Twiddle Your Thumbs and Mountains Won’t Move

Sitting in “The Book” study with our senior staff the other day, I realized how much the understanding of context gives us a deeper understanding of scripture.  I’ve always known this, but usually I have to learn the context first.  Here in the Horn however, we are living in many of the contexts.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.  See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also, be patient.  Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.           James 5: 7-8

The farmers here spend all year plowing and planting and praying for a rainy season that will nourish and not destroy their crops.  They must be constantly working towards the harvest.  They know they must work the fields in order to see the fruit, but it is up to God to provide and to bring forth the fruit from the earth.  But they must be patient until the time is right to harvest their fields and glean their grains, working diligently towards the end goal.

We to, must be working consistently towards the harvest, the end goal.

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”                  Matthew 24:14

If the farmer sits back and twiddles his thumbs, the Father could still bring forth fruit from the earth, but He won’t.  He blesses our hard work and it glorifies Him.  If we sit back and twiddle our thumbs, waiting for the Lord to return, He could still move mountains, but He likely won’t.  He delights in us as His children, as His laborers.  He will bless our work and gives us the privilege of taking part in His work.

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My children are always wanting to help me.  Most times, it would be easier to do things without their insistent help.  It is a privilege for them to assist their mama and makes them feel valuable, loved, and useful.  If only our hearts were always as eager and insistent as our children, to help our Heavenly Father in His work.

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.  And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.         Matthew 21:43-44

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African Walking Sticks, TSA, and Dirty Underwear; From Rags to Riches

Recently, we had the privilege to meet up with some of our closest friends from KY.  They were here in the Horn to bring 3 beautiful sisters into their family.  We were so blessed to get to spend some time with them, and getting to know their girls before they headed back to the States.  We deeply cherish their friendship and are always encouraged by each other.  And we are so like-minded.  Dirty minds think alike….

A mutual friend of ours from our home body asked us to pick up some walking sticks to send back with our friends.  These gifts were quite long and awkward shapen, so we had to get creative on how we were going to package them.  Driving by a furniture store on our way to say good bye to our friends (still unsure how we were going to pack these gifts), we noticed a broken down box, about 3 feet tall.  So we stopped and the man working at the store kindly let us take the box.  When we got to their guest house, clothes and items were flying everywhere in a last minute effort to pack (well…not quite last minute, but definitely last hour…).  Their 3 girls were serenading us with “mezmor” or “church songs” as we taped the dilapidated box back together and gently placed the purchased items inside.

Wanting to make sure they did not get damaged, we had to get creative with how we were going to cushion the sticks (unfortunately you cannot find bubble wrap in the post offices here:(  Alan suggested some of their clothes.  Even better, our friend DA decided we should stick it to TSA, and pack them in dirty clothes.  And to top it off, dirty underwear (we let him do that part of the packing).  I suggested that he put the underwear back on and leave something extra, but even he wouldn’t stoop that low…that is unless he already had left something there (I love you DA:)  Alan and I finished up the job by using nearly a whole roll of packing tape to secure the box.

As ridiculous as it may seem, when I recount this story, I can’t help but think about a verse from Isaiah that says:

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

TSA fell for it.  Sure enough, they broke into the box.  I can imagine the poor soul who not only had to cut through all that tape and work to tape it all back up, but had to sift through a weeks worth of dirty underwear and clothes.  I can imagine him picking through each piece of clothing with his tight latex gloves on, holding them at an arm length’s distance, and thinking about what kind of sick freak would use dirty underwear, of all things, to package these beautiful gifts in.

How true this is for us.  Our righteous deeds are just as disgusting to the Father as dirty underwear.  He sees through every “good” deed to our hearts and knows our motivations.  When we are motivated by selfish ambitions, presuming ourselves to be righteous and holy because of our “good” works, He will hold us at a distance, like poop stained underwear (not saying yours were poop-stained DA:).

1 John 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

But that is not the end of it.  Verse 9 goes on to tell us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

My best was like dirty garments, but now He has washed me and given me clean garments.  Now I can please the Father because He has redeemed me, because He now lives in me.

Please lift up the people we are working with here in the Horn, who are so completely consumed with their “righteous” good works; that they might truly know Him, hoping in His works rather than their own.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

-1 John 3:2-3

 

A Lesson On Empathy

I have never been a “feeler”.  You know those people who can listen to anyone tell a story and no matter how good of a story teller that person is, they can literally feel what the other person is feeling or may have felt?  “Uber-empathizers.”  I have always been amazed by people with the gift of empathy and wondered how in the world they could feel a person’s joy, pain, sorrow, or frustration without ever of having a similar experience themselves.

Romans 12:15 says,

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

I have been praying for this gift for awhile now.  Often times I’ve felt guilt because I cannot make myself feel the slightest of what another person is feeling, unless I have a similar experience of which I can relate.  Especially as I have spent time here in the Horn with women who have endured such hardships, abandonment, and utter poverty.  I hear several difficult stories a day, and although I feel sympathy for these women and children, I cannot empathize.  So many times I have been frustrated by myself and feel like a horrible, hard-hearted, desensitized person with walls all around me.

The women of the Sr. Staff

The women of the Sr. Staff

I am not sure what the change, maybe it has something to do with our adoption and the difficult conversations we’ve had to their birth mother and best friends in the transition home, but this week I have felt the pain of these women as they tell me their stories.  My heart is heavy this week.  My eyes are tired from tears.  But I have a deeper love and appreciation for the people of the Horn than I did last week even.  Somehow, by divine power, I understand their struggles and pain.  Although I am by no means from a “wealthy” family, we never struggled.  I have never had to work hard labor and have always had the support of my family and good friends to trust and confide in.  How is it then, that I can feel what these women from stark different backgrounds are feeling?

The other day, the hospital rang Grace Centre and asked if we could look after a 14 year old boy who came from the countryside.  As I sat with our social worker to interview him, we learned that he had been in the hospital, by himself, for a month.  He had previously lived with his grandmother in the countryside who sent him to the city for medical treatment.  Both of his parents had died and he has no brothers or sisters.  Since be admitted to the hospital, his grandmother has gone to live at the church, which has left him homeless.  This bright young boy has passed 8th grade (which is a BIG deal here) but he had left his school certificates with his grandmother and cannot enroll in school here in the city without them.  The only option was for him to make the 8 hour trek by leg to the countryside, get his certificate, and return the 8 hours.  After calling up his doctor to make sure he was strong enough for the trip, we gave him enough money for food and transport (when available) and sent him on his way.  Fourteen years old, but like an adult.  He seemed so strong and unfazed by the events of his life.  I cried.  I couldn’t imagine being 14 and completely on my own.  I have a niece who is nearly 14 and a nephew not far behind her.  I kept thinking, “what if this were them?”  I felt myself starting to question God and becoming resentful.

Our social worker and sister in Chr*st noticed the tears in my eyes and knew it wasn’t like me.  I have a hard time allowing others to serve me, let alone minister to me, but I allowed her to speak and soaked in her words.  She said that there are many many hard stories.  We must be strong so that we can serve others better.  We must see the hope in situations rather than focusing on the disparity (ironically, I had been saying the same thing to her weeks earlier as she had struggled with hearing anymore difficult stories).

Was it possible to empathize with difficult situations, and focus on the hopeful rays of light at the same time?  I had never really thought about it, but what I realized is that I had been assuming that in order to truly serve these women, I must be able to feel what they feel.  But I had forgotten that while it is important to empathize, I must also be able to speak words of hope, and BELIEVE those words to be true for these women.  I must set my eyes on the one true God who can make all things new and heal all suffering.  I need to be able to feel their suffering and weep with them, while being strong enough to set my mind on things of the Sp*rit in order to speak hope into their lives.  It’s a “both/and” equation.

Romans 8:5

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Sp*rit set their minds on the things of the Sp*rit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Sp*rit is life and peace”.

To set our minds only on a feeling, is to set our mind only on the flesh and worldly circumstances.  But we must set our minds on things of the Sp*rit, being heart broken by the spiritual state of darkness that so many people live in, and being comforted by the hope that we are promised through the *Son.

Romans 8:18

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Sp*rit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.

 

The World Will Soon Have Two Less Orphans

Today was very emotional and very long and to be honest, I am relieved the events and conversations of the day are over.  We started off with a meeting with the mother of our boys.  At first I thought she was drunk as she was slightly shaky and off balance and when she was asked to close the door to the office, she was trying to close the closet door.  Turns out, she had “gotten sick” this morning at work (must have had a seizure of some sort) and had gone home to rest before she came to Grace.  She had forgotten that anyone was wanting to adopt her children, but at the same time is very proactive in trying to get what she needs in order to get Habtamu’s father’s death certificate.  Apparently she has not connected the two.  I wonder if part of her disability isn’t PTSD as when he died, he was in an accident and she had to go identify the body, which apparently was unidentifiable.  Anyways, her only concern was that she wants to see her boys.  We explained that it is our plan to stay in Ethiopia, but only God truly knows the future and there is a possibility of us moving away.  She also was told that we would be in America for time to time, but regardless of where we are in the world, we will always send pictures and notes and will come back and visit.  We were surprised at how aware she is of her disability.  She said that she knows she cannot care for the boys (although she only ever mentions Habtamu) and that if they lived with her, they would have the same “head problem”.  We told her we know she loves them very much and we respect her and think she is very brave for allowing someone else to care for her children.  Surprisingly, she was not as emotional as I expected her to be.  But she knows that she will continue to see the boys as always so nothing really is going to change for her.

Next we met with our 2 boys.  Our psychologist and Dee (Grace director, close friend, and sister in Chr*st) were both present for that.  It was really hard to read them.  Andreas had the huge smile on his face as he always does and Habtamu stayed pretty straight faced, with an occasional smile as he glanced at either of us.  I’m not sure if the information was such a shock, or if he was worried about the others, or if he totally understood.  We asked him if he wanted to be present when we told the others, and he said yes.  He did say he wanted to come live with us, and we told him that we would be staying in Ethiopia and they would continue to see their mother and have their same friends. Later in the day they told a friend who is also volunteering here, that they were coming to live with us and seemed excited.

Finally, we had the other 2 boys come.  There were 3 of them, but one has been staying with his family and will likely go to live with them permanently (this is the one who said I was his mom just a few weeks ago).  One of them is about 7 years old, and nothing really seems to phase him, but I wonder how much he keeps in instead.The other child is about 9 and very tender hearted.  Dee, our psychologist, social worker, lead nanny from the transition home, and another Grace staff who is head over all the nannies and also lives at the transition home with the children were all in the room to add extra support and to help comfort the others.  This was the hardest conversation I’ve ever had and even now still feel so heavy hearted.  We started by saying how much we loved them and want to be more involved in their lives.  That we pray for all the children at the transition home and believe that God has a family picked out for each one of them.  Also we said that we had been praying and feel that God has told us to adopt Hab and And.  We said that our prayer was that they could be happy for H and A, and that this would give them great hope.  That H and A had waited so long for a family (Habtamu has been in Grace care for 6 years) and God had provided and that He would provide for them too.  I do truly believe this, but was so hard to say as I felt more like I was hurting them rather than giving them hope.  Dee wisely added that it is okay to feel sad and happy at the same time and again emphasized how loved they are.  There was an awkward silence and then I got up to hug the two boys.  That’s when the tears started rolling.  Everyone in the room was crying, even sweet little Andreas who probably had no idea what we crying for.  After sitting there for another 20 minutes or more, the tears started to dry and smiles covered their faces again, although they were unusually quiet.  My heart hurts for these 2 boys.  I keep thinking…what’s 2 more?  But there aren’t just 2 more, there are millions more orphans in this world who so badly need a family.

UNICEF and global partners define an orphan as a child who has lost one or both parents. By this definition there were over 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005. This large figure represents not only children who have lost both parents, but also those who have lost a father but have a surviving mother or have lost their mother but have a surviving father. 

Of the more than 132 million children classified as orphans, only 13 million have lost both parents. Evidence clearly shows that the vast majority of orphans are living with a surviving parent grandparent, or other family member.  95 per cent of all orphans are over the age of five.”  (www.unicef.org)

Is the Body doing it’s part to care for these children?  We seem so pro-life and anti-abortion, quick to point our fingers and shake our heads at anyone who utters the word, but what are we doing to solve the problem?  Are we praying?  Are we giving money to support orphan care and adoptive family funds?  Are we fostering and adopting ourselves?

We are afraid to disrupt our perfect little family life.  What if the child has an emotional problem that will be difficult to deal with?  We can’t mess with birth order.  We can’t adopt a child with disabilities.  We must have baby with a “clean slate”; unblemished by a background less fortunate and ideal than ours.  “Open” adoption?…forget about it.

We’ve read so many books about adoption that we tend to go by what the books and blogs say more than by what the Spirit is telling us.  I’m not saying it isn’t important to consider our families and current situations, and all the factors involved in adopting a child.  We do need to seek wisdom of others and PRAYERFULLY consider all these things, while simultaneously forgetting about our selfish preferences and focusing on what the Father desires of us.  We need to put the books down, lay our thoughts and conceptions and own desires aside, and open our ears and our hearts to what God is telling us to do.  You might be surprised how he can change your heart if you allow him. It will be difficult and messy and emotional, but this is the life we are called to.

(Here are two blogs of some of our closest friends who have done just that and the Father has blessed, and is blessing at this moment, the outcomes):

http://linds4edge.wordpress.com

http://lightbreaksforth.com

“Rel*g*on that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  James 1:27

One person cannot give a home to the millions of orphans in the world who need a family.  But the entire Body of Chr*st should be able to.  Why aren’t we?

Orchestrated Events

Today was the first of what I (Alan) hope to be many trips to the nearby countryside villages around the city where we are living.

After a discussion last Friday with one of the Grace Center workers, who I have become very close with, we decided that it would be good to do some spiritual journeys out into the nearby countryside villages. We are planning to go out (two by two like JC sent out his followers in Luke10) every other Sunday, visiting various villages in search of people of peace.  In some of these villages, there are already known people of peace, so we will likely try to follow up on some of those relationships as well.

Only the Father can orchestrate some unique occurrences that lead to greater opportunities in these places.  Oftentimes, foreigners roaming around these villages cause suspicion rather than hospitality.  A unique occurrence happened today.

This particular day we were going to visit a village (called Hamu) about 30 minutes from our city.  My Ethiopian partner already had a few friends there, so today we were simply going to see one of his friends in this town.  That visit went well, and we were able to walk around this village some, see the local “O” church and market, and talk to a few children of whom we shared some stories about JC.

That was only about 1 hour of time, but we decided that we should just go ahead and return home.  As we were boarding the local taxi van, we noticed that a rear side window had recently been busted.  Glass was still on the seat and floor.  Thinking that was a bit odd, we stayed on anyways and headed for home.  About half way to home, our taxi pulled over to the side of the road.  The driver and money man stepped off the van and proceeded to have a meeting with some of the locals that had gathered.

We quickly realized that this meeting was in reference to the broken window on the van.

As details unravelled, a woman from this village where we had stopped was responsible for breaking the window.  She was not present at first, but did arrive after 5-10 minutes to explain what had happened.  Her cow was about to run in to the middle of the road, so she picked up a rock and threw it at the animal.  The rock missed the cow, and hit the back window of this van driving by (what are the odds).

Although this whole incident was an accident, the van driver wants money to repair the window of his van (understandable).  He had even called someone to find out the cost of repair (about 40 USD).  This seems very cheap, and in America we would gladly pay the money without a thought.  However, countryside people are often very poor, and this woman couldn’t pay even 5 cents.  Unfortunately the van driver was not very gracious and held the whole community responsible for paying up, or he would have the lady (who has two children) put in jail.

I did not realize all of this information until we were finally about to leave and continue home.  In fact, I had been kind of annoyed waiting around (meetings like this take a long time) and we were even about to try and get on another van.  However, when I had heard that the cost to replace the window would only be 40 USD, I had started to think that I could just offer to pay for it, everyone would be happy, and we could be on our way.

Once I understood the full story (as we were about to leave) I told the driver that I would pay him for the window, but he had to promise to not bother these countryside people, and let them be free. Since all he really wanted was someone to pay to replace his broken window, he was quite surprised, but more than happy with the offer.

We then told the villagers not to worry, that we were going to pay the expense, but what we wanted in return was to be able to come back and visit them and have coffee at their house.  They were ecstatic, in-particularly the lady responsible who was trying to kiss my feet.  I assured them that this was not my gift, but a gift from the Father.

They were thrilled to have me come back and visit them.  What began as an annoying inconvenience in my mind, turned out to be an incredible open door for me and my local partner to return to this place and share the good news and is the perfect bridge into sharing with them the true story of creation and JC.  Just as I paid the debt for this lady and kept her from being thrown into jail, JC has paid our debt and saved us from our sins.  WOW!  We are so excited about the opportunity G*d has given us.  Only He can orchestrate such things.  There are many vans that go to and from our city and Hamu.  There are many people traveling daily.  But the Father had our van chosen for us.

This is not a story about me being a kind, generous person, and I hope no one reads it that way.  The only reason I have 40 bucks is because many people generously support our work here.  This is a story of the Father’s goodness and His faithfulness to give us opportunities.  Step out in faith…go.  The only thing I did today was to go out with a friend with the intention of searching for people or peace to share Truth with.  I was faithful to go, and the Father was faithful to open doors.  I have no idea what will happen in this village, but we will return and share the good news.  So, can a broken window lead to salvation for a whole village? I hope so.  I pr*y so.

Please pr*y with us for this village.  Pr*y that the Father will begin softening the hearts of the people there and that when we return they will be ready to hear the good news.  Pr*y against attacks from the enemy who will try and stop us from sharing. Thank you for journeying with us.

-Alan

 

Sons & Daughters

One of my favorite stories in the Word, found in Matthew 12, is when JC is speaking to the people.  His mother and brothers were asking to speak to him, but he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  JC gestured towards his disciples and replied, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

It blows my mind, that the *King himself (no, not Elvis), considers his followers as much of his family as his own birth mother and siblings.  He loves us so much, that we literally become his family.  No signatures needed, no oaths, no birth certificates, home studies, paper work, or stamps.  Only His love and grace.

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.  If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.  See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”                        1 John 2:38- 3:1

Bam that’s it.  See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God: and so we are!

As we have begun the process of adopting two brothers, I can’t help but wish it were that easy.  If they could be my sons simply because I love them that much.

I am also reminded of my human limitations as we proceed with the adoption.  There are currently 3 other older boys in the children’s home where our boys are living (and 30 younger children as well).  I so badly want to take them all in, to the point of my heart aching and my stomach turning.  Often I think of what it would be like to take in 5 children at once.  Could we handle it emotionally?  Financially how would we do it, especially having to fundraise and to take occasional trips back to the States?  I know people on the field who have 7, 8, 9, 10 children, so I know it’s not impossible (no I’m not getting ready to announce that we are actually adopting 5 children:).

I am so thankful that our Father does not have worldly or humanly boundaries.  There is no limitation to the number of people that He is able to adopt as sons or daughters into His Kingdom.

John 6:37 says:  “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”    All we have to do is come to Him.

He has no financial burdens.  In Matthew 6, JC says:

“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”….”But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you …” 

He has no time constraints.  We are able to come to Him at any time of any day, and we know that He is listening and responding.

Matthew 7:7  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

Matthew 11:28  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

He has no cultural or language barriers and knows us intimately, even when we do not have the words to communicate with Him.

Matthew 10:30 says, “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered…”

The Lord told Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Romans 8:26  “… For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Honestly, I feel incapable and unprepared to parent two more children, especially ones who cannot communicate their emotional struggles and who have pains deeper than I can understand.  Esther reminds me all the time how defeated I am, when I give her a warning not to do something and she points her little finger right back and tells me how it really is.  But then the Father reminds through His Word, that He is in control.  As Moses stood before Pharaoh, there was nothing powerful about his staff or eloquent about his words; as David stood up to Goliath with nothing but a sling shot; as Joshua led the Israelites around a stone wall there was nothing strategic about walking in a circle blasting trumpets; as Peter and John sat helplessly in prison while God sent angels to unlock their chains….we see all of their humanity and weaknesses, but we see even more the power of God working miracles through them.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Chr*st may rest upon me.  For the sake of Chr*st, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

*see our post “What’s In a Name” under Our Story