutcher is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at texanonline.net. To learn more about SHIP, visit shipinternational.org.