“I’m from the Government; I’m here to help.”

32618985644_dd410eabb0_bIf your child needed to be cared for long-term by someone other than yourself, who would you feel good about? The DMV? The post office? How about the local school board? This is what society, and the church in America, has decided is best for children in need of a home, turn it over to a government agency. It has now become the government’s responsibility to care for widows and orphans.*

One of the questions I get asked all the time is whether the Mexican government helps to fund our orphanage. It surprises most people when they hear that we get no government funding to care for over one hundred children in need. Although we work directly with the government, and we have a lot of oversight, we are funded entirely through private donations. We depend on volunteers and our great donors for the work to continue. This is a system that works. Around one hundred years ago this is how it was in the US: privately funded, privately run, faith-based orphanages to care for the many children who fall through the cracks. Every country has a percentage of children in need of a home, how they approach it varies dramatically. Sadly, very few countries care for orphans well.

A couple of generations ago, the church in the US knew their mission was to care for others and do it with quality. In the past, churches opened hospitals to care for the sick; they built orphanages to care for the abandoned, the church was a place society turned to whenever needs were present. Some churches still understand the mandate to care for widows and orphans, but it’s usually blended into “benevolence” and turning over to a few people to manage while the bulk of the church carries on with the “real” ministry. Social services, as a whole, has been turned over to the government and abandoned by most churches. No wonder so many people are leaving the church. If we aren’t following Jesus’ example of loving and serving the poorest what’s the point? If the true religion of caring for widows and orphans is just a footnote, where are we focusing?

In this rambling rant, I’m not saying there aren’t some great people in any church who understand the call to serve the poorest of the poor; I’m just saying it seems like the church as a whole has shifted from the call to serve, to the call to be entertained. While some churches are great about supporting foster care or encouraging adoption, today, many churches are more likely to focus on opening coffee houses or brew-pubs. Is your church youth group more focused on entertaining activities or finding areas to serve in your town? Sure, service to others is a tough sell, but it’s a big part of living out the Gospel. We need to follow Christ’s path of sacrificial service to the “least of these.”

Jesus gave us a very clear example. He was all about service to others. He was about teaching, encouraging, feeding, healing: we are called to do the same. Not that service does anything to add to our salvation, Jesus handled that for us on the cross. What service does is draw us closer to Him, it helps our relationship with Him, it’s part of us taking on His image. Loving service to others is walking in His footsteps and makes churches come alive.

You might not be able to shift the focus of your church, but you can make a difference. Consider doing something radical with your life. Foster a child, adopt a child. If that’s not an option for you find a foster family you can help support with supplies, prayer, or anything they might need.

Someone asked me recently, “What if I’m hurting and not able to serve?” I probably surprised them with my answer: “I don’t care who you are, you can help someone. Everyone is hurting; we begin to heal when we start to focus on the pain and loneliness of others.” God doesn’t need us to help others; He wants us to help others because it’s good for us. God wants His church to help others because it’s good for the church. Maybe, just maybe, if the church learned to take the lead in social services, in serving orphans, in caring for the hurting, the church would become healthier. Maybe instead of people drifting away from the church, they would be drawn to the love and care that they see within the church. In an odd way, service to others is a selfish act. God’s rules are not like the world’s rules. If we learn to give to others, serve others, love others, we will find the joy that God wants us to have in this life.

Stop letting the government corner the market on serving widows and orphans; they’re not as much help as they think they are.

 

*(Covering my butt here: This is in NO way a criticism of the many great people working within the foster care system. Many foster care parents are incredible, it’s the system that’s lacking.)

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There’s Nothing at the Top

light-love-clouds-riverAnyone in missions hears the same one phrase whenever groups are visiting: “They’re poor but so happy.” It’s an interesting observation, and it seems to come from every age group and income level of visiting Americans. What does this say about the culture of US consumerism? Why do we automatically equate our collection of stuff to happiness? If you look at happiness studies (yes, that’s a thing) for the most part, there is no correlation between income and contentment. Once a person’s basic needs are met, more money and more stuff adds nothing to their lives.

Here in Baja Mexico, every year we host a large group that comes down from a very wealthy area in Northern California. This group has been raised with all the worldly goods this life has to offer, and are all on track to ivy league schools. I know many of them are just serving here to add it to their resumes. I’m OK with this because we can still expose them to the “real world,” even if that’s not why they came. With this group, we make it a point to get them out to spend time at various ministries in our area and meet with the leaders. These are ministries working with some of the poorest of the poor and in some of the most challenging areas. Before I send the team, I suggest they watch the leaders who, in most cases, walked away from “successful” lives in America to come and serve the poor. I specifically asked them to watch and see if these leaders seem like they are suffering, or have they found purpose. Are these leaders fighting for a goal that is never within reach? Or have they found profound joy living a life in direct conflict with everything American culture teaches us about what is important? It leads to some great follow-up discussions about what matters in life and what we should be working towards. I want them to see and think about people who have taken a path far different than most of the examples they have in their lives. I want them to experience people of depth and purpose.

Most Americans spend so much time fighting for goals that don’t matter in the bigger scheme of things: the cooler car, the bigger house, more likes or followers on social media. So much of our lives are focused on things that will mean nothing someday when we’re laying on our deathbeds. We need to be working towards impactful, eternal things, goals that move life from drudgery to joy.

This past week many of the news stories have been about two very famous people who both committed suicide. These two people had reached the top of their chosen fields but still did not find enough in this life to keep moving forward. They had attained it all and found it was nothing after all. The default response when these things happen is to blame it on mental illness, that is not always the case. Frequently suicides are triggered by circumstances or events in a person’s life; they reach a point where they can’t deal with what the world is giving, or not giving them. Sometimes people are just worn down by the grind of trying to attain something that is just out of their reach. We will probably never know the real backstory on these two tragic, headline suicides. We do know they both, for whatever reason, had no reason to go on. Once they reached the top and looked around, they found nothing.

Each one of us might attain our own misdirected goals in this life. But whether it’s fame, money, prestige, or titles, they are only an empty, shallow, echo of joy. They might bring some short-term happiness, but it will fill that aching hollow in our lives for a short blip of time. We must find more, we must find purpose, we must find a relationship with our creator.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” We need to see the world, and our lives, through the eyes of our savior and redeemer. There is depth and joy in walking in Christ’s example. Most people are not called into missions or even full-time ministry, but we are called to follow Christ’s example of service to others. Walking in the shadow of Christ is brighter, warmer, and more fulfilling than standing in the full sunlight of anything this empty world has to offer.

Don’t spend your time climbing the ladder of success only to tragically find out there is nothing at the top. Have your ladder pointed in the right direction.

_____________________________

If you are in that dark place:

I’ve had two people in my social circles take their own lives in the last few years. Suicide is a tragedy for all those involved and echoes on in the lives of those left behind. If you have reached that point, or think someone in your life might, please seek help. There are people available who can help you. Please reach out to someone or call the number below.

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

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Voluntourism Isn’t So Bad.

travelOver the last few years, the term “voluntourism” has come into the missions vernacular. It’s generally used as a derogatory term for people combining vacations, with serving, with a dash of poverty tourism thrown in. It’s a simple term, but it’s more complicated than the black and white way most people present it.

I’ve you’ve watched cable news or visited any social media website in the last few years you’ve seen a widening divide. Whether it’s Democrat vs. Republican, opinions on gun control, or any one of dozens of topics, the reasonable middle ground can be hard to find. The problem is, in most cases, that middle ground is where logical solutions are found. The calm voice of reason has been silenced by the shouting from both sides in too many discussions.

I, along with my team, host a LOT of short-term mission groups in Mexico every year. Are some of these trip more about tourism wrapped in projects? Sure, it happens, it’s actually a sliding scale with any group. Some people come for purely educational or recreational purposes, some come who only want to serve, most come with a mixed agenda and we’re OK with that. As long as the groups coming down are respectful of our home, and the people we serve in the community, we want the groups here. We want bigger groups, and we want them to tell their friends to come.

The term voluntourism paints all service trips with a broad negative brush. It claims that service trips are all about the people going on the trips, and those people looking good on social media. We’ve all seen the pictures of American teens surrounded by poor children. The thing is, for this current generation, everything is documented to social media. Whether it’s dining out, giving birth, or the Pinterest wedding, everything is now photographed for online publication. Is it odd that service trips are also so well photographed and shared? As long as the people being photographed have given permission, and the local culture is respected, is this a problem? Or does showing people the need in various areas of the world actually help to promote aid to those areas? Few would argue that’s it’s better to keep needs hidden. When these trips are healthy and respectful, everybody wins.

People attacking voluntourism without knowing the desires and goals of the people receiving the groups are actually showing incredible arrogance. “I know what’s better for them than they do.” This attitude of well-meaning American’s determining the wants and desires of people groups and cultures they know very little about is actually hugely condescending. Passing judgment on people without knowing them, their needs, and their wishes, is exactly the wrong thing to do. By going and visiting people where they are, talking to them, and getting to know them, real progress can be made. Call it voluntourism if you want to, but it’s a good thing.

Across the board, people in our area want more groups to come down. Even though some groups give just a half-hearted nod to a service project, they still bring huge benefits to our community. There is a reason every city in the US promotes tourism: people who visit buy food, supplies, and create jobs in the local community. Between the several ministries in our area, over 500 missions groups are hosted in our town of 4,000 people every year. These short-term mission teams and their projects are the economic engines that have brought our town from poverty to middle class in the last 15 years. Some groups have been less than great, but the overall effect has changed local lives for the better.

So how do you change the shape of voluntourism? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Respect the people and culture of wherever you are visiting. Always remember that the people you’re visiting aren’t there for your entertainment, they are just like you but from a different culture and background. Get to know them, talk to them, ask before you take a picture (or don’t take a picture at all). Treat them as you would want to be treated.
  2. Work on real, productive projects. The best way to do this is to find on-the-ground organizations who you can partner with. There are people in any area who know the needs that need to be addressed and how best to focus your efforts and resources. If you’re working on a project, by partnering with local organizations, you’re much better prepared to help, and not cause unintentional damage.
  3. Be honest with your funders. If you call your trip “missions” and have raised money under that title, be honest with yourself and your donors. Is this really just about missions or is it about tourism? If it’s just about you taking a trip, get a job and pay for it yourself. If it’s really about serving others and meeting needs, let people know how they can help. Taking an educational and touristy trip is fine, just be honest about it.

It comes down to respect for the people in the countries being visited. Travel is a good thing, it breaks down walls, changes opinions, and works against racism. If we can learn more about our world, our fellow man, and help others while we’re at it, it’s a good thing. Voluntourism suddenly doesn’t sound so bad.

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What is an Orphan?

Armenian_orphans_in_Aleppo_collected_from_Arabs_by_Karen_Jeppe

What is the definition of orphan? I know this sounds pretty straightforward but depending on who you talk to the definition of what an orphan is can vary widely. Most people assume that an orphan is a child that has no parents. But orphan can also define many other situations where the child might have a parent or two; they just aren’t around to care for the child. Both UNICEF and World Vision define an orphan as a child who has lost one or both parents.

I, along with an exceptional team, run a large orphanage. We care for about 120 children from newborn up through adulthood in a family like setting. The bulk of our children are not technically orphans in the traditional sense; this sometimes surprises people. “If they’re not an orphan, why are they in your home?” Well, it gets complicated.

If a parent or parents are in prison, rehab, or some other institutional situation where they can’t care for their child, the child needs to go somewhere. Frequently there is no extended family available or willing to care for the thousands of children whose parents are no longer in their lives. These children are technically not “orphans” but still need a home. Of the children in our care, 70% will never see blood relatives again. The parents might be out there somewhere; it’s just that reunification is impossible. We are big fans of adoption, but it’s not a reality for most children. Because there are still parents somewhere, the children are older, or there are siblings in the picture, adoptions are pretty rare.

Some children are brought to us due to severe abuse or neglect. Some have gone through things that would rip your heart out if I were to detail them here. Even though they have been removed from a home situation for their protection, they still technically have parents and are not “orphans.” They need to be cared for, counseled, and brought to a place of healing.

Occasionally a woman will give birth and for any number of reasons decide to abandon that child. The mother might be too young, they might have hidden the pregnancy, or they don’t want to acknowledge it, they might be going through some deep psychological issues. For whatever reason, in any society, a percentage of infants are abandoned by their parents. Once again these children are not technically orphans, they have parents somewhere. These abandoned children need to be cared for and raised in a way to show them how valuable they are. They need to be shown that they are not a mistake or just something to be thrown away. Being abandoned at that level leaves some deep scars.

The work of orphan care is rarely black-and-white, there are a vast amount of gray areas that we work in every day. Many people accuse orphanages of breaking up families just for the sake of filling their dorms. I’m not saying some orphanages haven’t done this, or even continue to do this, but in my experience, it’s less frequent than some people would lead you to believe.

Most of our children are referred to us by social workers just like they would be assigned to foster care families in the US, but occasionally a child will be brought to us by a parent asking us to take their child. We will do everything in our power to keep the family together. Whether it’s counseling, short-term financial help, housing, etc. we fight to keep families together. We’ve even gone so far as hiring qualified single mothers so that they could stay here with their children in a safe place. We feel a healthy family is without a doubt the very best option for a child. Unfortunately, for many children, the family option is not on the table.

So why this rambling explanation of the difficulties of defining an orphan? I just wanted to bring up the idea that orphan care can be very nuanced, complicated, and it can be hard to peg down solid answers. Orphaned and abandoned children don’t fit into our preconceived boxes. In any ministry, there are Solomon like judgment calls made frequently. What is your definition of homeless? What is your definition of a “special needs” child? Words and definitions matter a great deal, but the realities are people are messy, and we need to meet them where they are. We are all on a sliding scale of messed up. Just because a child doesn’t fit our exact definition of orphan, doesn’t mean they don’t have needs. Too many children in this world are desperate for a place to call home, filled with people who genuinely care about them.

In orphan care, we need to see each child as God sees us. God sees each one of us as individuals with needs, desires, and profound pains that are uniquely our own. Psalm 68:5 says, “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows, is God in his holy habitation.” God cares deeply for each one of his children. He cares so deeply for us; we should also care for those lost children all around us, whether it’s a true orphan, an abandoned child, or the lonely child next door or in our church. There are more “orphans” among us than we might realize: act accordingly.

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Don’t Screw Up Your Investment in Eternal Things

coinsWe are given limited resources, how are we going to use them? It doesn’t matter what we do, the years we have on this earth are limited so we need to use them wisely. In the same way, at whatever level of income we find ourselves, we need to use our funds with wisdom. The parable of the talents was taught by Jesus for a reason. We need to realize everything we have belongs to our Heavenly Father and it’s just been entrusted to us. We need to use what we have responsibly, not on a whim, not in areas that don’t matter in the eternal sense. Below are some random thoughts, I claim no wisdom in this area, just bringing up some observations.

If you’re buying a house, a car, or planning for retirement, you spend some time defining your goals and researching the finer details. Where do I want to buy a house? What kind of car do I want that I can afford?”  When we’re spending our hard earned money, we want the best return on our investment. We need to put the same effort into our decisions of where and how to give. Is this charity a wise investment of my resources? Does this donation have a long-term impact? Does this group requesting my help have a track record of using resources wisely? These are questions that are important to look at when you’re deciding where to invest your donor dollars.

A couple of things to consider:

Give more than just seasonally. Ask anyone who runs a non-profit and they will tell you it’s not only retailers that look forward to Black Friday. Yearend giving is huge. Not just for tax purposes, people just really like to donate over the holidays. It’s a warm, fuzzy, emotional, giving season and some people are making up for not donating through the year. For whatever reason, December is a great time to run a charity. The thing is, there are needs throughout the year, not just in December. A good example is food banks, they turn a lot of people and perishable food away during thanksgiving because EVERYBODY wants to help for that one holiday. Food banks need help in January, in April, pretty much throughout the year, not just for Thanksgiving. The essential work that charities perform are rarely seasonal; people have needs every week. Give accordingly.

Give to what works and has an impact, not just the greatest apparent need. The orphanage my team runs looks homey and well cared for. We have bright, clean buildings, well-kept landscaping, and a large property. We’re this way because there have been decades of work put into it by visiting groups and our staff. Our children here in our home also work hard to keep the place clean and well maintained. We’re all proud of our home, and want it to be nice for the people who visit. So what’s the problem? People walk in, and their first thought is “Well, they must not need my help.” Some people straight up tell me “I was looking for a sadder, more depressing orphanage.” That’s OK, I understand, but it’s still frustrating. We sometimes feel penalized for doing a good job.

Having beautiful buildings doesn’t mean we don’t have needs. Our buildings are complete but we need to heat and light them, we need to pay for hot water for showers and staffing to care for kids. Yes, our kids are in school, but transportation is a massive challenge for us. We need to feed everyone three times a day and pay for on-going medical needs. We depend on small donations to care for our kids and keep the doors open. Looks can be deceiving; a great organization usually needs great funding to continue the work.

When someone asks for a “needier” orphanage, I will gladly send them to some other homes in our area, but also send them with some advice. “Go, give a lot, help all you can, but if you don’t see any changes in a few months, start to ask questions.” There are always needs, but if an organization is in a constant, desperate need for funding, they might not be managing what they have responsibly. I know one orphanage that would always keep one broken window so people could pay to have it fixed. (It never got fixed). Give where you see the money will be used responsibly and for the intended purpose.

Give to help in an emergency, but not just what’s trendy. 9/11 almost put us out of business. “But wait, you’re an orphanage in Mexico, how did 9/11 affect you?” Almost all US giving shifted from existing needs and went to New York organizations. The need was real, but so were the needs of every other organization where day-to-day donations stopped for about 60 days. At this point, I know whenever there is a hurricane, earthquake, or some other national event we will see a major drop in donations for a few weeks. The other draw for some people is whatever is trendy. The joke in some non-profit circles is “If you want funding, just put “human trafficking” or “well drilling” on your website.” These are the two hot causes being donated towards right now. Both are worthy causes, both need to be addressed, but there are other ongoing needs and challenges all around us. Give with a purpose, not just emotion. Find a cause or need you’re passionate about and commit to it.

There are books written about what I just tried to cover in under 1,000 words. I’ve only scratched the surface on this topic, and I’m sure some people disagree with these ideas. But how we use the funds entrusted to us matters a great deal. Give, give a lot, but give wisely.

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Avoid Turkeys In Your Life

TurkeysSeveral years ago there was a popular bumper sticker that said: “It’s hard to soar with eagles when you’re surrounded by turkeys.” Although it was meant as a joke, there is actually a great deal of truth in those few words. Who you surround yourself with has a significant impact on everything you do. Choose carefully who you spend your time with, and who is on your team. In missions, in orphan care, and in life, quality people make the difference.

I run a large orphanage in Baja Mexico together with an exceptional team. Everyone on our team gets one day off a week to get out and do whatever they want. Shopping, beach, whatever they feel they need to recharge their batteries for the non-stop work around here. Recently, a young man on our team, who typically never took his day off, started to disappear every Monday. Him going away isn’t a problem, but it became VERY regular for the exact same hours. I got kind of curious and asked him about it. It turns out, on his one day off from the work at our orphanage, he found a second orphanage caring for children rescued out of sex trafficking in Tijuana. So, on his one day off, he chose to help even more kids, in even rougher situations. I LOVE the quality and character of the members of our team. Every single one of them are humble servants.

Over the years we’ve had a considerable number of people join our staff for an extended time of six months or longer (usually much longer). We always make a focused effort to carefully get to know the person and have them spend some time here so we can watch them. We also perform several background checks before anyone gets the privilege of being part of what we do. This surprises a lot of people since these are volunteer positions. Think about that. We ask people to find their own support, and give up their plans for a chunk of their lives, to serve the children in our care. Most people assume we’ll take whoever we can get, but we turn away a lot of people.

“Wait a minute, you depend on volunteers, but you turn volunteers away?” Absolutely, some people bring more headaches than blessings. There is nothing more costly and stress-inducing than a bad volunteer. I have what I refer to as my “caller ID scale”: When a name pops up on my caller ID, and my first response is “cool,” that’s someone I want in my life. If caller ID pops up of someone I work with, and my first thought is “oh cr-p, what now,” is that person bringing blessing or stress? The minute you read the last sentence I’m sure a few people in your life came to mind. Our lives are better if most of the people we work and serve with are quality people who bring joy.

So who should you surround yourself with? Who should be on your team? Here are a few things to consider:

Do they accept when they’ve been wrong, or do they shift the blame to someone else? If someone owns their mistakes and learns from them, they bring peace to a situation and not drama. Adam in the garden was the first human to shift the blame: “She made me do it.” Man has been shifting blame (and blaming women) for all their problems ever since that day.

Do they have a servants heart? Jesus was the perfect servant, always looking to bless and encourage those around Him. We need more people in our lives that are ready to serve just because it’s the right thing to do, it honors God, and it brings joy.

Do they have a positive attitude? God is in control. God can use all things. If a person is always negative, always pointing out flaws, always expecting the worst, they do not have an accurate idea of who God is. They are also hard to be around.

The bottom line is are they humble. Humble is not putting yourself down, it’s not thinking of yourself at all. Humility focuses on building others up, serving others, and seeking to give God all the glory. Humility is not expecting anything in return for service and finding joy in other people receiving the blessing. Humility is a big deal, none of us get it right, but we need people in our lives who try.

Jesus spent time selecting the twelve that he would work with. He spent a great deal of time in prayer and knew who He was looking for. He worked with and taught everyone who came along but His inner circle was different, select, just the right ones. The twelve He selected weren’t perfect (some far from perfect) but He knew who He wanted on His team. Not a single apostle was an accident or just the first who showed up.

In missions, ministry, or almost any area of life, your team is a big deal. Yes, God can use anyone, but if you have the privilege of selecting your team, please do so with care. Nothing will impact your success or failure more in missions, and in life, than who you’re working with. You are only as good as the people you are partnering with, in any endeavor. Choose wisely, fly with eagles, avoid the turkeys.

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You Have a Greater Impact Than You Think

Africa3When you’re traveling on a short-term mission trip, how you’re perceived might be very different than you might imagine. Being accurately self-aware is difficult and very few people get it right. You have an image of yourself and who you are, other people have an entirely different image of you, and what you can do. Until we come to a closer understanding of how people actually see us, it’s hard to build relationships and move past the polite niceties of life.

Years ago, I was visiting West Africa with my wife and a small team helping with staff training at an orphanage in Ghana. About an hour from the orphanage was a small grade school that had been, in large part, funded by a friend of ours from the United States. Our friend had asked us to stop by the school to say “Hi”, and to see how they were doing. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal. As is often the case in short-term missions, what we envisioned or intended turned out to be vastly different than what happened.

We had scheduled our “down day” from the work at the orphanage and had called the school to ask permission to come by in the morning to visit. Not a big deal, we thought we would meet with a teacher or two, maybe shake hands with the director, and hit the road. Yikes, were we wrong. When we pulled up, it looked like they had some traditional festival going on. We quickly found out that the “festival” was because some FRIENDS of the guy who funded the place were dropping by. They had suspended classes and put together a program with a few speeches honoring our visit; then each class performed a traditional dance for the benefit of our small team. After the dances they brought out some cookies and a few cokes for us as refreshments. It was a heart-warming, special time. It was also wildly awkward. We were nobody, we hadn’t done anything, but they shut the school down for us for the day. Afterward, it led to some great discussions and a lot of soul-searching among our team.

Money, or the perception of money, changes everything. In hindsight, we realized us showing up to that school was like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet (two of the richest people in the world) stopping by for dinner. Our team collectively was fairly broke, but in the eyes of the people at the school, we were wealthy beyond their imagination. Just the idea that we could pay to travel halfway around the world was a mind-boggling amount of money for them. We wanted to have a real conversation with the school director, but we could tell right away that it was just too weird all around. She was too intimidated by our perceived wealth and connections; she was too afraid to offend, the relationship was just out of balance. We did everything we could to tell them we were nobodies but it just wasn’t going to work.

We need to think about what our impact is in missions by just being present, for good or bad. We assume just showing up and watching might have no impact, but as we saw happen at the school, our visit might have wildly unintended consequences.

Here at our orphanage, we hold Sunday service on site in our small chapel. The service is kid-focused and a special, set-aside time for our family here in our home. We have a lot of visiting groups, and they’re sometimes surprised when they find out they’re not allowed in our service. “But we just want to watch and experience it.” OK, but if we add 10, 20, 30 Americans to our service, it just becomes a show for the American teams. It shifts the focus from our kids, and God, to a cultural presentation for our visitors. Not our goal.

We love our groups; we love when they visit, but for the good of the children in our home we need to maintain boundaries. If a group wants to experience a local service that’s great, we just send them to one of the many local churches in our area. We know their presence will change the dynamic of the local church service, but we’ve talked to the local pastors, and they’re fine with the groups joining in. The groups are welcome there. But the reality is they will change the “feel” of the service just by being present as foreigners. Foreigners that are perceived as being financially wealthy and well connected.

Short-term missions are important. Organizations around the world need help and want teams to come. I’m a huge advocate for short-term missions, and the powerful changes trips can bring into the lives of all those involved, both the teams going and the teams hosting. But it’s so important to do it in as healthy a way as possible.

We need to serve with humility, to serve with sensitivity, and to serve in a way that has as positive an impact as possible. Place yourself into the minds of the people you will be visiting, imagine the impact. Seek to be self-aware, to understand how people view you and be aware of how you are perceived. To be empathetic to others, to understand what they are experiencing, is one of the first steps to effective ministry.

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