Get Off Your Spiritual Butt

workoutThe phrase that hosts of short-term missions hear from every group is, “I’m leaving with so much more than I came with.” People are amazed by their own emotional and spiritual reaction to serving others. This joy might be a new experience for them, but it is familiar to most short-term mission participants. There are some universal truths about people; we are more alike than most people want to believe. One universal truth is that we are designed to serve others. Service is where joy is found, this is where our purpose is found. Service is putting our faith into action. Service is important. So why is this so hard for so many people to embrace? Continue reading

Why Me God?

76751545_2435729773188946_2898917725810196480_oThe orphanage I help run was spared by the recent wildfires that blew through our town. Many people were not so fortunate. In response to one of the many “Praise God” comments on Facebook, one angry gentleman shared a substantial rant, “If God was going to spare you, why did He start the fire? Why did other homes burn? Does God not love them as much?” Obviously, this gentleman has some issues, but it brings up some profound questions that have plagued theologians from the beginning. How does one explain the randomness of suffering? Why are there orphans? Why do some people get cancer? People much wiser than I have struggled to respond to this question. Here are a few thoughts. Continue reading

M.E.A.T. Night

Screen Shot 2019-10-06 at 10.02.36 AMFor almost fifteen years, my wife and I have hosted a weekly “M.E.A.T. Night,” a small gathering of local missionaries. It’s changed locations and names a couple of times, but for the bulk of that time, it’s been at our house. M.E.A.T. Night is an acronym for Missionaries Eating And Talking. We eat, and we talk. That’s about it. No prayer time, no worship, no bible study. Sometimes there are only about ten people, sometimes forty. We talk…and we eat. It’s my favorite night of the week, and not just because it usually involves carbs and bacon. I think it’s some of the best “ministry” that happens in our community. Continue reading

You Need to Walk Your Pigs

pexels-photo-110820You meet a wide range of people when you run an orphanage. Visitors, donors, mission groups, etc. are all dropping by. Most people are a joy to work with; some are a little more challenging. Around the office, we use the saying: “Everyone brings joy, some when they arrive, some when they leave.” A while back one well-meaning visitor urgently asked to talk with me following a tour. This is not unusual. What he wanted to talk about was a little different. Continue reading

Changing the Memories

pexels-photo-1596882We all have childhood memories that stand out. It might be a specific Christmas, a family vacation, maybe it’s just a moment from your childhood where the smells, sights, and emotions are still vivid in your mind. That time you sang karaoke with your dad, or when you made cookies with your mom. I hope these memories bring joy when they appear at those random moments. For children in orphanages or foster care, many of the memories they carry do not bring joy. It is our responsibility to tip the balance of good to bad memories in the right direction.

For most people caring for children at risk, the focus is on the basics. They might not have the know-how or resources to work on anything past keeping the children alive. In many areas of the world, orphanages struggle to stay open. It’s a day-to-day challenge to keep food on the table and the lights on. If the absolute basics are covered, you can start the next level of healing and restoration. As with anyone, the hierarchy of needs kicks in. The basics first, then the extras.

When a child first comes into a home, even if it is a stable, well-run home, the fear of uncertainty can take a long time to overcome. Food hoarding is very common with new children; they aren’t sure when they will be fed again because they weren’t fed where they were before. It takes time and consistency to bring a child to the point of moving forward. They also have a hierarchy of needs. If they don’t feel secure in the basics, they can not begin the healing process.

Once you’ve reached the level of providing the foundational needs, and a child knows at a profound level that they are in a safe place, the long process of healing can commence. A new chapter in their story can be written.

Joyful childhood memories are not created in a moment or an event; they are built over time. Childhood memories are a rich tapestry of intertwining threads brought together to create an overall image. It should be an image of joy, security, a connectedness that we all need. Only by consistently blending in the bright colors can you begin to soften the dark tapestry that has been the assembled experiences of a wounded child. You can never fully cover the darkness that exists, but you can brighten the edges, you can lighten the right areas. The darkness of the past, when handled correctly, can ultimately bring a greater depth to the child’s image of life. With God’s healing touch, those dark areas can be richly used down the road. God can use the dark experiences to bring empathy and understanding. But this healing doesn’t happen easily, or quickly, it takes years of security to bring perspective as a child matures.

It’s the collective details that matter. Not that we have all of the answers, but in our home, we have found that consistency and traditions go a long way to bring a sense of security into a child’s life.

One of the first things the other children tell a new child in our home is how OUR tooth fair works. I have a large ceramic jar on my desk, when a child loses a tooth, they know to bring it to my office, drop the tooth in the jar, and get the cash. (Yes, I know it’s disgusting, but I have decades of teeth in that jar.) Occasionally a child will come over with a convincing tooth-like rock to trick me; I’ve learned to ask to see the hole where the tooth came out. While writing this, two different children came over to show me their loose teeth, so I know to be prepared. We’ve had adults, raised in our home, come back years later and casually reach over to shake the jar to see how full it is. It’s a memory they’ve carried forward and blended into their tapestry.

My wife hates the backend of what we do, the fundraising, the paperwork. The public side of our work makes her crazy. She wants to be mom; she wants to create those memories. She gives every single hair cut; it’s an automatic one-on-one time with every child. They can talk, spend time together, and experience the moment. My wife also makes the birthday cakes, in a BIG way. Every child gets an elaborate custom cake on their birthday. Some of the older kids have started to help, learning baking and cake decorating, frequently decorating cakes for their own siblings. To most kids in ordinary families, a birthday cake is expected, usually picked up from Costco or the grocery store. For a child in a care situation, a cake means the world. It’s not uncommon for their first cake here to be the first cake of their lives. Also, to have that level of attention in a crowd of children in a home shows them that they are unique and deserving of honor. A cake to an orphan is not just eggs, flour, and sugar; it’s healing.

If you work in foster care or with orphans, thank you. Working with children as risk is hard work and not for the faint of heart. I hope that you’ve moved past the basics and are working to create new, better, richer memories for the children in your care. Whether it’s the tooth fairy, a birthday cake, or any other detail that creates special memories, always remember how important it is. It might not seem like it at the time, but you are working to create a new tapestry for a child, you are tipping the balance of memories in the right direction. The details you create bring healing to a child.

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Just Say No

pexels-photo-271897A few years ago, I was at a leadership conference and heard a comment that floored me. “Jesus didn’t help everyone.” “But, but, but…He was JESUS, of course He helped everyone!” I screamed silently to myself. But it was pointed out that Jesus didn’t heal everyone, feed everyone, or fix every injustice He encountered. He walked past many people who could have used His help. He found balance; He helped who He could. The most important thing is, He did the will of His Father in Heaven.

This is a very specific blog, written to those who can’t say “no” when they see a need. Most people don’t have any problem saying no and use the word way more than they should. They are skilled at avoiding those around them who need help. This is written to the people in full-time ministry who cannot find balance, who cannot say “no” to the countless needs they observe. Stop. Stop now. If you’re following Jesus’ example is important, remember, He learned to say “no” when it was needed. By not finding the balance, we are doing damage to ourselves, and to those around us. We cannot help everyone.

We all know people who are working long hours, without taking a day off, and want everything to be perfect. It’s exhausting to be around them. They are working “for the ministry” or “for the Lord,” but their relationships are suffering, their health is suffering, their marriages suffer, and they can suck the joy out of most situations. The joy that comes from serving with a peaceful heart is lost in the battle. I can write about this from first-hand experience. I used to be that guy.

I work alongside someone right now that’s in that place, he does excellent work, but anyone can see him heading directly at a brick wall by not taking time to breathe. We had one volunteer in our orphanage, who was a CRAZY perfectionist. She would work for weeks, 18 hours a day, only to collapse and be useless for a week or two while she recovered. That is not how life should be.

Early on, about six months after my wife and I moved in to help run the orphanage, we had a visitor. Agnes, the lady who ran the home for decades, was coming by. We had never met Agnes, and I was terrified. Everything we did was held up against her work. Every day I heard, “Well, Agnes never did it that way.” She was coming in to check on us and our work. Yikes. My fears turned out to be unfounded. She was the perfect example of grace and support. She did have one piece of very direct advice, “Get out.” she told us in no uncertain terms. She said it was OK to take time away, to recharge, to put our marriage first. That there would never be a perfect day; there would always be emergencies; we needed to practice self-care. We needed to learn to say, “No.”

There are many orphanages in our area of Mexico run by people who cannot say “No.” They take in any child who needs help, which sounds nice, but if they only have resources to help and care for 30 children, they are not doing a good job if they are caring for 80 children. Everyone suffers; no one is helped. Saying “no” is not in them, and people suffer. 

Jesus found balance. He spent time alone. The apostles often found Him alone praying, alone in the desert, asleep in the boat, early in the morning spending time with His Father. Even at the last supper, He was teaching, but it was also time breaking bread and hanging out with those He was closest to. He spent time with friends.

It took me many years of long hours to learn the balance; I’m still figuring it out. I’ve seen too many people in ministry burn out when they can’t find the time to rest, to recharge, to breath. When our crew started taking a dedicated day off each week, I flinched a little. “But that’s not what ministry is about!” I thought to myself. I now see the wisdom in it.

My favorite night of the week is a home fellowship that we host made up of full-time missionaries and ministry leaders in our area. We don’t DO anything other than eat and hangout. No agenda, no pressure, just vast quantities of carbs shared among friends. The official name of this gathering is M.E.A.T. Night. (Missionaries Eating And Talking). Not spiritual by any standard definition, no bible study, no deep prayer, just people hanging out. I feel on many levels it’s some of the best ministry we do.

If you’re in ministry full time, you want to follow the example Jesus sets for ministry. He knew when to say no; He spent time alone. He spent time with friends. He knew how to find balance; He did the will of His Father. You have permission to take a day off. As in all things, follow the example of Jesus.

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People are Messy

messyWe recently had someone write an extended angry rant in a message to our Facebook page. They were pissed. Thankfully it was a private message. Almost no one likes it when people are mad at them, but sometimes it’s going to happen. If you’re in ministry and you don’t get a few people frustrated now and then you’re doing it wrong. Jesus’ actions and comments had many people upset. We are a long way from Jesus, but it’s nice to know we sometimes get the same reactions as He did. You might be asking, “What did you do that got that person so angry that they would lash out?” We turned down his donation.

We get odd offers and requests from people all the time; frequently, they are great donations or other creative ways people would like to help us in our efforts. We would rarely turn down any contribution, but occasionally, it’s just not a “fit.” This, I believe, well-meaning gentleman offered us a large number of professionally framed paintings. These were, apparently, very valuable paintings. He suggested we could auction them off or use them as a fundraising tool to help our large orphanage. OK, seems fine so far, we always appreciate it when people have creative ways to help, and especially help with fundraising.

Once we expressed interest in the paintings, he sent a large file with pictures of the art. This is where it quickly got awkward. The paintings, although tastefully done, were twelve, over-sized, lifelike paintings of nude females. OK, this was a new one. My wife and I thought at first it might be someone pulling a joke. The idea of us displaying this extensive collection at a silent auction or some other event was just too weird to consider. It was simply not a fit for our ministry or almost any ministry that comes to mind. We, as tactfully as we could, explained our reasoning and turned down the donation. It was the right decision, but that didn’t change how offended he was that we would turn away his prized art.

The above story is one of many I could share of awkward moments in ministry. The time a team set up a full bar in our group housing area, the people who skip out on paying for their housing when they stay on site with us, the people who show up in yoga pants at the orphanage here in a conservative culture. (Yoga pants are just awkward anywhere …it’s never a good look.) So what’s the point of sharing this list of examples? People are messy, and until we embrace this fact, we don’t understand the point of grace. We are all messy.

In hosting many short term missions teams and visitors, we see a broad range of attitudes, agendas, and levels of maturity. With many of our visitors, we are in awe of their generosity and willingness to serve the many children in our care. For some of our groups, we occasionally smile, internally roll our eyes, and just move forward. The important thing is, always remember that none of us get it right. God shows us profoundly deeper grace than we could ever deserve, He loves us unconditionally in our messy condition, and that is what we are called to show to all those that we encounter.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have standards, in the example of the paintings, it was right for us to turn them down. Jesus has standards. He flipped the money changer’s tables, He was not afraid to call out sin. Jesus also knows that the vast majority of people are wounded; they need to be shown love; they need to be shown grace. We are called to represent a higher level of grace and love than most of us ever consider. We need to show the grace to others that the Lord has shown to us.

It’s been said that one of the keys to a happy marriage is remembering that we’re no great prize ourselves. I’ve found this to be true. Personally, I don’t know how my wife puts up with me. When we encounter people that we would like to get frustrated with, it’s always good to remember that we can also be a pain sometimes. We get it wrong a lot. We all have an excess of baggage, false ideas, and bad attitudes. Sometimes we don’t know any better.

I was once sitting in my office and looked up. A new boy in our home, about ten years old, had walked over and was peeing into the planter outside my window. Once he finished, I pulled him aside and explained that this was not appropriate, that he should probably use the bathrooms. I could have gotten upset, but I realized that he had been brought to us from an impoverished area, in his world indoor plumbing was rare, he had been peeing outside his whole life. Messy, but that is all he knew.

If you’re in ministry, and if we’re believers we’re all in ministry, we need to embrace the messy people all around us. Remember, we are all messy. Sometimes we don’t want to admit it, but we all come from an impoverished place. We all have our version of peeing in other people’s planters. We need to show the same grace to others that we need ourselves.

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