Amid the scenic beauty of El Salvador, Robert and Ann Horton, members of Central Baptist Church in College Station, are working to alleviate human suffering among children victimized by the ugly, crime-ridden side of the Central American country.
Robert Horton, a homebuilder, took his first trip to El Salvador in 2004 at the behest of a missionary friend who had encountered a Salvadoran believer caring for orphans in an abandoned school.
Since then, the Hortons have made 20 trips, founded a non-profit ministry to the needy in the United States and abroad, and are raising money for dorms on property they bought in El Salvador to house abandoned Salvadoran 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 them.
It hardly took care of the children’s needs, which is when a medical missionary in El Salvador who had met Johnny got in touch with Robert Horton.
The Hortons decided to go meet Johnny after he had found some property and wondered if anything could be built on it. They went there initially to just take a look at the property and see if it was “buildable,” Robert Horton said.
“It didn’t work out like we expected,” Ann added. “We just fell in love with the kids.”
Children under age 14 comprise 35.8 percent of the Salvadoran population?approximately 2.6 million children. Recent studies by both inter-governmental and non-governmental agencies show thousands of Central American children are being exploited for sexual purposes, common factors in a region with such a high rate of violence. This violence is often compounded by sheer poverty and is often reproduced at home and in the community.
After 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 U.S. 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 the 12 acres of lush land, and since their first trip back in 2004 they have taken about 20 trips, all at their own expense. After meeting with an architect they met 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 Horton said. The Hortons have plans to eventually build two houses, one for girls and the other for boys. With each dorm able to house about 100 children each, there is still enough room on the property to build another dorm.
Most orphans in El Salvador have either 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 Horton 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,” Ann Horton said.
“God has provided this much, and we trust him to provide the rest,” Robert Horton said. With some of the children being disabled, including two who have muscular dystrophy, medical supplies are needed as well. Some of the young boys have made wheelchairs out of plastic chairs and bicycle wheels.
To learn more about SHIP, visit shipinternational.org.