“Go run an orphanage in Africa” :: Revisited

I live inside a paradox.

Earlier this week, Melissa and I met with a lady that is visiting from California. In a nutshell, her job is to help organizations focus their mission, deliver their message and be an organization that is, well, organized. I went into the meeting fairly confident in where Kingdom Families stood and I was prepared to blow her away with our vision and current operations. Nine o’clock came and I walked into the meeting with sheer confidence.

Six hours later, as the meeting concluded, I had anything but confidence. Not by anyone’s doing other than my own. Among the proceedings, our foremost exercise was writing down our operations on a big white board. In blue, our current operations and in green, future operations. As I took in the white board, I realized that the blue was the overwhelming minority and apparently I moved here nearly seven years ago and have yet to accomplish anything meaningful from a vocational standpoint.

This was all supposed to be different somehow.

On Father’s Day 2007, I was 21 and felt a very clear message from God during worship at my church in Orange County. That Sunday was a culmination of three consecutive Sundays where I felt God say “Go run an orphanage in Africa.” That word became my guiding light for the next five years as I entered adulthood. I eventually did a short trip to an orphanage in 2008, revisited it as an intern in 2009 and was hired and began work there in January 2010. All was moving forward on the path God gave me to “go run an orphanage in Africa.”

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Yes, I have these types of photos too. 23 years old and working full-time at an orphanage.

As I write this, I confess, that I don’t understand the mind of God or how all of this works when we feel God say something and give us direction. Without that word of God, I would not be sitting in my office in Moshi right now writing this. Nonetheless, the whole “go run an orphanage in Africa” calling got a bit derailed on it’s way to the station. In May 2012, with my newlywed wife pregnant with Promise we left the orphanage.

During that time in the states, something began to change in me. I had wrapped my identity around this call that I felt from God and all of a sudden I was out of work and trying to make a living for my family in California. Not Africa. Not an orphanage.

The biggest change came on September 21st, not even five months after having left the orphanage in Moshi. On that day, I became a father. As I held my daughter in my arms, I realized that life would never be the same and that no one could take away from me my role as a father. I had romanticized about being a father to the kids at the orphanage, but now I actually understood the difference.

When we returned to Moshi in 2014, thereafter got Kingdom Families going, I had evolved a different mindset towards orphan care. The tone and content of my message changed, and I often wonder if it’s for better or worse. I could no longer pretend that running an orphanage, even with the heart of a father, is the same as actually being a father. I’ve since remembered that the confirming word that the preacher spoke on Father’s Day 2007 was “the AIDS epidemic in Africa is huge, but it’s led to an even worse epidemic and that’s children growing up without fathers.”

Fathers.

What’s the best solution for the fatherless? Fathers.
What’s the best solution for the motherless? Mothers.
What’s the best solution for orphans? Families.

I caught up with a friend last night that had been on a team working to get the railroad back up and running in Tanzania. Their venture had recently disbanded and she is looking for new work. She shared a little about her boss who had invested years, finances and heart into this venture. He had received prophetic words concerning the railroad and was working on what I assume to be the crown jewel of his vocation. When they were essentially stonewalled by the new Tanzanian administration, they were forced to disband and she said it’s been pretty tough on him. Then she shared something that I’m claiming in my own life.

“It’s never about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

My marching orders at age 21 may not be something that I ever fulfill. Is that disobedience? Perhaps. I have come to grips with my shortcomings. Without those words though, I would not be where I am right now. Devoting myself to a work that is slower than molasses and leads to seven years in and not much to show for it in a lot of ways. Yet, I believe in family-based care.

It’s about the journey. Yes, I trust even still that that was God’s Spirit beckoning in 2007. I did what I could to pursue that in my journey and Tanzania got threaded into my life and family in the process. Pursuing that calling led me to marrying Melissa, having Promise and Shepherd join through birth and Moses through adoption. That journey even led to me not pursuing orphanage work even when it was available, because I believe there’s a lot of work to be done to help kids get into families. The only destination I’m assured of is Heaven and the journey could take me anywhere in the meantime.

Let us not get so caught up with where we think we’re going or where we think God is taking us, that we forget who God is. God didn’t not leave us as orphans, God is a Father.

Father.

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Author: Brandon Stiver

I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, living and working in Moshi, Tanzania. My wife is named Melissa and we have three children: Moses, Promise and Shepherd. We are directors over an orphan care ministry called Kingdom Families; advocating for the needs of orphans and vulnerable children and assisting families to welcome them into their homes as sons and daughters.

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