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“We still have work to do, doing what Jesus said; to welcome the children, widows, orphans”: Jacinta, 68 and Steven, 71 on being parents to the most vulnerable

by Julia Pong

In 2000, 44-year-old teacher Jacinta Steven had just moved to a new church River of Life in Kota Damansara, together with her 47-year-old bank clerk husband Steven Silvaraju, when a guest speaker in a church camp prophesied over them: “You will be parents to the orphans, homeless, abused and abandoned.” 

“Isn’t that what we just ran away from?” they wondered silently. 

Before this, they worshipped at a church in Brickfields, where they were entrusted by their former church pastors to temporarily shelter a few children whose parents were undergoing rehabilitation counselling for abuse. After weeks of feeding and caring for these children alongside the Stevens’ three biological children in their home, many of the children did not want to go back to their own parents, creating complications. 

For a while, Jacinta and Steven continued on their vocations. The prophecy lay dormant. Or so it seemed. 

Interestingly, Jacinta was sent by her school to attend training courses under the Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM, or Department of Social Welfare) on regulations and safety procedures for setting up and running a preschool and welfare home.

“I attended courses and earned multiple certificates. Behind the scenes, God was preparing me. In hindsight it took four years for the prophecy to come to pass,” recollected Jacinta. 

In 2005, Jacinta’s sister, a social worker in Kedah, alerted her of two orphans who were doing odd jobs instead of going to school. Jacinta said, “I told my sister that we ran away from that [taking care of children, not of her own]. She asked me, ‘How can you be so cruel?’

Jacinta spoke to her husband and with mutual conviction, they agreed to take the children in. “We did not have a car at that time. I remember taking the train up north to bring the two boys back home,” Jacinta recalled.

As the couple re-opened their hearts to shelter and love more children, more cases of abandoned or abused children came their way. The church and other social workers referred them. 

It wasn’t long before they needed to look for a bigger place to house all of them. 

Jacinta and Steven with Sheba, a former resident of the home.

Finding a new home as embraced their calling

They found a vacant corner house available for rent but were up against higher bids from a kindergarten operator and a restaurant owner. 

“Steven and I held on to the gate of the house and prayed. The next day, the owners agreed to rent it to us, at a lower rate than what we had offered!” Jacinta marvelled. God was making a way. 

As a resounding answer to their prayers, Jacinta obtained support from the parents in the school where she was still teaching at. They procured contractors to repair the house, after which 25 mothers and their maids turned up in full force to clean it, even donating used clothes for the incoming children. 

In 2005, the Lighthouse Children Welfare Home Association was registered. Steven gave up his job in the bank to run the home. With Jacinta’s prior knowledge and certification in registering and operating welfare homes by JKM, the process of getting the home up and running was made easy.

“We were also given custody of sexually abused children by way of a court order. I believe it was a calling and somehow God had prepared our hearts to accept the children who came to us,” Jacinta recalled.

Word of Mr and Mrs Steven’s work at Lighthouse spread, as they shared their story with various churches and the mainstream media, which helped gain support from the general public and business community. 

“The Lighthouse story on our website has seen a lot of responses. Many people who are travelling or who have a gap year have asked to volunteer on a short-term basis. Monetarily, there has not been a huge response but we’ve had people donating second-hand household items, groceries, toiletries, used clothes, toys, books and even furniture,” said Jacinta.

In 2013, Jacinta resigned from her schoolteacher role. The couple become full-time parents to an ever-growing brood of children; a diverse group of orphans, homeless, abused and abandoned across races, including Orang Asli and refugees referred to by the United Nations.

Today, Lighthouse spans two houses for boys and one for girls which also doubles up as the common space for meals and activities. 

The children go to school, attend tuition classes, and become a family. At its peak, Lighthouse had 70 children. This has since tapered to 50 at present, aged two to 22 years old.

Lighthouse’s children on a field trip.

Being a family, receiving blessings

Jacinta cannot keep track of how many children have passed through Lighthouse. Yet, 20 years in, she still finds joy. 

The daily routine involves Steven sending the children to school in the van. The refugees who are unable to attend national school get their lessons in MindLabs International Institution, a privately-funded academy, at a discounted rate. Two staff help Jacinta prepare meals for the day, while another helps with accounts and errands. 

Just like regular families, weekends are for recreation. Sometimes they gather around for tea and tidbits, and either watch a movie or let conversations flow. 

On Saturday mornings, they have their church service at home, with a US-based pastor preaching to the children. Some of the children attend Saturday evening services in SIB KL, and others attend the Sunday morning service in Every Nation Church. 

Lighthouse have also garnered tremendous support from the community. “The Village Grocer nearby has a dedicated box for customers to buy items for Lighthouse. I collect groceries and household needs from there every 3-4 weeks. Occasionally, I get groceries delivered from anonymous donors. We are blessed,” Jacinta shared. 

The children have attended ‘Back to School’ programmes and festive events as part of companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. At Christmas, they’re invited by restaurants and retail outlets to give choir performances. 

Still, Lighthouse needs approximately RM50,000 monthly, mainly for rentals, utilities, tuition classes and salaries. Lighthouse organises bake sales or garage sales to help raise funds. 

And still, the children keep coming. Jacinta and Steven not only house them but also adopt the most vulnerable. Thus far they have adopted 3 children as their own, and are applying to adopt three more orphans. 

“I was told by the adoption agency that being 68 years old may not work in my favour. So we prayed and prayed. The next day, the agency called me to say that JKM found no issues and knows you and Lighthouse,” she beamed.  

Jacinta is certainly a bastion of faith. One of the girls had asked why the cross displayed in the living room still had the figure of Jesus on it since He had risen. 

“I told her, that figure of Jesus reminds me how much He suffered and died for me. It was not the nails that kept Him on the cross. It was His love for you and me. In anything, just focus on that,” said Jacinta. 

Jacinta (in stripes) teaching some of the girls how to cook meehoon goreng.

Passing the baton and growing the legacy

Jacinta spoke frankly when asked about what would happen to Lighthouse as she and Steven advance in age. The answer may lie in Kevin Steven, one of her adopted children, who shares both her birthday and tenacity. “He is so bold!” she laughed. 

A few years earlier, the spunky lad had written to international schools on his own accord to request to study in their institutions. Only one – St John’s International School – responded, and after assessing Kevin, agreed to sponsor three years of his education, along with schoolbooks and other required items. 

The 16-year-old was asked by one of the sponsors what he intended to do in 10 years. “Among other things, he wanted to take over the running of Lighthouse from his dad Steven, who would be 81 by then. He wanted to include the homeless; the older people whose children turn them out when they are old and sickly,” elaborated Jacinta.  

While praying about the long term, Jacinta still has dreams for the mid- and immediate term. 

“I’m looking for a place to open a small café,” she shared enthusiastically. “Some of the children who can’t study can learn to run it.” Meantime, she has set up Lighthouse Kitchen and Bakes which employs refugees from Myanmar, Indonesia and Nepal to sell fruitcakes and other things through the bake sale. 

She is also looking to replace the 22-year-old van used for school runs, which breaks down often and costs RM5,000 to repair every other month. “If you take off the plastic sheeting on the floor, you can see the road,” she said. They have identified a used van for sale which costs RM116k on the road, and have raised RM43k to date.  

On how this life of service has shaped their relationship with Jesus, Jacinta, now 68 years old, said: “We run this home by faith. That is my tagline. Just recently, Steven had his seventh stent inserted at 71 years old, and I prayed to God, ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ The surgery was a success. We still have work to do, doing what Jesus said; to welcome the children, widows, orphans.” 

“My whole life is a miracle. If there is anything I need or don’t understand, I give it to God. He has provided and He will provide,” she asserted. She is waiting on God for yet another miracle.

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