India’s Greatest Injustice

 “We’re not after charity . . . we’re after justice!” — Bono

As the sun started to fade and night was setting in, a young boy ran out from the children’s home where he was living to a nearby field. As he was running, he quickly glanced over his shoulder making sure no one was watching. He had lived there for years since his parents could no longer care for him. Perhaps they had died, or maybe they suffered from leprosy . . . a disease that affects hundreds of thousands each year in India. Or perhaps they were simply too poor to care for his needs and abandoned him at the steps of the home. Whatever the reason, he was there.

Although surrounded by hundreds of children just like him, he might as well have been alone. No true family, no place to call home, no possessions to his name. He had nothing. Everything that he once had in his young life had been taken away. And so he assumed everything else he would ever receive would eventually be taken away as well.

And knowing that helps us understand what he did next. Earlier that day, he had been given a valuable gift . . . a brand new pair of shoes. They were most likely the first ones he had ever owned. To him, this was a priceless possession—something that was his and only his.

He ran out to the field, and hoping no one would see, he dug a hole and buried his shoes. There they would be safe and no one could ever take them away. Finally, he had something of his very own.

Little did he know that as those shoes lay buried in a mound of dirt, his life was slowly beginning to change. Those shoes represented more than he could ever imagine. Perhaps for the first time in his life he had something much more important than shoes . . . he was beginning to see the first glimpse of hope.

It is hard to believe that World Help began one of our Child Sponsorship Programs near that same field in India for children just like this little boy. Children who had nothing, but with so much potential. I was there the day it began . . . taking photos, writing down names, documenting tragic stories, and literally seeing lives change right before my eyes.

Noel Yeatts

Seventeen years later, our program has reached around the globe providing 48,694 sponsorships for children in need.

What I love about our work in India is the same thing I appreciate about our work around the world. World Help has a holistic approach that meets not only physical needs but spiritual needs as well. If you have been reading the summer blog series, you have seen the work we are doing in India . . . child sponsorship, clean-water initiatives, church planting, rescue from slavery, and so much more. We are after sustainable, life-transforming change that will last for generations to come. You see, we are not after handouts and charity . . . we’re after justice.

I write about the issue of justice in my new book Awake.  And when I think and talk about this subject, I always remember one phrase . . . “Let’s roll.”

In the book of Amos, we are told that justice should “roll like a river.”  It should roll like a mighty river that conquers everything in its path.

In fact, the prophet Amos goes on to tell us to forget about our “religious meetings,” conferences, and conventions. Forget about our “religious projects,” our “image making,” and “noisy ego-music.” God is simply not interested in these things if we forget what He really wants from us.  And what does He want?

I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
— Amos 5:24 MSG

We all remember the now famous words of Todd Beamer on that fateful United flight in September 2001. His last words heard by the 911 operator before he courageously attempted to fight off the terrorists were just that, “Let’s Roll.” He was willing to fight no matter what the cost . . . even if it meant he would lose his life.  And although he did lose his life; because he fought, countless others were saved.

His words became a rallying cry for us as Americans in the war on terror. And those words, “Let’s Roll,” will forever remind us to to stand up for what we believe, for what is good, and for all that we hold dear.

Justice should roll.

As we fight for justice in India, we are fighting issues of extreme poverty, hunger, disease, lack of clean water, abandonment, slavery, sexual exploitation, and spiritual darkness.

But we also fight against what I believe is the greatest injustice of all—hopelessness. When you are hopeless, there is no way out. Without hope, you have no future. Without hope, there is no chance of love, forgiveness, or restoration—there is nothing.

When we seek justice, we should be seeking to restore hope—hope to a hurting world.

In a few months, I will return to India. And I will do the same thing I did on my very first visit. I will document the stories that are waiting to be told—stories of injustice and restored hope.

It’s time to forget about charity. It’s time for hope to be restored in lives in India and around the world.

Let’s Roll!

Africa’s Children: They Need Protection

Three-year old Dindi didn’t understand why he was always hungry. He was just a small boy who didn’t know much about the world.

The watery bowl of porridge he ate once a day never quite made the gnawing pain in his stomach stop. But he knew nothing different. All of his short life had been spent living in a thatched hut with a dirt floor and an animal skin covering the door. He shared the small home with his brother, sister, and mother. He had no memories of his father. “The sickness” had taken him before Dindi was born.

The toddler had never been farther than a few steps from his mother. He was used to following her everywhere she went or riding in the pouch on her back. She walked for miles in the hot sun to bring back fresh water. She struggled to find peasant work to support her children. She gathered wood and built a fire in the wee hours of the morning. But now she couldn’t even get off her bed mat.

He kept his eyes focused on his mother’s face. And though he tried to be brave and not whimper, from time to time a lone tear would make its way down Dindi’s cheek before he hurriedly brushed it away.

Soon the exhausted little boy’s eyes started to droop. He snuggled closer to his mother’s side. He slowly drifted asleep with his tiny hand resting on her thin arm. Those last glimpses of her through heavy eyelids would be the last time Dindi would see his mother alive.

— Excerpt from Children of Hope by Noel Brewer Yeatts and Vernon Brewer

When Dindi awoke, he was utterly alone . . .

Dindi’s story is one of millions in a land overwhelmed by HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty. This is the Africa I was first introduced to and one that completely shook me to the core.

At first I saw the same Africa we all have seen. One whose problems seem endless and never appear to improve. Story after story proved my assumptions to be true . . . until I met a group of children whose voices reminded me of the difference hope can make.

As we arrived, children ran to greet us—children  whose families have been torn apart by poverty, AIDS and a 20-year civil war. They were smiling, laughing, and offering handshakes and hugs. Each boy and girl is special and unique. They are children who, without our support, would not have the opportunity to attend school—a  place where they also receive at least one nutritious meal a day. This is a privilege for them and not something they take for granted.

I watched them play a game in their red and green school uniforms that looked somewhat familiar, like “Duck, Duck, Goose” with an African twist. Then the children formed a large circle and began to chant a poem together. I had to listen carefully to understand what they were saying, but once I did, my heart stopped. This is what they called out over and over again:

Who is a child?

A child is a person below eighteen.

What do they need?

Love, care, comfort.

They are young and innocent.

Give them protection.

They need protection.

Children of Hope

When I see this picture, I can still hear them . . . Give them protection. They need protection.

You see, children of extreme poverty need protection from so much.

Poverty means loss of freedom, loss of dignity, and loss of control over the fundamental course of your life. Poverty has been compared to “living like a dog, because it makes you so hungry you scavenge, so thirsty you foam at the mouth, so needy you will do anything to make a buck . . . even sell your body in prostitution.”1

It is out of this dirty, messy, life—a life that many of us can barely understand—that children are orphaned, discarded and abandoned.

Katwe is one of the most notorious slums in all of Uganda. This area has been devastated by the effects of war, conflict, disease and poverty. The results are innocent children who are abandoned when they are most vulnerable. Whether they are left orphaned after their parents die, or deserted by parents who can no longer bear the burden of raising a child . . . these children are desperate and alone.

But just on the outskirts of Katwe, a flicker of hope can be seen. Our new Operation Baby Rescue center is truly changing the lives of many of these children. Our rescue team in Uganda receives these unwanted babies—naked , sick, and malnourished. They find them in dark alleys, on trash heaps . . . just lying on the side of the road . . . and some are placed on their doorstep.

But after receiving the loving care of our house mothers, including medical care and nutritious food, most of these children make a full recovery.

Ugandan rescue

And this is just the beginning. You see, the future of any nation lies with its children.

Our commitment is to impact the next generation and help them to become the future leaders of their countries. But we have to save their lives first. That is why the rescue program is such an integral part of the holistic approach that World Help is taking in our African programs. We are committed to providing physical help and spiritual hope—help for today and hope for tomorrow. It is this kind of help that leads to transformed lives.

When we think of Africa, we cannot be overwhelmed by the massive needs of this continent. We must be inspired by the one child whose life we can change.

An African proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The next best time is today.”

Today, more than ever, we have an incredible opportunity to change the face of an entire continent . . . from despair to hope.

One day soon, when we think of Africa, we will no longer think of those images of starving children covered in flies. Instead, we will think of an empowered people who are pulling themselves out of poverty to change their future. We will think of hope.

It’s the new story of Africa and I want to be a part of it. Will you join me?

_________________________________________________________________

1 Black Death: AIDS in Africa, Susan Hunter

Make a splash

Last week I was riding on the back of a scooter through the dirty, windy streets of a village in Haiti.  There were so many sights, sounds and smells. But what I remember most was a line … a line of people waiting for water.

kids lined up

Children wait in this line spending most of their day walking to get water, waiting to get the water and then bringing the water home to their family. And in the end, this water that they spend so much time to get is still dirty, and will continue to make their families sick.

kids with water jugs

In Haiti, 70% of the population lacks access to safe drinking water … that means seven out of ten people don’t know what it’s like to drink clean water. And that is why one in seven children in Haiti will die before their fifth birthday.

Last week I was in Haiti … this week I found myself at our local recycling center disposing of all the empty water bottles that my family had recently consumed. It was such a sharp contrast of life there and life here – and such a reminder that I have no idea what it is like to be without water.

But, things are changing. With the help of passionate supporters across the country, we just completed a large water project in Haiti that holds 186,000 gallons of water – simply unheard of in this part of the world. It will meet the needs of hundreds if not thousands of people in the surrounding community. It’s transforming the way of life there and it is saving lives. (Watch my short video here)

This World Water Day, we each have the opportunity to make a splash – to take the plunge – and to literally be the drop that makes the difference! I am pledging with causelife to provide clean water and improved sanitation in places like Haiti and around the world … and you can too. The truth is, providing clean water has never been easier.

Together, we can continue to tell the stories of lives changed through the power of clean water. Water really does equal life!

 

It’s a Beautiful Day to Save Lives

I was speaking at a conference recently and moments before I went on stage, my friend leaned over to me and said, “It’s a beautiful day to save lives.”

I have to say it was one of the most appropriate and inspiring things anyone has ever said to me before I get up to speak. People always try to say encouraging things or pray with me and all of that is very needed and important.

But, when you do the work that I do, you want to challenge people and motivate them to get involved. And sometimes, you need to be motivated and challenged yourself –  and you need to be reminded what your work is really all about and why you do what you do.  In that moment, I needed to be reminded that it is all about saving lives.

If you are a Grey’s Anatomy fan, you will recognize this phrase as something Dr. Derek Shepherd says every time he goes into surgery. But, I think I am going to borrow this from “Dr. McDreamy” … because the truth is, every day is a beautiful day to save lives.

I am reminded that each and every day our partners around the world are working tirelessly. Their work never stops. They don’t go home and take a break. The needs can be overwhelming and there is never a shortage of lives to be saved. Here are a few stories of rescues that are happening right now … children who are struggling to survive … and hope that is slowly being restored:

2-month-old baby boy: At the time he was rescued he weighed only 4 pounds. His mother is just 14 years old and she had her first baby when she was only 13 years old – she lost him to malnutrition. As our partners were traveling back to the rescue center, they had to stop and pray that this little boy would make it. His condition was that serious. His young mother, kept saying, “please don’t let my baby die I already lost one and I don’t know what I will do if he dies”.

the baby

Luis: Luis is 5 years old and has suffered from malnutrition for the past 3 years. The effects on his tiny body have been devastating. He no longer has muscles in his legs and cannot walk. Through extensive therapy, we are hopeful that he will learn to walk again, but it will be a long and painful process.

Luis

Henry: I met this little guy on my last visit to Guatemala. He is 2 years old and has been at the rescue center for many months. No one believed that he would live … but he is slowly proving them wrong. He has only gained 1 pound since he arrived and the doctors have done all they can for him. But, Henry continues to fight and we continue to pray.

Henry

These are just three of the hundreds of stories that I could share with you. These are real children fighting for their lives right now.  The truth is, sometimes we begin to think that there is little we can do to help. We live thousands of miles away. We can’t hold these children, we can’t feed them and bathe them. We can’t hug them, comfort them and rock them to sleep.

But, we can do something. We can be their voice. We can be their advocates. We can fight for them in ways that they cannot. We can join the rescue. And we can remember … It’s a beautiful day to save lives!

2012: A Year to Remember

IF THERE EVER WAS A YEAR WORTH REMEMBERING, IT WAS 2012.

But if you’re anything like me, it’s so easy to let the loudness of life—the perpetual busyness, the multi-tasking, and the to-do list a mile long—to overshadow the moments that make our journey through life worth it in the first place.

Sometimes I have to see to remember. So I began looking through the images that were captured from last year’s travels—from conferences and colleges in the U.S. to the impoverished communities of developing countries all around the world.

With each photograph, a flood of memories washed over me. Beginning with Operation Baby Rescue (OBR), I thought of the dozens of babies our team helped rescue while in Guatemala—each one of their little faces lighting up in my mind, each one with a story.

I saw their young mothers weeping with joy and relief. I saw the tired eyes of a father come to life as a nurse leaned over to say, “She’s going to make it.”

From the bright lights of a stage, I saw the faces of hundreds of college students from all over the country eager to become a part of this extraordinary movement that is saving the lives of children.

I saw small groups sipping coffee and excitedly planning Rescue Nights. I saw advocates who were passionate about the destitute and about bringing justice for the marginalized and forgotten.

But the impact wasn’t just limited to rescuing babies. I saw stay-at-home moms joining forces with young professionals, grandparents, and elementary school kids to find ways to fight poverty from a world away. This Christmas, they generously gave to provide chickens, fruit trees, clean water wells, and so much more through Gifts of Hope . . . gifts that transformed families and communities alike.

LOOKING BACK ON 2012, I SAW THAT EACH AND EVERY MOMENT MADE UP AN INCREDIBLE PICTURE OF WHAT CHANGING THE WORLD REALLY MEANS. IT’S THE LITTLE MOMENTS THAT COUNT.

Although I’m involved in so many projects and causes, it seemed fitting that the year began and ended with my eyes on Operation Baby Rescue. With your overwhelming support, we finished the year big—raising the funds to rescue 347 children suffering from malnutrition, disease, and abject poverty. And the world is taking notice.

The January/February issue of Christianity Today highlights the miracle of OBR in a featured story entitled “The Great Tiny Baby Rescue.” It’s a look back to OBR’s remarkable 2012 chapter, with a glimpse of what’s in store for 2013 . . . The perfect way to reflect on what has truly been “A Year of Hope” in the lives of so many children.

I’m taking these moments and all these unforgettable memories with me into 2013. With flashes of creativity that propelled us through challenges, moments of kindness given and received, tears shed, laughter shared, and lives changed . . . it’s these moments that stay with us.

That’s why remembering is so important. It makes us move. It makes us invest. It makes us hope.

What will 2013 look like for you? Are you ready to make it memorable? Start by making a difference in someone’s life today. Even if you forget . . . they never will.

MAY 2013 BE YOUR BEST YEAR YET!

The Dust on Your Shoes

“He’s risen to something. But he’s still got the dust of the streets on his shoes.”  Jack Roeser

We have not been able to talk or think about anything else. The Newtown tragedy has consumed our thoughts, and those precious children break our hearts. Each one of us can relate in some way.

My son’s friend texted him this week a picture of his basketball shoes. On them were written by hand the names of each child who was lost in Newtown – Grace, Charlotte, Ana, Noah, James … He told him to do this with his shoes too.

When tragedy strikes, we look for ways to honor the ones we lost and to remember … to never forget.

Whenever I return home from a Baby Rescue trip, I have a little system. My whole suitcase goes down to the laundry room and sits for a few days. My theory is this – if any creatures decided to hitch a ride home with me, they can come out in the basement laundry room instead of my bedroom or closet. After a few days I will begin to do the laundry, but the last thing I always clean are my shoes.  They come back stained by the roads I traveled while I was away. These shoes at times walk through mud, dirt and filth that we cannot imagine, living here in the United States. But they lead me to mothers and children who are desperate – mothers and children I simply cannot forget.

The dust of poverty and hopelessness remain with me long after I return home.  To be honest, part of me doesn’t want to clean the dust off of my shoes. It is the last physical reminder of where I have been and what I have seen. It is as if that dust represents each child – like I have written their names on my shoes … Blanca, Diego, Marta, Danny, Guadalupe, Henry …

This Christmas I am so very thankful for all of the advocates that have joined the rescue with me. They have not forgotten. They have written the names of these children on their hearts and have passionately carried this cause. And as a result, hundreds have been rescued.

But there is still so much more to do. In a few days we will celebrate hope coming to the world.  That hope should inspire us and challenge us to get involved and to do more.  So, let’s keep the dust on our shoes a little longer … and never forget.

Join the rescue.

Enough

This week you are hearing from Michele again. Perhaps like her, you did not know about Operation Baby Rescue last year … but you know now. And knowledge forces us to answer some tough questions in life. With knowledge comes responsibility. But responsibility can provide some incredible opportunities and … hope! Hear how Michele answers the question, “What if in giving, someone else’s life might be saved?” 

Last year at this time, mostly all the Christmas presents had been bought. More stuff to add to our already abundant stash. While running out of ways to camouflage the gifts, and hiding places were filled to overflowing, I sat empty.

I know there has to be more, more than just consuming at Christmas, I thought.

I believe these words as Truth spoken from the One whom Christmas is about, “It is more blessed to give, than receive.” Yet for all my life, what has driven my heart more than giving at Christmas, is getting. Getting the best deals, the most popular toy, the latest in technology. Yet, in all that getting, it never quite seemed enough.

“What would be the reward for the person who knew the meaning of enough?…If we really understood the meaning of enough, we would choose to live very differently. We would use our resources to help more people instead of buying more things for ourselves. We would be satisfied with what we have instead of always wanting more. We would lead a very different life.”Awake by Noel Brewer Yeatts,

Different is what we decided. We prayed for a turning of hearts from asking, “What can we get?” to “What can we give?” We decided last year the money that would normally go to buying presents to add to our already robust lot, instead will be given to help someone in desperate need. We took the step as a family, and we took it in faith. Whatever the need that we are to fill, as a family, we sought God, and He believed He would lead us to it.

He has been faithful in leading, and now I must be faithful in the following.

Though I did not know about Operation Baby Rescue last holiday season when we told our children Christmas will be for Christ the following year. That by giving to others, we give to Him — Whom He loves becoming our priority. I know now.

Jesus came to give His life that ours might be saved.

This question sobers me now. What if in giving, someone else’s life might be saved?

Will you consider giving to help save a life? Will you join the rescue?

A Year of Hope

This year I have been working with hundreds of advocates across the country to make 2012 a year of hope. As the year is coming to a close, it is amazing to see all that has been accomplished and all that is ahead. I am beyond excited for the launch of this new video and our Christmas campaign. Take a minute to watch … you will be encourage and inspired.  And you might just decide to join the rescue!

2 weeks later …

It has been 2 weeks since I stepped off the plane from Guatemala and back into the hustle and bustle of my daily, crazy life. In the course of my day, there is not a lot of time to reflect or think back on all I experienced … the children I held, the stories I heard. Yet, for some reason I do find myself reflecting whenever I get the chance. I just can’t shake this one … too many stories, too much pain, too much emotion. And if I don’t reflect, I will simply go numb. I will block it out. I will move on.

But, the problem is, I don’t want to move on. I don’t want to forget. And, today, I’m thankful that I’m not the only one.

Take a minute to read what my new friend Lauren wrote this morning about Legacy. She was with me in Guatemala and was profoundly impacted … and I am so thankful for that. She is now using her voice to become an advocate for these children.

Thank you Lauren for reminding me that leaving a legacy is about so much more than me … it’s about changing a life.

http://www.mercyinkblog.com/2012/10/what-legacy-means-to-me.html

At the End of your Tears

Nothing left.

Emotions pushed to the brink.

Tears shed until no more are left.

What do you do when you find yourself at the end of your tears?

Just two days ago we rescued a group of seven children. I tried to know each and every name and each and every heartbreaking story. How much did they weigh, what were their symptoms and prognosis? Did they have any family? Were they going to make it? Did the rescue come in time?

I feverishly took notes, but after helping rescue more than 16 children in less that 48 hours, I must confess, they started to run together. Each new story seemed worse than the one before. Little details of little lives …

Yeterday I heard the words, I never wanted to hear … “we lost one”. I didn’t want to believe it. “One of the ones we rescued?”, I asked. As if it really mattered whether I was part of the rescue or not. But, it mattered to me. I know that not all the children make it, but I didn’t want one of the ones I helped rescue to lose their battle.

He was one of the seven. He had almost gone unnoticed. There were so many children that day and he did not get to ride in the ambulance. He rode along in another truck and in the rush of activity and chaos in the rescue center, I barely noticed him or his condition.

I knew I had details on each child, so I looked up my notes only to find this:

Nelson Alexander | 1 year old | 13 pounds | Malnutrition | Diarrhea

While his condition was certainly not good, it paled in comparison to the other children rescued that day.

But overnight, he had developed some breathing problems. And, in the early morning hours as they rushed him to the hospital, he died.

This beautiful boy who had been alive only hours before, was gone. He was the only son of his young 19-year-old mother.

There are not enough tears or words to express what I experienced yesterday. I will never forget it as long as I live.

As another group of children were coming in on a rescue and the staff was rushing around to treat each and every one, a funeral was happening on the porch of the rescue center.

The small white casket sat alone. The mother sat nearby knowing that these were the last moments that she would ever see the face of her little boy.

When I glanced in the casket, I could barely stand the sight. He looked so alive … just like he was sleeping.

Carlos and I gathered around the casket with the mother. He asked me to say a few words … what do you say to a mother who has lost her first and only child?

My words were few and I felt totally unprepared … but who would be prepared for something like this.

As I leaned over the casket I could not control my emotion and had to walk away … it was simply too much.

My crying turned to sobbing and I struggled to pull myself together.

As I walked back in the rescue center and just as I had calmed down, I realized the entire center was full … full of babies struggling and fighting for their lives.

My crying stopped – there were no tears left.

So, what do you do when you are at the end of your tears – when you are emotionally spent … done … and simply overwhelmed?

You fight. You fight for the ones you can still fight for and you let the ones you lose inspire you to keep going. For some we will simply be too late, but for so many others we will be just in time.