Chris and Debbie Clark founded Children of the Nations (COTN) in 1995.
A fifth-generation missionary born in Japan and raised in Liberia and the United States, Chris had worked for Youth for Christ for 10 years. Debbie, who grew up in Edmonds, worked as a special education teacher for eight years. After traveling to Sierra Leone in 1995 with Youth for Christ, the couple learned about the tragic plight of orphaned children, thousands of whom have been impacted by a brutal war and lived on the streets without any family.
Children of the Nations was born out of that experience and built on Chris’ upbringing by missionary parents in Liberia, Africa. After searching for a resource in the United States to help those children — and not finding an organization that met their vision — the Clarks felt called to establish a child-sponsorship nonprofit of their own.
“I’ve always said COTN was started because a child prayed,” Chris says. “I believe a child in need prayed for help and God put it on our hearts to care for that child. And each subsequent step has just been following God’s lead to care for more children in more ways.”
Debbie says that as a special education teacher, she’s always had a heart for children, especially children with greater needs.
“I think this work is really a good fit for us. And as we look back on the early parts of our lives, we can see how God was preparing us all along for this work,” she says.
The nonprofit organization is dedicated to raising children out of poverty and hopelessness so they can become leaders who transform their nations. COTN serves about 5,000 destitute children every year, as well as about 20,000 people indirectly (family members who benefit from the services provided for children), in Sierra Leone, Malawi, Uganda, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
The Clarks regularly interact with U.S. and international board members, in-country staff and the children. They maintain contact by annual visits to each country and via personal communication. They’re known to the children as “Daddy Chris” and “Mommy Debbie.”
COTN, based in Silverdale, partners with local people to establish children’s homes for orphans and village partnership programs to benefit orphans and children living with destitute families or caregivers who cannot properly provide for them. Services and programs include education, nutrition, medical care and community development initiatives such as agriculture, clean-water projects and skills training.
Funded primarily by child sponsorships and individual donations, COTN operates homes and schools, farms, skill centers, clinics and more. Each country where COTN works has a local office established with an individual, mission-based organization that is recognized as a reputable Christian charity. The organization stands apart from others in its goal not to provide relief, but rather to empower nationals to a life of self-sustainability.
For more about COTN, go to cotni.org.
Best Part of the Job
Chris: The best part is getting to see the transformation in the kids. We’re blessed to be able to travel to each of the countries every year. And when we’re there year after year, it’s amazing to see how the children we brought off the streets are learning and growing, and becoming young men and women of God.
Debbie: I’d have to agree with Chris. It’s really rewarding to see the children grow up and learning, and to see their health improve — and just to see their attitudes and outlook on life brighten up because they’ve gone from hopelessness to a life filled with hope and possibilities.
Chris: I think the biggest challenges we face are spiritual ones … because our work is to spread the Gospel of Christ to all the nations. But fortunately, God is much more powerful than the enemy, Satan. I’m a strong believer in the power of prayer, because I’ve seen God do great things through it. I’ve seen Him provide supplies for our children’s homes out of nowhere, simply because we prayed that He would. Our staff in each country set aside time every single week to be in prayer, because we know we can’t do this work without God’s help.
Debbie: One of the big challenges is overcoming some of the cultural hurdles that reoccur in impoverished communities all over the world. For example, teenage pregnancy is a huge issue in almost all the villages where COTN serves. Girls get pregnant at a young age, drop out of school, never finish their education, and never have the opportunity to get a good job or improve their situation in life. And often times, because they never had the chance to get an education, they end up making poor decisions about health and nutrition and other habits. That negatively affects them and their children, and the cycle of poverty continues for another generation.
Best Compliment ‘On the Job’
Chris: I think the best compliment is when a child who was running around naked in the streets, starving and crying, grows up and gets a job as a doctor or a teacher, and says, “Daddy Chris and Mummy Debbie, thank you for taking the time to bring me in and care for me, so that I could have a transformed life. Now I’m going to go and do the same for another child.”
Debbie: Chris keeps stealing my answers! That is certainly the best compliment we’ve received. And we’ve had several children whom we’ve seen go through that process, almost exactly.
Things I Can’t Do Without
Chris: I can’t do without my lovely wife, Debbie. And my sunglasses. My staff always teases me because they can’t find a good picture of me where I’m not wearing my sunglasses.
Debbie: I can’t do without my three grandchildren. Every time we travel to Africa or the Caribbean, I miss them so much.
Best Way to Relax
Chris: I’m sure Debbie will tell you I have trouble sitting still. I like to be active, even when I’m relaxing. So I like to work in the yard or do stuff around the house.
Debbie: I love art and interior decorating, and I love to entertain and spend time with friends. So I relax by spending some time at home, enjoying time with my husband, family and friends.
Hobbies Outside of Work
Chris: I enjoy boating and being on the water, and I love water and snow skiing.
Debbie: I like spending time with family, and also doing art and home decorating projects. And even though we travel a lot for work, we still love to travel and explore new areas for fun as well.