Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Very Different Christmas

jesus_manger_1 Once again I find myself posting my blog from a hospital room. Only this time the stay will be much longer and the circumstances have brought me to the point of discouragement.

On Monday Joshua was able to go home from the hospital after a five day stay following his back surgery. While he had to remain flat until Wednesday, he was very happy to be home again. On Thursday and Friday we were slowly allowing him to get up and around with the use of a walker, and on Saturday we were able to go to the mall as a family with Joshua in his wheelchair.

Then, last night, we found a problem. As we were getting Joshua ready for bed we discovered a large pocket of fluid under the skin on his lower back. I suspected that he had a spinal fluid leak and called the hospital to speak with the on-call neurosurgeon. He suspected the same and had us bring him to the emergency room this morning where he was waiting for us. Our fears were confirmed and they rushed him into emergency surgery.

Over the next 5 to 6 hours they worked to repair the grafts in his back. The surgery went well and he is now in ICU recuperating. But with this unexpected series of events comes some serious changes in our Christmas plans. You see, Joshua will have to remain flat in bed and in the ICU for the next 5 to 6 days, with a few days in a regular room to follow. So this years Christmas will be very different for our family.

We had been planning to celebrate this season to the max. As you probably know, this will likely be our last Christmas in the States before our move to Guatemala, so we had numerous plans for our immediate family on Christmas Eve and Day, and travel plans to spend time with our extended family in PA and NC. Everything is now changed. Our trip is now cancelled and our time at home will be radically different. Wanda and I are currently working to find ways to make this holiday special for both Joshua and the rest of our children.

So, at the end of this whirlwind day, I find myself struggling with discouragement. Being the family-lover that I am, combined with the Christmas fanatic that I am, I am reeling from the reality that our family will be separated for most of this season. Wanda will likely spend most of the days here at the hospital while I take the night shift. We will occasionally bring the rest of the kids down for a visit and some time together, but Christmas will be very different this year.

I find myself wondering what God is up to. I have been a Christ-follower long enough to know that the ups and downs of life are not arbitrary, but a part of His divine plan. And I have found that  is especially true of the times in which I most questioned his ways. So, I wonder why God would want us to spend our last Christmas in America like this. As of now, I have no answer to that question. But I do have a few guesses:

  • We have always told our kids that Christmas isn’t about family traditions, decorations, or presents, but about God becoming one of us in order to save us. We have said many times that even with all those things stripped away we could still celebrate the intended focus of it all…Jesus. Maybe God is wanting us put our money where our mouth is and find the joy of this season without the normal things that fill this time of year.
  • As I look around the PICU, I realize that we are not alone in our discouragement. There are many families here who are facing similar (or far worse) situations. Some of these parents are wondering if their son or daughter will live to see Christmas Day, and many of them are facing these fears and challenges without the comfort of Jesus. Maybe God has brought us here to be a source of light and hope for them.
  • There is no doubt that I often seek to find the reason and design behind everything. I guess that is a trait I inherited from my dad…always wanting to know how and why everything works. Maybe God is trying to deepen my trust in Him without knowing the reasons behind the scene.
  • Or maybe it is a little or a lot of all of the above.

Lord, please help me to trust you through this time. Help our family to find the joy and depth of this season through these circumstances. And please use us to show you to those who need you the most.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Worst Kind of Pain

IMG00006-20091210-1841 I am writing this from a hospital room at Dayton Children’s Medical Center where my son, Joshua, is recuperating from surgery. In the last two years since we brought him home from China he has gone through so much. He has been hospitalized five times and undergone four major surgeries. He lived for eight weeks with a Spica cast that completely immobilized him from the chest down. And he has had more IV’s, needle sticks, tests, and painful procedures than I would care to list.

Through all these ordeals he has been a stoic little guy. He endures it all with only the occasional tear and very little complaining. In fact, he has had several experiences that would likely have left me in tears, and he has endured them with quiet dignity. But with all of this heroism, he was reduced to sobbing by an event early this morning that shows what really scares him.

After surgery he was placed into the PICU here at Children’s for close monitoring. This is a wonderful hospital that is extremely friendly to the families of their patients, but the PICU is less friendly than other areas of the hospital out of necessity. Since that ward focuses on more severe cases, the rooms are set up for monitoring equipment but very few conveniences. Refrigerators and bathrooms are not in the room, but down the hall. This is understandable, but difficult for the parents who are staying with their children.

This morning, Joshua was resting comfortably and watching TV. I explained to him that I needed to go down the hall to use the bathroom, brush my teeth, and wash my face, but I would be back in a few minutes. I left, took care of that business, and returned to the room about seven minutes after I left. When I was 30 feet away from the room I heard his cries and rushed to his side.

It turns out that he fell asleep and awoke a moment later, but in his medicated state he thought that he had been asleep for much longer. When he realized that I still wasn’t back in the room, he thought that I had left him there alone and gone home. He was sobbing and it took a little while to calm him down and assure him that I was only gone for a few moments and would never leave him alone and go home.

After he was sleeping peacefully again I had time to reflect on what had occurred. Joshua, who had endured so much pain and trauma without complaint or breakdown, was reduced to sobbing tears because he thought he had been left alone. And, once again, I realize how important family is for all children.

Children can learn to survive and endure through adversity and pain. They do it every day. But no child should have to face those things without a family. No child should have to live day after day without someone who cares about them and shares their trauma. No child should ever wake up and know they are alone. And the Church of Jesus Christ should not rest as long as there are children who are experiencing that worst kind of pain.

Jesus, please hold those children who are without a family. Comfort those who will awake alone and afraid tonight. And please awaken and empower your church to be your hands, arms, feet, and voice.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

For Sale By Owner

DSCF2628Friday I hit a low point. As you know, we are in the midst of selling our home, and the successful completion of that task is the largest obstacle we must overcome before our move to Guatemala. You are likely also aware of the reality that the housing market is dismal these days. Due to the downturn in the economy, we have lost almost all of the equity we had in our home and we are simply praying that the house will sell and we will have at least a few thousand dollars to assist with the cost of our move.

As a way of saving money we have made the decision to sell our home ourselves instead of through a realtor. We are using to list our home and are trusting that God will do a miracle and allow us to sell it quickly and for the price we need. I felt good about that until Friday afternoon.

After a very early and very long morning at the hospital where my son, Joshua, had surgery, I returned home and looked through a packet that had been sent out by a local realtor. Apparently this man is a vulture in the real estate market who gets his contacts off of sites in which owners sell their own homes. He was sending me a packet of information so that when my house failed to sell I would come to him to list my home. He went on to state the following: “Records indicate that 90% of ‘For Sale by Owner’ properties do not sell.”

At that moment, the enemy whispered in my ear and filled me with doubt and discouragement. I suddenly “realized” how foolish I was to think that I could sell my house on my own in this horrible housing market. I found myself wanting to pick up the phone and call an agent (a friend we could trust, not the vulture who sent the packet).

Then something happened. We received a delivery of the yard signs  from the listing company and I opened the box. And suddenly the words on the sign jumped out at me -- “For Sale by OWNER!” At that moment I remembered something…I remembered who owns our house. It’s not me, it never has been me.

I remember when Wanda and I received the key to this place and entered through the front door for the first time after the closing. We prayed together and told God that we knew that it was His house, and he could use it any way He chose. And He has. He has filled it with foster children, biological children, and adopted children. It has been the location of small groups and counseling and served as a playground for neighborhood kids. We have seen marriages healed in the family room and people come to Christ in the living room. This has always been God’s house.

And so, as I looked at that sign, I realized what it really said was “For Sale by God!” It is His house and He will sell it.

Now I am writing this while listening to worship music in the background. And it is no coincident that Mighty to Save is playing as I type these words…

Savior, He can move the mountains

He is mighty to save! He is mighty to save

Forever Author of salvation

He rose and conquered the grave, Jesus conquered the grave

The same God that moves the mountains and conquered the grave will sell His house and take us to still another home that will indeed be His as well!

Friday, November 20, 2009

A View from the Front

Tonight I want to copy and paste from Katie Davis’s blog. Katie is a wonderful young lady (age 21) who moved to Uganda and began Amazima Ministries International and cares for the poorest of the poor while raising 14 adopted daughters. I have used her entries before and I do so again because she does such a beautiful and heart-wrenching job of showing me the heart of God. Please take time to read her words and allow the Lord to do surgery on your heart as He has on mine.

It started a few months ago when my great friends Mike and Suzanne were here to adopt their daughter. In finding out she had HIV, they were obviously broken. Mike made a statement that stirred something within me. He said, "I guess you know that children are out there suffering. You know that children are sick, this sick. But it is different when it is your child. It's just different."

And it is. I don't mean this blog to criticize you in any way, Mike, because what you said was true for me too. It is different when it is my child. I spend countless nights awake with dying, or at least critically sick, children. I love them and I cuddle them. I sponge bath them and give them their medicine and wipe up their vomit. I hold them and pray over them and tell them how special they are and how Jesus loves them. My heart really does hurt for them. But it doesn't hurt the way it hurts when I think one of my own children is close to death. It doesn't hurt the way it does when Sumini's fever just won't go down or when Patricia is up all night coughing with her third case of pneumonia in three months. It doesn't hurt the way it does when Margaret's teeth run into Agnes's eyebrow and I can see her bone, and then watch in terror as the doctor stitches it up WITHOUT anesthetic. Somehow, when it is my children, there is a bit more urgency, a bit more panic. There is a bit more frustration at the lack of medical care we can receive here and a bit more google searching of what to do. I am not saying that I am proud of this. I am just letting you know that it isn't just you I have held several children as they died of inadequate medical care. It was horrible and I grieve and cried, but I promise you that I wasn't as devastated as I would have been had it been one of my daughters. Its ugly, but its true.

Its just different when its your child who's suffering. But should it be? This is what I have been struggling with. I believe that this is a normal human reaction. I also believe it is WRONG. I believe that each human on the planet is God's child, perfectly made and beloved and cherished by Him. I believe that His heart hurts like mine does, even more than mine does, when my baby is hurting for EACH and every one of the hurting, dying, starving, crying children in our world at this moment. So I HAVE to believe that if my heart was truly seeking to be aligned with the heart of God, that I would have to hurt for each of these children as well. But sometimes, I forget. Sometimes I'm busy. Sometimes hurting for my very own children just feels like enough. I believe that the world says that this is ok. And I believe it is wrong. And this keeps me up at night.

Angelina is seven years old and barely weighs 15 pounds. You remember that picture that was made popular in the 1980's during the famine in Ethiopia of that little girl (who looked like a bag of bones) curled up next to a vulture? That girl doesn't look nearly as sick as Angelina. Her mother has not had any food to give her in over four months. When Angelina musters enough energy to let out a cry of hunger (she is far to weak to walk or even hold her head up on her own), her mother gives her some locally brewed alcohol to keep her quiet. For four months, keeping her a little drunk has actually probably been what is keeping her alive. The dirt floor where she has been laying her whole life accumulating bedsores is covered in waste, animal and human. Jiggers burrow deep into her little feet causing them to crack and bleed. She is naked, filthy, and cold. It is far worse than appalling.

I bet right now at this moment your heart is sad for her. Is it as sad as it would be if Angelina were your daughter? Angelina is God's daughter. His heart aches for this perfect, wonderfully made child of His. Her circumstances do not surprise Him, but I have no doubt that they grieve Him tremendously.

And it's not just children, because we are all children in His eyes. Grace is maybe 60 years old but looks to be pushing 100. She can't weigh more than 85 pounds. Grace is a mother to six children, but 4 have died of AIDS and the other two have deserted her for a better life. She lives in a 4 by 4 foot room that is pitch black, but she doesn't mind; in addition to being to weak to walk, Grace is blind. She NEVER has any visitors. At night her bones ache against the hard dirt floor and her feeble body shivers with cold. A cough racks her body and her stomach rumbles in hunger making sleep impossible.

Its sad, huh? How sad though? Sad enough that we want to do sometime about it? Sad enough that we will remember Grace tonight as we snuggle down into our beds or next month as we pay the bills? Maybe. But maybe not. Because it hurts, but it doesn't hurt that much. It doesn't hurt the way it would if Grace was your grandmother all alone there in the dark. It does for God. Because Grace is His.

As I snuggle both these sweet girls, as I kiss their cheeks, as I spoon Pediasure into Angelina's little mouth or watch Grace rejoice over the gift of a scraggly old blanket, I allow the tears to fall. The tears that hurt for these people as if they were my family. Because they are my family. And it SHOULD hurt. It shouldn't be different. I desire for it to never again be different.

We are the body of Christ. But do we know what that means? Do we long for our brothers and sisters to be comfortable and fed and well? Do we long for it enough that we are uncomfortable under our blankets at night or eating our pancakes in the morning? Do we feel the hurt that God feels as He watches the body of Christ sit back and allow these precious children of his to perish? Maybe sometimes. But sometimes, we are too busy, or we forget, or hurting for our own children is enough. We are the body of Christ. We need to hurt. We need to react. Their needs to be the same urgency and panic and frustration and desperation as if these were our own children. They are God's children.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

It Keeps Getting Harder

DSCF2575 I am sitting in the Guatemala City airport after having said goodbye to the kids and adults at Hermano Pedro yet again. It seems like saying goodbye should get easier, but it doesn’t. In fact, this was harder than ever before.

This is the off-season for tourists and volunteers at HP. The number of people who come in to help with the kids is at the lowest point of the year, so I wonder how often these kids with by spoken to, caressed, held, and loved. And when they are, will the person doing it know what each child needs.

DSCF2540 Will they know that Estuardo is soothed by having someone mimic the creative noises he makes with his mouth? Will they know that Diego loves to be pushed backward in his wheelchair? Will they know that Leslie is comforted by softly clapping? Will they know that Ervin acts out when he feels abandoned but is a sweet little guy when he knows he is loved? Will they know that Louis loves a gentle breeze on his face and hates loud noises?

DSCF2547 The answer to all the questions is, “Likely not.” They cannot know these things because they will probably not know the children. (Just yesterday I had to explain to a group of volunteers that Gloria was nearly deaf and needed to feel the vibrations from their chest and that Leslie was blind and needed their touch instead of their hand puppet.) And this highlights the problem. These children are a part of an institution, not a family. 

DSCF2566 Within a loving family, a child is known. Their likes, loves, hates, and fears are known by the family that loves them. And that knowledge is used to create a place of safety and joy. And that is why our family is so desperate to get to Guatemala and create a home for these children based on family.

So, I return home once again to continue our furious preparations that will enable our move. And as I do, I pray that our house sells quickly, fundraising goes smoothly, and that we reach our new home soon. Children are waiting.

And as I close, I want to give a special thanks to our team, Rachel, Kathlyn, and Bev for their wonderful work and the abundant love they shared this week. I could not have asked for a better team!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Another Side of Guatemala

Written the evening of November 6th but posted later due to internet connection problems.

There are some days that are very difficult to summarize in a blog. Today is one of those days, but I will do my best.

DSCF2476 This morning, my good friend Dick Rutgers picked our team up from the hotel and, along with two of his little amigos, Fernando and Cesar, exposed us to some of the incredible needs and opportunities that Guatemala has to offer. We drove to the costal region near the town of San Jose where we spent time with four families who made a strong impact on our team.

DSCF2468 Our first visit was with Irma, a lady with whom Dick has worked for several years. She had been disowned by her mother as a child due to her disability and when Dick first met her she was dragging herself on the ground from place to place in her village. He supplied her with a wheelchair and she has been an attendee of the yearly camp in Chimaltenango. Today we delivered a new chair to her and spent time visiting with her family.

DSCF2460 While we were in Irma’s village we were swamped by children who wanted to see the Gringos and get some of the candy we offered. We planned to give one piece per child, but quickly abandoned that plan and gave seconds!

DSCF2482 From there we drove to another home that is about three miles away, as the crow flies, but involved nearly an hour’s drive. There we visited with Julio, a little guy that Dick had found some time ago severely malnourished in a hammock behind the family’s house. He convinced the family to allow him to take Julio to Hermano Pedro for treatment where he was fattened up and then returned home. With the help of a DSCF2478 sponsor, Dick is providing food for the family on a regular basis in order to assure that Julio does not return to his former state. The father is a hard worker who is currently without work and is awaiting the coming sugar cane harvest which will provide him with employment for the season. We were able to deliver groceries to this family, including DSCF2489 the lunch we had packed for ourselves. We decided that we could do without in light of the need we were seeing. Julio was such a wonderful little guy and Kathlyn, Rachel, and Bev had a wonderful time holding and playing with him and the little ones.

DSCF2484 As we were preparing to leave it was discovered that the rear passenger tire of Dick’s Land Cruiser was flat. It was raining and muddy and we prepared ourselves to get very messy changing the tire. However, a group of men from the village stepped forward and did most of the work. One of them even laid down in the mud to position the jack properly. When all the work was done, Dick and I had dirty hands, but the men who helped DSCF2495 were filthy. As we left, Dick told us what a blessing that flat tire was. When he first came to the village to help Julio the men in the village told the family not to trust him. They said if they allowed Dick to take Julio they would never see him alive again. But now, through the relationship he has built with the family and the help he has offered, he is trusted by those same men. It was both wonderful and humbling to see their eagerness to assist Dick in return for the help he has so freely offered.

DSCF2502After we left, we air dried for a little while with the windows rolled down and then stopped for lunch at a roadside burger stand. All the guys ate a cheeseburger, but the women opted out. I think they were a little concerned about food-borne illnesses. The rumbling in my stomach makes me wonder if they were right!

DSCF2508 From there we went to the home of Henri, a little guy with cerebral palsy. When Wanda and I came to Guatemala in September we brought along a wheelchair that was donated by our friends the Riffels. We had left it at Hermano Pedro for DSCF2512Dick to use as he chose. As it turns out, Henri was the perfect  candidate for the chair, so our team had the privilege of delivering the chair and assisting with the fitting. What a joy it was to see Henri sitting up straight and unassisted in his new chair!


DSCF2516 Once again our team was overwhelmed by children as we worked on the chair. More candy was passed out and a good time was had by all, especially Bev who was in grandma heaven!


DSCF2523 Our last stop was at the home of a young man named David. David is preparing to graduate after a long and difficult road. He was disabled from birth by spina bifida and his mother fought for his education. She would carry him to school each day on her back, across a stream, to deliver him to school. However, the teachers would leave him in the corner of the room and not work with him. In fact, he was often teased and made fun of by the teachers. Finally his mother withdrew him from school after third grade and he remained unschooled for several years. Through sponsorship Dick was able to arrange for a tutor and, eventually, to get him back in school. On Monday this fine young man will graduate and move on. It was a privilege to meet him and the mother that fought so hard for her son’s education.

I am sure by now that you understand how difficult it is to put a day like this into words. While this blog cannot do it justice, I pray that I have at least given you a glimpse of the impact this day has had on me and the team. Thanks, Dick, for providing us with a great day of ministry and memories!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Cause of Death

DSCF2395 Over the last five days in Guatemala I have seen first-hand so much suffering. I have held malnourished infants, played with neglected children, played soccer with a young man who ran away from home to get away from his father’s severe abuse, and stoked the cheek of a child fighting to breath. This country is truly a place of beauty, wonderful people, and horrible suffering.

DSCF2374 In recent months I have written about the plight of the third world regularly. It is no secret that the number one cause of death in these places is diarrhea, followed closely by malaria. It is also well known that a lack of clean drinking water produces cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and a variety of other ailments. Likewise, you probably know about the plague of malnutrition which kills so many.  In all, approximately 26,500 children die every 24 hours from poverty related issues.

DSCF2458 But as I have spent time once again in this county I love so much, I have come to an awareness. None of these things are the cause of death. Diarrhea, malaria, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and malnutrition kills no one. Once the post-mortem studies on each of these precious people are completed, they all share the same cause of death…apathy.

DSCF2336 Each of the above ailments are completely preventable and treatable with medication and supplies found at our local drug store and super market. It is not an issue of resources, because more than enough resources lie in the pockets and bank accounts of church-goers in the USA. It is not an issue of awareness, because we know the world is suffering. And it is not an issue of access as the third world is simply a few hours flight away for the price of most families’ entertainment budget for a month or two. The issue is apathy.

DSCF2449 Let me make it clear that I am not advocating more US aid or government intervention. Whenever foreign aid is involved it is inefficient and seldom reaches the true needs. What I am praying for is the church of Jesus Christ casting off apathy, giving, and going to the places of suffering and touching lives with the love of God.

DSCF2390 Currently there is a small handful of believers who have taken up the call to go, love, and help. Far more are needed. If the professing body of Christ is to ever make a world impact, those numbers must increase significantly from the “radical” few to the common many.

As a believer who knows the need and has the resources and the access I am responsible. The days of expecting someone else to do something has passed. I will not allow another child to die due to my apathy. Will you?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Guatemala Again!

Written Nov 2, 9:00 pm but posting was delayed due to internet problems

Once again I find myself back in Guatemala leading a Hope for Home ministry team. It is so wonderful to be back with the children I have grown to love so deeply! Our team, although small, is great and have embraced the children with abandon and joy.

DSCF2353 Today has been both wonderful and challenging. It started out at Hermano Pedro as we spent time holding and playing with the children. Once again, bubbles are in great demand, and the newest hit is the Flying, Screaming Rocket Balloons that I purchased at Wal-Mart for one dollar. You blow them up and release them and they fly around the room making loud, obnoxious noises. However, the noise is usually drowned out by the laughter of the children.

As always, we are fighting the battle to keep the kids out of their cribs during the day. The mindset of the caregivers continues to insist that the children go back to their cribs as soon as lunch is over, so we continue to sponsor “jail breaks” every afternoon.

DSCF2329 This morning I spent time with David, a little boy in the Anibel ward who continues to struggle with respiratory troubles. Each breath is a battle and his chest retracts deeply each time he inhales. He is on oxygen, but his O2 sats continue to remain low. I stroked his head, massaged his chest, and prayed that he would take another breath. I don’t know how much longer David will live, but I want so desperately for him to experience love and care for whatever time he has left. Please pray for David.

DSCF2330 This trip has been a special treat for me as I have been able to spend quite a bit of time with my good friend Dick Rutgers. Yesterday after church we were able to eat with him and three people who are visiting and helping him with wheelchair seatings. Then today we checked six kids out of Hermano Pedro and took them to Pollo Campero for lunch. What a great time was had by all as they all ate until they were both stuffed and messy!

DSCF2363 This evening we traveled with Dick to Chimaltenango and played soccer with some of his crew (a large group of boys who hang out at Dick’s house and assist him with ministry). After about 30 minutes of soccer in the rain, I find myself exhausted and sore and wondering how I will feel when I try to get out of bed tomorrow morning! What a great time we had with them! Thanks for a great day, Dick!

Tomorrow our team will be working at Casa Jackson, a home for malnourished children on the edge of Antigua. Please pray for our time there.

I will try to keep you updated as the week progresses. Thanks for your prayers! Goodnight from Antigua, Guatemala!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Painful Downsizing

DSCF2308 Currently there is a yard sale going on in our front yard. This is the third one we have held in the last five months since we have decided to downsize our lives and move to Guatemala. When we made the decision to do this, it seemed like an easy choice. Why wouldn’t we get rid of the junk that has cluttered our house and lives so long in order to make an eternal difference?

But the reality of actually letting go of the possessions that hold so many memories is actually harder than I anticipated. There are a few items that were especially difficult to see go. Already this morning I said goodbye to my first shotgun (a single shot .410) that my father bought for me when I was ten. The gun is just an object, but the man who gave it to me is a man that I loved dearly and is no longer with us. In some ways, I felt as if I sold a significant link to my dad and wondered, as I did so, if I was betraying him. That was hard. Profit: $55.00.

We also sold our wedding china. I bought it for Wanda right before our wedding. I actually bought two sets of eight because we were planning for years of ministry that would involve lots of entertaining. Of course, we never dreamed we would have ten children, leaving room for only four guests! It has traveled with us from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to four houses in Ohio. We ate many special meals off that china and entertained wonderful friends. (Previous members of our leadership teams will remember them from our yearly Christmas dinners.) It has been sold now. Profit: $150.00.

Wanda is selling her favorite childhood toy, a wooden kitchen center with cabinets, a sink, an oven, and a “window” showing a beautiful outdoors scene cut from a magazine. It was made for her by her father, and she loves it dearly. It hasn’t sold yet, but when it does it will leave with some very precious memories. Likely profit: $20.00 – 30.00.

Those are just a few of the hundreds of items to which we are saying goodbye. Birthday and Christmas gifts, lovingly made arts and crafts, my old comic book collection, and so much more. And once they leave, we can never recover or reclaim them. And it can leave me wondering if we are doing the right thing.

Then I think of Guatemala and the children who are waiting for us there. These children were created in the image of God and are so valuable to Him that He died for them. Jesus would never die for an old shotgun or china or a toy. He would not think of dying for a house or an automobile. But He would die for the sake of humanity, His greatest and most loved creation. There is no comparing the value of an object to a life. A life will always outweigh a possession on any worthwhile scale.

And I will take comfort in knowing that my dad, who now has the perfect eternal perspective, would understand and want me to sell anything and everything he gave me in order to save lives and souls. I have not betrayed him, I have honored both him and my heavenly Dad.

So, we will continue to sell our possessions, at times with a tear in our eyes. And we do it so we can get to Guatemala as quickly as possible to love the unloved and care for God’s masterpieces.  Profit: Priceless and Eternal.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shooting Bullets in the Wrong Direction

DSCF1442a Over the week I have been a listening ear to a friend of mine who has been going through struggles with a local church. I am an outsider who is hearing everything through the filter of my friend, but as best as I can determine she and her husband has been asked to leave their church because of their passion for ministering to the poor. It seems that the questions they are asking of the congregation and its leadership have made people uncomfortable, and, instead of facing those questions head-on, they are just making them go away.

I can relate to the plight of my friends. Over the last three-and-a-half years my family and I have spoken at over 100 churches across the eastern half of the US. During those times we have experienced both the best and the worst that the church has to offer, sometimes seeing both within the same congregation. We have seen people rise to the challenge of true discipleship while others became angry when confronted with a Gospel that expects life change. And during this time we have seen people who have plenty of weapons and ammunition to use for the Kingdom, but instead fire the bullets within the church instead of at their real enemies.

DSCF1309 It is the plague of near-sited Christianity. We see so clearly the needs, struggles, and faults within the walls of our churches, but are blind to a dying world that surrounds us. We focus so readily on meetings, committees, classes, programs, and budgets and begin to believe those things really matter. And when someone or something comes along that causes us to see beyond those things it is easy to feel threatened, offended, or just plain angry. It shakes the status quo and invades our comfort zones and we don’t like it. At that moment it is far easier to shoot the messenger and resume our previously scheduled lives than to put on the glasses of the Gospel and allow ourselves to be changed.

Meanwhile there is a war raging outside our doors, and instead of fighting God’s battles out there, we fight a civil war within our ranks. So the enemy continues to devour those for whom Christ died and the American church does little or nothing.

CRW_1961.CRW The real enemy of souls is seen everyday through his handiwork. He kills 26,500 children a day from poverty related illnesses. He drags entire people groups into hopelessness and despair. He devours entire countries through warlords and drug cartels. He leaves children orphaned through those same wars and diseases like AIDS. And he blinds people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is their only hope and salvation.

And the church, who is the body of the living Christ, turns its weapons on itself instead of firing its bullets right into the heart of the enemy. The church who could change this world in Jesus’ name does nothing to stand against the Devil’s schemes.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray the following:

"'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

What if we stopped seeing this as a prayer for the world and started seeing it as a prayer for God’s people? Then we would realize that it is our responsibility to bring God’s kingdom to this world by accomplishing His will through our obedience. And, when that happens, the enemy will not be able to retreat fast enough as God’s will covers the earth like a flood.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done through me on earth as it is in heaven!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Home Again…For A While

As I type these words we are at approximately 36,000 feet on a Delta MD88 headed from Atlanta to Washington Dulles. As always at this point, Wanda and I are experiencing mixed emotions. We cannot wait to see our kids who are waiting for us in Pennsylvania, so we are anxious to get there. But, having said goodbye to our children at Hermano Pedro this morning, we are also hurting.

DSCF2146a Over the last several days we have visited some wonderful ministries and had key meetings that have refined our vision and provided us with some much needed guidance. We also had the privilege of checking Gloria and Louis out of HP and spending our last afternoon in Antigua with them in the park. What a wonderful time we had with them putting their feet in the fountain, eating ice cream, and simply holding them without nurses looking over our shoulders! (Louis and Gloria are two of our 40 or 50 favorites!)

One thing that makes our departure from Guatemala easier is that it is taking us one step closer to getting there full-time. When we return home our lives will be filled with activity as we sell off our possessions, make home repairs, and put our house on the market.
And as we complete this checklist we do so with clearer direction as a result of this trip.

DSCF2093a As I stated in an earlier post, this trip has answered some questions while also providing us with additional ones. However, we realize that these new questions are just a part of our journey to Guatemala.

As we jump whole-heartedly into preparations for our move I would ask you to please pray for us in the following ways:

  • DSCF2034a We are prayerfully considering a partnership with an existing orphan ministry in Guatemala. This partnership would enable us to function under their association as a licensed care-giver for children and avoid lots of red-tape. Please pray for God’s guidance on both us and the ministry.
  • Please pray for God’s continued provision for our family during this transition. We will have to make at least one more trip (likely two) to Guatemala to meet with a ministry board and secure our housing. In addition, there are necessary expenditures in preparing our home to sell. Finally, there are lots of cost involved in the actual move. Please pray that God will meet each of these needs at just the right moment.
  • We will be attempting to sell our home without the assistance of an agent. Due to the current state of the housing market we have lost much of the equity in our home and we need the 6.5% fee for our move. Please pray that God provides a buyer at just the right time.
  • Hope for Home Ministries’ Board of Directors continues their search for my replacement. Please pray that God will lead us to the right person for the job.
  • Also, please pray for the children of Guatemala. Under the current international adoption shutdown special needs children are suffering the most. In addition, Guatemala is now experiencing drought conditions that have driven up the cost of food. This means that the country’s poor are struggling more than ever. And in a country that has huge numbers of malnourished children, this is catastrophic.
  • And, as always, please pray that the church of Jesus Christ will rise up and truly be the Church in the midst of a dying world.

More to come! Thanks for following and praying!


Monday, September 21, 2009

Bubbles, Squirt Guns & Guidance

God is apparently teaching me patience and preparing me for life in Guatemala. This is my fifth attempt to post this blog but I have been unable to do so for the last three days due to unreliable internet access, so there is a lot to cover!

The last several days at Hermano Pedro have been some of the most rewarding times of ministry we have ever experienced. We have seen major breakthroughs with several of the kids through the use of bubbles and squirt guns. (Yes, you did read that correctly…bubbles and squirt guns!)

DSCF1825 On Thursday we brought a few bottles of bubbles to blow with the children only to find that it was a big hit with one of the older residents, Miriam. She is a normally sad young lady who seldom smiles or laughs unless her family is visiting. So we were greatly surprised when we blew bubbles all around her and she broke into unrestrained laughter. From that point forward Miriam opened up to us and began to smile whenever we entered the room. It is so wonderful to see the happiness in her eyes!

Those same 99 cent bubbles also brought Lionel out of his shell following a series of seizures that left him mostly unresponsive. As soon as the bubbles began to fly, so did his breathless laughter!

DSCF1948 Another great idea we had was to bring in squirt guns. It nearly got us into trouble with the nurses, though, when Maynor grabbed one and wheeled into the wards to shoot the other kids still in their cribs! We laughed as we heard the happy squeals from those rooms and the voice of a nurse chasing him out! Isn’t it great when kids get to be kids? All of the older kids turned their guns on me soon after, so I donned a plastic poncho and took them all on. I don’t think I have ever heard that much laughter in the halls of HP. Thank you, God, for such incredible times with these incredible children!

The last few days have also been filled with numerous meetings. On Friday we met with Donnie Hernandez, one of the directors of Casa Bernabe. This wonderful family-based orphanage cares for and educates 160 orphans in the name of Jesus, and they have expressed interest in a possible partnership with us to establish a home for children with special-needs. We had a wonderful time together as we shared our hearts and visions with one another. At first glance Casa Bernabe seems to be a good fit for us and us for them. However we need to hear from God before proceeding. So we are taking time to pray and seek God for His will. On Monday we will be traveling to Casa Bernabe to see their ministry in action. Please pray for God’s guidance for us and them.

Saturday we met with Dick Rutgers ( to seek his wisdom as someone who has been on the ground in Guatemala for ten years ministering to children. It was a great time together as Dick challenged us with good questions and great advise. I thank God for his example and the lives he touches with Christ’s love.

DSCF1892 Saturday afternoon Dick dropped us off at Casa Jackson, a home for malnourished children in Jocotenango. We spent time holding children and enjoying their presence. Leaving was hard, though. When we laid them back in their cribs and waved goodbye many of them began to cry, leaving us wondering if we did more damage than good.

DSCF1919 From Casa Jackson we hired a Tuk Tuk to drive us back to Antigua. (A Tuk Tuk is a three wheeled motorcycle that is enclosed.) It was a bumpy ride that involved several near accidents, at least from an American perspective. We will get to enjoy this experience again on Tuesday when we travel to the Scheel Center via the same mode of transportation.

In the midst of all of this we also found time to meet with a realtor and view several homes that are for rent. In that process we found a nearly perfect one for our future ministry and were very excited about it. However, after some time to think and pray about it we realize that it is not God’s direction for us.

One thing that God has shown us during this trip is how little we need to know in advance. God seldom gives a road map for His call. Instead, He prefers to keep us close by his side and show us where to place out foot next. And that is a good place to be. In fact, as we face this major transition for our family and ministry it is easy to become overwhelmed by all the unanswered questions. Yet we can lie down and sleep peacefully tonight knowing that the One who planned the journey is holding tightly to our hands.

Goodnight from La Antigua, Guatemala!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

In Front of People

DSCF1777 Today was the 25th Anniversary of Hermano Pedro. The normally drab place was decorated with balloons and streamers. A mariachi band was hired to play music early and a series of bands are scheduled throughout the day. The children were dressed in the finest clothes available and none were left in their cribs.

We were there early and then had to leave as we had an appointment in Godinez, so we missed the middle portion of the celebration.  But while we were there we saw plenty of officials and dignitaries stopping in for their moment in front of the cameras. I assure you that most of them have seldom graced the halls of the wards and do not know a single child by name.

DSCF1779 The upside of today is that the children were treated much better than the typical day. They were not sentenced to their cribs at noon and the meals they ate were better than the usual fare. They even had cake and candy. And yet I found myself gritting my teeth and desiring to “cleanse the temple” and expose their hypocrisy.

I was reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:1:

"Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people in order to be noticed by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (ISV)

If only these officials and dignitaries could understand the joy and satisfaction of simply loving these wonderful children for who they are. If only the nurses could see the need to keep these little ones out of their cribs for more than a few hours every day. If only these people could love these children simply because God loves them, whether the cameras are present or not.

DSCF1786Tomorrow will come and the typical schedule will resume. No music. No decorations. Just the mind numbing drugs and long hours in cribs.

Dear God, please raise up an army of your followers who will love these precious ones when the party is over and the cameras are off.

In the midst of our day we spent four hours driving to and from a ministry called Safe Homes for Children. Our trip there and back was filled with mountains, twists and turns, and steep drop-offs that kept us praying much of the way. But the journey was worthwhile as we felt God’s hand upon it and experienced some very clear direction for our coming move and ministry.

Please keep the remainder of our trip in your prayers as we continue to seek God’s definite direction.

Coming Home Again

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

DSCF1659  Wanda and I are back home in Guatemala . We have flown in for 10 days in order to make preparations for our coming move here and to determine ministry direction. The next week or so will be filled with meetings with real estate agents and ministry leaders. And every free moment will be spent with our wonderful little ones at Hermano Pedro.

We arrived yesterday afternoon, settled into our motel, and immediately headed to HP to see the kids. It was so wonderful to see the recognition and excitement in their eyes when they saw us. We realized anew God’s call to this place. The only thing that would make it perfect is having the rest of our kids here with us. But that day is coming!

We were exhausted after a long day (we were up at 3:30 am to catch our flight out of DC) and went to bed early. We felt like new people when we awoke this morning and headed back to HP for a wonderful morning with the kids.

DSCF1652 This afternoon was spent meeting with the realtor and exploring parts of Antigua that we had not yet discovered. We stumbled upon a soccer game played on gravel (Ouch!) as well as some market places that are not frequented by tourists. It was a wonderful back door tour of this very old city.

Please be in prayer for us over this time. We have numerous meetings scheduled that will be instrumental in helping us to determine specific directions for our move and ministry here. Please pray that God guides these meetings. In addition, pray that God leads us to divine appointments that are not scheduled by us but are planned by Him.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Finding Our Home In Guatemala

DSCF1210 If you have followed this journal for a while, you have seen my growing heart for the special-needs children of Guatemala. God has continued to break me with their needs and fill me with a passion to touch their lives. What you have been unable to see is that God has been doing the same thing in my wife, Wanda. This journey has been challenging yet wonderful as God has allowed us to see the world, at least in part, through His eyes.

As a part of this journey we have also seen the American church in a new light. Living as the most prosperous group of believers that the world has ever seen, it has done very little to save a dying world in the last 50 years. But as we have gained this perspective and found ourselves angered by the lack of love shown by the church, God has been quick to convict us that we have spent 20 years in the leadership of local churches and have done very little to change things. In other words, He has told us to get the log out of our own eye first.

And so, after months of brokenness and insight from the Spirit, this journey has led us to begin a new journey together.

God has called us to move our family to Guatemala and open a group home for children with special needs. Our desire is to create a setting in which children are raised and cared for in a family atmosphere instead of an institution. Each household unit will have a husband and wife who care for children with support staff to assist. They will eat, play, and grow as a family. There is much more included in this vision, but this sums up the heart of it.

CRW_1953.CRW On September 15-24 Wanda and I will be flying back to Guatemala to meet with a realtor and a couple of ministries that have expressed interest in partnering with us in this endeavor. Please pray that God will guide these meetings and that we will all clearly hear God’s voice. In addition, please pray that God will lead us into meetings that were unplanned by us but orchestrated by Him.

In addition, we have begun the overwhelming task of selling most of our possessions, preparing our house and vehicles to be put on the market, and figuring out how to get the few possessions we choose to keep to Guatemala. We would appreciate your prayers for us through this process.

As we have begun to share this direction with our friends we have, at times, been disappointed with the responses. These disappointing responses have fallen into two main categories:

  1. You are crazy! – You must be out of your mind to move your large family to a third world country! God would never expect you to do something like that for Him!
  2. You are heroes! – Wow! It is so cool that you are willing to give up everything and care for those children! You are so noble!

In reality, it is neither crazy or heroic. (Okay, on some days we may border on the crazy side, but not because of this decision.) It is discipleship. And the fact that this kind of response to a dying world by a believers is so rare only serves to show how far the western church has strayed from biblical faith. We have honestly reached the point that we believe that Jesus gave everything to save a dying world yet believe we don’t need to give anything. So we spend out time on church-growth programs and surveys instead of loving the world around us sacrificially. Instead of becoming living sacrifices to God we have become self-absorbed brats demanding God’s blessings and stomping our feet if we don’t get them.

For that selfishness and near-sightedness my family and I have had to repent. And if American churches don’t experience that same brokenness and change their direction they will have the blood of a dying world on their hands. God does not love our buildings, our budgets, or our committee meetings. God loves the world so much He died for it. Don’t you think it is time that those who bear His name live out those same priorities?

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

- Jesus (Matthew 5:13-16)