Find Your Defining Moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Short-Term Missions is Money Well Spent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Are We Called To Sacrifice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stealth Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So You Want to Open an Orphanage…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Service Muscle Memory

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Most people have heard of muscle memory. It’s our body’s way of learning repeated actions so deeply that we can react or move with little or no thought. A trained soccer player doesn’t have to analyze every kick. The player instinctively knows the optimal way to impact the ball and send it in the right direction. Bigger game strategies are worked out, but the instinctive reactions during a game flow from thousands of hours of dedicated, consistent practice. We do this every day with actions that we repeat over and over again: brushing our teeth, starting our car, etc. Whenever we drive somewhere daily and automatically take the same route without thinking about it, it’s muscle memory in action.

Studies show that to create a habit takes about 30 days. The longer we do anything consistently in our lives, the patterns build, and it’s easier to continue those patterns. If you’re quitting smoking the first few days can be gruesome, but eventually, after a few weeks, it becomes easier. If we’re starting an exercise program, those first few days can be hard, but if we keep at it for four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks it becomes ingrained and a regular part of our lives. That’s not saying that we won’t occasionally slip up, but the slip-ups become less frequent if we’re consistent with any habit over time.

So how does this apply to our spiritual walk? It’s important to evaluate our spiritual muscle memory. How do we immediately react to whatever situation comes up? When we suffer a loss in our life, do we react with anger? Or do we trust that God sees a bigger picture? When we feel we’ve been wronged by another person, do we lash out? Or do we forgive, seek to heal, and have grace for others? When we encounter someone in need, do we seek how to help? Or do we avoid eye contact and move on with our lives? Our first reaction to any situation is a good indication of our spiritual health and an example of our spiritual muscle memory in action.

We need to develop and train our spiritual, service muscle memory daily. Only with ongoing, faithful practice of healthy spiritual reactions will we grow in the perfect image of Christ. We need to embrace good service habits and allow them to grow into muscle memory.

One of the many attributes of Christ is service. Jesus spent the bulk of his time focused on those around Him. He spent His time healing, teaching, encouraging, feeding, blessing whenever He came into contact with others. During the last supper, the last night he had with the apostles, Jesus could have taught on anything. He chose foot washing, an example of service with profound symbolism at that time; it was the lowest servants who would perform this act for others. Jesus felt it was important to close out his training with the apostles by giving them this deep, powerful example of service. If we call ourselves a “follower of Christ,” and we are not actively, humbly, serving others in our day-to-day lives, we are hypocrites.

So how do we develop our service muscle memory? Practice, practice, practice. Service doesn’t have to be a huge, dramatic, sacrificial act. We are given thousands of opportunities every day to serve others if we keep our eyes open to them. A kind word to a stranger in a store, providing an open ear to somebody going through difficulties, just sending someone an encouraging message on Facebook, these are all acts of service. Jesus always had His eyes open to those hurting and in need around Him. Daily service to others should be our goal also.

A few years ago my wife and I were traveling on a missions trip to a very small, impoverished country in the middle of Africa. We landed in the tiny rundown airport and inside we faced an overwhelming crush of humanity. We had been warned beforehand to avoid “the people in the orange vests” who would try to grab our luggage to help us move it to the taxis to get tips. After collecting our team and luggage, I turned around, and my wife was gone. After what seemed like a long time, and me having a mild panic attack, I see my wife walking out of the restroom arm in arm with a frail teenage girl wearing an orange vest. My wife had gone to use the restroom and shared a kind word with this girl she noticed at the counter. This young girl needed those words, at that moment in her life. My wife’s service muscle memory kicked in, and she reached out to this girl in need. She didn’t cure cancer, she didn’t end world hunger, but she shared an example of Christ’s love to a scared teenage girl.

Who can you serve today? Go and practice that service muscle memory. Let your life follow in that perfect example of service we see in Jesus Christ.

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It’s OK to Say “No” to Someone in Need.

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We live in a broken world. Unless you’re living in a cave, it’s impossible not to be aware of people all around us struggling with difficulties in life. We see suffering in the news from countries far away, we read about war and injustice in so many places. If we haven’t become too calloused, we see struggling people in our towns, in our churches, and maybe even in our own homes. It can be overwhelming. We almost have to maintain a certain level of denial, or we would curl up into a ball to give up hope. BUT, sometimes, with God’s guidance, we can maintain hope and make a difference in someone’s life. We CAN make a difference. Hang on to that. Seek God’s will with who you should help.

In my line of work, caring for orphaned and abandoned children, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the staggering numbers of children in need. Depending on how you define “orphan,” there are around 150 million orphaned or abandoned children worldwide. If the international numbers aren’t discouraging enough, even the numbers of a single city can be overwhelming. In Tijuana, the city closest to where I work, the figure that’s used is roughly 5,000 children living on the streets. You can’t save everyone, no one can.

Yesterday I was contacted about a single mom with four kids. She will likely die in the next few months from an ongoing battle with cancer. There is no extended family and dad abandoned the family long ago. Someone helping her reached out to us about taking her four children into our home. The details are still being worked out, and we’re doing what we can to help. The four siblings will probably wind up moving into our home at some point. It’s making the best of a heartbreaking situation. BUT, for every child we’re able to help, there are 60, 80, 100 children that we need to turn away. The team here has to make Solomon like decisions every day: Who do you help? And who do you turn away? You can’t save everyone.

Anyone working full-time (or even part-time) in a service focused ministry needs to make hard decisions every day. For every homeless individual you serve, there are 20 more people outside the door. For every family a food bank helps with a box of groceries, there are 30 more families needing assistance. For every child rescued, there are dozens more in danger on the streets.

If we try to help everyone in our sphere of influence, we might wind up helping no one. I work with orphanages from many different countries. I’ve found that just like people, orphanages tend to land into personality types. One type of orphanage that I understand, but dread walking into, is what I call the “crazy cat lady orphanage.” Occasionally an orphanage is run by someone who is so overwhelmed by the hurting children around them that they take in any child in need. That might sound very noble: “I never turn away a child in need,” but it sets up a horrible situation. If the home has space, resources, and staffing to do a good job for 30 children, it can be a beautiful thing. If that same home, with the same resources, grows to 50, 70, 90 children it can be horrible. Lack of food, hygiene, and general attention can make some orphanages a filthy, lice and rat infested nightmare. Last year, one home I visited staggered me, my first thought was “these children would be better off on the streets.” I really liked the director. I think her heart truly was to help the kids, but she was so overwhelmed she became ineffective in reaching her end goal. Where do we find the balance?

There’s a topic that most people don’t talk about. Jesus, in the three years that he minstered on this earth, didn’t help everyone. For every cripple he healed there were hundreds he didn’t. For every injustice he confronted there were dozens he walked past. For every person He taught, there were thousands that never heard Him speak. Jesus fed the 5,000, but there were many others that went hungry. No one would call Jesus a failure, He found a balance and did the will of his Father. That’s all He was required to do, that’s all any of us are called to do. Jesus spent a tremendous amount of time in prayer, He spent time alone, and then went and did what He was called to do. It’s a pretty good model, one more of us should follow.

Whether we realize it or not, we all make decisions every day about who we can help, and who we turn our back on. How many homeless people do we walk past on the way to Starbucks? Are there people in our church, school, or office that just need someone to listen to them? It’s ok to say “no” to someone in need IF our hearts are open and sensitive to serving those in need when we are called. We need to seek to understand God’s will. We need to be seeking His eyes and heart for the suffering around us, and the wisdom to represent Him well.

If you’ve become overwhelmed with the challenges and suffering around you, and don’t help others because you can’t save everyone, please step out and help just one person this week. It will matter greatly to them, and your life will be better for walking in the example of Jesus. If you’re the one overworking, killing yourself trying to save everyone, please have some grace for yourself and take a break. You can also walk in the example of Jesus: say “no” to someone, say yes to helping the ones God is calling you to help, and in all things: seek the Father’s will.

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