LOUISIANA MINISTER KENNETH GRIMM makes surprise visits to orphan homes supported by Lifeline of Hope. Grimm knows what to look for to assure that donations to the ministry are well-spent.
VIJAYAWADA, India — Kenneth Grimm’s arrival here is unusually uneventful.
Most ministers who visit this city in southeastern India find groups of Christians waiting for them at the airport or train station — often bearing bouquets of flowers and banners with their guests’ names in big, block letters.
Of course, most ministers also tell the Indian brethren that they’re coming.
Not so with Grimm, who ministers for the Cyprus Creek church in Oakdale, La. After a 29-hour train ride from New Delhi to Vijayawada, he steps unannounced onto the grounds of Peter’s Memorial Orphan Home, a humble facility that also serves as the meeting place of the 50-member Baadavapeta Church of Christ.
After the shock fades from their faces, the orphanage’s caretakers greet Grimm enthusiastically. One by one the 14 girls who call the orphanage home file into the small living room, which also serves as a bedroom.
They eagerly greet their “English uncle” — a nickname he got for helping the neighborhood kids practice English. But their excitement fades just a bit when they learn that Grimm’s wife, Gracey, didn’t come with him.
Gracey couldn’t make it this time, Grimm explains. “And, by the way, please don’t tell anyone I’m here,” he adds.
When he’s not preaching, Grimm serves as a child-care facilitator for Lifeline of Hope, a church-supported ministry based in Kalispell, Mont.
“I’m an orphanage inspector,” he explains.
Like many U.S.-based ministries for children, Lifeline of Hope gives donors the chance to sponsor orphans in countries around the globe, including India, Russia, the Philippines and Kenya. Grimm makes on-site visits to help the ministry assess orphanages that have applied for support in Asia and Africa.
He also visits orphanages already receiving support to see that caretakers are using the money as they should.
“We make sure they get a good diet, health care and a good education,” he says. “Our next goal in India is vocational training, so that they will leave the homes able to support themselves.”
Indian Christians often launch orphan homes with good intentions, but some “think they need to exaggerate (the number of children they serve) in order to get a positive response from us,” he says. “We give these a second chance.”
But some orphanages are completely fraudulent — filled with smiling children when members of supporting churches are in town, but empty when the visitors board the airplane for home. The scammers “just want American dollars,” Grimm says. “These we cut off.”
Each orphan home supported by Lifeline of Home must adhere to strict guidelines for medical care, hygiene and spiritual education, “right down to the grade of food that they purchase,” says Greg Timmons, the ministry’s director of operations.
On-site inspections are critical, Timmons says, “because every dollar lost to fraud is a dollar that could have helped an orphan child. And I believe we are steadily restoring the church’s confidence in doing this kind of work.”
Grimm, who first visited India in 1983, knows what to look for when he inspects orphanages. It’s not enough that children are present. He scours the facilities, looking for signs that children stay there on a day-to-day basis.
After an evening at Peter’s Memorial Orphan Home, Grimm makes a surprise, early morning visit to R.Y. Das, pastor for the Church of Living Christ, on the outskirts of Vijayawada. Das served as a translator for Grimm and other Church of Christ members who coordinated relief efforts after the 2004 tsunami. The pastor operates a small orphanage and receives support from Lifeline of Hope.
“I counted 14 sets of toes in the beds,” Grimm says with a grin after the inspection. “That squares with the number he is claiming in his reports.”
He’s less enthusiastic about a later visit to the home of a minister who receives support for orphans from U.S. church members, but has no connections to Lifeline of Hope. The minister greets his surprise visitor and says that the orphans are away. Grimm tours the facility and thanks the minister for his time.
“I don’t think any orphans have lived here in at least a year,” he says as the hired car pulls away. He may visit the facility in the future to confirm his suspicions.
After the inspections, over a breakfast of steamed rice cakes called “idly,” Grimm acknowledges that the job has made him something of a cynic.
“More than half of the so-called orphanages with perfect paperwork are complete frauds,” he says. “I have come to expect it, but I never can get used to it.”
But he’s also met people with good hearts, doing what they can to help those in need, he says.
For Das, the decision to open an orphanage came after seeing child laborers almost everywhere he traveled.
“I went to so many villages preaching the gospel and saw so many children not studying,” he says.
Vijai Samrat, minister for the Baadavapeta Church of Christ, says he was similarly moved after seeing the orphans in his neighborhood.
Though his congregation meets under a thatched roof and has a small weekly contribution, Samrat and his sisters, Anita Matta and Sarada Devi Matta, opened the church building to orphaned and abandoned girls two years ago. The orphanage receives support from Lifeline of Hope.
“From the beginning, my sister and I have been interested to help poor and orphans,” says Sarada Devi Matta. “If we help them, God will bless us.”
The Baadavapetta church started attracting Hindus and Muslims when its members began “helping the needy with no expectation of return or credit,” Grimm says.
And seeing the church grow makes it easier to endure his job’s disappointments.
“For me, it is all about helping the helpless,” he says. “That is what drives me.”FOR MORE INFORMATION, see lifelineofhope.org.