By Stephanie Dolan
Jim and April Jurgensen live in Greenwood. They’ve been married for 27 years, and they have two children. Berea is 23, and Noah is 21. They attend Community Church of Greenwood, and they live quiet, humble lives.
Except for the three to five trips taken internationally each year to visit any one of several orphanages that their nonprofit organization, The Boaz Project, funds and maintains in Russia, India and Kenya.
“They (Berea and Noah) began traveling with us when they were 3 and 5, and by the time they were in middle school, we’d often tell short-term teams that if anything happened to Jim and me, it was OK,” April said. “Berea and Noah knew what to do and how to get them home. They are currently in stages of life which make travel quite difficult, but we’re looking forward to traveling to Kenya with Noah in December.”
The Boaz Project is a movement of those committed to ending the orphan crisis by inspiring and equipping leaders around the globe to care for orphans in their own communities.
“The name comes from the Biblical character Boaz, out of the book of Ruth,” April said. “As a kinsman redeemer, he not only provided for Ruth’s physical needs, but also brought her into the family of God. We seek to follow his example as we care for orphans.”
In 1999, April was a contented housewife. Berea was 2 years old, and Noah was only 6 months. One day, a friend called to ask if she’d seen an episode of 20/20 about Russian orphans. April admitted she hadn’t, but agreed that the conditions outlined in the program sounded awful. She hung up, only to get calls about the episode for the next two days from two other friends.
“In the days that followed, the Lord braided those three phone calls into my memory and began hounding me in earnest,” April said. “When I spent time reading the New Testament each morning, suddenly verses about the orphaned and the fatherless started jumping out at me. ‘I’ve read these books of the Bible before. Why haven’t I ever noticed God’s passion for the orphan?’ I pondered.”
Just three years prior, April lived in Russia for two years before moving back to Indiana. At first, she reasoned that this was why friends were calling her, chalking it up to nothing more than that. But still … she couldn’t shake the idea that God was talking to her through those phone calls.
“As only God could orchestrate, all of these inexplicable incidents happened while I was preparing to return to Russia for a short visit,” April continued.
“As I obtained my letter of invitation and began applying for my visa, things only became more bizarre. Friends and acquaintances started walking up to me, handing me money and saying, ‘When you go back to Russia, can you see to it that this gets to an orphanage?’ What? I had told no one but my husband about the way God had been chasing me with thoughts of orphans. And he had told no one.”
While in Russia, April visited orphanages, handing out toys and toiletries to children whose faces shown with pure joy at these small kindnesses. Upon her return to the United States, she knew that this wasn’t something she could do in one visit, hoping that the Band-Aid – that one visit – would heal the wound these children had opened in her soul.
“All I knew was that God had turned three phone calls into a calling,” she said. “And now, I could not hang up and walk away.”
Today, The Boaz Project has come alongside nearly 15 existing facilities in Russia, India and Kenya.
“In Russia, we work with six state-run orphanages and one foster home,” Jurgensen said. “In India, we work with six families who – out of obedience to God – started taking children in, with no idea how they’d provide for them. In Kenya, we work with one boys’ home, but are in the process of helping to launch a girls’ home. We have recently been buying and/or building facilities in order to offer sustainability to the homes.”
“The process looks different in each location where we serve,” Jim added. “In Russia, they’re government institutions, so the upkeep isn’t really on us. In India and Kenya, we do take over the physical upkeep. In India and Kenya, these homes don’t receive any government help.”
Frequently, some of our families were being moved because a landlord didn’t want so many children on his property or wanted to increase the rent to a level the homes couldn’t afford.
“It was very disruptive, especially for children who’ve already known so much trauma and loss,” April added. “We each typically take three to five trips a year. As an organization, we average six per year. Our short-term team members do the Vacation Bible School teaching as we work with the house parents. A few of us (staff and volunteers) are qualified to provide training for the house parents on how to care for children from trauma, so if I personally do any teaching, that’s what I do. It helps them understand the root of some of their children’s behaviors and how to work through it.”
Aside from religious instruction, The Boaz Project provides humanitarian aid, baby nurturing, educational expenses and birthday and Christmas gifts, which shows each child that he or she is seen and worthy.
The organization is funded through gifts from compassionate individuals, businesses and churches. Churches like the Jurgensen’s home church, the Community Church of Greenwood.
“Yes, CCG has supported us since our inception 19 years ago,” she said.
How can members of the community learn more or get involved in the work of The Boaz Project? Visit boazproject.org/encounter and sign up for a one-hour informational session.
According to Jim, there is one aspect of starting a non-profit that has been more difficult than anything else: “Hands down: fundraising,” he said.
“We don’t ask for any money, though; we just explain some of our approach to orphan care and share stories about what God’s doing around the world,” April said. “Or, they can order my book, The Orphan’s Abba: Stories from Orphan Care That Reveal God’s Love for You from Amazon. This compilation of stories from orphan care includes spiritual takeaways and tips for choosing an orphan care organization to support.”
5 questions with April Jurgensen
Who or what inspires you? Our house parents. These folks give their lives – day-by-day and moment-by-moment – to care for children who’ve known unfathomable trauma. And they’ve done it for so long with virtually no support or resources! They’re the most selfless people you can imagine.
What are you current reading? Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results by James Clear.
Do you have any pets? Yes, the cutest rescue dog ever. Her name is Kopek, after the smallest denomination of Russian coin. She’s part beagle, part toy fox terrier. We also have an unnamed fish that’s determined to live forever.
Coffee or tea? Both, but more coffee as I age.
What is your biggest guilty pleasure? Graeter’s black raspberry chip ice cream.