It’s OK to Say “No” to Someone in Need.

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We live in a broken world. Unless you’re living in a cave, it’s impossible not to be aware of people all around us struggling with difficulties in life. We see suffering in the news from countries far away, we read about war and injustice in so many places. If we haven’t become too calloused, we see struggling people in our towns, in our churches, and maybe even in our own homes. It can be overwhelming. We almost have to maintain a certain level of denial, or we would curl up into a ball to give up hope. BUT, sometimes, with God’s guidance, we can maintain hope and make a difference in someone’s life. We CAN make a difference. Hang on to that. Seek God’s will with who you should help.

In my line of work, caring for orphaned and abandoned children, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the staggering numbers of children in need. Depending on how you define “orphan,” there are around 150 million orphaned or abandoned children worldwide. If the international numbers aren’t discouraging enough, even the numbers of a single city can be overwhelming. In Tijuana, the city closest to where I work, the figure that’s used is roughly 5,000 children living on the streets. You can’t save everyone, no one can.

Yesterday I was contacted about a single mom with four kids. She will likely die in the next few months from an ongoing battle with cancer. There is no extended family and dad abandoned the family long ago. Someone helping her reached out to us about taking her four children into our home. The details are still being worked out, and we’re doing what we can to help. The four siblings will probably wind up moving into our home at some point. It’s making the best of a heartbreaking situation. BUT, for every child we’re able to help, there are 60, 80, 100 children that we need to turn away. The team here has to make Solomon like decisions every day: Who do you help? And who do you turn away? You can’t save everyone.

Anyone working full-time (or even part-time) in a service focused ministry needs to make hard decisions every day. For every homeless individual you serve, there are 20 more people outside the door. For every family a food bank helps with a box of groceries, there are 30 more families needing assistance. For every child rescued, there are dozens more in danger on the streets.

If we try to help everyone in our sphere of influence, we might wind up helping no one. I work with orphanages from many different countries. I’ve found that just like people, orphanages tend to land into personality types. One type of orphanage that I understand, but dread walking into, is what I call the “crazy cat lady orphanage.” Occasionally an orphanage is run by someone who is so overwhelmed by the hurting children around them that they take in any child in need. That might sound very noble: “I never turn away a child in need,” but it sets up a horrible situation. If the home has space, resources, and staffing to do a good job for 30 children, it can be a beautiful thing. If that same home, with the same resources, grows to 50, 70, 90 children it can be horrible. Lack of food, hygiene, and general attention can make some orphanages a filthy, lice and rat infested nightmare. Last year, one home I visited staggered me, my first thought was “these children would be better off on the streets.” I really liked the director. I think her heart truly was to help the kids, but she was so overwhelmed she became ineffective in reaching her end goal. Where do we find the balance?

There’s a topic that most people don’t talk about. Jesus, in the three years that he minstered on this earth, didn’t help everyone. For every cripple he healed there were hundreds he didn’t. For every injustice he confronted there were dozens he walked past. For every person He taught, there were thousands that never heard Him speak. Jesus fed the 5,000, but there were many others that went hungry. No one would call Jesus a failure, He found a balance and did the will of his Father. That’s all He was required to do, that’s all any of us are called to do. Jesus spent a tremendous amount of time in prayer, He spent time alone, and then went and did what He was called to do. It’s a pretty good model, one more of us should follow.

Whether we realize it or not, we all make decisions every day about who we can help, and who we turn our back on. How many homeless people do we walk past on the way to Starbucks? Are there people in our church, school, or office that just need someone to listen to them? It’s ok to say “no” to someone in need IF our hearts are open and sensitive to serving those in need when we are called. We need to seek to understand God’s will. We need to be seeking His eyes and heart for the suffering around us, and the wisdom to represent Him well.

If you’ve become overwhelmed with the challenges and suffering around you, and don’t help others because you can’t save everyone, please step out and help just one person this week. It will matter greatly to them, and your life will be better for walking in the example of Jesus. If you’re the one overworking, killing yourself trying to save everyone, please have some grace for yourself and take a break. You can also walk in the example of Jesus: say “no” to someone, say yes to helping the ones God is calling you to help, and in all things: seek the Father’s will.

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Who Will Guide You Into Missions?

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We all need people in our lives to guide us, to teach us, to keep us from making a mess of things. Without a guide, we stumble along and we MIGHT find our way to whatever goal we’re seeking, but the odds are against us. We need someone to shine the light on our path and show us what to do, and just as important, what to avoid.

In 1953 Sir Edmond Hillary was just a man from New Zealand with a very ambitious goal. He wanted to be the first to climb Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. He was in great shape, he was bright, he had deep funding, but he didn’t have what it would ultimately take to climb that mountain. He needed a guide. He needed someone who knew the area, the way around the obstacles, what to watch out for. He needed someone with on-the-ground experience with all the pitfalls and shortcuts. He found that guide in a local sherpa named Tenzing Norgay. Working together, Sir Edmond and Tenzing accomplished what no one had done before; they climbed that mountain. What is your missions “mountain?” What kind of guide do you need to reach your mountain top?

You might already have a great relationship with an organization, missionary, or pastor in whatever country you’re traveling to. If you feel good about who you’re serving alongside, fantastic, stay with them. Finding a stable, trustworthy ministry partner is rarer than you might think. Continue to work with them, back them, and continue to build that relationship. But, if you’re just starting out, or want to look around at other options for short-term missions, here are a few things to think about.

You need someone to guide you into a productive short-term missions trip where your team has a real impact, and your team has a deep, real, life changing experience. Ministry is all about the relationships. You need to find someone, or some organization, in a healthy place that you feel good about. Someone you can build a relationship with. Like any relationship, nothing is perfect, but there are signs when it’s the right connection. You make judgments like this all the time with friends, church involvement, when finding a spouse, etc.

The following are not in any order; it’s not a complete list, OR are all qualities required to do a good job. These are just some things to consider.

Is the hosting ministry bearing fruit? This can be hard to determine without building a relationship first, but it’s a basic sign of good spiritual health. Are they just surviving, or are they growing? Are people drawn to their ministry, or do people leave and not come back? Honestly, your team probably won’t make a significant impact on your own in a few days. But if you’re backing, and building up, a healthy established ministry, you will help them to continue the work long after you’re gone.

Are they building THE Kingdom or their kingdom? If any ministry is healthy, it’s working together with others in the community and seeking ways to reach beyond their walls to serve others. Does your host organization have good working relationships with other ministries in the area? Are they excited about sending groups out to serve in the community or with other ministries? Or do they have the groups they host paint the same wall over and over again as long as it’s their wall? These sound like some fundamental issues but, as in a healthy church, a healthy missions hosting team is looking to build up anyone doing God’s work, not just their own ministry. We should all be rooting for other’s success in ministry. It’s not a competition, and we really do all serve the same boss.

Do they have good “customer service?” I know this sounds odd, but a good indication of how they’ll host you is how they respond to emails. If it seems like getting information from them to help you along is a battle, odds are it will be the same when you’re standing in front of them. A professionally run ministry is, sadly, kind of rare. Good communication is the basic building block of all relationships; it needs to happen in healthy ministry also. That being said, please have some grace for those serving, most people serving in missions are overworked and exhausted. Emails can slip by, but it is something to take note of.

The BIG question to ask your self is: Why are they hosting us? The motivation to receive and host groups can have MANY different answers, and that’s OK. Mixed motivations are the norm in any situation. Almost nothing is 100%. Do they want to help lead you in your vision to serve? Do they want you to partner with them in what they see God doing? Do they want this trip to be life changing and meaningful for your team? There is also the question that nobody talks about: Do they host groups ONLY for the money and as a way to build their financial support? There is nothing wrong with having groups support the ministry, it’s part of the deal and expected, but it shouldn’t be the priority when a group is being hosted. A pastor wants to lead his flock and minister to their needs; he still needs to pay the bills. If a pastor’s only motivation is financial, it’s a problem. We all have mixed motivations, but with hosting organizations, as in church, the priorities are important. This relationship you want to build goes both ways, examining expectations and motivations are important in any relationship.

No one is perfect. No ministry, missionary, or church is perfect. But we need to come along healthy people to guide us. None of us can do it on our own, none of us can climb that mountain without our sherpa. Go and find your Tenzing Norgay and let him help you climb your mountain.

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“Do No Harm” in Short-Term Missions

pexels-photo-209235With the flooding in Texas right now many people are jumping up to do what they can. They’re reacting to the horrible images we’ve all seen by heading out to help, this is a great thing. I truly respect anyone willing to step out of their own lives to help others in need, we all need to grow in this, but we need to do it in a mature and wise manner. None of us wants to add to an already difficult, complicated situation.

As an important step in becoming a doctor, medical students must take the Hippocratic Oath. One of the basics of that oath is “first, do no harm” or “primum non nocere,” They need to treat their patient in a way that does not harm them. They can’t experiment, or rush in to “heal” them, if they don’t know that what they’re doing will be beneficial. It might be a good idea for anyone going into short term missions, or serving in an extreme situation, to take this same oath. So often, we rush in with well-meaning intentions but wind up making the situation worse than it already is.

There is an endless list of examples of well-meaning plans that went sidewise once they were put into action. Unintended consequences can have effects way beyond what most people would even consider. There’s a story of how cities across the north east US changed the traffic lights to LED technology. LED lights are cheaper to operate, they last a VERY long time, what could go wrong? Well, LED lights don’t heat up. Once the snows hit, the traffic lights would fill with snow and without the heat from the old-school lights it would just sit there blocking the signals. People had to go around with brooms on long sticks to knock the snow out of the traffic lights. No one saw this coming; no one realized the unintended consequence of this well-intended action.

Often, at first glance, a missions idea to “help” might sound like an excellent idea and an act of generosity. The results of our actions might ripple out in ways we might have never considered.

I know of one local church in our town that hosts a lot of groups. Out of an abundance of hospitality, the pastor feels he needs to offer the visiting leaders the pulpit on Sunday. What winds up happening is the church might go several weeks without hearing their own pastor teach. They hear from a line of well meaning people who they don’t know, in a language that needs to be translated. The visiting pastors don’t know the needs of the congregation or where they are spiritually. These visiting pastors mean well but hold the church back. Unintended consequences.

Here at our orphanage, we’ve had well-meaning people visit and pass out loose change to our kids. They think they’re blessing the kids when they see them light up at receiving this money. Well, if you were visiting a family in the US would you just randomly pass out cash to their kids? It’s just weird. Also, by groups doing this, it teaches our kids to beg or manipulate guests in our home. Before they came to us, many of our children were begging to survive. We try VERY hard to teach our kids how to work for extras in life and not to beg. By people kindly passing out quarters, they’re working directly against some of our goals here with the children in our care.

I’ve seen very well-meaning groups come into a community, find a local pastor, and offer to build a church building from the ground up. On the surface, it might sound great. In a bigger picture, fully funding a church build usually sets up an unhealthy dynamic. Does that Church congregation have emotional ownership of their church if they have no skin in the game? Are they learning to share and give to the church if they think their “widows mite” isn’t needed? It’s incredibly healthy when a congregation comes together to work towards a common goal. I’m not saying we shouldn’t support and help churches in the missions field, but by doing everything for them, we’re not allowing them to grow in a normal healthy fashion.

So how do you go on a missions trip and not do more harm than good? The best way to move forward with any missions trip is to prayerfully consider our impact, both positive and negative, in any community we’re going to serve. Along with prayer, one of the most important things we can do is partner with, and listen to, an on the ground ministry already serving long-term in that area. These are the people who’s ministries are either blessed by your visit, or are left to clean up the rubble. Organizations hosting groups in Mexico, Haiti, or any country in Africa have seen and worked with a lot of groups. They know what works, what doesn’t work, and how to leverage the skills and resources you want to provide. Let them guide you into a productive, helpful trip for all involved.

Here is one example of how subtly shifting a project will bring it from harmful to beneficial. We have teams that want to do food distribution for families in poorer areas. They might hit Walmart in a nearby city, buy lots of groceries in bulk, and bag them up for distribution. Yes, they are providing food and a blessing for families in the community. But what are they doing to the local mini-marts and farmers markets who are losing sales? Most small stores are barely staying open with what little sales they have in poorer areas. The result of this short-term blessing might be people in the community losing jobs. If that same group buys locally, they might pay a little more for the groceries, but along with blessing the families in need they would be pouring money into the local community and help to keep businesses and jobs moving forward.

With subtle, wise shifting, our efforts can have the desired positive impact that we want to bring. Maybe instead of preaching at a local church, ask to participate and listen to what the local pastor is teaching that week. Maybe instead of passing out loose change to kids in an orphanage, we can find ways to bless the over-worked staff who most people ignore. Whether it’s food or construction materials, maybe we should buy locally whenever possible. Maybe for every person on our team pouring that concrete slab, we commit to hiring a local construction worker to help for the day.

We’re called to serve, and I believe short term missions can and does change lives for all those involved. Go, serve, give, but please: do no harm.

 

Embrace the Mess that is Short-Term Missions

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Most people are a complicated jumble of conflicting priorities, values, and reactions. Anyone who has worked with a homeless outreach, done marriage counseling, or worked with teenagers will tell you that the vast majority of people are messy. In a perfect world, things wouldn’t be so difficult. It’s not a perfect world. Not even close. Until we embrace the “messy,” ministry will be an unending exercise in frustration.

On a few occasions, I’ve had the incredible privilege of walking a couple through premarital counseling. Along with the standard bits of wisdom, one of the first things I tell them is not to worry about the wedding itself. The wedding is just a three-hour party. Just as no marriage is perfect, no wedding is perfect. The cake will fall over, the band won’t show up, crazy Aunt Bertha will show up drunk. Invariably more than a few things will go wrong. Weddings are a lot like life, if you expect them to be perfect, then you’re going to be disappointed. We’re better off embracing the messy and flowing with it.

For some reason, many people who organize short term missions, like people who plan weddings, set some fairly unrealistic expectations for what they want to happen. It’s good to work for the best, to have a quality and impactful trip. But more often than not when we go to serve others, it doesn’t always work out the way we planned. Managing our expectations is important. We have a simple choice: We can become frustrated with the difficulties, or we can flow with it and enjoy the mess. We need to realize that God sees a much bigger picture and ultimately very little of what goes on is in our control anyway. Sometimes we’re the mess.

Recently our ministry here in Baja was presented with a special opportunity to serve a local need. A family with three children were living in a small camping trailer with a small shed built next to it. Unfortunately, a small fire turned into a large fire and, although they got out safely, the family lost everything they owned. They are not believers; we saw this as an outstanding opportunity to demonstrate God’s love.

As a side ministry here, we coordinate home construction for needy families in our community. We normally spend months planning a home-build, partnering with groups from the US who help with both funding and labor. The need of this particular family was immediate so we couldn’t follow through with our normal system. We saw it as a wonderful chance for several ministries in our valley to work together to bless this family. At a hastily called meeting with various local ministry leaders, people brought what they could to the table to help this family. One ministry was able to help with some funding, one had some extra doors and windows, several helped with labor. It was inspiring to see everybody step up to help and how the odd mix of ministries worked together. In less than two weeks we were able to build this family a cute little house that was nicer than what had burned down. The body of Christ was working smoothly together to serve those in need. So what could go wrong? Remember, people are messy.

As the teams were finishing as much work on the house as we had resources for, the family realized it wasn’t going to be as nice as they expected. No, we weren’t going to be able to finish out the shower. No, we weren’t going to be able to complete the interior paint or install the doorknobs. The family was given a home that was nicer than what they had before and their reaction was not one of thanksgiving. They were going to complain and push for more. Not exactly the response we expected or wanted. Very messy.

There is a very long history of ministry not turning out the way it’s expected to. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus heals the ten lepers and only one returns to give thanks and glory to God. Jesus knew that was going to happen, we’re not that bright.

The point of all this is that God almost never guarantees the outcome we are expecting or working towards. That’s not the plan. God calls us to go and do the will of our Father and represent Him well. Being pleasing to God is more than enough. People very likely won’t appreciate our efforts; they might not say “thank you.” The “right number” of people might not come forward at an outreach, the family we build a house for might not be happy with our work. If that bothers us too much we might need to examine our motivation: Are we doing this for the approval of men or of God? If we’re doing it for the approval of men, maybe we’re the ones bringing the mess to the party.

In missions, as in life, God sees a much bigger panorama. In looking back at the house we built that wasn’t appreciated, I can see how God used everything for his purposes. We were called to serve, so we served, that should be plenty. We didn’t receive thanks from the family, but we do believe God was pleased. It also lead to some great discussions: How often does God pour out His blessings on us only to have us reject them, complain, or ask for more?

Go and serve, but always remember who you are truly serving. Embrace and enjoy the messiness.

For information on our home builds, please see: Home building program

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Find People Who Inspire

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There is no greater influence in our lives than the people we surround ourselves with and those we encounter who inspire us. We spend so much time following social media, or seeing how much stuff we’ve accumulated, like cats chasing after a laser that is bright and shiny but means nothing. Ultimately, what matters are the relationships in our lives. We need to make sure that we have quality relationships with people who inspire us to reach for greatness in all we attempt.

A few years back I was on a small team putting together the curriculum for a 30-day missions training program. We were assembling themes, speakers, and activities for a group of fifteen or so college students joining us for the program. Someone on the planning team made a comment that stuck with me: “The topics are important, but what the students will remember are the inspirational people they get to spend time with.” We all have (I hope) people beyond our own families that have influenced our lives. It might be a teacher, a coach, a boss, or just someone we encountered that inspired us to be a better version of ourselves. We should seek out people that challenge us to be better.

I’ve made many stupendously bad decisions in my life. When I was in my early 20s, I made one correct decision that had an enormous, positive impact on my life. I made a conscious decision to surround myself with people who were better than I was. People who were dedicated to God, people who were going somewhere with their lives, people who just seemed to have a clue. It’s an old saying but it still holds true: “We become the five people we hang out with.” If we spend time with people that eat right and exercise, we will start to become healthier. If we spend time with people who are seeking God and focused on their walk with Him, we will become better Christians. If we spend time with people with no direction in their lives, we won’t go anywhere. You get the idea. Thirty years later I’m still friends with several of those quality guys I chose to allow to impact my life. We still influence each other and keep each other accountable. They are all dedicated to their families, to God, and to seeing His kingdom expanded. I’m better today because of those men in my life. Who we surround ourselves with has a huge impact on our growth and who we become as people.

Obviously, if we look for them, we can find people who inspire us and provide great examples in many different areas. I’m not entirely sure why, but the dynamic of traveling on short-term missions trips seems to create those opportunities to be inspired by others. Once we leave our home country, it’s easier to spend time with people who’ve experienced a defining moment that changed their lives. They’ve had that calling or experience that caused them to work for something bigger than themselves. Missionaries, nurses, doctors, construction workers, people from wide ranging backgrounds who’ve decided to dedicate a period of their lives to the neediest and the most hurting.

I want to tell you about “Dave in the canyon.” In 2009 Dave was just another normal middle aged man from northern California. He had no ministry training, had never worked full time with a ministry; he was just an average guy who took a chance on a short-term missions trip. I don’t think Dave was expecting a whole lot when he signed up. He met some people in Baja Mexico serving the poorest of the poor in the dump area of Tijuana. Those “chance” encounters would alter his life profoundly. Six months after his missions trip, he walked away from what he had in the US and found his new life serving the children and families living in pallet houses in Tijuana. Today, this guy glows, glows with a joy that few people ever experience. He was inspired by God through his interaction with a few people doing great things, and now Dave is that inspiration to others.

I love sending people to “help” Dave. Dave doesn’t need any help. The people I send to him are the ones that need inspiration, that need their lives changed, they need their worlds rocked. The people I send need to bump up against greatness. Dave isn’t perfect, but he serves humbly in very challenging conditions. He never complains, never loses hope, and trusts completely in God. I’m honored to be called Dave’s friend and have his influence in my life. The world needs more Daves.

What’s great is, if we seek them out, there are a tremendous number of Daves in the world. We have the privilege of meeting them and being impacted by them. Inspiring people can be found almost anywhere, but in my limited experience, they’re easier to find where life is harder, where life is much more of a struggle than we typically experience in the US. In Ghana, Peru, Mexico, etc. you can encounter people serving at a level that is beyond “normal.” Remember, it might be easier to encounter giants of the faith in the missions field, but they’re all around us if we look.

Choose wisely who will be in your life, who will influence you, who you want to become more like. Surround yourself with excellence. Bump up against inspiring people. Your life will be better for it.

For more information on Dave’s work, please see: Life in the Canyon

“Thank you for the Y2K shot glasses?”

 

You’d be amazed what gets donated to an orphanage. There’s an endless stream of shot glasses, water bed heaters, ice skates and an ongoing list of items that seem to beg the question: exactly what was the thought process that went into this? I keep a bowling ball resting on a shelf in my office, when asked about it I tell people it’s “a tribute to the bizarre donation.”

Sometimes it’s easy to categorize donations when they come in: “Dead people things,” an elderly person passes away and rather than sort through everything, all their belongings are boxed and shipped to us (Soooo much old Tupperware and rusty canned goods). “Garage sale leftovers,” bags of clothing and knickknacks that still have the .15 cent price tags attached but wouldn’t sell even at that price. “Schools cleaning out their lost and found closet” (this actually brings in some cool stuff). We love the “little kid donations” a young child presenting a box of “their” toys for the kids in need, you can tell they struggled over every item.

We honestly appreciate any donations coming in. In our home, we care for over a hundred children entirely through donations of goods and funds. Our many children are fed, clothed, and educated thanks to the generosity of many great people. We do have some really great stuff donated along with the not so great.

In running an organization that both receives and distributes donations, we spend a lot of time looking at this topic, and we realize it’s a big deal. Sometimes, receiving donations can be heart-wrenching. A while back we had a couple dropping off a few bags of clothing, nothing unusual. Watching the couple from a distance it just didn’t feel right. I walked over to talk to them and found out they were donating the belongings of their nine-year-old son who had recently passed away. We sat for a very long time over a cup of coffee as they told me about their son, this donation was part of the mourning of their child. They came back every few weeks for a long time. It was good for them.

Our attitude about “stuff” matters profoundly. Jesus spent a great deal of time talking about our reaction to money and belongings. How we handle what we have should be a part of our everyday thought process. Are we good stewards of the things we’ve earned or been entrusted with? Are we sharing with others as we should? This is a thorny topic that draws a strong response from almost everybody, just ask any pastor who has taught on tithing. Everyone from the rich young ruler in the gospel of Luke to this present day struggles with this issue. I know I haven’t figured it out.

Mathew 25:35-36 & 40  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me,…..The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

If we knew we were feeding our Lord, what kind of meal would we serve? If we knew we were giving a drink of water to Jesus, would we send it in a dirty glass? We can’t help everyone, and I don’t believe most people are called to give EVERYTHING away, but when we do give and serve it should be our best. Few things get me more frustrated that the phrases “it’s good enough for an orphanage,” or worse “it’s good enough for orphans.” Sometimes I want to punch a wall. These children are precious in His sight and deserve the same quality of life that any child deserves, maybe better.

Please think long and hard about the quality of items you or your organization sends to the missions field. Are you sending clothing or items you would want your child to receive? Please take a hard look at any project you’re working on during a missions trip. Would you want to live in the building you’re putting up? Would you want your home painted the way you’ve painted someone else’s? The quality of our work, and how we treat others, is a greater testimony to the Gospel than any words, dramas, or programs we might bring to the missions field.

Obviously, I have a huge conflict of interest in writing this. But I’m also writing this on behalf of the many, many organizations around the world doing really great work on a shoestring that receive supplies and groups every day. I know more than a few missionaries who want to write this but are understandably afraid of offending donors. (My wife is more than a little nervous after proof-reading this blog)

There is no greater indication of our spiritual maturity than how we give to others. We know everyone is different. We know for some people giving that half bag of used clothing is a BIG deal, that’s OK if that’s all they’re ready to do. We hope people like that grow in the joy of helping others. Whoever you choose to give to and support, please give to them as you would want to be given to.

Orphans Should Get Off Their Butts and Help Someone

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Orphan care is more than a little complicated. Along with all of the basics of childcare and raising healthy individuals, you are also guiding a child from a wounded place to a place of restoration. One of the realities of running an orphanage is that everyone who visits considers themselves an authority on parenting. I don’t claim any great expertise. The longer I do this, the more I realize what I don’t know, but I believe over the years we’ve modified, and stumbled into, an approach to healing the children in our care.

No childcare system is perfect. The philosophies and approaches to raising children have swung dramatically over the years, especially in the field of orphan care. You can find a book, study, or website to back up almost anything you choose to believe about helping children through hurt and abandonment issues. Combined with a loving, family based environment, in our experience, the best way to help a child move to a healthy place emotionally is to let them help others.

Over the years we’ve had what we consider to be a very high success rate with children in our care. “Success rate” is honestly hard to define, and can be fairly objective. The last I read, 70% of all children in foster care wind up in prison. These statistics aren’t much better for many orphanages around the world. What I consider a failure in orphan care is a failure to break the cycle. Unfortunately, most children raised in the system wind up with their own children back in the system. Honestly, some of our children have made poor life choices, but the vast majority of the children we are in regular contact with have gone on to have healthy lives, marriages, and are doing a fantastic job of raising their own kids. Several of our adult children are now married and caring for orphans themselves, that’s an excellent way to be “back in the system.”

So how do you move a child from a broken hurting, angry place to an emotionally healthy, functioning, contributing member of society? The number one way we’ve found to move a child to a healthy place is showing them the joy of helping others. We don’t ignore the fact that they’ve been abandoned. Though in many cases our children have gone through horrific abuse, we show them that what has been done to them is not who they are. They are precious and valuable individuals that God wants to use to bless others. God does not make mistakes, He can and will use the broken, He can use the wounded, and there’s incredible healing in experiencing that joy of being used by God.

In our home, the goal is to have service flow through everything we do. Bagging groceries for needy families in our community, painting a house for an elderly lady, going and preparing a meal or bringing supplies to other orphanages, etc. are all part of what we do. We want service to be taught through both word and deed. When a new child is brought into our home, one of the first things we do is set them up with a “mentor child,” a child a year or two older than the new one coming in and one that’s been here a few years. The mentor child has the important responsibility of taking the newly arrived child and explaining how everything works. The mentor explains how the different homes on our property work, how the dining hall works, how the activities work, and everything he or she might need to know. Not only is it less intimidating for the new child to get all of this information from another child, think how meaningful it is for the mentor to be trusted at this level and given this great responsibility. They are the first friend the new child will have on a day they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Most of the children in our care have some pretty horrific stories from before they came to us. Some of our children have quite literally been thrown away; you can only imagine how this would affect someone emotionally. By showing them that they have something valuable to offer to those around them, that they have something to give, it gives them purpose. By showing them that they are the hands and feet of Jesus, it shows they are valued by Him.

The idea of service as a healing concept is not in any way new, but it seems to have fallen by the wayside in favor of only providing and “protecting” the child. Don’t get me wrong, we take good care of every child in our home, but if you only treat them as fragile victims with nothing to offer that becomes their identity. Our children are so much more than what has been done to them.

The idea of service to others as being fundamental to our emotional health should be obvious to anybody who professes to be a follower of Christ. If we say we are followers of Christ and are not actively serving others in our daily lives, we are hypocrites. Jesus gave a very clear example of service in his everyday life. Everything he did was focused on blessing those he encountered. He spent his time teaching, encouraging, healing, and serving those around Him. On the last night he had with the apostles he chose foot washing as his final example for them. Service is important to God. Not that He needs us to help others, He knows that helping others is good for us. He only wants good things for us.

We’ve all been hurt, we’ve all been abandoned by someone, but that is not who we are. Over and over again we’ve found that if moved to a healthy place, God can use those hurts to create powerful ministry. We have a great team of long term volunteers/missionaries. When I’m interviewing someone, and they get nervous when I ask them about their childhood, I always bump them up the list. It’s not always the case, but we’ve found that if people have been hurt in childhood, and have moved through it, they have a much deeper empathy for the hurting and wounded. They get it. God can use our hurts to soften us, to shape us, to prepare us to reach others. Through serving others, orphaned and abandoned children begin that slow process to healing.

Please know, I’m not saying this is easy or quick. Incorporating service into the healing process will take years and can’t be a just a program or an experiment, it needs to be part of the base culture of a home. Service is not a cure all, service is just one part of moving a child into a healthy place, but we’ve found it to be a profoundly important part.