torn

Shattered into a multitude of pieces is what my life typically feels like. You would think I am used to it by now. I want to be so many places all at the same time. It literally feels like a ragged ripping with a painful element of being torn…how is it this possible to feel comfortable and natural through different cultures, languages and continents?

It is an unexplainable feeling to be torn for completely different places and friendships.

I love Russia. I deeply love my friends in Russia. I value those friendships as important and transformative to my life.

I love Haiti. I deeply love my friends in Haiti. I value those friendships as important and transformative to my life.

See the dilemma?

This morning while driving through snow, I was reminded how drastically different these two places have been created. From general structure to temperature, landscape, architecture, politics…you name it and most everything is all on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Except for one, hospitality is completely in sync with one another. Each place would do anything to make a guest feel welcome.

But for me, there is a common denominator for both firmly within the orphan window of this world. Each has different orphan situations…social, political and poverty orphans…both places have an overwhelming abundance of children aching to be championed by someone who genuinely cares about them, listens to their dreams, encourages their worth, and is willing to fight with them for their education and future. Someone to be a friend in the times their cultures tell them they are not worth the time and effort. Someone to make them feel they are not alone, and they have been created for good.

Ultimately, someone who supports locals within their culture to step into a variety of scenarios with unconditional love and friendship. My greatest dream is that the number of people within their country to make them a part of their family increases exponentially until all orphans throughout the world are taken into families within their home culture and no orphanage needs to exist to raise kids. It could be that this will not happen until this world is restored, but I believe God is continually raising up and calling people to be that champion in their own country.

There is no escaping examples of orphans in the Bible. Moses in a basket floating down a river. Esther’s parents dying, then being taken in by her cousin. Jesus being adopted by Joseph, for just a few.

There is also no escaping God’s mandate to seek justice for orphans, because, he is their protector, and as agents of God we are not invited to participate, but instructed to participate in protecting those who need to feel chosen and loved unconditionally. Don’t take my word for it, look for yourself in Psalms 10:17-18, Psalms 65:5-6, Jeremiah 22:3, James 1:26-27, Deuteronomy 10:17, Isaiah 1:16-17, Zechariah 7:9-10 and Malachi 3:5 to name a few.

My life is proof that each created life has a unique calling and purpose within God’s Kingdom that is theirs alone. My life is whole and I would never trade what I have been given for a different life…it’s just my kind of crazy.

As one who is anointed and called as someone to speak into the lives of others, when I started coming to Russia, I lacked the maturity to speak well. Some would say I still lack maturity, and for certain situations I wouldn’t argue but for most I would argue they really don’t know me. I’ve done nothing to deserve the insane blessing and transformation of the journey into the orphan window over the last twelve years. I’m not worthy of that honor, but when it comes to the orphan window of this world, God has tuned me to the same frequency as his heart for the orphan and widow. For that I am ever grateful for being able to exist within so many different perspectives.

As I ride to Velikoretskoye listening to what I like to refer to my ‘Kingdom focus’ music to drown out my torn heart, I am not ready to leave my Russian friends…even though it is time. Oh, how I long to be hugged simultaneously by my Russian and Haitian buddies. These kids are meant for greatness. They are meant to transform the world with their gifts and talents God created them to possess. They are created to be good people, shitty situations come on them and choices get made for bad things…but they were created for good.

God moments have been written into every aspect of the last two weeks. Some small and others massive, then in an unexplainable realm, every time my Russian buddy would run to my legs and wrap his small arms around both legs in a tight hug, exclaiming ‘Stephanie Stevovona!’ with a high pitched giggle, I would simultaneously feel one of my Haitian buddies doing the same on my opposite side, yelling out, ‘Éstefony!’ I genuinely hope it works in reverse once I return to Haiti. 

Looking at our time in Velikoretskoye, God was everywhere, just as he is present all over the book of Esther, yet his name is not written into the pages.  His name may not have been spoken out loud and his word may not have been quoted, but his heart was represented well through relationships, conversations and goofy inside jokes that continue to build our community with each other. Many moments I am hoping to share and celebrate, while others are more likely to stay between me and my creator. We will see what ends up getting shared from our visit with our friends. 

I hate that I am torn. I love that I am torn. And I am learning and growing to live within that love/hate tension through my deep love for the orphans who find themselves in the orphan window of this world, because I am created as a voice to inform those who are unaware and a friend to encourage those who didn’t deserve that injustice in the first place.

I’ve been redeemed and set free through grace for this calling that I humbly walk into as one who is deeply in love with Jesus and choose to journey within that calling…fully knowing I will continue to feel the tension of being torn as I love my friends all over the world.  

 

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believe

My heart was broken the other day. Not just a simple broken either, it was more a shattering, deep pain that was busting forth in front of my eyes that I couldn’t stop and in the end it tore me to shreads.

I was sitting at a village and there was a young one asleep in my lap and several kids hanging out around me. We were joking around when the conversation suddenly took a turn for the worse, and while I am super impressed with my Creole abilities to participate in this conversation, my inability also left me at a loss of complete words to help.

“Stephanie, did you know both of his parents are dead?” we shall call this kid, Little Shit, LS for short.

“That’s a lie!” we shall call this kid the Tortured Little, TL for short.

“It’s true! Both are dead!” LS stated plainly.

“That’s a lie!” TL said, grabbing my hands in his, “My mama is dead, but my dad is in prison.”

“His dad stole something with a gun,” LS said.

“That’s a lie!” TL shouted.

“It’s true! He used a gun,” LS said.

“A lie!” TL shouted as silent tears started running down his face.

“I believe you,” I said gently straight into TL’s eyes as he silently nodded, still combating the onslaught of lies coming at him.

“Go away! Stop hurting him,” I told LS, who by this time was smirking at the reaction he was getting from TL.

I pulled TL to my side and repeated again, “I believe you. I don’t believe him. You know the truth. He doesn’t know,” as tears continued to fall down his cheeks.

“Do you understand my bad Creole?” I asked him.

With a direct look in my eyes, he silently nodded yes.

“I believe you. God knows the truth. God loves you a lot,” I told him.

Little Shit is on my radar now. Up until now, I’ve noticed some things he has done, but couldn’t understand enough of the words to really know what was happening. It angers me that he feels he needs to make other kids feel that way in order to feel powerful or to deny his own story. And truly this could happen with ANY kids, emotions and situations are difficult when you are a kid. In these moments it is hard for me to remember grace. LS didn’t ask to live with a multitude of other kids in a village run by a Pastor. The sin of this world has gotten so rampant that it led him there in whatever way sin has kept his family in poverty and manifested there.

If there is anything that makes my heart break more, it’s knowing the defense mechanisms of the orphan culture can be mean, harsh and ruthless. It’s awful, but the sin of this world is ridiculously appalling and it is painful to see when it becomes visible this way. So many get caught up in how cute and adorable most of the kids are – and they are – but if we don’t acknowledge that the life of those that have no one to champion them sucks, then we do them a disservice. Acknowledgment comes in small forms, not big gestures. We are talking about young lives that God created and has a path for in this world…who need to be encouraged and repeatedly told they have value.

It is three small words I was able to use with Tortured Little…”I believe you,” and I am incredibly thankful in that moment I knew that verb. Our stories are our own, and no matter where the truth really lies…they are still our stories. No one else has the right to them, and they certainly don’t get to use them against us, though many try. When in those moments, we can feel so very alone and as if no one else would have the guts to stand with us. We feel like everyone is against us, and that no one actually values the truth of the story or would attempt to see both sides.

As I reflect back on this conversation, since it has stayed with me for several days, I hope that the next time someone tries to use my story against me…someone is there to say, “I believe you.”

story time

It’s no surprise that one of the things I miss most from being in the States is sitting down to a cup of coffee and telling stories with my friends. Usually, after getting back from Russia, I sit down telling the stories from our visit with the kids over coffee too many times to keep count. The beauty of connecting communities is in telling the stories, and I am blessed to be an intermediary for these two wonderful groups of people much beloved by God.

So here I am…barefoot in winter, Creole chatter mixed with school kid squeals from over the compound wall drifting into my room, listening to Josh Garrels and drinking my preferred Russian brew in my favorite mug I got for my birthday…handmade by Haitians employed to keep their families together and their kids out of children’s homes. I am ready to tell some stories, friends, and before we are done I may be breaking out the Russian chocolate because this is going to take awhile…you should probably get some coffee.

IMG_5378To begin the stories today, I need to fully disclose that I am crazy. Completely crazy, but completely obedient to how God is active in my life. You see, I never dreamed I would be going to visit the kids in Russia this year, but by the grace of God and his timeline it was within his plan for me to be present with my friends. I left Haiti on a Friday morning, and arrived in KC that night. I packed, purchased photos and snacks, and then celebrated my brother’s birthday all on Saturday. And then flew to Moscow on Sunday with three amazing people that I was beyond blessed to travel with this year.

It takes a ridiculous amount of time to get to Velikoretskoye, but I have never had anyone say it wasn’t worth it after spending a week with our friends.

We arrived to a very hospitable time with tea and coffee, and then we went to Gyorgy’s office. Gyorgy is a Russian man that commands the attentiveness of the many that work for him. I have massive amounts of respect for this man who is very dedicated to the success of the kids that come into his home as the orphanage director, who doubles as the school principal…and mayor. We spent about an hour with him, which doesn’t seem like a long time until you understand that on some trips we see him for about 5 minutes for the entire week. We started talking about one of the kids that was reunified with his family, which is very unusual in Russia where the parental rights are quickly terminated once kids are put into orphanages. Then we got Gyorgy talking about the current graduates, and hopefully were able to build more trust into how we want to support the orphanage kids’ education as much as we can. It has taken many years for trust to build to the point that Gyorgy knows we are not there to adopt kids from his home. We partner with him, because we believe and support his vision that education will provide a future for the kids.

This year, Gyorgy sent seven kids to university or colleges. SEVEN. Every single orphan that graduated from Velikoretskoye went on to a higher education instead of a tech school to learn a trade. Friends, orphanages in Russia don’t typically have this happen. In the whole FIVE years partnering with Kurlovo, where we went before the government shut it down in 2007, Kurlovo had ONE student go to university.

I had been waiting impatiently to express my excitement to him over this achievement in person, and later in the week when I did, he humbly brushed it off with, ‘I can help them gain education, but it is their character that needs improvement, so they will stay in school and succeed.’ My inner monologue was saying, ‘Sir, just take a compliment.’ However, if he truly thinks it is character building that needs to be improved, then we start working together to ask the questions of how can he best do that and where does he see us being able to help, if at all. One way he has asked for our help is in funds to have tutors for all of the kids. As is normal in an orphanage, some kids come in at a significantly lower grade level than their age assumes they should be at in school. One of the recent graduates was kept in the orphanage three years longer than the government says she should be so she could graduate from high school and go to university instead of tech school. She wants to be a school teacher, and she will make a fantastic teacher. Gyorgy’s request is one I hope a significant amount of us can get behind, because it is truly making a difference in the future of the Velikoretskoye kids.

What you are missing by reading this instead of being across a table from me is the massive amounts of animation I have in my countenance when I am telling a story about something I am really passionate about…just think of toddler at Christmas time and you will be pretty darn close.

I had really been praying about why God wanted me in Velikoretskoye this year. Why me? Part of the reason was revealed when I walked into my small group with the older kids. When we split into small groups, I always put the team members in the small group that their Russian friend is in if I can. We spend a lot of time building relationships with our Russian friends throughout the year by writing letters. First timers always get to be with their friend they write to and if you’ve been more than one time…you know more kids so it is easier to be wherever the team needs you to be. This year I ended up with the oldest group of kids. I honestly thought there would be no one there, because as they get older they are sometimes too cool to hang out with us the whole week. But as only God can orchestrate, the two friends I’ve known for six years and God had been pushing me to talk with one-on-one this year were both sitting in the room.

There were five kids in the room that afternoon. As we sat and talked about shared experiences and what I had missed in their lives over the last year it was so normal to be present with them. We laughed. We told stories. We teased each other. As some of the other groups were getting to know each other, our group literally picked up where we’d left off a year ago. I loved hearing about their summers in person, and seeing them tease each other about parts of stories they left out. I love seeing their shy reactions when I encouraged them…the ducking of the head, downcast eyes and soft, “Spaseeba, Stephanie.”

One morning, I had several of the older boys present, which meant there were some computer stations empty down the hall. While they were there I made them take a photo with me. I told them I needed a photo of how tall they are now next to me, because they used to be so small! As we took the photo, the first one clicked then each of them in perfectly timed synchronicity stood up on their tip toes. Laughing, I tried to stand up on my tip toes and could not hold it while laughing so hard. Oh, teenage boys!

VK HistoryOne of the boys has an older brother that was one of my Russian friends I wrote letters with six years ago. One of my favorite memories of he and his brother was during lesson time our first week-long visit with them. I was teaching lesson, and he and his brother were acting out the Starfish story. They were both leaping around like they were being thrown back into the ocean, and I was dying laughing. This would be the relationship I would have with both of them going forward…them being hilarious with me constantly laughing. As I was telling him this was one of my earliest memories with him, he replied, “But Stephanie, that wasn’t the first time I met you. You were here the year before and brought the inflatable globes to show us where you were from. That was the first time we met.”

“I can’t believe you remember that.”

He replied, “How could I forget the first time you all started coming to visit us?”

I get stuck in a cycle of thinking I am the only person who really remembers things, and when people share their memories of me that date back as far as I remember…it always shocks me, because I don’t consider myself memorable. For months, I had been questioning why God wanted me to be in Russia this year. Months, friends, but I trusted God, and he continually provided through a second passport with no problems from the US government. When our Visas needed to be signed, the time miraculously came when my go-to bestie was coming to Haiti for a visit. Everything kept working out, even though in my semi-logical brain, I didn’t understand how. I am not special. I don’t even speak their language. I’m not Russian when they desperately need believing Russians around them. I’m not a psychologist or teacher with a degree that might help them. I am no better for the kids than anyone else who travels to visit. Who am I to have something Russian orphans need? What could they possible learn or glean from me? What love and knowledge of God did I have that I hadn’t already given in previous years?

God is always sovereign and his orchestration in this world is always for his glory when you are just crazy enough to go along for the ride. And his glory explodes in the midst of relationships.

Over my time with the kids this year, God used me to funnel so many things he wanted them to hear. They trust me, and they know me, so what came from me was taken as genuine and loving. They heard encouragement for their incredible gifts, assurance that they are known, hope for their dreams, conversations about behavior that is getting them in trouble and encouragement in their school work. Once I got to the end of the day, my words were all used up.

IMG_5720 - CopyMy Russian friend that I get to write letters to is a small fella with a very large personality. I had been praying that our friendship would become stronger this year, since he is now another year older. He is still not too sure about me, and some of the looks he gives me are downright hilarious. On the final day last year, he and I had bonded over taking photos. I’m rarely seen without a camera of some sort, and he meandered over wanting to take some. This year, we dove right into taking photos. I was stunned when he was able to focus and manipulate the 85mm lens to get the photo he wanted. Not every photo was great, but there is no logical way a seven year old should be able to accomplish that level of focusing on an 85mm. Seriosna. Wow! All week, I patiently stood with him as he scanned a room through the lens thinking to myself, “This moment I need to remember, because everything is as it should be in this time and place.” Pride blossomed in him as he showed me the ones he thought were best and I responded with “Good job!”

On the day of the bonfire, I had been planning to stay back since the little kids were not normally allowed to go. It had snowed about six inches the day before on top of the snow they already had in Velikoretskoye. Not so secretly, I was glad my Haiti adjusted body temp wasn’t going to have to be out in the cold for multiple hours…until Gyorgy said all of the kids could go. They were all ecstatic, so I piled on the layers. Shashliki, basically pork kebob, was grilled and the kids attacked it with fervor. Admittedly, so did I…it’s SO good! We had massive game of snowballs…leading to snow tackling like pros. At one point, I went back to the bus to get my camera and take photos of the trees. As I was facing down a path, I hear these soft, little taps in the snow behind me. Turning around I see my seven year old buddy with a snow ball in his raised hand and a feral look in his eyes. IMG_5834Panicking I lifted my camera high above my head hoping he couldn’t throw that far. Seconds later, he was distracted by the bus. There is a reason we are friends…both easily distracted and all…this distraction was followed by his remembering that he was going to hit me with the snowball physically playing across his face. Boom. There it was snowball in the chest, and camera protected.

Because Russian government is so strict about God not being ‘pushed’ on orphans, it makes our responsibility to let God work through us in our relationships with the kids so very important. One evening, our Russian contact came to me and said the administrator had made a comment to her about the team talking too much about God. At that point in the week, our small group conversations had revolved around our favorite music, art and joy. Stifle that chuckle, friends, the administrator was serious. When I had written our small group discussions, I will admit to pushing the envelope with questions and what we were sharing, because I know that our relationships with the kids have progressed to the point that a lot of them are curious about our faith and why we believe what we believe.

Imagine that! God showing up in conversations about music, art and joy…respectfully we got a bit more creative on the last day when we talked about being known. And by creative, I mean creative translating by a very excellent translator. We had been showing videos of folks that had traveled before since our team was small to start small group discussion. We wanted the kids to feel like a lot of people were a part of our week since there were just four of us on the team. The last conversation was about being known and community, because when I was writing it, I wanted the kids to really, truly feel how much we do treasure not just being a part of their community but their being a large part of our community. Lindsay Evans was up first as muffled ‘Lynd-say!’ was heard around the room. She gave a beautiful example of how our friendship has grown even closer while I have been living in Haiti, and how with friendships it doesn’t matter how far away you are to be close to someone. Completely true, by the way, and a fantastic thing for the kids to hear since for 99% of the year we are across an ocean.

Next up was our inspiring, Pastor-friend Shawn. Choruses of “Shah-wn!!!” rang out…here is where the translating got creative. Shawn did exactly what I had asked him to do…talk about how God created us for community, how the original intent was for us to live within community and it comes in all forms. As one could imagine with a pastor, there was a lot of God in his message. After Sveta and I previewed it, I said, “That was a LOT of God, do you think we can use it?” She replied with, “It was a very good message that the kids need to hear. We will use it, but I will be creative when I translate it.” Creatively, ‘God created us…’ turned into ‘We were created for…’

Afterward, we showed video messages from the American friends to their Russian friends to the kids’ delight. My prayer for that day was that the kids would not find any question in the community that has been created across an ocean and that when they need to, they can trust and lean on that community. There is a deep, deep supernatural love within this community that cannot be easily explained, and within that deep love is the One who first loved us. Who we are overflows out of that love and it cannot be contained, even by the Russian government.

Russia is ripe for Gospel, but as with all cultures, how we present the truth looks different. In Haiti, relationships with God are abundant, and the Gospel is very vocal everywhere. In Russia, faith is very personal and past hurts by ‘religion’ have made it very hard to be vocal about the Gospel. Talking about God comes through having trusted relationships, which in Russia takes years to build, and God being so much a part of who you are that nothing you do is separate from his Kingdom.

Our tradition on the last day is to have tea and cakes with the kids, and after artful negotiating with Gyorgy all week, we were able to have it in the orphanage building with one of the Americans and a translator in each of the family groups. Gyorgy likes for us to do all of our activities in the school since there is more space and it is much newer than the orphanage building. In the past, our team size has been deemed too large to spend time in the orphanage, but when we are able to be with the kids in their home it is much more personal than a formal classroom. Again, by default, I placed myself in the last room that needed an American. In God’s great humor, Sveta and I walked into the same family group room we had started in five years prior on our first week-long visit with the kids. She looked at me and said, “This is where we started. Here we are again.” Choking back whatever wanted to come out of my eyes, I replied, “Yes. Yes we did.” I sat at the table with the kids, trying to get them to talk. For whatever reason, they had few words to share that afternoon, but it opened the door for me to go around the entire table and remember a time when I first met each of them. I told them many faces were gone from around the table, and some new faces have joined their family. Elbows flew into the sides of those that were new to say, “She’s talking about you!” The caregivers shared stories. I shared stories. Dima had tackled me into the snow the day before at the bonfire, and I told him that reminded me of when Kostya had done that the first year I was with them in family group. Everyone immediately remembered that epic game of snowballs that had quickly progressed to tackling.

IMG_5680Community is about being known, being remembered and not being alone. God didn’t place us here to walk through life alone, and in the midst of our time during the week God used so many different opportunities to use us to speak into that with the kids.

When I got on the bus the last day, I laid down in the back seat, plugged my music in my ears and thought to myself, “I left it all on the court this year. This week was like the book of Esther. God was all through it, around it and over it…and it all happened by him flowing out of his people not through actually saying God this and God that. I have poured out everything Haiti has filled me up with, and I did what God sent me here to do.” In eleven years of traveling to Russia, I’ve never once gotten to the end of a visit and thought I had nothing else to give. God is so good, friends.

And in true fashion that a coffee or lunch with me to talk about the stories from the Russia visit would normally turn into 3 hours…this is the longest post I’ve ever written on this blog. I probably should have broken it up into multiple posts, but each story poured into the next just like it would have in person. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed living them. God constantly mesmerizes me at what he allows me to be a part of, and sitting in Haiti right now, most of these stories feel like a dream. I have to remind myself every day that they actually happened and I was allowed to be a part of what God wanted to bring in person to the kids this year.

So I spoke up, I spoke out
I learned that love doesn’t hold its tongue
And passion doesn’t bow to what they think
It’s you and me
Sometimes it’s painful to be brave
To look fear in the face
And know your name
To know your strength
[Steffany Gretsinger, ‘I Spoke Up’ from her album The Undoing.]

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.

 

 

 

pathways

Sometimes I wake to screeching through my bathroom wall. Nope, not roosters, more human….it sounds like a plethora of teen girls, but in reality…I have lived next door to the Pathways boys for 6 months and when they argue over whose turn it is to use the shower it sounds like a teen girl-cat fight through the wall. It really does make me laugh, and gives me a great source of material to tease them about.

But don’t let arguments over showers sway you on your opinion of these young adults, because they are a phenomenal group of young people being empowered with skills to lead a life of sustainability in Haiti.

IMG_0136 (2)Global Orphan Project has an amazing discipleship journey that brings 18-21 year olds into a program to teach them life and trade skills called Pathways. One of the things I love most is the students are physically learning with their hands. Most schools for older kids in Haiti are all classroom work and teacher led, nothing is hands on learning. The Pathways instructors are physically out in the field instructing the students, the sewing teacher is sewing with the girls, the decorating teacher is working bows with the girls, the boys are physically working with chickens at the chicken farm…they are gaining experience in everything they are being taught.

The other thing I love is the students are being discipled by Haitians that are passionate about teaching others what they know and passing on their knowledge, which includes everything they know about Jesus, the Bible and how to lead others in the faith. When the Pathways students start praying, watch out because heaven and earth will move, friends. And their worship through song…love for their Savior flows from these young adults in mesmerizing ways.

On a recent Friday night, I passed one of the boys in the corridor and said, “Bon swa! How are you?” The response I got in Creole accompanied by a massive smile was, “Good! I wait for Sunday!” I stopped, thinking I translated it wrong in my head, and yelled after him in Creole, “Did you say you wait for Sunday? Today is Friday, tomorrow is Saturday.”

He responded, “Yes, but I am waiting for Sunday. I love Sunday. I love Pastor Claude. I love church.”

I know a LOT of teenagers who love church. I know a lot of teenagers that love Jesus, but I doubt any of them would tell me on a Friday night in the States that they are waiting for Sunday. But here in Haiti, this is the devotion these young adults have for their Savior and the love they have for communally worshipping through prayer, song and the Bible.

One of the girls I love to laugh with was walking with me last weekend, and as we both walked off to our separate rooms, she grabbed my hands and said, “I will pray that Jesus will bless your dreams tonight!” The spirit of joy and love for Jesus in this young woman is a constant source of inspiration for me. She is constantly making us laugh, and is a huge fan of inside jokes. I truly think it is a longing to be known by others that connects us to her, as well as fuels her love for Jesus.

For the last six months I’ve had the privilege of sharing a lot of the same space with the Pathways students, but last weekend the boys moved out into the new Pathways building that will give them space to grow. It is an exciting time, not only for the current students, but to see how God will continue to grow opportunities for so many more kids in villages that are not at a high enough grade level to continue their education into university when they have to leave the villages at age eighteen.

We will miss the abundance of life the students have brought to Jumecourt. The girls are still here at the moment, but as the boys moved out, they were visibly hopping, running, jumping to load their belongings. The energy was electric around here last Saturday as they moved.

IMG_0121 (2)A new first year joined us a night early, and we found out he was from a village one of the second year students was from. Yelling to him as he played basketball, ‘What village are you from?’ He responded by thrusting his arms into the air with his hands formed into fists while flexing his muscles, and then yelled back in English at the top of his lungs, ‘Biggarouse!!! I am from Big House!!!’

The pride and confidence in these students for not only where they come from, but that it means something to them is palpable. They own their place in this world, and it is amazing to see them embrace their story. Their story is a victorious one. They had some place to go when they had to leave the village, and within that place, they are embracing who God has created them to be.

That first weekend, we also got to see their confidence as they absolutely acted like ‘older’ kids when the first years arrived to join the second year Pathways students. Perhaps too much cockiness was in play, but it was great to see their confidence in the path of learning they are on, what they have learned over the last year and excitement for what they will be learning in their last year of their two years.

As one of our organization leaders says, you cannot care about orphan care without caring about orphan prevention.

Realistically, orphan care without emphasis on orphan prevention is only a business of moving money and bodies. Do some orphans get genuine care and love? Of course, but unfortunately emphasis on the monetary aspect has brought a lot of dishonesty within the ‘business’ of orphans. God calls us to defend the orphan, and care for the fatherless. A large part of that defense is providing jobs to keep poverty orphans with their families. God’s heart is not in the ‘business’ of orphans, but it is in preserving the dignity of the parent who is able to provide for their family.

Orphan care cannot outweigh orphan prevention, and God willing orphan prevention will make orphan care obsolete. The Pathway students are a piece of that orphan prevention. If the poverty orphan cycle stops with these educated, cross-trained young adults creating businesses and remaining employed as they have families of their own, then Haiti moves forward in reclaiming their employment independence from organizations and countries that unload their excesses here plaguing any efforts for sustainability. And that is a very exciting future to pour into with Haitians that we are honored to know, love and see grow into strong leaders in their communities.

Join me in praying for the second year students, new first year students, instructors, directors and all of those that support them from the States. As someone who deeply cares about these students, I know your prayers will be received with much gratitude and any glory given straight to our God we serve.

 

 

 

Watson

About two weeks ago I was holding a tiny guy at one of our partner’s villages. The team was laughing at me, because it had already become known that I’m not a ‘baby person,’ yet kept getting handed babies. This particular time, I’d been standing in a group of five Americans, and I was the one passed the baby. However, these few precious moments I cherished, because I knew I was holding someone special.

He’d had a rough start to life, more normal in Haiti than many would hope. He and his twin were abandoned, malnourished and admitted to the hospital soon after being left at the Pastor’s village. His twin didn’t make it out of the hospital, but he was a fighter. Many had fallen in love with this fella. What a heartbreaker, ladies! Many were inspired by his story, but then looked into his gorgeous eyes and were hooked. This small fella had defied the odds, with many people fighting for him, and when he came home from the hospital, a God victory was proclaimed for this little one.

As I held him, I noticed his hair was growing in better, he had more movement in his limbs when he had been very lethargic for several weeks, had finally started ‘talking’ and the mamas said he was eating a lot.

He was about seven months old when he passed away last Sunday.

They noticed he had started breathing very hard in church, and grabbed Pastor Kesnel after service was over. They tried taking him to two different hospitals who refused to see him. TWO! The first was full and the second had no doctors on duty, only nurses, so there was no one to diagnose him. Then at the third while they were filling out paperwork…he stopped breathing.

I want to believe that all kids given life have a chance, but in Haiti the odds are consistently stacked against them. It is a hard life for adults here…imagine new, fragile life and the infant mortality rate being high is not surprising. Knowledge of hygiene for newborns is minimal, and places for education on infant care are few. Yet this fella had a Pastor fighting for him, a home to be cared for in and an organization ready to pay any medical bills…yet he still lost his fight to live.

My heart is heavy, and I am deeply saddened. I was just holding this tiny, featherweight bundle, in what right now feels like yesterday, and this tiny one had a name.

His name was Watson.

It shouldn’t, but something changes when the oppressed have a name and a face. This I have known for over a decade, but never before have I known one to lose their life way too early. This reality of pain and loss is painful for all involved, but very much the norm in Haiti. They know every aspect of pain and loss in this country. However, thankfully, God has protected the Pastor’s kids that Global Orphan Project supports in astounding ways. Death is not a norm for the villages we partner with here.

Yet it invaded our lives this week.

But the One we serve knows.

God knows Watson’s name. God knows his struggle. God knows his circumstance. God holds him tighter than anyone. God still claims victory over this little life, and that is what we celebrate through Watson’s short life.

I believe that God’s heart is for these. Those that have no voice. Those who cannot defend themselves. Those who are told they are not worth the time. Those who are invisible to the world. Those whose unfortunate circumstance brings death so much sooner than we would like.

Stop doing wrong; learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. [Isaiah 1:16-17]

The fight for life in Haiti continues, it will never end until God’s Kingdom is restored. But we continue to fight here, as well as many others all around the world.

I am honored to be walking alongside inspiring Kingdom fighters like Pastor and Madame Kesnel, and all of their staff and kids, who are feeling this loss so deeply right now. I am blessed to be a part of an organization of people who care about them, love them and pour into the relationship we have with them.

And I am thankful for the small person who pierced my ‘baby bubble,’ etched his name on my heart, and will continue to push me to fight for the kids who have no one to champion them or give them a voice.

God proclaims victory, but we have the responsibility to believe it and force the fight forward.

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voice

I know God’s love. I know the freedom and acceptance that comes with God’s love. I like to think I know his heart…not just for me, but for others, especially when I make life choices based on where I am called to love others for him. But sometimes we need to know his anger, his utter disbelief and how much his heart truly breaks at the sin surrounding his beloved children.

Recently I was in church being used as a jungle gym. Schnider would not sit still. We had already gotten a drink of ‘dlo’ before I sat down in church, and his frustration at my not taking him again, when he knew I could understand what he was asking for in Creole, was very real. But he didn’t want to go alone. Instead, he sat. He pouted. He shifted. He stood on me. He stood at my side. He laid his head on the bench in front of us. He put his head on my shoulder. He moved my water bottle. He flipped through the pages in my Bible. He sat again. Then he stood on me.

There’s a pattern here. He did not want to be alone. He wanted someone with him. And he was not ready to sleep…yet…

In the midst of all this shifting, I found myself getting annoyed that he couldn’t get comfortable. Relax already, friend. I am here for you.

But also in that exact thought was this awareness that someone had left him. For whatever reason…reasonable or wholly unreasonable…Schnider had been abandoned through whatever situation had landed him at the village. And that awareness flooded me with pain that this was not right. This wasn’t how it was meant to be.

As much as my heart broke in that moment for this little guy, as much as it breaks for all of the orphans God has placed in my path over the last ten years in a myriad of places, I find that God’s heart breaks a million times a million more times for those who are abandoned. For all children, adults, anyone…God’s heart breaks for the ways they have been abandoned and made to feel they are unwanted, unworthy and unloved.

It is absolutely beyond my comprehension how anyone could choose to leave a child, and this is coming from someone who does not even have children. I am profoundly sad for who the world calls orphans. Parents die, or cannot provide for them. Grandparents, aunts, uncles…no relatives to choose to take care of them. I think God shares in my disbelief. I think God feels that utter disbelief when the connection created through birth is ripped to shreds when a parent, through death or stripped of dignity for whatever reason, leaves their child as an orphan.

God did not create us for this. He created us as whole beings, meant for his Kingdom and to live as Kingdom walkers. He created us for love, and the sin of this world breaks love.

In Isaiah 58, God is calling out his people for fasting and not meaning it.

‘For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God…you cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.’ [Isaiah 58:2, 4]

I have been seized by this passage for four years this month. Obsessed is probably not even a strong enough word for what hold this passage has on me. It starts calling everyone out on how they say they know God, but only for set apart times and not with their lives. Then moves into what God does want them to be doing…that they are not actually doing.

‘Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?’ [Isaiah 58:6-7]

I remember asking a friend what he thought the beginning meant, ‘Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet.’ His response has stuck with me, ‘Be loud. Talk about what God has been opening your eyes to in these verses.’ With those words, he ignited something in me. I realized I had a voice and I wasn’t using it the way God wanted me to be using it.

Granted, with that advice, over the last four years my voice has been met with resistance, anger and disrespect, yet also love, camaraderie, understanding, awakening and more than anything else a trueness that many of us are speaking the same Kingdom language.

But we need to be speaking that language louder. We need to be calling out the things in this world that fight against the heart of God.

Our silence is our acceptance.

I adamantly refuse to accept that God wants children to be abandoned by their parents or left alone in this world after their parents are gone, but that is my voice and my calling, and consequently where I find myself living. Refusing to be silent is part of what landed me in Haiti, allowing God to use me to love his kids and journey with others being ignited to the same.

What are the things you show you accept through your silence?

God has given us a voice for the abandoned, lost, lonely, broken and outcast. Where your voice takes you is between you and the Savior you serve. It will make you cross paths with people you never thought you could meet. It will make you uncomfortable. It will challenge your status quo. It will transform you. It will also draw criticism from others who profess to believe what you believe. But the bottom line is God is calling on you to use your voice.

‘Shout it aloud. Raise your voice like a trumpet.’

I am called to use my voice for the orphan, and I will be shouting that from the rooftops while annoying all within my shouting distance. I refuse to let the world tell orphans they are worthless, no one wants them and they deserve to be an orphan. God’s heart is for the orphan. God’s heart is for them to be made whole by being a part of his Kingdom family. I choose to be used as a jungle gym, then a soft place to land and sleep. I choose to love with abandon. I choose to love with whatever amount of God’s love I have flowing through me. I choose to go deeper, and I choose to know God’s heart…even when it breaks me.