change their story

IMG_2187For the last ten years I have given a lot of my life and love to children in Russia that are cast off into orphanages. What started as a willingness to follow God’s pull to orphan ministry has become what is, and will be, a lifetime of fighting for orphans in our world…wherever God may lead me. 

Coming from someone who used to not like kids at all…this is an ironic calling. However, the truth is my passion for seeing educated orphans grow into healthy and mature citizens of their own countries, then have healthy families of their own that break the vicious orphan cycle…makes my soul sing.

I believe that the things our world finds worthless…our God sees worth. I believe that the people our world judges…our God wraps his arms around and whispers, ‘You are loved.’

But alone…I am just one believer fighting against many social and political structures.

I am blessed to be a part of a community that wants to invest in some great kids in Russia through Children’s Hopechest. Together, as one community, we fight to see the kids embrace the hope of a future and see love as genuine and unconditionally given by not only us, but by the God that has loved them since the beginning of time.

Most Russians believe orphans do not have a story, but we believe these kids have been a part of God’s story since before they were born.

IMG_2444I am known in the orphanage as the one who always laughs and smiles. To me it is the easiest gift to give,  crossing language and cultural boundaries, to make someone feel included and loved. The greater gift, however, is being accepting as a part of their family. Someone they trust. Someone they ask advice from when they want to reach out. Do you know what an honor that is? To be asked for advice from kids that have been betrayed by family, with countless promises broken, and resulting in not trusting anyone?

These are the moments God works through. Where he shows himself and everything points backs to his heart for our world. This is one of the moments in my life that I have waited for…to be counted as a part of their family no matter how far away I am or what language I speak.

I will fight for these kids with everything I have in me. They deserve better. They deserve to know love. They deserve to know laughter and joy. They deserve the presence of people who will come alongside them, and walk with them through the tough things life throws at them. They deserve people surrounding them that will hear them say, ‘My dream is to be a good mother.’ Respond with, ‘I believe you will be. Let’s talk about what you need to learn and how you need to grow to make that dream come true.’ Then be invested long enough to see that dream realized.

This Christmas season I am creating an opportunity for others to fight for these kids, too. To make a different choice in how you approach the Christmas season of giving.

I am choosing to make it known that I do not want gifts, and asking my friends and family to make a donation to Children’s Hopechest and their campaign ‘Change Their Story.’ My team will be raising funds for tutors at Velikoretskoye Orphanage in Russia. Russian orphans are given a free education…as long as their grades are good enough and they continue passing exams. We have several students on the verge of graduating and heading to tech school next year, which means more tutors will play a large roll in helping the kids continue their education.

Here you will find a link to the team I have created for ‘Change Their Story.’ This is a way to set aside normal American standards of Christmas, and embrace a new way of celebrating the birth of our Savior. An invitation to help some great kids and perhaps choose to spend time with those you would normally give a gift to instead.

IMG_2245I write this post as a call to action. A call to belief in a God big enough to embrace the broken in this world. A call to be a part of something bigger than yourself. This is a call to be a part of God’s story and change the story of some incredible kids.

This year will you choose to worship the materialism of a holiday that was created for worshipping our Savior? Or might you choose a new way? A new opportunity to fight for the injustice in this world? It may be that you are not passionate about orphan care…perhaps you are about clean water, the hungry, the homeless or victims of sex trafficking. No matter what your passion, choose to change a story of someone that will draw others closer to God’s Kingdom and reflect God’s heart.

I am praying that others will join me and choose to fight for something this Christmas, while I choose to fight for some amazing kids who deserve to know people are fighting for them. This year, listen for the sound of heaven touching earth as your heart aligns with God’s heart for the orphan. It’s the best sound on earth.

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anticipation

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Anticipation…jitters…nervous…expectations…excitement.

In Russia, on our way to the orphanage for the first morning with the kids it is always a wide array of emotions.

It is one of my favorite moments of the trip, as those of us who have been before sit up straighter and crane our necks to see out of the front window to watch the landmarks count down until we arrive. This curve, that massive pothole, the bridge…the flatland, another curve. Worship music blasts in my ears as I beg God to fill me just a little bit more so that I am ready to pour myself out for him and his kids in the orphanage. The ‘newbies’ look around in confusion as though they are missing a very important part of this bumpy, crazy 20 minute long road. What they will soon understand is that they are missing the anticipation we carry of being back home.

But this moment is about more than just our excitement, heightened nerves or having found ourselves on the back roads of Russia.

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It is about seeing the affirmation on each others faces that today we are not individuals. We are one. One in Christ. One community. One family crossing language and cultural barriers. Family visiting family.

This is not a mission trip. You could make arguments for it being one, and I’ve called it that many times. But as God deepens my passion and understanding of his kingdom he morphs my definitions into his kingdom definitions. And one thing is certain…’mission trip’ and all of the connotations that come with it in the Christian-ese world we navigate, is not what we were bumping along that road to do. We travel to make sure our family knows we remember them, and we hug them so they know we love them. We tease and laugh to make new memories. And we get into real conversations about life issues so that we can ask how situations are going, how their grades are and what their hopes and dreams look like. It goes deeper than a surface relationship. It is about being known and being loved.

20131114-183138.jpgAs I share my passion with the kids for justice and serving I find myself horrified when I think they might see themselves as my ‘project.’ Because they are not a project. They are my little brothers and sisters, and they happen to fall into an area of injustice with no control of how they got there. Our relationships may have started because of my passion for orphans to know love and worth, but God tends to grow us together beyond our simple human definitions, and open our eyes to his global family. Making everything change.

As we landed in New York on our way home, I had a message from a friend that the kids were sad we were gone and wanted to know my secret for being able to laugh so much. They thought knowing my ‘secret’ might help them not feel as sad. Those questions are rooted in relationship. Those questions are rooted in trust. Those questions are rooted in family. And the answer is rooted in Jesus.

It truly was a little sister going to her big sister for advice, and in that moment it was affirmed that we had been on our annual visit to family.

On that first day we drive to Velikoretskoye, the last stretch of road to the kids is the longest out of all the days we drive there…because we are knee-deep in anticipation with the knowledge that God has created a community that is stronger together. A community that travels to visit a small orphanage in a small village in that is full of humor, love and relationships. Family visiting family.

aching

My arms are aching. Not because I did a major workout yesterday…yah right. It is an empty and waiting sort of ache. All because I know that I am within 36 hours if holding onto my family members that I haven’t seen in a year.

It is that time of year…and I am on my way with the annual Russia team to visit Velikoretskoye orphanage. I wait all year for this visit. It’s as though each year at this time, a piece of the puzzle falls into place, and all seems right in the world.

Which is weird, because the whole reason I travel is because things are very wrong in our world. Sin runs rampantly unchecked. Injustice plagues every continent. Generations are being raised that don’t know a time without a war somewhere. An unimaginable numbers of slaves exist in our world. And there are hundreds of thousands orphans. Things are very wrong.

I serve a God who restores, transforms and creates beautiful futures through our relationship with him and others. Which is why I have always felt like a ministry of relationship and presence fits me so well. After all I am the person who will drive 20 minutes for a conversation instead of talking on the phone.

I ache to be in community with others, and that sometimes leads me across oceans to fill my aching arms with my friends…family…that I cannot wait to see how much taller they’ve gotten!

To follow our Russia Team blog, it can be found at: www.russiamissiontrip.blogspot.com.

reasons

IMG_4520It’s too expensive.

It takes too long to get there.

You have to use translators.

The money would be better spent on helping orphans than sending you to travel there for a week.

You name it, I’ve heard it regarding the reasons NOT to travel to Russia, and spend time with our kids over the last 10 years. And yes, it’s been that long, insane…I know.

But what happens when the discernment of calling, self-examination through prayer and the need of the kids to have a physical presence far outweigh the price tag?

You cannot put a price on relationship.

You cannot put a price on encouragement.

You cannot put a price on a hug.

You cannot put a price on giving a child hope because someone is supporting them and choosing to believe in their future.

You cannot put a price on family.

The orphans in Russia are put into a category that places a stigma on them as worthless and inferior to all other Russians. Simply because their parents either got in trouble with the law, abandoned them or died. They are told that they deserve to be in that orphanage by their culture…because no one wanted them.

They are considered broken.

It’s not fair, and it ignites God’s sense of justice in me.

It puts innocent kids in situations they are not equipped to navigate. It creates a mistrust of everything and everyone in each of those kids. It makes them feel alone, and unloved. How can anyone expect them to trust a loving God they cannot see when each person around them has broken their concept of love and trust?

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That it not God’s heart for them…and it is wrong, very wrong.

I have had the privilege of a front row seat for the change in the kids as they grow closer to their American friends. I’ve grown those relationships myself with two incredible gentlemen. I’ve experienced the change in them as they are poured into by someone who genuinely cares for them and wants nothing in return. I’ve seen students push themselves harder in school while encouraged by the love of another. I’ve seen them develop a sense of family with someone who is thousands of miles away.

I’ve seen God ignite a passion for his children in so many people that choose to make a difference in the lives of some phenomenal kids.

Mission is about God’s heart for the world. It is about righting the wrongs of this world, and believing that each of the wrongs that get righted moves us closer to God’s Kingdom.

I passionately believe God has called each one of us to a specific purpose, and within that purpose we find ourselves as the best we can humanly be in his image.

Some God has called to their neighbors. Some God is calling to the urban core. Others God calls to disaster areas. And yet others are called to the crazy world of global mission. We don’t choose our calling…but we get to choose to live it.

Many times over the last 10 years I have found myself examining my heart for the orphans of Russia. It is expensive. It is far away. The language is hard. It is a completely back-ass-ward country.

Yet every time I return to God and ask, ‘Still?’ the answer is consistently a resounding ‘Yes!’ with an aside of ‘Please stop asking!’

I’ve learned over time  it’s not worth it to argue with God…therefore I choose to live in my calling, and choose to love and support kids that are stronger because of God’s love  flowing through his people.

*If you feel pulled to help me live in my calling, consider checking out my photography at sojourner4jesusphotography.com. I am currently fundraising for the next opportunity to serve God in Russia this November.*

home

Home.

I struggle with this.

Home is technically just a place I sleep if you prefer the ‘normal’ definition of the place you live.

But home is also halfway across the world every time I step into an orphanage in Kirov region.

Home is at a friends house every Thursday night when my little buddy meets me at the door.

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Home is also in Park City this week while I hang out with college friends who share the same passion for March Madness, Jesus and being outside.

Most think about home in terms of where they always come back to and spend the most time…where they put down roots.

But my roots look different.

Home for me is mobile. I don’t have roots set down in one place…my roots are more spiritual and relational than stuff and place.

I keep parts of myself in so many places. I feel my heart is fractured and I’m indecisive at times as to where I want to be, but when it comes down to it…what I need most is the relationships around me more than the stuff.

Granted…I’ve got plenty of stuff that I need to go through. And I have a healthy addiction to art. My mom actually calls it my ‘dowry.’ But all the art is how I appreciate the beauty in the world around me, and I don’t ‘need’ any of the stuff. I do, however, need the relationships God has put around me.

My relationship with God has a huge impact on my views of where my true home is. I’ve told this story here before, but it always serves as a good reminder.

In Haiti last summer, I was very moved by our translator, Joseph, and his view of where Haitians find their real hope. They have no hope for a good future, no hope for their kids to rise above poverty or their country to become self-sustainable…he said. So Haitians have no choice but to put their hope in the life after this one…to put all their trust and faith in God making heaven come to earth. No poverty. No pain. No injustice. Just God restoring his creation and setting everything right.

Perhaps I struggle to put down roots because I came to a place where I know this world will not last. That there is something so much more beautiful and stunning than this one to come…

Or maybe it just doesn’t make sense for where I am at in my life.

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In other news…I’m moving to Park City, Utah. Its fun and beautiful, and one of my best friends is having her baby here.

Just kidding. Well, kinda kidding, lately I’m just waiting for God to help me know where he needs me next. And I know that I will be at home wherever that might be.

leave

There is one place on this earth that rips my soul in two to leave.

It is a palpable sound to God’s ears because after all, he is the one that sends me.

The echo of that rip haunts me when I leave. A good haunt though, a reminder that things are not right in this world, and that I’ve been chosen to make a small difference for the life of a child. A reminder that God is working long before me, all around me and staying after I leave…that it is never about me, and always about him.

I never would have imagined my soul would be so closely tied to an orphanage…let alone one in Russia. It wasn’t too long ago that I couldn’t even deal with being around kids. But to speak God’s love, worth, hope and community into the life of an orphan is the greatest privilege there is in this world.

It used to be the hardest thing I’d ever done to leave the orphanage on the last day. The emotion of leaving is overwhelming to even the hardest of hearts. We would lose whole days to the kids acting out or withdrawing. We eventually amended trip schedules so that we went back for a ‘last’ morning so the kids wouldn’t be as emotional on the last day. It helped everyone take the leaving part in slower steps.

Some trips the kids would hang on to the back of the bus, it didn’t matter how seriously we told them it was dangerous. It was as if they were clinging to those last precious moments, too.

What I love most, though, is it rarely happens anymore. It isn’t as emotional when we leave as it used to be. Why? They know their friends, or friends of their friends, are coming back. We’ve crossed the line of dismay and sorrow into this beautiful place of deep love and trust. It’s amazing the strength of the ties that God creates in his mission fields.

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But this is what happens when you surrender your heart…soul…life…God leads us to unimaginable, beautiful, Kingdom places.

The hardest part for me is leaving those places, and holding on to that Kingdom life.

The beauty of it is the places God sends you is where you find the person he has created you to be. The best of you and worst of you collide, and his heart is ignited in yours. Your soul finds itself overflowing, all because you willingly surrendered.

And when that happens, no one wants to leave that behind.

love

‘Love is patient, love is kind…’ Blah. Blah Blah. Yah, it’s absolutely true…but do the people that quote it at every wedding really buy in to the actually gritty truth of love?

Love is hard. Love is pain. Love is loss. Love is your heart being taken out of your chest, stomped on and put back inside.

And.

Love is beautiful. Love is sacred. Love is loyal. Love is sacrifice.

Love is hard to explain.

People make such a big deal out of ‘love.’ But lately I’ve found they are overusing the word. And I’m guilty of it, too. I LOVE this book. I LOVE this music. I LOVE this friendship.

Has our overuse of the word love taken the truth out of it?

Jesus didn’t overuse the word love, he meant it. Crazy, die-on-the-cross meant it.

I asked a student what she thought the word love meant yesterday. She said, ‘That you would die for someone.’ My response? ‘Okay, have you really thought out what dying for someone means?’ Her response? ‘Not really.’

AlyoshaWe don’t give a lot of thought to the words we use. But we should. They can be hateful. They can be accusing. They can be sarcastic. (Guilty.) They can be loving. They can be compassionate. Actually, you can say one thing, and then the tone it is said in makes it heard in a completely different way than what you meant.

Love can make your heart expand a million times bigger than your chest. I have experienced the blessing of that in Russia with the kids I have connected with in the orphanages we’ve worked with. I actually wrote about it over a year ago in ‘reminiscing’ talking about the first person I really fell in love with, warning…it’s long. Check it out if you haven’t, because it easily fits my definition of love.

How do you define love? What do you use it for?

Jesus said love God, love others. But how many days out of the week do we actually accomplish that for him?

I believe love does conquer all, but if I believe that I should probably stop saying I love dumplings…because I’m pretty sure dumplings don’t conquer all.