Providing a Safe Haven

Familia Feliz is about making connections, forming deep relationships with children who are in desperate need of attention and love.

Zachery Kirstein
Providing a Safe Haven

My life took a sharp detour in August 2021 when I landed in Bolivia as a student missionary from Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, United States. Working at Familia Feliz, an orphanage and boarding school located on the outskirts of Rurrenabaque, Bolivia, was certainly a dramatic contrast to my life as a business major at Southern. It didn’t take me long to realize that God had much for me to learn.

Familia Feliz is a refuge and safe haven for neglected, abused, and orphaned kids who have nowhere else to go. The Seventh-day Adventist-run facility is located on a beautiful 100-plus-acre campus and is home to 70 kids and 30 volunteers. Familia Feliz has been operating for more than 16 years, and the staff is committed to placing the children in homes run by supportive houseparents. This helps ensure that these kids are finally placed into stable home environments.


When I first arrived at Familia Feliz, I experienced a fusion of feelings. I was scared, excited, and unsure of what I was getting myself into. The moment I saw the kids’ smiling faces as they ran to hug and greet me, however, all my doubts flew out the window.

As a volunteer houseparent, I get to love and nurture children who are unable to be with their biological parents, usually for serious reasons. I also help to teach music class, and my students sing for church once a month.

I live in what is called the House of Lions. This is one of six homes on campus. The boys help with chores, do homework, and play out imaginative scenarios—all with a bit of the usual sibling rivalry and the challenge of sharing of toys that make for a typical home. I live with 12 boys, all between the ages of 3 and 10. Each child is filled with boundless energy. I’m very grateful for our resident lion tamers, Brother Juan and Sister Emiliana, whom I aid every day.


Each of our boys has a story, but one of our most recent lions is Alex. Alex loves to run and race and he had an adorable smile. The police found Alex wandering on the road alone after he’d escaped from a home where he had been frequently beaten and locked up. I feel a special connection to Alex; he makes me smile often as I watch him grow and change.

“I like it here; I like living here,” Alex says. “My favorite part is going to school.”

This is what Familia Feliz is all about! Just a few months ago Alex was in an abusive home, locked in rooms, and beaten frequently. Today, however, he’s in a safe environment that allows him to live and grow in a loving atmosphere. He now attends an Adventist Christian school and church, and daily experiences a beautiful example of what a family should look like.

Familia Feliz is about making connections, forming deep relationships with children who are in desperate need of attention and love. I work at this every day by playing games with my kids, laughing with them, hugging them, and embracing them in every aspect of their lives.


One current project to support campus growth is the addition of a greenhouse, which will help to sustain a garden during the rainy season.

The rainy season in Bolivia lasts from December to February, when it rains almost every day. The plants become flooded and die, and prices skyrocket. Being able to grow vegetables in a greenhouse will both ensure an ongoing supply of vegetables for our campus and provide the means to start a small business of selling vegetables in town.


In my time at Familia Feliz I’ve seen Christ leading me to make a difference in the lives of these children. My perspective of mission work and serving as a missionary has totally changed since my arrival here. I now view mission work as a lifestyle. It’s how I live my life—from the smiles I give to my kids in the morning, providing a shoulder for them to cry on, and being there for them when their parents have chosen not to be.

Every day is an opportunity for me to rely even more fully on Jesus and to show the kids that I love them and care for them.

To learn more about Familia Feliz, please visit

Zachery Kirstein