It’s a Scary World

Screen Shot 2019-08-18 at 10.28.19 AMBulletproof backpacks are selling out right now across America as the school year is getting ready to start. This is directly due to the multiple mass shootings over the last few weeks. So many shootings took place in Chicago during one recent weekend, some hospitals stopped taking in new patients. Perceived gun violence has gotten bad enough that many other countries have issued a travel warning for people visiting the US. It is a scary time, but our reaction needs to be balanced, needs to be wise, and needs to look at the bigger picture.

The key word in that last paragraph was “perceived” gun violence. With multiple 24-hour cable news channels competing with countless news websites, it’s a race to see who can make today’s news more scary, more threatening, more personal. If you were to believe everything you see or read, you would never feel safe, anywhere. But, if you step back and look at the real numbers, the reality is, we have never been safer. Murder rates in the US have dropped by almost half since 1990. Violent crime overall has seen a considerable decrease in the last two decades (see footnote). The one cause of death that is increasing across all age groups is suicide. We, as a country, and more importantly, as a church, are doing something very wrong. We are focusing on the wrong things.

For magicians, one of the most essential tools of the trade is misdirection. A magician will create a distraction, a burst of smoke, a flourish of a scarf, etc. to draw you away from what they are actually doing. You focus on the distraction and miss the real action, the real issue at hand. The enemy is very good at this. He can get us to focus on trendy or scary things that, in the end, don’t matter. We end up worrying about things that we have no control over, or things that have no lasting importance. The enemy has used misdirection to the fullest.

We can see how the enemy uses the misdirection of fear in so many areas. “I want to give to that great charity, but I need to plan for my future.” “I want to help that homeless lady over there but what it if she takes advantage of me?” “I want to help with the Sunday school class, but I’m afraid the kids won’t like me.” Fear is a crippling factor in so many decisions, and the enemy just stands in the corner and smiles, knowing he has done his job of misdirecting us.

Living in Mexico, I spend a lot of my time discussing the perceived fears that so many people have. “Isn’t Mexico dangerous?” No, not really. Many places in the US are dangerous, but the country overall isn’t, you need to have some common sense and be aware. Mexico is the same as the US, a vast country with incredible people. Mexico does have some rough areas, just like the US. The perceived fear that so many people have about Mexico is working to prevent them from experiencing the joys and growth that come from serving in short-term missions. The enemy is smiling over in the corner.

The point of this is, fear is sin. There are many sins the church generally doesn’t like to talk about and almost embraces: gluttony, greed, etc. The one sin many churches are outright celebrating is fear. Fear sells. Fear gives a rallying point. “We need to be afraid of those people, that politician, this trend.” Fear is used very effectively by the world to sell us things and to keep us engaged. Too many churches are using this marketing approach (fear) to run their ministries. We are not of this world, and we should not embrace its techniques to reach people.

It’s the unspoken sins that sneak in and slowly destroy. Fear is a slow, insidious sin that destroys our faith. If we trust in God and know that all things work together for good, why are we so afraid? If we believe we have an all-powerful Father in heaven who only wants great things for his children, why can’t we trust Him?

Every time we say “I’m afraid,” what we’re actually saying is, “I don’t trust God. God isn’t big enough to know what’s best. God doesn’t love me enough to take care of me.” “Fear not” is a significant theme in both the old and new testament. Why do we glaze over these verses like they don’t apply to us? The story of David and Goliath we’ve read since childhood is all about fear versus trusting in God. The enemy wants us to be afraid, maybe we should avoid that.

Go back up to the picture at the top; you probably wondered why the guy has gunk in his teeth, but you didn’t notice the six fingers on her hand. Misdirection works. Don’t let the enemy misdirect you and lead you away from what you need to see and do. Fear not.

Footnote:  www.pewresearch.org/facts-about-crime-in-the-u-s/

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

If you would like to receive this blog in your e-mail each Monday, please click “follow” above.

Advertisements

Random Affection in Orphanages

orphanchild

One of the realities of orphan care is that everybody considers themselves an authority. Just like parenting styles in a traditional family, opinions on orphanage styles tend to shift frequently on how to “do it better.” These opinions change depending on what’s trending in any given year. In the last few years, there’s been a lot written on the potentially harmful effects of too many visitors on the children in an orphanage. After working full-time in orphan care for over 25 years, I could not disagree more.

The current theory states that having visitors in orphanages on a regular basis leads to attachment disorder problems later in life because the children are bonding with random, different strangers every week. In my experience, children raised in dysfunctional orphanages will have a wide range of emotional problems later in life, just as anyone raised in a dysfunctional family. If the children are bonding with random strangers every week, this means there are many underlying problems in the orphanage already. The bonding issue is just a symptom.

Let’s look at two scenarios:

Scenario 1) In our orphanage, we have more visitors than almost any orphanage in the world. In a typical year, we host around 280 groups and have other “drop by” visitors on a regular basis. We enjoy hosting the groups, we enjoy leading them into service and short-term missions, and we believe when well-managed, these visits are healthy for everyone. So how do we avoid the random attachment? First, we have reliable, consistent staff and plenty of them. Our children do bond with adults, but it’s with consistent adults in their lives. We have an excellent child to staff ratios (about 4 to 1) and minimal staff turnover. Second, although we have a tremendous amount of visitors we intentionally limit the time they have with our children. We limit the visiting hours with our infants and toddlers, but more importantly, we encourage all of our groups to stay with us but travel out daily to serve in the community or with other ministries in the area. Our children see the “visitors” as just that, visitors dropping by to see our family. The majority of children who grow up in our home go on to have healthy marriages and families. In spite of all the visitors, most of our children turn out okay.

Scenario 2) In an orphanage that is understaffed and overcrowded, the children will seek random affection from any visitor that comes through. You can see this when you first arrive in a home. If children above the age of five are running over to hang on you and ask to be held, they’re starved for affection. A normal, well-adjusted 10-year-old doesn’t just walk up to a random stranger seeking physical contact; this is a symptom of much deeper issues in an orphanage. The children are not bonding with the staff and are severely lacking affection. They WILL have problems bonding later in life without a tremendous amount of healing. Most children raised in poorly run orphanages eventually produce children that wind up back in the system and have a tough time with healthy relationships. (Just like too many children from foster care.)

So how does someone, or a mission team, respond to these two examples? If you’re dealing with a healthy orphanage, one that has well-adjusted kids and is well run, continue to back their work. Find out what their needs are and keep supporting a healthy situation. Help them to continue to provide what their children need.

If you’re working with a home that’s not so great, it gets complicated quickly. A few years ago, we were helping an orphanage near us that was a pit. The orphanage was overcrowded, filthy, and the children were deeply starved for affection. We were praying for a change in that home but did not have a lot of hope with the current management. With eyes wide open to the situation, we continued to send teams to that orphanage on day trips. The teams would clean, prepare meals, and spend time with the children in need of attention. I would encourage the teams by telling them, “This home will probably never change, but for one memorable day, those children can know someone cares about them.” With these “hit and run” trips, it was far from perfect, but it was giving these children something.

Everyone knows that eating junk food all the time makes for a lousy diet. In a perfect world, we would all have access to regular, healthy, balanced meals. If someone is starving, the standards drop, and junk food is better than no food. If a child was starving, and all we had to give them was a candy bar, that candy bar would mean the world to them. Long term, you would hope that the situation would change, but I don’t think anyone would withhold the candy bar because it’s not the ideal, healthy option. “Junk food” affection, when it’s the only real option, is better than no affection at all. People not visiting an orphanage to avoid this attachment and bonding problem does not suddenly make healthy bonding occur if the orphanage is understaffed and poorly run.

Caring for orphaned and abandoned children is obviously a complicated issue. It’s an issue that has been around for thousands of years and will not be going away soon. To believe that not visiting orphanages will help the situation is like saying not providing services and meals to homeless will end the homeless situation across America. I wish orphanages didn’t exist, but if they have to exist, they should be great, and they need our help.

Please, continue to follow the fundamental teaching of our Christian faith in regards to orphan care:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

If you would like to receive this blog in your e-mail each Monday, please click “follow” above.

No Regrets

IMG_0355Everyone is playing with the “Faceapp” right now, the app that shows what you will look like when you’re older. Time killer? Yes. Creepy? Absolutely. Are they harvesting your data? Probably. But the one good thing that might be coming out of the Faceapp fad is it’s forcing people to think about getting old and eventually dying off. Most people are in denial; they believe they will be around forever. People believe that they will take that mission trip to Cuba “someday.” They will work with children at risk “eventually.” They’ll help others “once my loans are paid off.” It’s good to remember we might not have that many tomorrows. The time we have is a precious gift that is slipping away faster every year. Don’t reach the end with regrets.

This last week was one of the busiest weeks of our summer here in Mexico. We coordinated three large teams and their efforts to build four homes for needy families in our community. Well over 150 people from multiple states across the US, spending a week of their summer on a short-term mission trip. They all came down with the hope of changing lives. It worked, but I can guarantee it worked in ways almost none of them could have anticipated or might have noticed.

Obviously, the families who received these houses were blessed, and their lives were changed. The homes built aren’t just shelter. The teams, working alongside the family, build a home where they can be proud to live. These are semi-finished three bedroom, one bath homes that would have taken them years to construct without the help of the missions groups. This is why the groups come down, to have a profound and long term positive impact on the families they are seeking to bless. But something else went on in the background beyond the expressed agendas and motivations.

These projects help to provide desperately needed jobs in our community. Almost all the materials are purchased locally. Over the summer, our homes and other projects account for about half of all the local hardware store’s sales. The local skilled laborers hired to help out were able to feed their families. The local glass shop guy always does a little “happy dance” when we walk in to place a window order. These homes impact so many local lives in ways that are impossible to count.

The impact of a well run short-term mission trip is life-changing for everyone involved. For the vast majority of the people who traveled down to help recently, it was a week they will remember the rest of there lives. The teams that came down built relationships with each other, and worked together with fellow church members in ways they’ve never been able to before. I listened to one father, working alongside his wife and three kids, as he shared with tears in his eyes about the bonding time with his teen girls. They spent the week hanging drywall together and learned how to tape and mud the drywall panels. Ask any dad; it takes some effort to find quality relationship time with teen girls.

I was witness to the tearful home dedications as keys, hugs, and blessings were shared all around. The families, teams, and individuals who worked together this week will be sharing stories about the trip for years to come. If they hadn’t taken a chance, spent the time and money to come down, they would always wonder, “what if?” They would carry those regrets for years.

Too many people reach the end of their life and wonder if they’ve ever made a difference. They regret not taking a chance. They wonder if they’ve made some mark or impact that will be remembered. People who serve where the need is greatest never have to worry about this. I’ve never met anybody who regretted caring for orphans, widows or those less fortunate around them. The life we build has nothing to do with the stuff we usually focus on, a life well lived is one focused on having a positive impact on other people’s lives.

On your grave, between your birth date and death date, there will be two dashes: – – representing your life. What will those two simple dashed represent? What did you do between those two dates? You might not change the world, but you can change someone’s life. Don’t end your life with regrets.

 

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

And don’t forget to order your copy of Reciprocal Missions from Amazon.com.

The Toilet Paper Police

toiletpaper

Years ago, our ministry had “the toilet paper police.” A gentleman on our staff was in charge of all the soap and cleaning supply distribution to our very large orphanage. This is actually a tremendous job when you think about it: all the soap, TP, shampoo, pine cleaner, diapers, toothpaste, etc. for 120 children, plus the staff, plus the many visiting teams we host. Human beings just go through a LOT of supplies. This gentleman (we’ll call him Bob) was very detailed. Bob would keep lists, track everything, look for patterns in supply usage, etc. Although it was all with the best of intentions, he was kind of a pain. He eventually got the nickname of “the toilet paper police.” He was trying to do the best job possible, and he might have saved us some money, but what was the real cost? What damage was he doing to relationships by stalking people over one extra roll of TP? Kids get sick, people fall in the mud, things change. Sometimes it’s just better to let some things slide for the greater good.

The toilet paper thing might seem odd, but the same controlling attitude can easily flow into other areas of ministry. Some people make a plan or agenda and can get VERY upset if things need to change. When we have a flu outbreak, and most of our kids are throwing up, it’s hard to force them to participate in the great vacation bible school program you had planned. If your group was scheduled to paint a building, I understand it’s frustrating if it rains that day, but that is not in my control. Sometimes things change. When you have a large team, traveling to a foreign country, things changing is the norm.

This week we had a group working hard to prepare lunch for our large family. We occasionally have government inspections (always a lot of fun by the way). Once the group had the spaghetti in the boiling water and cookies in the oven for dessert, we all had to participate in a mandatory government fire drill. I’m sure the group wasn’t expecting or planning on this, but they flowed perfectly and actually saw the humor in the whole situation. The group standing around with our kids while a head count was done turned into kind of a cool experience.

Occasionally, something happens that completely derails the best-laid plans. It’s so critical to realize, God might have a plan that is very different than our schedule or agenda. If we’re focused on our frustration of missed flights, miscommunication about transportation, or people getting sick, we might miss out on a very different opportunity. How we respond in the midst of changes, challenges, and frustrations shows everyone around us who we honestly see as being in charge. Are these our plans, or God’s plans?

Now and then, plans change entirely. In two weeks, we have a fantastic group coming from the Midwest to build a house for a needy family in our town. The planning has been going on for months. Blueprints have been finalized, and materials have been purchased, pictures of the family have been sent to the group, etc. This young family has four children, one of their sons is special needs. The details were in place, and everyone was expecting a fantastic week of service and relationship building. This week, everything changed in a way that no one would have expected. Due to what we believe is a reaction to some medication she was on, the mother of this family of four passed away two nights ago. Understandably, the husband and the four children are devastated. We are helping with funeral arrangements and doing what we can to support the family. It seems trivial in the face of death, but what do we do with the home build project? As of the writing of this blog, the group is planning on moving forward with the home build, but the changes are bringing phenomenal challenges and opportunities to minister at a vastly more profound level. Flexibility on the part of the group will be essential for everyone even remotely involved with this project.

Obviously, this is an extreme example. But unexpected changes are the norm with life in general, and international missions especially. Part of it is the bizarreness of international travel; part of it is different cultures and systems than most groups are used to. But part of it is also a spiritual dynamic. There will always be challenges and barriers to effective ministry. The key to getting through those challenges and barriers is to see them differently. The changes we encounter, the disruptions to our plans, can lead to incredible opportunities for service and ministry as long as our hearts are in the right place and we keep our eyes open to those divine appointments that God has laid out for us.

Be organized, plan well, but always remember to allow for the unexpected. Allow for God to set things in motion in ways that we didn’t prepare for. Please don’t be the toilet paper police.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

Short-term Missions Leadership

pexels-photo-346885Leadership matters. This seems obvious, but it’s an important part to consider in any successful missions trip. The quality and vision of the person leading will make or break the experience. The leader’s experience with international work, their vision for the trip, and their ability to share that vision are critical.

For over 20 years, our organization has had the privilege of working with countless short-term missions teams. In 2018 alone, we hosted and helped facilitate over 300 visiting missions groups. Some for a weekend, some for up to two weeks. Most of the teams we’ve hosted have been great, some not so much. Beyond funding, beyond the size of the group, beyond anything else, leadership is the single most important part of an effective, impactful missions team.

Short term missions, when it’s healthy, can be life-changing for the individuals going on the trip and can be a huge blessing to the receiving organizations and communities. When it’s unhealthy, it can be an expensive and damaging waste of time. So how does one lead a healthy short term missions team? Below are some key points to consider.

Be honest with yourself, why are you going? If you’re planning a short-term missions trip to mainly impact and educate your team, this isn’t wrong, but be honest about it. Don’t say it’s only about spreading the gospel and serving the needy if it’s really about something else. Leading your team into experiencing God and how to walk with Him isn’t a bad thing.

Many years ago, my home church was planning a two weeks missions trip to Australia. I went to my pastor seeking his advice as I wanted to go but felt like a hypocrite. I honestly had no deep passion for the people of Australia; I just wanted to go and hang out with people serving God. I still remember my pastor’s profound words of wisdom: “There are worse ways to spend two weeks.” I went, I had some life-changing experiences, and I think I may have even accidentally helped some people. There’s nothing wrong going with mixed motivation. My serving full-time in Mexico today can be traced directly back to that trip to Australia. A short-term missions trip can be hugely impactful for the people going, and as a leader, you should seek this and work to facilitate it.

Define who the leader is. This seems pretty basic, but depending on the team, there might be more than a few people who are natural leaders, the team needs to know who is ultimately in charge. “Adult” teams can be the worst, everybody is used to doing things their way, following directions from someone else can be hard for some people. Here at our ministry, we coordinate home building projects for needy families in our area. We’ll have teams come down to build a home for a local family over a week. If the team has three or four contractors, I make sure they select who is making the ultimate decisions; otherwise, they spend hours debating every decision or working in different directions. Your team can come to consensus agreements, but ultimately, someone has to say yes or no to any major decision. The leader sets the tone.

Know your team. The maturity, experience, and vision of every team member is a little different. It’s important to evaluate your team members to lead them effectively. If your team is under skilled maybe they shouldn’t work on a major construction project, if they’re new in their faith, maybe they shouldn’t be leading a Bible study or public prayer. If you have a skilled individual (construction, IT, mechanic, etc.) let your hosting organization know that these people are available if needed. Know when to push your team and when to hold them back. Jesus knew his apostles well, their skills, their weaknesses, and their maturity. He knew what they could handle and allowed them to take risks and grow. He also had them wait when needed. You need to be Jesus to your team.

Work on Cross-Cultural Training. If the members of your team have been relatively sheltered and have never been exposed to true poverty or other cultures, coach them in how to respond, react, and process what they’re experiencing. Every culture has nuances and differences, but an attitude of mutual respect goes a long way anywhere. Respect for local dress codes, traditions, language, and church culture are all important. Unintentionally offending a culture is a sure way to severely limit a team’s effectiveness, both in serving and in ministry.

Everyone has something to learn from others. Americans can carry a fair amount of national pride, and that’s OK as long as you realize other people can be proud of their countries also, even if it isn’t America. The “ugly American” stereotype exists for a reason. We need to realize that the culture we’re visiting isn’t worse than ours, it isn’t better than ours, it’s DIFFERENT than ours.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Let your team know the goals, expectations, schedules, etc. Communicate with your team about the importance of flexibility, conflict resolution, and being part of the team. Give your team a written schedule as a guide knowing things might change. Communicate with your host organization about travel plans, your goals, your skills, and ask them what they would like to receive from your group. From the day you have your dates picked, start communicating with your host organization and ask them everything you can think of. Also let them know everything they might need to know about your team (size of the team, ages, skills, any funding available, etc.) You are building a relationship between your team, and the team on the ground you will be serving. In any healthy relationship, clear and detailed communication can go along way in avoiding any problems or conflicts that might arise.

Teach and practice flexibility. When traveling with a team and working in other countries, it’s impossible to plan for, or expect, everything. Lost luggage, illness, power outages, can be expected but sometimes other things come up. I know of a group that was planning on spending a week working on a church building, the day they arrived a leader from the hosting church died. The project was unexpectedly put on hold, but it did give the team new, unexpected doors to serve and minister. The change was out of their hands, so they flowed with it correctly, maturely, and with grace.

Lead them into the experience. Missions trips can be overwhelming. Debrief every night, encourage intentional conversations about what everyone is experiencing. Maybe have everyone turn off the cell phones and focus on the day and the people experiencing the trip with them. It’s heartbreaking to see people on a missions trip with so much opportunity only to watch them stare at their phones the whole time. Lead your team into being intentional and living in the moment. A trip needs to be about more than the perfect Instagram photo.

As I was writing this, I realized that any one of these topics could be a book unto itself. What you have here is a VERY basic list of a few things to consider.

As a leader, you have a huge responsibility, also a huge privilege. A privilege to lead people into life-changing, mountain top serving experiences they will remember the rest of their lives. When led and hosted correctly, short term missions can have a world-changing impact. Go and have your world changed.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

Missions and Politics

yelling“If you support the general US policy on immigrants, you should cancel your missions trip.” This line was recently posted on Facebook and shared by many people. I don’t agree with the statement, but it brings up an interesting point. How much does our politics interfere with our testimony? How much does our contempt for other political parties or nationalities impact our mission’s goals?

What we spend our time on, what we focus on, what we promote in our lives and social media, says everything about our priorities. The enemy will do everything in his power to distract us from what is essential, to distract us from seeking God first and representing Him well. With today’s non-stop cycle of political news, from an ever more slanted perspective from either side, it’s easy to get distracted from what truly matters.

A while back, a very good friend of mine, a strong Christian and missions-minded person, was spending an inordinate amount of time on social media promoting and sharing his support of the 2nd amendment. We eventually had a conversation where I pointed out that he might be focused more on defending the constitution than actually supporting and defending the Gospel. (He got my point.) The constitution is, in the grand scheme of things, temporary. All things of man are. Eventually, the constitution and the US will fade away and become a footnote in history. The only things that last are the things of God. Too many people are chasing after the shiny object of the temporary, and ignoring the eternal.

Anyone who’s read the news or watched the 24-hour flood of news channels is aware that much of the church is increasingly focused on political issues. The vitriol and fury that so many Christians are demonstrating are, to be honest, embarrassing, and increasingly problematic. “They shall know them by their love.” has been replaced by, “They shall know them by their snarky Facebook posts attacking people they don’t agree with.”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have an opinion; we have an obligation to stand up for the weak, the defenseless, those in need around us. This is Jesus’ example to us. But how we stand up for others matters a great deal. Jesus was not political; He didn’t pick a side other than hanging out with the rejects of society. He knew there was deep political corruption, He knew it was a broken political system, but He also knew it just didn’t matter. He focused on the individual in front of Him; He focused on what was important.

My team, and many of the groups we host have been helping with the migrant camps in Tijuana. These camps are hosting people from Costa Rica, Haiti, etc. Many of these people left horrifying circumstances for the slim chance of not just a better life, but of survival. A donor to our ministry heard about this and let us know that he would reach out to his church. He was sure they would help with supplies. He was amazed and disappointed when his church gave a very firm, “No.” They would not support “those people.” Think that through, they refused to help migrants because they felt these people should “just go home.” They didn’t like the politics, so it was OK to turn a blind eye. This is counter to everything the Gospel represents. Even if we do see people we don’t agree with as the enemy, we have explicit instruction as to what our response should be. We are called to love our enemy, pray for our enemy, heap blessing on them.

How many of us deserve the blessings and grace that God pours out on us everyday? None of us are worthy, none of us have a right to this grace, but God pours grace in abundance on us anyway.

Jesus taught extensively on this topic. From the good Samaritan to reaching out to lepers, the Gospel leaves no wiggle room as to how we are to serve our fellow human beings. The Gospel does not say only bless those we agree with, only help those who are worthy, only pray for people who are making decisions we agree with. And yet, the church today is increasingly divided into political factions, divided by agendas that have no lasting value. How can we share the Gospel overflowing with grace, acceptance, and love when so much of our lives are bathed in contempt for those around us?

Going back to the line this blog started with: “If you support the general US policy on immigrants, you should cancel your missions trip.” I disagree with that line. Whatever your stance on immigrants is, you should take a missions trip. Spend time studying and understanding the issues from different angles before you go. Go and meet the people that you see on so many news clips. However you feel about their actions or them personally, you are called to love your enemy. By spending time with them, you might find your perceived enemy is actually your fellow child of God, that your enemy is someone that our Heavenly Father cares deeply about.

Any donations to support our mission efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

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.

You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online.

If you would like to receive this blog in your e-mail each Monday, please click “follow” above.