The privilege of partnership

written by Nicole James

On a business trip to Cambodia in 2008, Rob Corley called his wife, Stephanie, and announced: “I think we have an orphanage.” That proclamation may have been shocking to some, but for the Corleys, it was the first part of an answer to a prayer that had been slowly simmering in their hearts.

“We were teaching a small group in our home… and quite often in the book, it would go back to James and say: ‘This is true religion: caring for the widows and the orphans’ (James 1:27),” Stephanie shared. While the couple saw God growing them in many ways, they felt like they were missing that piece.

“We were mentored by people who had great vision for caring for the neighbourhoods, the nations and the next generation,” she said. “We sat under that teaching for so long that it actually became part of us… And when this opportunity presented itself, it was like: ‘Well, of course we’ll do it.’”

They provided food as immediate relief to the children and staff living at the orphanage. Later that year, they assumed full financial responsibility. In 2009, Rob and Stephanie co-founded a non-profit, the Lydia Project, “and that has led to a much bigger ministry that is happening in Cambodia now,” Rob explained.

Sunrise House, the children’s home, is still part of the Lydia Project, “but we don’t call it an orphanage anymore because it’s much more than that… it’s a family. These kids’ lives are so full, and there’s nothing sad about the story of what they’re living today,” Rob said. In addition, the ministry has added a university house, the result of children from the Sunrise House needing a safe place as they began studying at university; a locally led discipleship training programme that has graduated over 100 pastors who have, in turn, started 250 new communities of Jesus followers; a brand-new home for 20 widows who would otherwise be living on the streets; a school that provides Christ-centred education to children living on the edge of a city dump and, ultimately, the opportunity to break free from generational poverty; and a programme that provides basic food supplies for around 100 widows, poor families and people with disabilities.

Whilst the fruit from the Lydia Project fills the Corleys with joy, they also recognise the struggles faced by the nation steeped in Buddhism, still rebuilding from the Cambodian genocide in the ‘70s and known for rampant human trafficking, domestic violence and substance abuse. Still, hope is spreading through local Jesus followers, from the youngest residents of Sunrise House to seasoned pastors who survived the infamous Killing Fields.

Prior to the new coronavirus, Rob would travel to Cambodia four times a year, with Stephanie usually joining him twice. “Each year we host a team to Cambodia to experience the worship of new Jesus followers in this culture. To see the rise of the church out of a place of great darkness—it is just life-changing to see,” Stephanie said.

A tailgate party and a job offer

As their work with Lydia Project expanded, the Corleys sensed God moving them in other areas of life. “I had actually been given early retirement from my corporate job that I had done for 30+ years… [Lydia Project] had given us this real interest in missions, and I really wanted to finish my career in some sort of mission or ministry work,” Rob explained.

During that time period, as Rob and Stephanie were praying for an open door, Stephanie’s sister-in-law met the former chief financial officer for OM in the US at a college football tailgate party, a North American tradition of hanging out in a parking lot, eating and drinking, before a sporting event. “[She] mentioned that I was interested in a marketing job, they talked about missions, and that’s how it all came together,” Rob explained.

A phone call and formal job offer followed, and Rob soon found himself using his marketing background to develop a strategy for OM’s mid-level donors in the US, people who gave a few thousand dollars each year to the organisation. After one year in that role, he moved to another position as regional director of global generosity for the Pacific Northwest—a shift which required the Georgia-based couple to relocate across the country to Bellingham, Washington.

The skills Rob had honed in the corporate world—building relationships, communicating effectively and telling stories—transitioned seamlessly into his work with OM. “The whole thing we do is about developing a relationship with people who have a real kingdom desire,” he said.

“I am 100% aligned with the vision of OM… That’s something I’m excited about in my professional role and then what Steph and I do in Cambodia, too,” he said. That passion, combined with the experiences he’s had meeting workers around the world (prior to the pandemic), allows him to excite other donors about the movement as well.

“We have such amazing people doing so many wonderful things all over the world,” Rob said. “Being able to represent them to donors, tell their stories and be a small part of helping them be more successful and have the resources they need to carry out the mission that each one of them has—that’s what keeps me going every day.”

Investing in God's Kingdom builders

Growing up as an “Air Force brat”, a nickname adopted by American children who move often because of parents serving in the US military, Stephanie said she was thankful for the people in her formative years, first and foremost her parents, who exemplified living out God’s love. Rob, who spent his childhood in southern California, did not learn Bible stories at home, but his mom still took him to church. “The person who really got me to understand God’s love for me was my second grade Sunday school teacher,” Rob said. “He helped me understand how a relationship with God was possible.”

Together, Rob and Stephanie continued to learn from committed Jesus followers about how to structure their lives and how to steward their finances. “Giving to missions was modelled to us early by some really close friends who we saw giving into ministry and missions from our very earliest days of marriage, which was 40 years ago, and it’s just been a part of who we are as a couple all those years. And it’s always been about seeing someone who is passionate about what they were doing and wanting to come alongside and help,” Rob shared.

As a result of Rob's role with OM, he and Stephanie have partnered financially with other workers involved in various ministries around the world. “We only walk on this earth for a certain number of days, and I’m not going to be in Africa, and I’m not going to be in all these places in the world, and what an awesome thing to have a trusted way to connect with some Kingdom builders, with some adventurers, with some light-filled people that can go do things I can’t,” Stephanie said. “I want to be a part of that!”

From their experiences on all sides—donating to those serving in missions, raising funds for OM and receiving gifts for the Lydia Project—Rob and Stephanie emphasised the privilege of partnering in God’s work. “As Steph said, they can’t all go. They can’t all do what workers do…” Rob reiterated. “But this gift donors have to give is their way to participate in the ministry.”

And it reaps eternal benefits.

“The joy that comes to us from the investment in the Kingdom, in my opinion, is much greater than the money that we give,” Rob said.

United States: Rob Corley and his wife co-founded a non-profit in Cambodia that cares for orphans and widows. Photo provided by Rob Corley.

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