Migrant Caravans and a Missions Response

migrant.jpgIt’s been interesting to see the response to the migrant caravan moving through Mexico and landing at the US border. From both countries and every political persuasion, there are strong opinions and emotional reactions. Usually, this blog is not used as a platform to discuss current events, but this topic is (quite literally) in my backyard. I’ve spoken with ministry leaders serving the migrants, some of the US border guards, and politicians here in Mexico. I’ve had churches contact me in fear, and other churches contact me asking how to help. I’ve also had the profound privilege of spending time with the migrants themselves, serving with others, and serving alongside some great people in the “caravan.”

Within the group assembled in Tijuana are families, some young teens traveling alone, some single men, etc. They’re a cross-section of any society in the world. Are there some scary people? Not as many as the media would lead you to believe. Generally, this is a large group of people who left a horrible situation hoping to make a better life. They were mistaken or misled into believing it would be simpler than it is. Now they’re stuck; some are going home, some are finding jobs and settling in Mexico, some are still holding out hope for the golden ticket into the US. All are scared, tired, cold and hungry. They are like any of us, looking for a secure future and a place to raise a family.

The topic of the migrants is a hot-button issue. People have been VERY clear on social media and elsewhere about their specific opinions. Even here in Mexico, the response is very divided; many people are stepping up to help feed and care for people in the camps, others are protesting and complaining about their presence here in Baja.

So what should our response be to the migrant caravan? Politics and agendas aside, there are clear biblical directions as to what our response needs to be.

“I was naked, and you clothed me, I was sick, and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:36-40

It’s interesting to see that Jesus mentioned, “I was in prison, and you visited Me.” Well…this seems kind of extreme. Jesus never specified whether or not the person made bad decisions to wind up in prison, He never said the person in prison deserved it, He was just pointing out that we need to visit and help those who need help. Period. There is not a lot of wiggle room here. It doesn’t matter if we agree with why they’re in the position they’re in, it doesn’t even matter if we are put at risk or not, we are called to help.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:43-44

Hmmm, “pray for our enemies?”, This also seems kind of extreme. But our faith is also called to be extreme. Even if we disagree with why people are in the caravan, even if we feel they should just go home, even if we know from our gut they should never be permitted into the US, we are still called to pray for them. We are called to show grace and shower blessings on them as God has blessed us.

Our response to the needs around us, and more importantly the people in need around us, says a great deal about the maturity of our faith. Are we responding like spoiled children defending our toys? Or are we showing grace and generosity to those around us? Our response in challenging times and circumstances means more than we can possibly understand. Our response is a stronger testimony than a thousand sermons. It matters how you respond to an enemy, perceived or otherwise.

Are we more loyal to our politics? Or to God and our faith in Him? We have a guidebook to tell us how we are to respond. We have a faith that directs us. Political parties come and go. Men will always fail us eventually. Stick with the only cause that is truly worth fighting for.

The migrant problem will eventually fade away; our response might be brought up later on: “I was hungry in the migrant camp, and you fed Me.”
If you have questions or would like to know how to donate to help migrant families in need, please contact me at my e-mail. My team and I will point you in the right direction.

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Kicking a Child Out of an Orphanage

cryingAt what point do you kick a child out of an orphanage? Last week I received a call from a new, well run orphanage with this very question. Yes, it does happen. The single hardest decision we make as a home is: at what point do you “give up?” At what point do you remove a child from an orphanage?

I still remember the first child we moved out of our home over twenty years ago. Sergio was about twelve; he was a terror child. I liked him, everybody did, and in his case, that was part of the problem. He was smart, well liked, a natural leader. The problem was, he was using all his natural gifts in the wrong ways. He could manipulate anyone, break into any building, get the other kids into trouble to shift blame, he was brilliant. He was also half our headaches. Incredibly foul language, stealing whenever possible, and leading others into trouble was Sergio’s full-time job. He was very good at his job.

We tried everything to shift Sergio’s efforts. Counseling, grounding, extra projects, more counseling, prayer, moving him into new dorms, etc. I still remember when we decided to kick him out, to give up and move him to another orphanage. I remember him pleading with me for a second (40th?) chance. His tearful begging to stay in our home as we loaded him into a car is permanently seared into my memory. For many days and weeks I second guessed our decision: “Did we do the right thing?” But, almost immediately after he left, it was like a heavy blanket of oppression was lifted off our home. The stress level dropped way down, the darkness lifted, the other children seemed incredibly relieved, joy returned to our home: we had made the right call for the home. But, did we make the right call for Sergio?

Sometimes a child just doesn’t fit. For whatever reason, not every orphanage, or family, is the best fit for every child in need. It’s not talked about a lot, but even in adoptions, sometimes it does not work, and a child winds up back in the system. Truly incredible, loving couples sometimes just cannot break through the walls and challenges of a wounded child. There are many stories of “failed” adoptions where the children are sent back. We’ve received children back after an adoption goes sideways. It’s easy to judge a couple for giving a child back until you’ve walked a few weeks or months in their shoes. Until you’ve lived with a violent child, who does not respond to the best, loving efforts, you cannot understand. People are messy.

It’s taken me years to reach a semi-peace with the fact that not every child “fits” every home. In the case of the orphanage who called me recently, it was an easy call: “Move the child NOW.” This new orphanage is just starting out, and the government sent them a young child with autism, this home does not have the training, nor ready for the challenges, that an autistic child brings to the table. It’s not fair to the home, the staff, and most importantly the child. This child needs special attention, and people with the calling and training to raise them in the best way possible. Many times, moving a child out of home can be the best thing for the child, if they wind up in a situation better suited for their particular needs.

Think of a church. Could you grow as a Christian in a church that was not comfortable or a good fit for you? We each need to find a church, school, medical center, whatever, that best fits our needs at a particular place in our lives. This does not mean that a church or school is “bad” or has failed, it just says that they are helping people in ways that don’t fit our needs. People each have different areas and wounds that need addressing; we can not be all things to all people and do it well. There are many specialty orphanages: deaf children, autistic children, HIV positive, etc. that are the perfect fit for specific children. Some homes do better with rebellious teens, children with attachment issues, etc. Not every child fits every home. That is OK. It is so much better to realize this and act on it than force a child to be raised in a place that cannot give them all that they need to grow into healthy adults.

A couple of times a year now, we choose to move a child to another orphanage. Several times a year, we take in children that have been removed from other orphanages. It occasionally takes a few moves until a child finds a home that fits their specific needs, history, and temperament. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just finding the right “fit” for a child.

A few years ago a car pulled onto our property and Sergio, the child we had kicked out years ago stepped out. Sergio had grown up and moved on with his life. He brought his wife and two children back to show them where he had lived for a few years. Sergio came over and, to my great surprise, thanked me for kicking him out. He told us that it was the wake-up call he needed to turn his life around. He landed in a smaller home, with much tighter discipline that he desperately needed. It was a good day.

If you run an orphanage, take in foster children, or run a school, please realize you can not help in every situation. You have gifts, callings, and talents that can impact specific children. Keep up the efforts, and reach those you can. You’re already doing more than most people ever dream about.

If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for the missions pastor or leader in your life, our book on short-term missions is now on Christmas special on Amazon – $5 off  – Reciprocal Missions – short-term missions that serve everyone

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The Best Advise I Ever Got

shoesMany years ago, a few months after taking over management of a struggling orphanage, the lady who ran it for years came down for a visit. She had been gone for quite a while before I got to the orphanage and I had never met her. I was terrified. Everything I tried to do, I was told, “Well, Agnes never did it that way.” After six months of working in the shadow of a legend, I was finally going to meet her. I just knew I was going to be judged by her the same way everyone else was judging. Yikes.

Twenty-five years later I still remember the meeting, where we sat, the time of day, everything. She turned out to be incredible, very gracious and encouraging. She told me two things that I didn’t fully understand or appreciate at the time, “It’s OK to leave now and then.” She wanted my wife and me to make time away from the ministry. The second thing she said was, “Buy good shoes.” Agnes had wrecked her knees walking miles around the property wearing old, donated shoes. She hadn’t wanted to “waste” the money on herself and paid for it in other ways years later.

It took me a very long time to fully understand the advice, and much longer to start to put this sage wisdom into practice. What she was saying was, “It’s OK to take care of yourself. If you’re going to survive orphan care, or any full-time ministry, learn balance.”

Full-time ministry is hard. Yes, I know this sounds cliche or self-serving, but a lot of the time ministry just sucks. There can be a great deal of joy, but there is also a relentless stream of problems and challenges that wear away at a person. Every week you can read of another pastor or ministry leader who falls into deep sin, suicide, substance abuse, etc. You can attribute this to spiritual attacks, pride, or just the broken world we live in. But whatever the cause, there are a lot of casualties in ministry.

In the ministry leader circles I run in, I can list a suicide, a couple of people battling substance abuse, and a few that are so worn down they are just going through the motions at this point. I know others who’ve not only walked away from ministry, they’ve walked away from the faith.

While working through this article, I happened to meet with the head of a children’s ministry working in the middle east, and I brought up the topic of burn-out. Although he said he was doing pretty good now, he shared that he had considered “swerving into oncoming traffic” a few times over the years. I know for me I’ve gone through some very dark times in ministry, usually not relating to any big issues. Oddly, the big challenges can energize me, but it’s the day-to-day that can wear me down. More than a few times I’ve been smiling on the outside while sharing with a group or spending time with a child, and inside I was screaming and wanting to run and hide. I could relate to my friend’s “wanting to swerve into traffic” moment. Been there a few times.

We are called to serve. It’s biblical; it is Christ’s example to us. But it’s so important to find a balance, find a support system, and keep strong in our walk with the One who provides our strength. Jesus spent a great deal of time alone, getting up early to pray. He also had a small team around Him, and He would ask them to pray along with Him. The battle is real; we need fellow warriors when we’re weak.

A few years ago a young pastor came into my office, and I asked how everything was going. He gave me the standard boring pastor answer, “Doing well, some challenges but excited to see where we’re going.” I’m not sure why, but I asked again but with some force, “No, honestly, how are you doing? I know as a pastor it’s hard to find people you can talk to. Nothing you say will leave this office.” His eyes widened, he paused for a moment, and he broke down. He unloaded so much pain over the next hour. He shared about his loneliness; he shared about the strain the ministry was putting on his marriage, how the people in his church had hurt him, he just shared. I had no great advice (I’m not that bright) he just needed an ear, a safe place.

If you are in full-time ministry, a caregiver, or are just worn down by life, please find people or only one person who will listen. Find someone you can be transparent with. Find someone who will not judge you or try to “fix” you. If you’re leading a life of service, odds are you spend a great deal of time giving of yourself to others both physically and emotionally. We can not give to others if we have nothing left to give. I want to re-emphasize this: find someone you respect that you can go to and be safe when you’re hurting. We all need support. It’s sad how few people have this in their lives.

If you feel you’ve reached the point where it might be clinical depression, please seek help. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of bravery to confront this real problem. It’s not your fault, it’s life.

Taking care of yourself is OK. It’s OK to “buy good shoes.” It’s a long walk to the finish line, you want to be able to keep walking.

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Peter Was a Jerk

Silhouette legs reflectionWhen we look at “our” ministry or walk with God, we frequently fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to the “great men of God” that we’ve seen or read about. Today, many people reflexively bow their heads when they speak of Frances Chan or Rick Warren and ask “Why can’t I be like that?” In orphan care, Jorge Muller is the legend that everyone refers back to. He was a Christian evangelist and the director of an orphanage in Bristol, England in the late 1800s. He cared for over 10,000 orphans during his lifetime. Everything written about him shows that he was impressive, Godly, and upright. I can’t relate. I identify with the apostle Peter; he was a slow learner and a profound jerk. My kind of guy.

You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, Peter was one of the big guns, he was one of the foundations of the church.” Don’t be so impressed. When you read about his actions and responses you have to ask yourself, “What was God thinking?”

Let’s take a real look at Peter:

Jesus called Peter as an uneducated man. He didn’t have a degree, no training, he never set foot in a seminary. He was a fisherman, a worker, not overly respected in the culture of the times, but God called him anyway. Matt: 4:18

He was the one who was told to walk on water and proceeds to screw it up by taking his eyes off Jesus and sinking in a panic. Matt 14:25-31

In Mattew 16:21-23 he reprimands Jesus and starts to argue with Him. (not a bright move, ever)

At one point speaking on behalf of the apostles, Peter shows an astounding lack of humility or servant’s heart by basically asking Jesus, “Hey, what’s in it for me?” Matt 19:27

You would think Peter would start to catch on but at the foot washing after the last supper, he was the one who fought with Jesus when Jesus tried to wash his feet. “Not my feet, no way.” Jn 13:6-9

We read that Peter was one of the ones Jesus asked to go and pray with Him in the garden before He was to be betrayed. And…Peter falls asleep…twice. Matt 26:36 & 40

When the High Priests’ slaves come for Jesus, Peter is the one who pulls out a sword and cuts the ear of the slave. At which point Jesus AGAIN has to clean up after Peter’s temper and poor judgment. Matt 26: 51 (named in John 18:10)

The high point (low point?) of Peter’s story might be when he denied Jesus three times after swearing he would never deny Him. Matt 26: 33-35 / 69-75

Peter was a temperamental, argumentative, prideful person. He would never be asked to work in an established ministry today. He would never pass a background check. He was immature, emotional, divisive, and a little slow. When you look at the breadth of what we know about Peter at this point, he was the WORST apostle ever. So what was Jesus’s reaction to Peter? Peter was one of Jesus’s favorites. Like a puppy that poops all over the house but is still loved, Jesus knew that Peter would learn eventually, and the Peter could be shaped and trained. Jesus was very fond of Peter.

Jesus asked only three apostles to go with Him up the mountain were Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah. He wanted Peter to see and experience this interaction. Mt 17 1-3

Although he screwed it up, Peter was the one Jesus asked to walk on water. This was a huge privilege. Jesus wanted him to experience stepping out onto the waves, to learn to trust Him in all circumstances.

In Luke 22:7 Jesus asked him to go and prepare the last supper. Although Jesus could have had anyone do this, He knew it was essential and that Peter learned how to serve in this way. Peter was trusted in spite of his history of screwing up.

Jesus didn’t ask everyone to go and pray with Him in the garden; He called the ones closest to Him. Praying at that level is no casual event, Jesus wanted Peter with Him in His darkest hour. Matt 26: 36 “Pray with me.”

Jesus says about Peter in Matt 16:15-19 “On this rock, I will build My church.” I’m sure more than a few people questioned Jesus’ selection, but He knew what He was doing. Jesus needed a flawed, broken individual to lead flawed and broken people. Anyone else would have seen the broken part, Jesus saw a rock in the making.

When you think you don’t have what it takes to make an impact for God, you’re right. That is the perfect place to start. Realize we’re ALL broken, but this is what God uses. A farmer will talk about needing to break the soil for it to be used. Seeds need to crack and be broken before they will grow. When a new building is going up, it can be a messy endeavor and can be very hard to see what the architect has planned. But the architect does have a plan; he can see the building in his mind. If we allow Him, God wants to be the architect of our lives.

Walk humbly, trust in God. As Moses reacted to God’s calling in Exodus 3: “Who am I that I would speak to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Rejoice in the fact that God uses the Peters of this world. We’re all a little, or a lot, like Peter. Rejoice in your brokenness.

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Orphan Identity: Victim or Victor?

pexels-photo-346796-e1535913334664.jpegWe all have an identity. We are more than just going through life; we are someone. It’s part of our human experience that we identify as more than just a person; we label ourselves as a way of distinguishing ourselves from the many people around us. We might be an athlete, a vegan, or a foodie. We might be a cancer survivor or recovering alcoholic. We’re German American, ginger, or a Buckeyes fan. Even within our faith, we define ourselves: Southern Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, etc. Sometimes we’re born into an identity, sometimes we choose the identity, sometimes society lays an identity on us, but it’s part of who we are. It helps define us. There is a reason the many DNA testing businesses out there are doing so well, people want to know their history, they want to define who they are in some way. “I’m 59% German, 33% Irish, but I have 8% Indian in me.”

For an orphan, identity can be complicated. By definition, a child in an orphanage usually has no history. They frequently don’t know where they came from; they are often brought in with no birthday, no birth certificate, nothing to mark their existence other than they’re alive and breathing. Starting from zero is hard.

A big part of orphan care is helping children shape their identity from scratch. Caregivers tend to focus on the basics: food, shelter, medical care, maybe education. The basics are essential (that’s why they’re called the basics) but there is a deeper level that needs to be addressed once the basics are met. We need to build, or in some cases re-build a child’s identity. To help them see themselves, and identify as, someone of value.

The very word “orphan” brings up all kinds of reactions from people, usually not good. Pity is usually the first reaction, in some cultures contempt: “no one wanted you.” The reaction to being labeled orphan is almost never a positive force. It’s our job to change that.

In many orphan or foster care situations the child embraces the pity reaction, and their identity becomes “victim.” They define themselves by what’s been done to them by their families, and by society. Living in victimhood is a tough road, it means you’re always a little less than others, and it also means you feel entitled to the pity that comes your way. Less is expected of you. When less is expected, that usually results in, something less. If great things are expected, great things can happen.

In some ways, we’re all orphans. We’ve all been hurt, we’ve all been abandoned, and we’ve all been victims of the world. How do we redefine ourselves and build a healthy identity that was intended for us? The first step is to realize we are not orphans, our Heavenly Father has adopted us into the greatest family of all. This is no small thing; it marks us, it sets us apart, it gives us an inheritance beyond words or understanding.

John 14: 18-20 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

To get this across to a young child is a challenge, but if we treat them as the royal children they are, and not as victims, they will begin to see themselves as worthy of love, worthy of belonging. They will take on the identity we place on them, they will see themselves as we see them: as special, precious children in God’s sight and ours.

Shifting identity starts with small details: attentively listening to a child, giving them the attention they desire, having a special cake on their birthday (even if it’s a made-up date). Letting them know they are special goes a long way in moving them from victim to victor.

Another profoundly powerful way to move someone from victimhood is to show them the joy of serving others. Along with the obvious blessing of being part of a family, comes the responsibilities of being part of a family. Jesus came to serve others, and we are asked to do the same. As a child might “help” their parent to fix the car or prepare dinner, being allowed to help in our own feeble way builds a healthy pride, pride of being part of the family, part of something bigger than us. There is something profoundly healing for us as we reach out to help others. By showing someone, even a young child, that they have the power to influence positive change in someone else’s life is profound. It gives them power, and it brings joy, it’s deeply healing. Service moves people from someone to be pitied, to someone representing God. This is a big deal. This creates an identity that is larger than anything the world might place on us.

Our identity defines us. Who are you? And who do you encourage those around you to be? Expect and encourage people to live in the identity of our Heavenly Father. There is no greater label, identity, or way of looking at life.

Embrace the Storms

treeThis last week at our ministry we had to have some incredibly difficult meetings. One of our larger donors is having their own financial issues, and it’s trickled down to us, cutting our ministry income dramatically. The cuts we’ve had to make are difficult and painful, but they are cuts that need to be made for the ministry to survive and move forward. I know the pain we’re going through is ultimately a good thing. The idea that this is a positive season took some convincing for the other people in the meetings, but we know God will use this.

It’s easy to spout the platitudes that God can use all things, that all things work together for good, etc. It’s very different when you’re going through trials, attacks, and challenges many people never anticipate. It helps to look through the lens of history to see trials and tribulations that are not only survived, but cause a ministry or individual to strengthen and to flourish. We do need the storms in our lives to toughen us, to grow us, and to cause us to depend on God once again.

Several years ago there was an experiment in Arizona where scientists created a biosphere (not Bio-Dome, the horrible 90s movie with Pauly Shore, but the same idea). A biosphere is a complete ecosystem within an enclosed space. It’s helpful in research due to the ability of the people running it to control all the variables. Scientists built a HUGE biosphere with everything needed for the plants, animals, etc. to survive. After a while something started to happen, the trees were growing well but had very little bark. Soon all the trees began to topple over, one by one, under their own weight. No one could figure out why. They had good soil, the right amount of water, the temperature was right, there was no disease or pests, but the trees were dying anyway. It took a while, but they finally figured it out. There was no wind. A typical tree from a young age is buffeted by breezes, winds, and storms. A tree bends back and forth, sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly, but a tree is almost always in motion. The action of the wind makes the tree stronger; it causes bark to grow to protect the tree, it causes roots to dig down deep to build a solid foundation. The daily struggles against and with the wind prepare the tree for the storms that inevitably come. Without wind, a tree withers and dies.

Many years ago, our home cared for several young men with spinal cord injuries. One young man in his late teens was paraplegic, but it never got him down. Carlos was very bright, friendly, and had become fully bilingual while in our home. Over time the other children in our care, the staff, and many of the visitors came to love Carlos and the way he carried himself. He was a powerful example and an encouragement to everyone he encountered. One day, while he was preparing to leave for two weeks of treatments at a medical center in California, he made a point to say a real “goodbye” to a lot of the kids and staff – I think he somehow knew he would not be back. In route to the hospital, he had an adverse reaction to some prescription meds and passed away. Carlos’s death was obviously a very difficult time for our large family. We spent a great deal of time with the kids in our care to help them through the grieving process, while we were also grieving.

A few months after Carlos passed we were talking about the experience and what came of it. Carlos was now waking in heaven, he died too soon in our eyes, but there is nothing we can do. It sounds odd, but children in an orphanage never deal with actual death. They aren’t around grandparents who die. Most of the children in our care, if they remember parents at all, they remember them as alive and younger – most of our kids are with us do to abandonment or abuse, very few from the death of parents. Death just doesn’t come up too often in an orphanage. Carlos was the first death in our big family in over ten years. Along with many other lessons learned from the passing of Carlos, it opened the doors to some great conversations with our many children about how fragile life is, about the need to use the time we do have here well, about appreciating those around us while we can. It also opened up the conversation about preparing for eternity into sharp focus. Don’t get me wrong, Carlos’s death was tragic, but it caused huge growth in our children, our staff, and the ministry as a whole. Would I want to go through that again? Of course not, but it did bring many hidden blessing only seen in hindsight.

No one goes looking for trials and hardship. No one enjoys suffering loss or being hurt by others. We don’t need to look for difficult times because life tends to bring them to our door. Difficult times are part of the fallen world we live in. It’s so important to realize that as believers, our Heavenly Father is more powerful than any trials or hardships that come into our lives. He can take the pain and cause growth; He can use the winds of this world to make us stronger, to build us up to be mighty oaks against the powerful storms that, with time, come into everyone’s life.

Embrace the storms in your life, dare to spread your arms and catch the brunt of the winds that blow against you. God will not only keep you upright; He’ll use it to make you stronger if you allow Him.

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It’s a Person, Not a Problem

childHow many people label the recipient of their help, and then the label is all they see: homeless person, orphan, addict, etc. It’s so important in orphan care, and in ministry in general, to see the person and not the problem. We need to move beyond seeing the circumstances and see them as individual people with their own hopes, fears, and histories. God only sees the person; it’s a good model.

One of the best ways to understand someone is to put yourself in their place mentally. To “walk a mile in their shoes.” Most of us (hopefully) have no idea what an orphaned or abandoned child is going through, but it’s so important to try and understand. Before we can reach anyone, they need to know we know them, understand them and have their best interest at heart. In our experience, the most effective staff in our orphanage are the ones with the worst backgrounds. They understand our children. They’ve been there, they know the fear.

If a child is coming into an orphanage or foster care situation, it’s not like anything most people have ever experienced. Think about the times you’ve seen people interviewed after a major fire or tornado. “I’ve lost everything.” is a common response. But have they lost everything? They might have lost their home and belongings but they still have a church, a job, friends, their family is probably still around. And yet, at that moment, “everything is gone.” That is a lot to deal with.

Now, imagine what a child is going through. They actually have lost everything. Their home is gone, it’s likely they won’t see friends or family ever again, they will never go back to their school, odds are all they have in the world is the clothes on their backs. On top of the obvious loss in their lives, they are still very young, so everything is magnified in their minds. When you’re six a week might as well be a year. Any event, good or bad, is seen as huge through a child’s eyes. A child’s reactions haven’t aged to understand that life changes, that peaks and valleys will happen. To a child, something we might brush off becomes the end of the world. Layer that with the fact that children winding up in the system probably never had good role models in their lives to learn how to deal with trials, hardships, and loss in a healthy way. Most of us kind of freak out if we lose our keys or cell phone, imagine what a child is going through who has lost everything.

Recently we took in a group of three siblings. It’s not uncommon for the oldest in a group to be the “parent” if the real parents were either physically or emotionally absent. The ten-year-old was REALLY in charge of his siblings emotionally, and he was in a panic and on the edge of tears. “What if my mom is looking for us?” (We calmly explained that the social worker knows where they are.) “This is an orphanage, what if we get adopted, and our mom wants us back?” (We don’t do that, adoptions are pretty rare with older kids, and sibling groups are almost NEVER adopted.) He didn’t have the name of his community but tried to describe it to us so we could take him home. (His descriptions could have been any one of hundreds of communities around Tijuana.) We slowly and calmly did everything we could to assure him that he and his sibling would be OK.

I’m sharing this to help you put yourself into the mind of a child in the system. Some people respond to the worries and fears of a child by minimizing it. “You’ll be fine.” “Others have gone through this.” “Don’t worry about it.” This type of response does not help. We need to speak to them at their level and give their worries the attention they deserve in their mind.

The problems in our lives are frequently huge in our eyes and seem insurmountable. To God, our problems are tiny. He sees the big picture. He’s seen all this before. But He still hurts for us, listens to us, is there for us. Jesus came to die on the cross but to also walk as man, putting Himself in our place. He knows our trials, our fears, our questions that, in His mind, are simple worries. In His eyes, our problems are passing trivia, but to the children we are, they are crushing stresses in our lives. He hurts for us. He wants to be that loving, encouraging voice telling us we’re going to be OK.

If you work in childcare or any ministry, you need to be that calming voice, that attentive ear to the pains and fears people are going through. In a very real way, we are representing God. We need to be that anchor, that safe place, that understanding ear for the people we are ministering to. See the person, not the problem; walk in Christ’s example.

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