Friday, January 20, 2017

Saying "Good-bye" to Tiny Tina

January 20, 2017

            Where do I begin? Well, you all know the beginning of the story, so I guess I don’t need to start there.  Just as a recap, though:

            Tina entered our lives on November 23, 2016 weighing in at a measly 1.05 kg (2 pounds, 5 ounces).  By birthday, she was 1 ½ weeks old – by gestation she was between 28 and 29 weeks.  She was itty-bitty; preemie clothes swallowed her up.

            Tina came from Mercy Rescue Trust, the same children’s home Chloë came from.  The arrangement was for Roger and I to take care of her until approximately her due date (which would have been February 12 – ish) so we could give her some one-on-one love and care until she was a bit stronger and more, well, robust. 
           
            Tina could barely cry when she first arrived.  She didn’t have the muscle tension of a full-sized newborn.  Most newborns, when you lay them on their backs, bring their feet up by bending their knees, and bring their arms in to their chest.  Tina just lay flat.  We had to wake her every 3 hours around the clock at first in order to feed her through her feeding tube, but within a couple of weeks she was strong enough to not need the tube. 

            Tina gained strength and size quickly.  By Dec 11, she weighed nearly 3 pounds; by December 19 she weighed just barely over 4 pounds; by January 6th she weighed 5 pounds, 11 ounces; and by Wednesday, January 18 – 8 weeks after she arrived at our home - she weighed just over 6 ½ pounds!

            As you can imagine, Tiny Tina totally worked her way into our hearts.  By this past Wednesday, she basically looked like a small newborn…but with more experience and knowledge in her face.  She was active, followed our voices, maintained eye-contact, and was beginning to reach out to bat at and grab things – like my hair J

            Because Roger was going to be away to spend time at RVA with Amy and Josiah this weekend, I had called Jedidah (the director of Mercy Rescue Trust) to ask if she could take Tina for the weekend because while Tina had graduated from every 3 hours to every 4 hours for feedings, doing that around the clock while still taking care of my own toddler by myself for 4 days was daunting.  Jedidah had told us all along that if we ever needed a break, to just let her know.  But because we were only three weeks away from her due-date anyway, we decided to go ahead and make Wednesday, January 18th, Tina’s turn-over date. 

            All day long I kept thinking, “This is the last time I’ll do this….,” and “That’s the last time I’ll do that…”  I held her a lot that day – and cried some when I let myself think too much…like I am now…

            We had Jedidah over for dinner, I gave Tina one last bottle from me, and then we said good-bye.  I had warned Jedidah that I would cry.  We talked a little bit about it before she left.  She, too, felt a bit strange – taking a healthy baby from a loving family environment and taking her to a children’s home just seemed wrong.  But as I said to Jedidah, there is a family out there who needs her – and whom she needs. 

            I miss that tiny person sleeping in the bassinet in my room.  I’ve actually had time to make some curtains, some throw pillows…sleep… but I wouldn’t give up my time with Tina for anything in the world. 

            A lot of people said they could never do what we did because they would get too attached and it would hurt too much to let the child go.  Yes, you could.  Does it hurt?  Like the dickens.  I almost felt as if I were giving up my own child… I was her “womb” for 8 weeks, after all.  There’s an ache – an emptiness inside me and in our home.  Even Chloë was asking about “Tia” today.  But there is also a joy that comes from knowing we gave this precious child a chance at life.

            I’ll admit it’s difficult not knowing what her future will be.  Will she go to a family who loves her?  Will her father love her?  Will she get an education?  Will she go to church?  Will it be a church that teaches her the truth?  Will she know Jesus as her Savior?  The first and last questions are the ones that weigh heaviest on my heart – and they are things I have no control over.  I know Jedidah and the staff at Mercy Rescue will do their very best to place Tina in a loving home, but some things we have to just leave in God’s hands and be willing to not know.  Like David in Psalm 131, I must not concern myself with things that are too profound for me.  I don’t know God’s plans…but I have to trust them as I rest quietly in Him.

            I do know I will be praying for her.  I also know I’d do this again…even though it hurts…because there is greater joy in obedience and love.


            You won’t remember me, precious Tina, but I will remember you; you will forever be a part of my heart. God go with you, Precious One.  Mama Julie loves you.
This is Tina the day we got her.  Poor baby spent a week and a half in the hospital not getting very good care.

She was so tiny.  The pictures don't do justice to how very little she was. You can kind of see by my thumb there.  Her calf was the same circumference as my finger.  Her preemie clothes totally swallowed her up.

This is Roger, Me, Chloë and Tina just before we said good-bye.

Not the greatest picture, but I love this one of Chloë holding Tina.  She was so excited! But she just wrapped her arms around her and said, "Awww...baby..."  and she would pat her very tenderly.  It was really sweet.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Welcoming the baby Jesus this Christmas season...

December 11, 2016

Merry Christmas everyone!

I can't believe another Christmas is upon us - and the end of another year. As our family was doing Sunday morning Bible study together, Roger started us out from the very beginning; in Genesis chapter 3 with God's first proclamation of the Gospel. Speaking to Satan, God said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

We talked about several reasons why Jesus had to actually come to earth as a man; to save us from our sins, to be able to be a high priest who understands us and has compassion on us, and to crush our enemy. This is the simplified version...

We all know, of course, that Jesus wasn't born on December 25th. And there are many Christians who choose not to celebrate Christmas for various reasons. Some say that we shouldn't celebrate the birth of Christ - that his death, burial, and Resurrection are what are ultimately important. And yes, of course. The question was asked of Amy and Josiah this morning: Could God have saved us without sending Jesus? Could He have? I supposed He could do anything He wanted. But the beauty of the incarnation is Emmanuel; God with us.

Jesus is the very face of God - the express image of His likeness. In Christ we see not only God's holiness, but also God's love, God's grace, God's mercy, God's compassion...John 1:17 says, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Emmanuel; God with us. Wow. God chooses to dwell with us! The question remains, what will we do with Emmanuel? Will we welcome him and worship him? Or will we, like the inn-keepers in Bethlehem, find no room for him in our inn?

This Christmas, we are reminded of this in another way as well.

I've seen some things on social media lately about "unnecessary and unwanted children" flooding the foster-care system because of pro-life legislation being passed. I don't think Jesus considers any child "unnecessary" or "unwanted." God, Himself is the giver of life; life is a gift.  The people in Mary's community may very well have considered Jesus both "unnecessary" and definitely "unwelcome." His was a life surrounded by shame and disgrace and inconvenience. But God often uses the shameful things of this world to confound the wise. Jesus gives us the example, both in word and in deed. "Let the little children come to me," he said...and did so, astounding the adults who viewed the children as entities to be seen and not heard. In a chilling passage of Scripture in Matthew 25: 31-46 He said, "As you do it to the least of these, so you do it to me," and, "As you do NOT do it to one of the least of these, you HAVE NOT done it to me."

Children are valued in God's economy.

This Christmas, God has given our family the privilege of welcoming "one of the least of these." Her name is Tina. Tina was born about 28 weeks gestation, according to the hospital, and was promptly abandoned. At 1 week old, my friend Jedidah (who runs Mercy Rescue Children's Home), began working to "rescue" her from the hospital. Tina was strong, but not being well fed or cared for. It's not that the nurses don't care, but there are so many who need care, and so few staff to do the work. Tina was abandoned, so there was no family to help care for her - she just didn't rate the time and attention needed to keep her alive and healthy.

The weekend before Jedidah was able to get her released from the hospital she called me. "It's okay to say no, but is there any way you could help out with her for a while?" I told her I'd run it by Roger and get back with her as soon as possible.

Roger and I talked about it; it was a really busy time for us. Chloë is a total handful of a toddler right now; I was in my very last week of my counseling class, and my final exam was a 16 page research paper on attachment disorders; Amy and Josiah were coming home and needed our attention. We didn't think it was possible to add a 28 week old preemie who would need around the clock feedings to the mix. We made the decision to say no.

That night as I worked on my research paper, I was writing about the good observations and recommendations secular psychologists have made about children who have been robbed - for a variety of reasons - of the chance to form attachments; observations and recommendations we need to listen to and be aware of. At the same time, secular psychologies only get half the story - if that - because they discount the reality of the spiritual battle these children are embroiled in. They don't realize that "...we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12) God began to speak to my heart and empress on it that His people need to be willing to stand in the gap for these precious, helpless, most vulnerable little ones. They are victims in a plan of attack to obliterate God's image from the face of the earth. Satan knows he's lost the battle, but the battle isn't over yet, and he still has his sting. Is there ever a "convenient time" for spiritual battle? "Oh, I don't think I'll go into spiritual battle today; I have too much to do."

Sounds a lot like that passage in Matthew 25..."Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (vs 41-45) - "My name was Tina..."

I talked to Roger after that and lo and behold, he'd been thinking the same thing. Imagine that. We called Jedidah and told her yes.

So, Tina came. Oh, the precious little one. And yes, we are tired. But she has been rescued from the death grip of her Arch Enemy.

Since then, Roger and I have felt led by God to work with Mercy Rescue Children's Home and help them when these tiny ones come their way. Amazingly, we have experience, having done this with both Chloë and now Tina. We've learned how to handle these tiny ones, how to feed them from a feeding tube, how to keep them warm, and how to teach them to eat from a bottle. Most of all, we love them and give them one-on-one contact that is so imperative to their growth and development (Jedidah has told us she sees and unbelievable difference between infants who have this one-on-one attention and infants who do not). This time around we also have a good pediatrician to consult with; I have her personal phone number and What'sApp contact and can get in to see her immediately when the need arises. These preemies only come around a couple of times a year, but that's good, because when Tina goes to Mercy Rescue, Roger and I are going to need some good solid nights of sleep!

So, we are asking you if you want to get involved. It'd be good to have things on hand when the need arises instead of scrambling around trying to improvise at the last minute. There are two ways you can help; one more immediate, and one more future.

First, there are supplies we need to stock up on. Preemie diapers, formula, bottles and nipples, clothes, pacifiers, etc. I have created a "wish list" on Amazon.com that gives details for all of this. If you want to help out, please go to this link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/19X2PEG4Z7A4J/ref=nav_wishlist_lists_2  If you wish to help us with these needs, you can find our mailing address in my profile.

Second, these precious ones will need temporary sponsors once they go back to Jedidah at Mercy Rescue Children's Home. The reason I say temporary is because one of the missions of Mercy Rescue is to match these precious children with Kenyan foster parents who will love them and raise them as their own. This is no small task and takes a lot of vetting and follow-up, but I love this part of Mercy Rescue. Until that point, though, diapers and formula are really expensive. For an infant, I estimate the sponsorship would be between $65 and $70 per month. This would cover diapers, formula, and medical care. If this is something you would be interested in, you can contact Jedidah on their website: http://www.mercyrescue.co.uk/ Or, you can find them on Facebook. You can even contact me if you are interested specifically in one of the babies we help with. When the babies are with us, the costs will come out of our pocket; that's the way we want it; but we can help you get in touch with Jedidah for when a particular baby will be back with her and you can begin sponsoring the child at that point.

In the next day or so, I will set up a page on this blog that will keep track of the children. Right now, of course, there is only Tina.

Would you please consider helping us help these precious little ones today?



Monday, September 14, 2015

Growing up...

September finds me thinking a bit nostalgically - it's my birthday month (and my mom's...and Chloe's). This year, this week in fact, I will turn 44. I don't feel 44...or maybe more accurately, I don't feel like I should be 44. Actually, I often feel like I still need to grow up. Maybe it's because I was the baby of my family by 6 years (and the only girl). Maybe it's because I got married when I was 20 (I've been married more than half of my life now...to the same man :-));  I've never really been independent.  On the other hand,  I have been married 23 1/2 years...I had to grow up at least some to manage that...

We've been in East Africa almost 8 years now; I think I've done most of my growing up here...well, a lot of it, anyway. Kenya will force that on you, somewhat. I've had to come to terms with hard truths here...ugly ones - truths about human nature and living in relationship with difficult people, about desperation and destitution...hate, discrimination, abandonment...hopelessness...man's inhumanity to man (yeah, I know; that's in America, too. Live here for 2 years and then lets talk...) I've had to learn hard truths about myself as well - that I am more like "the worst of these" than unlike them.

But there are also beautiful truths I never would have known apart from the difficulty and ugliness. Here are just a few:

*I'm learning there are beautiful people to be found everywhere, in every culture. We may have our differences, disagreements, and different ways of looking at and interpreting the world; but I've met some of the most wonderful people living here: Kalinjins, Luyahs, Kikuyus, Kisiis, Bukusus, Luos, Pakistani Muslims, Indian Hindus, Christians from all over North America, Europe, and Asia (ashamedly, I grew up thinking the only good Christians were in America), as well as non-Christians from all over the globe...really good, precious people. People who've earned my respect.**

*I'm learning I often interpret the Bible through the lens of my culture when really what I need to do is interpret my culture through the lens of the Bible.

*I'm learning it is possible to live contentedly in the midst of sacrifice. I've met Christians who daily and joyfully sacrifice so much more than I could ever dream...not out of duty to appease some unpredictable god, but out of love for the God of Love as well as for the people He loves.

*I'm learning that God's time-table and mine usually are NOT the same...but that His is generational and eternal in perspective as opposed to mine which is usually centered on, well, me...and the here and now.

*I'm learning the objective is faithfulness, not "success." Or maybe that faithfulness is the success.

*I'm learning it's okay to laugh at myself...and on top of that, it's okay if others laugh, too (Oh, yes; you either learn this lesson in East Africa or live in irritation and bitterness!).

*I'm learning that my "rootedness" cannot be found in any thing I own, in any place I live, in any ministry I do, or in any person I love. It must rather be found in my place in Christ, for that's the only thing I have that is guaranteed.

*I'm learning it's more important to love people than to need people.

*I'm learning God often gives me more than I can bear; that it's okay to be stretched beyond my strength to endure because it's not beyond God's strength. Scary lesson.

*I'm learning that God richly blesses and uses the ministries of people with whom I have theological, biblical, social, and political disagreements. This is another one of those, "I'm ashamed" kind of lessons. Oh, my...the pride...

*I'm learning that I can trust God's Word...even when I don't get it.

*I'm learning that I can trust those I love into God's hands...even when He walks them through times of suffering and/or rebellion.

*I'm learning it's okay to invest time and energy in friendships even though I will have to say "good-bye."

*I'm learning that my beloved country is not the answer to the world's problems (and in fact, is often part of the world's problems)...Christ is. And not Christ dressed up as an American, either.

*I'm learning it's okay to change your game plan in the middle of the quarter (you'd think homeschooling would have taught me that...)

*I'm learning it's okay to risk much for love.

*I'm learning that making sure I have all my 'needs' met isn't really living. Instead, loving to the point of sacrificing my 'needs'...that is living.

*I'm learning that education, ministry, "finding my purpose," having leisure time, vacations, and retirement are all momentary things...children are eternal.

*I'm learning it's okay to give myself away for things that will never die.

*I'm learning I have a whole heck of a lot to learn...


**People often accuse Christians of thinking they are better, more moral, than everyone else. Unfortunately, those accusations are far too often on target. That, however, is the failure of human nature, not of Christianity. Actually, the Bible teaches two complimentary truths: 1. Man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1 - 2) and is capable of doing good and moral things (Romans 2:14-15). In that sense, any man or woman can be a "good" man or woman. 2. On the other hand, the Bible also says that there is NONE good. (Romans 3:9-18) In this sense, human kind is being compared to the holiness of God - and found completely lacking in our very essence (Romans 1). Therefore, Christianity isn't about anyone or any group of people being better than another; it's about all of us "falling short of the glory of God," failing to worship Him as God, and being entirely incapable of pleasing Him or of gaining His favor. While we were in this condition, however, God sent His Son to live a perfect life on our behalf; to take the punishment of our failure, sin, and rebellion; to purchase our freedom from the slavery of sin by spilling His blood and dying on a cross; and to raise from the dead in victory over sin and death to give us the hope of eternal life (Romans 5). Christianity says we are all on the same level playing field...all in the same boat...without hope and in need of rescue; our goodness, social status, tribe, education, wealth, or religion are not enough - don't even come close - to getting us safely to the goal or the shore (Philippians 3:7-11). Our pride doesn't like this...but our pride is the main fruit of our problem. However, becoming a Christian doesn't make us "better" than anyone else, either. The Apostle Paul said in the first chapter of his letter to the Christians in Rome, "I am a debtor to the Jew and the Greek; to the wise and to the unwise." Because Paul knew first hand the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ to forgive him and change him, and put him in an intimate relationship with God, he felt a great responsibility to share this same power with others. This is why Christians share their faith.



Saturday, July 25, 2015

Unto The Least of These: A Story About the Plight of Handicapped Children in Rural Kenya

Picture credit: Kevin Carter
Sudan; 1993
        Many of you may have seen this picture from a link I posted on my Facebook page. The link tells the story of this precious little girl in Sudan and the photographer who hid behind a bush taking her picture for twenty minutes. The little girl was trying to walk to a feeding station not far from the location the picture was taken when she collapsed, unable to go on. The photographer, Kevin Carter, never picked her up to take her to the feeding station; he just looked on and snapped pictures as this vulture landed and waited for the child to die. He shooed the vulture away once he got the picture he wanted, and the little girl did manage to finally get up and walk to the station.

       A little later that year, 1993, this picture won Mr. Carter a Pulitzer Prize. He told a friend, "I'm really, really sorry I didn't pick the child up." Haunted by the horrors he had seen on the field, Mr. Carter killed himself a few months after winning the prize.

       Indeed this picture is haunting - almost unbelievable. If it doesn't break your heart, there is something seriously wrong with you. Sorry. Just sayin'.

       But this blog post isn't about this little girl. This is a story about another child - a child in my own back yard - a child with a name and a face - a child I know personally. His name is Teddy.
Beth Ann Downer posing with Teddy the day he left In-Step for his new "home'
       Teddy is a precious, chunky 8 year old little boy with severe autism. This is a picture of what Teddy used to look like. Teddy arrived at In-Step Children's Home when he was about 7 months old and has grown up there along with many other orphaned and abandoned children. Last September, after Teddy started being very aggressive with the babies at In-Step, my friends (Jeff and Carla Picicci - the directors of In-Step) made the difficult and heart wrenching decision to find another, more suitable situation for him. They searched all over our area of the country and found a place that specialized in caring for severely handicapped children. Teddy would live at this new home and even have an opportunity to go to a school that also specializes in working with handicapped children.

       About a month ago, Adam, one of the American workers at In-Step, received a call from one of Teddy's new caretakers. Teddy is sick and in the hospital, she told him. Please come see him. The next day, Carla went to the Kitale District Hospital to see Teddy. What she saw shocked and horrified her. Teddy was lying in the hospital bed totally naked, except for a sheet...a sheet that covered his emaciated, skeletal body. He looked much like the little girl in the picture from the Sudan; his arms, legs, and ribs were nothing but skin stretched over bone; his stomach protruded from malnourishment, and his lower legs were swollen and ice cold. Teddy, once active and always on the go, didn't even have the strength to move. Though he was unable to lift his head, he managed to smile at "Mama Carla." The doctors were running all manner of tests looking for a reason that Teddy would have stopped eating.

       Medical care in rural Kenya is complicated. One of the things that complicates the process is that Kenyans will often wait until they or their child is on death's door before admitting them to a hospital - even though Kenya has universal health care that specifically pays for hospitalization. Even so, it was difficult to understand how any caretaker could wait for a child to be in this appalling shape before seeking medical attention.
Teddy in the hospital




       As the testing continued, it became clear there was nothing wrong with Teddy - except extreme malnourishment. In fact, his diagnosis was "end stages of malnourishment." As Carla and her team investigated what had happened to Teddy, a frightful scenario began to reveal itself. Carla was told that Teddy had been locked away in a small room for months, and it is believed that the school fees Carla had sent for his "special education" had been pocketed by the caretakers while Teddy sat stripped and alone - forced to eat off the floor the food they threw into his room once a day.
      
       Can you imagine the horror? One day you're living in a beautiful, loving, family environment; the next you're being treated like a rabid dog. Jeff and Carla felt sick. They had left him with people they trusted - Jeff had even been to visit him several months before. Yes, he had lost some weight, but that was to be expected. They'd had no idea what was going on behind closed doors.
       
       This is a terrible story, to be sure; but why am I blogging about it? Well, for two reasons. The first is to make you aware of the plight of physically/mentally handicapped children in rural Kenya. It's difficult for us in the West to wrap our heads around the way these precious children are treated, but this is the unedited, ugly truth of the situation here. And you need to know about it. 
      
       The second reason is to tell you what has come as a result of Teddy's situation. 

       Jeff and Carla have taken Teddy home to In-Step. With 158 children to care for, they still don't have the facilities to fully help someone like Teddy; but they are determined to try because, unfortunately, there are just no facilities in this area of Kenya for children in this condition. The mentality in rural Kenya concerning severely handicapped children is not very different from the attitude shown by the "caretakers" who were supposed to be looking after Teddy; throw them into a room never to be seen by the public. Even institutions that cater to severely handicapped children often just have the children laying on mats all day.
       
       In light of this dire situation, Jeff and Carla feel called of God to start a vitally needed ministry that cares for severely handicapped children. Their new ministry is called Stepping Stones. It's not something they ever saw themselves doing, but it is a ministry God has already seen fit to place them in the middle of since, along with Teddy, God has sent to In-Step seven other children with severe physical and/or mental handicaps (you can read about them on their web-site which is listed at the end of my blog). In-Step does not at all have the funding for this ministry, but they are stepping out in faith knowing that what God has called them to, He will also provide for; but this is a very long-term commitment for them. None of these children will ever "grow-up" and leave In-Step to start new lives as adults, and that is a bit daunting.
       
       I was out at In-Step just yesterday taking my daughter Amy; she is volunteering there with the handicapped children one day a week during her 6 week school break. They now have hired a special-ed teacher and a physical therapist to work with the children (actually, the physical therapist has been with them a while). They are working on remodeling one of their buildings specifically as a restful but engaging place for these precious children to learn and feel safe. My high school friend, Beth Ann Downer, is overseeing this new ministry, making sure that everything is being done in the best interest of the children.
       
       Teddy is slowly improving. The swelling in his legs has gone down; but, you can still see his ribs, his arms and legs are still very small, and his belly still protrudes (though not as much). It will take time for him to recover from his horrific experience. But God makes beauty from ashes, and one of the beauties He is making from the ashes of Teddy's experience is Stepping Stones Ministry.


       If you would like to donate to this very worthy and much, much needed ministry, or if you would like to sponsor one of these precious children, you can do so at www.rehemainstep.com  

       "When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food.  I was thirsty and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me.  I was sick and you visited me.  I was in prison and you came to me.'  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'  And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' 

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food.  I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'  Then they also will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?'  Then he will answer them saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me.'  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:31-46

**Teddy's story is told and his pictures are used with the express permission of the directors of In-Step Children's Home

Friday, July 3, 2015

Our Own Little Miracle...Chloe's First Court Date

     As you all probably know, adoption in Kenya has become absolutely nuts.  The government of Kenya, under the leadership of Uhuru Kenyatta, has basically SHUT DOWN international adoption...and even residential adoption if that resident is not Kenyan.  There are many families stuck in limbo with a child they love and no way to move forward.  I know of one family - I don't know them personally, but friends of mine here in Kitale do - who had a FINALIZED adoption.  FINALIZED.  They had started their adoption process before the moratorium, but all their court dates took place after the moratorium was already in place; the judges were continuing to push through adoptions that had already begun.  Because the court dates were after the fact, Canada (their home country) is requiring extra documentation to verify the legality of their adoption, but the Children's Department has been ordered by the Secretary of the Cabinet to cease writing or signing any documents.  Long story short, that means this family is stuck in Kenya for the foreseeable future.  The father had paternity leave time, which he used to stay in Kenya for the mandatory time-period before the adoption was final.  His leave is now up, but they can't get a passport for their son because of the red-tape.  He ended up having to go home to Canada without his wife and son.  He is now in the process of selling their home so that they will have money to live on here in Kenya until things are worked out.  Meanwhile, the wife has been in Kenya on a visitor's VISA for a year.  Kenya doesn't like to keep granting extensions, so she doesn't know what will happen when that runs out.

    Needless to say, the situation here is a mess.  My own friends are just waiting for their final court date, but they need a piece of paper from the Children's Department...which of course is under order not to write it.  They do have a judge who is willing to look at their case even without that piece of paper.  The difficult part is, all these things the government is doing aren't even legal....  The international community is beginning to stand up and take notice.  A group of ambassadors from several different countries are filing complaints at the Hague (like Kenya cares anything about the Hague) and the US embassy is even asking for e-mails from US citizens who are caught up in all this so they can put some pressure on the government.  But...nothing is going to change over-night.

     So...as you most likely know, we have filed for guardianship of Chloe.  Guardianship is one step removed from adoption.  We would be considered Chloe's legal parents, and she would even have our last name.  

     Our first court date was June 24th (Roger's mother's birthday <3) .  Our lawyer lives and works in Nairobi, so she basically sub-contracted with another lawyer here in Kitale and is working closely with him to represent us.  Children's court in Kitale is probably like nothing you can imagine.  We met Kiarie (Kee-ar'-ee) at the court building where he informed us that there was a clause on the paperwork for our care agreement with the Children's home that said on June 24th, the director of the children's home would provide the court with an update on the health and well-being of the child.  We didn't even know that clause was there...neither did the director of the children's home.  Kiarie was working on a solution to that problem when a familiar face walked into the court.  Sally is the social worker that works with Jedidah (the director of Mercy Rescue Trust where Chloe comes from).  We greeted one another and as we did, Sally told me she was waiting for Jedidah because they had five children to commit to the children's home that day.  Hmmm.  

     Meanwhile, we waited and waited...and waited...and waited...and waited for Kiarie to get some things together and also for the judge to arrive and start hearing all the cases on her docket for the day.  Kiarie finally came to get us, and we went upstairs to a very narrow hallway (with no seating) and stood there with about 20 other people.    Minutes after going upstairs to wait, Jedidah came in with several babies.  We stood there and chatted for a view minutes while Roger walked Chloe around the far end of the hallway. Jedidah was called into the judges room, and I took Chloe, who promptly fell asleep, so I sat with her on the top step of a staircase and leaned against the wall.  

     About 15 minutes later, Kiarie stuck his head out the door of the judge's room and called for us to come in. There were already about 15 people in the judge's room waiting for their cases to be heard.  The room was not very big, and in the center was a large table around which sat the judge (at the head) and various lawyers and children's officers - 3 on each side.  There wasn't much space for any other chairs in the room, so along two of its dirty and paint-peeled walls was a crude bench with no back.  A guard motioned me to squeeze past several people and to sit next to Jedidah.  He, of course, had no idea we knew each other.  I could barely hear anything going on...in Kenya, when people speak professionally, they speak very, very quietly.  I don't even know how they can hear one another.  But Jedidah's case was called, the children's histories were given, and the judge promptly committed them to Mercy Rescue Trust.  As Jedidah was getting up to leave, our case was called.  The judge looked at our care agreement and asked for the report on Chloe's well-being.  The children's officer working with Jedidah knew us and our relationship with Jedidah, so she informed the judge that the director of the children's home was present and could give an oral report regarding Chloe's welfare.  Jedidah stood up, gave the report, and then left.  The judge accepted the oral report and issued us our second court date.

     It was unbelievable.  Neither we nor Jedidah knew that we would need to have Jedidah there in the courtroom with us that day.  But God did.  Jedidah doesn't always have children' to commit...they wait until they have at least five and then do them all together.  That could have happened the week before or the week after.  But God knew we needed her there that specific day.  He answered a prayer we didn't even know we needed to pray.  Isn't that just like him!  Without Jedidah there that day, our case would have been delayed.  But, it wasn't.  

     Our next and final court date is July 22nd.  On that day, Kiarie will actually present before the judge the case as to why we should be granted permanent guardianship of this precious girl.  Please pray for this process.  It's not a fore-gone conclusion that we will be granted this.  Kiarie told us to pray for a female judge.  The female judges, he told us, really care about the children and want to do what is best for them.  The male judges, well, Kiarie said, there's just something wrong with men when it comes to this kind of thing.  He said it...not me!  :-)  Well, maybe it's true in Kenya.  I don't know; but, I'm sure he has reasons for saying it.

     So, that's where we stand with the Chloe situation.  Thank you for your prayers!  God is good...no matter what.  He has a plan for us and for Chloe.  Our desire is that  his plan includes having those two plans coincide, of course.  I'll let you know how it goes...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Insanity of God...

      There are a lot of issues on my mind today...any number of which I could blog about - good things, tough things, sad things - so I think I will tell you about something that has captured my thoughts (well, most of them anyway) in a way they haven't been captured in a long time.
     
      I just finished a book called The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken. I wasn't sure, originally, that it was a book I wanted to read, but I picked it up anyway and then could hardly put it down. Let me just start by saying...if you are a Christian, you need to read this book. Let me also start with a warning; some Christians I know will pick this book apart and say things like, "That can't happen in our dispensation," or "They're not doing that Biblically." I'm not going to argue with you; I could, but I won't. But before you jump on these things, let me encourage you to focus on the message of the book that Nik wrote and not get bogged down by some of the details that your denomination may or may not take issue with. Those things are not the point of his book. If you get bogged down there, you will miss the greater, beautiful, rebuking, challenging message that we - especially as Western Christians - need to hear.

      Nik Ripken (not his real name for security purposes) spent 10 years working in Somalia in the 1990's during the civil war there. Their main focus was to show the love of Christ by going into the toughest of the tough areas in order to supply much needed relief work. The stories he tells of his years there are some of the most difficult I have ever read. If any place could be termed "God forsaken," it would have been that place. After 10 years of emotionally brutal work - and the death of his son - he took his family back to the States. He also took with him deep and difficult questions about his faith in God and his faith in the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

      These questions led Nik and his wife on an amazing multi-year journey all across the globe to look for answers. Where is God in persecution? How can faith in Jesus be sustained, much less spread, in areas where persecution against followers of Jesus is terrible, brutal, inhumane, and barbarous? Does the Gospel really work? Nik's journey took him to Russia, China, South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa - areas where following Christ (or even being seen with a follower of Christ) can mean imprisonment, torture, and death. What he found shook him to the core.

      Anyone who knows me knows I can't summarize. I can summarize a 200 page book in 400 pages. So instead, I'd like to share with you three lesson I took away from this book; there could be many more. I will start with the lesson I learned, then give a quote from the book, then try to apply it to life in the West.

1. Persecution is not the end of the world. "...the way American believers see persecution is starkly different from the way that believers in Chinese house-church settings see persecution. The suggestion that imprisonment for the faith is equivalent to seminary training, for example, is a startling thought for most American believers....Chinese believers had learned something that Jesus plainly taught: that persecution can actually change a person's faith. Before persecution, a person's faith might look a certain way. After persecution and suffering, however, that faith might look very different. In fact, after persecution, the believer might not even look like the same person, And interestingly, the change might be cause for celebration." (pg. 272) 

       This is difficult for me to wrap my head around. I know it intellectually, but I have a great fear of learning it experientially. Why? Because I tend - like many Americans - to worship safety and security above all else...even above my Savior. But in light of the recent SCOTUS decision legalizing gay marriage in all fifty states, American Christians are going to need to rethink their gut-response to the possibility of persecution. Persecution is NOT the end of the world; in fact, it may do amazing things for the Kingdom. For example, when Mao Zedong declared the establishment of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, Christianity was "shut down" almost overnight. Churches were boarded up or turned into bars and brothels. Christians were imprisoned in labor camps and re-education programs. But today, there are actually over 100,000,000 followers of Jesus, despite 50 years of Communism and oppression. Churches have literally sprung up in prisons nation wide where "countless new converts are discipled." (pp 218-219) Once release, they return home to their own province taking the Gospel with them and either joining already established house churches, or starting new ones. 

       But hear the warning of one Chinese believer: "You can only grow in jail what you take to jail with you. You can only grown in persecutions what you take into it." (pg. 252) How well prepared are we, western Christians? How well do we know the Word? How well do we walk with Jesus? Time and time again, the testimonies shared with Dr. Ripken were that scriptures and songs memorized were the things that helped jailed and tortured believers keep their sanity...and even their joy.

2. The biggest need of persecuted Christians around the world is not an END to their persecution. "For decades now, many concerned western believers have sought to rescue their spiritual brothers and sisters around the world who suffer because they choose to follow Jesus. Yet our pilgrimage among house churches in persecution convinced us that God may actually want to use them to save us from the often debilitating, and sometimes spiritually fatal effects of our watered-down, powerless western faith." (pg. 304) 

       In fact, what Dr. Ripken and his wife learned was that there is a very simple way to end the persecution...that is to have people STOP sharing their faith. But believers in persecution refuse to do this. And so invariably, the things they ask their Western brothers and sisters to pray for on their behalf is faithfulness and obedience in the midst of their persecution. (pg. 306) What Dr. Ripken saw over and over again was that the power of the Holy Spirit was evident in the lives and circumstances of our persecuted brothers and sisters. One of the stories he tells is about a youth conference held in the early 1950's in Moscow. Attending this week-long conference were over 700 unmarried Christians between the ages of 18 and 31. They were encouraged to gather in small groups to work together and see how much of the four Gospels and how many Christian songs they could recreate. None of these individuals had ever owned a Bible, a song book, or any religious recordings of any kind. By the end of the week, when they put the work of all the groups together, they found the young people had totally recreated all of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with only a few mistakes. They had also, together, been able to remember the words to over 100 songs, choruses, and hymns. (Pg. 165). Later, the pastors who had arranged this were arrested and imprisoned. 

       Nik asked the grandchildren of the men who told this story how much of the Bible they could recreate from memory. "Not much," was the discouraging reply. Here, in the first 10 years of freedom in Russia, believers had lost much. They couldn't even name most of the books of the Bible. Here was Dr. Ripken's observation: "Under communism, the church had found a way to survive and often thrive. Scripture and holy song was its lifeblood. Now, in a much freer day for the church, Scripture and holy song did not seem nearly as important." (pg 165) 

       How important would you say Scripture and songs of faith are to us in the West? Yes, we memorize verses here and there in Sunday School, but how many of take for granted our numerous copies of the Bible? Can we say that the Word is truly hidden in our hearts so that it can be alive and active in our hearts? The old adage, "Familiarity breeds contempt" is true. Are we so comfortable in our freedom that we don't cherish and feed on the Word? Believers in persecution don't enjoy their persecution...but they recognize it for the purifying and maturing agent that it is.

3. Learn to see the miraculous that is around me every day...in the very fact that I can worship in public, we can baptize in public, we each have numerous copies of the Bible, we can share our faith openly. When Dr. Ripken was in China meeting with leaders of the house churches, he heard many miraculous stories...even stories of people being raised from the dead. He mentioned to his new friends how he so wished he could witness this miraculous power of the Holy Spirit with his own eyes. Their reply was astonishing to him. "You see how we are meeting with you here in secret, Dr. Ripken? We have told you how our house churches move from farm to farm, house to house, often at night. Yet you tell us that pastors can preach the Gospel publicly in your country and that believers in America are free to worship wherever and whenever they want. You have watched our leaders rip apart a Bible and divide up the pages, so that every house-church pastor can take home at least a portion of Scripture to share with his people. Yet you tell us that you personally have several different versions of the Bible on a shelf in your office and that you also own many Christian books and regularly read Christian magazines and newspapers. None of us has ever owned our own hymnbook or chorus book to sing from, yet you tell us that your churches have hymnbooks for everyone, that you can purchase them in bookstores or order them by the case from publishers....We have explained how so many of our leaders have been arrested that prisons have become the place where our pastors gain their most important theological education. But you tell us that in America you have special training schools just for Christian students. Yes, you have heard us tell about praying for sick people and how many of them have been miraculously healed. Yet maybe only one in a thousand of those who are healed will give any credit to God or will ever find Jesus as a result. However, you tell us that believers in your country can actually choose to go to Christian doctors and even Christian hospitals if they wish. So tell us, Dr. Ripken, which of these things do you think are the greatest miracles?"

      Oh, how much we take for granted. Because we have never experienced persecution, we forget that our experience is actually not the normal one! We long to see miracles, but God gives them to us every day! We long to see the power of God, but He displays it every day! In fact, it has become so common that we don't even recognize it anymore.


      I will leave you with this one challenge from a Russian follower of Jesus. "Don't ever give up in freedom what we would never have given up in persecution." (pg. 192) Don't give up your love of Scripture and your ability to KNOW it. Don't give up the joy of meeting together and being strengthened by other believers. Don't give up your responsibility and your privilege of sharing Jesus with those around you. "Don't give up in your freedom what we would never have given up in persecution." Ouch.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

To Be Known...

"The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him." Nahum 1:7

It's been a rough week. Well, actually, it's been a rough couple of months. I've been trying to hold it in and be strong, but over the last week I couldn't hold it in any longer. After a phone conversation with my oldest daughter in the States...feeling her pain of being hurt and alone during a particularly difficult time in her life...I went to bed praying and started to cry. That was all she wrote. I cried for the next 48 hours - on and off. Mostly on.

During that 48 hours, life was exceptionally difficult. Things that would normally be only a nuisance became practically unbearable. The electricity was off more than it was on - and was totally unpredictable. I cooked in the dark, we ate in the dark, Roger cleaned up the kitchen in the dark. All the things I would normally use to get through a dark, quiet evening...the T.V., my computer, my tablet...were all rendered totally useless. And since this had been happening for months already, during this particular 48 hours I'd had about all I could take of it. There were other more serious pressures as well, but though it seems like a silly thing...the electricity was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.

I felt overwhelmed. Forgotten. I felt like my precious daughter had been abandoned...and so I felt abandoned as well.

I posted something on Facebook...peripheral things, mostly...because I couldn't post the really deep stuff. The out-pouring of love and concern from my FB pals touched me, and God began slowly bringing peace to my heart. Then this morning...

I've been reading through the Minor Prophets - some of my favorite books of the Bible. Today, when I started Nahum, I came across this verse: "The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him."

He knows those who trust in Him.

That phrase struck something deep inside me.

Don't we all long to be known? I don't know about you, but this is something profoundly essential to me. I don't do surface relationships well. I've never been good at idle chit-chat, and I've never understood people who seem satisfied with these kinds of friendships. But it's more than being known...because you might get to know me and find out you don't like me! Believe me...that's very possible. It's being known...and being loved.

He knows those who trust in Him...

He knows me. Not just, "He knows about me"...He KNOWS me. Like I know my closest friends. Like I know Roger. He knows my struggles and what gets to me. He knows the things I tend to worship. He knows my desires and hopes and dreams - for myself, for my children, for my ministry. He is intimately aware of every facet of my personality. He knows where my personality has grown to be more configured to the image of Christ, and where it still needs major overhaul. He knows my jealousies, my discontents, my fears, my failures. He knows what I obsess over. He knows me.

And He loves me!

I think sometimes as "orthodox" Christians, God's love has devolved into a theology rather than a practical reality that reaches down and touches us. We think of it in terms of some "other-worldly," out-there, untouchable, unemotional, wholly cerebral thing. Where do we get that??? Certainly not from Scripture. If Jesus was truly the image of the invisible God, then we know God's love to be personal and affectionate - just look at Jesus' relationship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in the Gospel of John. But somehow, we take the Greek word used in Scripture for God's love - Agape - and we so totally separate it from other Greek words for love which mean "brotherly love" or "erotic love," that we end up disassociating it from any kind of warmth and loving affection.

Then, difficult circumstances come into our lives. We throw our fists to the heavens and declare God to be an unfeeling, uncaring ogre. But He isn't. He loves us. He loves Roger; He loves Emily, Amy, Josiah, and Chloe. He knows them. He loves them. He loves me.

In fact, He loves me enough to occasionally pull out from under me the things I use in place of Him to prop myself up (like electricity, T.V., and computer games...or ministry) - because He knows they are useless and ineffective over the long-haul. Sometimes, this is a much longer process than it really needs to be, because I stubbornly cling to these things with a clenched fist - as if they are my life support. I yell and scream at Him as He lovingly and compassionately pries my fingers loose with the tender affection of a doting father. Sure, it'd be better if I just let go all at once, but...

He knows me...and...He loves me.

It is my deepest desire to know and follow hard after Christ. To have a heart after His heart...to have HIM as my ultimate treasure.

That doesn't mean, of course, that things in life don't hurt deeply; or, that I don't still have questions that remain unanswered. But it does refocus my affections...my priorities...my understanding. It does relieve me from despair and it does open my eyes to see...to really see -

I am known and I am loved.