Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Time Is Now

I had a conversation with a friend this week about the tension that exists in using our voices.  Sometimes I feel like I am constantly talking about issues - the orphan crisis, sex trafficking, poverty and disease.  This past week as the situation at the Son of God Orphanage in Haiti unfolded, I know every facebook status of mine and many others, was trying to rally people to sign a petition and make noise so that the orphanage would be closed.  I was thinking about how people scrolling through their facebook home page would sigh as they saw yet one more status of mine about the kids in Haiti.  I bet some (or many) were thinking "Can't she just go back to posting funny videos of her son or talking about the weather?  This is getting annoying."  Believe me, I've had the same response to others.  We so easily grow tired of people "bothering" us with all this depressing stuff.  

How much is too much?  Is there such a thing as too much as we in the Western World sit back sipping our latte's, playing games on our iPads while every two minutes a child is being prepared for a sexual act and we turn a blind eye, not wanting to be bothered?  I think there's a reason God told Isaiah to "Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. 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."

I personally have spent many years being one who "seems eager to know God's ways" but have all the while refused to actually DO anything that reflects the God I know today.  I have filled my head with knowledge while my heart remained closed off and self-consumed.  I have said all the right things in religious crowds while never lifting a finger to actually do the things that I spoke about.  I talked myself into a religious experience where it was all about MY comfort.  MY box that I wanted God to fit into neatly.  I made Him exactly who I wanted Him to be...

A God who gives me everything but costs me nothing.

But the reality is that it cost God EVERYTHING to rescue me.  How can I not give Him EVERYTHING in return, no matter the cost?  Standing up against injustice will cost us.  It will.  There is a price to pay emotionally, physically and spiritually for loving the people God loves enough to fight for them.  You will be disturbed by what you see and read to the point of becoming physically ill and distraught.  You will spend hours of your time praying and crying out to God on behalf of His children who are in horrific circumstances.  You may not be able to walk through a grocery store without feeling a sense of guilt.  You may even feel alone.  I know I do sometimes.  But, it's worth it because God is there. 

I was talking with my friend about the Old Testament prophets...these men carried such an incredible burden.  They carried the very heart of God for His people.  And they were often lonely.  Not very many people wanted to go hang out with the dude who was likely going to tell them that God was displeased with them.  I am sure these men often felt like no one cared about their message (God's message), yet they continued to speak out in obedience to God. They wept over the people and situations in the Old Testament. They saw God's heart for His people and were compelled by God to speak out against injustice and oppression. Often it fell on deaf ears, but sometimes it didn't.  Sometimes these guys would deliver their message and entire nations would change their ways.  Can you imagine? 

What if God wants to use OUR voices to create that kind of change in our families, in our communities, in our nation and in our world?  What might have happened if no one had raised their voices to speak out against the injustice the children at Son of God Orphanage in Haiti were suffering?  Those kids likely would have continued to be sold, abused and starved to death.  It took ONE WEEK of all of us raising awareness of the situation for the orphanage to be closed and the children removed.  Those kids are going to have the opportunity for health and wholeness now that they never would have had if we had not spoken up together.

When I think of all the people in the world who need our compassion, our prayer and our action I don't know how we can afford NOT to engage.  WE are the very people God was talking to in Isaiah 58.  WE have chased after a watered down religion long enough, honoring God with our mouths while our hearts are far from Him, unwilling to be the people He created us to be because of the cost.  The time has come to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us", as Hebrews 12:1 says. 

The time is NOW to get on our knees and beg God to instill in us His heart for the people in this world who are suffering.  The time is NOW for us to willingly get dirty in the mess of this world, just like God did for us.  The time is NOW for us to cast aside our comfort and complacency and engage in what God is already doing on this earth.  If we want to live a life of joy and fullness, then we will have to lay our lives down again and again.  God's call to abundant life has never been about the abundance of our things or our comfort.  It has always been an abundance that is rooted in sacrifice and selflessness which springs out of His love for us. 

God, rescue us from our prisons of saftey and self. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Use Your Voice

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” 
- Proverbs 31:8-9

Right now miles and miles away from us in Haiti there is an orphanage where about 125 children have been sent in the recent past to be cared for, fed, educated and loved. I know of this orphanage personally because Children's HopeChest was at one time connected to it.  A pastor and his family ran the "Son of God" orphanage and collected money for food and medical care for the children. It has recently come to light after a fifteen month investigation that the pastor who ran this orphanage was trafficking the children.  The children were never receiving food, education,  medical care or love.  As it turns out, they have been living in hell.  They have been and are being abused, starved, burned, neglected and trafficked. My stomach churns even typing those words.  We can't begin to know the horror these children have faced and are facing at this very moment. 

Here are some of the facts that have surfaced (much of this is taken from my friend Tom Davis' blog post):

- Children have been and are currently being trafficked from the Son of God Orphanage. The evidence on human trafficking leads back to the Son of God orphanage. The orphanage director was imprisoned in July as part of a police-led operation that resulted in his conviction of trafficking a child.

- Haitian investigators have told our team the evidence suggests organ harvesting and trafficking as well.

-As recently as October 10, American volunteers took children with late-stage starvation out of the orphanage and to local doctors. Without this intervention, the doctors confirmed the children could have died of starvation.

- After boldly bringing these facts to the attention of government officials, American citizens received death threats from those associated with the current orphanage leadership–documented by the Haitian police.

- Numerous photos show extreme physical abuse and neglect. U.S. and Haitian doctors have documented cases of severe abuse and neglect including burns and broken bones. (The following pictures are children at this orphanage and come from a legitimate source on the ground in Haiti who is fighting for these kids.  I share them with you to motivate you to do something on their behalf). 

Obvious Neglect

Burns around the mouth

13 Day Old Burn

Where once there were 125 children, there are now just over 75 children left.  They are disappearing.  These children are being trafficked and there is evidence of organ harvesting. 

If ever there was a time to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, it is NOW - as in this very minute. This trafficking is REAL, it is documented, and it must be stopped. Every moment is precious.

We need your help to spread this news to the CNN Freedom Project by signing our petition today. We are petitioning CNN to bring their international media voice and passion for ending slavery into the Son of God Orphanage. Please urge CNN to expose the corruption within the Haitian government, and allow international organizations to secure the children from the child traffickers who are now controlling the orphanage.

This orphanage must be shut down. Other orphanages are ready and willing to take these children. Please urge CNN to cover this story and work to close this orphanage and re-locate the children immediately.  We need coordinated, concerted pressure. We believe the best chance these children have is through a focused effort to bring international media and political attention to their abuse, and neglect. Children in Haiti at this orphanage are being trafficked. They are being abused, burned, and starved. We have other orphanages ready to take these children, but need to bring MORE focused attention to this matter so that official action will be taken now. Take time to stop this. Sign the petition, and get everyone you know to do the same.


Please, please use the voice that God gave you to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.  These children are innocent victims who literally need rescued.  In ADDITION to signing the petition (we need 10,000 signatures!) please flood all available outlets. 

You can:

- Post to Facebook and urge your friends to sign the petition.  

- If you use Twitter, tweet this right now, using hashtags #cnnfreedom, #endslavery, and #not_for_sale

- Call your elected officials and forward them this article. We can provide the file of evidence DIRECTLY to their office for further investigation.

- Re-post on your blog

Thank you, friends.  I will keep you posted as things unfold.  In the meantime we pray without ceasing for rescue for these children.

UPDATE: As of 10/18 we have over 7,000 signatures on our original petition to CNN and have had three national news agencies say they are looking into the story.  There are contacts being made with the government - there is MOVEMENT on behalf of these kids as of today!  We are starting a follow up petition to the President of Haiti to close the orphanage down.  We have been told that will feature our petition to the President on their front page, which receives heavy traffick, if we can get enough signatures on it.  Your voices are bringing this atrocity to light.  We must continue to apply pressure.  Please share the link below with your friends and ask them to do the same.  It's two minutes out of your day.  Your two minutes for a child's health and rescue...not a bad use of time.


Friday, October 7, 2011

What's in Your Hand?

After my first trip to Africa - Uganda, to be exact - I came home with tons to process.  It was my first encounter with extreme poverty face to face and I felt like it ripped open my insides.  Seriously - like I was raw and bleeding.  I'll never forget riding in the bus on a long, dirt road and passing a little boy...he couldn't have been more than three.  He was walking all by himself barefoot with not another person in sight for as far as I could see.  He was completely alone.  If we saw that scene unfold in America, we'd be slamming on our brakes and bringing that child with us.  There would be none of this leaving him on the street by himself business.  But in Uganda, we drove on by.  If we had stopped for every child who was walking alone we'd never have made it down the road. It is life there.

I've had several people who have traveled and seen this sort of thing personally, ask me how to cope with their life here in America after witnessing such pain in other places.  I'd like to say it gets easier with every trip.  For me it doesn't get easier, but it has become different.  I remember after my first two trips to Africa coming home and feeling this insane tension inside of me.  How do I go back to my air conditioned home with my full refrigerator, cable television and every single comfort I could possibly want? How do I turn on one of the 8 faucets in my house and have immediate access to clean water when people risk their very lives walking miles and miles a day to find it?  How do I open my closet and decide which of my 12 pairs of shoes I should put on for the day when so many go barefoot and have jiggers burrowing up into their feet? How is it I can find myself complaining about my job when literally millions would give anything for the chance to work like I do?  As I lay in the comfort of my down blankets and soft mattress at night, how can I not help but think of the children who lay their heads down on the dirt - left alone.

I am talking about TENSION in the truest sense of the word.  Let's be honest.  We abhor tension.  We hate anything that causes us discomfort.  And when I came back from Uganda I just wanted to be rid of it. I wanted to figure out how to make it go away and stay away.  I didn't want to have the internal struggle about how much I had and how little they did.  I didn't want to feel guilty for getting Starbucks or going to the movies.  As much as I know God was trying to break my heart and help me embrace the poor and the orphaned, there was a very real part of me that just wanted their faces to disappear from my memory.  I didn't really know how to handle all the tension and inner turmoil I felt, and to be frank, I still don't.  But this last trip to Ethiopia helped me realize some things. 

I hope that what I'm learning on this journey might help some of you who feel the same way I do - torn. I know all of our paths and journeys are different, but at their core they are the same because God is always the same.  His heart will always beat for the marginalized and the oppressed.  So, that means our hearts should always beat for them too.  And in that, we are the same.  We are responsible.  We are called to do something.

I think that what I'm learning now is that as much as I want to sprint the opposite direction of this tension, there is some tension that is good - God given, even.  Rather than fight it, ignore it, choke on it or hate it - I am learning to embrace it.  The tension keeps the realities that our brothers and sisters all over the world face real for me.  It keeps them always before me.  I almost would liken this kind of tension to a burden.  There are different kinds of burdens.  There are the heavy kind that we feel we might collapse under, then there are the burdens that are almost like extensions of ourselves.  They inhabit our hearts and thoughts...they can actually bring us joy because they are rooted in love.  There was a period of time where I thought I might collapse under the knowledge of how people were living.  I felt like I was suffocating in my own life - held captive by the pictures of distended bellies, gaping wounds, empty eyes and crying children. I came through that rather heavy season of my life by both accepting the things that God was teaching me and learning that I wasn't helpless to make a difference.

But this other kind of tension doesn't feel so heavy.  In fact, it even feels hopeful.   I have actually found myself praying over the past few weeks that God wouldn't take this tension away.  It's what keeps me compassionate, engaged and on my knees in prayer.  I have seen the heartbreak and the oppression up close- I know the wretched marks it leaves on people.  But I have also seen unspeakable hope spring up in places that you just don't expect it to.  And that is what we hold onto - HOPE.  Some days hope comes easy, and others we have to tenaciously fight for it.  But it is always there.  It doesn't go away.  Part of what gives us hope is discovering our purpose.  If we are called to care for the poor, the orphan and the widow (which we ARE!), then discovering how God wants us to be engaged in that is a critical step in coming to some sense of peace within ourselves.  The other helpful (and quite obvious!) realization is that I cannot fix all the brokenness on my own. I could spend a lifetime trying but it would never happen.  That's God's job.  I get to participate, but I, by myself, am not the answer. My job is to love and obey wherever, whenever, however God asks me to.

For those of us who believe in God, we know that this world is not our home.  We live in the constant tension of that.  Our hearts ache for God's complete and full reign here on earth because only then will there be no suffering and pain.  Only then will our tension vanish before our eyes.  But we are to bring heaven to earth now.  Remember how Jesus prayed a little prayer where he said "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"? We do not sit here aimlessly and pine away for the future.  We bring the reality of God's love, hope and restoration to the suffering and marginalized NOW.  Does the act of truly seeing the needs of this world turn our stomachs?  Does it cause us to question the way we live our lives in pursuit of the American dream? Does it cost us to enter into someone else's pain?  Might we be asked to give up everything we know? Is there any peace or joy in the process of having our hearts torn open and our lives turned upside down? Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!!

God hasn't created us to live sad, miserable, broken lives.  He has created us for abundant life in Him.  While our engagement in caring for the poor might cause our world to be shaken up and our hearts to ache and be burdened - there is tremendous joy in this journey of loving others.  When we look at Jesus' life, we see him weeping over the pain of others and literally carrying the weight of the world's sin on his shoulders.  But he also got to see the lame walk, the the blind see, the sick healed.  These things must have filled Jesus with pleasure.  You don't watch someone who has never even stood up, pick up their mat and run and leap for joy without feeling an incredible sense of delight!  And so, we hold both the pain of those who suffer and the joy of seeing lives transformed in both hands.  If we never knew pain, we would never know joy. 

Some days are HARD.  I was face down on my floor two days ago weeping (like ugly snot know the one) and praying for people on the other side of the world who face such extreme hardship.  I thought my heart would explode from the weight of it.  Then there are days where you get news that catapults you to the heights of joy because a prayer was answered or you got to see transformation in the life of someone in need - you got to experience the kingdom brought to earth.

So really, coping is embracing all that God has for us - the good, the hard, the beautiful, the ugly, the seemingly impossible.  It is by Him and through Him that all things hold together.  We couldn't hold anything together if we wanted to.  We just have to approach God with willing hearts and open hands for whatever it is that He wants to give us.  The tension that may come from that is GOOD, a blessing really. I might even go so far to say that if we aren't experiencing this kind of tension as we walk out our love for God on this earth, then maybe we're missing something.

As to exactly what your part is to play in God's purposes here on earth...that's for you to find out. :) And in my opinion, finding out is half the fun!  I'll leave you with some wise words from Norma Cook...

We read in the Bible that Moses had been tending sheep out in the desert when God called him to lead a huge flock of people on a perilous journey to the Promised Land. Of course, Moses felt inadequate, and told God so! God asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?” “A rod”, Moses replied—just a simple tool of the trade for a sheep herder. Then God showed Moses that even simple tools and simple people can be used in mighty ways when yielded to an Almighty God.  Maybe God is showing you a need that you feel inadequate to meet. Your resources are insufficient and your skills are lacking. God couldn’t possibly use someone like you…could He?

2 Corinthians 8:12 tells us: 'If there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a person has, not what he doesn’t have.' So…what is that in your hand? A pen, a phone, or car keys? A hammer, a wrench, or a shovel? A mixing bowl, knitting needles, or a musical instrument? When offered to God in service to others, it can accomplish a great purpose. It all starts with a tender heart and willing hands—yours and mine. And together, we’ll see God change this world - one person at a time.

So, what's in your hand?? 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Extracting the Precious from the Worthless

Etanaite and her son

1. a person who is rejected or cast out, unwanted, not accepted
2. rejected matter; garbage

She lives in a community already rejected by the world around it. Yet, within Korah she has been tossed aside herself. It's a curious thing, how people who are outcasts themselves can put that label even more brutally on one of their own. She did nothing to cause this, nothing to deserve being shunned by her own community.

She was raped. Just before turning 17.

She now has a son just one year old as a result of that rape.

And while she may be labeled an outcast, she has a name - Etanaite. And behind her name is a beautiful human being, both inside and out.  If people would only take the time to see.

My friends Yemamu and Sisay did take the time to see.  Because of that, we were welcomed into Etanaite's home to hear her story firsthand.  

We stepped into her one room house to find her little brother and her son playing by the bench.

The room couldn't have been more than 6x8. We asked how many people lived in the room.  There were 7 of them.  Etanaite's mother, Etanaite and her baby, and Etanaite's four siblings.  

They all slept on this bed or on the floor...

There used to be eight of them in this small room, until about 6 months ago when her father died.  He was blind and would go into the city to beg on the streets. The money he brought home would feed them on some days.  After his death, Etanaite's mother, Zenebe, went to the garbage dump to scavenge for food and materials to sell.  The dump is where she found the bottle her grandson is holding below. Dirty doesn't begin to describe it.

Zenebe and her grandson

After Etanaite was raped and gave birth to her son, she found work outside the city in the countryside making fabric.  She made 450birr ($26)a month.  Half of that money went to pay the rent for their one room house and the other half went to pay for her transportation to work.  There was no money for food other than what her father brought in from begging.  When he died, the family started struggling even more. Zenebe started going to the dump with her grandson on her back to find food.
What heightens the tragedy of this situation for me is that this family is alone.  Because of the stigma associated with rape and with giving birth out of wedlock, they are shut out. They live in a community that they are not welcomed in.  As we listened to Etanaite tell her story, tears slid down her face.  Now, at the age of 18, she knows she has no prospects for marriage because of a horror that was perpetrated against her.  Along with mourning the loss of her father, she mourns the loss of her future. Or at least she did, until Love walked through the doorway of her house in the form of Yemamu and Sisay. Jeremiah 29:11 says that God has plans for Etanaite.  Plans to prosper her and to give her a hope and a future. And that is exactly what is happening.
Can you even imagine what Etanaite must have thought as Yemamu and Sisay came into her home and asked how their family was?  When was the last time anyone had asked that simple question of her? But they went further than just talk.  They registered her siblings in their feeding program to help alleviate some of the financial stress on the the family.  And they then proceeded to offer Etanaite a job at the Center helping to cook and clean, which she joyfully accepted.  They pay her twice what she was making at her job outside the city and she now just has to walk for two minutes to work, allowing her to use her transportation money for something else.  Etanaite's brother had been struggling and sleeping at the garbage dump without coming home since their father's death, but now that he is enrolled in the feeding program he has changed.  She says he comes home every day and is like a different person.  Etanaite said that they have so much hope now.

We had bought baby bottles, blankets and a new dress for Zenebe, which we gave to her on our last day in Ethiopia. Yemamu and Sisay had brought two mattresses from their own home to give them so that the children would not have to sleep on the dirty, hard floor. Etanaite's tears flowed freely upon receiving the gifts.  I asked Yemamu why she was crying and he said it was because she was very, very happy.  She said no one had ever treated them this way and cared for them like this.  She said that she thanked God for the new life they could start to make for themselves because of the feeding program and her new job.
What I really think she was thanking God for was that someone had stopped to see their pain and enter into it with them.  Someone had cared.  There's a little verse tucked away in Jeremiah 15 that says "And if you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become My spokesman". That's exactly what Yemamu & Sisay have done.  They have taken time to see that which is precious hidden away in the seemingly worthless, and they have called it out.  By their love and care for Etanaite she is seeing that she is NOT an outcast to the One that really matters - to the One who knit her together and knows the number of hairs on her head.  She is a daughter of the King and is valuable and precious in His eyes. 
And isn't this every one of our stories, really?  Hasn't God taken our broken, messed up lives and transformed them into something beautiful and precious? Hasn't He rescued us from the label of outcast and given us an identity as His own children, despite our history? Hasn't He offered us hope?

There are Etanaite's all around us...people who have been rejected and labeled.  Will we make the choice like Yemamu did to seek them out? Will we reach out in compassion and kindness?  Will our actions on their behalf prove our words to them? Will we reflect the heart of God in extracting the precious from the worthless?

"For God is a God of the humble, the miserable, the troubled, the oppressed, the despairing, and those who have become totally nothing. He lifts the lowly, feeds the hungry, heals the blind, comforts the miserable and troubled.  For He is the almighty Creator who makes everything from nothing." - Luther