I Hate Orphanages

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I wish orphanages didn’t exist. A child in an orphanage means the enemy has won a battle, a battle to break a child and parent bond or destroy a family. Orphaned and abandoned children exist because we live in a broken world. I wish we didn’t need the foster care system and I hate orphanages, but if these types of homes have to exist, they should be GREAT.

People frequently ask me “why does a child wind up in an orphanage?” There are a lot of misconceptions about this; most people assume all kids in orphanages are “orphans” who have no living family. The short answer to why most kids are in orphanages is “sin.” Severe abuse, neglect, abandonment, substance abuse by the parents, etc. are all results of flawed people who have fallen into deep sin. Some people should just never have kids. Unless you’re dealing with AIDS, war or severe natural disaster, true orphans where both parents have died are kind of hard to find. Frequently, a parent might still be around, but for many reasons, they just can’t or won’t care for their child or have chosen to abandon their child or children. In any country, you can read stories every week of babies left at hospitals, fire stations, or in trash cans. Today, in many countries, there are thousands of children that are sold into slavery every year. We live in a deeply broken, profoundly messed up world.

Some people believe orphanages break up families to fill their dorms; this does happen in some cases, but less than you might think. There is an assumption that many children are in homes worldwide due to poverty, this happens also, but most of the time, there are other, deeper underlying issues. In most cases, it’s not easy to say what’s best for a child: A marginally abusive/neglectful situation or an orphanage?

In our home, as in any healthy ministry, we do everything we can to keep families together if it’s truly in the best interest of the child. The family is the ideal model, and every child deserves a healthy family. Every child needs the love, acceptance, and loving guidance of their parents. If a parent needs short term help, counseling, etc. to keep the family together in a healthy situation, that should always be the first choice. If there is some extended family that can help that’s an excellent second choice. Sometimes all that’s needed is daycare to keep a family together so the parent can work and still care for their children.

Unfortunately, sometimes, it really is in the best interest of the child to break up the family. You can imagine some of the horrific stories of the children in our care. We had a five-year-old brought to us after the stepdad held him against a hot stove for wetting the bed. We had a two-year-old dropped off late one night with bruises over much of his body and a broken leg after the mom lashed out in a drunken rage. We took in a girl who had just turned fourteen and was pregnant after being raped by her stepdad. (he is now in prison) These types of stories are much too common. Even the most ardent defenders of the family would be hard pressed to defend keeping some families together.

A well-meaning, well-educated individual once passionately shared with me that orphanages are a broken system and that they should all close down. I agree that it’s a broken system, but saying all orphanages should be closed is like saying the health care system in the US is broken so all hospitals should be closed. Just because we close a broken solution, doesn’t mean the problem goes away. I so wish there were better options for the countless children who fall through the cracks of society.

If the family is not in the picture, and adoption is a real alternative, it should always be encouraged. Unfortunately, adoption is not a reality for the vast majority of children living in any care situation. The latest figures available are that only 2% of children living in care situations worldwide ever get adopted. Most have multiple siblings, are “too old” to adopt, or they have some living family that still has a claim on them. Depending on adoption for a child’s future is very much like depending on the lottery for your retirement: It might work, but not likely.

A couple of years ago, eleven-year-old Pablo (not his real name) was brought to us after being removed from his home due to neglect on the part of his mom. He had been bouncing around the system for a while. He hadn’t been in school, was in bad shape physically, and had spent way too much time on the streets. After a few days here, he expressed amazement that he was getting three meals a day and asked if that was normal. His mother is currently working with the government to receive custody of Pablo. Mom visits from time to time but is still not doing very well; she’s dealing with some long-standing substance abuse issues. Pablo is now doing great in school, just graduated top of his class, and has become a real part of our family. We know we don’t replace loving parents, but here Pablo has a loving home with people who deeply care about him, great opportunities, and a future that was just a dream a few years ago. Very recently, Pablo came to us with a request. He knows his mom is working on getting him back, but he’s also bright enough to know he has no future with her. He has asked that if his mom gets custody, and if it’s OK with her if he could still live here. He wants to stay here so he can continue in school, work for a better life, and just visit his mom. We sincerely hope and pray that his mom gets her life in order, but until that happens, we want to provide a great home to Pablo, and the many other Pablos who are out there.

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Ministry Purgatory

pexels-photo-262391On my first trip to Ghana, I experienced a wide range of emotions and experiences. One of the many unusual experiences was being the “elder.” I’m in my fifties, in the US today this still counts as middle-aged. (Or at least I keep telling myself that.) Statistically I have about 30 years of life left. In Ghana the life expectancy is much shorter; you just don’t see a lot of older people. The youth of Ghana, out of respect, wouldn’t let me do anything physical. Every time I tried to help set up chairs, move a bag, or even carry my plate to be washed, some teen would jump in and grab whatever I was carrying. It was like they were expecting me to keel over from a heart attack, or at least fall and break a hip at any moment.

For centuries, the span of working years for a person’s life was 20, 25, maybe 30 years. People just didn’t last that long. There was a natural rhythm to life with predictable shared seasons that everyone went through. Growing into an adult, working till your late 50s or early 60s, and then either coasting a little or just dying off. There are always exceptions to this cycle, but as we all live longer, the question that isn’t discussed enough is: what does one do with this new found season at the end of our lives? There are a lot of lost people wandering around out there.

This rambling blog is a letter to a very specific crowd, but even if you aren’t part of this crowd, I can guarantee you know someone who is. In the last few years, I seem to be bumping up against a large group of men in their fifties, who’ve been involved in ministry most of their lives, who are lost in ministry purgatory. They are stuck in a weird no man’s land. Much too young to be considered an elder statesman, but too old to pull off skinny jeans, worship leader cool. Think of it as being a middle-aged junior higher, caught between two worlds and awkwardly stumbling along waiting for something to happen. Many middle-aged ministers are not even aware that they are stuck.

Whenever I comment that we all know somebody still in the pulpit who should have stepped down ten years ago, the reaction is always a knowing smirk. One, two, or three pastors always come to mind. It can be incredibly challenging to maintain enthusiasm and passion after fifteen or twenty years. At some point, for most men, the shift is subtle, slow, and dangerous. If we’re not careful, ministry can slide from a passion and the call from God, into just a job where we’re going through the motions. We suffer, the people in our ministry suffer, and no one is happy in the situation.

In the last year, I’ve had three different pastors, all in their fifties, come to spend time at our ministry for short sabbaticals. I’ve talked to many more. The patterns are all the same. A lot of life left but not sure where they are going and what they are going to be doing. They might be comfortable in their ministries, but are we meant to be just “comfortable?” Some know they are going through the motions, their church knows that they are just going through the motions, but nobody is brave enough to change. Ministry purgatory. Coasting along, waiting for something, anything, to happen.

If you’re a little uncomfortable reading this, if this rambling blog is describing you, please know you are not alone. Please find someone you trust that you can talk to, and who will be honest with you. Along with seeking counsel, I don’t have any magic answer, but I do have one word of advice: flip the table.

If what you’ve been doing isn’t working anymore, stop doing it. This can be a hard concept for some people to get. We won’t experience change doing the same things, in the same way, in the same place. If we don’t like the way the table is set, we can move a few things around, but it really won’t change anything meaningful. Sometimes we need to flip the table over, let things fly, and start over.

I know many men who have left full-time ministry, who have found real peace, and a more significant ministry, in other professions. One good friend says he’s better now that he is no longer a “professional Christian,” he prefers the amateur status. I know insurance salesmen, electricians, etc. who used to be pastors but are now in another season, ministering more now than when they did it as their profession. If we’re serving for the right reasons, we should know that the most important place to be is in God’s will. The only title that matters is Child of God.

One other suggestion: Pray about where you should be headed but do it from a different place. This is one of the many reasons short-term missions are so important. Missions are needed for the people going. Sometimes we need to get out of the space where we’re comfortable and figuratively (or literally) travel to the mountain top to hear from God. Sometimes we need to visit other ministries, missionaries, or churches to find our passion again, or find a new passion. By traveling to new places and connecting with people in new ways it can give us a new perspective. Things look different from the mountain top; we can see more, we can see the bigger picture.

People say, “Write what you know.” This week’s blog describes me. Personally, although I’m still assisting at the orphanage, I’ve found new passions to feed my soul. I’m still stumbling along, but by finding new areas to serve, and handing off most of my old responsibilities, I’m slowly moving out of purgatory into the light. I’m also encouraging the next generation to shine.

If you see yourself in anything you’ve just read, please seek counsel. If you can’t find anyone better, e-mail me, I don’t have any answers, but I can listen.

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A Fear Factor

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“Isn’t Mexico dangerous?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to respond to this question over the last 20 years. I honestly believe this is more of a statement on the church in America today than any perceived danger in Mexico.

What keeps us up at night worrying seldom happens. In 2016 there were a total of 4 deaths by shark attack, 67 people died from taking selfies. If you ask a cross-section of people, fear of sharks would probably rate higher than fear of smartphones. Way too many people live lives wrapped in fear of things that don’t happen or don’t matter. American culture feeds and encourages fear: fear of the “other” political party, of terrorism, of people from different countries or cultures. Fear has become the new American way.

A few years ago, I got a phone call from a concerned father who was looking at sending his daughter with their church missions team to serve with our orphanage in Mexico. After talking to him for a while, he asked me straight out, “Can you 100% guarantee the safety of my daughter?” I think I surprised him with my answer: “Absolutely not.” I asked him if he could 100% guarantee the safety of his daughter when she was driving to school, out shopping, or even in their home. There are almost no 100% guarantees in this life other than the fact that we will all eventually die. If we lived our lives looking for 100% guarantees, we would never do anything, that’s not why we’re on this earth.

At what point did the church collectively decide that we need complete security at all times? Why are we so afraid? Jesus never taught that we should only go and share the gospel if our safety could be guaranteed, that we should only help others if there is zero risk involved. I’m not saying we should take unnecessary chances, but what should we be willing to risk to share the Gospel?

“Fear not” comes up a lot in the bible, “You need to avoid risk” not so much. If we believe we have an all-powerful, loving Father in heaven who only wants what’s best for us, why are we so afraid? If we believe that God can use ALL things for our good and the good of His kingdom, why can’t we rest in that? The Apostle Paul did some of his best work sitting in prison. Paul was completely convinced this was just a temp job; he was on his way to heaven. Paul doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who was afraid of what might happen. The world needs more Pauls.

A good friend of mine has been a missionary in a Muslim country for a few years. (for his safety I can’t share his name or what country). This guy is fearless. Recently he sent me an e-mail asking an IT question, not a big deal. He went on to share about the struggles they were having going to print with a new bible recently translated into a dialect for that area. One print shop was burned down, one printer who wanted to help was sent to prison, my friend’s family was threatened, and he was arrested and held for several days. Yikes. I would have hit the road long before this. Rather than running, giving up, or even complaining, he was rejoicing. Through the entire E-mail, you could feel the joy he was experiencing; he had found the “joy in all things” that Paul wrote about while in prison.

In 2014 my wife and I were scheduled to travel with the team of about 20 to Ghana in West Africa. We had our tickets, we had our visas, and about 30 days before we were scheduled to leave the Ebola outbreak hit West Africa. You couldn’t pick up a paper, turn on the radio, or watch the news without being told how dangerous Ebola was and how we were all going to die. Not the best time to travel to West Africa. Over the course of a few weeks, most of the team dropped out and, to be honest, we thought about it. We made a few calls to people on the ground to get accurate information and had some LONG talks. Any sane person would have canceled. (we’ve never been grouped in with sane people). We decided to go. The team was just five people, and EVERYONE said we were crazy. We went, had an incredible trip, and I believe we had a real impact at the orphanage where we were serving. West Africa is a BIG place, where we were serving we were over 1000 miles from the nearest Ebola case. At no time were we in any danger other than malaria and the other normal issue from that area.

In looking back at our trip to Ghana, I’m flooded with emotions. One of the emotions I have is regret for the many people who, out of an abundance of caution, chose not to go. They missed out on a life-changing experience. They missed out on the chance to share with others and connect with believers on the other side of the world. The enemy, once again used fear to stop ministry from taking place. How many people weren’t reached? How many lives weren’t changed by this incredible experience? The people who chose to stay back had the perception of safety, but they missed a life-altering experience.

Take a chance. Risk something. Go drill a well in Kenya, go build a house in Baja, go serve (or start) a prison ministry. Step out and see how God might use you or might use the new challenges to change you. Of the people I hang out within the missions field, I never hear them talk about the regret of taking a chance. What I see and hear are people who glow, glow with a joy that few people experience in this life. These are people who have taken and continue to take chances for God. They are not afraid of risk, they embrace it, they have found joy. The only fear we should accept in our lives is the fear of NOT doing what God is calling us to. We should be deathly afraid of wasting our time here on this earth living a mundane, “safe” existence.

To answer the question about Mexico that I started out with: Yes, Mexico CAN be dangerous in certain areas, most of it is really safe, but watch out for those selfies.

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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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.

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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.”

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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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