4/19/14

Life as it is. Sunday's coming.


This time of year the stores fill up with plastic eggs, chocolate extravagance, and multicolored stuffed bunnies.  I don't generally over think or over react to the secular variations of Christian holidays (goofy traditions can be fun) but for reasons other than my general revulsion to materialistic gluttony, I struggle to make room for it in my head.  I can't reconcile fluffy overpriced bunnies with the enormity of a blood drenched cross where our murder of God accomplished His own plan to saves us.

 Maybe the muddy snow outside my window puts a grimy damper on the whole daffodils and tulip Easter stereotype, but I think it's more than that.

I look around me and I see this aching and twisted world torn apart by suffering and sin, and all the plastic grass, and food coloring in the world can't hide it from sight.

Last week dear friends of ours received the phone call that every parent fears getting.  Now they wait in a hospital room for their college age son to wake up from a coma.  An athletic young man so full of life, faith, and love...now broken in a hospital bed. Life as they knew it changed in an instant.  Proof, as if I needed any that Karma is a lie, and that the snake oil "prosperity gospel" salesmen who call themselves preachers are liars too.  As if our words have the power to speak good fortune into existence. I am grateful that his family trusts deeply in the One who does breathe life, and who can heal the broken.  Jesus is their sustenance, and the sovereignty of a good God their assurance.

This week we received a message from our second home, telling us that a child we know and dearly love has been sold by her own mother.  A mother I had hoped would not try to sell her children again. A mother who was sold into marriage by her own mother at age 13. I struggle to comprehend the brokenness. Sold like a piece of property, bought by people who satisfy their own wickedness by stripping the soul of a young girl. Thankfully she has escaped with her baby daughter. Can the cycle end?  My ache and rage coexist.

I feel a small taste of God's white hot wrath against sin that enslaves and crushes, as my heart breaks with His love for the sinner.


Daily my newsfeed and computer fills with the faces of orphans desperate to be seen, craving love. How can I not enter in?  How can I refuse to look?  Not seeing doesn't erase them from existence.

Can I claim Christ's mercy and yet refuse to pick up a cross?
Can I claim his grace yet refuse obedience?

The answer is one that I struggle with as the Spirit of God inside wages war on my doubt and selfishness.

I serve a God who came. He entered into our suffering and he bore it on his own bruised and bloodied shoulders.  Broken and poured out for a ragged and rebellious world.

I have one assurance, one place of rest, and one all sufficient provision.  Jesus lived the life I could never live, and died the death I deserved to die.  He finished it.  He bore it all.  He drank the cup of that white hot wrath to the bitter dregs, and rose victorious over my sin and death.

In light of that kind of love and sacrifice, I've been pondering what it looks like to live in this time "in between".   I have no idea how many years I will be given to me on this earth or what those days will look like.  I don't want to take any of this time for granted and waste it on plastic and fluff.  I want it to count.  I want to invest every bit of what God has so graciously and generously given me.

I want to invest in things eternal and significant.  The hard part for me is not being able to be in three places at once doing everything that pops into my heart. I don't have money, but I do have time, and gifts, and a calling. Surrendered is the word that has come into my mind a lot lately.  Living a life that is available and willing.  A constant re-aligning priorities and surrendering those dark corners.

Here's how that pondering fleshed out in real life last week.

After updating our home assessment, our family was put back on the social services call list as an emergency foster home.   I'm actually a little surprised that we haven't received a call, but we live with a daily expectancy of the unknown disrupting our comfortable life.  Who will this child be? How long will they be a part of our family? So many unknowns. A step into the dark..and then just waiting and trusting. Available and willing.

What I do know is there will be sacrifice involved and I'm not gonna lie...I have had a few whining chats with God about it for the past few weeks.

  I'm not necessarily anxious or afraid at the moment, but I am aware and counting the cost. One cost that I cling to the most, which may seem petty, is sleep. Our youngest is four years old now so I have more trepidation over reinstating midnight feedings and sleep deprivation than I do anything else. The other is the inevitable unpredictability and loss involved. It's going to hurt, there is just no way around it but at the end of the day it's just not about me.

It's strange to feel so compelled, and yet so aware of the certain heart break that will ensue.  My heart on the line again, willing to be used up, and poured out...but yet I know without a shadow of a doubt that ultimately someone is in control of it all, and that Sunday is coming.

I consider it a joy.

Resurrection Sunday reminds me that the I can go bravely into battle because the war has already been won.  It will be made right.  There will be justice, the broken will be made whole, truth will dispel the darkness, and every tear will be dried.  We have a hope beyond mere human effort, and "good deeds".  Any good thing I have to offer, anything good that you might see, is all God's grace at work.   This is just me putting one clumsy foot in front of the other, clinging to His strength, certain of my own weakness.


Sunday is coming.

That is our hope.  Jesus is alive, Jesus saves and Jesus makes all things new.

In the meantime, there's a race to be run.










Soli Deo Gloria,

4/16/14

Before it's too late.


For most kids their 14th birthday is nothing more than just another year passing.  A bit of pride in getting older, some extra privileges or responsibilities earned and likely a big birthday party with lots of carefree friends.

For a child owned by the government, a child without parents, a 14th birthday means that your last shred of hope that you will have a family to call your own is crushed.  

At the very young age of 14 a child "ages out" of the orphanage and foster system. The worldwide statistics for orphans aging out are staggering and the future is bleak.  In a country where family ties and lineage is extremely important there is a profound stigma and a huge disadvantage attached to being labelled an "orphan"....a label that will follow him long into adulthood. 

I would like to introduce to you a boy that has been on my heart, and in my prayers, a lot lately.  He has just over a year until he crosses that line.  He has until July 2015 for a family to commit to him, process the paperwork, and come for him.   There is plenty of time to get it done...but not much time to wait.  

"Ben"  has waited so many years already.   He has been on the wait list, processed for adoption for about 5 years now.   Waiting to be chosen.  Waiting for someone to say "that's my son". 

He's waiting to belong to a family that will love him, help him navigate the teen years, and take pride in the young man he is becoming. 

He is described as a boy with a sweet and gentle spirit.  He is a responsible boy who cleans his room, likes to be helpful, and gets along well with other kids.  He is bright and curious.  He asks a lot of questions and listens intently to the answers.  He enjoys studying and is working on learning English. He likes to play basketball.   He has been in foster care for the last several years and is reportedly adored by his foster grandma and the neighbors.  


When asked, he says he wants a family that will be his family forever.  Like any child, he craves security and stability. Foster-care and institutions can't provide that.

His special need is a repaired bilateral cleft.  That's it. 
His real need is just to be loved, and to be someone's son. 
He needs someone to take a chance on him. 
He has already faced more rejection than any child should ever face.



Doesn't he have a sweet smile? and there's just something about his eyes. 



These are two pictures of him trying out some "baby wearing".   One when he was a little tyke fresh into foster care, and one is more recent.  Doesn't he look like he'd make a good big brother? 

There's something about his boy that just begs to be seen. 

There's something about this boy that has worked it's way into my own heart and I want him to find a family.

  I don't know if it's partly because nearly 14 years ago I  held my own baby son in my arms...and he also had a bilateral cleft lip and palate.  My son was so wanted, "defects" and all, yet I couldn't keep him.


This boy is healthy, but was unwanted....and has yet to be chosen. 
I believe that all that hard stuff can be redeemed. 

Is he your son?
Do you have room for a big brother in your family?


For more information contact

annie.hamlin@lifelinechild.org


  
Soli Deo Gloria,

4/12/14

Welcome Home


I wish I could live two consecutive lives.
I want to jump in, with both feet, into two different pools.
For years now my heart has been split between two countries.

This past trip to Baja reignited the familiar desire, or maybe that "this is home" feeling.  This feeling loses it's force the longer I'm home in Canada...simply because life here is also full, and rewarding, and challenging, 
but life there will always call me.

Like everything else I hand it over to God and let him do as he pleases. 

This year we had the honor of serving in a new (to us) ministry.  We were hopeful but hesitant. 

This past year some close friends of ours, who have lived in Mexico for years, were asked to be in leadership.  It's been exciting to see God working and leading in their lives.  They have been through a lot, and I know not one of those experiences will be wasted...but rather used for God's glory and the good of people He brings into their lives.

It wasn't long into our trip that we realized we really like the way this ministry does things.  

Keep in mind that I am about as cynical as it gets.  We've been burnt by "ministry".  We've witnessed first hand corruption, dishonesty, wastefulness, and rampant dysfunction effectively disguised as "ministry".  
Naive we are not.  
But yet we are hopeful and trust God to work.

We've been made into skeptics over the years.  We know that everything with a "christian" label isn't of God. We know that the label (often self appointed) "pastor" is often synonymous with "lazy lying swindler"....simply because it's accurate.  It's tragic, but we've seen it time and time again. 

This ministry
Welcome Home Outreach 
was like a breath of fresh air.
A breath of fresh air into lungs that had almost forgotten how to breath deeply...
wondering if fresh air even existed. 

I decided to write down a few of the things we really appreciated about this organization.  

One thing I noticed was how smooth and healthy the fairly recent transition into new leadership was.  This is both a testament to the last leader who after many years of serving decided it was time to pass the baton, and to the new leadership who humbly received it.

  Another thing I like is that it's small, and small isn't always bad.  Larger doesn't automatically mean more effective.  They do a lot with what they have.  The ministry takes up only a very modest amount of land, only a few town lots.  It doesn't possess acres and acres of unused prime real estate.  There are only a hand full of staff, who also happen to be Mexican (which is something I like).  There aren't a bunch of staff that exist just to support keeping more staff.  It's not a Christian commune.  The very hardworking, loyal, Jesus loving staff show up each morning and then leave to their homes all around the community.  But yet it's so much more than just a job to them.

  They are efficient.  They run lean.  I really really like that.  Not only is good and wise stewardship extremely important but the ability to do more with less will increase it's chances of survival as donor bases change. They don't exist on the assumption that money will roll in by the truckload.

They are generous.  This shows in how the staff are treated and cared for.  Their needs are met and they aren't taken advantage of.  Generosity is something that is either a part of a ministry's culture or it's not. Sometimes it has very little to do with money, and more to do with genuine hospitality, grace, and a love for people.  They model this generosity in so many ways...to the community, to the children they serve, to the volunteers, and to the staff.  We were certainly on the receiving end of this. You can actually tell a lot about an organization, despite it's boasts, by how it's staff and and long term volunteers are treated.

 They embrace change.  Methods must change simply because the physical needs in this area change.  Baja has changed SO much in just the past several years.   A motto of "we've always done it that way"and  "don't question anything" is a sure fire way to know that a ministry is ineffective and quite likely doing more harm than good.  What was needed here 20 years ago may not be needed now.  What is helpful now, maybe harmful ten years from now.  When something is no longer needed, or no longer working....it's time for change. Many ministries resist change, simply because people generally don't like change.  Methods of serving the poor must change, but the timeless message does not.




They work with other ministries, churches, missionaries, local community centers, and schools.  They don't view others as competition to be feared.   They are generous with other organizations and local community groups.  While we were there we sorted and boxed up hundreds and hundreds of Spanish children's books that had been donated years ago. They were rotting and collecting dust in storage closets.  Instead of hoarding items that aren't needed they were a blessing to dozens of local schools.  Schools that don't have libraries.  They give rather than hoard. 


They build houses for families.  The house in the picture is a house that was being built with the cooperation and funding from a few different sources.  It is being built for the family of a girl who has cerebral palsy, that we've known for years.  It was an honor to get to help work on it.  House building isn't something unique to ministries in the area but I respect how carefully our friends get to know people, and how they seek out genuine needs.  The need for "House building"  in this area is slowly changing, and in my observations will probably need to be changed even more in the future.  It's one of those "grey" areas to me.  A free house can be a very helpful thing...we've been involved with a few different house building projects.  On the other hand masses of "free" houses can also cause some not so great side effects within a culture.  This is one example of the principle that what we do is only as effective as HOW we do it.  
 I respect and appreciate how these guys do what they do. They desire to encourage initiative and not crush this cultures natural ingenuity, independence, and strong work ethic with reckless hand outs. 



Quality leadership.

Leaders will make or break a ministry.  A good leader, in my observation, isn't someone who struts around with confidence in their ability to lead.  It's not always the person with the most impressive resume, or the most college degrees.  It's not even the most naturally gifted with charm and charisma.  All of those things might draw a crowd and pull in some money...but they are only surface deep.  I think the biggest pitfall of leadership is pride and seeking the applause of men. 
 It's toxic to a ministry.

I appreciate the leaders of Welcome Home Outreach/ Casa Hogar Bienvenidos.

We've known Neri for several years and 
 it's been inspiring to see God's redemptive purposes unfold in his life. 
We have been witnesses to his consistent life of faithfulness and integrity. 

 He is newly married and has a testimony you wouldn't believe.  God delights in using the most unlikely among us for his great purpose and to His glory. Neri is a good leader because he is humble.  He knows well the depth of God's extravagant grace and leans hard into God's mercy.  He is genuine.  He desires to grow in wisdom, knowledge and holiness.  He has a quiet gentleness about him, but contains a fiery preachers passion and love for those who are lost and hurting.  





Would you believe that Pastor Neri was once a hard core gangster from Southern California? 
Jesus got a hold of his heart and saved him.
Friends, this is what the Holy Spirit does to a man.
Complete transformation.  
From death to life.

He doesn't glamorize or use his past as a platform to bolster attention or inflate pride, 
it just is.  A testament to God's incredible grace, sovereign purpose, and pursuing love. 

Neri is now a Papa to about 50 kids in the daycare.  
They all love him, and I witnessed how he humbly serves. 


A funny conversation between my husband and Neri begs to be shared.
Mind you this is a  paraphrase since I don't have a stellar memory.

Nathanael: "Hey Neri, you really should change the policy that says you only let cute kids into the daycare.  Clearly you're discriminating against the ugly ones. "

Neri: "Well, we like to resist change at all costs. Our policy against ugly people obviously doesn't cross over into our choices of volunteers.  In fact, we prefer the ugly ones.  

Nathanael: "that's good to know"


I really like people that have a sense of humor and don't take themselves too seriously.

These kids are all ridiculously cute.



I like the daycare. 
As much as I don't prefer kids growing up in daycares back home in Canada...
this is a different situation.

This daycare serves poor families in a very helpful way.  One complicating factor of poverty is a prevalence of single parent families.  It's very common for moms to work long hard days in the fields while their young children are left home alone, or in the care of slightly older siblings (who are often kept out of school for that purpose).  Welcome Home began as an orphanage but eventually changed it's vision and method in order to best serve and preserve intact families.  
I believe that this type of daycare actually prevents some poverty based child abandonment.  

The van leaves early in the morning to pick the children up from their scattered homes. The daycare provides two healthy meals at day, a safe place to play, a stimulating learning environment, and lots of love and nurture from the consistent staff.  At the end of the day they are driven back home to their family.   They take the kindergarten age children to their school in town and pick them up when the school day is over at noon.  They also provide children with any needed uniforms and supplies.  

The staff here get to know and encourage each child's family, and support a variety of other practical, emotional and spiritual needs.

I like a ministry that supports and strengthens struggling families.  









Above is a picture of Neri's wife Brigi teaching a group of children in a nearby community. The adults are having a Bible class inside while the kids are taught outside.  Hearing a chorus of little voices reciting 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and then discussing with their teacher all the things they have to be thankful for was a humbling experience.  They are taught that they have a Savior who loves, rescues, and restores.  They are taught that God hears them when they pray. They are shown in dozens of ways that they matter, and that they have purpose. 


Many ministries will boast about evangelism but we've noticed that once again this has more to do with "how" than "what".  This ministry works in many of the surrounding communities.  Not as tour group hosts parading hordes of white northerners into the same community every week to provide a mission trip experience..but as genuine relationship.

Another thing that I found refreshing and encouraging is a desire for the discipleship that comes with that relationship.  Hit and run "evangelism" isn't the same thing as investing into people's messy lives, giving them the gospel of God's amazing grace, and trusting the fruit of that to the Holy Spirit. 


I've been introducing our friends Amber and Saul on my blog here for several years but you can find her blog here.http://becauseloveisalifestyle.com/ 

I appreciate how open and honest she is about her life and even her struggles.  She doesn't paint a utopic, phony picture of life...or ministry...or parenting.  



She loves people.  Like genuinely, gets her hands dirty, opens her home and heart and life (over and over and over) loving the people that many others wouldn't have the time of day for...regardless of how she's treated in return. 

She visits these communities.  She knows these kids. This Canadian born mom (with her Canadian/Mexican kids in tow) can often be found fearlessly walking through the poorest neighborhoods, sitting inside filthy shacks, and sympathetically listening to the most horrific stories.  She does what she can with what she has.  She lives a life of sacrificial giving. 
She has little money, but she has something of so much more value to give them.  She gives them her time and herself.  She gives Jesus.

Amber and her husband, love kids.  They are also adoptive parents, who last year welcomed two teenagers into their young family.  

Her husband Saul, born and raised in this same Mexican town, is the kind of guy who could get along with and see the best in anyone.  Easy going, compassionate, super hard working and the kind of husband and father who puts his family first.  

They are leaders who are lead by love.  Real sacrificial, lay your heart out bare, used up for the Kingdom of God,  Love.

Ministry leaders can be driven by a lot of things....status, power, money, pride, influence, attention, and fame...but a genuine overflow of  LOVE?  The difference shows.







I like that two of the staff (a married couple) can bring their baby to work with them.  People are treated as individuals and children are seen as a blessing.  "Policies" don't rule over caring about people, and allowing parents to parent.  It may seem small...but I like that.  It speaks volumes.





Our kids were welcomed, embraced, and invited to be a part of things.  That may seem small, but in our experience....well we've never actually experienced that with a ministry down here before.  As a parent, priceless.



The last couple days that we were there Elijah and Cece snuck into the daycare classrooms.  They loved being with all the other kids and the teachers were so welcoming and gracious.  






Amber and I having a visit during lunch time.  Most likely solving the worlds problems, or discussing the finer points of adoption, attachment, and the effects of trauma on children.  
We're nerds that way.


We love Welcome Home's cook.  Her name is Cande and she is as sweet as any person could possibly be.  
After several weeks of hanging out in her kitchen you would think I would have caught her on an "off" day or heard her grumble, or fuss about her task.  I know I would have many "off" days if I was cooking for a crowd two meals every day...and washing all the dishes by hand. I would at least do a little moping now and then.

I loved spending time in this kitchen.  Not only did it smell amazing all the time....her beautiful joy filled spirit was just drew me in.  She'd be embarrassed of me posting pictures of her but I like the picture below.  I happened to catch her singing as she made salad. She was always singing and worshiping as she went through her monotonous, non glamorous, tasks. 



She was ridiculously welcoming and sweet to my kids.  I'm the kind of mom who's always worrying that my kids are getting in the way, or being irritating to people.  It was nice to shed some of my hyper vigilance and just relax.  Every morning she wrapped her arms around Elijah, gave him kisses on the cheek and exclaimed  "mi bebe, me corzaon!" (my baby, my heart).  He tolerated the extra attention because he knew that she would sneak him treats and samples of her cooking.  All my kids adored Cande.  Children's tears have been shed since we left
 "I miss Cande, and I miss her cooking"

Something else I really appreciated about this ministry and this cook (who has been cooking here for years and years) is that they cook really healthy meals for the kids.  She cooks everything from scratch and feeds the kids authentic Mexican foods.   She uses fresh local ingredients, including lots of fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables (which are often donated by local farmers).  She finds ways to use everything, and incorporate as much nutrition into the food as she can.  She even makes her own "aguas" using the fresh raspberries and strawberries donated from nearby farmers.  They waste nothing and they make the most of every item they are given.  Even after feeding a cafeteria full of kids there might be one plate of scraps left over after all the dishes are scraped.  Meal left overs are bagged up and given to hungry people who frequently wander into the ministry.  These things may sound fairly common sense and basic...but it was amazing to witness.  We were used to seeing the complete opposite. 





Each one of the staff impressed me.    They work super hard but not in a forced or oppressive way.  They believe in what they're doing and are passionate about it. 
The atmosphere was relaxed, and grace saturated..but yet intentional and united in it's purpose. 



I like that this ministry has a clear vision, a gospel centered purpose, and that it seeks to operate in an ethical, God glorifying way.  


They value people, and respect the dignity of those they serve.



Those in leadership know the cultures, the needs, and the language.  
They are willing to get their hands dirty to live a lifestyle of love, humility and sacrifice.  It was encouraging to spend time with people who don't take themselves at all seriously...but yet who take God and his word very seriously.  Those working hard on the ground, the staff and leadership, are accountable to both a Mexican board and an American board of directors.  There is accountability and oversight and yet they are given enough freedom to lead and serve without having to live under constant scrutiny or have their hands perpetually tied by people living in a different country. 







In an area that is so filled with complex and desperate needs, it's encouraging to know that there are people there who care and are getting stuff done. 

From what we've witnessed after carefully watching, asking lots of questions, and having lots of long conversations over coffee with those who are working hard and leading this ministry (and being friends with them for years)...
I feel confident in recommending Welcome Home Outreach

This is a big step for this cynical blogger.

This is something I have always hesitated to do....simply because I care a lot about donors and I would hate to naively recommend something only to later discover it's something corrupt at the core or that funds are being squandered.

Obviously there is no perfect ministry...just like there is no perfect church.  It's made up of people and people are messy, complicated sinners.  That obvious truth that ministry will always be challenging, and non-perfect, shouldn't keep us from striving for something that is biblical and ethical.  Jesus is our standard. We will fail, and make mistakes, and stumble...and Grace will stand us back up on our feet and remind us where our real strength lies.



If you are looking for somewhere to plug in, and invest into the lives of at risk kids, this is a great way to be involved.  Not everyone can live among and serve migrant field workers in Mexico...but most people can afford to support people and ministries that do. 

A little goes a long way. 

They also facilitate groups who would like to come down and serve at the ministry, or build a house for a family.  My advice would be to ask ahead of time what projects need to be done, where a group could help out the most, and be open to whatever.  

Check out their website for more information.  It's a little outdated (it's on the to-do list of some very busy people) with it's listing of staff and leadership but it probably provides a clearer overview. 


or join the Facebook group to follow along, and enjoy their sweet pictures.

I linked it here.

Thank you Welcome Home for making us feel right at home.







Soli Deo Gloria,







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