Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review of "Too Small To Ignore"

Over the past four days or so, I read Dr. Wess Stafford's book, Too Small To Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most (2007).  Stafford is the current president & CEO of Compassion International.  (Though I believe that he is set to step down soon, after serving as the head of the organization since 1993.)

The goals of this book are three-pronged:
  • To relate the lessons Stafford learned while growing up as a missionary kid in Nielle, Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa in the 1950s/1960s
  • To move the reader to compassion for children - not only children living in extreme poverty, but all children, everywhere
  • To make a systematic case - based both in Scripture and in personal experiences as a child and the head of Compassion - that children are the most important people in the Kingdom of God. 
Stafford seamlessly interweaves stories of his childhood among the Senufo peoples of Cote d'Ivoire with his case for children.  Many of the stories of his childhood are charming and laugh-worthy.  He tells goofy stories, like his people's fear of bottles of Coca-Cola (the first one opened exploded from sitting in the hot sun, and they refused to go near it after that), or a hilarious event that involved the men of the village and frilly nightgowns & negligees from the US.  He reveals his own vulnerabilities when he relates his praying every night as a child that God would "turn him black" so he could look like his best friends in the village, and the disappointment he felt each morning when he checked his arms and saw that he was, sadly, still a little white boy.

Some of the stories are heart-rending.  For nine months of the year, he and his sister and the other missionary children from their mission organization were sent to an English-language boarding school.  There, they were subjected to horrific verbal, physical, and sexual abuse for years.  Stafford describes the spiritual and emotional consequences that he and his classmates suffered from that abuse - many of them, long into their adult lives.  If you can read the two chapters and afterword that recounts this abuse and not have your heart utterly shattered, I'm not sure that anything could reach your heart. 

Throughout the book, Stafford consistently insists that the kingdom of God elevates children to positions of utmost importance and thus, cannot be ignored by the Church.  He also insists that the ultimate, spiritual root of poverty is the belief that you do not matter, have no worth, and have no future.  Stafford - who has ministered everywhere from Cabrini Green in 1970s Chicago to Rwanda after the genocide to the most remote parts of Asia - knows that poverty is an extremely complex issue.  He discusses the multi-pronged factors that contribute to nearly 50% of children around the world living in poverty.  But in the end, Stafford argues convincingly that the first step to changing lives is to show them that they are valuable, loved, and important.  He explains that poverty and abuse both rely on planting the seed that the person is, in the end, worthless. 

This book has the potential to change your life.  At the very least, it should change your heart.  As a child of the Living Christ, you cannot look at children the same way again after reading Stafford's manifesto.  It is nothing less than a call to compassion and love for the least of these - those whom God holds in the highest esteem. 

Get this book. Read it.  Discuss it.  Use the Bible study/Discussion questions at the back of the book. You can start changing the world, one child at a time. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Comfort & Afflict

While reading Wess Stafford's book, Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matter Most, I came across a phrase that's been on my mind.  On page 30, he wrote this:

"On one side of this international bridge, my role is to minister to the poor, to 'comfort the afflicted.'  And then I cross the bridge, coming back to the Western, more affluent world, where my role is to speak and write to 'afflict the comfortable.'"

I love this sentiment.  It resonated with me, because I feel like this is part of what God's calling me to do as well.  I long to comfort the afflicted - to provide security and love and hope to those who have none of these.  But I also want to afflict the comfortable.  I know I have only a handful of readers (and at least 3 of them are family members!), but my hope with the last few months of posts has been that something I'd write would help prompt those to whom God has given much to see where they can impact another person's life tangibly.  I long to be doing more, and wish I had the gift of writing that moves people emotionally. 

I don't know who said it, but it's true - God never promised that following Him would be easy; He only promised to never leave us to do it alone.  We aren't guaranteed a comfortable life.  We shouldn't be sitting in total comfort and ease when our cousins both here and abroad are suffering. It's not a comfortable life, it's a life of sacrifice and suffering, with joy and love.

I'm praying that God gives me the ability to do both of these things.  For now, let me leave you with a link and an opportunity to give from your heart.  A couple with whom I went to college, Brandy and Sam, have been on a journey to adoption for the past few years.  They are godly, loving people, and today they were informed that they have been matched to adopt a newborn.  The precious little girl's due date is in only 3 weeks!  They have been working for the past year or so to get everything in order, but they suddenly need to raise all of the money for the adoption immediately - as in the next few days!! 

If you want to share the blessings that God has given you to help this wonderful couple provide a loving home, please go to the blog that Brandy and 4 other friends from college manage - Cherokee Chix  - and donate whatever you can via the donation link at the top of the most recent post.  

If you are one of the millions of people who mourned the 40th anniversary of abortion on demand today and wished there was something you could do for Life, I hope you will give abundantly.

Bless the children

I can't sleep tonight.  It's only partly because I seem to have come down with a cold or the flu or something.  I haven't felt awful, just feverish and exhausted.  I wanted to be asleep hours ago. But I can't quite turn my brain off tonight.

I'm struck by two different situations in our world - the overwhelming problem of extreme poverty, and the pain and suffering of abortion.

Forty years ago today, the United States Supreme Court effectively made the killing of children legal - so long as they are still in the womb of their mothers.  Willfully denying the fundamental and simple science that says that a fertilized egg is living (growing, changing, and reproducing) and not dead - leading to the most ridiculous mental gymnastics as people try to figure out what it means to be human and alive if an unborn child is neither - our society has made children literally disposable. Since that day 40 years ago, over 53 MILLION children have been murdered before they ever had the chance to see the outside world. Today, 1 in 4 African American babies are aborted, and almost 1 in every 3 women in the US have had an abortion (around 70% of which identify themselves as Christians in name, at least).

53 million.  Over 3,300 babies are killed per day, legally, right here in the US.

Outside the womb, children around the world are in peril.  Over 9 MILLION children under the age of 5 die each year; and over 2/3 of those deaths are from preventable causes.  
Every day, 1500 women die from preventable complications in pregnancy or childbirth, and every day 10,000 babies die before reaching the end of their first month of life.
25% of children in the developing world are underweight and at risk for long-term complications from malnourishment.  9 million people die from hunger each year.

For those who can't quite get your heads around the enormity of those numbers, think just about the number of children right here at home who do not have permanent families.  According to the US Department of Health & Human Services, in 2011 (the last year for which there are published estimates), the US foster care system served over 646,000 children from September 30, 2010 - September 30, 2011.  401,000 children under the age of 18 were in foster care in the US on September 30th.  Over 250,000 children had entered the system, and around 245,000 had exited the system.  61,000 children had their parents' rights terminated, and over 104,000 children were waiting to be adopted. In my county alone, there are over 6,000 children in foster care.  In my state, there are over 14,000 children in foster care or in emergency shelters waiting for placement in a group home or foster home after being removed from their biological family.

We have a problem in our 21st-century society. At the heart of it is a rejection of the worth and human dignity of a child.  We have somehow decided (in the US, at least), that a child's life is inherently less valuable than an adult's life. We've neglected children both prior to birth and afterwards.  We lament the problem of child abuse and broken homes, but then do nothing about the thousands of children in our town who live in constant fear & flux, with no support system and no security.

One of the criticisms that pro-abortion spokesmen make of those who abhor abortion is, "You care about the child before it's born, but you do nothing for them afterward!"  For many of us, even in the church, we would have to confess that it is a true statement.  We find it sad when we know that children are suffering abuse, forced prostitution, or dying from tainted water supplies or malnourishment, but so long as it doesn't affect our home, our family, then it's not really our problem.

I'm here to tell you: it is your problem.  Our problem.  We talk about children being our future, but there will be no future if we as the body of Christ do not wake up and start really loving people.  Meet their needs. Comfort them. Rejoice, cry, encourage, live fully with them, as part of each other's lives, rather than looking down on them with pity.

In the past three weeks, my church's interim pastor preached on Mark 10:13-16:
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. 

He talked about how over 3/4 of all Christians accepted God's love and sacrifice as children; very few adults ever turn to Jesus if they haven't done so by age 22.  He made the point that it is vital that we bless children - that we love them, accept them, meet their needs, and show them the love of God.  

I also have started reading Wess Stafford's (the president of Compassion International) book, Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most.  And I read Pam Cope's Jantsen's Gift, which I've mentioned before, along with Amy Julia Becker's A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny (about one family's coming to terms with their daughter's Down's Syndrome diagnosis at birth - by the way, it's estimated that almost 90% of babies diagnosed with Down's in the womb are aborted, killed before getting the chance to show the world their worth). While reading all of them, I have been constantly tugged and prodded by the realization that children are suffering all over the world, including in my neighborhood, and I want to do something about it.

I am convinced that we as the body of Christ need to get up off our collective lazy behinds and start loving children.  Remember that DC Talk song from the late 80s or early 90s - "Love is a verb"?  If you can get past the somewhat cheesy rap, pay attention to the message here: 

Pullin' out my big black book
Cause when I need a word defined that's where I look
So I move to the L's quick, fast, in a hurry
Threw on my specs, thought my vision was blurry
I looked again but to my dismay
It was black and white with no room for grey
Ya see, a big "V" stood beyond my word
And yo that's when it hit me, that luv is a verb

Words come easy but don't mean much
When the words they're sayin' we can't put trust in
We're talkin' 'bout love in a different light
And if we all learn to love it would be just right

Hey, tell me haven't ya heard?
Luv, is a serious word
Hey, I think it's time ya learned
I don't care what they say
I don't care care what ya heard
The word luv, luv is a verb

Down with the dc Talk, d- d- down with the dc Talk
Are you down with the dc Talk, d- d- down with the dc Talk

Thinkin' of a way to explain-o
Cause ya' know when I'm flowin' like a bottle of Drain-o
Simple and plain, L-O-V-E
Ain't all that junk that ya see on TV
Put soaps on a rope cause they ain't worth copin' with
It's a myth that there ain't no hope and
Luv is enough if it's unconditionally
Givin' now you're living out the Great Commission

Back in the day there was a man
Who stepped out of Heaven and he walked the land
He delivered to the people an eternal choice
With a heart full of luv and the truth in His voice
Gave up His life so that we may live
How much more luv could the Son of God give?
Here is the example that we oughtta be matchin'
Cause luv is a word that requires some action 

"And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." Maybe it's time for us, as the hands and feet of the body of Christ, to take the children in our arms, put our hands on them, and bless them.  What do you say?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The least of these

As I said in my previous post, God has been putting on my heart a desire to help the orphan, the abandoned, those least desired or cared for in society.  I'm still not entirely sure how this will play out; I have a few leads, but am waiting to see if any of the doors open wide for me.

In the meantime, I thought I'd do what I could to share some ways you could help the least of these.  All of the opportunities below give you the possibility of helping to rescue a child - from poverty, from human trafficking, and from invisibility.  They are different in nature; some focus on education, others on actual physical rescue, some care for orphans and those abandoned by society, but all of them proclaim the love of Jesus to these precious children.

If you could change one child's life, would you do it?

Prove it. 

Here are just a few opportunities I've found to help you put your money & time where your mouth is.

1) Sponsor a child through Compassion International - I've blogged for Compassion, and so have written about them often.  For $38 a month, you can provide a child with education, medical attention, food assistance, clean water, vocational training for them (and, in many cases, for their parents), and, most importantly, love.  Compassion partners with local churches and helps to empower the local community to support their own. Compassion also offers opportunities to support pregnant mothers and mothers of newborns, disaster relief, and university education & leadership development for young adults.

2) Provide children and young adults in Nicaragua with an education through Educate Nica - a ministry that I learned about from a college friend who lives in Nica as a missionary and has partnered with this organization.  Since education is not free there - students have to pay for tuition, books & supplies, and uniforms - Educate Nica pairs sponsors with children in the elementary/secondary school (for $25 a month), with young adults going to trade school ($70 a month), or with young adults who want to attend university ($100 per month).  100% of donations go directly to the students, and sponsorship also allows the local churches to work to meet the physical needs of the student (medicine, shelter, food) as well.

3) Support Voices 4 the Voiceless - a ministry that cares for orphans around the world.  They specifically are supporting the Sangaalo Baby Cottage in Uganda and other ministries to orphans in Uganda.  This small ministry, run by only 4 women at the moment, is working to love those who have been abandoned and are alone in the world.  One of their small projects right now is making handmade dolls that you can "adopt" and that will be taken to Uganda and given to the girls in the orphanage.  I just "adopted" one - when you do so, you can name the doll, and the child gets a birth certificate with their doll's information. Imagine being all alone in the world with little that is truly yours, being given a special doll made and named just for you. :-)

4) Support Rahab's Rope - a ministry dedicated to the girls and women caught in the sex trade in India.  They go into the brothels and minister to the women there; they have rescued over 1200 women from human trafficking there.  They provide shelter, food, vocational training, and psychological and spiritual nurturing to women who have been abused and rejected as outcasts.  I first learned about this ministry when a friend from college was on the World Race (a 12-country, 11 month mission trip) and she worked with Rahab's Rope while in India.  If you can't go to India and serve alongside these women, you can buy jewelry and other products made by the women who pass through the shelters to help support them financially.

5) Support Touch A Life Foundation - they work to rescue children from human trafficking and modern-day slavery in Ghana, Vietnam, and Cambodia.  They operate shelters, long-term care (in Ghana), and physically work to rescue children who are being exploited, abused, and abandoned. 

6) Sponsor a child through Gospel For Asia's Bridge of Hope Ministry - for only $35 a month, you can help provide a child in Asia with education, a daily meal, medical care, and the opportunity to get to know Jesus and His love for them.  They also send 100% of the donations directly to the local ministry to help that particular child. 

These are just a few, small ways that we can minister to the least of these.  What could you do to change one life?  What would you be willing to sacrifice for the least of these? 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

What has God put on your heart to do?

"Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed." ~Psalm 82:3

Over the past six months or so, my heart has been breaking little by little.  It started in August when my husband and I agreed to sponsor a second child through Compassion International - our beautiful "daughter" Rebecca (from Ghana), along with our handsome "son" Michel (from Mexico) whom I had started sponsoring before we got married.  

When we chose Rebecca, I wanted to learn more about Ghana - its culture, its history, and its problems.  I started trying to do research to find out what I wanted to know.  I came across a blog called Compassion Can {Beyond Measure} and voraciously read every post the owner of the site had written during a trip to visit their sponsored children in Ghana.  It made me long to go visit Rebecca, but, even more so, it made me long to do more for the children there.  Part of what I learned about was the tremendous problem of child slavery there - as many as 27,000 children live in slavery around the region of Lake Volta.  The stories were heart wrenching.

The images and stories have stayed with me, and my desire to do more has only increased.  This weekend, I read Pam Cope's Jantsen's Gift, written by the founder of Touch a Life ministries.  The short story is that her son died unexpectedly at the age of 15, and they raised something like $25,000 after the funeral.  In the midst of their grief, they went to Vietnam and started working with orphanages there that took in the abandoned, the disabled, and those rescued from human trafficking. They went on, over the past ten years, to establish ministries in Southeast Asia and in Ghana. I read the entire book in about 12 hours. I didn't sleep at all that night.  I keep seeing the faces of those children in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Ghana that were rescued and given hope. 

Last summer, I was tormented by the question, "What has God put on your heart to do?"  It haunted me.  I didn't feel like there was anything there, except loving my husband and loving God. I begged God to show me what He has put on my heart to do. 

I think I know, at least a little piece of it, now.  My heart rends for these children - the ones living in abject poverty, dying from simple diseases like diarrhea, the ones being sold by desperate families into slavery (despite international and national laws forbidding it), the ones who have lost their parents and feel abandoned and hopeless.  I want to be part of helping these children.  I was praying and told God that I would love if I could work for an organization that served those children. I wish I could spend the majority of my time serving them in person.  

As of right now, I have no idea how any of that would be possible. Right now, my husband is unemployed and can't find work; I make a pittance and can't cover all of our bills, and can't get anyone to even talk to me about extra work.  While we are still sponsoring Rebecca and Michel, and I am writing them every two weeks, along with another beautiful young woman named Brigida (aged 15 in Bolivia) for whom I am serving as a correspondence sponsor, I want to do so much more.  I don't know how.  But I think I finally know what God is putting on my heart to do.  

If my few readers (I think there are only about 10 of you total) have any additional leads on ministries or agencies that I might be able to serve in - even if only as a volunteer - please let me know. 

"Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. 'Come now, let us reason together,' says the LORD. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'" ~Isaiah 1:17-18

"For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing."~Deuteronomy 10:17-18

"Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds-- his name is the LORD-- and rejoice before him. A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land." ~Psalm 68:4-6