A children’s minister at Celebration Church in Blountville and a Johnson City resident, Upchurch began her mission journey a few years ago when she went on a mission trip with her church to an orphanage in Kenya. She recently shared the experiences of her latest trip, and her driving passion for helping children in orphanages around the world.
Upchurch paints a vivid picture of the living conditions the team encountered while working and staying mainly at the Victorious Children’s Home in Kenya, Africa.
“When you opened drawers, roaches scurried out. We had to haul all of our water from the muddy river and then filter it,” she said. Upchurch recalled one sleepless night due to the rats that lived in the ceiling above her little room. “One rat crawled out from under my bed and climbed up the window curtain on one side. He swung back and forth and leapt to the other side of the window curtain and swung himself out the window.”She called that ‘one of the funny moments,’ along with the day that she got caught in the middle of stampeding goats. Bed begs were also a serious problem, she said, and what little living room furniture they had was destroyed. While there, they ate mostly beans and rice, but also cow intestines and fried chicken feet.
When asked to share the saddest thing she saw, Upchurch replied, “The street kids addicted to cobbler glue to curb hunger. They want to be in an orphanage, but there is no room.”
Every Saturday, one of the orphanages feeds beans and rice to the street children; the rest of the week they scrounge for what they can find. Poverty is rampant in the areas Upchurch served. “The poorest people in our country are rich in comparison,” she said.
In addition to the challenges of living in a primitive society, some areas are also potentially dangerous. One neighborhood in Brazil is completely controlled by drug lords.
“I had to have permission from them to enter their neighborhood; otherwise, they would shoot me dead! You don’t just drive in there. Treating head lice in the school was how I got in,” she said. The drug lords gave her permission to return every year. She was able to do a school assembly there which included a Bible devotion class.
While in Belize, Upchurch worked with Restoration Mission, an organization that rescues girls that have been sold into prostitution.
Another dangerous area was in India, where Upchurch met with women who gathered together regularly in a ‘secret church.’ If discovered, the women would be beaten to death by their Hindu husbands and family members. When asked why she risked her life, Upchurch answered, “I do this because God told me to. The disciples gave their lives to spread the gospel, why shouldn’t I?”
Upchurch worked tirelessly to help provide some much needed help to several orphanages. She loved working with the hygiene clinics, where she was able to distribute the hygiene packs that she had brought.
“These kids were so excited to get their very own bar of soap, their first deodorant and first toothbrush. They had been using a stick to clean their teeth,” Upchurch explained.
She also assisted in school assemblies and worship services in each country. In Uganda, she participated in a jigger-removal clinic and distributed infant packs to the Arise and Shine baby orphanage. She fell in love with the babies, especially little Susan, who touched her heart. An HIV positive baby, both of her parents had died from HIV.
Upchurch had actually tried to adopt three children, but the government wouldn’t allow it.
“That’s what spurred on my efforts for child sponsorships. I figured if I couldn’t have them, I could at least see to their needs and make sure that they got an education. A good education helps to break the poverty cycle,” she said.
Among Upchurch’s favorite activities while at the children’s home were the worship services. They met on Tuesday and Thursday nights, every Saturday morning at 3 a.m., and Sunday mornings.
“They get up at 3 a.m. every Saturday to pray and worship. That is normal for them. In India and Indonesia, they get up at 4 a.m. every day for prayer and worship,” she explained. Her favorite part of the worship, aside from leading people to Jesus, was hearing the children sing. Another special moment took place in India when the children prayed over her.
Despite the hardships, Upchurch said there were many victories. At least 193 children were sent to school and many uniforms and pairs of shoes, as well as 150 backpacks, bought. Over 700 Bibles were distributed in India, Belize, Kenya and Uganda. Upchurch prayed with countless numbers of children, counseled teens and young adults, and taught in 16 churches. Hygiene clinics were provided for 167 children. Solar power was installed in two orphanages. Love Share was able to help repair the well and build bunk beds at the children’s home. Forty-six of the boys had been sleeping on 15 beds, and some on the floor. Mattresses and other furniture was provided for the children’s home. Four goats were donated by Kennedy Elementary School in Kingsport. Infant packs were given to the orphanage where Upchurch spent a week helping care for and love on the babies.
Still, Upchurch admits to being overwhelmed at times because of the great needs she confronts daily.
“I have to remember that the Lord is in control. My sustaining verse throughout all of this has been Philippians 4:13 – ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.’ God put Jonah in a circumstance that taught him to be obedient and to have compassion,” she said. “We all need to have compassion for one another and for those in our community and beyond.”
Compassion is the reason Upchurch founded Love Share, a non-profit organization from which she receives no salary. Compassion, especially for children, is also evident in her life. She is the children’s minister at Celebration Church in Blountville and also speaks regularly at schools in the Tri-Cities area. She usually brings a furry ‘friend’ with her to speak to the children, a pet monkey being her favorite. She resides in Johnson City with her two teenage daughters, Madeline and Macey.
While not everyone can go across the world to save the children, preach the gospel, distribute Bibles and provide health clinics, Upchurch said there are many ways people can help. Monthly support for child sponsorships is necessary to keep the kids in school and crucial to the survival of the organization. Donations can be made online. Infant packs, school packs and hygiene packs are desperately needed, as are funds to provide the most basic needs of the orphanages that Love Share serves. Learn more about Love Share on the organization’s website or follow the organization on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.