denchik

November always finds me traveling a horrendously long distance from the States to Velikoretskoye, Russia. It is literally a journey of planes, trains, and automobiles. I have been making this journey to Velikoretskoye since 2008 to visit my friends who happen to live in an orphanage. As wards of the state of Russia, our community is restricted from talking about faith and religion, yet it is hard for me to hold that part of myself back. Each year, I develop discussion questions to generate conversation with our friends. Over the years it has been about joy, struggles, superheroes and many other things that all allow us to ‘talk’ about who we are created to be and how we live, yet not pointing directly to the one who created us.

I typically say that Russia is like the book of Esther. God is unabashedly throughout the entire situation everywhere, yet never once specifically mentioned. They pray, they fast and they acknowledge that they were created for something specific…but never once do they identify who that person is in their life. Russia is the same way when it comes to ministry. God has his Holy Spirit so incredibly active in Russia it takes my breath away and I see it everywhere I look, but I cannot point to God as the one responsible while hanging out with orphans.

This year, as I was praying and discerning through what to talk about with my friends in the mornings, God spoke and directed me to my love for storytelling as a way to point to Jesus. I struggled in the beginning to figure out how to articulate the meaning without talking about the Ultimate Storyteller, but then realized we could easily talk about stories without mentioning Jesus and still point to all being a part of a massive story. I needed my friends to know the impact they had on my own story, as well as once they enter into our massive story, it is impossible to exit.

One morning we talked about stories we liked as children and their moral compass, which led into stories we read now. Sitting with the older kids in the orphanage, I had several who love to read. Taking in everything they were saying, I asked, “Has anyone ever written a story? I loved to write stories when I was a kid.”

Getting a strong answer that no one had ever done that, I suggested we write out an outline for a story. It was in preparation for making puppets the next day in hopes of doing puppet shows. But, as always, my friends ultimately surprised me with their insanely good creativity and humor.IMG_3622I asked, “If we wrote a story, where would it take place?”

Vanya, sitting on my left, immediately replied, “Narnia.”

“Okay, Narnia it is. Who would be in our story?” I asked.

Names floated from all around the room: Nastya, Denis, Sergei, Valya, Hobbits, Chicken Raba, Shrek, Trolls, Fiona, etc.

“Got it. That’s a lot of characters, who would be the villain?”

The entire room chants: “Denis!”

“Denis as a villain? Really? Why would he be a villain?” I asked, unable to reconcile the mature teenager sitting in front of me with the spunky, funny young boy I first met in 2008.

“I was traumatized by hobbits as a child,” Denis said with a completely straight face as I erupted in laughter.

“Because they eat first breakfast, second breakfast, third breakfast and then start on lunch?” I laughed, soaking in his humor that will be missed once he graduates in June.

“Of course,” Denis replied.

“They ate all the food!” the room contributed.

“All right, genocide against the hobbits. What about a hero? Who would we have as the hero of the story?” I asked.

“A mouse!” the room yelled. In the beginning, we had talked about how mice were always the heroes in Russian fairy tales. With super strength, and very cunning…they were always the hero.

It is in this moment I must add, that while writing this story, it was the day after I’d had ANOTHER mouse in my car a mere three months after one had died in my blower motor resulting in replacing everything around the blower motor in my car. Mice have cost me a LOT of money over the last three months as the price tag was big again last week, and with everything in me I did NOT want to make a mouse the hero. But due to the creative stylings of my friends, I honored their ideas, yet cringed along the way.

“Does the mouse have a name?” I asked.

“Mickey Mouse Man!” my translator Sveta contributed, yet got overruled by our friends who decided ‘Mouse Man’ was the better selection as a name of a hero.

“How does Mouse Man take down Denis?”

“My name is Denchik,” Denis stated.

“Ok, how does Mouse Man take down Denchik?” I asked saying ‘Denchik’ in a low, enunciated, villain voice. Adding, “That is a much better villain name.”

Discussion happens around the room, making translation near impossible, until a consensus is reached, “A cheese canon!”

“A cheese canon?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes, a cheese canon,” Roma responded.

“Okay, I have to know, is it hard cheese or liquid cheese?” I asked.

“It’s hard cheese, but it isn’t the cheese that kills him.”

“Oh, really? Then what kills him?” I asked curious to see where this was going.

“The mold on the cheese kills him,” they responded.

“The mold?!?!?!”

“Yes, the mold kills him.”

“What is the moral of the story? When we talked about Russian stories, you all told me there is always something that teaches the reader. What are we trying to teach?” I asked them.

“Forgiveness is always possible,” Roma stated.

“Yes! Is there a cure for the mold?” Sveta asked them.

“No, Denchik must die,” Roma blatantly replied.

“So, no possibility of redemption?” she asked.

“No.”

“Then where is the forgiveness?” I asked.

“He is trying to kill the entire hobbit population, he has to die this time and he cannot be redeemed,” Roma reasoned.

“We have to have a sequel, though, all good stories have sequels,” contributed Denis.

“Yes! So, redemption has to be possible and there has to be a cure for the mold that kills him!” I said victoriously raising my fist in the air as my exuberance for superhero stories flooded out of my voice.

“The cure happens in the sequel,” finished Denis, who loves superhero stories as much as I do.

And that, friends, is how the story of ‘Denchik’ was created through one insanely creative morning with friends in a small village in Russia, and a weekend in the States of being submerged in what affectionately gets called my ‘Writing Cave.’ It would be so easy to write off this silly, crazy story as something that means very little, but realistically, in the name of community, it means so, so much. It is representative of something God called our Stateside community to step into first in 2002 in a different region, then to Velikoretskoye in 2008, and the loyal love we have for our friends. We never dreamed that with each year we visit our lives would perfectly meld into something so important to all of us. None of our lives would be the same without the impact each have equally made on every one of us.

‘Denchik’ came through friendships that have been grounded in consistent visits every year, through years of being present to talk and know each other, and simply showing up where God leads us to go. It is knowing that stories play a big part in our lives. In the reading, telling and retelling…all stories matter and have priceless value. There are more stories that will be told from our visit this year, but knowing this one has entered the universe in the way it has makes me completely overjoyed with our community and what God has been able to do among us.

To read the powerful story of ‘Denchik’ (always remember to say in a ‘villain’ voice) click here, as I am not a professional writer, please ignore the amateur nature of the storytelling: Denchik

 

 

 

 

 

 

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visit

Several years ago God started a conversation in my heart and it overflowed into conversations with several people in our Russia community. 

At the time God had been teaching me the importance of language within church ministry and that we should all be speaking the same language. It was simultaneous with changing the language of ‘doing’ mission to more accurate language of mission being who you are in your every day, walking around life. 

At first it started with a tension I felt every time I said ‘mission trip’ in reference to our time with our friends that happen to live in a Russian orphanage. It didn’t feel right every time I used it and it took awhile for me to realize why.

Think about all the connotations that go with ‘mission trip’: building things, youth trips, VBS camps, medical trips, relief after natural disasters and a myriad of other thoughts. 

At one point during our yearly travels to Russia, we had thought we were doing VBS, but looking back, we could have literally traveled with no activities and it would have been a great visit. I’m actually really proud of how far we’ve come in not taking a lot of ‘stuff’ and buying what little we use there to pour into the local economy. This year is the fewest amount of checked bags we’ve EVER taken. 

In the tension I was feeling about what the hell we were doing every November, the reality was that our time in Russia was no longer any of the ‘normal mission trip’ categories. We were not there to entertain or occupy the kids, but we were there to love them deeply and continue our friendship. Frankly, we were there to talk, eat, hang out and eat some more with tea about four times a day, because Russians are some of the most hospitable, warmest people that love spending time together that I have ever met throughout the world.

Through the years, God had taken our idea of ‘ministry’ and grown it into genuine friendships that have been invested in and nurtured for many years, and will ultimately continue as far as God would have us go. The commitment is strong and passionate for those of us who truly feel called into this relationship…and we are a stubborn lot. 

We’ve seen the kids we love go to university or technical schools, get jobs, and have their own families. We’ve also seen the not-so-good stories of kids that have followed the not-so-excellent example of their parents before them. Yet, once called into this piece of someone’s life, God doesn’t mean for you to exit. God means for you to walk alongside…for the long-term. Rest assured this type of ministry will test you and your endurance. It will challenge how you think. It will create a different perspective that you never intended to gain. 

It was about five years ago we started changing our language and calling our time in Russia a ‘visit’ to our friends. When people ask me why I am going to Russiaeach year, I tell them I am visiting my friends. ‘Oh, how wonderful you can make that trip,’ they say. And I always reply with, ‘It is a blessing to be able to visit them.’ 

Through the year-ish that it took us to actually change our language, I am most proud of the fact we actually sat in the tension of the wording ‘mission trip’ not feeling right, and then praying and discerning the ‘why.’ We could have sat back and decided that’s just what is the norm for what we are doing, but it didn’t accurately describe what we were as a community with our friends who happen to live in an orphanage in Russia. 

Who really wants to look at their friends and tell them they were a ‘mission trip’? 

I think the first time I really thought about that perspective, I was wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Velikoretskoye Mission Trip’ and one of the kids asked me what it said. As I sat in front of my friend, I was tongue-tied as to how to explain a ‘mission trip.’ 

At that moment I knew God needed our language to change. 

Speaking the same language is important, and we’ve had confusion on the congregation level of people understanding what we mean. I’m pretty sure some thought it was a touring trip, and it is no where near that because we spend as much time as possible with our friends. Long days of travel lead I to long days every day as we make the most of our time together. There are several of us who will animatedly educate others as to why we don’t take ‘mission trips’ to Russia, and we love those conversations. 

As I sit on the plane for the first leg of travel on our way for this years’ visit. I am aching to see my friends…to wrap them up in my arms, whisper I missed them, talk with the older kids as they struggle through knowing they will leave the orphanage, see the older ones who have left and catch up on their lives…and spend one of the most amazing weeks out of my entire year. The pause button that was hit about this time last year will be unpaused very soon, and I cannot wait for our yearly visit. 

sonje

Our energetic friend was bouncing around us yelling, “You are here! You are here!” as the tiny muscled arms wrapped tightly around my neck, as if I was going to disappear, while warm, humid air embraced us in a cocoon meant only for our hearts to recognize each other once again as the familiar scent of boy sweat drifted to my nose, it was then that three small words floated to my ear through a breathe of a whisper intended only for me, repeating over and over again…

“Mwen sonje ou.”

“I miss you.”

As if the plane landing in Haiti hadn’t already given me overwhelming realizations that I was home, just a few hours later, I was instantly at home in every aspect of the word.

Oh, my heart, that is so fragile with this small one that holds every corner. I would never be able to put into words how much I miss him. There are not enough variations of “I miss you, too” in Creole to adequately convey them all. I put up a strong front, but when it comes to my buddy…I’m a puddle. I would do anything for him, and it’s reciprocal as evidenced by his blatant defense of my honor in any given situation or misused word sent in my direction. 

My time in Haiti was a plethora of conversations about what I remember, who I miss and will I forget. Although, the second most common conversation was:

“Are you back here to stay?”
“I’m sorry, no.”
“You are not working for Global?”
“No.”
“Are you married?”
“No.”
“Are you engaged?”
“No!” while I completely lost it laughing. 

This was quickly followed by confused looks wondering what the hell I’ve been doing in the States if not remedying that particular situation my Haitian friends have a definite opinion about. Apparently, my friends all thought I was going to the States to gain a significant other, then come back. They will suffer a long wait. 

I digress.

It’s been almost a year since I left Haiti, and it shows in my restlessness Stateside and the insane welcome my friends have given me over my visit in Haiti.  

It was an absolute honor to accompany some friends, who have become extended family over the last three years, from South Carolina to the northern villages partnered with Global Orphan Project in Haiti. While I was back in March, I didn’t have an opportunity to go north, which meant I hadn’t seen my friends up there for an entire year. 

We spent a couple days at one of my favorite places in all of Haiti up in the northern mountains. As we prepared to leave, I had sent our visiting friends on to the bus when a hand caught mine and held me back under the shade of the school porch.

“Èstefani, do not forget us.”

Choking back the multitude of emotions overwhelming me, I replied, “Why do you think I would forget? I remembered your name when I got here and I pray for all of you all of the time. You are Lovely’s brother! I will never forget. I do not forget any of you here.”

The normally stoic, serious, quiet eldest sibling who is constantly taking care of others, ducked his head while allowing the corner of his mouth quirk upwards into a half smile. Which then led to a mass photo of all who had heard my answer and wanted one ‘last’ photo before I left.

As he grabbed the opposite hand of the one his sister clung to while we started toward the bus, he said, “Walk slower.” 

“Walk slower?”

“Yes, we need to walk slower.”

“Okay, we can walk slower. They can wait for us,” I replied, grateful the mirrored aviators were firmly in place as my eyes were tempted to leak. 

I walked incredibly slow, savoring and implanting every step in my memory. Even as I think about it right now, I am right back there with my friends. Lovely on my left and Ronelson on my right as the rest of the kids trailed behind us to the bus. 

The incessant desire to not be forgotten is constant in most of the kids the world calls orphans. Desperately wanting to be known, is a common characteristic that I always tell those partnering and engaging in the orphan window to make a point to speak into each of the kids. Remembering names. Remembering faces. Telling stories of the past visits. Joking about things that were inside jokes from previous years. Remarking on how they look healthy or taller or more beautiful than past visits. Comparing how much they have grown in old photos. Showing the kids you kept something they drew or wrote to you. Maintaining whatever contact you can when you cannot be physically present. It is imperative to speak worth and love while reinforcing memories of time spent together, because there are not a lot of people in their lives that can point that out.

Which also speaks into consistency regarding those God has called you to love. It’s not about hopping around to different places, and taking the photos to show everyone you were outside the States and with orphans. It is about intentionality. It is about sacrifice. It is about consistently being present. It is about building God’s Kingdom through fighting with those the world casts aside. The default of the kids to assume we always forget about them stems from the abandonment and neglect. Yet, at the end of my week, remembering became more than just about my little friends and also about the team I worked with for two and a half years. 

After some rest and time with some friends at the beach, I was sitting next to my friend who came to pick us up in the back seat when the conversation turned comical. I was wearing my “Pose” t-shirt to get across my ‘chill’ vibe, and remarked it was that or “Jwi Lavi” to communicate ‘enjoy life’ as I had to choose when I got dressed that morning. Then I heard my friend say under his breathe “bleu pose.” I laughed and said, “I love that nickname!”

Surprised, he looked up and said, “You remember ‘blue pose?'” Adamantly I said, “Of course!”

Rewarded with his megawatt smile, I was left to ponder why everyone thought I would forget while I am away. 

It continued the morning I left as we journeyed through traffic to the airport, a tap tap, the public transportation, pulled weirdly in front of us on the wrong side of the road. My friend who was driving said nothing. 

I asked, “Why didn’t you call him a ‘monkey?'”

“You remember that?”

“Of course, you always call bad drivers ‘monkeys.'”

Laughter, followed by, “I always do that. You remember me?”

“Always, I always remember.”

I’ve been trying to reconcile why one of the themes of this Haiti visit was remembering and missing each other, and not forgetting. The reality is, I’ve come across it every year in Russia, and have worked years to reassure the kids they are not the only ones that remember. The kids are always surprised when I remember not only things from the year before, but many years past. It is all of the things I listed above that have worked against their human reaction of being forgotten. While that explains my little friends, it doesn’t explain the overall responses I was getting. 

What is it about our humanness that our default belief is that people will forget us and could never miss us as much as we miss them? And where do we step into that tension to create assurances of the opposite?  

How similar is it to our feeling that God forgets about us? We think ourselves small and inconsequential, yet our God says he knew us before we were born. He says, of COURSE I KNOW you, you are not one of billions to me…you are the only one. Somewhere in my brain I hear, “Will you believe me THIS time, you lovely idiot?!?!”

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.” [Psalm 139:13-16 MSG]

Yet our God also says he knows every hair on our head.

“What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.” [Matthew 10:29-31 MSG]

Our hearts crave to be known. We crave to know we have worth in this world. We can’t stop wanting to hear that from others as we have it consistently from the One who created us. It truly is in our humanness that we fool ourselves into thinking no one cares, people forget and our value is minuscule. None of those thoughts are from God. God loves unconditionally. God loves consistently. His love for us could NEVER run out, and he has created his people to be an extension of his love. 

That is the opportunity we’ve been given to step into the life of another beautifully imagined son or daughter of the Creator.

The real question is more about what is holding us back from loving with the radical, unconditional love we’ve been given freely? That we didn’t even ask for. What are we so afraid of? What is stopping so many from pouring into lives of others? 

Choosing to step in is hard…and painful…and heart wrenching. Especially when the physical distance is massive or circumstances pack a painful punch. Yet…I wouldn’t trade it for the world when it comes to seeing a friend smile, be encouraged and know that they have incredible value and worth. 

Speak love. Speak worth. Never forget. 

And God’s glory will burst out like the sun rays escaping from a ceiling of darkened clouds. 

Sonje. 

fracture

Life becomes a twisty, twirly, albeit beautiful, mess when the multitude of directions you are pulled in straddle nations, culture, language and lives that have somehow found their way to intersect with your own.

There is a tension within me has continually escalated for many years. I want to be in so many places at once. I feel fractured into pieces that continue to lay divided, always seeking that next opportunity of Kingdom purity that forces them to pull together into a version of whole. Those moments come in conversation, photos, storytelling and being present with those I constantly wish I could be with in person. 

When I take time to stop and slow down…or am stuck on a plane without distraction, because the headphone plug doesn’t work to watch a movie…I am forced into a time of reflection that I, admittedly, tend to avoid. For the last several years, my life has felt like a constant revolving door of relationships. Some for a weekend, and others that will literally be for a lifetime, yet all of them keep entering and exiting on a regular basis. Which is hard when you are someone who values relationship and being present with each other over literally everything else.

From the moment my heart was dramatically busted open by a 9-year-old street kid who was struggling to fit into an orphanage culture of structure, my life has been a constant forward trajectory of obedience, calling and insatiable desire to see the wrongs of this world righted through working to see God’s Kingdom come to restoration.

The plethora of stories, where I have found my story and the story of so many others colliding, are overwhelming. The places I’ve been sent are at times so divinely perfect, that I struggle to catch my breathe.

I have discovered a version of radical love that I never knew existed. All through the relationships God has blessed me with over the last fourteen years of, stubbornly and obstinately, fighting to see children know their worth and empowered to claim their future, while eventually being assaulted by the epidemic of brokenness through poverty, corruption, violence, abuse, neglect and abandonment. It’s strange when a heart that is passionate for orphans rests in the tension of those children actually having families and the realities they face every day to provide water, school, food, safety, etc. Everything seems to morph into an unquenchable desire to see families stay together, despite their situations of social and economic poverty. Resourcing and financial supporting constantly keeps the turnstile of worldwide orphan care rolling, yet with perspective it eventually turns into job creation and higher education that pours dignity and life change into those you love deeply.

There are also the real orphans…the ones who have no where else to go and genuinely consider their caregivers as their family, and will continue to feel that the rest of their lives. Their brothers and sisters are the ones who they have grown up with.  In most cases their parents are no longer living, in some they have chosen not to be a parent, others put in prison resulting in parents rights being terminated and yet still some are encumbered with sickness that keeps them out of the lives of their children. ‘Orphan’ is not a singular term. Over the years I’ve learned so much, but I have so much more to learn and absorb, and will continue to seek justice for each despite any definition. 

Through that journey, God has brought so many people into my life that have taught, listened, corrected and inspired me. All are people who constantly sacrifice to be on the front lines of a Holy and physical war that is raging for God’s Kingdom to be known and perfected. 

Over the last couple of months, I’ve sat with people all significantly and specifically called to be where God has them placed. It is hard, yet that assurance of being exactly where they are supposed to be and doing exactly what God has led them to be continually enforces they keep fighting for what is right. 

I’ve been sitting under the response a pastor gave me when I asked him about struggles in his congregation. A surge of recycling has changed the dynamic of lives in families who used to collect those recyclables and turn them in for money as their families only income. In the shadow of that change are mothers that are taking their daughters to the local prison on the weekend as prostitutes.

Choices for the future are limited in an environment where income to pay for education is the only way to graduate high school. The fear in students who desperately ache to graduate is palpable when they see the short span of time until they age out of the orphanage at age eighteen and have only finished 7th grade. When they leave the security of the orphanage they have grown up in, how do they pay to finish high school?

The hearts of those on the front lines are so humbly determined at times that it manifests as a school principal willing to take on all the responsibility and voice as gangs attempt to extort the community, so the gang members do not come after any of the staff at the school. 

There are literal life and death situations everyday. Yet it is not about getting caught up in the death, and everything about being caught up in REAL life and working to see God’s restoration and redemption. 

My heart aches for the disparity between the majority and the minority of the world. Lately I’ve been thinking frequently about a bright spark of hope and newness of life in the innocence of a small baby, whose life was extinguished way to soon due to lack of medical care in his country. When consistent and quality healthcare is absent in a majority world nation it drives up infant death rates, among other illnesses that lead to death, that punch you in the face while simply looking at photos from three years ago while your friends remark that some of our friends have not survived their illnesses over the years. 

No one can predict how God will change you and how he will lead you. No one can predict how many places God will leave pieces of you until you carry a constant feeing of being fractured. The control we do have is over how we respond. With ignorance, denial or avoidance? Or confidently acknowledging and following the Lord’s leading in presence, support and prayer?

The stories I carry are exactly what leads to that fracturing I feel and the absence of feeling like I belong in only one place. It also drastically changes my definition of ‘home.’ These all fold into how how I hear stories and then it becomes about how I tell stories. It all revolves around relationships. Yet for me, my relationships seem to be separated by extreme distance that is hard to maintain, and then there are those relationships that God has blessed to be easy to maintain and that makes my soul soar with being known, remembered and loved. It can be a gift to embrace so many cultures, languages and people…but it can also be painful to be fractured, so the moments of Kingdom purity become the soothing balm that merges all pieces back together while remain stubborn about why and what we fight for as we yearn for restoration and redemption. 

focus

My focus needs more focus.

I am frustrated with myself, because there are so many Kingdom stories rolling around in my head, yet they are not manifesting as words. The stories are so spectacular that I am legitimately unable to focus on just one, especially after being in Guatemala for two weeks at the end of May where I visited twenty-four different CarePoints (schools, drop-in centers and orphanages) and their directors and/or pastors for Children’s HopeChest. Some of my favorite memories from Haiti come from sitting with pastors and hearing their stories. There is so much to learn when we take the time to be curious, ask questions and listen…always taking a listening posture.

These are the stories we tell to lead others into knowledge and relationship with the One who cleanses, restores and loves unconditionally. We must continually orient everything around and point back to God, or we neglect every opportunity to build into God’s Kingdom.

Every single one of my tried and true processing methods have epically failed in getting me to focus. Twenty-two hours alone in a car driving resulted in no massive revelation. This is my 4th, count it FOURTH, attempt at sitting down and writing. My writing cave protocols of music, coffee, prayer and loads of time for God to speak have not worked. Coffee, even coffee, has failed to draw focus on where God has placed me over the last several months. I’ve had good quality time with people that I constantly process out loud with in my usual extroverted verbal ways, and yet still…I don’t even know where to start in sharing the stories that have permeated my heart and drawn me into a place of deep respect and adoration for Guatemala.

What is the point of this crazy, weird life God has called me with my crazy, weird skill sets if I am unable to pull others into God’s story?

The processing is also about the stories that are meant only for me to grow in my faith and for God to intimately speak his love for me into my heart. As well as which are meant for me to focus more clearly on my calling and which are to draw others into their own. Which are meant to educate others on the realities of the majority world, and which go against the dignity of those lives. Honoring and giving dignity to those that live in a world which is utterly opposite of the States is always a priority for me. Just because those living in the States don’t understand, does not make something wrong, ignorant or disgraceful.

What I want to share are the electric, poignant Holy Spirit moments that had my spirit resonating with God’s presence.

Who I want to give insane amounts of respect to are the incredible Guatemalans I get to work with, and are constantly living in the frontline stories of restoration and joy, yet pain and injustice.

What I want to share is the time spent and stories shared over lunch with a pastor for almost three hours.

What I want to point to are the families that are being impacted by the ministry that God has called his people to at CarePoints around Guatemala.

What I want others to learn from is the commitment, loyalty, community and deep connection to the Holy Spirit a small group of people have had for over 20 years as they lead a school.

What I want people to know is the giddiness, joyful jumping and staccato clapping that occurred as a young girl received a letter from her friend in the States, and how much those words are like a great treasure when delivered. The friendship is so incredibly valued and anything said otherwise is completely of the enemy.

What I want men to hear is how desperately their time is needed around the world as examples to families and children, especially through the story of a CarePoint director who started ministry when his daughter was born. He wanted to make a difference for other children and make his daughter proud of him.

What I want to honor is how we obediently follow God’s calling, as well as the grace, patience and time it takes to revision when God shifts ministry focus after twenty-four years.

What I want people to see when they choose to step into international ministry is that ministry must always orient around relationship, without it, all we do it hurt those that receive resources as only dependency is created.

What I want mothers to visualize are the tears in the eyes of a woman who miscarried her child struggling to walk alongside a thirteen-year-old girl in her school that went through the same thing at the same time.

What I want people to know is that even with the tears, sadness and hard things…there is so much joy and laughter. So. Much. As my mirrored aviators drew the mesmerizing stares that were quickly followed by insanely funny faces, they create the same giggles and comradery as anywhere else in the world.

What I truly want is for people to enter into God’s Kingdom in a way that brings focus to their walk with God, and leads them to fight to right the wrongs in our world, instead of pretending they do not exist. We are not meant for monotony or to be stagnant. While I’ve known my calling into orphan care and prevention for years, I want others to be fighting for the orphan, widow and outcast in whatever context they are called into. The fight is real. It is supernatural. And while it can make many people significantly uncomfortable, God asks us to enter in to that place of surrender, passion and purity with him.

As I continue to pray for focus and how to share with others in ways that merge them into God’s story…know that I am praying for you, too. That God will give you wisdom. God will teach you. God will give you discernment. God will ignite your heart. God will inspire you. And that God will guide you into your calling, because his heart is for each of us to purposefully step into his Kingdom. It isn’t in the past. It isn’t in the future, friends. It is now and it is all around you, when we choose to focus on the things that make a difference in our world.

 

dignity

I once had a friend tell me a story about a pastor he knew in Africa who was explaining to his congregation why my friends’ organization was going to partner with them. The pastor asked his congregation, “Describe to me how we get water.”

“We get our buckets.”

“We walk to the water pump.”

“We put water in our buckets.”

“We lift the water to our heads.”

“We walk it back home.”

“We take it down from our heads without spilling.”

Then the pastor asked, “What is the hardest part out of that for us?”

The congregation replied, “Ugh, lifting the water to our heads. It is very difficult and the water is heavy.”

“That is what our friends will be helping us with. They will be helping us lift the water to our heads, but we are responsible for the rest,” the pastor told them.

The reality is difficult circumstances bring about scenarios that are less than ideal for God’s people who were born into a life meant for dignity, safe from others who – knowingly or unknowingly – rob them of that God-given dignity.

As a body of believers, it is our responsibility to support, empower, encourage…and delve into God-given talents and gifts to discover solutions specific to countries, cultures, communities and individuals. It is complex. Very complex. But that complexity shouldn’t frighten us away from what could restore dignity that has been taken away through varying conditions revolving around the epicenter of poverty.

Be bold. Be stubborn. Fight for Kingdom restoration.

Sustainability is hard to mull over. There is a lot to consider, specifically how it is defined, by who it’s defined by, with what perspective and what it looks like in real situations. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by just how many things I’ve been a part of, what I’ve seen and how God has directed my heart to fight with my friends who I love. God’s heart is for them to consistently feed their families. God’s heart is for them to send their kids to school.

I’ve heard sustainability is educating children so the cycle doesn’t continue with next generation.

I’ve heard sustainability is a ministry paying off debt to free up funds to run the ministry.

I’ve heard sustainability is income generating activities that will bring income into the ministry, so they are not dependent on external funding.

I’ve heard sustainability is a child learning how to make cheese, teaching his family, making it together, then selling it pay for his school fees.

I’ve heard sustainability is job creation so that parents and families do need to seek donations or give their children into the care of a local church housing a children’s home.

Plus a million versions I have not heard.

The reality is not every community or ministry that receives funding from foreign sources wants to maintain that funding until the end of time. Arguably, they do exist and I’ve met some of them who would prefer that route, but that would lead into a wholly different post concerning enabling, bad uses of funds and dependency.

We should want the best for those that we call friends, and anyone else in similar situations, who were not graced with the privilege of growing up where we did. Their political corruption, war, natural disasters, droughts and a myriad of other things are not of their own doing. They did not choose poverty. What we should fight for is dignity restored through their unique and beautiful gifting given by their Creator to use those talents in generating their own income and empowering their community to be a community of people that does not have to rely of foreign funding.

What IF we used the trillions of dollars given in ‘aid’ to actually research what businesses would benefit each community, what is marketable, what could effectively be exported if the market isn’t large enough within the community, build those businesses and create consistent income? What would our world look like if there were consistent jobs in communities that are shackled by poverty? What IF we actually listened to those international communities and supported their OWN vision within their cultural context? What IF we hung up our American perspective at the door and saw with different eyes? What IF we all actually worked together across denomination lines and pooled our resources to accomplish it? What IF it was actually believers supporting believers and we truly looked like a Kingdom community?

It seems unbelievable, but if we don’t work toward it, we’ll never see it happen.

Don’t become paralyzed by the need.

Don’t become paralyzed by the many years it will take to accomplish and the commitment it entails.

Create jobs. Keep families together. Maintain dignity.

And see Kingdom transformation throughout.

The community my friends’ organization was choosing to partner with in Africa did not want magical funding for eternity…they just needed a lift up. Because it was coming in partnership and because it was coming through relationship, the community was able to maintain their pride while they were doing the rest.

Probable solutions would take another million posts and a plethora of knowledge that I don’t have, but wisdom and discernment is everything…what I am currently reading is ‘Poverty of Nations’ by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, who happen to be an economist and theologian who wrote it together. I would highly recommend reading along with me, you can catch up…I’m only on chapter 3 at the moment. I would also suggest finding organizations that speak your same language and fight for the things God has called us to fight for in our world. There are many people out there doing very good things to create jobs, export product and work toward sustainability.

 

normal, pt. 2

Note: This post was mostly created on November 13, 2016 as I was digesting my time in Russia while flying back to Denver.

I love languages, and I really love a familiarity with language that allows my ear to hear a new slang in the languages cultures use. This happened when I got to Russia this year. I would ask people how they were, and the response would be ‘Нормально,’ pronounced ‘normalna’ and translated to ‘normal’ or ‘usual.’

It made me smile every time, because my life hasn’t been normal for a long time, and as my coworkers were praying for me and our trip before I left, one wise, discerning friend prayed that ‘with all of the transition’ I’ve been through in the past couple of months that I would ‘be blessed by being somewhere that is normal’…Russia. Ironic, right?

Her prayer could not have been more on target. I needed some normal, and not for just a weekend. I needed an extended period of time. I needed a place that I was known and engulfed by people where our love for each other travels in a beautiful symbiotic symphony. I needed people who had been a part of my Kingdom story for a long time.

I needed ‘my people’ who know and accept who I am as a follower of Jesus that is abundantly passionate about working toward God’s Kingdom restored by seeing orphans loved and knowing their worth, while stubbornly wanting families preserved and not torn apart by poverty and sin.

So when ‘my people’ started replying with ‘normalna’ when I asked them ‘How are you?’ I felt it was the literal touch of God to me saying, “I know you needed this, because I have made you a part of this community to know and be known.”

And trust me, the irony and hilarity of having to go to Russia to find some normal is not lost on me. It’s actually bat shit crazy. But it’s my crazy normal and at some point, I more than simply embraced it, it became such a deep part of who I am as a believer, as a friend, a fighter, as a daughter of the One who reigns…I literally don’t know how to separate it. And that’s the tension I feel around people who don’t get that part of me is unable to be separated from my calling to champion the orphan and their families. And honestly, for someone to truly understand me, they need to really get that who God has created me to be is found in many places outside these borders. They need to see with me, and humbly seek perspective through the eyes of my friends. I am endlessly grateful for those who have jumped into the journey with me. Who keep jumping into this reality, and stubbornly advocate for the same things. Over the last five years, the women God has merged into our small group, lovingly called Fondue Crew, has jumped in with both feet to advocate for orphans in Russia and/or Haiti. It’s no mistake we’ve all landed in the same holy space each week. We are all the same brand of crazy, and they all not only know me, but encourage me to follow Jesus in crazy obedient ways.

img_8127Because this November as I fly back across an ocean to a life in Colorado I wasn’t anticipating…who I am unashamedly is found in Stas’ small for a 9-year-old body exploding across the foyer running with a massive smile yelling ‘Stevovona!’ and leaping into my arms.

Who I am is found in the midst of giggles and shared memories while quoting of lines with my friends after watching a silly movie in Russian.

Who I am is found in the pride of 16 to 22-year-old students who are doing excellent in living independently outside of the orphanage, going to school, taking care of each other and adopting the Russian hospitality gesture of bringing a guest a gift.

Who I am is found in the gruffness of an orphanage director it has taking 8 years to break through his wall of stereotypical ‘Russian stoic’ demeanor, and reach a level of respect and trust that is found in genuine relationships over Armenian cognac and dark chocolate.

Who I am is found in the blessings received in one culture partnering with a different culture to fill gaps in care provided to orphans by the Russian government that controls orphanage budget and care.

Who I am is found in the stubborn belief that each voice has value and that I am called to champion those voices to find volume and boldness for telling their stories in world that tells them their voice is worthless.

Who I am is found in unexplainably being chosen by a new little girl as her ‘person,’ while her specialization in ‘sneak attack’ hugs consistently startled me and was found so hilarious by my other buddy who then joined in by simultaneously attacking my other side in a mesmerizing show of silent planning.

Who I am is found in the conversations with new kids confused about why Americans show up every year and what that means when we are not there to ‘entertain’ them, but to visit our friends.

Who I am is found within the Russian words that get used to describe me like ‘soomachetya’ which translates to ‘laughing girl.’

Who I am is found in taking the crazy open doors to speak into the lives of those I love when the Holy Spirit opens them despite a culture that values private intimacy with God.

Who I am is found in the giddy joy of being present with my friends every year despite past obstacles of living in Haiti, financial reasons and crazy life drama.

Who I am is found in the sometimes obnoxious, yet passionate, desire for others to step into the orphan window of the world to see what God might have for them to be a part of there.

Who I am is found in calling each of them ‘friend,’ not ‘orphan,’ because there is so much more to who they are as individuals and their potential verses the stereotypes that come with ‘orphan.’

Who I am is found in the deep love and desperate desire to see them have a successful future and stable future family, as well as the opportunity to take care of their parents, siblings and grandparents.

Who I am is found in the Kingdom stories I get to point to and say, “God was present there. It is unexplainable. It is supernatural. It was undoubtedly God.”

img_4359Who I am is found in the countless hours spent with kids who want to see the world through a camera lens and talking about why we see what we see in the world, why we want others to see it and how we tell God’s story through it.

Who I am is found in the conversations around a table with friends I only see once a year that feel like our conversations have simply paused then continue a year later.

Who I am is found in reminding the older kids of the memories I have of them when they were much smaller, they are known and someone remembers.

These massive pieces of who I am are found in a small village that takes 48 hours to travel to from the States, then an hour and half drive to get to my friends. It’s not easy. But the things that God uses to create us, are hardly every easy. Russia is where I started claiming and believing who God said he had created me to be for his Kingdom, and many have tried, yet failed, to detour me from that calling. This is where the roots of my life and calling have deepened, strengthened and allowed branches to flourish. Had I never said ‘yes’ to an adventure I wasn’t sure I really want to go on in 2003, I would never have fully stepped in the life God had for me to vibrantly live…it would never have become my normal.img_8553