Find Your Defining Moment

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Many people have a defining moment in their life. Whether positive or negative, it is a moment that is branded into their memory and will be with them until they die. Frequently that moment changes the direction of their life. Maybe it was being present as a loved one died, or the first time they stood up on a surfboard, maybe it was the first time performing in public and receiving applause. What might seem trivial to one person, might have life-altering implications and impact for someone else. What is your defining moment?

One of the handful of questions I get asked by everyone is: “How were you first called into orphan care.” I can still remember the sites, smells, and emotions during that day that changed my life twenty-five years ago. My defining moment that would radically shift the direction of my life happened to be shared with someone who I had never met before, during their defining moment. Each of our lives would be forever changed in a few hours together.

I was comfortable in my life as a semi-successful Christian businessman and helping with the high school group at my church in my spare time. I assumed that would be the direction of my life and had no problem with that. I was comfortable; I wasn’t even considering that God might have something else in mind. I was helping to lead our church’s high school group on short-term missions trips to serve a very small, very depressing orphanage in northern Baja. I enjoyed serving the kids in the orphanage, but I also enjoyed the change I was seeing in my high school students as they learned to serve others. Unbeknownst to me, God was making those same changes in my heart.

One day I got a call from the orphanage. They needed something brought down from the US and asked if I could help. I had a Saturday to kill and agreed to drive down. While I was there, a ten-year-old boy was being dropped off. Most people don’t think about it, but every child in an orphanage has a “first day.” Almost always it is a terrifying, branding, horrible experience they will remember for the rest of their lives. They have either been abandoned by their family or removed due to abuse or neglect. To them the reasons are irrelevant, everything they’ve ever known is gone, and they’ve landed in a scary building, crowded with strangers. It is a defining moment they will remember the rest of their lives.

As I watched this boy being dropped off, I could see how terrified he was. I didn’t speak the language at the time but even if I did, what do you say to that? What did I have to offer that child when he was at his most fragile point? I couldn’t tell him it was going to be okay. I couldn’t tell him he landed in a good orphanage (he didn’t), everything I had in my youth ministry bag of tricks was useless. So I sat with him. We split a Coke. He cried. And a couple of hours later I got in my car and drove home. I hurt for that child, I hurt for that child deeply, but intertwined with the hurt was something I had never experienced before at that level. I had been involved in a lot of ministry, but I’d never felt so used by God as sitting with that boy, in the dirt, at that moment, when he desperately needed somebody. I wanted more of that in my life. I wanted to experience more of being used by God to touch and serve people at that level. Everything I had been working towards suddenly became incredibly trivial and pointless in comparison to those few hours in Mexico.

It’s impossible to plan a defining moment in your life, but if we step out of our comfort zone and place ourselves in new and challenging circumstances those defining moments are more likely to happen. If someone doesn’t take the chance at “open mic night” they might never experience the exhilaration of an audience laughing at their jokes. If someone chooses to stay home rather than go on that first-day snow skiing or surfing, they might not ever experience that rush of adrenaline. These same principles and ideas apply to our Christian walk. We won’t know what a prison ministry, a homeless ministry, or the ministry of encouraging others is like until we’re willing to take that first step, and put ourselves in uncomfortable and awkward situations.

In my experience, both personally, and as a witness to thousands of others, few activities encourage more defining moments than short-term missions. There’s something about leaving your home country, crossing borders, and making yourself available to be used by God in new circumstances. Short-term missions, when they are done right, can bring a heightened sense of awareness and help to bring our priorities in line. Although people might be on a mission to share the gospel and meet the needs of others, there is frequently a whole other layer of ministry going on where God is working on us.

Over the years I’ve received countless letters, emails, and comments from people sharing with me how a short-term missions trip changed their lives. I know many people today who are in full-time ministry as a direct result of a defining moment brought about through short-term missions. For countless others who aren’t in full-time ministry (yet), a short-term missions trip becomes an experience that will ripple out in their lives for years to come. It can become their defining moment, a touchstone that they will remember forever.

My hope and prayer is that through whatever circumstances, you will have that defining moment that will bring more significant direction in your life. I would encourage you to take chances, to say “yes” to trying something new. Stretch yourself emotionally. You can’t plan a defining moment, but please be open to it.

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The Enemy Hates Orphan Care

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In any ministry, it’s important to realize the battle is real. The struggles and hurts that we encounter and confront are part of a bigger spiritual battle. We live in a broken world and the enemy is very skilled, effective, and relentless. Whether it’s a megachurch pastor caught in sin, or a small food-bank struggling due to lack of funding, the enemy works towards, and rejoices in, ministries failing. Recognize it, get used to it; it’s going to be part of your life.

Orphan care is very close to the heart of God. God cares deeply for the hurting and abandoned child. The book of James explains that true religion is caring for widows and orphans. The enemy attacks all ministries, but I believe orphan care is a priority target. Whenever I’m talking with someone about opening an orphanage, or orphanage care in general, we spend time covering the expected basics: funding, staffing, organizational issues, dealing with childhood trauma, etc. Then I pause. After the basics are covered I pull back the curtain and ask them if they’re ready to enter into the battle, are they ready to have their world rocked? It’s easy to say “yes” to that question when it’s hypothetical; it’s a very different when it’s part of your life.

I recently had breakfast with someone who, along with his wife, is preparing to open a new orphanage. I asked him again, as I’ve asked him many times over the last six months “Are you ready for this, REALLY ready for this? You will never have a normal week again.” The challenges are real.

Although we have everyday challenges on a regular basis, I figure about twice a year our orphanage goes through something major. Some unexpected event or series of events that try to hurt the home and undermine the work that’s going on here. Sometimes we can see immediately what the attack is, sometimes it’s a little more stealthy. However they come, we know the attacks are real, and it sucks to go through them. But, and this is an important point here, we know God is bigger than the enemy. He won’t only protect us during attacks; He can use them for our good and for His glory. We might not see how God can use everything BUT, we have His promise, and can rest on that promise in the midst of the battle.

Several years ago, one of our older boys came to me and told me his eye was bothering him. This isn’t that uncommon, and we made an appointment to have him checked out, not a big deal. Within 24 hours, he had lost all sight in that one eye. We suddenly realized this might be a bigger issue. As we moved from specialist to specialist, it was determined that he had a golf ball sized tumor that was growing and crushing his optic nerve. That afternoon sitting with him across the desk from the neurosurgeon, when we were told he had maybe days or weeks to live, is burned into my memory. As we worked to get him to a specialist in the US, something very powerful happened. We operate as a large Christian family and prayer is an important part of our lives, but this challenge really upped it a notch or two. Without any coaching from us, our children started a voluntary dawn prayer meeting, churches from across Mexico and the US began praying for him and the situation. A few miracles later and he had a passport, medical visa, and an appointment in the US with one of the top neurosurgeons in California. On the day before he was scheduled to leave, we had a soccer game here on site with a bunch of the local teens to send him off. Without any prompting from us, the soccer teams (made up mainly of non-believers) formed a circle around him to pray him off. After several surgeries, he is now doing fine, attending college, and waiting on tables to earn spending money. I would never wish to go through that again, but God used that cancer to create an incredible sense of unity here in the home, and brought our level of prayer to new heights.

The enemy can be very creative; the attacks are always different and present in different ways. Among our large team of multicultural staff, we have quite a few couples. We love that our children are seeing healthy marriages and families modeled as most of them have never experienced that before. We went through one season where every couple on our staff, Mexican and American, went through a rough patch in their marriage. We know any marriage can or will go through rough times, but to have a dozen couples go through rough times over the same few weeks is pretty odd. All of the couples made it through, and today they are doing fine. In hindsight, it’s easy to see how this was a spiritual attack. Healthy marriages are the basic building block of a healthy family, and the enemy was going to do everything he could to destroy these marriages. Fortunately for all of us, we once again saw that God is bigger than any attacks that might come our way, if we allow Him to take over.

I’ve only shared a couple of examples, but there are countless others: hepatitis outbreaks, wells going dry, we’ve had three children pass away over the years, challenges from the government, infighting among the staff, etc. The only thing normal for us is that we will never have a normal week. Please do not read any of this as complaining; we are rejoicing. We, as believers, know we have already won, that Christ has overcome the world.

If you’re in orphan care (or any ministry) and are going through trials, please know you’re not alone. The storms are where we grow and learn how to flex against the raging wind. It’s the storms that water and nourish us down to the roots. Rest in the fact that, if we trust in our heavenly Father, He will protect us. He will use everything we’re going through. The battles are real, but we know who has already won.

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Short-Term Missions is Money Well Spent

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Short-term missions are a very big deal in the American church. One out of three churches will send a team internationally this year. Tens of thousands of people and many millions of dollars will be dedicated to these efforts. Why? Why do we as individuals, or a church body, put all of these resources into these trips? Sometimes it’s good to step back and just ask the simple, but important question: Are short-term missions worth all the funds and resources dedicated to them?

A very common argument against short-term missions is that they are not a good use of money. Or, to put it more bluntly, short-term missions are a complete waste of money. “Why doesn’t the short-term team just take all of that money and send it to where it can do some good?” “Why are we spending thousands of dollars on sending unskilled teenagers so they can just do busy work, take up space, and paint the same wall over and over again?” At first glance, these might seem like valid arguments. Let’s take a look at this.

We all waste money, so why should missions be any different? I know this is an odd thing to say, but we as individuals and as a church spend money on an endless list of things that aren’t necessary but are considered beneficial. How much money do we spend on summer camps, all-nighters, amusement parks, etc. every year with our youth groups? Someone could easily argue that any one of these is a waste of money. Does a church “need” glossy color fliers for everything? Does a church really “need” the trendiest coffee house, or antique style Edison bulbs on the stage to share the Gospel? If you say missions are a waste of money and are not holding the same standard to other areas, there might be some inconsistency in your argument.

“We should save the money on the trip and just send it to the mission or missionaries.” This comes up whenever the topic of money and short-term missions are discussed. On the surface, it’s very simple to understand this sentiment. The thousands of dollars spent on travel would have a profound impact in developing countries or underfunded missions worldwide. The flaw in this argument is that in the history of the church, I don’t believe this has ever happened. What youth group has ever done fundraising, asked for donations, and sacrificed for a foreign mission where they weren’t actively going and serving? It might happen, but not at the same level as if the youth group had skin in the game or if they were actually visiting the foreign country they were raising money for. Many churches have generous missions funds but nothing compared to the funding if they are actually sending teams into the field. Long-term, once a person has experienced a missions trip, they will frequently go on to fundraise and donate to the mission for years to come. Short-term trips do create long-term funding for missions work.

The expressed reasons for short-term missions usually come down to a combination of sharing the gospel, and meeting either emergency or ongoing physical needs. Sharing the gospel, and helping the needy are biblical principles, and we should use whatever resources we can. I used the term “expressed reasons” because so often there are reasons for short-term missions that are not expressed, but can be incredibly impactful and frequently the true reason for the trip. One area that can have a tremendous impact, but is hardly ever discussed, is the fact that short-term missions (when done right) can be an incredible education for the people going on the trips. A short-term mission changes the lives of the people participating.

Many people spend $20,000, $30,000, $40,000 a year to attend college and think it’s worth every penny. Almost nobody questions this expense because it’s seen as an investment in the student. People attend college to learn a trade, for a better career, but also to grow as individuals, to become well-rounded and get a bigger picture of how the world operates. These are valuable goals we should be seeking throughout our lives. The week or so someone spends in the mission field can accomplish more in the areas of personal growth, and expanding their world view, than a semester at a university. When you look at short-term missions from this standpoint, the money spent is money well invested in the maturity and education of the individual going on the trip.

There are many great churches where people can learn and grow, but nothing compares to experiencing the church in other parts of the world and putting the gospel into action. A person can read the DMV handbook, and maybe even drive a car in a video game, but until they get behind a wheel and drive on a real road, they won’t know what driving is like. There is something about traveling to another land for the Gospel that makes it more real to the person going. To walk in the example of the apostles, not just read about them. To spend time with people who have dedicated their lives to the service of others inspires and changes people. To meet and spend time with people from other cultures in their own homes broadens our worldview.

I have an obvious conflict of interest, the two organizations I lead specialize in hosting short-term missions. But I honestly believe these trips change lives. A week or so in the missions field frequently becomes a defining experience for many of the people participating. Not everyone on a missions trip will go into full-time missions, just as not everyone who walks into a church becomes a pastor, but I’ve never met a full-time missionary who didn’t start out in short-term missions.

Go on a trip, back a trip, and support those who are experiencing putting the Gospel into action. Missions is a wise use of funding and will change lives for the better.

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What Are We Called To Sacrifice?

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Having been in full-time missions for as long as I have, I end up doing quite a bit of public speaking, usually on missions and the biblical call to service. Invariably, following the talk, someone will ask the question: “How do I find God’s will for my life?” I’m sure my deep and heartfelt response never fails to help, encourage, and inspire: “I have no idea.”

Our salvation through God’s indescribable grace is complete; we can add nothing to it. It is done. As believers, our natural response, flowing from a realization of how powerful this gift of grace is, is to seek God’s will in our lives. This is a good thing. I want to state it again though; nothing we can do adds to our salvation. How we live our lives is a testimony to our belief in the gospel and what God has called us towards. Ultimately, God’s will for our lives is summed up in Micah 6:8: …And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

I honestly believe very few people have a calling into long-term international missions. The mission fields in our homes, our schools, and our workplaces are in desperate need of people to share the gospel in their day-to-day lives. It is a glorious and beautiful thing that we can live out the gospel in both word and deed every day, wherever we are. The US is a hungry and needy missions field. But, what if there is a different calling on our lives? What ARE we called to do? What are we called to sacrifice?

A few years ago my wife and I went on a short-term missions trip to Malawi, a tiny country in the middle of Africa. We had been asked to consult with one of the many orphanages there created in response to the AIDS crisis. Malawi is land-locked in the southern half of the African continent and ranks as one of the poorest countries in the world. Accommodations and travel conditions can be “rustic” even on the best of days. A few days into the trip we were asked to drive to the northern part of the country, into one of the least populated areas, where a group was interested in opening a new orphanage. We saw this as both a chance to help another orphanage and, as a personal perk, we could see more of the country.

Our driver/guide and our team of four climbed into a rickety vehicle for the trek north. The car had obviously been on this road countless time before as it was the only road through the country. The car just naturally seemed to find every one of the thousands of potholes trying to shake the trim off the car, and the fillings out of our teeth. After about eight hours we arrived at our destination. For the last several hours of the trip, I had been finding a balance between silently complaining to myself, and patting myself on the back for making such a “sacrifice” to help. (I’m frequently an idiot)

Once we arrived in the village, we saw that it was nothing more than a random cluster of shortish adobe huts with grass roofs baking in the sun. Before we were done stretching after the long drive, our guide asked us to follow him to the edge of the clearing. With him leading the way, we came to a compact but very well kept cemetery. Now, we were not aware of every “local custom,” so the guide saw the look of confusion on our faces. To help us understand what was going on, he puffed out his chest and said with great pride and enthusiasm “This is where we bury the missionaries!” This did not help. At all. After seeing our even more confused looks, he went on to explain that this is a place of tremendous honor. The people buried here are the first missionaries who brought the Gospel to this area over 100 years ago.

I spent a long time walking through that cemetery. Few events are etched so deeply into my mind as the hours I spent walking from grave to grave reading the names and dates memorialized in that special place. They had died at 22, 26, 30 years of age. There are a few infants buried there who never saw age 2, born in a hut in the middle of Africa. These are people who traveled from Europe for months, through horrible conditions, for the chance to share the gospel with this small tribe of people. They left for the missions field knowing full well they would very likely not be coming home, at least not to their home in this world. These people knew what it was to sacrifice for the gospel.

What are we called to sacrifice for the Gospel? I don’t know. I, like you, am still figuring this out. But we need to be asking this question throughout our lives: What am I called to do? We have received a profound gift. If we believed in the gospel as deeply as we should, what wouldn’t we be willing to sacrifice to bring just one more person into the Kingdom? Whether you realize it or not, you’re dedicating your life to something. Does what you’re working for matter in the bigger picture? Does what you’re working towards matter at all?

To quote Frances Chan: “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”

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Why Are So Many Superheroes Orphans?

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Spiderman, Batman (and Robin), Superman, Ironman, etc. Why are so many superheroes orphans? It’s more than just an odd coincidence. Comic book writers know basic human nature. They know that, when channeled correctly, trauma and pain can be used for good. Unless someone is cut deeply, it’s challenging to have the empathy and understanding needed to truly help and reach out to others. Unless someone has lost everything, they have no idea how to reach others who have.

In our area of Mexico, broken tile mosaics are very popular. You start out with clean, bright, shiny, usually flawless tile. You then drop it, or in some fashion shatter the tile to break it into sharp, jagged, usable pieces. After the first breaking, you take a specialized type of pliers to crush off rough edges or create new edges, to shape it into the perfect piece to create the design. Without that shattering and crushing, the tile might be flawless, but it would be useless for its intended purpose. The artist creating the mosaic sees the bigger picture and breaks each piece to create a stunning masterpiece that brings joy and beauty into the world. Sometimes, we are that tile.

When my wife and I first got to Mexico, the children in the orphanage had seen a lot of people come through and had heard a lot of false promises. When they met us, in their eyes, we were just another couple that was going to abandon them. The first few weeks they tested us, and we had a hard time connecting with our limited experience and horrible Spanish. One night, while talking with some of the teen boys, it came up that my mother had died when I was fairly young and my wife came from her own challenging upbringing. The moment they heard about our histories, I could see something change in their expressions that said: “Oh, they get it.” Suddenly, although our Spanish still sucked, and we still had a LOT to learn, a door was opened between us, and we had a connection. Without the pain we had gone through, that door would not have opened. Without our histories, I doubt we would be in orphan care today.

We interview a lot of people who feel called to orphan care and want to join our team, and we ask all the standard questions. The one question where I carefully watch their response is “tell me about your childhood.” If they get nervous, they move to the top of the list. Over the years, we’ve found that our BEST staff are the ones with the worst childhood. I don’t wish pain on anyone, but I know God can use it. Abandonment, child of divorce, alcoholic parents, time in foster care, should never have to happen. But man, it can create people of depth and understanding. They “get” the pain our children have gone through. They understand the healing that needs to take place, and how to guide our children through it. The Master has used their broken edges to shape them in such a way that He can use them for a masterpiece.

We had one long-term volunteer come in that seemed perfect, on paper. He was raised in a great family, very polite, came from a very active church, impressive education, etc. It quickly became apparent that he was a disaster in orphan care. He didn’t do anything wrong exactly; he just couldn’t connect with the kids. He didn’t get it; there was no empathy in him. He even had a hard time connecting with the other team members on a deeper level. It just didn’t work. In talking to him even, he used the term “charmed life” when referring to his history. Ideal family, small-town upbringing, popular in school, etc. He had never really suffered anything. He went home to the US after a few months and he’s doing fine, I’m sure he’ll have a good life, but his lack of suffering hindered his ability to minister to those in need. He had never been broken.

If you’ve gone through loss, abandonment, the death of loved ones, etc., take joy in knowing that we have a loving Father, a master artist, who can take our broken, rough edges and shape them into a masterpiece. If we’ve turned the pain over to God, and allowed Him to move us through healing, we can now be the tools He will use to change lives. There is nothing that has happened to us that God can not use if we allow Him.

If you’re in orphan care, the healing process is long, complicated, and can sometimes be an agonizing experience as we lead children through the pain. But it can work. God can bring children through horrific experiences and bring them to a healthy place. The sad truth is, not every child heals emotionally. Some will make poor life decisions and never reach that place where they have moved on from what’s been done to them. Our job as caregivers is to guide our children to healing, to show them that what’s been done to them is not who they are. We always need to remember that God is the master, the artist, who will shape the broken parts into His perfect masterpiece. We just carry the broken tile to the Artist.

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Stealth Heroes

pexels-photo-339620I tend to come across a little cynical. I’ve been told that if I ever gave up sarcasm the only way I could communicate would be through interpretive dance. I’m a little more positive than I might seem. In the work I do, I do see the absolute worst in people. On the flip-side, I get to bump up against some truly outstanding and generous people. We could not care for our large family, and push forward in the work God has called us to do, without others. We’ve been privileged to see hundreds of incredibly generous, gifted, and creative people who faithfully show up to work alongside us.

The “bad guys” get the press, but in the midst of the worst situations, the first responders and “helpers” show up. For every mass shooter, there are hundreds of stories of “normal” people stepping up to help the wounded and care for survivors. For every horrific story of abuse, there are thousands of untold stories of normal people reaching out to make a difference in the lives of people in need. There is an old line in the news industry: “if it bleeds it leads.” The bloodier and worse the story is the better it sells. But, these stories make up a very small percentage of any community.

Over many years of managing our orphanage, we’ve been privileged to see the very best of humanity. Here are a few of those stories.

A couple we barely knew started to donate monthly after they had a tour of our home. Monthly donors are not that uncommon, but they were donating about $500 a month – this is substantially more than most people commit to. We were very grateful, I just assumed that they were people of “means,” and our orphanage was just one of many things they donated towards. We sent them thank you letters, they sent us checks, and that was the extent of the relationship. After a few years, they asked about stopping by to touch bases. While we were out to dinner their story slowly came into focus, I realized I had made some VERY wrong assumptions. One of them was a school teacher, and one was a substitute teacher. They lived in a humble house in Arizona; their rent was less than what they sent to us. They spent most of their time reading and studying languages. They lived a very simple life. They had decided to take what little they had and make a difference. The $500 a month they were sending us was not a random donation among many; they were actively living below their means to support orphans. The $500 they were sending was a sacrifice. They will never be written about (other than here), most people will never know of their giving, but every day they chose to give to something bigger than they are.

About 12 years ago Doug “retired” from being an electrician. I put retired in quotes for a reason. He’s still a full-time electrician it’s just that now his reward is very different. Years ago Doug started doing the electrical work for a small ministry in Baja, and it took over his life. He could be laying on a beach, maybe fishing somewhere. He could be taking up bridge or gardening. Nope. He pulls wire. He installs light fixtures. About twice a week he travels from his home in California to one of the several projects in Baja where he is the “electrical guy.” His current project is a very large, free medical clinic being built in a small town about one hour south of the border. Sometimes his wife comes along, many times she doesn’t, but Doug is faithful to do his part to serve the needy in Baja. There will never be a statue in his honor, his work will never make the news, but he is literally bringing light to the darkness. He brings light with both wire, and with his infectious and ever-present smile. He has found joy, and his calling, in service.

Sometimes, people just think outside the norm. We have a LOT of groups that do crafts, play soccer, maybe make a meal for our kids. I’ve seen more piñatas than anyone should see in a lifetime. There are tried and true ways to help. All these things are good, but sometimes a group really knocks one out of the park. We had one small church approach us about trying something different. They came in and took over a large multi-purpose room and turned it into a day-spa. They brought in artsy candles, calm music, comfortable chairs, wall hangings and curtains for privacy, etc. Now, you might be thinking: “Why does five-year-old Jose need a day spa? That’s just weird.” This group had a different vision, they knew what it was like to care for others full time, and they knew our staff needed a break. They came in with the goal of serving the caregivers in our home. They gave pedicures to our cooks who are on their feet all day and have been for years. They gave manicures to the ladies in the nursery who use their hands to change dozens of diapers every day. They gave back rubs to the “playground staff” who need to chase, pick-up, and care for crowds of toddlers every day. To be honest, our staff was a little uncomfortable at first. They were not used to being cared for in this way. Once our staff understood what was going on, it turned into a very special event. It’s not often you get to see the example of foot washing that Jesus gives us, played out in such a tangible way.

I could go on for many pages sharing about the incredible people that God uses in creative and unexpected ways. The point is, there are many more people doing phenomenal things, than the few who shock us with evil. In the midst of natural or man-made disasters, remember that everyday people representing the best of humanity are there also.

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So You Want to Open an Orphanage…

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Do you feel called to open an orphanage? Trust me on this, lay down until the feeling goes away. If you still want to open an orphanage, continue reading.

I wish orphanages didn’t exist. The first choice for caring for abandoned children should be extended family. If extended family is not an option, then children at risk should be placed in healthy families. Unfortunately, placement with a family is just not an option for many children. Most orphanages are filled with children who, for one reason or another, are not adoptable or are very difficult to place. Orphanages care for children with multiple siblings, children with physical or mental challenges, children with an extended family that cannot care for them but still hold parental rights, etc. So if orphanages have to exist (and they do), they should be great, and run by people with vision and the skill sets to make them a fantastic place for children to heal and grow into healthy adults.

On a regular basis, people contact me who feel lead to open orphanages. My first question is always: “Who is going to run it?” Putting up buildings is easy(ish), on-going funding is harder, but living at, and running an orphanage can be hugely challenging and is not for the faint of heart.

Like pastoring, it’s very different once you’re in charge as opposed to watching from a comfortable distance. Running an orphanage is 24 hours a day, just like pastoring. Like pastoring a church, everyone who walks into your ministry will be second guessing all of your decisions and how you’re running things (and they know they can do it better). You not only get to care for kids and staff, you also need to keep government officials AND donors happy, all at the same time. Good luck with that.

On the long list of things that surprise most people is the amount of administration that has to go on. From the outside, people tend to think that the day-to-day parts of running an orphanage are about holding babies, craft projects, and building healing relationships with the children. All of these things go on, but they make up a remarkably small part of the day-to-day hours of running an orphanage. Actually, “child care” is an almost insignificant part of the job. Days are occupied with the mundane: grocery shopping, hosting guests, managing staff, answering emails, etc. Your days and weeks are filled with what it takes to keep the ministry open and moving forward.

Fundraising will take up much of your waking hours for the rest of your life. Just because you’re passionate about orphan care doesn’t mean anyone else cares. Everyone has different passions, callings, and challenges in their lives. Other people are called to serve and help in other ministries, that’s a good thing. That people have passions and interests that don’t connect with orphan care makes fundraising that much more of a challenge. Sharing the needs of your home, sharing the needs for orphan care in general, and sharing your passion is all part of the work. Share with the right people, get the word out, and God will connect the right people to support it.

Here is what they don’t teach you in “orphan school”: the struggles are real. Caring for orphans is very close to the heart of God. If you’re doing it right, the enemy doesn’t like it. You will never have a normal week again. Sick kids, staff issues, government issues, will be the norm. We figure about two significant attacks a year. Hepatitis outbreaks, wells going dry, we went through one season where EVERY couple on our staff went through a rough patch in their marriage. We’ve had children diagnosed with cancer, we’ve had children die. The spiritual attacks will be part of your life, get used to it. The good news is we’ve never gone through an attack God could not use to make the home stronger and cause us to grow. I can honestly look back and give thanks for all we’ve experienced. Don’t get me wrong, we dread the attacks and storms when we’re going through them, but we also know God is so much bigger.

Please know that this work will rip your heart out. And dance on it. And then bounce it around the room. We deal with the worst side of humanity. I could shock you with the profoundly horrific things that have been done to our children. You do not want this in your life. Then, once a child has been in your care for a long time, and they’ve begun to heal, you never know when a social worker will sweep in and say they are going back with family. Sometimes this is good; many times it’s not. Your emotional scars and callouses will build over time.

If this rambling article sounds like I am complaining, please do not interpret it that way. I just want people going into this work to do so with their eyes wide open. I’ve dedicated the bulk of my adult life to orphan care, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The work is challenging, the battles are real, and it can be emotionally and physically exhausting. That being said, I have zero regrets about walking away from my “normal” life running a business in Southern California. Although the challenges can be extreme, the rewards far outweigh any of the battles we’ve gone through.

The graduations where you see groups of your children graduate from high school or college makes it worth the sacrifice. When you’re able to walk so many of the young women you’ve raised down the aisle at their weddings, it’s worth it. When you see children you’ve raised, caring for their own families in a healthy loving fashion, it’s all worth it. If you’re indeed called to orphan care, surround yourself with people of similar vision, give it everything you have, and press forward. It’s a worthy calling and will be the most rewarding experience of your life.

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