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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.

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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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Refugee Crisis: Do Something

The recent Paris attacks have made one thing abundantly clear: we live in a dangerous world. It means that we should cherish and hold our children close and be diligent about their safety and security. But in places like Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, it is far more difficult for parents to keep their children safe . . . that’s if their parents are even alive. In the debate over the refugee crisis, one thing is not up for debate—hundreds of thousands of people have not only been left homeless, but they face constant fear, uncertainty, and risk of death.

Across America today, people are choosing sides. Not just for the next presidential candidate, but we are choosing sides on an issue that lies closer to our hearts, our faith, and our sense of humanity.

Close the borders . . . Take a pause . . . Only let Christians in . . . Stringent vetting process . . . Help the children . . . Keeping them out is un-American . . . Send them all back to their home countries . . . Create safe zones . . .

While we struggle to choose a side, we are simply prolonging the very issues we are fighting for and about. And while we delay, the victims continue to be oppressed and innocent children continue to suffer while we continue a debate that we will never agree on.

The truth is over 95% of the people displaced by the ongoing war in Syria and the fight against ISIS are still living in the region. They are in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Syria. And most of them hope one day to return to their homes to live in peace.

World Help’s work has been on the ground in this region for over 10 years and that is where we will remain. This decision is not one made out of fear, but because it makes the most sense. This is where we have the opportunity to make the greatest impact.

World Help is providing food, clothing, housing, medical attention, a chance for children to return to school, and small business opportunities in Iraq and Jordan. These resources are helping to sustain their lives and give them hope until they can once again return home. No matter where you stand on these issues, this seems to be an opportunity that we could all agree on.

Unfortunately, all the media attention, talk, debate, and fear of letting a small number of refugees into our own country has lead to decreased attention and funding for the overwhelming number of people who are not even trying to get in.

Unless something changes . . . and changes quickly, years from now history will write this as a moment of failure for the American church. We will have to answer to our children and grandchildren why we stood paralyzed out of fear in the face of unspeakable violence and suffering.

Movies will be made and stories will be told about the heroes of our generation—the ones who helped despite great risk.

But my greatest fear is that my name will not be counted among those who made a difference.

The famous Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.”

So, in the wake of controversy and fear, I will not stand idly by while people suffer. I will not be boxed in by the talking heads and labeled by one opinion. Instead, I will simply do something to help.

I believe that is what my faith requires of me—a faith that claims to love my neighbor. I don’t have to choose a side, but I also should not sit on the sidelines out of fear. Instead, I can embrace a posture of compassion and love.

Edmund Burke reminded us, “for evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”

May we not let our fear of choosing sides rob us of all common sense. Our politics may divide us, but our compassion should unite us.

For more information on World Help’s work with refugees and displaced people in the Middle East and how you can help make a difference, click here.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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(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

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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.

 

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