LOVE FORWARD: THE BOOK
Robert Benson was adopted from a shelter in 1968 after being abused and abandoned as a child. Over the next 50 years, Robert built a life, family, and career. In parallel, his experience of abandonment and trauma drove him to find and help others like him.
Traveling across four continents, Robert encountered tragic situations: children in modern-day slavery, young girls repeatedly raped by their relatives or trapped in prostitution, children living in prisons, drug-addicted boys dying on the streets. In each of them, he saw their value, their potential—and a piece of himself. Robert has captured these stories - and his own - in Love Forward.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING
Love Forward details Robert’s compassion-based strategy of responding to human brokenness that occurs when hope and purpose are crushed. Readers are challenged to embrace this strategy, engaging in new acts of love and kindness that will have a transforming ripple effect.
— Dr. Phyllis Kilborn, author of Healing for Hurting Hearts, Street Children, and many other titles.
Love Forward is an anthology of the heartbreak, strength, faith, and courage of some of the young people Robert encountered, powerfully conveyed in their own voices, together with Robert's own story. Each child experienced abuse and abandonment, but interconnected acts of love and compassion redirected their lives and wove them together into a single incredible story that has impacted thousands around the world.
The book is a bold and inspiring call to action, reminding readers that a single action can have a ripple effect that extends across cultures, countries, and generations. The book, and Love Forward, invite you to continue the story in your own unique way through sponsorship and engagement with these youth.
Below are a few of their stories.
Pictured above left: Anzelie’s childhood home in Tambongan, Bohol, Philippines. Right: Anzelie today.
Abused and molested by her step-father, Anzelie escaped attempted murder multiple times as a child, sometimes hiding in the tropical vegetation near her house. Currently, Anzelie is a college graduate who is living out her lifelong dream as a teacher.
"After all the storms of my life, I feel the warmth of sunshine in my heart," Anzelie writes. She then offers a word of encouragement to others. "You are not limited or defined by your past. Make your past an inspiration to pursue your dreams. Show your abusers that they did not defeat you. Show them what real strength consists of. Putting another down, abusing them, or degrading them is not a reflection of strength. Strength is when we are put down, abused, or degraded, and we rise above it. We persevere through it. We cling to the hope of a better future, and when we get there, we extend our hand to another and pull her to the same place of safety."
Pictured above left: Myla (center) at her childhood home in Mohon, Bohil, Phillipines. Right: Myla today.
Raped and beaten by her father from the age of 6, Myla became pregnant at the age of 13. She lived on the streets of the Philippines several times, hiding from authorities, while trying to run away from her childhood abuse. Today, she is a college graduate working as a supervisor of human resources.
"I used to view myself the way others treated me: worthless," said Myla. "Countless people demeaned me and put me down, but God sent a few good people into my life who believed in me, defended me, and loved me without asking anything in return. Once I rediscovered my value, I began to invest in others, and that brought further purpose and meaning into my life." Myla paused, then reflected on the impact that even simple acts can have. "Every one of us can be kind in simple ways. Simple gestures of kindness mean a lot to the people we touch. For me, it changed my life."
Pictured above left: The first known photo of Juan, shortly after he arrived at the first Arms of Love home in Nicaragua in March 2000. Right: Juan walking his graduation ceremony from Centro American University in Nicaragua, with his grandmother in October 2015.
Juan never attended school, was illiterate, and lived in the most dangerous neighborhood in Managua, Nicaragua. Juan survived by washing cars and dealing drugs; his brother was killed in a knife fight. Today, Juan is a college graduate, working in management and starting his own business.
"When I lived on the streets, I had no opportunity to dream, because every day was about survival," said Juan. "But at Arms of Love, over many years, the love I received from others changed the way I viewed myself—and it changed the direction of my life. I began to dream of a better future, something I never before thought possible. Today, I am living that dream … ." Reflecting on his recent graduation from university, Juan continued, "What matters most is the increased opportunity that I have to empower others, to love them, serve them, inspire them…and give them hope."
Pictured above left: Yessica a few days after she arrived at Arms of Love in Managua, Nicaragua, in 2007. Right: Yessica (center) poses with current Arms of Love students. Yessica currently serves as a board member of Arms of Love Nicaragua.
Orphaned at the age of eight and abused by her relatives, Yessica is currently a college graduate with a degree in pharmaceutical chemistry. Her passion is helping children and the elderly.
"Others deprived, devalued, and despised me," Yessica writes. "I no longer wanted to continue living. But I became part of a new family, who loved me and supported me unconditionally. Now that I have a degree in pharmaceutical chemistry, I have found purpose in my life by helping others, especially the children and the elderly, as they are the most vulnerable to the diseases that surround us. There is only one measure of my success and satisfaction in life—the extent to which I am able to help meet the needs of others, with the love, skills, and education that I have been given."
Pictured above left: The only photo that Robert’s birth father, Norman, had of Robert, which he carried in his wallet all of his life. Right: Robert with the children of Lomas San Judas, Managua, Nicaragua, in 1999, while building the first Arms of Love homes in the country.
After being abandoned as a toddler and experiencing neglect and abuse growing up, Robert later became an attorney and established family-based homes to provide love and care for other abused and abandoned children.
"Our lives are part of a much larger story, and they intersect with the journeys of countless others," Robert writes, as he reflects on the past fifty years of his life. "When we view our lives within that greater context, we begin to understand how our kindness can have a ripple effect that extends far beyond our view. Love and faith connect us with that larger story and give rise to new and unlimited possibilities. The people we can become. The impact we can have. The dreams we can realize."
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING
Love Forward is a well-written book that provides an emotional experience for the reader to taste, smell, see, hear and feel the pain of poverty and abuse that calls out for justice and compassion. It challenges the reader to make change come alive.
— Dr. Steve Bagley, Founder of Marriage and Family Matters