Caring for the most vulnerable

Couple helps disabled orphans across the globe through Mustard Seed Communities

Terry and daughter Mackenzie Newton hug residents at Hogar Belen Diriamba in Nicaragua.
Terry and daughter Mackenzie Newton, on a mother/daughter trip to Jamaica, pose with students in Little Angels preschool in Kingston.
Terry Newton holds a resident at Hogar Immanuel in the Dominican Republic.
Pictured, from left, the Newton family, from left, Bill, Zach, Joey, Terry, Colby and Mackenzie at their home for the Dare to Care 2015 fundraiser for Mustard Seed Communities, where they raised $174,000.
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BY KATHLEEN STURGEON
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Terry Newton never thought of herself as the type of person who travels to other countries to help disabled orphans.

In 2003, Newton was invited by a friend to join a mission trip to Nicaragua to help a group called Mustard Seed Communities minister to children with an array of disabilities and issues. She had three children and was a stay-at-home mom in Johns Creek. She didn’t think too much about traveling to other countries, or helping children with disabilities. 

“I said I didn’t do well with kids like that,” Newton said. “It’s not my deal.”

Convinced that all she would have to do is help rebuild the roof of a shelter, she decided to give it a shot. She started by researching Mustard Seed, an international, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that cares for children and adults with disabilities, children with HIV/AIDS, pregnant teenagers and impoverished families and communities. Each year, Mustard Seed sends over 900 mission volunteers to communities in Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Zimbabwe.

Newton’s church, St. Brigid Catholic Church in Johns Creek, was one of the big supporters of Mustard Seed, with fundraisers and mission trips. 

So she traveled to Nicaragua to help rebuild the roof of a shelter. A few years later, she was helping to rebuild a child’s life when she and her husband adopted a 2-year-old Newton met in Nicaragua.

“Well it turns out I actually do well with kids like that and it is my deal as I’m now a mother of one of those kids,” Newton said. “It’s just different when you’re in the presence of those children and some of them can’t move a muscle in their body other than a jerky spasm. Then you make eye contact and they smile.” You know you’ve made a difference in that child’s life even if only for that moment, she said.

People have different gifts and different things they feel comfortable doing, she said. “Sometimes they don’t know they have a gift, I didn’t know I had one,” Newton said. 

Volunteering for a group like Mustard Seed, she said, is an inspiring experience. “It takes you out of this bubble you live in and brings you back to Earth as for what it’s really all about,” Newton said. “It makes you a much more humble person. You want to stay and don’t want to come back to the realities of our lives here. As blessed as we are, it’s so much more materialistic here. It’s a simpler existence down there [in Nicaragua]. Those children don’t know they don’t have the things we have. So if you can make them smile and make them comfortable, then you’ve made their day.”

It’s safe to say that, when Newton first saw Joey, she wanted to make him smile. He was 2 years old and at Mustard Seed’s Nicaraguan orphanage, having been found at 3 days old in a hole in the ground. By the time Newton met him, he had already spent time in a hospital and another orphanage, where he hadn’t received the care he needed.

“He did not thrive at all because he has special needs,” Newton said. “So he ended up back in the hospital and was able to get to Mustard Seed when he was 18 months old. That’s when he started thriving, when he was able to get that special one-on-one care he needed.”

In addition to Joey, now 15, she and her husband Bill have three other children, Zack, Colby and Mackenzie. And, despite a busy household, the couple continues to help with Mustard Seed. Her husband serves on the group’s national board and Newton still takes mission trips with the organization, often accompanied by her daughter. They also have become instrumental in fundraising for Mustard Seed. 

For the past nine years, the Newtons have held a yearly fundraiser at their home to raise money for the charity. That event has become one of the biggest moneymakers for Mustard Seed, with this past year’s affair drawing about 200 supporters and raising $174,000. Over the years, Newton said, she and her husband have raised over $1 million for the cause.

“People have different gifts and some want to support by writing a check and that’s fine because, without that money, we can’t feed these kids,” Newton said. “But I want as many people as possible to actually experience it and see where their money is going.” Her goal is to recruit as many mission volunteers for Jamaica, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Zimbabwe. “I try to get people to go down with me and see it. Once people go, they really do feel like they’re a different person when they come back and they want to continue going.”

The best part is being able to touch a child in need, make eye contact and see them smile, she said. 

“That smile says it all,” Newton said. “It says none of the other stuff in our lives matter. It’s bringing a smile to the face of a child who otherwise wouldn’t have one. If Mustard Seed hadn’t taken these children in, they might have died or never felt a hug or loving embrace. To know you’re able to make that child’s life better, if only for a moment, is absolutely worth everything.”

To learn about Mustard Seed, visit mustardseed.com. ■

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