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How One Word Can Change Your Year

This year, I’m starting with a word – just one word. There’s nothing really special about this word. In fact, it’s a word that is used often, so often that it’s started to lose the power of its true meaning. But to me, this word is revolutionary.

Freedom.

Just, freedom.

You see, I’ve realized how much of the work that I do revolves around that one little word.

Freedom from the grip of poverty

 

Freedom from the sex trade

 

Freedom from darkness

 

But as I am fighting for freedom for the captives, I am also fighting for freedom for my captive soul.

Freedom from my fears

 

Freedom from expectations

 

Freedom from self-doubt

 

I’m passionate about bringing freedom to those trapped in darkness around the world … justice for all. But if that’s true, then I must start with myself. I need to be freed from anything holding me back. I need God to help me break free before I can help others experience true freedom. I must let go of fear, anxiety, self-doubt, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, feelings of inadequacy and of never being enough. I must let go.

When Christ sets us free, we are then empowered and commissioned to lead others into that same freedom.

So I’m declaring this the year of freedom. Freedom for the captives and freedom for my captive soul. Will you join me?

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. Galatians 5:1

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End of Missions (Part 2)

Every Christian should live life with an open Bible and an open map. – William Carey

My great uncle was a missions pioneer. In his role as missions director at a large Christian university he began taking groups to Mexico on missions trips long before it was popular to do so. My dad was a teenager on one of those early trips with his uncle – an experience that forever defined the course of his life.

A week after he married my mom, he even took her along on one of those trips … on an unairconditioned school bus all the way from West Virginia to Mexico. And for the next couple weeks he stayed with the guys and she stayed with the girls. I’m not sure how their marriage survived.

My dad then followed in his uncle’s footsteps taking over that same missions director position and continuing to lead university students on missions trips all over the world. This was the life that I was born into. You could say that missions is in my blood … or so I thought.

Born in 1761, William Carey is known as the “father of modern missions”. His work inspired the missionary greats like Adonairum Judson, Hudson Taylor and David Livingstone.

But what I find interesting about Carey was his frustration with the church and what he perceived as their lack of missions interest. He argued that “Jesus’ Great Commission applied to all Christians of all times”, and he called out fellow believers of his day for ignoring this truth.

Looking back at Carey’s life and words make me question my own views on missions. Is missions really in my blood? Or have I simply made my vocation choice an excuse? And as a church, have we really come so far?

You see, I believe that we have all been taught from an early age what missions is supposed to be about. If you are like me then you grew up with the images of our own missionary greats lining our church halls – people who made great sacrifices to go to the ends of the earth.

Some of the best people I know are full-time missionaries on foreign soil and deserve to be honored and celebrated. But somehow in the process we have made it a choice to be a “missionary” instead of a commission applied to all Christians at all times.

We have made it a choice “to go” instead of a mandate to live “on mission” everyday.

To really simplify it, perhaps we are all called to be “missionaries” – we simply have a choice of where we live.

You see, the lines of missions are now blurred more than ever. It must be so much more than a choice to go on a trip once a year or a committee to serve on, or an annual conference to attend.

This is the Christian life that we have all been called to.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/missionaries/william-carey.html

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End of Missions (part 1)

Missions is not simply a choice to go on a trip once a year or a committee to be on at church … our work and perspective should go way beyond that. This is the Christian life that we have all been called to. 

 

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How Rescue Taught Me to Live

When the life of a baby is hanging in the balance, things become extremely clear and nothing else matters.

It does not matter how hot it is, or how far you had to hike. It does not matter how far you had to drive to even find this child. It doesn’t matter how thirsty you are or how much you desperately long for clean clothes and a good shower.

No, none of that matters. All that matters is getting that child the help they so desperately need and giving them a second chance at life.

There is something about “rescue” … the literal act of rescue … that simplifies life for me. “Rescue” helps me focus in on the one … and everything else simply fades away.

But what I have also found is that in some ways, “rescue” is easier “over there”- in those places where poverty is abundant, where the cares of the day are much more intense, but in some ways simpler and far less complicated. It’s literally life and death.

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Coming home – well, that is a different story. There are meetings, and deadlines …. practices and parties … grocery stores and laundry.

And before you know it, your life is so full that the people in our lives who desperately need to be rescued are hidden. There is simply no space or margins to even see them. Life is too complicated and most days nothing is clear or simple.

I heard a story on the news earlier this year about a group of castaways whose boat capsized at sea and they ended up washed up on the shore of a deserted island. They spelled out the word “HELP” in big letters on the beach with leaves and branches. The sign led to their rescue when a pilot spotted it from the air. This story caught my attention right away and in some way seemed so unrealistic. It sounded more like an episode from Gilligan’s Island instead of real life.

I wondered, today, with all of our progress and technology in the world, do people still cry out for help by spelling it out on the beach?

And then I thought that just like that pilot, we are all flying around in our planes. We are safe and already rescued ourselves. And if we are not careful, we will simply miss the signs.

We will fly from one destination to the other, in our hurried lives, forgetting why we were rescued in the first place – forgetting that we are on a rescue mission everyday – forgetting that we are rescued to rescue.

Rescuing babies from the mountains of Guatemala, and the slums of Uganda and Haiti has taught me so much about how to live here at home. Yes, you still have to live your life and do your daily tasks. We have to go to work and take care of our families.

But, when you view your life through the lens of “rescue” things can become quite clear. The truth is, we are on a rescue mission every day. And people all around us are crying out for help, spelling it out on the beaches of their life any way that they can.

We are rescued to rescue. That is why we are here and that is the good news that we have to share. The same God who rescued me can rescue you.

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Every Child Deserves the Opportunity to Thrive. That’s Why I Support Child Sponsorship.

A few years ago, Kevin Durant delivered a memorable speech when he received the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.

Durant looked towards the audience and smiled at his single-mother-of-two, and said, “You woke me up in the middle of the night in the summertime and made me run up the hill, made me do push ups, screamed at me from the sidelines of my games at 8 or 9 years old.”

He continued as tears filled his eyes, “we weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street, put clothes on our back, food on the table. You’re the real MVP.”

Every child needs — deserves — this type of love. Yet, not every child gets it. Instead, turmoil plagues the lives of millions of innocent children throughout the world.

Read the rest here.

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Does God Give Us More Than We Can Handle?

A doctor travels far into a remote area of Thailand to visit a hill tribe where the people of the village anxiously await his arrival. Medical help of any kind rarely reaches this community and this doctor is offering free health care services. This is something they could have never dreamed of.

 

When the doctor arrives he lines all the teen girls up in the village. He examines them one by one. While the families wait nearby, thankful that their daughters are the recipients of such wonderful care, the doctor is secretly examining the girls to see which ones are still virgins. He then picks his favorite and tells the family he needs to take the young girl to Bangkok where she can receive more extensive medical care.

 

The family trusts this doctor who appears kind and benevolent and sends their daughter off … not knowing it could be the last time they would ever see her.

Once the doctor reaches Bangkok, he continues his residency at a local hospital – all while holding his new captive as his sex slave.

Shocking. Seriously disturbing. Infuriating.

These are just a few words that describe my feelings as I heard this true story.

 

It’s stories like this that can at times make me feel overwhelmed. It’s just too much for my head to get around … too much evil … too much darkness.

 

Even in my line of work, with all that I have seen and experienced over the years, there are still stories that get me. There are still issues that just seem too much. And at times, I just want to turn away and focus on something easier.

 

We have all heard this phrase, right? “God will never give us more than we can bear”. Seems like I have heard that all my life. My favorite variation of this phrase was reportedly from Mother Teresa, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish he didn’t trust me so much.”

 

And, that has in some ways been my motto for many years. My work is hard and pushes my emotions at times to the point that I literally think I might snap. But, I always knew it would never be too much … or more than I could handle … or so I thought.

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But this year God has been teaching me that it is simply not true.

What I am learning is that God often, and in most cases does just that – gives us more than we could ever handle on our own.

The #2weeks2rescue campaign is bigger than anything I could ever do on my own. And to be honest, there might have been a small part of me that thought I was crazy trying to raise $66,000 in just two weeks.

But, I simply could not turn away. Not from stories like this one and the hundreds and thousands more – young girls desperate to be rescued.

It’s true. God has given me more than I can handle. But as my pastor recently said, “You will be given more than you can handle, but you will not be given more than He can handle through you.”

As I sit here with just 3 days left in this campaign, I am reminded that this is not about me, and it is not about you.

It’s about what God can do through all of us … together.

From the Field : Video Update

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Justice For All

The word “justice” has been intriguing me for some time now. It is often misunderstood, and it is a word that can bring both fear and hope. I think many people are confused about what justice means. Some think of it simply in legal terms as someone getting what they deserve, justice being served in a courtroom.

In fact, one of my favorite shows right now is a real-life documentary about a particular murder case. Maybe you are familiar with the current Netflix hit, “Making a Murderer”. There are two sides to this real life story about a man supposedly convicted of not one, but two murders. Some people claim he is innocent and the whole thing has been a conspiracy. Others, mainly those in the governmental legal system, clearly have decided he is guilty of the crimes. They believe that justice has been served. Whether he is in fact innocent or guilty, I’m not sure. But justice -true, pure, non-corrupt- like we see in the Bible is meant to bring hope and restoration.

As Christians we should desire to see justice carried out all over the world. This isn’t a desire for violence or retaliation, it’s a desire to put things back in order, to restore what has gone wrong.

In fact, the abandonment of justice produces insecurity and violence, deterioration in the quality of life, corrupt governments, and suffering of those who have the least.[1]

Imagine with me, if you will, a river. Not just any river, but a powerful river. This river is charging down from the top of a huge mountain. Imagine the force of the water breaking through boulders, trees, and debris at an unstoppable pace. Nothing can hold it back. Nothing can keep it from continuing its endless journey. This is what justice looks like in the Bible.

it’s a desire to put things back in order, to restore what has gone wrong

The book of Amos says that justice should “roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (5:24 NIV). So justice should continue always and never disappoint, grow tired, or weaken. Justice should roll. The rest of this passage tells us something else equally important:

I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions, I want nothing to do with your religion projects, Your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fundraising schemes, Your public relations and image making, I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music, When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.

(Amos 5:23-24, The Message)

We go to church every week, we attend Christian conferences and events, and we sing our songs of praise. And all the while we forget to be a mighty flood of justice to those in need.

Justice is important to God and reflects his character. As Timothy Keller says, “God loves and defends those with the least economic and social power, and so should we. That is what it means to ‘do justice.’”[2] In fact, it has been said that when we deny justice, we are actually hiding God’s beauty from the world.”[3]

If justice is really all about making things right again, then justice is all about restoration. You don’t have to look far for a place to let justice roll: a hurting neighbor, a homeless man outside the grocery store, a couple going through a divorce, a friend mourning the loss of a loved one, a hungry child halfway around the world, or an entire country nearly destroyed by genocide. Opportunities for restoring hope through justice are all around us.

In order for justice to be served, we have to be willing to move from guilt to action. Jim Palmer says,

You’d have to be comatose not to feel God’s hurt and anger ooze from the pages of Scripture over the oppression of the weak and vulnerable…I can’t seem to get away from the fact that the main message of God to his people about injustice is to get off our rear ends and do something! This goes way deeper than feeling guilty about doing more; I’m trying to figure out how I got to the place where the things that break the heart of God are so marginal to mine. [4]

It is time once again for justice to roll like a mighty river. It is time for us to slow down long enough to see the world around us…to wake up to the real world.

Justice may not always come in the legal sense, but things can be made right again. Restoration can begin. Wrongs can be made right and hope can be restored. True justice can be served.

I heard it said recently that we are not saved from good works but we are saved for good works. And as God is sorting out all the brokenness in the world, He is calling us to help Him put things right- restore hope.

As Christ followers, isn’t that what our lives are really about? Jesus heals, rescues, restores, and redeems- that’s our one hope and the only story we have to share.

And isn’t that what justice is all about- a biblical form of justice? A justice that doesn’t just give people what they deserve but a justice that rights wrongs and restores hope.

You see if we are not living our lives Awake, restoring hope and pursuing justice… then I don’t think God cares that much about all this other stuff we are doing to make ourselves look good- our singing, our meetings, our conferences…no none of those things are bad in and of themselves, but without justice….they mean nothing.

That’s why pursuing justice is so important. We are offering people a glimpse of an eternal hope. Where justice thrives, so does hope.

[1] Isaiah ‪1:21-23: God’s Justice, NIV Bible

[2] Timothy Keller, Generous Justice, 4.

[3] Ibid.,9.

[4] Palmer, Divine Nobodies, 146.

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From the Field | Reaching the Streets of Pattaya

I’m continuing my journey on to Pattaya, Thailand—a beautiful coastal city . . . and home to an estimated 30-50,000 sex workers.

It’s hard to imagine that this relatively small city is one of the sex capitals of the world. In fact, this is where Thailand’s sex tourism industry all began. During the Vietnam War, American soldiers would come to this beautiful fishing town on leave. And soon, Pattaya became known as a place to come for “innocent fun.”

Today, the city is a menagerie. But I was totally unprepared for how enmeshed family-style entertainment was with Pattaya’s blatant sex tourism. I saw families with young children walking casually through the streets as “bar girls” negotiated rates alongside their pimps who were looking on.

I couldn’t help but reel at how normal everyone seemed to be acting. It was like going to a circus or street festival—but this was the farthest thing from innocent entertainment.

Just as unsettling was the amount of trafficking victims we saw. Thai, African, and Russian girls lined the streets at every bar.

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Often these women are uneducated and promised a lucrative career in Pattaya. This offer is especially enticing for the young women who work to support their families. The better paying the job, the more money they can send home.

It’s a vicious cycle. These women are paying the ultimate sacrifice by laying aside their dreams and safety in order to provide for their families. Their work in Pattaya puts them at serious risk, and all the while, the shame of their lifestyle destroys their future little by little.

But God is blazing a new way in this darkest of places. Through a strategic partnership, we’re working to curtail the sex trade by transforming one life at a time with help and hope.

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World Help is in the process of building a safe home that will care for up to 20 at-risk girls at a time. These young women will receive the best care possible within a family-style environment, an education, counseling, and even opportunities to attend college or earn a vocational degree.

The campus will even include a café where girls can earn wages and learn business skills. But most important, each girl will hear of God’s love daily through a Gospel-centered community.

Because an estimated 50 percent of women in the industry have followed their mother or sister’s footsteps, it’s critical that we present the reality of an alternative lifestyle to women in Pattaya. Sisters and daughters will continue to follow the example set before them. This home could literally impact tens of thousands of lives over the coming generations!

 

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One evening, as the situation in Pattaya seemed to come crashing down on me, our compassionate partner Ann reminded our team of Galatians 6:9. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” 

Maybe the sex industry overwhelms you like it does me at times. Maybe you want to throw your hands up in the air and say “It’s hopeless!”

Don’t give up. Every life counts. Every investment matters. I believe God will use our efforts to reap something incredible in Pattaya in His perfect timing—a generation of women free in Christ.

We believe this new project will rescue and restore lives trampled on by the greed and injustice of the international sex trade. But we honestly can’t do this without you. Groundbreaking on this new program in Pattaya is in its beginning stages and funding is desperately needed to bring this to completion.

Please pray about how you can partner with World Help to bring light in the darkest areas of our world. And please keep the victims of the sex industry in your prayers.

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From the Field | Ending Bondage in Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand is the last stop in my journey—and it’s here where the horrors of the international sex industry seem to culminate. There’s an estimated 15,000 sex workers in one area of the city alone, and thousands of individuals from around the world come to visit for one reason.

These visitors call it “sex tourism,” as if it were simply a part of their holiday experience.

I’m broken by what I’ve seen in Bangkok, still unable to fully process my emotions. But here is the raw version—because I can’t tidy these truths up. I just can’t.

I came to Thailand to tell you the truth . . . but also to show you hope.

Our partner is located in Bangkok’s red-light district. It’s a place of refuge in the middle of devastating darkness. Our team works by entering busy bars and building personal relationships with the women entertaining there.

Then they make them an offer: the chance to leave the sex trade once and for all and complete their education for free—whether that means finishing high school, attending a university, or earning a vocational degree. While there, each woman in the program is offered a safe place to stay, three meals a day, counseling, the support of a loving community, and the love and dignity of Christ.

Because most of these women are uneducated and come from impoverished backgrounds, the offer almost seems too good to be true. For these women, education is their escape from prostitution. But it also leaves them with a choice . . . to invest in their education or earn money every night on the streets.

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The answer is simple, right?

Actually, it’s far from simple. So many of these women work in Bangkok to help support their families back home. They make 10 times the amount here than they would in their own villages, and to quit would leave their families empty-handed.

The sex industry is a complex web . . . but I saw the redemption that’s possible through compassionate dedication.

I joined our partner one evening in the heart of Bangkok’s red-light district—a regular routine for her as she seeks to build trust with these young women. We sat down at a go-go bar, waiting for the right opportunity to speak to whomever would eventually wait on our table. All around me I saw men—mostly western—bidding on women who were literally numbered.

I felt sick.

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There in the bar, surrounded by vulgarity and what seemed like the abandonment of all justice, the gravity of the situation began to suffocate me. It was all I could do to hold back the tears and appear strong. But as soon as I got back in our vehicle, my emotions poured out.

“How do you do this . . . every night?” were the only words I could muster shakily through tears to our partner later that evening. And it was as if her response was the answer I had been waiting for all along.

“If we don’t do it, who will?”

It hit me. This isn’t someone else’s problem. This is our problem.

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In God’s perfect timing, at our next stop, I saw our partner’s work in action and began to see the hope.

Our waitress arrived, and in an instant, our partner began her work. We had only moments with her. The urgency was so great. But in those few sacred minutes, she was told about the home and about receiving an education for free. We learned this young lady had only just begun her career as a bar girl, but the desperation was already visible on her face. Her eyes lit up when we spoke of a different way of life, and we left her that night closer to hope than she had ever come since arriving in Bangkok.

Back at the home, I spoke with a young woman named Arinya who had found a new identity through the love and care she found there. She came to Bangkok when she was just 15 years old to help support her poor farming family.

She endured three years of working in the industry at a bar. And just when she thought she couldn’t take anymore, she heard about the Home of New Beginnings.

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Today, Arinya has graduated with a business degree and earns a respectable income. While at the home, she also discovered the love of her heavenly Father and couldn’t resist His forgiveness. Now, she feels called to reach out to women who were chained to a life of humiliation just like her.

One by one, this work is transforming lives for eternity. 

Bangkok is where my journey ends, but it’s also where a new chapter begins. I invite you to partner with World Help as we continue to bring light to the dark . . . to set captives free . . . to do justice.

Each rescue takes considerable time and investment—but every penny is worth it. As I think back on the faces of the young women I met on this journey, those words still ring in my ears: If we don’t do it, who will?
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