shamu blog post

Shamu, Extreme Poverty, and You

Today, I am sharing over on the Leading and Loving  It blog. I am talking about poverty and how you can act by being the hope to those in need. I would love if you would head over to their site and check out the post!  You can view it here.

Will you be the hope? What step will you take TODAY to be hope to someone in extreme poverty?

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 2.56.12 PM

Putting My Hands to What’s in His Heart

It is my absolute delight to introduce you to my sweet friend, and guest blogger, Susan Morris (www.susanbeth.com). Susan and her husband pastor Amplify Church in Jacksonville, FL and Susan is an active member of the Leading and Loving It community where she and I received our introduction. Susan is one of the sweetest most passionate women I know living her life trying to put her hands to the things in God’s heart… but I’ll let her share her own story!

A year ago I was immersed in wedding details for one of my daughters and had never even heard of World Help. I had however been part of Leading & Loving It, a community of women involved in ministry and have led one of their Connect LIVE groups the past several years. I had been looking forward to attending their retreat again last Fall, but due to putting some things aside in preparing for the wedding I felt like it wasn’t something I could do at that time.

Because of that decision I missed hearing Noel share about World Help and an upcoming L&LI trip to Guatemala. It wasn’t until after the first of the year that I saw something about the Operation Baby Rescue Project. I knew immediately I needed to go. I also knew that I didn’t have the money budgeted to go on a trip that was now quickly approaching.

It’s funny now looking back out at how everything played out…

I created several items for my daughters wedding and a few people had inquired about ordering pieces from me. That idea did not appeal to me at all, until the moment I read about this trip. I decided to create and sell custom art pieces to raise the money needed for the trip (out of my comfort zone!)

I was able to raise the funds to go on the trip. One of the highlights for me personally was getting to know Noel Yeatts. In a world that often glamorizes strength and beauty in a self indulgent way, I saw in her, womanhood at it’s finest. I saw a devoted, loving wife and mother who was passionate about what God had put in her heart. A woman who was willing to get out of her comfort zone, rally the troops and lead the charge to get a job done!

Noel spoke into our lives throughout the trip and she continued to speak into mine afterward from her book, AWAKE – Doing a WORLD of Good One Person at a Time (which you need to get if you havent already!)

One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “Do you want to be safe, or do you really want to change the world? The conflict is that we want to be brave, we want to take risks… but we also want to be safe. The problem is we cant have it both ways.”

Even though many people I know would consider me a risk taker and brave…I knew deep in my heart I was still playing it safe.

I remember sharing with Noel the very first night of the trip that I had asked others to pray I would not be overwhelmed with the need before me, making it unable to see anything else. It is easy to become paralyzed by the enormity of it all.

That prayer was answered… I saw so clearly in my time in Guatemala that it takes each of us being obedient to what God is asking us to do. Only then can the miraculous happen. I made a decision to be obedient no matter how insignificant or how huge that looked.

The day after I got home from the trip, I made my commitment to raise money to rescue five babies, representing each of my five children. The total amount raised would be $6000, which seemed insignificant and HUGE all at the same time.

Another one of my favorite quotes from AWAKE is “Doing a world of good is oftentimes just doing what you already know how to do…”

So that’s what I’ve done…at AMPLIFY where my husband and I pastor we have Amplify LOVE Projects, so Operation Baby Rescue has become one of our projects. We made #amplifyLOVE shirts and coffee mugs with proceeds going to rescue babies.

Our family also owns Reach Destiny Arts, a Dance Studio lead by my daughters that has nearly 200 students associated with it. We have created a fun way to donate to OPERATION BABY RESCUE by buying a Pointe Shoe and the students writing their name and amount on it to hang up on the walls of our studio.

At this stage, we have rescued two babies and this just by doing what I’ve already been doing. Nothing spectacular or special! People you know want to make a difference…theyre just waiting for you to show them how.

I specifically took a picture of my feet on the ground in Guatemala because I knew once my feet were on the familiar soil of home it would be easy to forget. The following is a blog I wrote a week after being home about that picture…

susan morris 2
A week ago I was standing on the soil in Guatemala.

I had the opportunity to share about my week with my church family on Sunday. I wore these boots and I told them why…

Ive been on several trips to other countries where you see such heartbreaking need all around you. I know that my life and perspective has been shaped through the years by these experiences. I wore these boots on Sunday as a reminder that as much as I was moved to make a difference in those moments standing there in Guatemala, life back in my “normal” can soften the urgency over time.

I snapped pictures while I was there and as I was scrolling through them just hours later they seemed unreal. I wonder if its because its hard to process the reality of what I was seeing?

I don’t know.

But I do know, I want to remember…

I want to remember the mom that walked with her children 3 hours one way so they would have food for the day.

I want to remember the filthy dirty plastic 2-liter bottle that her child held up to me to fill that Im pretty sure he had just picked up in the dump that was a few feet away.

I want to remember the precious babies being held by brave moms choosing to leave all they have known to do what’s best for their sick children.

I want to remember the scared little girl that was probably going to lose her infected left eye due to not receiving treatment early enough.

I want to remember the joy and gratefulness on the faces of the people in the village where we dedicated a well so they could have clean water.

I want to remember the little boy in the plaid shirt that came and sat by me and melted my heart.

I want to remember that my feet stood on this soil and in that moment I knew I could make a difference.

You can too.

To help Susan raise money for Baby Rescue, visit http://lali.worldhelp.net/susan-morris

World Help and Leading and Loving It

On the Ground with Leading and Loving It

“As a church we are good at teaching people how to get to heaven, but we are failing at teaching them how to live on earth.” — Carlos Vargas

I’m here in Guatemala with a group of 30 women from Leading and Loving It—pastors’ wives and women in ministry. Our focus this week has been on our Rescue Program and meeting Leading and Loving It’s goal of rescuing 200 babies. We’ve loved on babies in the hospital, visited the special needs home, and heard a number of rescue stories from Hope of Life’s founder Carlos Vargas.

11067455_985341471499608_6608508888474935914_n[14]

IMG_6983[14]

IMG_7063[14]

Yesterday the entire group of ladies had the opportunity to visit a trash dump community here in Guatemala where lunch is served three days a week. I loved watching our group serve “the least of these” so selflessly. It was a reminder of the extreme poverty so many of these people are living in and why this rescue program is so important. Please take a moment to watch this short video and consider joining the rescue at www.lali.worldhelp.net.

Watch Guatemala | #LALIRescue15 from World Help on Vimeo.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 9.30.24 AM

Alternate Endings

I read recently that in the 6th Episode of the Star Wars saga, Return of the Jedi, Harrison Ford’s character, Hans Solo, was actually supposed to die. The original script included his death during a raid on an Imperial base. But, reportedly George Lucas was worried what killing off one of the main characters would do to sales, merchandising, and the massive franchise Star Wars had become.

Nikki Noel NIldo

So, instead what did we see? An alternate ending – one that the audience could be much more comfortable with. One that left us feeling good and hopeful – one that kept us coming back for more. We saw the Ewoks and a “teddy bear luau” [1].

Alternate endings are prevalent in the film and television industry. Some endings are simply left on the cutting room floor only to go down in movie trivia history. While other deleted scenes are included in the actual release of the film letting the audience choose the ending they like best.

Usually I don’t want a choice. I like to know how a story ends and there should only be one ending. But every once and a while, a movie takes me on a journey that leads me to believe an expected ending is coming. But when it doesn’t end the way I anticipated, I am left feeling unsatisfied and confused. The movie leaves me in a place that does not feel quite right. It’s not where I thought the story was going- not the ending I would have chosen.

My mind wanders with “what if’s” and I begin to create my own alternate ending in my head. I come up with a conclusion that I like much better and that leaves things neatly wrapped up and resolved.

In the past few weeks I have found myself desperately longing for an alternate ending to real life – not a movie – but my real life story. It’s a story I have been telling nearly as long as I can remember. I guess you could say, in some ways, it’s the story of my life.

You see more than 25 years ago I met a special little boy on the streets of Brazil. His name was Nildo. He was a street child. His father had abandoned him and his mother could not afford to care for him. He slept on a bench and had no clothes or shoes. He was dirty and hungry.

Meeting this young boy changed my life. It taught me an important lesson – I may not be able to save all the hurting children in the world, but I could make a difference for one. And years later, I have never forgotten.

He grew into a fine young man, helping other children and even starting a family of his own. He was able to come to the states for a visit where we were able to see each other again and reconnect. His story has literally touched and inspired thousands around the world. And to say his life changed mine would be an understatement.

Nildo Recent


(I write about Nildo in my book, Awake and you can watch a short video about his story here.)

A few weeks ago I received some tragic news. It was unexpected and a total surprise. The story of my life, Nildo, was gone. My inspiration, my motivation, and my success story to prove the work that I do is important – it had disappeared in what seemed like an instant.

In our connected world today there is no time for grief – no time to process things privately. We are expected to instantly post, comment, “like” and have 140 characters to wrap it all up in.

But I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. I needed time. I needed to ask God all the questions a good Christian girl is not supposed to ask. I needed to ask “why?”

I was stuck in the first two stages of grief … denial and anger. And the anger was winning.

I couldn’t talk about it. Instead I fumed inside. The lyrics to a Dixie Chicks song played over and over again in my head – “I’m not ready to make nice – I’m not ready to back down. I’m still mad as … ” Well, you get the point.

Yes, I was mad. Because, this wasn’t part of my story. This was not the story I had created. This was not the story I had been telling people all these years. This was not the story I had just filmed for a special online conference that aired just days after Nildo’s death.

No, this was not my story. My story had a happy ending, one I could explain and tie to a practical inspirational truth. My story made sense.

This story – this reality I was being forced to consider – felt like some alternate ending to a movie I didn’t even want to see.

My story gave people the ending they craved. It kept them coming back for more. It gave them hope. And, it neatly wrapped up an important truth. If we reach out and do our part, lives can be changed. Nildo was that shining example of a life transformed. He was inspiration to look past the masses and zero in on the one child, the one person God has put in your path. He helped us “see the one”.

That is what I thought his story was all about. That is what I thought my story was all about. And that is how I thought God wanted to use his story.

So, the tragic news stopped me in my tracks.

These past weeks I have been mourning the loss of his life. That little boy I met so many years ago that grew to be such a loving and caring young man. I have been mourning the loss of a father and husband who leaves behind a wife and three small children, one born just days after his death. That little girl will never know her father and what an incredible man he was. I have been morning the loss of a friend – a son.

But I have also been mourning the loss of the story – my story.

I am realizing now more than ever before that Nildo’s story was never my story to begin with. I was just a small part of his story. A big beautiful story but one that I cannot write all the chapters in. There is no alternate ending to choose from, just one tragic end to a life beautifully lived.

And here’s the question I have started asking myself: How much are we willing to risk to let God write our stories? Am I really brave enough to let God write my story … my whole story – with no alternate endings to choose from?

You see, we get into trouble when we start to think we can save the world. Yes, we can make a difference, but we cannot save. And, we cannot write all the chapters in the story.

We are all just supporting roles – up for Best Supporting Actor, or Actress. But make no mistake, there is only one writer and only one person up for the Oscar for Best screenplay. This is God’s story and he is writing it His way – one changed life at a time.

If I am honest, I am still angry. But, my anger is a righteous one. As Bill Hybels calls it – it is a “Holy Discontent”. One that longs for a world where children are never abandoned and forgotten. One that longs for a world where children don’t have to live with those scars and fight those fears the rest of their lives. For a world that allows full healing and recovery on this side of heaven. A world where love does win … I long for a new world.

And maybe this is what living out an authentic faith truly means … Maybe this is what we are supposed to do, supposed to think about. Maybe that longing is what drives us, pushes us, and inspires us to keep going against all odds.

That desire to restore hope and bring God’s kingdom to life here on earth … not in the future, but now in our time. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

In the end, that is what hope is all about, and what our lives should be all about.

Hope restored to a hurting world.

The one thing I know is this:

Nildo lived.

He lived and because he lived – I lived. I have lived a life that would have been very different without meeting him.

Because he lived his story touched thousands – hundreds of thousands – inspiring them to get involved.

He lived and became a son, brother and true friend loved by many.

My one comfort is that this child who bore the scars of abandonment, fear, loneliness, and pain now rests in the arms of a loving God – truly rescued once and for all.

Right now Nildo’s death feels like the end to a spectacular story. But I have to believe God is not finished yet. And personally I am not ready for this movie to be over. I don’t want to see the words “the end” appear on the big screen.

There might not be any alternate endings to choose from, but I do believe this is just one chapter in a never-ending story … a story that God is writing everyday.

So, goodbye sweet Nildo. How could I ever forget you? Because of you, I am forever Awake to the needs of the world. You changed my life and I truly am the lucky one.

To give a gift in Nildo’s memory to help support his family click here.

[1] http://www.avclub.com/article/gary-kurtz-outlines-original-darker-ewok-less-endi-44162

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 9.27.44 AM

Going Beyond the Rescue

When I began traveling to Guatemala, one of the first things I noticed was the alarmingly high rate of birth defects. Malnutrition, sickness, and poor prenatal care take a permanent toll on both the mothers and children in this impoverished nation.

Disorders like cleft palates, deformities, and other handicaps are tragic for any parent . . . but I’ve learned that in Guatemala, they can mean a death sentence.

In fact, Guatemala has one of the highest national percentages of spinal and brain birth defects in the world. Like most developing countries, Guatemala has very few specialized healthcare facilities, let alone pediatric care for children with disabilities. The majority of these families are too poor and isolated to seek the help they need. As a result, many children are left untreated and some will die. Thousands of these children are in immediate need of critical care.

Our partner Carlos Vargas is close to celebrating the completion of a new special-needs home that World Help was able to provide near the Baby Rescue Center. I’ll be traveling to Guatemala this month to dedicate this new branch of Operation Baby Rescue, and I couldn’t be more excited. For hundreds of families in the surrounding regions, this new home means that their children will finally receive the care they need to live healthy, productive lives.

Please watch the third portion of a three-part interview as Carlos explains what this new home means for the families caring for these special-needs children: exclusive treatments, therapies, medicines, and each child will receive adequate nurturing on an individual level. The home will also serve as a rehabilitation center where children can come on an as-needed basis.

As the home nears its final stages of construction, I ask you to join me in praying that it will restore hope to countless families in Guatemala. You can also support the home by giving a one-time donation or pledging any amount toward the start-up and sustainability of the program. No matter how you pray or give, your action invests in those who need it the most.

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 2.33.51 PM

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 9.25.38 AM

Rescue a Life: Create Sustainable Hope

Baby Rescue does more than just save lives—it’s reversing the cycle of despair in Guatemala through the hope of sustainability.

A child rescue is a family affair. We believe true health takes teamwork, unity, and the bond of community. Operation Baby Rescue not only saves the lives of children, but it invests in their parents as well. The initiative is intentional about making sure families have the workable knowledge to provide their children with lasting health.

I’ve spoken with mothers who have no idea that the dirty water their children drink keeps them from absorbing essential nutrients. It’s not surprising that the malnutrition rate is so high in this country. It’s not that these families don’t care . . . they just don’t know. But through Operation Baby Rescue, we can help change that!

In addition to families, every child rescue seeks to involve an entire village, giving it essential provisions and tools for sustainability that will prevent further heartache. When a community understands the achievable cycle of health, true well-being will become the norm. A communal awareness of development is so absolutely crucial if we want to bring permanent change to impoverished Guatemalan villages.

Watch the second of a three-part interview with our partner Carlos Vargas as he explains how rescuing children in Guatemala is beyond simply removing them from hazardous environments. It’s about creating a cycle of sustainability that sets the stage for lasting hope.

I hope you understand that when you support Operation Baby Rescue, you help establish futures of health, promise . . . and hope for all.

Will you join the rescue?

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 2.33.51 PM

Noel Brewer Yeatts Spark Conference 2015

Spark Conference: Waking Up To The World

Today I am sharing over at Spark talking about one of my favorite topics … “Awake” … the theme of their upcoming conference in March. I will be one of their speakers along with Bob Goff and many others. Keep reading to learn more about Spark and how you can join me at this incredible event!

“When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed. In the poor we meet Jesus in His most distressing disguises.”   Mother Teresa

I was reminded of the power of that thought, “Jesus in disguise” when I saw a recent story in the news.

It was about an Episcopal church in Davidson, North Carolina, that became home to a very controversial statue.

Read the rest of my post on Spark’s blog >

Photo by Hope of Life

I see you, sweet boy

I love people who are positive. I am drawn to people who are happy. I enjoy people who don’t complain.

I wish I could say that I am always one of those people, but I can’t. However, I want to be.

And I think that is what I love most about Bob Goff. I heard Bob speak at a recent conference and loved his simple yet powerful message: Love God, Love People – Do Stuff!

That’s it. That is his whole message. And when you think about it, that is really all you need to know.

If you’ve ever read anything by Bob or heard him speak in person, you’ll know that he’s an extremely positive person.

Don’t get me wrong: He doesn’t try to call a tragedy a positive thing. He tells the truth about it. The heartache, the pain, the confusion. But he doesn’t stop there.

Bob has mastered the art of finding redemptive perspectives, so that he tells even the most tragic story in a way where you can almost see hope rising to the surface.

I want to be like Bob.

Because it seems like every day I am confronted with a tragic story. Stories I want to share, but ones where I struggle to find the redemption. Stories that, if I am not careful, leave me in a state of despair.

This is one of those stories.

I met Jenri (Henry) a few years ago in Guatemala. He sat in a swing in our baby rescue center . . . barely moving. He was skin and bones. He had been rescued, but had a long battle ahead of him. His prognosis was uncertain.

At first glance he appeared to be an infant . . . maybe 6 months old. But to my surprise, he was two years old and weighed only 10 pounds.

His story was nothing new, at least not in this part of the world. A life of extreme poverty and malnutrition had taken its toll.

For two years Jenri fought for his life surrounded by people who loved him—the caring workers in the center and the countless people who visited him and held his frail little body in his arms.

People like Lauren.

I first met Lauren on a World Help blogging trip to Guatemala. We asked her to come and help us share these rescue stories. The day Lauren met Jenri is a day that changed her life. She writes about this in one of her blogs, saying, “I saw him and touched his skeleton body and talked to him and told him, ‘I see you, sweet boy’.”

This was the beginning of Lauren’s beautiful journey . . . a journey that has made her an advocate for these children, a journey that led her to the process of adoption, and a journey that continues to lead her to be a voice for the voiceless.

But not every story has a happy ending. Just days ago, and a month
before his 4th birthday, Jenri lost his battle and the world lost a precious soul.

And as I share this story with you, this is where I have to make a conscious choice. I must decide whether to sit down and cry . . . to ask the never ending question “Why” . . . to shake my fist at God . . . to throw my hands up in despair and say, “The fight is just not worth it” . . .

Or to add this . . .

This is not where the story ends. You need to know that Jenri was loved. Jenri was treasured. Jenri mattered. And Jenri’s life will be the inspiration to help so many more children.

Jenri’s short life was filled with pain and struggle. But, when he came to the end, he had what really mattered.

His life changed the world . . . because Jenri’s life changed the lives of Lauren and countless others who held his frail little body, looked into his big brown eyes, and whispered in his ear, “I see you, sweet boy.”

Today we honor Jenri . . .

We still see you sweet boy, and we will continue see you in the eyes of every child who is saved . . . because you once lived.

Photo by Hope of Life International

 

Rwanda Star School World Help

Finding Beauty . . . The Second Time Around

I am still troubled by the photos of the children who were murdered. The thought of it simply makes me sick to my stomach. At times, I don’t understand the world we live in. I thought I had seen enough evil in my days to simply make me numb. But unfortunately, I had not . . .

Continue reading my firsthand account of Rwanda’s transformation over the years at worldhelp.net/blog >>

World Help has been working in Rwanda for years—rebuilding lives, forging unity, and rekindling hope in a country wrecked by civil war and genocide. Visit worldhelp.net/Rwanda to learn more.

Don't talk about Jesus dying on the cross _ Noel Yeatts

Don’t talk about Jesus dying on the cross …

Noel Yeatts - Don't talk about Jesus dying on the cross - blog

A little known fact about me is that for years I played the harp. I played at weddings, church services, receptions, parties, and special events. Besides having to lug that heavy thing around, load it in and out of my car, and deal with a few crazy brides … I loved it.

I received a request one time to play at a church. I was not familiar with this particular church or the denomination, but I agreed to play. Everything was going fine until the music minister informed me that I could not play any songs that talked about Jesus dying on the cross, or the blood of Jesus.

I literally thought … wait a minute … did he actually just say that?  Don’t talk about Jesus dying on the cross?? Are you serious?

But, oh yes, he was serious. And so, that is exactly what I did. The music I played was more “easy listening” than hymns and everything made a little more sense when the service closed with the congregation standing in a circle, holding hands and singing “let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me …”

I was thinking about this today as Easter is only days away, and wondering how do you celebrate Easter without the cross? How do you worship without acknowledging the blood that was shed for our sins?  And for that matter, how do you even have a church without these essentials? There is no church without the blood, death and resurrection, right?

Now, I am all for peace on earth and for letting it begin with me. But what is more important is why I believe that. So much of what I do is about giving people physical help … meeting their immediate and desperate physical needs. But, what I love most about what I do is the holistic approach that we take … meeting physical and spiritual needs. It is never one without the other.

Because there is no help without hope. Because without the hope that only comes from the cross, meeting these physical needs, is just a short-term fix.

 

And the same is true in our lives. We all have needs and there is only one way to truly meet those needs … Jesus. No matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we work, no matter how good we are … the cross is still the only thing that saves us.

So, let there be peace on earth … let it begin with me. But, let it begin with me because of what He has done for me. I have been rescued by the cross so that I may now rescue.