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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Sometimes Ministry Doesn’t Suck

hospitalThe current trend in nonprofit fundraising is to “tell a story.” All of the articles tell you to put a face on your ministry by sharing one or more solid success stories. This is all well and good in that it helps people to understand the goals of whatever ministry is being promoted. But the reality is, for every glowing success story, there are many times when it just doesn’t work. You cannot save everyone. Sometimes ministry sucks.

Talk to anyone who runs a shelter for abused women. In spite of the best counseling and support, way too many abused women will decide to go back to their abusers. If you run a rehab center the reality is way too many people cycle in and out of programs for years before the grip of addiction is broken, many people never reach that point of healing. For those who work serving homeless individuals and families, it’s a shockingly rare situation that can move people out of the cycle of poverty and into secure housing, work, and a future.

If you pastor a church, you know how heartbreaking the work can be. You do your best for the members of your church, lovingly guiding, teaching, and encouraging them. But so often people choose to go an entirely different direction. Members of your church will fall victim to attacks, whether subtle or direct. People you considered solid Christians will fall away. Couples you thought were a great example will have affairs and/or divorces and lives are destroyed. People in your church will shock you in their ability to turn on each other.

As someone who has helped to run an orphanage for a very long time, I can tell you firsthand it can be incredibly painful and frustrating work. We can raise and care for a child for years, doing our best to pour into them and guide them into healing, but it doesn’t always work. Ultimately as a child moves through teenage years into adulthood, they make their own decisions. It tears us up when we watch young adults we’ve worked so hard with make decisions that will head them in the wrong direction.

So what’s the point of this rambling stream of negativity? Believe it or not, this is meant as an encouragement for those who are currently serving in ministry, and suffering through the pains and frustrations of failure. No, it doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can make all of the suffering and pain worthwhile.

Very recently a great young man who was raised in our home passed away much too young. Marcos was about 40 and passed after an extended illness surrounded by his wife, friends, my wife, and myself. Obviously, this was a painful event, and a great deal of mourning and healing is still taking place. In spite of the painful situation, the evening he passed away, in the midst of the emotional storm we were all going through, I found a moment of profound joy.

We knew Marcos’ time was short, and several people rushed to the hospital to visit and say their farewells. About an hour before the end, three different men showed up who were raised together with Marcos in our home. Although none of them are blood-related, they consider each other brothers and they’re some of my many children. All three have built their own lives, and have their own growing families, but in the midst of that trauma, I saw them in a whole new light. In a few moments, they went from being my children to being responsible men handling a difficult situation with astounding grace. Over the course of the evening, one made a point to comfort the new widow, giving her space and allowing her to grieve, but also making sure she had everything she needed. One went to work with the hospital sorting out the paperwork, the billing, and all the bureaucracy that goes on when a life ends. The third one brought a guiding hand and a calm voice to begin making funeral preparations. All three demonstrated a maturity that I had never noticed before. I’ve never been prouder.

Ministry doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. Those men who stepped up in a hard situation are examples of how ministry can change lives. Not everyone who walks through your church, rehab, shelter, or orphanage will receive the help you want to give them, but some will. We can’t (and shouldn’t) force our will on anyone brought into our ministry, and many won’t want our help. But when it does work, and lives are changed, hang on to that. It’s why we do what we do. We also never know how the seeds we plant might take root and grow years down the road. Our job is to do the best we can, representing Christ well.

Jesus didn’t reach everyone. Many people rejected His message, His healing, His offer of help. But some accepted Him, that’s why He came and did what He did. He knew most people would reject Him, but His efforts were worth the few who made the right decisions. We are not Christ (far from it) but we are called to share of Him and carry out the work He has called us to do. The work we do is worth the few who can be reached. Keep it up.

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Orphan Care is a Short-Term Gig

pexels-photo-167300When caring for children at risk, children who are abandoned or orphaned, it’s important to realize it’s just for a season. You need to know that, for many reasons, children you’re caring for are going to leave. We need to be ready for it, and we need to help them be ready for it.

Frequently children leave your care to go into questionable situations, and it will rip your heart out. Sometimes we initiate the change; usually it’s outside influences. Sometime they will head into great situations, some not so great. As people who are called to serve children, we need to realize the time we have with the children in our care is frequently shorter than it should be, and that time is precious. “Normal” parents have at least eighteen years to speak into a child’s life; we don’t have that luxury. The short time we have with these children will impact them the rest of their lives.

I have been in orphan care for almost 25 years. I still remember my first year, when the team here decided that we needed to kick a teen boy, Raul, out of the orphanage. Think about that for a minute: a child who’s already been abandoned, we were going to remove from what I thought we were building as the last refuge. This teen boy had become so rebellious, and such a danger to the other children and staff, that we needed to remove him from our home. We tried every form of discipline and professional counseling we could, but nothing broke through. His tearful pleading for “one last chance” as he was being taken away to a smaller, stricter orphanage will be burned into my memory forever. His departure tore me up for weeks.

About five years ago a 15-year-old girl, Maria, who had been in our care for several years was returned to her mother. We didn’t feel great about it, nor did Maria, but we didn’t have a say in the matter. All we could do was watch her leave and hope and pray that the social worker made the right decision.

Recently, two wonderful young girls were returned by our government social worker to their parents. We did not believe for a moment this was a good thing. For a number of reasons we did not feel this was the right decision, but the social workers had completed home visits and felt it was right to return these girls to their family. The girls had shared with us the horrible treatment they had received in their home and when the parents visited we could see it was just an unhealthy situation. It was VERY frustrating, and several of our staff were very upset, but you can only do what you can do.

It can be a long hard battle as we fight for what’s best for a child. Ask anyone who works in foster care about the frustrations experienced as children are moved around and often placed back with unstable or questionable family. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s a healthy situation I am 100% in favor of the family reunification. But frequently these are Solomon like decisions made by well-meaning but fallible people. When the decision is right it’s great; when the decision is wrong, it places children in harm’s way.

All we can do is plant the seeds, pray over our children, and hope for the best. Whether it’s our biological children that get married and move on when they become adults, or a temporary care situation and the child leaves us when they are much younger, their future is not in our control. All we can do is give them tools they will need to make healthy decisions. We need to show them how to handle the incredible challenges that life will place in their paths. They, like us, are in God’s hands.

About ten years after we “kicked Raul out,” he dropped by for a visit. We had lost track of him and assumed we would never see him again. But, the time he spent with us had a deep and positive impact on his life. He came back with his wife and two children to show them where he had spent several years and to introduce us. We had a long talk, and he shared that he now understands why he needed to be moved. He also now felt it was the best decision we could have made for his life. It was hard, but it was a wake-up call for him. It turned his life around, and he was now doing well with a family of his own.

A few weeks ago Maria got in contact with us, and we went out to lunch. We were right about her mom. Maria’s mother ignored her, never put her in school, and spent most of her time drinking and partying. After several months with mom Maria went with dad, who was no better. But, Maria remembered what she had been taught. She is now on her own, doing well, active in a church, and is planning her wedding. The seeds we planted took root.

There is a point to this rambling blog. What we do in child care, while we can, matters more than we know. Not all stories have happy endings. Most of the time we will never know about the lives of the children once they leave us. But when it works, the moments when we emotionally connect with a child, the time we spend listening to them, the examples we set changes lives. Use what little time you have as the precious gift it is.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” James 1:27

(Names were changed to protect the privacy of people mentioned here.)

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In Orphan Care, One Size Doesn’t Fit All

child-children-girl-happyWe’ve all received gifts that say “One-size-fits-all”; this really means “One size will fit some people and will be a poor fit for others, but that’s all we’re offering.” In orphan care, rarely does one-size-fits-all. Each child and situation is unique, and we need to be in a position to give the type of care that is the perfect fit for that individual child in need.

It seems as though society as a whole is more and more polarized. “It must be my way or nothing; you are wrong.” Try to get a Fox news fan to agree with a CNN fan, and you can see how people can NOT come to a compromise. The reality is, with many of life’s dilemmas, there are no black and white answers, sometimes the answers are found in the fuzzy middle. Many times life requires a much more nuanced approach.

Few things elicit a stronger opinion than what to do with the kids who are orphaned, abandoned, or need placement for other reasons. Everyone has an opinion on child rearing and how best to help a child. The prevailing theories shift back and forth from orphanage to group homes to foster care every few years, not unlike the “expert” opinions on whether eggs, butter, coffee, etc. are bad, then good, then bad, then good again. (I’m very happy eggs, butter, and red wine are currently “good” for us.)

Most reasonable people agree that no system of caring for children at risk is perfect. A child should be raised by two loving parents whenever possible. Unfortunately, we live in a VERY broken world, and way too many children wind up in horrific circumstances, needing care either short-term or long-term. To rule out ANY healthy option to care for a hurting child is a mistake. This is where “one size fits all” doesn’t work.

I once had a leader from a large, respected mega church inform me that their official church policy is to never work with or support orphanages. Their reasoning being that orphanages are terrible, that the ONLY good option for a child is adoption. They are not alone in their beliefs, the current prevailing opinion is that it’s better to move away from the orphanage system. I and many others do not agree. For some children, an orphanage is the best option.

For the right child, adoption should always be the first option if no healthy, loving family is in the picture. But many times, there are situations that make adoption difficult or impossible. If there are multiple siblings, very few couples are willing to take on three, or four, or more children. If the child has extreme special needs, the pool of adoptive parents is pretty small. If a parent or parents are still somewhere, but due to prison, substance abuse, or other reasons are out of the picture “temporarily,” the children are left in limbo. The reality of adoptions is that once a child hits about five years old the odds of adoption drop dramatically. The fact that international adoptions have reached a record low doesn’t help the situation. When you factor all these problems in, very few children in need of care can ever be adopted. The most recent statistics say that worldwide, a child in a care situation has a 2% chance of being adopted. Too many people work for years and spend thousands of dollars trying to adopt only to be denied or to have serious problems handling the child placed in their care. When adoption works, it’s fantastic, but it’s a long road and doesn’t always end well.

So, if there is no healthy family, and adoption is not an option, you are left with foster care or orphanages. There are a lot of great people working in the foster care system that truly have a heart for the children they are serving. Unfortunately, there are also many people involved for the wrong reasons, and everyone is working in a system that has many profound challenges. Too often, children are moved around more than they should be, creating a very difficult, unstable life. How would you react if you had to change homes, friends, schools, churches, etc. every six months or so? With the system the way it is in the US, although it was set up with the best of intentions, the statistics do not play out well. I’ve had many people involved in foster care vent to me about the lack of stability and the crushing bureaucracy involved. Foster care does not work well for most children. Every system is complicated.

Most people agree the orphanage system is broken, but, when done correctly, orphanages and group homes can be the best option. Just like foster care, there are some great people working in the orphanage systems worldwide, and some not so great. There are definitely orphanages that are horrible and should be shut down. There are also orphanages that are healthy, stable, and give the children a loving home with a great future. A well-run orphanage can provide a child or sibling group the stability, professional counseling, and love they need to heal and grow into healthy adults. We need a last resort when adoption or family care is not an option.

Everyone has a strong opinion. Everyone seems to have an agenda. About the only thing everyone agrees on is no system of caring for children at risk is perfect. We, as a society, have the right tools to help these children, but we need to use every tool in the box. We need to find the right size for each child. One size does not fit all.

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In an Orphanage, Leadership is Everything

pexels-photo-678637Why is it that when people cross the US border and go into the missions field, they think the common sense principles that work in the US suddenly don’t apply? If you have weak leadership in an organization, it won’t go well. The best of intentions, or spending more money, won’t help. Throwing money at a dysfunctional ministry in the US won’t make it better, so why do we think it will work in other countries? An organization needs good leadership to be healthy and effective in what they do.

Every week, some person or group comes to me and asks what it takes to open an orphanage. The first thing I do is try to talk them out of it; it’s harder and more complicated than they think. If they STILL want to open an orphanage I start to explain the three things it takes, in ascending order of difficulty:

1) It takes a safe, clean, functioning location. This is relatively easy; EVERYONE wants to put up a building. It’s easy, it’s long lasting, and you can see the project when completed. Once a project starts, it’s amazing how many people want to help.
2) It takes on-going funding. This is harder than number 1. It takes a lot more money to run an orphanage than most people think. Food, staff, medical, education, transportation, etc. add up quickly. Depending on where you are in the world, figure about $300 per child. If that sounds like a lot, you try to raise ten children on $3,000 a month for everything and see how hard it is.
3) The MOST important thing in running an orphanage is: Who is going to be the on-site director or leader. This is critical, and not everyone has the gifting or skill set to do this. Loving children is not enough.

Frequently, organizations who want to open a home tell me they have the first two items covered (location and funding). When I ask who will run it they respond with either “Oh, we’ll just hire someone”, or “We believe the right person will show up.”  If you were opening a church and needed a pastor would you “Just hire someone?” No, you would spend extensive time interviewing, meeting with, and praying over anyone interested. You would want the BEST person possible because the leader sets the tone and quality of everything that goes on. What type and quality of person would you want to raise your own children if something happened to you?

Organizations spend years and tremendous amounts of money finding and keeping the right CEO or president because they know the leader makes all the difference. Whether it’s a neighborhood diner or a huge corporation, the right leader will determine whether the organization thrives or dies off.

A few years ago I was asked to consult with an orphanage in Africa; it mainly involved visiting the home and helping to train their long-term American staff. After spending one day with the on-site leadership, I had a meeting with the people who brought me. I kind of offended them when I said: “No one I met today would make it through the first interview with an organization in the US, why are they running a home? They should not be here”. They were good people, but the completely wrong people to be running an orphanage. God can use anyone, just not in every position. Desire is not enough if the skill sets and the willingness to learn are not there.

If you run or are thinking of running an orphanage, please pray long and hard. Seek honest counsel from people who really know you. If you still want to move forward, please study all you can and spend time working with orphanages that do a great job. Learn all you can.

If you are looking for an orphanage to support or partner with, the most important thing you can ask yourself is: What is the quality of the leadership? Are they doing it for the right reasons? Do they show a high level of integrity? Do they have the skill sets needed to do a great job? If the orphanage leadership is weak, no amount of funding or short-term visits are going to help. An orphanage can not be run by a committee in another country any more than a church could be pastored by someone living in another state. Who is living with and raising the kids is everything.

If I come across as blunt or unforgiving, it’s only because orphan care needs to be great, and I’ve seen way too many homes that are not. This work matters greatly and should be done professionally and in the best way possible. The children who wind up in orphanages have already been dealt a lousy hand; we have a responsibility to help them heal in a safe, loving home. A home where they are lovingly guided through healing and into a healthy place. This can only be done in a home lead by people who are called to this work and have the skill sets to do it well.

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Your Missions Project Doesn’t Matter

pexels-photo-298297If you’re organizing or participating on a short-term missions trip, you probably spend a lot of time raising money or planning for your “project.” Your project might be building a house, roofing a dorm in an orphanage, or some other physical way to assist in a needy community. These projects are necessary and a huge blessing, but they are not what is most important. It’s good to recognize this, discuss this, and encourage your missions team to remember why they go. Ultimately, it’s all about representing Jesus well.

When I first started bringing teams to Mexico on weekend trips, I would only focus on having our team do a quality construction job for the orphanage where we were serving. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that; anything we do for the Kingdom and to serve others should be a quality job. In whatever we do, we are representing Christ and the church. After I had lead three or four trips, a good friend of mine pulled me aside and we had a conversation that I remember almost word for word. I felt like we were making an impact on that orphanage through the construction and painting projects we were working on. My friend asked this question: “In ten years, will these children remember that we painted the wall? Or will they remember the time we spent with them playing soccer, sharing a meal, and listening to what is going on in their lives?” That one conversation stuck with me and has had a dramatic impact on my ministry work over the last twenty-five years.

One of the many privileges of hosting hundreds of short-term missions teams over the years is being able to observe the differences in the groups. We’ve been able to see a wide range of aptitudes, attitudes, funding, skill sets, goals, and all the details that set groups apart. Sometimes these things set them apart for good reasons, many times for bad.

Without a doubt, our favorite groups are the groups that understand the bigger picture. They come down focused on working on a project and doing a quality job, but they realize that the projects themselves are irrelevant. The construction projects, the home builds, and the painting projects are just tools to build relationships. They understand that we are all in this together and they (or we) do not have everything figured out. Humility goes a very long way in missions work.

It is so important to remember that in the grand scheme of things; our physical projects are irrelevant to the relationships that we build. The activities we might organize are irrelevant to our heart behind them, and our heart for the people that we are proposing to serve. Lives are touched by people, not stuff. Does a child care more about a new soccer uniform, or the fact that his parent was present at every game through the season? When a casserole is brought to a grieving family, the quality of the dish might matter, but the fact that an individual would put forth the effort and deliver the meal to the grieving family means so much more. It’s all about relationships.

I network with a lot of international ministries and every year my team hosts a tremendous amount of visiting short-term mission groups. We have one group that really stands out for all the right reasons. It’s a fairly large church from the middle of Iowa. Every year they send large teams into our town and over the course of two weeks build between two or three houses for needy families in our area. If that was all they did that would be plenty. These houses are a huge blessing in our community and a tremendous witness to all those involved in the project, and the surrounding area. But this group from Iowa really “gets” that it is not about the houses. They do a quality job, but they also go out of their way to build a relationship with the families they are serving.

This Iowa church shares meals with the family, and the family usually prepares a few meals for the group. They invite the families to come back with them and spend time around the campfire. Every year when they come back, the leaders go around and visit the families that they’ve met in prior years. Sometimes this group even sends packages down for birthdays, graduations, etc. for the children in the families. A couple of years ago they took it to another level. They realized that over time they had built about thirty houses, so they planned an evening and invited all the families to come together for a potluck and games with the kids. Thier dinner is now an annual event and a big deal in our town.

I, and the many people in the full-time missions field, could not do our work without the groups working on projects, putting up buildings, etc. I like a quality project, but I know that it’s just brick, wood, and paint. It’s not what is MOST important. Jesus never painted a wall. Jesus never built a house for someone. Jesus listened. He encouraged. He asked, “what do you seek?” Jesus was (and is) all about relationships. He sets the perfect model for all of us to follow.

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The Church Needs to be Infected

pexels-photo-415564To say the church in America is going through challenging times would be an understatement. There are churches on almost every corner but in-spite of all the efforts they are dying as fast as shopping malls and book stores. Most traditional denominations are quite literally dying as congregations age, and the next generation is not embracing the old church model. Fewer millennials attend church on a regular basis than any prior generation and the fastest growing belief system in the US today is atheism. For every church that opens today, four close.

Today more than ever there are hundreds of options competing for our time. It’s common to see people on their phones during church checking social media. As technology increases, there are more and more demands on the few precious hours we have available. This lack of time creates a huge challenge for the American church. How do you compete with the unlimited activities and interests screaming for our time, attention, and involvement? How do you break through the noise? The default reaction is to make the church as “friendly” as possible by adding more coffee houses, spending more on worship, and remodeling the stage to be as Pinterest friendly as possible. This is not working.

So, how do we reach people at a deeper level? We need to let them see and experience others who are on fire for Jesus. Short-term missions can do this. The standard model for missions is “let’s go and tell that group of people over there about the Gospel.” It might be time for us to flip that model to “Let’s go over there and experience a level of faith we have a hard time finding at home.” Maybe, just maybe, if we go out with an open mind, something different might happen. If we go out with the attitude of “Yes, we’re here to serve, but what can I learn from these people who are so on-fire for God?”

Years ago, before vaccinations, if a child had chickenpox, it was common for the moms in the area to get together and have all the kids hang-out so they could infect each other. It was much better to have chickenpox as a child than maybe have it later as an adult. By spending time with someone who’s been infected, the children were much more likely to develop the disease. By hanging out with anybody who’s contagious, we are more likely to catch whatever they are carrying. Faith acts the same way. We can read about it, be preached at, maybe even be exposed to it through family history or tradition. Until we hang out with someone who is deeply passionate about their faith, someone who has been infected by their experience with Jesus, it’s hard for our faith to become real and personal to us.

I’m assuming if you’re reading this blog you are a believer, if you’re like the vast majority of believers, you were first drawn to the faith by spending time with someone else who was passionate about their faith and their walk with Jesus. This is truly how faith spreads, one-on-one and relationally. Even if you came to the Lord at a large concert or outreach, odds are you were brought or invited by someone else who had already experienced the joy of walking with Jesus. Can faith sprout spontaneously when someone is reading by themselves or just spending time contemplating the Lord? Absolutely. But it is much more likely to be spread by contact with another believer.

There are churches in America that are doing some incredible things. There are pockets of revival and people of passionate faith anywhere. God is not limited by geography. Just as a plant can survive growing through the cracks of the sidewalk, faith can live anywhere. But for a plant to thrive it needs better conditions, better nutrients, the right climate to grow into the healthy living organism it was intended to be. There is no greater influence in our lives than the people we surround ourselves with. We need to be spending time with churches that are on fire, that are going through revival, churches that are passionately in love with Jesus.

Around the world, God is doing incredible work through financially poor, persecuted, understaffed churches. Standing in a church in the middle of Ghana you can experience a level of real, joyful worship that makes anything you can experience in a US mega-church pale in comparison. In a cramped living room in Cuba listening to an “uneducated” pastor preach the gospel makes the best-trained theologian sound dry and feeble by comparison. Hearing the stories of the pure joy experienced by persecuted American missionaries in Muslim countries makes the writings of Paul come alive. The church in America is in desperate need of experiencing faith as a child, faith that is all consuming, faith as God intended our relationship with Him to be.

If we hang out with people who eat too much, we will eat too much. If we hang out with people who exercise, we will exercise more. If we hang out with people who are cynical and sarcastic, those traits will grow in our own lives. Faith works in the same way. If we spend time with people who are passionate about their walk with Jesus and are truly living it out, we will be drawn to do the same. If our church spends time and builds relationships with churches experiencing revival, with churches trusting in God at a deeper level, our church will be healthier. Short term missions can help to save the church in America.

By taking teams to other parts of the world and learning how to serve others, ultimately it can change the lives of the teams that go. The phrase that comes up over and over again from short-term missions teams is “I’m leaving with so much more than I came with.” Obviously, they’re not talking about material wealth; they’re leaving with something so much more valuable. The teams are leaving with a renewed and energized faith. In the grand scheme of things, their renewed faith is something extremely more valuable than any skills, supplies, or financing they might have brought to their destination countries. They leave infected.