Ending Well

lani.jpgAlmost every time I speak in public, I open up by yelling at the group, “You are all going to die!” It frequently gets a nervous laugh or two and then I go on to explain that we are only on this earth a short time, it is so essential to use our time as the precious commodity that it is. Do not waste a moment. The following is the story of a man who used his last few years well.

Jack was a middle-aged man, raising two young children, who had recently moved to a smallish town in Iowa. He had newly been diagnosed with cancer but had not shared his medical condition with anybody in his new community. He was just focusing on his family and beginning the process of diagnosis and treatment.

One day, his next-door neighbor invited him to go on a short-term mission trip to serve at an orphanage in Mexico. The plan was also to help build a home for a needy family. He was not a member of the church, and his first response was, “Well, I don’t play the guitar or anything, but I am good with a hammer.” He was told he would fit in fine. In spite of everything he was going through, he decided to take a chance and tag along with the group. It was a week that would transform his next few years.

As Jack got on the plane with sixty people that he barely knew, all wearing matching t-shirts, he was not sure what to expect. They traveled about two hours south of San Diego to a small town in Mexico where they would be working. The group set up camp and got started with the construction. The team met the family they were serving, and as the team worked, they experienced the joy and bonding that only comes from serving with others in new and challenging circumstances. Jack spent the first few days quietly working alongside his newfound friends.

Midway through the week, during the evening bonfire, Jack decided to take a chance and share of his recent life struggles and his battle with cancer. The response was powerful. This group of people that he had just recently joined came up around him in every sense of the word. The team spent a great deal of time in prayer, seeking miraculous healing. We’ve all heard the phrase, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” There is something about serving alongside others under challenging circumstances that broadens our faith. Serving in missions forges deep relationships that are almost impossible to find unless we are out of our comfort zone.

Over the next few years, while cancer slowly took its toll, Jack continued to return to Baja every time the church came down. Like so many other people, these short-term mission trips became the focal point of his year, a time of joy among struggles, and transformed his life. His social media feed was filled with stories and photos of his time spent serving in Mexico. As Jack’s faith continued to grow stronger, he heard a message from God: “Builder.” This helped Jack understand how his situation was being used for the kingdom.

Above the orphanage in Baja where Jack served is a large, very distinct cross. It rises powerfully above a large hill and can be seen from all over the valley. This cross has been the sight of many marriage proposals, recommitments of faith, and other life-changing moments over the years. Jack ultimately had a drawing of the cross tattooed on his arm using the cross as the letter “T” for the word” triumph.” These trips had marked his life in every way possible.

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As Jack’s life was winding down, one of the leaders came to the hospital in a nearby city to be there for him. As they talked, a nurse walked in that had been on one of these trips before Jack started, and knew all about it. Out of the hundreds of hospital staff who could have walked through the door, this nurse could understand Jack’s experience of faith through missions. They were able to excitedly share of their common experiences in that small town in Mexico.

One of his last requests to the mission leader was, “Make sure when my son is old enough, that he gets to Mexico. I want him to see the place that changed my life.” His other request is that his ashes be spread at the base of the cross overlooking the orphanage and the homes he helped build.

I share this story as an encouragement, an encouragement to end your life well. Jack’s story is one of the thousands of lives that are changed through short term missions and service trips every year. Most people live their lives without thinking too much about the ever approaching end; they make plans to do something “next year” until there are no more years left. Please use the weeks and years you have left in a way that matters. Don’t waste a day.

Jack passed away on May 3rd, 2019, surrounded by family. He is no longer battling cancer or the fights of this earth. He is now dancing in heaven. Close to five hundred people showed up at his memorial on a chilly Tuesday afternoon in Iowa. His ashes will be spread at the orphanage cross, as he requested.

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No Government Funding

pexels-photo-1457684Most Americans in the US have never visited an orphanage. People draw what they know about orphanages from movies, second-hand stories, and a mix of random information. Although the US had hundreds of faith-based orphanages just a generation ago, for the most part, they have been replaced by government-funded foster care. (that’s a rant for another blog). Because the information is loose at best, there are a lot of misconceptions about what it takes to run an orphanage. Because the government funds foster care in the US, most people are surprised to learn that we get no funding from the Mexican government to run our home. Nope, not one peso.

The main reason the government of Mexico doesn’t fund orphanages is that there just isn’t any money. In any developing country, social services are the last thing to be funded. There need to be priorities, and police, fire, schools, roads, etc. always come first. If there is any money left, social service programs begin to be funded. This is true around the world. If the economy shrinks, social programs are the first to be cut. It’s just the way it works. No government funding might not be a bad thing; the church needs to do more, and not depend on the government.

More and more, people tend to look to the government to solve the problems of society. “There needs to be a law.” “Why isn’t there a program?” etc. Because there are children in need, it’s just assumed that it’s the government’s responsibility to step in and help. The problem is, as believers, this idea allows us to wash our hands of a great deal of responsibility. The idea of relinquishing our responsibility to the government is also unbiblical.

Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.. Mark 12:17

Jesus was very clear; we have a responsibility to “Give back to Caesar.” We never like it, but we need to pay our taxes. It’s part of being a member of society. But if you look at the last part of Mark 12:17, it’s clear that we also have a responsibly to give to the things of God. The two are mentioned as separate acts: Give to the government, give to the things of God.

The idea of our faith being played out through service and giving to others flows through the entire new testament. Our salvation is not tied to this service, but service is tied to living out our faith and representing Christ well. Whether it’s Jesus instructing the rich young ruler to sell what he has and give to the poor, or the story of the good Samaritan, service is a reoccurring theme. Stories of people living out their faith through service and generosity to others are richly woven into many of Christ’s teachings. James takes it a step further by teaching that true religion is serving widows and orphans. There is not a single verse about the government helping widows and orphans.

The call to help others in the Gospel is not just there because needy people are all around us. God does nothing without multiple hidden levels of blessings for those who will walk in His instructions. Yes, people need help, but more importantly, we need to help others for our own good. Service is richly and profoundly fulfilling and healing for us as followers of Christ. It is impossible to take on the image of Christ, without becoming a servant in every area of our lives. It’s true believers, the people who understand how rich the grace of God is, who have a desire to care for others welling up from within. We help not because we are supposed to, but because we can not do otherwise.

By assuming that the government can or should take care of the needs around us, we are giving up on the incredible privilege and opportunity to interact with, and serve those around us. It’s cliché among those who host short-term mission teams, to hear the phrase “I am leaving with so much more than I came with.” The paradox is consistent with all those who serve others, by stepping out and serving those around us, God uses our acts of generosity and service to bless and heal us. Whatever our motivations, we receive blessings by giving out to others.

Jesus was many things; high on that list is a perfect, humble, servant. He was the one who did the foot washing; He did not assume others would do the job. This is our example.

You give so much to the government already, don’t give away the joy of serving others.

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What Are Your Motivations?

pexels-photo-1081223I tend to be more of a cynic than I probably should be, but I believe there is no such thing as genuinely pure motives. We are all flawed and imperfect people. These flaws get blended and twisted into any decisions or actions we take. It’s hard to be self-aware when it comes to our motivations, but it’s essential to try and be honest with ourselves about it. I know one gentleman who likes to help needy organizations financially and has the deep pockets to do this. He’s unambiguous that his motivation is all about the photo op, he wants to look good to those around him, and on social media. At least he’s honest about it. (He is not one of our donors.)

If you do a quick google search on motivations, you come up with a wide range of articles with very similar threads. People are listing “The four motivations,” “The ten motivations,” etc. The examples of motivations given are frequently: money, lust, power, fear, popularity, guilt, altruism, generosity, pride, etc.

Almost everyone who participates in short-term missions wants to help, but WHY do they want to help. I once straight up asked a teenage girl who happened to stop by my office why she came on the trip. “My mom forced me to.” I was a little surprised, but I do appreciate honesty. (Fear of mom was the motivation.)

In helping to run a large(ish) non-profit with a range of donors and visiting groups, our team meets a substantial range of individuals. When we meet with group leaders, we hear a lot of the same phrases. “We’re just here to serve.” “What works best for you.” etc. but usually within a few minutes of listening or watching we can begin to see their underlying priorities and motives. Many groups come in with their agenda well before meeting with us or finding out what the real needs are. They have an agenda, and they are NOT going to be moved.

Some group leaders are all about having their team experience a great week. If while having a great week they happen to serve the children in our care, great, but it’s clearly not their priority. They show this by not asking questions, by not thinking about how their activities impact our home, by planning their week around themselves. “I know your kids have homework, but my team REALLY wants to do a craft and VBS with your kids between 2 pm and 4 pm so we can go into town later.” “We know it’s cold outside, and some of your kids are sick, but we really want to push through with the water games we had planned.”

It is very common to have a group, or many individuals in the group, be more focused on the perfect photo op. I’ve seen people pick up a shovel or wheel barrow just to take a photo and then walk away. I’m not exactly saying mission photos get staged all the time but…photos get staged all the time. If you want to see your team’s real motivation, ask them to put their phones away for a few days and don’t take pictures. Rebellion is the usual response. Why do any of us post things online? Is it about encouraging others, or about competing with others to look like we have the perfect life?

Some groups come in assuming they know better than our team how things should be run. They are here to “save us from ourselves.” (pride) I’m aware we have a LOT of room for improvement, and we do learn from others all the time. But when someone comes in less to help, and more to judge or criticize what we do, it gets old fast. We appreciate input or questions but we live with the children in our care, we live in our community, we understand the culture, we have an intimate knowledge of the needs and challenges that go on every day.

We do appreciate the short-term mission teams. Most groups are a huge blessing, and we could use some more! This rambling blog on motivations has the goal of causing self-reflection. Why do we do what we do? This question applies to short-term missions, as well as every other area of our lives. Our motivations have a dramatic impact on every relationship in our lives. It is the lens we use to view and interact with our world.

Motivation can be boiled down to just one question: Who am I serving? Am I serving myself, or am I serving God? If we’re honest with ourselves, this is not an easy question to answer. For almost everyone, it can be a sliding scale. We (I hope) are all trying to serve our Lord more each day, but that gets blended into so many otherworldly motivations. Approval of others, comfort, jealousy, pride, greed, etc. always creep in. I know I question or doubt my true motives all the time.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Phil 3:8

The paradox is, the purer our motivation, the greater blessing we ultimately receive. The more we try to follow in the pure example of service that Jesus gives, the more our emotional needs are met. As we grow closer to Christ, the worldly motivations fade away. Money, pride, power, etc. really do become worthless compared to the things of God. This is a worthy motivation.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

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Mother’s Day Sucks

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Anna Jarvis is credited with “inventing” mothers day back in 1908, and it became an official US holiday in 1914. Shortly thereafter, Anna, realizing what the day had become, spent the rest of her life fighting against what she considered her enormous mistake. (footnote) She fought to abolish the holiday not just because of the pain it brings out in so many people, she realized that it had become just another reason to sell flowers and expensive greeting cards. Mother’s day had turned into another pointless commercial endeavor. I’m all for making a buck; the thorny issue is the agonizing emotional pain this day can bring.

Few holidays elicit such an immediate and emotional response as Mother’s Day. Father’s Day? Yawn. Presidents Day? Big deal. Fourth of July? A BBQ, big whoop. Thanksgiving is bigger than most holidays but not exactly an emotional event. Mother’s Day brings along a tangled string of emotional responses in almost anyone. When one hears the word “mother” it’s part of our shared human experience to have memories ripple through our minds, some loving, some not so loving, but the memories are almost never without deep sentiments.

The mother-child relationship is one of the strongest and most important in our lives, for that reason, it is so celebrated. Because it can be so remarkable, it makes sense that is can also be one of the most painful and damaging of relationships when it goes wrong. For a large percentage of the population, the emotions that this day brings forth are a long way from joy. For anyone involved in ministry, it’s important to be acutely aware of the land-mines this holiday places all around us.

Writing here as one who runs a large orphanage, you can imagine the pain Mother’s Day can bring out in the children in our care. We stopped attending church in our town on Mother’s Day years ago because it was just too agonizing. For our children to attend a service dedicated to honoring mothers, it brought up way too much baggage. They would sit there and listen to how wonderful all the mothers in the church were, they would watch as flowers were passed out to the mothers present, and they would sit quietly holding back the tears. Besides church, every year our kids have to participate in the public school’s Mother’s Day program knowing their biological mothers will never see it. They watch other children being hugged by their mothers and wonder what they did wrong to make their own mothers abandon them. Our staff here does a phenomenal job of loving and caring for the children in our home, but it can still be a very complicated and painful few days around here.

It’s not just the orphaned who suffer through this day. For women who have lost children through illness or accidents, Mother’s Day is a vivid, annual reminder of their tragedy and the dull pain that radiates through their lives. While others are celebrating motherhood, they are mourning the graduations, weddings, and all life’s events they will never see their children experience. Along with the many mothers who’ve lost children, are the 20% of women who, for medical and various other reason, will never have children. Society still tells women they are not complete unless they have offspring, for many, this is not within their control.

For many people, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder that the women who gave birth to them failed at motherhood. Not every mother is Mrs. Brady; not every mother is the ideal that we celebrate. Too many mothers abandon their children, too many are mentally or physically abusive. Too many mothers have drug or alcohol problems or just don’t care. For anyone raised by a women who should never have had children, this day is a painful reminder that they never had a normal childhood. They were never held when they were scared; they were never read to at night, the tooth fairy never came. Not a lot to celebrate here, just an aching void where their childhood should be.

So, what are we supposed to do if we have a church, school, or some other organization that needs to acknowledge this upcoming day? Honor all those mothers who get it right, who have sacrificed so much to raise their children in a loving, healthy way. Encourage them, recognize them, shower them with the admiration they deserve. The mother-child relationship can be a profound, wonderful, literally life-changing experience. The mother-child bond is incredible, and it should be celebrated when it’s done right. BUT, please do so in a way that is sensitive to those in the room that dread this Sunday in May every year.

Any donations to support our missions efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

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footnote: http://mentalfloss.com/article/30659/founder-mothers-day-later-fought-have-it-abolished

I Hate “The Poor”

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 11.26.12 AMOK, that was a pretty obvious click-bait title, but the idea still holds. I have nothing against people of lesser means (I’m one of them), what this blog is about is the title or identification of “poor people” that the bulk of the world might fall into. By the very act of referring to a group or nationality as “the poor” we, at some level, diminish their importance and make a quick judgment about them. It’s a profoundly demeaning term. “The poor” equals lesser, not as good, somehow less deserving, of lower value. Most people are in denial about this attitude, but the unspoken implications of the term “the poor” are there most of the time. Society, and sadly, the church, frequently uses terms that bulk people together that shouts, “Less important than us.” “The homeless,” “the migrants,” etc. give the subtle yet clear implication of class distinction.

The first thing many people do when they meet someone is ask, “What do you do?” Most people are naturally inclined to categorize people into groups. The simplest of these categories are richer and poorer, and by asking someone what they do for a living, we’re ready to find out what class they belong to. We don’t want to admit it, but the richer are generally considered brighter or better. Money is how most people keep score, and what we “do” usually sets that score. Who has the bigger house, the cooler car, etc. No one likes to think they judge others on this scale, but in reality, almost everyone does. Once we bulk any group of people into a simple category, it’s just too easy to see them as different, lesser individuals.

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:2-4

Levels in society isn’t a new idea; class distinctions have been around for thousands of years. Do we still have a class system but are in denial about it? If we’re honest with ourselves: Yup, most of the time. The upper income of society looks down on everyone else, and the lower income population generally has contempt for most wealthier people (although they would like to be one someday)

The implication of class titles or distinctions, even if they are only implied, has a profound impact on short-term missions, long-term missions, and ministry in general.

When a church or missions team starts out with the idea or statement that they want to go and “help the poor,” it can set the stage for some unhealthy, one-directional relationships. There is an automatic implication that because the group has resources, they are better than the group they are going to serve. It would never be said out loud, but there is the implication that the group with the money is better, brighter, somehow has more of God’s favor. Contempt is not a good place to start to build a relationship, and ministry is ALL about relationships.

The best way to go into a relationship is on equal footing, to have mutual respect for each other. The world says that if we have more stuff, we must be better. The critical point is, what the world says doesn’t matter in the bigger picture. God sees all of us as equal; He is not impressed by the same scorecard that we use. He uses a very different scorecard.

The right attitude when going into short-term missions is not just “What can we give these people?”, the question should be “How can we work alongside these people to further the Kingdom?” The idea of working together shows mutual respect, a recognizing that we are all on equal footing working together for the same goal.

It’s critical to understand and embrace the fact that in the eyes of God, without Him, we are all impoverished. If we have a few more dollars in our bank account, it means nothing. This is easy to say, but to truly embrace the idea that money doesn’t matter is very rare. Even from the other side, when “wealthy Americans” show up in the mission field people have a different reaction, more attention is given, attitudes change.

I was once in a meeting in northern Malawi, in an area that does not see very many Americans. Just the idea that I had the means to travel to this area put me in a different economic position. I was with several very respected local leaders and just wanted to listen to what they had to say. When the meeting came around to me, they didn’t use my name, the name of my organization, or any term that I expected. It was grandly announced that “The white man will now speak.” The meeting went silent waiting for some deep wisdom just because I was from a wealthy country. It was never discussed, but just me being American brought a particular unwanted class distinction. Is was awkward at many levels.

We really are all the same. Some people might have a few more dollars, but compared to the riches of our Heavenly Father, we are all poor. The dollars we do have are really His anyway. It is in embracing our own poverty that we can inherit the incredible grace and riches that our Father wants us to have. Maybe we should all embrace being “the poor.”

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

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The Failure of the Individual and Short-Term Missions

pexels-photo-670720At some point, over the last few decades, there has been a subtle yet consistent shift away from the idea of community, to the rise of individual above all else. It’s not working. Addiction and suicide are at an all-time high; in many age groups suicide is the leading cause of death. The church is shrinking at an alarming rate. Depression and loneliness are rampant.

As society shifts from focusing on the community as a whole to focusing on each individual’s desires and achievements, we are losing the very thing that gives us meaning. At almost every turn, technology and shifting attitudes are slowly driving society apart and leading people into their own little cocoons. We need to be connected; we are created to interact with a wide range of people; we are called to sacrifice for others. It’s time to look at how to foster a sense of community again.

Years ago, there was “appointment TV viewing,” the whole family would sit together and watch the same show along with millions of others across the country at the same time. This sounds quaint or primitive now that we can each have our own on-demand screen in front of us and watch exactly what we want when we want it. The downside of on-demand is that, with a few exceptions, that bonding through community viewing doesn’t happen. Outside of the Superbowl or a major news event, there is no common discussion the next day about the latest show that we all watched.

The idea of each of us having our own screens is a small example of how the priority of community is shifting. Few people would argue the fact that America has never been so divided. People have always had opinions, but now that we can watch the news on TV or online catered and designed to reinforce our already deeply held beliefs, we don’t need to listen to any opinion that might call into question where we stand. If we never listen to the other side, they become a bigger and more dangerous enemy in our minds — not a great way to build community.

Subtle changes are taking place all around us. If we want to “eat out” we don’t have to sit with people we don’t know; we can just open the app and have the food brought to our home. We don’t need to go to the mall anymore and interact with real people to buy things; Amazon is just a click away. When was the last time any of us hung out in a book store and browsed around with others with the same interest? When we go to buy groceries, we can self-check to avoid the two minutes of contact with the cashier.

More people are living alone than at any time in the history of America. Fewer people are getting married than at any time in history. Half of all children in America are now born into un-wed situations. Examples of the collapse of community are all around us. Too many people are living in their own little world, and missing out on the interactions and messiness that makes us human.

Even within the ever-shrinking church, many people who are “members” choose to sit at home on Sunday and watch the service online. Interacting with real people is just too much trouble. For the people who are present, as the collection plate is passed in church, many people miss out on the ritual of offering tithes as one body because they’ve already given online automatically.

Although we need a personal relationship with Christ, and God desires that, it’s crucial to recognize the importance of the Church body as a whole and what that means. As we read the Gospels, Jesus spoke to many individuals, but He often spoke about the collective body of believers. The bride of Christ is one, not millions of individual brides. When the apostles asked Jesus how to pray, He gave the Lord’s Prayer as an example. There is not one personal pronoun in the Lord’s prayer. Not one petition for an individual. OUR Father…OUR daily bread…forgive US OUR sins…lead US.  You get the idea. The body of Christ needs each other; we need each other.

So what does this little rant have to do with short-term missions? One of the many benefits of short-term missions is the building of community. You can sit in the same church with the same people for years and never really get to know them. Spend a week traveling in Uganda, or Mexico, or Kenya, and you will get to know them, whether you want to or not. You will see them without makeup and before coffee. You will be forced to sleep in the same room and hear who snores. You will see how each person reacts to difficulties and joys. You will be forced to become a little more transparent. You will learn more about the people in your church, and they will learn more about you, than in ten years of Sundays.

Short-term missions also bring into focus what the Bible teaches about the body of Christ. By traveling out with a team to visit other churches and communities, we have the privilege of living and working with people from wildly different cultures, but with the same Heavenly Father. We get to spend time with our brothers and sisters. We get to experience worship in ways that are beyond what we could ever imagine. We get to bump up against people who are living and walking in faith that sets the bar higher than we might be used to. We have the profound and life-altering experience of living in community with the Church.

Experience community again, make it a point to spend time with people who stretch you. If you can, go on a short-term mission trip. It will change you for the better, your faith will be deeper, your connection to the church will strengthen, and you can help other believers around the world.

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Don’t Sign Away Your Life

library-la-trobe-study-students-159775Indentured servitude was a system in the early 1800s where people would sign a contract to work free for a certain number of years in exchange for something, historically transportation to America or some other great dream held out as the powerful incentive. Once people were “employed” it would be almost impossible to work off the debt and become free. People would basically sign away their lives and become voluntary slaves for an extended period of time. As ridiculous as this sounds today, the exact same thing is happening to people all around us. You, or someone you know, might be in this exact situation and not even realize it yet.

Currently, a considerable portion of young adults in America are willingly placing themselves into a form of indentured servitude. They see a goal and believe the only way they can attain this goal is to sign away large chunks of their future in the hopes that it will be worth it. Student loans are today’s version of indentured servitude. The cost of a degree is quickly tipping to the point where it is almost impossible to justify the debt load required.

Recently, I took part in a round table discussion on missions at a large California Christian university. Many of the standard questions came up, but one student asked a question that shut down the discussion. There was no great answer to his question, just a dark gloom in the room as if someone shared that they had stage four cancer. “I feel called, and want to be in the missions field, but how do I do that with huge student loan debt?”

Think this question through; this young man is attending a major Christian university to learn ministry, and how to be an effective missionary.  When he graduates he will be so far in debt that he will be unlikely to use his degree for decades, he might never make it to the missions field because of the debt. He unintentionally entered into indentured servitude. His life is no longer his own. He has become an indentured servant to his student debt load.

The young man discussed above is not unusual; he is the norm. Over the last few years, I’ve seen many passionate people who feel called to missions “put it off” until their student loans are paid down. Much of the time, by the time they’re debt free decades later, life has moved on and they never take that step. The other frustrating situation is people who can defer their loans and go into missions, only needing to return to the US for the sole purpose of paying off their loans. Either way, their loans dictate their futures; their lives are not their own.

If you’re in the position of having massive student debt hanging over you, it can be a weight that hangs over everything you do. I have no great answers for you, talk to someone brighter than me. (They’re not hard to find.)

If you are a young adult, and you don’t have any student debt yet, please continue reading. I want to share a little secret that your parents and others might not want you to know. You don’t have to go to college. (Parents, school counselors, and loan providers are now hyperventilating after reading that last sentence.)

The typical teen in the US will take the same boring yet dangerous path that all their friends are taking. Graduate from high-school, head to college, accumulate HUGE student debt studying something they’re not passionate about, get married too soon (to someone else with student debt), eventually buy a house, and spend the rest of their lives working to pay off loans. They will be indentured servants to a bank, for decades. Today, some retirees have yet to pay off their student loans. One of the few debts that can NOT be wiped clean through bankruptcy is a student loan. Modern-day indentured servitude does exist. It might be time to look at a new model.

“But, but, but, I HAVE to go to college.” If you’re going to medical school, law school, or studying something that needs very specific training, yes, you have to go to college. If you feel called into missions, or have passions in other areas, you might have other options. There might be options that don’t lead you down the path of enormous student loan debt. Trade schools, apprenticeship programs, short-term mission organizations, etc. are all good options.

A gap year after high-school, when used wisely, can be an outstanding chance to explore your passions and learn more about the world than you will in four years locked on a campus somewhere. Go volunteer with an organization in Ghana serving aids orphans, drive a bus for an orphanage in Mexico, answer the phone for a free clinic in some inner-city area in the US. Take some time to explore the world and find your passions.

If, after a year or so, you still feel you HAVE to go to college, please do it with great care to avoid as much debt as possible.

You can accumulate huge student debt, or you can accumulate experiences, stories, and the joy of touching other’s lives. What you decide to accumulate when you’re young will be with you for the rest of your life. Choose wisely.

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