HATLEY – Hannah Thompson is 26 and has spent a collective four years volunteering with Door of Hope, a Johannesburg, South African faith-based organization that takes in abandoned babies. Still at an age when many people are trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives, the experience has taught her at least one valuable aspect for the rest of hers – bettering other people’s lives is worthwhile.
“I’m not sure what my future holds but I know I’ll always commit my life to bettering people’s lives or loving the unlovable,” she said during a recent visit back home. “I definitely want to adopt. There’s a need in America and there are a lot of kids in the foster system. To make a difference in one child’s life is better than not making a difference at all.”
Thompson didn’t get involved with church until her teenage years, and going to Meadowood Baptist Church in Amory helped set the course for loving and serving others.
“Our pastor encouraged us to love our neighbors. Nobody was spouting off at me; they were loving me, and I said that’s what I wanted to do with people,” she said.
She was pursuing her undergrad at seminary in New Orleans when the opportunity for mission work came about.
“I had gone on mission trips after hurricanes and remember people at camp talking about people from throughout the world. I was told about Door of Hope, and one of my professors said the International Mission Board accepts students my age,” she said.
One thing led to another, and Thompson had her first opportunity in 2013 to volunteer with the organization for five months. She returned in 2016 on a volunteer visa and has stayed ever since.
Door of Hope has saved more than 1,600 babies since it began in 1999. Its maximum occupancy is 80, and Thompson said she had 78 babies she is currently helping care for back in South Africa.
She was an only child growing up and didn’t originally desire to work with children. She got a job later in life in child care, tending to 2 year olds, which helped change her mind.
“I remember the first day a child I was holding smiled at me and I said that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life,” she said. “We’ve taken in babies from attempted abortions so small they can fit in the palms of your hands. It’s amazing to see them six months later and how healthy they are. Love can change that in time. Love and touch is an important as feeding them.”
Her responsibilities through Door of Hope range from spending long days at the hospital for babies to receive medical care to feeding and exercising them to working on adoption registration.
Children served by Door of Hope range from newborn to 4 years old. Several of the babies go on to be adopted by people living in European countries such as Finland and Sweden.
“When people come in from overseas, they cry and ask how we can do it,” she said of the emotional end of her volunteering. “It’s a need to do it. You push through the fact that someone did this.”
When asked about the difference she has made in younger people’s lives, she shared stories of two particular children.
One was an 8-month-old blind and deaf baby with seizures who came into her care. She recalled after holding the baby, the seizures eventually ended, even though the baby later died. Another baby came in with no legs and was in and out of the hospital before he lost his life.
“Even though they started this life unwanted, they didn’t leave that way. They’re being loved and well taken care of. The need is met. Some people don’t have love, and that affects you,” she said.
During her recent trip home, Thompson shared her story and the mission of Door of Hope at churches in Aberdeen, Amory and Okolona.
Her volunteer visa expires in January 2021, which could be extended.