education

I live in a place where parents are faced with the indignity of giving their kids to a children’s home so they can go to school, or keep their child with their family at the perilous cost of not gaining an education. I cannot fathom having to make that decision, but in Haiti and other majority world countries around the world…it is a reality.

Is education always the answer to breaking the cycle of poverty and injustice? No, there are too many factors in play for it to be as easy as one answer. However, it has been proven to give kids more options to break into the dreams of their future.

The GO Project Pathways program exists to train young Haitians in trades when their level of education is expensive or not on par with their age. Many of the kids who are 18 are at a 5th or 6th grade in school. When they are 18 and are not allowed to be in the home with the other kids, their grade level is not high enough for them to continue regular school. The Pathways program stands in that gap and says that the sustainable future of these kids matter. I know several of these young adults. I know their smiles. I know how they tease. I know they need encouragement. And I know that they are grateful for a place to belong and skills to have the opportunity to provide for themselves.

IMG_3764The Pathways program is very similar to Russia’s tech school system. Russia’s tech schools are government run, and have so many in regions that it is hard to keep track of what tech school teaches what, but Russia has the same problem as Haiti. Kids come into the orphanage at a much younger grade level than their age would put them, and when they are no longer allowed to be in the orphanage at age 16 they are not at a grade level to send them to go to college or university.

After 6 years of traveling to Kurlovo orphanage in the Vladimir region, there was one young lady that went on to university out of all the kids that passed through the orphanage. One. Many went on to tech school, some to extended family, and Russian statistics show many kids at age 16 are left on the streets to be prey to sex traffickers, prostitution, drugs and suicide. When Kurlovo closed and our community went through the painful process of praying and discerning what next there were a lot of questions up in the air. Every piece of who you are individually and as a community is thrown into long-term relationships with a group of kids, and when you are told it is finished long before you imagined it would be, there is a lot of logic in not wanting to do it again

But by the grace and orchestration of God, we were drawn as a community to be an even larger community with a group of kids in Velikoretskoye. There were many reasons we were drawn to this unique place in the middle of nowhere. Really, it is in the middle of nowhere, but many come to this destination because one of the Russian Orthodox icons of St. Nicholas was found on the river banks.

One of the biggest draws was that the orphanage director was also the school principal and was already sending kids to university or college instead of learning a trade at a tech school. Tech school is a great option for learning construction, mechanics, interior decorating, cooking, working in a business and tourist trades for hotels and trains. However, colleges and university provide education for professions that would pay more for your knowledge.

Clearly, his dedication was something we connected with and wanted to support him. After our first year traveling, he had a young lady go to medical college and a young man go to design college. There have been kids that have gone on to succeed at tech schools, and some of the guys who gained education in construction are making an incredible living as Georgyi told me when we were there in November.

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Nastya is one of the graduates that came back to visit while the team was at Velikoretskoye this year. She is at university to become a teacher. Her situation was one that Georgyi championed when she expressed the desire to go to university, but her grade level was not to her age. Ignoring Russian laws, he kept her at the orphanage beyond age 16 so she could graduate high school in order to continue her education in university.

Georgyi graduated seven kids out of the orphanage last year, and last September had all seven kids in college or university. *Collective cheer!* I talked about this a little in my massive post I put up a few days ago about the trip this year.

God has grown me to the point where I hate seeing things sent or donated somewhere they are not needed. The locals on the ground need to verbalize a need before I can make sense of sending a plethora of clothes, shoes, toiletries and a myriad of other things to their location. When you send things they don’t need, all it does it inundate them with things they don’t have space for and in some extreme cases will sell it for the money. Not the original intent.

This year, Georgyi has verbalized a need for tutors for all of the kids. Last year, we talked with him about help for the kids that were graduating and several of us within our community raised money for that need. In that spirit, Lindsay Evans and I asked our friends and family to forgo a ‘traditional’ Christmas gift for ourselves and instead give money toward tutors for the kids. What better gift that to know that the kids we know and love will succeed in higher education AND provide income for local tutors? This year, to get tutors for all of the kids, it is going to be a bit more than what a few people might be able to generate and will end up being about $4,200.

In honor of a silly named day, ‘Giving Tuesday,’ (Shouldn’t it be ‘Giving Every Day’?!?!) I am putting up this post with links in it to support the future of kids in Haiti and Russia.

Go to ‘Change Their Story’ on the Children’s Hopechest page to support tutors at Velikoretskoye. You can do it a couple of different ways. Simply support our team, or if you want you could even become a team member and send folks to contribute on your page for the team. Here’s to ALL of the Velikoretskoye graduates going on to college or university from this point forward, friends!

Go to Global Orphan Project’s page to contribute to the Pathways program. If you have spent any time reading this blog, then you know how much I love getting to know some of these kids. Their smiles tell it all, friends. You couldn’t possibly make a better investment…

Do Christmas different and let it be about how we are impacting the future of kids told they are not worth anything, instead of the more socially accepted purchasing of things we don’t really need. I welcome and enthusiastically cheer on anyone willing to support the future of some pretty incredible Russians and Haitians.

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holy

Christmas confessions.

I really do not like Christmas hymns. Sharp pitched notes, different versions of the same thing…it’s not the cynical ‘I hate Christmas,’ because I love Christmas. I just do not like the music that is traditionally associated with it.

I do like Christmas music that is ‘not’ Christmas music to a lot of people. Brandon Heath has a beautiful song out right now called ‘Just a Girl.’ If you haven’t heard it, you must go track it down. I guarantee you will not regret it! I also love ‘Winter Snow’ by Chris Tomlin and Audrey Assad. I could listen to that song on repeat for hours!

There is one traditional song, well…two, really…that I do like. Every time I hear ‘O Holy Night’ and ‘Silent Night’ I get chills. I think it is the lyrics and the dynamics of how it is sung when I hear the ‘Fall on your knees’…that leads into ‘O night divine.’

It is also because ever since I learned that the word ‘holy’ has roots to ‘set apart’ in the original Hebrew I have been fascinated by it. Let’s also clarify that set apart is also very different from being put up on a pedestal for no one to touch. Set apart to me means set apart for a purpose, set apart as one who claims the gift God offers in Jesus. It also means we choose to grab ahold of those holy moments and know that the tangible presence of God has touched us. That is holy for us…but in Revelation it says everyone was praising God all day and all night, and singing:

“‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” [Revelation 4:8]

Does this mean our God is unreachable? Too holy for us?

No. Why? Because we are talking about the same God who sent his son to be born on earth, to live here with us…then die on a cross because we have too many wrongs to make right in ourselves.

We are called to be holy as God is holy…but just as he makes himself available to us, we are not called to be unreachable and act as though we are better than those that do not call themselves believers. When we set ourselves too far apart from those that do not believe what we believe, we do an injustice to God who sent his son to earth to be friends with prostitutes, tax collectors, beggars, outcasts and those with leprosy.

So I leave you with my favorite lyrics from ‘O Holy Night,’ and if you’ve been reading my blog long enough…you’ll easily see why these lyrics are my favorite, and more likely why I have such an attachment to ‘O Holy Night.’

Truly He taught us to love one another.
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

go

Go. It is such a tiny little word. Only two letters…yet the use of it is far reaching.

Go get me something.

Go be something.

Go away.

Go…as in constant motion and never stopping. As are most of our American lives.

But what if we slowed down? What if we counted breaths? What if we stopped the go-go-go mentality that tears as the fabric of real community and solid relationships?

What if we slowed down enough during this advent season to not just exist during Christmas, but to live and be alive as God’s people during Christmas?

What if we were nice when we tend to be mean?

What if our words were kind and thoughtful instead of hurtful and insulting?

What if we ran our arguments through a clean filter…and stopped arguing?

What if we spend less and give more?

What if we stop to appreciate beautiful moments instead of glorifying and exalting the ugly ones?

What if we honored the birth of Jesus with our actions?

What if we reflected what the Kingdom of God should look like on earth instead of making it look unappealing?

What if in going…we lived sent?

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Big responsibility? It should be, because we’ve been given the gift of grace and unconditional love. We’ve been given the gift of Jesus.

We have been given the gift of being a sent people into a hurting world to work at correcting the wrongs we have the ability to fight against.

Go? Slow down. Appreciate. Love. Live sent. Let’s not over complicate things…just be who God created you to be.

This advent I am jumping back onto the Rethink Church train, and I will be blogging a word a day while also posting a photo to my Instagram. I hope you join me, because I have a feeling we could all use some Jesus this Christmas.