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!