And then came Giving Tuesday

It really is fabulous that we shove our way through Black Friday sales, click “Purchase Now” over and over again on Cyber Monday, and THEN we have Giving Tuesday. It’s like saying, “OK if you have any money left, why not give it to help someone less fortunate?”

I just find it a little backwards that we have Giving Tuesday AFTER we’ve spent money on gifts for people who probably don’t need anything we’ve purchased them. Maybe Giving Tuesday should be BEFORE Thanksgiving?

I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty about anything. It actually really irritates me when I see that being done.

The other day someone posted something about being appalled that none of his Facebook friends donated to his food drive, and he implied that no one cared about the homeless in our community. I immediately took offense to it (I tend to be sensitive about that kind of thing). Just because someone doesn’t give to your cause, doesn’t mean they aren’t giving to another cause. I do my best to give of my time and money, but we can’t give to everything. We just can’t.

However, if you are looking to give this holiday season aren’t sure where to donate, here are a few organizations that I have experience with, and I have seen first hand that they are doing great things in the name of Jesus.

12017597_10153015984556573_9042627776706687868_oDestiny Rescue: In September I went to Thailand where I visited three rescue homes and two prevention homes. This organization is real and legit, and they are making major strides in ending child trafficking in places like Southeast Asia. I’ve spent time with girls who had been trafficked, and I’ve seen how Destiny Rescue uses God’s love to change their lives.

208280_10150151374051573_8138803_nFood for the Hungry:  Many years ago my church began a partnership with Food for the Hungry. Food for the Hungry is so much more than just child sponsorship, and I got to see it with my own two eyes in 2011 when I went to Nicaragua. The organization truly transforms communities, as they commit to them for long periods of time. Your sponsorship does more than help feed a child, it changes the lives of people in an entire village.

1012685_10151453429291573_1152998984_nLifesong for Orphans: Lifesong will always be near and dear to my heart. In 2013 I experienced the work of Lifesong Zambia, and it was one of my favorite mission trips. They are yet another God-centered organization doing great things for the poor in many nations.

1978758_10151969816186573_1983580348_nNakalanda Project: When I lived in Uganda, every month we would go by bus, then boat, then boda out to the village of Nakalanda on an island in Lake Victoria. We would help our friends Stephanie and Rev. Stephen hold their jigger clinics for the local community. But Stephanie and Stephen have done so much more than just jigger clinics in Nakalanda. They, like other organizations I have mentioned, are truly working hard to transform an entire community. They are also two of the greatest people I have ever met!

blog_headerThe Esther School: While I have been to Zambia, I’ve never been to The Esther School, but I can say that it is in good hands with the Costley family. Wayne Costley, who I taught with at Heritage International School in Kampala, Uganda, is the headmaster at this Christian day school in Zambia. Your donations to support the Costley family would be put to good use, as I know the wonderful and selfless hearts of Wayne and Allison and their two beautiful daughters.

Of course, my hope is that you’ll find an organization or missionary to support on a regular basis, but I hope you’ll at least find somewhere to donate today on Giving Tuesday. Maybe it’s not supporting international missions, maybe it’s taking box of food to your local food bank or some winter coats to a homeless shelter. Maybe it’s spending time with a friend who needs some spiritual guidance and support.

Giving is giving, and it’s always a beautiful thing.

However you choose to give, I pray you’ll do it in the name of Jesus. After all, it’s His birthday that causes all this excitement every December.

“He who is generous will be blessed,
for he gives some of his food to the poor.”
Proverbs 22:9

Sometimes your presence is enough

11233499_10152855702181573_1337504488390336071_nPhillip was in his late 20’s and dying of AIDS. His family had disowned him, and day after day he was in his bed, waiting to die. Sister Judith, one of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, helped take care of Phillip. She would change his bed sheets, clean his room and do his dishes.

Sister Judith was a hard worker. She was diligently washing Phillip’s dishes one day when he called out to her.

“Sister Judith!” he yelled from his bedroom. “Come in here!”

“I’m doing your dishes,” she replied. “Need to get this done.”

“I said, come in here,” Phillip shouted back.

Sister Judith went in Phillip’s room to see what he wanted. He pointed at an empty chair beside his bed.

“See that chair?” he said. “Sit in it.”

It was a lesson Sister Judith said she would never forget. She had been running around trying to “help” so much that she missed the importance of simply being there for Phillip, being someone to sit with, someone to talk to, someone to form a relationship with.

Sometimes, your presence is enough. Sure, there are things you can do to help people, but often what helps the most is just being there.

In September I’m going to Thailand with my church and Destiny Rescue. It is not technically a “work trip.” We aren’t building anything or painting any walls, we are simply going to visit. We are going to build relationships with the girls who have been rescued from child trafficking and sexual exploitation.

What does it really matter? Will our presence in Thailand at these rescue homes really make any sort of a difference? I can say with all sincerity and confidence that I know it will. I’ve seen it happen before.

IMG_3287 (2)When I was in Zambia with Lifesong for Orphans, I remember talking with some precious third graders. One said to me, “Why are you here?” I told her we were there to visit, to get to know them and to talk about Jesus with them. She then asked, “How much do you get paid?” My heart broke.

Once I explained to her that those of us who were there were using our vacation days from work to visit, she was absolutely dumbfounded. She couldn’t believe that we were there for them, and even more so, that we had to pay and raise the funds to get there.

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth
for a sincere brotherly love,
love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”
1 Peter 1:22

216059_10150151389976573_735678_nWhen I went to Nicaragua with my church and Food for the Hungry, part of our mission in the village of Terrencio was to dig latrines. While I know it needed to be done, no one seemed overjoyed at what we were doing, but they were more than thrilled when we spent time with them. Our sponsor children and their families were elated when we came to their homes just to chat.

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil;
hold fast to what is good.
Love one another with brotherly affection,
and take delight in honoring each other.”
Romans 12:9-10

One afternoon in Uganda, my friend Debby and I went to visit the father and stepmother of her sponsor child. Their mud home was as clean as a mud home could be, with furniture covered in white sheets, just for us. They even gave us cold bottles of Coke. Rude to refuse their kind gesture, we indulged, and spent the next few hours enjoying our time together. Their hospitality told us what didn’t have to be said.

“You came to see ME,” is what it said. In Zambia. In Nicaragua. In Uganda. “Someone from the other side of the world came just to spend time with me in the name of Jesus.”cross

I find it funny that people assume mission trips have to be filled with doing construction projects. Which is fine, but wasn’t Jesus the ultimate missionary, and what did He do? He spent time with people.

Even after Jesus came back from the dead, He spent time with people. He didn’t dig any latrines or paint any walls. Check out Luke 24:13-39. After the resurrection, Jesus walks a dirt road with two of His followers as a simple, loving gesture.

At first I felt strange asking for financial support as I embarked on this journey to Thailand, but the more I thought about it, I realized it’s just as important as any other mission trip I have gone on. Looking at what these girls have been through and simply being there to love them might actually be even more important than any mission trip I’ve already been on.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20

Learn more about my upcoming trip to Thailand with Destiny Rescue here.

High-quality H2O? Today is World Water Day

bobbleI’ve always found it hard to truly enjoy water unless I was completely, 100% parched. That is, until I got a Bobble. Maybe it’s because it’s cute. It has a red top and filter. It’s design is fun and the bottle is squeezable. The name alone – Bobble- is fun to say. And, of course, the water is delicious.

Since I got my Bobble, my water intake has drastically increased. Nearly every hour I’m heading to the water fountain to fill my Bobble with filtered water, which will then pass through an additional filter before reaching my mouth and making me happy. That’s some seriously “high quality H2O” that Water Boy’s Bobby Boucher would be proud of.

Today is World Water Day. How often do we, in America, really even think about water? It’s such a huge part of our everyday lives that we don’t even notice it. Water isn’t only readily available, but clean, fresh, cold and hot water is readily available to almost everyone. Some people even spend a couple bucks on a bottle of water, one of which they picked out of dozens of choices.

Such is not the case in most places in the world, and I have seen this with my own two eyes. The photo at the top is a stream of water in the village of Terencio in Nicaragua. I took this photo when I was there on a mission trip in 2011. Can you even imagine bathing in that water, let alone drinking it? In some places, they have no choice. That is 480633_10151287503896573_1606328051_nthe only source of water available to them. That picture isn’t of a puddle, it’s of a stream. Often their only source of water.

The picture on the right is one I took in Niger, Africa, where most of their water supply comes from the Niger River, an obviously unclean river. With half the country being covered by the Sahara Desert, water isn’t easy to come by.

According to the World Water Day website, 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. Six to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases.

It breaks my heart when I think of Mayrober, my sponsor child in Nicaragua, having to live with filthy, disease-infested water, as well as all the beautiful children and adults I met while in Niger. I’m thankful that Food for the Hungry and other organizations are doing all they can to bring clean water to these communities.

Take a moment to visit the World Water Day website to learn more about “focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources”. Be thankful today as you drink a glass of water. Not everyone on this planet can get a cool glass of water whenever they please.

World Water Facts and Figures

 

Meeting Mayrober

His picture jumped out at me right away. His giant brown eyes couldn’t be ignored, and I knew he was the one for me. “Mayrober” was his name, and he would be my sponsor child from Nicaragua.

That was a few months before I went to Terrencio, Nicaragua on a church mission trip, and many of us felt led to 200745_10150105570821573_4972463_nsponsor a child from the village through Food for the Hungry. All I knew about Mayrober at the time was that he was five years old and liked to draw. My heart danced when I got my first drawing from Mayrober, and I could hardly wait to meet the little guy on our trip.

When the day came that I would meet Mayrober, I was a little nervous. OK, I was horrified. For four months he had been a piece of paper, a beautiful picture of a child who lived worlds away in poverty. What on earth would I say to him? I knew some Spanish, but not a lot. There would be a translator, but still, what do you say to a five-year-old living in poverty? He doesn’t have a favorite television show or cartoon character. He doesn’t follow a basketball team or play video games. But aside from all of that, I was excited beyond words. Others in our group had met their sponsor kids the day before and had awesome stories about how the kids jumped into their arms and thanked them for writing and sponsoring them. I was so excited for my “moment” with Mayrober!

207828_10150151374481573_3642730_nWhen we arrived at Mayrober’s home he was sitting in a plastic chair outside. Their home was like a hut- it had some sort of roof made of random materials and a couple of walls made of sticks. Mayrober’s mother stood behind and the translator introduced us all. Mayrober didn’t jump into my arms, he didn’t even smile.

Mayrober looked at me like a scared child looking at Santa. He just looked at me and didn’t even blink. It was like he was trying to figure out if he wanted to cry or run away.

“Hola Mayrober!” I said. “Como estas?”

He just looked at me.

I looked at the translator and he said something to Mayrober in Spanish. He still just sat there, but his mom tapped his shoulder as if to say, “Answer her!”

He whispered a tiny, “Bien,” meaning he was doing well.

That’s how the next ten minutes went. I would ask a question, he wouldn’t resond, his mom would make him, and he would have a one word answer. 215199_10150151374606573_4561465_n

I wanted a picture, but Mayrober was afraid. His mom had to pick him up and put him beside me. I went to put my arm around him and he leaned away from me. It was official: my sponsor child hated me.

When I got back to the bus where everyone on our mission team was waiting, they were so excited to hear about my experience. I told them how terrible it was, and they tried to make me feel better by saying he was younger than their sponsor kids, that he must just be really shy, etc. etc., but I was still heartbroken. On the drive away from the village and back to Managua, I got tears in my eyes wondering why things went so poorly.

A few days later was the final day of Vacation Bible School that we were leading in the village. I was assigned the job of helping the kids make paper bag puppets. We had crayons, pipe cleaners, googly eyes and all sorts of things the kids could glue on their paper bags. Seems like a simple craft, but these kids looked like they had never seen or done anything so fun and amazing. They were in heaven making their puppets.

With only about 20 minutes left, I saw Mayrober walk into the “classroom.” He saw me and kind of smiled but then noticed that all the seats were taken… except one at the front of the classroom, right beside me where I was hanging out glue sticks.

207426_10150151390566573_1671953_nThere were three or four of us helping in the room, and I’ll be honest, the moment Mayrober got there, all my attention was on him. I was glad I remembered the Spanish words for eyes, nose, mouth, face and hair so I could help Mayrober decorate his puppet. After each part of the face he would look at me like, “What next?”

It was my happiest moment of the trip, to be sitting next to him, helping him make his puppet and seeing him smile.

He hung around with me even after the puppet-making class. Everyone was to go over to the village church after activities, and Mayrober walked with me. I knew it was the perfect opportunity for a much better picture than the one we’d taken a few days earlier. Sure enough, Mayrober had no 216075_10150149305886573_3381294_nproblems giving a big smile as I put my arm around him for a picture. We were buddies now, and he knew there was nothing for him to be afraid of.

You always see these kids on television, the ones who have no home, barely any food and live in poverty. I can’t vouch for other organizations, but I can say that Food for the Hungry is legit. The money you pay for your sponsor child helps the entire community.

I also learned that the money is only half of the impact you can have on a sponsor child. They love hearing from their sponsors back in the US! I’ve gotten endless drawings from Mayrober, and I love writing to him. Food for the Hungry takes care of the translation both ways.

Meeting Mayrober was one of the greatest experiences of my life and I will continue to support him for as long as the program allows (until he is 18). I write to him, support him, and pray for him. While things didn’t start off the best between us, I am so happy that we eventually got to spend some time together and that he was genuinely happy to meet me.

208432_10150151390671573_7490252_n

Is this really happening?

My head was spinning when I got home. I couldn’t tell if it was from an hour of zumba at the YMCA or if it was the email I had just received from my friend Janeth in Texas. Either way, I felt like I might pass out.

You see, on my way home from zumba, I got to thinking about how it had been awhile since I went on any sort of mission trip. Sure I’ve started volunteering at the Allen County Juvenile Center (ACJC), but my heart for international missions hasn’t been satisfied since I left Nicaragua in April 2011. I’ve always felt a calling to serve internationally, so I pretty much always have the desire to go.

I got to thinking about my trip to Niger, Africa in 2009 with Jesus Film Ministries. We shared the gospel with hundreds of people in Niger, in villages all across the desert. We also spread the word of God to students at the university in Niamey. For two weeks we were missionaries for Christ, completely immersed in a country that was more than 95% Muslim.

In 2011 I went with my church to Nicaragua where we dug latrines and did vacation Bible school with the children. The highlight of the trip was meeting Mayrober, my sponsor child through Food for the Hungry. It was so incredible to see that the money I spend each month really is making a difference in the community. I definitely was given a heart for Nicaragua after my trip.

Still, my desire to go back to Africa wasn’t gone. And on this drive home Tuesday night, I started to get discouraged. My church doesn’t take any trips to Africa. We go to Nicaragua, Haiti, Turkey, etc. etc., but not Africa. I wasn’t sure how God would work this out.

Enter Janeth. I checked my email when I got home, and there it was- an email from my friend in Texas with information on her upcoming trip to Zambia. She said I should go. Wait, no, God said I should go.

I have prayed a lot in the past few days, committed myself to this Zambia trip, contacted the travel agent, and have officially been posted on the website as a member of the Zambia 2013 team. Wow. This is really happening.

What will we do? We will spend most of our time at Lifesong for Orphans. It’s an organization that provides education, meals, and physical, emotional and spiritual support for orphans. We’ll also spend some time in the strawberry fields where many of the adults work for a living. Sightseeing-wise we will go to Victoria Falls and also go on a safari for a day.

I just can’t believe how God has worked this all out and done it so quickly. Sure it’s going to cost a lot, but I am confident that if God is sending me, He will provide a way for me to pay for it.

If you feel led to donate to my trip, please do. Pray about it, and if it’s something you can afford please contribute either on the website or by sending in a check (donations are tax deductible of course!). No amount is too small. If you can’t afford it, please keep me and the rest of the team in your prayers as we prepare for this journey.