Loving the outcast: One woman’s call to run an orphanage in Jamaica

Sherry Bigalke of Little Falls, who felt the call of God to make a difference in the lives of abused, homeless and abandoned boys in Jamaica, gives a little one a hug.

About an hour’s drive from Kingston, Jamaica, away from beautiful tourist attractions, lies a village called “Spring Valley.” It is the home of Sunbeam’s Children’s Home — an orphanage for boys, ages 7-18.

The orphanage was founded by Pastor Cedric Lue in 1976. Mission teams from different American churches also came on board to help, whether it was through on-site physical labor or other donations.

In 1997, when Sherry Bigalke of Little Falls, executive director of Sunbeam Association for Mission (SAM), joined a mission trip with her church to the orphanage, she said she felt God calling her to coordinate mission trips and to do more for the abused, homeless or abandoned children in Jamaica.

“Some wonder why I do it in Jamaica and not in the U.S. They have a hard time understanding that is where God called me,” she said.

Sensing Bigalke’s heart and vision for the orphanage, Lue asked her if she wanted to take over the organization. A purchase agreement was signed in 2001. Then, just a few days later, Lue died unexpectedly.

Bigalke said the non-profit organization has a working relationship with the Children’s Development Agency (CDA), which is much like the Child Protection Services in the U.S. The orphanage currently has 40 boys living there.

“The boys come here after being in abusive conditions, are living on the street or are in trouble with the law,” said Bigalke.

At the orphanage, the boys receive three meals a day, help with chores and go to school. Most need to catch up, so a teacher at the Sunbeam Learning Center works with the children to get them to their level so they can attend public school.

A transition program is available for those between 18-23, as well. Bigalke said that Sunbeam provides the program participants with money, food and pays for their schooling. Staff also assist the participants by finding a place to rent or a family member they can live with, as well as help to find a job.

“We support them as long as they are successful in their program,” she said.

Bigalke said it’s a great reward to see the boys she met the first time she visited the orphanage grown up and doing well.

“They come back and say they never knew how good they had it and now see how Sunbeam changed their life,” she said.

Bigalke said that some homeless boys who are brought to the orphanage run away, because they cannot handle the regiment of rules. The staff at Sunbeam run a relatively strict program.

“You have to with so many boys,” she said.

Bigalke said that some of the boys that run away return to the orphanage and ask if they can come back.

“They realize that in the orphanage, they could sleep safely there, had food and got to go to school,” she said.

Comprised of multiple congregations, Bigalke said SAM strives to provide a safe environment, clothes and an education in a Christian environment to help the children become the best Jamaican they can be.

“Our goal is to give them a seed of hope,” she said.

The orphanage has 15 male and female workers. Five of those are “house fathers.” There are also three “house mothers.”

“They work on a schedule, so there’s always at least one house-father and one house-mother there,” she said. “There are more during the day, too.”

Bigalke said they started out helping boys because men are considered to be the ones who are supposed to earn money for the family. With the father often absent in the family, boys who are 5 years or older are sent out to get money one way or another.

Bigalke said SAM has about 15 different teams that travel to Jamaica to help at the orphanage or the learning center.

While missionaries help a lot with physical labor that needs to be done, such as painting, electrical work and putting screens on windows, Bigalke said the number one goal is building relationships with the boys.

As most children at the orphanage come from broken families, Bigalke said that families that travel together: dad, mom and child(ren) have a great impact on the boys. It gives them hope that it is possible and that it exists, she said.

That became evident during the last mission trip for many of the boys as the Leibold family of Royalton traveled with the mission team from Faith Lutheran Church in Little Falls and stayed at the orphanage for a week in February.

Jason Leibold said he went to visit the boys’ home with his wife, Tammie and their children Zachary, 13, Jacob, 11 and Nicholas, 10.

“It’s a good opportunity to serve Jesus,” he said. “It also suited our family so well, because we have all boys and it’s a boys’ home.”

Leibold said he was able to give the Jamaican boys some hands-on experience on how to operate various tools.

“One of the highlights of that mission trip was to be able to fill that father figure role and show them things that they had not been taught by their fathers,” he said.

Leibold said the orphanage has the very basic necessities, such as running water, indoor plumbing, electricity, beds and clothes for the children.

“They raise chickens and pigs on the farm there, too, to sustain themselves a little bit,” he said.

The mission teams that travel to boys’ home bring along food, clothes, books, school supplies and other items.

“They bring food along for the orphanage because food is very expensive there,” said Bigalke.

Leibold believes it was good for his own sons to experience interacting with the Jamaican boys.

“I think they realize that everyone in the world doesn’t have the same opportunities as we have here in the U.S,” he said.

Leibold said he’s also seen positive changes in Zachary after they returned from Jamaica.

“He’s more caring and patient toward his brothers and us, and is also more helpful around the house,” he said. “I think they’ve realized that it’s pretty good around here and that they grew up in a family where there is love.”

Those who would like to donate non-perishable food, clothes or school supplies for the mission can drop it off at Faith Lutheran Church, Little Falls, indicating that it is for the Sunbeam’s Children’s Home.

To sponsor a child through SAM, call (320) 979-4446.

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