June 13 is a date the Bentley family has been eyeing with enormous excitement.
That’s when the family of five will leave their Solvang home with a one-way ticket to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
They’ll be living in the city as they help start a home for orphaned children. They’ll also be working with FashionABLE, a nonprofit organization focused on creating sustainable work for women in Africa.
The couple, who attend Ranch Church, 1598 Oak St. in Solvang, have been instrumental with Gold Coast Orphan Alliance, which works to raise awareness in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties about the plight of orphans around the world.
The Bentleys have two young biological sons, but Bentley said discovering the needs of children around the world began to weigh on his and his wife’s hearts.
Feeling called to Ethiopia for a number of reasons, their journey to visit their adopted daughter in her hometown made things clear for them.
They trekked to a town in Ethiopia called Hosanna, where baby Selah was waiting for them. (To view a video of the Bentleys with Baby Selah in Ethiopia, click below.)
Seeing the conditions where their daughter had been born, and holding her for the first time, was a pivotal moment for Bentley.
The spark may have begun before that, but “the explosion was being there and holding my daughter,” he recalled. “That was really the beginning of the journey. After that first trip, I didn’t see the statistics. I saw my daughter.”
After that, the couple returned to Santa Barbara County, but knew life wouldn’t be the same.
“We felt like there was more to the story,” he said.
Five million orphans live in Ethiopia, he added, and 100,000 children in Addis Ababa live on the street.
“That, for me, really started to weigh heavy when I started to see the neglect of so many kids around the world,” Bentley said.
A tiny percentage of those children will be adopted internationally, he said, and the family is focusing on how to holistically deal with the problem. Many children are orphaned when their mothers are unable to support them financially, so creating meaningful work for women is key.
Bentley hopes that by working with FashionABLE, the couple will be able to give women a sustainable way to support themselves, and their families.
“Our faith is a huge part of what we’re doing,” said Bentley, citing James 1:27, a Bible verse that calls on Christians to care for orphans and widows.
The home in which the family will be working will house 30 children, and eventually more, Bentley said. Several children are already living there, including one young teenager who was working on the street and now has an infant of her own.
“That’s the reality of a lot of these kids,” Bentley said. “It’s completely devastating.”
The family wants to be in Ethiopia for the long term, and has committed to stay for at least three years. At that point, Bentley said, the family will reflect on where they are.
For now, they’ve purchased their airfare, and next month is the big move.
“It’s not only a one-way ticket, it’s a one way to Africa,” Bentley said. “It makes it real for our family. We’re actually doing this, and there’s a lot of excitement.”
Bentley encouraged people at home to sign up for the family’s newsletter and support them by staying in contact.
“This is our community, and we want to be able to continue that dialogue while we’re living there,” he said. “We want the community to know more about what we’re doing.”