The Emotion from Saying Goodbye

Learning what it means to love 140+ kids Posing with all the kids
This photo was followed by hugs and tears

I’ve been on more than a few missions trips. Each one had spectacular moments of God showing up, of miracles, joys, sorrows and stretching, but I think I have never felt the emotion of the last moments with the kids in the way that I felt it on our last day with them. They have been through horrors I can’t even imagine. Thirty of them watched their fathers kill their mothers and then take their own lives. Forty percent of them lost their parents through suicide.  Some were placed on the black market for sale… How far down does a person have to go to be called “the least of these?”

And yet there is a joy there. The kids would light up at any interaction. They prayed and sang fervently. We went there to love them. They loved back. 

I am both amazed and ashamed. Amazed that God’s love transcends so much of the trauma that mankind’s evil has created in their lives. Ashamed of the times I indulged myself in self-pity over things that now seem so small.

I won’t remember most of their names, but I can’t stop seeing their faces and wondering if I am doing enough to help feed them. What goes on here is a miracle. It is life changing for them and for us. I’m both overjoyed and overwhelmed. There isn’t enough support for them yet – but by God’s grace we will get there.

The bottom line is that it takes $7000 each month just to keep them housed and fed. It doesn’t seem like much to sustain so many kids, but it’s more than we have been able to send. I don’t know how we’re going to raise the rest, but I know we have to try.

Of course this is more about bottom lines. It’s about people of God’s creation and what He wants us to do about the needs of those He puts in our path. What a responsibility. What an honor to know God can use me in some way.

So, we said goodbye. Pastor Kiran sat us down, invited some of the kids to put flower garlands around our necks and told each of us what we had brought to them. Then he invited us to start hugging. Some of the kids went to their storage boxes and grabbed whatever they thought was of value and brought it to us. I had tho most powerful feeling I did not expect. It was the same feeling when on three occasions an Indian Christian has knelt down before me and touched my feet. “Wow. I don’t deserve this…. Do they understand how flawed I am?”  It’s a high dose of both humility and grace with a shot of redemption. Nope, nothing I could do would make me worthy of anyone’s gratitude at that level. But it’s God’s grace makes us worthy. I was thinking of that as the kids came up to us and began to give us whatever they had. This humbles me, and that’s ok because I need to be more humble. This day made me understand love just a little bit more, and that’s ok because I need to love more.

So what should CTL’s slogan be? “Come to serve others and be completely humbled in the process?” Hmm, I don’t know if that looks good on a brochure, but that is what happens. Above all else, God is big, and way way bigger than me or what any human can do. But He calls us to be an important part of it. This mission was never about what we can do for God. It’s about what He does for us. 140 smiling and crying faces helped teach me something I can’t get in a sermon. I wish I could express it better so everyone could feel what I felt, but I know it’s a God thing and only He has the power to reach into a soul like this.

Go and find those moments in your life, in whatever path God leads you through. It’s worth the journey 🙂

Advertisements

Causes and Hope for a Cure

There are lots of reasons why orphans exist. And I’ve heard some explanations that are quite absurd… It’s one thing to have a debate on the state of the world’s at risk children. It’s another thing to hear their individual stories.

Here is one of them:

Malleswarao watched his father stab his mother to death at the age of 8. His father then hanged himself. Officials at Malleswarao’s home village brought him to the Children’s home. He was very afraid and traumatized and would talk in his sleep. He would repeat “please don’t kill!” during the night and cry during the day. After several months at the children’s home he began to smile and interact with his new family.

Recently Malleswarao’s was playing cricket with the other boys and was hit by a bat. He reacted strongly to the sight of his own injury and began to see flashbacks of his parent’s death, but this time he had loving adults to comfort him. He cried out for Pastor Kiran as Daddy, a term the kids will use for the person taking care of them even if they are not their natural father (they call us uncle and auntie and they call Kiran Daddy). Malleswarao is improving again and smiles along with the other children. He is moving on from the details of his past life and embracing his future.

Thirty children at the home have witnessed the death of at least one of their parents, often at the hand of the other parent or from suicide. Ten percent of the kids lost their parents to HIV-AIDS.
At least one parental suicide was involved in 40% of the cases.

Widows

In Hindu culture, the face of a widow is considered bad luck. They are not allowed at celebrations. They are a class of untouchables all by themselves. A widow is typically blamed for the bad luck of her husband’s death. These women are extremely vulnerable to abuse and prostitution. They are treated as subhuman. The CTL sewing initial project took five treadle sewing machines and offered 7 widows the opportunity to learn a skill which can sustain them and their children. Widows who complete the training can “earn” a sewing machine. These machines, which run on foot pedal power, cost $200 each. We hope to expand this program, both for the widow’s sake and because we believe it will prevent the creation of more orphaned children.

There are lots of ways to become involved if you feel the call.

20120112-113123.jpg

An outstanding team . . .

I like this team. Of course, I would say that with any team I was leading, and I have enjoyed them all, but this year’s team is filled with “go with the flow” kind of people, and that makes them very easy to be around. There is a combination of experience, humor and unflappability…. Also, they do all the work and I watch in amazement- did I mention that?

Because the kids are finishing up exams this week, we spent time with them in the afternoons and evenings. They have lots of enthusiasm, and it makes for a great finish to every day. Now think of having 130 plus kids in your home, all with lots of enthusiasm… Got the picture? This is an incredible place, and I am here with some incredible people:
My sister Peggy refuses to give up no matter what, Adam is especially good at building relationships and engaging both children and staff, Dana has become very outgoing, not that she was in a shell before, but she is really engaging and supportive with Kiran and Lakshmi, and is filled with ministry ideas. Alan is a great song leader and will try anything and mix it with humor. Dustin and Berenice are new but you would never know that- they have a heart for these kids and for what is happening here. Dave jumps right in with kids and knows no fear.

Knows no fear.. That’s it. This is a team that is not afraid of jumping in with both feet, and though we all experience fear, it cannot stand where faith is strong. Jesus conquered death and with it, fear.

The kids at the CTL-Berachah Children’s home Are learning to live in the spirit of truth and not the fear of the streets. Their transformation here is miraculous, and we are witnessing something amazing here… These kids are NOT growing up to be victims. They study hard, work hard, and already kids from Berachah are graduating from high school, going on to colleges and making lives for themselves far beyond their beginnings. Love in action is an amazing thing.

20120107-093321.jpg

First Day With the Team: “It cleans out my sinuses!”

One of the fun things that happens when you lead a team is you get to see everyone’s first reactions to things, and of time you also get to see everyone in the team grow in their faith. The first adjustment to culture here is traffic. The second is food. At our first breakfast together today we experienced some very non-western food. As this team is filled with delightfully positive people who do their best to find good things about a new culture to comment on, Berenice volunteered that the “soup was very spicy, but it cleared up my sinuses and it sure tastes good!”

The team bonding with Dileep continued with more teasing and the chance to get to know his mother, who rode the bus with him for ten hours to come greet us at the airport. Dileep’s mom gave us a nice compliment– “I like that you people are always laughing.”

It’ good to be known as a team that smiles. It will help us a lot in the task ahead.

20120104-103200.jpg

Missions, Mission Trips and the Value of Going

When I first started to go on short term mission trips it was important for me to settle any negative thoughts I had In my mind about spending all that money and the value of doing that opposed to just sending money. Am I really helping? Is this really God’s will? Am I just after a feel good time and a photo op?

I think everyone has had these feelings, either about their own upcoming experience or the planned experiences of others. I also know people who had a bad experience and felt it was a waste of time. I also know Christian nationals on the field both home and abroad that hosted missions teams and wondered if it was a waste of time, so these questions are certainly valid. Certainly there is a need for people who go, people who pray, people who support, and those whose mission field never leaves the neighborhood.

But more often I have seen something amazing in short term mission trips, and it comes in lots of different forms styles and the blessings come equally for the travelers and the hosts when God is at the center of the trip.

FOR THE HOSTS

Hosting a team is a huge amount of work. Think of having a huge group of relatives staying in your home for long periods of time and having lots of demands that you weren’t expecting. It can be like your worst Christmas Holiday family nightmare. But also think about the times when a visit from someone who genuinely cares has blessed you and those around you. Mission work, which combines things like pastoral career with meeting physical needs is no small task, and particularly if you feel isolated it is great to have the encouragement and support ofothers who gave of their time talents and treasures to be with you. Even some family Christmas gatherings that start out like nightmares can end in unbelievable blessing.

In the context of my friendships with “local” Christian workers (in their own countries) over the past seven years, I often ask about the value of foreigners who stumble through the cultural differences or don’t speak the language. I hear the same responses over and over: “It means something that you came all this way to be with us.” “Your visit gives our ministry a new energy in the face of discouragements.” “We do not feel so isolated as we once did.”

If I had heard those statements on my first trip I might have dismissed it as politeness of the hosts, but as the relationships have grown,  I am happy to get honest feedback from my friends. This is critical we need our hosts to feel comfortable enough to share the truth with us. Visits can be short term, but missions are long term – it’s not a temporary vacation. And God didn’t send His son to the  world so Jesus could create an awesome video for His church report. After Christ’s death we have His Word, the Holy Spirit and an invitation to a long term relationship with Him. Nothing short term about that.  But even in our every day lives at work or school or in the neighborhood, people are put in our paths for any random amount of time, short term to long term. What we do with that’s time is the primary way God chooses to touch lives. We need to see our actions on the mission field of life as part of His long term plan for the people He loves. That includes us of course.

FOR THE TEAM MEMBERS

One of the most rewarding experiences for me as a missions team leader has been to see the growth, spiritual and otherwise of team members. Once the light goes on and they realize that while there is nothing wrong about finishing a specific task (very transactional and easy to declare a success when the last brick is laid) God does not actually need us to set up a building, pour a slab of concrete, lead some singing, do a craft or even part the seas. What He needs is our obedience to the call He makes on our lives. This action is more relational in nature. It focuses on our relationship with God and with His people, making it much more nuanced to declare success or failure. How do we know when we are finished? Wait a minute… if we are building relationships, do we ever declare them finished?

The enlightened team member (or leader) learns that it’s not about our preconceived outcome-driven agenda.  The obedience is our choice, the outcome is the Lord’s. God’s work is long-term and He is at work in our lives just as in the lives of people we hope to serve. Suddenly, in this unfamiliar territory, the Gospel emerges as much less about me and more about Him.

My favorite passage to ponder before I make a trip is found in Romans 12. In verse three we are told “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” – NIV Hmmm…. we are a team and God has distributed something different in each of us… The first part of the verse seems to suggest we tend to be a bit selfish or self-aggrandizing, but in reality, thinking of ourself with sober judgement might also mean that we also need to see our value to God in this big picture. My first missions trip was all about searching for God. I needed to be able to see Him in new ways.

My favorite paraphrase of this is in the Message Bible (my apologies to those theologians who don’t like the paraphrase – my suggestion is to get outside once in a while):

“…it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.”

Bingo! what I hope for every team member and what I hope for me to. We aren’t doing great things for God. He doesn’t need us for that. God is doing something for us!

FOR THE PEOPLE BEING SERVED, OUR HOSTS AND FOR US:

This part is simple. God values everyone: it doesn’t matter how smart you are, where you were born, your race, your experience, your flowery spiritual speech, your level of education, or your level in Angry Birds… It’s clear God values us all. Now the trick is to learn to value each other, especially when we don’t really think the same way.

My first trip to Romania was an overwhelming yet exhilarating experience. I arrived with no plan for what to do except for knowing I had some technical skills. At first I felt foolish– I didn’t know the language, I had done zero homework on what I was getting myself into, and yet I felt this call to go and serve in the summer of 2004. What amazed me immediately were the relationships with caring Romanians. They were very different from me, but they had this wild sense of humor and a sort of grittiness that opened me up and begin to see mission outside by previous notion. No one was perfect. Some of the programs were successful with children and some were not. There was an organized chaos to it all from my point of view. But the relationships were rich and deep, and affected my walk with God in ways that permanently changed me.

My first trip to India was overwhelming as well, but in another way. The numbers of people, the smells, the food, the traffic and the mixture of so many religions and cultures disoriented me at first. I had been all around the world, but everything seemed so different. My first reaction in this situation is to make too may comparisons with the way “we” do things and think of a thousand ways “they” could do it better. As I began to get beyond that and learn to know people, I started to see so many things in them that pointed out what was lacking in me. A respect for all things spiritual, evident even in non-Christians. A dependence on God for miracles when there do not seem to be any other options amazed me. I was so used to being in control and showing what I could do for God…. What if there really is nothing I can do for God? How humbling is that?

So, I would like to wrap up this little essay with a neat conclusion that would fit perfectly onto my church’s presentation screen, but the conclusion hasn’t been written: It’s a work in perpetual progress. If I was a better at this maybe I could wax eloquently with a hard-hitting point or two. I would encourage everyone to have the experience of a mission trip, no matter what the duration. But I know it really isn’t for everyone. For some there is a calling. For others they respond to a nudge. Most of us though will not feel a call and will not go ourselves. So I don’t have a conclusion. Instead, I will close with another paraphrase, again from Romans 12, this time from the first two verses. . . .

“Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”

Now that’s hope and change I can believe in 😉