Susan discovers the need.
In 2009, Susan Vonolszewski heard a statistic she couldn’t ignore. An orphanage worker in Guatemala told her that 80% of the children in her care had experienced sexual abuse. This caregiver shared with Susan that for these children, the abuse they had experienced was the biggest deterrent to the gospel.
Susan knew that this was a situation she couldn’t ignore. If sexual abuse hindering children’s ability to accept the gospel, she needed to do whatever she could do move this deterrent out of the way. Susan needed to develop a tool that would equip caregivers to help children heal from their trauma so that their hearts would be open to the gospel.
Because of her interaction with the International Orality Network, Susan knew that research indicated storytelling was a powerful way to communicate with many cultures.
Over the next several years, Susan faced her own obstacles as she sought support for her ideas from five different ministries. They all said, “No.” It just wasn’t something they could do.2009
But God would not let Susan give up. And in 2011, she initiated the project by herself.
Susan started off with core content development and reached out to Phyllis Kilbourn, the founder of Crisis Care Training International for referrals. Phyllis connected Susan with Christa Crawford, of Human Trafficking Connection, and Lyn Westman, of Operation Mercy Ships. These women provided Susan with the learning objectives for the project.2011
The experts are found.
In 2012, Susan reached out to Dave Arnold, executive producer with Focus on the Family. He connected Susan with Kathy Buchanan, a senior script writer for Adventures in Odyssey. Kathy is not only a script writer, but also has her master’s degree in counseling and, at the time, was pursuing international adoption.2012
The acting begins!
In 2013, the script for the first three episodes of Holding Esther was finalized. Todd Busteed came onboard as the executive producer casting the script with British African actors to assure that the dialect would be widely accepted. Cathy Sara, actor on BBC’s Downton Abbey, played Maria, and sisters, Natalia and Rachel Hinds played the sisters Esther and Sarah.
Production of Holding Esther was completed and tested in Kenya and Uganda.2013
Does it work?
In 2014, Dr. Charles “Chuck” Madinger, research chair with the International Orality Network, offered to provide doctoral level testing for Holding Esther. Cindy Finley joined the team and traveled with Chuck to Zambia for testing hosted by the team of Every Orphan’s Hope. The positive response was overwhelming.
As Susan heard what God was doing through Holding Esther, she knew that she had to find an umbrella organization for RiverCross. Although she had reached out to TWR once before, God opened the door for Susan to meet with Tom Watkins, director of TWR’s Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships (SIP) department.
In November, 2014, TWR’s International Board unanimously voted to bring RiverCross into the TWR family of ministries.2014
In January 2015, RiverCross officially joined TWR with Susan as the Executive Director and Cindy Finley as the Associate Director.
In September 2015, Susan, Cindy, and Scott Hollinger, audio consultant and a member of SIP, traveled to London to join Todd Busteed at Soundhouse Studios to produce the remaining episodes of Holding Esther.2015
A year of growth.
In January 2016, all seven episodes were complete. Cindy, Chuck Madinger (International Orality Network), Martha Sichone-Cameron (a board member of Every Orphan’s Hope and cultural consultant), Anthony Barkhuizen (TWR Africa), and Pete Doherty (BBC) traveled to Zambia for doctoral testing of all seven episodes. Again, the response was overwhelming, and the results of the testing proved that Holding Esther is an effective tool to equip caregivers in biblical trauma healing.
In July 2016, Susan passed the leadership of RiverCross to Cindy Finley. Susan continues to serve as a board member and is thrilled to see the growth in the ministry.
Since then, the RiverCross team has grown to include Martha Sichone-Cameron as the Africa ministry consultant, Amy Newton, prayer team coordinator, Brenda Farrand, ministry assistant, Heather Faucette, event coordinator, and Scott Hollinger as the audio consultant.2016
The next chapter.
In 2017, Cindy convened a team including scriptwriters, Marshal Younger and Kathy Buchanan, for a whiteboard session to map out the next series, Jabota Bridge.
Cindy and Martha traveled back to Zambia to train leaders in both Lusaka and Livingstone. Also, One Love Radio and Christian Voice began airing Holding Esther across a listening audience of 5 million.
Cindy also traveled to the Philippines to explore ministry expansion in Southeast Asia and is fielding requests from countries such as, Moldova, India, Brazil, and Peru.2017
So many of God’s great works start so small.
God gave Susan Vonolszewski an idea that she couldn’t shake. From that idea, a resource was produced that is now being used to train not only caregivers, but also community and church leaders too.
And, that resource has developed a ministry that includes on the ground indigenous leadership, collaboration with ministries and churches, and has the potential to impact the lives of orphans and vulnerable children around the world.