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.

 

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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

bless

I once heard ‘bless’ interpreted as the tangible touch of God, and it has been burned into my vernacular ever since. I just love the thought that we can feel God’s love for us through the blessings that pour into our lives every day, coupled with the fact that we could be a part of blessing others to feel that tangible touch of God. Beautiful cycle, right?

Several years ago, I first heard several folks in the Kingdom movement realm talk about acronyms they use for small groups to develop missional habits. Missional being that all we do and say alerts others to the reign of God. Michael Frost talks about ‘BELLS’ as Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn and Sent as a rhythm for small groups to adopt in order to have opportunities to tell Kingdom stories, as well as to hold each other accountable to living well within their Kingdom life. Frost says, ‘It is a really handy tool for mobilizing Christians up, in and out into mission. That is, up into deeper connection with the Triune God; in to a stronger sense of community with other believers; and out into the neighborhood. The fact is we all recognize the need to live generous, hospitable, Spirit-led, Christlike lives as missionaries to our own neighborhoods. We want to live our faith out in the open for all to see.’

Bless is rather straight forward in blessing three people throughout the week, at least one of whom is not a member of your church. And while most people think of a blessing as something monetary, it definitely does not have to always have something to do with money. It could, but more likely is the blessing of spending time with someone, doing something for them, telling them they are doing a good job or giving a hug when someone needs it.

What group of folks hates eating together, right? I’ve seen so many frustrations and tensions dissipate within a single meal sat across a table from others. Eat is intentionally sitting down to a meal with three people throughout your week, with at least one of them not being a member of your church. So many times I’ve heard folks say, “I really like the stuff you talk about and want to live more missionally, but I cannot add another thing to my full schedule. It’s impossible!” Eating with others adds nothing into the schedule, because you already eat three times a day, right? Which means all you are doing is choosing who will be across the table from you in one of those moments throughout the week.

Listen. I honestly think this one is so incredibly important, because when we choose not to listen to each other we are choosing not to learn from each other or respect the other person as a viable contributor to community. It is the same with the Holy Spirit, when we choose not to listen to the Holy Spirit we are telling God that we don’t think the Holy Spirit is a viable part of the Trinity in a world where it truly is the most active piece of God we have with us. The missional habit of Listen is choosing to give one period of your week to listening for the Spirit’s voice. That looks different for everyone, but once you choose to intentionally listen, you will be amazed at the things you hear and how you respond. As a Spirit-led person, the entire Kingdom becomes increasingly real to you.

Learn is a commitment to learning the characteristics, stories and things Jesus said to help us grasp a hold of our life with him. When you learn about Jesus, you tend to take on those traits as well…give or take an asshole decision every now and then…it’s no fluke that my small group that has been pouring into missional theology for three years refers to themselves as ‘recovering assholes.’ When learning more and more about the character of Jesus, we tend to also have a spotlight put on our sin and humanness as well. We are all in the process of being transformed, but without the commitment t learn more about the heart of God through Jesus, we have no example to spark that transformation.

Sent embodies action. Frost says that the habit of sent is committing to journal throughout the week all the ways you have alerted others to the universal reign of God through Christ, and it has a lot of different outlets. Know how to answer where you see God reigning through Christ. Is it in the beauty of God’s creation? Whether it is nature, music or art? Is it in how we treat others? Is it in how passionate you are about injustice in this world? What makes your soul sing in this world? What makes you most angry? When you look at the emotions you have surrounding a situation, at their core, does it go back to how God has uniquely created you to build toward his Kingdom on earth? What forward motion are you participating in to see God’s Kingdom come into its’ full power and restoration? Living sent is about alerting AND demonstrating the universal reign of God through Christ. It’s both together, not one or the other. When you commit to journaling when you see aspects of this habit in your life, you will more increasingly see how God has placed you to live sent.

IMG_6371When I saw these habits several years ago for the first time, I sensed that my community wasn’t quite ready to tackle all habits at once. So we moved forward in other ways, then last month when I sense this was the right time, each person was excited and had a certain aspect of giddiness at the accountability to live out what we’ve been talking and learning about for so long. I’m anticipating a TON of stories to be told over the next couple of months, and I cannot wait to see how God continues to move in us.

 

 

 

announce

Starting off a new season of blog posts as a Lenten practice with friends is a big undertaking. One post a day. 47 days. Cue the proverbial gasp. We did it 2 years ago and we are all in for another round of community building, growth with Jesus and throwing it all out into the universe. To start…I’ve decided to let my missiology geek flag fly high and proud.

“The South African missiologist David Bosch wrote, ‘Mission is more and different from recruitment to our brand of religion; it is the alerting of people to the universal reign of God through Christ.’ In other words, mission derives from the reign of God. In that respect, the ideas of mission and Kingdom are irrevocably linked. Mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ. Mission is not primarily concerned with church growth. It is primarily concerned with the reign and rule of the Triune God. If the church grows as a result, so be it.” (Five Habits of Highly Missional People, Michael Frost)

This is one of my favorite quotes on the sovereignty of God, our role and what we are charged with to further God’s Kingdom on earth in the here and now, not the wait until later and heaven is just gonna come variety.

Announcements don’t discriminate on type or a timely arrival. They come before a big event or after the occasion. They are happy. They are sad. They are expectant. They are difficult. But they always are used to inform and guide.

The announcement we are held to proclaim is that God reigns over the entire universe. He sacrificed his son. Holy Spirit is alive and active. His power is not limited and his love is not earned. He is life in a desolate wasteland. He is light in suffocating darkness.

“Jesus refused. ‘First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!'” (MSG Luke 9:60)

As believers we get comfortable and content with where we are at and what we are doing. But realistically, as believers and followers of the God who reigns, we should never find ourselves in a cycle of contentedness or comfort. It’s a dangerous cycle, void of growth and transformation…ours and God’s Kingdom.

As believers we tell ourselves that actions speak louder than words, which I do agree with, however, trustful, honest words are not to be relegated to the massive shadow of action. Honest words come in the midst of a loyal relationship within a community. There we find where true announcement and proclamation of the reign of God fosters transformation.

Words fall on deaf ears if all we do is walk around shouting the truth of God and moving around without investment of self and time. It’s about accepting you are placed and then genuinely loving those around you. If we get stuck believing in only the numbers game of evangelism, we lose the opportunity for real discipleship and real relationships. We miss the real message of God’s reign through Christ. We ignore how Jesus did life with those around him. And quite honestly, you miss out on all the fun to be had while building towards God’s Kingdom on earth…together.

While I was in Russia last November, the relationships God has allowed me to pour into consistently have opened up a myriad of opportunities to announce God in the lives of those that I care deeply about. Abundant opportunities to point to the Storyteller and the Story. In that case, it was the demonstration that led to a deep relationship which in turn led to a honest announcing through the trust and openness that had been built.

“Mission is both the announcement and the demonstration of the reign of God through Christ,” explains Michael Frost.

Announcement cannot exist without demonstration. Demonstration cannot exist without announcement. They are forever entwined as portals to build God’s Kingdom.

church

Where I live, wheelbarrows have many uses. As general transportation, gravel mover, nap location, boom box blast station and storefront…among other uses I am sure I am not aware of in Haiti. The point is that it is still the same object, a wheelbarrow. But the creativity, sometimes out of lack of anything else, of what it can be used for is insanely broad.

A wheelbarrow is so specific in the States and we have a very narrow view of a wheelbarrow’s function. There are so many ways that the wheelbarrow could be used, but we limit it to what it has always done instead of thinking outside the box and letting our God given creativity loose.

The American church has become just as limited, wasted in some aspects, and it is wearing people out on ‘doing’ church. Creativity is stifled. Holy Spirit inspired vision is suffocated. Passion is told to simmer down, it’s too much. Don’t even try using the ‘D’ word, discipleship…it takes too much time, but could be a great hobby for some people. Calling has become something you ‘should’ follow, but support of the church community in that calling is nowhere to be found. Well, that’s also assuming community is genuine and present among believers within a church. Come Sunday morning, worship isn’t what you really want, and whoever is preaching is not the person you hoped it would be. Trust me, I’m just as guilty here, too, all reasons I justify ‘righteously.’ For those with families it’s a struggle to get there, and then your kids don’t want to go to Sunday school. Everyone in the family was grumpy. Your kid wants to wear the superman socks where the cape floats off the back of their calf, and you would be mortified if anyone saw them. Or worse *gasp* the only thing your family wants to wear to church is jeans and a t-shirt.

People are burnt out on ‘doing’ church and the expectations it brings. It’s exhausting, and ultimately those distractions take away from the Church. Notice the caps. Not the building you show up at on Sundays and Wednesdays, or any other day of the week, but rather, the Church. I will confess to being jaded by local church. Working every Sunday, morning AND night, will do that to you eventually. Walking a thin line between it being a job and pouring into the church as a believer is hard, especially when you are passionate about discipling others into God’s calling on their life and being involved in student ministry, which both happen 24 hours a day. Politics within a church building will cut you, and damnit, it hurts. Not being wanted for who God has called and created you to be will also make you jaded. Desperate love for God’s Kingdom, Holy Spirit leading and living a sent life is ingrained in me in a very deep way, but local church can be very fickle when it comes to those three aspects of the Gospel.

However, within this confession has to be a joyful proclamation, full of God’s glory, that I am in love, absolutely infatuated and intensely in love with the global Church.

I see faith. I see hope. I see sacrifice. I see strength. I see loyalty. I see community. I see people fighting for justice. I see disciple makers. I see risk-takers. I see a deep reliance on the Holy Spirit. I see people sensitive to God’s heart. I see a reckless abandon in prayer as they connect with their Father. I see a thirst for God’s word to speak. I see a desperate desire to preach the Gospel. I see Pastors come alive as they lead their congregation into areas that are heavy in the chains of evil to drawn people into the freedom of Kingdom life. I see dependency on God in everything.

“Missio Dei, as I understand it, is that God is reaching out to the world, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Although God could have used other methods to proclaim the message of salvation to the world, He chose to use the church. God needs the church as instrument of mission, not because He is incapable of reaching the people in other ways, but because He chose to use the church. And for this reason, the church is not unnecessary in mission. The church is a vital part of God’s plan to reach the world. And where the church refuses to take up this task, God’s work is being hindered. And this is quite a frightening thought!” [Taken from ‘Missio Dei, the Role of the Church’ by Arnau van Wyngaard]

American church, it is time to take a real good look in the mirror, because even though it is not a competition, when it comes to reaching out to the world through investing in relationships and community, the global Church is kicking your ass. And at the moment I am really glad they are, because your version of church is diluted and fractured.

For those offended by that statement, I would encourage you to pray. I know many believers and leaders of churches that are not in the majority of the statements I am about to make, and I am encouraged and inspired by you, but there are many more that need some real self-examination through discernment and prayer.

It is time the local church stopped with the asinine arguments and pointing fingers because they feel blame needs to land on one person. Set differences aside and figure out a way to move forward as one church body. Ironically, in Chinese culture, blame is shared by the whole community. It never rests on one individual…just a random thought.

It is time the local church embraced God’s creativity in how the Gospel is put forward into the world. A million programs and running church like a corporation is killing you. Jesus met people on a personal level, why aren’t you? Jesus sent out the disciples, and never once did they have the same experience in a city, with a family or on the road. Led by the Spirit Jesus breathed on them, they took the stories they had witnessed out from their home base. And when they returned, their stories invigorated the other believers and continued to draw others to life with Jesus.

Your people are worn out from this world and its’ death, sadness, sickness and fighting. But, you see, it’s not this world they are fighting for…more for the one that is to come. Fully restored, renewed and reclaimed by God. That’s what the Truth draws us to in Jesus. It’s time to inspire them beyond this pathetic, sad world and motivate them to fight for the real Gospel, and point to the new Kingdom to come.

It is time the local church removed the glue from pews and started pushing people out of the building and into the life of the city and neighborhoods. Be radical. Cancel church on a Sunday morning to be OUT and WITH people, but disciple your people to be real, not fake. And while I’m on a roll, quit perpetuating the idea that people with kids are exempt from living out the Gospel simply because they are ‘busy’ with kids. That’s a bunch of bullshit. I know plenty of families that are teaching their kids to live a Gospel life by actually living for God’s Kingdom while they are raising them and bringing them along. Confront fears they have of being ‘outside’ the church walls and among people, and don’t make it a check list of things they need to do. Lead them to live their Gospel led lives everywhere God places them. There is zero reason to make believers feel guilty for missing youth group when they are at baseball practice to pull others into God’s Kingdom by being present in the relationships he places around them. Be a support system, but ax programs that teach them their place is only within the building. It’s not there. Jesus didn’t actually build church buildings, he preached on hillsides, in homes and in synagogues that were already built then toppled a few tables because of the disrespect he saw within the building. Hold believers accountable to acting in love, and not judgment, within their relationships. The world needs no more ‘righteous’ people, it needs confessed sinners who are transformed through Christ’s love and grace ready to tell their story to draw others to their own transformation with Jesus.

It’s time the local church stopped seeing boundaries between each other and embraced a Kingdom community of believers who are led to transform this world together, not individually. And I’m not talking about a once a year retreat ya’ll combine on to save money. I’m talking about every day. Take a big risk and choose to be Church as one community together under the peace and direction of Christ as the perfect Cornerstone. Our foundation as believers is so much deeper than we tend to grasp. There is a long lineage that has gone before us. When we are truly built with Christ as the starting point of the foundation, crazy Kingdom things happen that are absolutely unexplainable and 100% of God. Wouldn’t it completely fulfill Christ’s call to the Church if we all advanced his Gospel forward as one body, with all of our quirks and callings embraced? What if our community so radically loved each other that people were actually attracted to God’s love among us?

I know there are church leaders who would prefer to debate this point by dreary point, but the reality is I’m not an expert and I’m honestly exhausted by the debating. I’m just one believer trying to discern what God has for me, my community and words he wants shared. Has anyone ever considered that the endless arguing by believers is actually being used by the forces fighting against us to distract from the real mission we’ve been given? We need to find common ground, and that common ground is Jesus. I am inspired by the believers I meet in the majority world, and I am inspired by believers within the American church. But as a whole, we have a lot of praying to do for the American church and for me I generally start with get them off their asses and into their communities.

Clarity comes when you are removed from unhealthy environments, and thankfully for me, it enhances the flow of my creativity and I find myself more in tune with Kingdom perspective while I am side-by-side with the global Church. For instance, in a place with a plethora of uses for a wheelbarrow…I think I will get one to use as a shelf for books. It’s got so many uses, it’s just seeing through the right creative lens for how it will be used this time, but it has a use.

men

I’ve seen countless women answering God’s call to be present within the orphan window around the world. Obvious reasons feed into why women are drawn to orphan care. Each has an innate way they nurture, love and care for others. I’ve even been surprised to see some of these qualities come out in myself. What I really wish is that social expectations for those qualities in men were higher, with much respect for what they already bring to the table.

Realistically, I would trade 5 of these phenomenal, Jesus’ lovin’ women drawn into orphan care for ONE MAN who is passionate about Jesus, willing to surrender himself and step outside his comfort zone to pour into the lives of orphans in this world and those who care for them.

No, ladies, I am not disvaluing your continual presence in the lives of orphans you care about, and it is always a joy digging deep into the mess of relationships with the kids and laugh until I cannot breathe with you. I am emphasizing the importance of men who are not afraid to show they love Jesus in the lives of kids who have been abandoned, and have few examples of the strength found in men that embrace their love for Jesus, and then their love for wife, family and friends.

If you hear one thing let it be that orphan care is not for one gender or the other. It is equal opportunity for all to be active in God’s Kingdom. Let me also clarify that orphan care is all inclusive of many different people in our world. When you define an orphan as someone who has no one to champion them…that busts open a new worldview to orphans being elderly, single moms, widows, foster kids, abandoned kids, kids with no parents, kids with parents in jail and the teenager down the street whose parents have decided they are done parenting.

Orphan care is also not just for those of us who happen to be called beyond the borders of the United States. It is for every believer living in God’s Kingdom who is a neighbor, employee, spouse, parent, sports enthusiast…the list goes on. Orphans surround you on a daily basis. Granted some are living in far more extreme situations than the neighbors of those that are reading this, but to God each orphan is equal to the next. No orphan is loved more by God based on the situation they find themselves.

IMG_1114I’ve had some unique opportunities to see men active in the lives of orphans around the world in the last month. In October, there was a group of 22 that came down to Haiti. Four in that group were women. Do the math…that’s eighteen of the male variety. What I saw in that group was the admiration on the kids’ faces as the men led games. Joy when a kid found themselves on the top of a man’s shoulders. Intense concentration as a man’s hair was braided, then pride in the result. Complete abandon as men held them and ‘hopped’ them through a potato sack race. There is great responsibility when a man steps into the life of an orphan, because that child of God is looking at how they treat the wife and kids they are traveling with, as well as the others on the team. They are watching, because they don’t see it very often.

IMG_5081The kids rarely have men play with them, and each of those interactions is a mark on a young boy or girl that has few models to look to in their life. I love the translators that work with us in Haiti. They have genuine love for the kids they see, and it’s no coincidence that the kids gravitate to these strong men who love Jesus. A few months ago one of the male social workers was at the village when a group pulled in to visit. He had a swarm of older teenage boys hanging around him as they kicked a soccer ball around. Another village we support has mamas and papas who live with the kids. The respect the kids have for the papas who are with them every day is evident. When you look around the village you see a lot of women taking care of the kids, cleaning clothes, cooking meals and male Pastor who is leading them all. What is absent from the daily life of most villages is the presence of good, strong examples of what it looks like to be men who passionately loves Jesus and choose to be present with the kids. There is definite strength in the women surrounding the kids, but God wants to use the presence of men in the kids’ lives to enrich their view of his Kingdom, too. Does it help an orphan connect with God when they see the real life example of what it is to be a man running after his Father’s heart? It was beautiful watching the kids come alive around the men on the team, but equally beautiful watching the men come alive as the kids soaked up the time they were given.

He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers; or else I will strike the land with a curse. [Malachi 4:6]

My hope is that men would inspire men to go deeper into God’s heart for the orphan, but that means time and loyal investment into the messy areas of orphan care. It means making time to walk through life with someone else. It means spending time with other men struggling through a calling to be present in the lives of orphans. It means digging deep into relationship and in the best case scenario…discipleship. And ladies, it means no guilt trips when your man is working through answering his calling. Take pride in that with him and support him, even if that means a fraction of time away from your family. He will be a better dad and husband for answering God’s calling…I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

Recently I traveled with a group to visit the kids in Russia that we have known for six years. These are short visits with long-term commitment that God is richly showing up in as we gain shared memories with the kids. Kids and their American friends write letters throughout the year, and once a year we get to physically be present to connect with kids, as well as their caregivers, teachers and the man who directs them all. These relationships have taken years to develop and much patience with God laying a base of trust. It has been a hard road, but worth every messy minute to be a part of what God is doing now.

IMG_5817This year we had four people, two men and 2 women, after several years of only one man traveling on our yearly visit. Much time was spent with these fellas being goofy, leading activities and allowing themselves to simply be present in the moments God put before them. We spent a lot of time in the gym, and there was a constant line of boys challenging the American men to different athletic endeavors. But it wasn’t just about a show of strength, it was about connection. It was about how you act when you lose, and how you represent yourself in a game. It’s about taking opportunities to be on the same team. It is about a young boy looking at an older man and craving to be known by someone that cares about them. It is about the moments in conversation where life is shared. It is about respect. Men crave respect, and it is no different when you are 14 or 55. How a man respects another man in the context of a challenge shows their character, and as far as the character in the lives of the Russian kids…not many take the time to pour into it.

One of the conversations I had with the orphanage director this year was how impressed we were with the amount of college and university students he had this year. He humbly blew off the compliment with a response that they may be getting good grades, but their character is lacking. His example was how he can provide for them and they can get good enough grades to move on, but after that it is up to them while living on their own. I’m praying God will raise up Russians to help pour into his concerns, at the same time I know we will seeking God in ways we can help support him to grow character in the kids. It is God’s Kingdom community working together that dissolves language barriers and country borders.

I am blessed to know many men who are active within the orphan window and passionately love Jesus. These men have incredible character, and love for their families. I get to see every aspect of these men come alive while being present with some incredible kids. It’s in those moments I see God’s Kingdom come to life.

Many of the kids I know names and faces of throughout the world never knew their father. The fathers are the ones that, unfortunately, are more likely to not take responsibility for their families. I also know many men that are taking responsibility, whose character is strong and love for Jesus is written all over their lives. I believe God is calling these men to call out the men who have not taken responsibility for their families. I get that it’s hard. I get that you don’t think it’s your responsibility. I get that it’s easier to pretend that single mom is doing great on her own, but if you are a great father then disciple other men to be great fathers. Imagine an absentee father on his knees asking forgiveness of his children, imagine the grace possible…imagine the picture of a family restored because a community of men came around another man whose relationship with God needed restoration. A Kingdom life restored to God’s glory. Men, it’s time to be men…real men who stand up for what is good, right and just in this world. Hold fathers accountable to being present with their families, and keep their family unit whole. Embrace how God has created you and lead with confidence.

He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers; or else I will strike the land with a curse. [Malachi 4:6]

God is calling men to take seriously the spiritual role as head of their families. God is calling the men who already are to disciple those that are not leading their families. God is calling men to seek the gentleness, playfulness and compassion within the strength he has given them. God is calling men of all backgrounds to be present and pour into the orphans of this world…the real question is which of those men will have enough crazy and courage to say yes.

 

 

 

vivian

‘JESUS!’

What would happen if you screamed the name of our sovereign God at the top of your lungs in your street? Would it be met with equally loud yells to keep it to yourself? Perhaps everyone would just ignore the weird Jesus freak on the street? I know some of us have neighbors who would echo the sentiment of screaming our Savior’s name at the top of our lungs with pure joy. In Haiti, most likely, someone would yell it back, start singing a worship song, pray or yell ‘Amen!’ In Russia, you would get weird looks, but not because someone disagrees, more due to the fact your relationship with Jesus is private and not for everyone to see. However, for many places in the world it would be outright dangerous to yell the name of Jesus in a public place.

Her name was Vivian, and for whatever reason, God brought her to mind this morning in church. We were worshipping and her named popped into my head, soon followed by images of my time sitting in a concrete dorm room in China with her. I had no idea why she was brought to mind, but any confusion about random thoughts was put to rest once the sermon started with 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 where I had written next to it, “Chinese Christian we cannot see…Vivian. 7-29-01”

What are the odds, right? I don’t believe in odds. I believe in a God who serves as a connector among all his people, and for whatever the God reason, I am deep in prayer for her and those like her around the world today.

I met Vivian July 29, 2001 while in China for the summer on a cultural exchange at Ningxia University. I had mistakenly used a toothbrush in the sink water and was down and out for a solid couple of days. [Haiti trip goers will identify this as why I am now hyper crazy about using ‘clean’ water for everything.] I’d gone to cultural classes in the morning and just couldn’t do it quite yet, and had gone back to my dorm room.

Then a knock came on the door.

I’d assumed it was another American checking on me, but instead this beautiful, sweet Chinese face peaked through the door. ‘Can I help you?’ I asked.

‘I am looking for the American Christians,’ she replied softly, almost in a whisper.

My world slowed to a stop in that moment of awe as a Chinese believer stood in front of me. It could have been a trap to get me in trouble for evangelizing or legitimately be a believer looking for another believer. When we’d arrived in China we’d been told any conversation about Jesus that was not invited by a question could get us into trouble with the government. It was drilled into our heads. Live and act out your faith, but don’t use words until you are asked for them. Honestly, I was relieved this was how we were expected to live among the Chinese students. I was a young believer and terrified of saying something wrong or turning someone away from Jesus because I didn’t have the relationship with them to speak into their life.

Factoring all that in a mere split second, I took the leap, and off Vivian and I went into a conversation about Jesus. She had heard there were American believers on campus and wanted to meet them. She wanted to pray with them. She sought encouragement. She wanted to take hope from the freedom we had to believe in Jesus where we came from. She wanted to feel connected in a tangible way to the American church that was not constricted to house churches or by a government that wanted to control beliefs. She wanted to meet those that live in constant security that whatever you chose to believe you would not be punished for by anyone.

God put me in the time and place to be that connection. We prayed together. Broken English, Mandarin and English blended together all in praise and petition of the one who knows. She left with plans to meet at the night market later and I would bring some friends.

I was exuberant…and I was naïve.

I was an American with no clue what repercussions could come on this sweet, young Chinese believer trying to find her place in God’s Kingdom. I had no idea the risks she took simply opening my door to ask for the ‘American believers.’ I had never known a place that believing in the sovereignty of God would put me in danger.

Our university representative heard about what had happened and approached our American staff. It wasn’t safe, for her or us. It could not happen, and we were not allowed to go to the night market that night.

I never saw Vivian again, but as today can attest…it doesn’t take a lot of time for someone to make a mark on your life. Vivian’s bravery, and thirst for the connection to believers who lived in a place where they were free to shout ‘Jesus!’ from the rooftops was contagious and inspiring.

‘All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. So when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your benefit and salvation! For when God comforts us, it is so that we, in turn, can be an encouragement to you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in suffering, you will also share God’s comfort.’ [2 Corinthians 1:3-7]

As you journey through wherever God has placed you today, remember that the Gospel is a gift to you and intended for those around you. It is truth. It is life. It is the hope of restoration of all things new. It carries freedom no matter who you are or where you chose to believe in him. It is not to be kept to yourself, and horded for simply one moment…it is meant for many moments. The beauty of the Gospel and a Savior who loves you enough to sacrifice himself is intended for you to demonstrate daily. As believers, separating ourselves from that truth separates us from the heart of God. Sink into that truth today, and allow yourself to acknowledge the majority of believers in the world are demonstrating that truth in places that will get them thrown into jail or sacrificed. That the majority of believers in the world are sacrificing everything when they chose to claim Jesus as their own.

When we live within an easy, friendly Gospel we are not projecting the truth of that Gospel. When we present God as tame, where is the God who fights against the injustices in the world? Where is the God who died on a cross for the sins of ALL of us? Where is the God that fervently, relentlessly pursues us with unstoppable love? Where is the God that tossed the tables in the temple with every aspect of righteous anger he had?

As a good friend reminded me recently, God is not a tame lion. Here’s to finding the risk in our belief of the God who calls us to love deeper as I am burdened to pray for those that choose to believe in places it will cost them everything.