WEATHERFORD -- It may not seem significant that Shay Buttolph just finished a trip to the dentist.
But because she's on her way to the Republic of South Sudan, she's not sure when she will be able to go to the dentist again.
It's not the first time that the former American Red Cross worker has been to the war-torn region, but her mission is intensifying with every visit.
She and other members of Trinity Bible Church in Willow Park are spearheading an effort to expand a 2-year-old orphanage in Terekeka, South Sudan. They hope to build a school for hundreds of orphans and bush children in the area.
Shay, who leads the Weatherford-based nonprofit Children of War-Children of Hope, and others at her church are trying to gather supplies and funds to load and ship a 40-foot ocean-ready container to the orphanage by year's end.
"It takes about two to three months to get there, so we are trying to have it filled by the fall and ship it there by February or March 2013," she said. "Any later than that and the rainy season begins, and the container wouldn't make it with them being in such a remote area."
Shipping a container from Weatherford to South Sudan costs close to $24,000, not counting the cost of the supplies in it.
Dan Buttolph, Shay's husband, said the orphans have many needs.
"Schooling is so important to these kids," Dan said. "Right now, they meet under a mango tree with no books and one chalkboard. Some kids literally walk five miles one way to go to school and are happy to do it."
But the Buttolphs said their effort is not just about filling a container; it's about filling a need.
'God has told you about a ministry
he wants you to begin'
For more than 15 years, the couple owned a bed-and-breakfast on Lamar Street in Weatherford. Then, on a summer day in 2003, while Shay was riding the lawn mower, something was revealed to her.
"That was usually the time where I could have more quiet time with the Lord," she said. "I have always had a real compassion for children in war-ravaged areas; I saw the effect it had on their lives. I felt the Lord talking to me about it."
She said the subject weighed heavy on her but didn't want to tell her husband because the two were so busy with the B&B.
A month later, they were at a dinner that included missionaries from Zimbabwe.
"After we ate, we had a prayer time. There were eight or 10 people there, and during the prayer, the missionary stopped and said, 'God has told you about a ministry he wants you to begin,'" Shay recalled. "I had my eyes shut and when I opened them, I saw him pointing at me."
She said the man encouraged her to share her calling with her husband. A few days later, she asked her husband whether he was interested in knowing what the missionary was talking about. His reply was, "Do I have a choice?"
"I said, 'Probably not,'" she said, laughing.
The two sat down and talked. Her husband thought that surely an organization existed to reach out to orphans in war-torn areas, but he had trouble finding one.
A link with Sudan
The Buttolphs got their break when Shay, while attending a conference, shared her calling with a woman. A couple of weeks later, the woman called, asking where she was looking to help.
"I said I was looking at Sudan, but I didn't know much about it other than it had been at war for some time," Shay said.
The woman told Shay that she had been in contact with Dennis and Lillian Klepp, a couple from Wisconsin who had sold everything, moved to southern Sudan and built their first orphanage there in 2001. She said the two were back in the U.S. on a speaking engagement and suggested they get together.
"We met and clicked instantly," Shay said. Lillian Klepp "was starting to have so many orphans, and she was looking for some kind of program that would help with adoptions, and she knew the government didn't have one."
To inquire about adoptions in the country, Shay met with a Sudanese man who was attending Dallas Theological Seminary.
In 2004, the Buttolphs formed Children of War-Children of Hope. Besides working with the orphanage, the group helps orphans in the adoption process.
On her current trip, Shay will try to get the government to reduce the residency requirement for adoptive parents.
Lance Winter, 817-594-9902, ext. 102