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Congregation “covers” family in crisis

Trailhead’s support of the Orrange family is an example of God’s care

by Myra HolmesOrrange family

Brent and Courtney Orrange and their children, Brooklyn and Sam, then ages eight and seven, moved from Littleton, Colo., to Sierra Leone in August 2012 to work with survivors of sex trafficking in a recovery center operated by World Hope International, a Christian relief and development organization. While the transition to a new culture had its challenges, they were still in the honeymoon phase—a mere three weeks into their new life—when Brooklyn got very, very sick.

Over the next two weeks the family experienced a rollercoaster of hope and desperation surrounding Brooklyn’s downward spiral. It included kidney failure, life-threatening complications, near amputation of Brooklyn’s arm and emergency evacuations spanning three countries. Only five weeks after their arrival in Africa, the family was back in Denver, traumatized and in need of healing. Read a detailed account of the crisis.

The Orrange family still refers to their harrowing experience as “The Catastrophe of 2012.” But through this time of extreme crisis, their church community, Trailhead Church, a USMB congregation in Littleton, showed extraordinary support.

“They covered us,” Courtney Orrange says, “covered us in prayer, covered us in logistics, covered us in just being our community in a time when we were not able to be at our best.”

That covering came in five specific ways that the Orranges say can be applied in more common kinds of crisis as well.


Support begins with relationship

Trailhead’s support of the Orranges began even before the family hit Africa’s soil, with deep-rooted relationships. Authentic relationships are a core value for this congregation, and the Orrange family was an invested part of the congregation. Sending the Orranges to Sierra Leone was more than simply sending a check; it was sending part of the family.  

 “We loved the Orranges deeply,” says Jeff Nikkel, who was Trailhead’s pastor at the time. So when word came that these members of their community were hurting, “well, you’re hurting,” Nikkel says.  “And if there’s something you can do, well, you do it.” When the church fosters deep and authentic relationships, Nikkel says support flows naturally when crisis hits.  


The importance of prayer

The first thing Trailhead did was to pray corporately and individually. Trailhead worship pastor Anne Griffin began a “Pray for Brooklyn” Facebook group to share news quickly, and the group’s reach exploded well beyond the small congregation. The prayer movement on Brooklyn’s behalf eventually reached to 40 states, four Canadian provinces and 17 countries.

Far more than a last resort, Brent and Courtney say that prayer is a powerful and meaningful way to help those in crisis. Especially when those in crisis know they’re being prayed for. The Orranges received countless photos of people holding “praying for Brooklyn” posters. Each note, poster and encounter was encouraging. Courtney says, “It’s not a burden to let them know.”


The value of being there

Trailhead also gave the gift of presence. Nikkel was immediately convicted that “somebody needs to be there,” a belief affirmed by church leaders. So they quickly put Nikkel on a plane to meet the Orranges, who had been evacuated to London.

For a week, Nikkel “ran point” for the family, doing laundry, figuring out which tube station was nearest the hospital, taking Sam to the zoo and sending updates to the prayer network.

“But the biggest thing was just being a representative,” Nikkel says.

In the years since, Nikkel says, many have expressed surprise that Trailhead would send him to London, but for him and for Trailhead, it was a no-brainer.

Courtney still tears up as she recalls the power of the simple gift of presence: “I was so thankful that someone would just be there.”


Help you can touch

Support also came in the form of tangible gifts. In a short 45 minutes between the decision to send Nikkel and his drive to the airport, a steady stream of people brought gifts for the family. Despite rules to the contrary, the cards, posters and stuffed animals from Nikkel’s suitcase filled Brooklyn’s ICU room, and those tangible expressions of love were especially meaningful to the kids.

“It seemed like billions at the moment—from everybody,” Brooklyn says. “There were so many fun and good things around me, and I knew that everyone cared about me.”

Sam was not forgotten. The gifts included activities and small treasures for him—like a Yoda pen for the Star-Wars fan. “I still have it!” Sam exclaims.

That tangible help continued when the Orranges returned to Denver to continue healing both physically and emotionally. Since they had sold most of their belongings before they left, then hurriedly left Sierra Leone with just a change of clothes and a Bible, the family arrived with very little. Quietly, the church community provided clothes, a place to stay, transportation and meals. Someone welcomed them with a cake for Brent’s nearly-forgotten birthday. Another family brought joy with secret Santa gifts. Even months later, a friend brought Easter outfits for the kids when they were still too shell-shocked to think of such details.

While it’s always good to ask what’s needed, sometimes those in crisis can’t identify what they need. “Help tangibly, but don’t wait for them to ask,” Courtney says. Put yourself in their shoes, offer help before asked and risk being told that’s not what was needed. It takes “finesse,” she cautions.

Brent adds, “Be willing to serve thanklessly.” He says that while the family was thankful, they simply didn’t have the emotional capacity to express gratitude for each gift. 


Being long on patience

Coming “home” to Denver wasn’t all “unicorns and rainbows,” to use Brooklyn’s term. Brooklyn needed painful physical therapy, and all four of them were deeply traumatized. All had significant questions for God.

“In some ways the real work began at that point,” says Nikkel. “There was profound disappointment and disorientation.”

Brent and Courtney say that space to heal—for a long, long time—was a significant gift. Trailhead was long on patience and short on expectations—expectations to get back to normal, figure out next steps. “Or even expectations to be the same,” Courtney adds. “We weren’t the same.”

The couple notes that support is almost always needed long after the immediate crisis is over: “It will take a lot longer to go through than you think.”

By the time the Orranges had been back in Denver about a year, the wounds were less fresh, but not gone. And Trailhead acknowledged that by hosting a service to mark the one-year anniversary of the crisis, providing space to remember, reflect and celebrate. “A year in and they were still walking with us in that process,” Courtney marvels.  

Now, more than four years in, Brooklyn proudly displays her physical scar that runs from wrist to armpit, but other scars are less visible. Sam pauses to fight tears as he retells his part of the story; Courtney pulls him close, not bothering to fight the tears.

“I think it always will [hurt],” she says. “And that’s OK. It doesn’t mean I’m ignoring what God has done.” 

Through the hurt and despite answers that remain foggy, Courtney says this is clear: God uses people—the church—during times of crisis. “People can be evidence of God when you’re not sure how to understand him,” she says. “A lot of times we wish God was here and tangible, and he really was through our community.”

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