The Epidemic of Fatherlessness

“The AIDS epidemic in Africa is huge, but it’s led to an even worse epidemic and that’s children growing up without fathers.”

The words left his mouth and immediately found their home in my heart. With that single sentence a purpose for my life was birthed and a series of profound events in my life were initiated.

Can you imagine a world without AIDS? Can you imagine all the families and communities that have been devastated by this terrible disease becoming fully restored? Can you imagine every person ever infected with HIV being completely healed? I have loved ones that are HIV+ and know people that have passed away from AIDS-related issues. I can tell you the world would be a far better place without HIV/AIDS, immeasurably so.

Yet, if that opening quote is true, there is actually something worse than even a ravaging disease like AIDS. There’s a devastation more horrendous. There’s something that doesn’t just kill the body, but something that kills the soul.

Fatherlessness.

 Source
Source

Perhaps it wouldn’t take much imagination, but consider a child that grows up fatherless. A father speaks identity over his children. A fatherless child grows up not knowing who he is or what purpose he is to serve on earth. A father protects his children. A fatherless child is susceptible to all types of danger and threats. She is insecure, because there is no father there to secure her. A father delights in and takes pride in his children. A fatherless child is pining for attention and to know their value and to know that they are desirable. A father guides, corrects and lays down his life for his children. Without a father, children are inherently meandering around lost; sheep without a shepherd.

Part of our human condition is to get so wrapped up in our own lives that we stop recognizing the needs of others around us. Days, weeks and years go by and we’re consumed with the everyday demands of life; paying the bills, getting the kids to school and having dinner on the table by 5:30. Any moment of pause gets focused on our own needs or those of our closest family. Stopping the grind and considering someone else’s needs or lending a hand is often out of sight, out of mind and hence left undone.

It’s no wonder that over and over in scripture God had to break through and tell his people directly that caring for the fatherless (and widows) was something that they are mandated to do.

“Take up the cause of the fatherless” (Isaiah 1:17)
“Acceptable religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27 paraphrase)
“Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan” (Exodus 22:22)
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless” (Psalm 82:3)
“The aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied” (Deuteronomy 14:29)

What do these scriptures really mean to you though? If you ever have an “orphan care guy” roll through your church, they always make sure everyone knows the biblical basis for orphan care. My fear is that they just get glossed over though. We understand that the cause of the orphan is important to God, but typically have no tangible work among them. Nor do we desire to begin one, or adopt a child in need. But if we are merely hearers of the word and do nothing with it, what do we profit?

What if the orphan care guy instead walks in with an actual orphan? What if in a Sunday service, he’s able to show the child’s heart to the congregation? He shows the insecurity, the fear, the directionless. He shows that the child, just wants to be wanted. He shows that the child is needing a name, needing an identity. Would our hearts then be moved?

The thing about epidemics is that they spread organically. Someone coughs, spits or bleeds and those around them are now at risk. One person’s sickness leads to another person’s sickness. That’s how it works among the fatherless as well.

Fatherlessness begets fatherlessness. It spreads and can devastate entire populations. tweet this

That’s what’s happened in Africa and in complete honesty has happened through the entire world.

What is it that ends an epidemic? Intent. Caring people draw a line and say it ends here and from that point, they push back the tide. Such intent is indeed costly. It may cost you everything you have. You might have to throw out all the plans that you had for your life. You might have to empty your bank account. You might have to take that perfect little family picture that you had and go to great lengths just to wreck it.

But in so doing, we stamp out this devastating epidemic that has claimed far too many lives already.

Can you imagine a world without fatherlessness? Can you imagine every child in the world with a last name that means something to them? Can you imagine every boy and girl being secured within the love of a father that went to great lengths to claim them as his own? Can you imagine children off the streets, out of orphanages and into homes where the head of the family loves, guides, corrects and trains the children up in the way that they should go? Can you imagine a world without fatherlessness?

 

Keep building.

 

 

*The opening quote was from the preacher Mike Pilavachi in a sermon he gave at my church on Father’s Day 2007. This was the day that I first felt called to work among orphans in Africa.

I Want a King

In Tanzania we don’t have a TV, we don’t have cable, or the normal shows on Hulu and definitely don’t have my personal favorite, ESPN. Naturally, I’ve enjoyed getting to watch a little bit as we’ve been staying at Melissa’s parents house the last couple weeks. If you watch football, you know that they cut to commercial break every chance they get and in this particular season that means a lot of political ads. ‘Incessant’ would be a word that I’d use.

I’m not a fan of most of them. Some of them seem on-point and might have some sway, but the ones that I dislike the most are the negative ads. Twenty-eight seconds of dark footage, dreary music and a foreboding voice telling you how a particular politician is going to single-handedly destroy the country if elected to office. Two seconds of a video with a happy multi-racial, multi-generational group and the opposing politician saying “I’m so and so and I approve this message.” If anything it makes me want to vote against the person that approves the message. The whole deal kind of makes me sick.

4995090651_deb33b4738_b
Source – https://www.flickr.com/photos/truthout/

I asked Melissa’s stepdad if he had the voter information packet that they send out and he gave it to me. I try to be an informed voter as best I can and had a bit to catch up on having been in Tanzania the last year. I was going through the different propositions and the pro’s and con’s list that they have for each one. These three big important people are for it and these three big important people are against it. Again, the balance of the entire state rests on this one ballot measure, or so it seems. As I was flipping through and having a hard time deciding between all the different options, I had this thought come to mind, “I don’t want to do this. I want someone to decide for me.”

I know what you might be thinking. Brandon isn’t going to vote and he’s going to tell us we shouldn’t bother either. That’s not the case, I will vote tomorrow and you should too.

The thing is, I want a king. I want a good King that knows my heart, would give His life for me and wants to put me on the right path. I want Jesus to rule.

I have been on a political journey over the last ten years. I turned 18 in 2004 and was so happy that I got to vote in the major elections that year. I had my elephant badge on quite straight and cast my vote for W. at the San Miguel Community Center. I had plans to study history and political science at university and potentially try my hand in the political arena after college. When I think back to that and realize that was actually in my head at any point in my life, I’m astonished.

I did go off to school at Vanguard and did enter as a history and political science major, that plan started to change as I realized I wanted to teach little kids. Then I had professors that actually challenged me to think critically about what I believed and why. More importantly, they challenged me to compare planks in my political platform (or the Republican platform which I identified with) to that of the Bible.

As a Republican, for example, I supported the death penalty. I would quip that the people deserved to die for what they had done – those heinous and evil crimes. I then started to think about Jesus and what He did when presented with the woman in John’s gospel who was caught in the act of adultery, a crime that by law was punishable by death. He didn’t condemn her, but showed her grace and told her to go and sin no more. I also started to consider within this political framework some of Paul’s most famous words from Romans. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (3:23). “For the wages of sin is death” (6:23a). According to the Bible, it’s not just those bad people on death row, actually I am also deserving of death. But Paul continues on that we can be “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:24) and that the “gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23b). God showed grace to people on death row.

All of a sudden I lose the plank in my platform. Then I started to read Shane Claiborne. Yes, I was one of those. I still am, kind of. Over a couple years, I was so moved that I actually wrote in “Jesus of Nazareth” on my 2008 presidential ballot. Granted, he’s not an American citizen but I felt pretty confident that God knew what I meant by that. It was worth the heat that I caught from one friend on Facebook that I was wasting my vote and not taking this seriously enough. No biggie. I resolved that my vote for president didn’t matter anyway by virtue of living in California. I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for McCain or Obama as they both had huge deal breakers for me.

Time continued to pass along. I lived in Tanzania, got married, had a kid and when the 2012 elections rolled around I had settled down a little bit and decided I would vote for an eligible person for president this time around. That man was Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party. He wasn’t on the ballot in CA (was only on the ballot in 17 states), but he was the candidate that I identified most with and I have grown to really dislike the two-party system. The only way to change something is if people decide to start doing something different. What a novel idea.

In living in Tanzania, I’ve experienced another government that is more overtly corrupt than ours and that is also a bit disheartening. The opposition party is strong in Kilimanjaro, but the same party has, nonetheless, ruled since independence 50 years ago. I have friends that support ChaDema and put their hope that if they took office in Dodoma things would be different. Then I realize that my friends in the states are the same way. So much of their hope is in the Republicans or the Democrats or this person or that cause.

But I want a king. My hope, all of my hope, is in Jesus. If the people that are elected tomorrow or in 2016 aren’t the people that I voted for, I will not bat an eye. They aren’t the ones that are in charge of my life. Jesus is. Jesus is on the throne and we cannot thwart that. I am not going to be one of those that after an election or supreme court decision writes of America as going to hell in hand basket. That would almost assume that America was in heaven at some point which I don’t buy in the least bit.

Interestingly, Jesus’ foremost message was about the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom is a form of government where one guy makes all the decisions. Furthermore He says that this Kingdom is at hand – as in it’s within reach. He tells us to repent and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15). We have to repent, we have to humble ourselves and change the destructive patterns that we’ve been working in. We have to believe that the Gospel message is true and should be central to our lives, our families, our homes, our societies and our Facebook posts.

You should vote tomorrow and you should utilize the political capability that you have as an American citizen. We should also pray tomorrow. We should pray for God’s hand over the elections and even more so over the problems that this state, this country and this world face. If things don’t go the way you’d like tomorrow, don’t fret. If Jesus is your King, you’re already on the winning side and nothing could ever change that. 

Someone That Edits Your Life

Transitions and new seasons tend to give us opportunities to have our faith stretched and our character tested. Our family is coming up on one such time as we head back to the states for a four month furlough eleven days from now. A couple weeks ago, with this transition on my mind and a bit of fear in my heart, I wrote a blog post. You didn’t read that blog post though. No one did, because it never got posted.

After pouring myself into it for a hour or so, I could tell that it was coming off as a bit ‘edgy’ or at least that’s what I would have called it. I don’t typically read my blogs to Melissa before posting, but this time I did because I knew it was a little more involved. She heard me out and said that she resonated with a lot of what I wrote. Then she told me that I shouldn’t post it, to at least sleep on it. I wasn’t too stoked on that. I feel like my writing has been so sporadic that when I do actually get something down, I want to post it. I thought with this post the redemptive qualities outweighed the negative aspects to the post.

She challenged me “how do we be real about our sharing, but not lose sight of the hope that we have?” “How do we honor those that have graciously supported and partnered with us, while stirring up others towards good as well?” I pouted and told her that I wouldn’t post it.

The next day I realized that she was right and that blog is still sitting in my drafts.

I need my wife. For a million and one reasons, but this one for sure. She edits my life. She didn’t just edit the blog post. She edited what was in my heart. Through my writing, she could see that I was speaking out of fear, I was dwelling on disappointment, I wasn’t honoring and I wasn’t uplifting those that would hear from me. She lovingly, compassionately helped me understand where I was and how to follow God more closely and show love and grace to others.

The funny thing is, a very similar instance happened about four years ago. I blogged more regularly then and decided to make a post about blogging and my lack of true community and disappointment with friends in the states. It all came across quite negatively, though I liked to think I was speaking tongue in cheek and merely being satirical. I got an email shortly thereafter from a young lady that I hardly knew but went to high school with. It was clear that I had offended her through my post. I subsequently deleted the post, but not until after a handful of people read it.

The difference between those stories wasn’t me. In both stories, I had fear and insecurity, I was ungrateful and unkind. The difference is that someone came alongside me a couple weeks ago and edited my heart, my attitude and yeah, even my writing a little bit.

We all need people like this in our lives. It doesn’t have to be a spouse, though for those of us that are married, they should certainly be included. I have friends of mine, my parents and others that have that ability to edit my life.

Whoever it is that gets to speak into one’s life in this way, they must realize it is a privilege and one that comes with growing trust and mutual vulnerability. There will be plenty of people that would love to tell you everything that you should be doing with your life, but they do it from a place of control and self-interest. I’m not really interested in such relationships personally. There are others that might be on the right track, but haven’t yet dove into the vulnerability that it requires or experienced life with the other person enough to really have that editing authority. This is a process, but a truly beautiful process.

On Wednesday, I found myself freaking out again. I was worried about a number of things. Our car was in the shop and we were needing to get stuff done and were now worried about how much it would cost to fix it. And on the other end, we still had (and currently have) so many unknowns awaiting us with our upcoming furlough. Despite our communicating through Facebook, YouTube and newsletters, we still don’t know what we’ll be driving while in California or where exactly we’ll be staying. So yeah, I was freaking out.

Melissa pulled me out of my whirlwind and said, let’s read the Bible together. She then read from Matthew 6 and reminded me that it’s not for me to worry about what our furlough is going to look like or where our money is going to come from. Today has enough trouble of it’s own and our Father in Heaven knows what we need. Just seek first His Kingdom and righteousness. Good word. When somebody speaks truth louder than the worries in your head, all you can do is sit back and say ‘yeah, you’re right.’

Who edits your life? If you’re like me, you need it on a normal basis. One of the things that Melissa and I have struggled with is finding true community and those people that have that ability to edit our lives. We should all be striving for that together in our families and in our social circles. It takes vulnerability, it takes true humility, it takes wisdom and discernment, it takes intentionality and a whole lot of effort. The most important thing that makes all the effort worthwhile is that it’s through these relationships that we see the Kingdom of God manifest on earth and the Church reach what Christ’s intention is.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -Jesus (John 13:34-35)

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Me and my Senior Editor

The Audience

Photo Cred: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dmjames58/
Photo Cred: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dmjames58/

You ever hear someone talk about identity and how identity is all about knowing whose you are? I feel like ‘identity’ is a bit of a buzzword right now in Christian communities and I would say rightfully so. We must know who we belong to. In my experience with this notion of knowing whose you are, the answer I’ve been given is always for one to know that they are a beloved son or daughter of God. It has a lot of affection and sentiment attached to it and rightfully so. I’ll be honest though, when people would give this answer it hasn’t always resounded with me. Not because I don’t believe it, on the contrary, it’s because I’ve always known it. It’s core to my being and is something like the air I breathe.

I was reading in a book* that I borrowed from my friend Mark and the authors approached that same understanding of knowing whose you are from a different angle. It wasn’t the familial, affectionate answer that I’ve grown accustomed to, but rather a straightforward and clear answer. Knowing whose you are is all about deciding who is the authority over your life and who is your primary audience.

I had to read over the paragraph a few times because it really struck me.

I can’t help but think about all the things that we do and the motivations that we put behind them. There is no shortage of things to spend one’s life doing and often we do such things with somebody else in mind. In a lot of ways it seems only natural. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as one’s heart is pointed in the right direction.

Social media come to mind. In some ways, as a missionary, we have a heightened draw towards Facebook and the like. This basically happens because the vast majority of the people that we’re friends with on Facebook are not people that we see on a normal basis. I’m not talking about high school friends from ten or twenty years ago, I’m talking about our very closest friends too, the ones that we left back in America. Not only that though what people see online has a direct affect on our funding. Kind of a big deal, or so we think.

This experience is far from unique to us though. Most people, to one degree or another, imagine or actually have some sort of life audience that they hope to appease and entertain. Just the other day we had fifty or so people over to our house for Promise’s birthday party and it’s very easy to get into this mindset where you want to impress others and put on a good show. The problem with that becomes, whether it’s online or in real life, you end up getting burnt out as you realize this hunger to impress your audience is insatiable.

That’s the good thing about having God as your only audience and authority. You allow Him to do what He wants through your life, and He, as your audience, will always be pleased with you.

With our furlough quickly approaching, this has been a good reminder. We’ll be in the states for a little over four months and for missionaries, this is not down time and for the most part not a sabbatical. There are aspects that we look forward to like re-connecting with friends and family and enjoying certain conveniences, but there are plenty that we don’t look forward to like bouncing around from house to house, not having our own car and going from day to day with unclear plans and provision. All the while, you are trying to speak at churches to drum up support for your family and your ministry. You get in front of a church audience and hope that they find you appealing. It’s exhausting.

My hope and prayer is that I would live every day remembering, no matter what I’m doing, that I do it for an audience of One. I don’t have to worry if He saw a particular Facebook post or heard me speak when I was in the area. He sees it all and knows everything about me and what I do. He has the provision that I need, He puts righteous motivation within me.

*The book is Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges. So far so good.

yeast

During our monthly house church this last Sunday, I was pondering the power of yeast. Ryan was sharing out of Mark 8 where Jesus warned his disciples about the yeast, or leaven, of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod. Basically, a small amount of yeast can leaven an entire loaf of bread, just a touch can infect a much larger matter.

The yeast of Herod is that violent, overpowering political influence. You ever notice how someone will read one little online article or hear one thing in the news (that may or may not be accurate) and receive it into their psyche. All of a sudden they’re on a warpath with their political cause of choice and are taking out anyone and everyone that stands in their path? That’s the yeast of Herod. A small influence that has absolutely taken someone over and is now negatively affecting them and others around them. The political yeast of Herod doesn’t line up with one particular ideology either, those on the left and the right, however liberal or conservative, often allow this yeast in their lives.

The yeast of the pharisees is the overbearing, self-righteous religious influence. Jesus came into conflict with the religious elite more than any other group during his ministry. They used religion as means of oppressing others and maintaining their own status in society. For them, it wasn’t about honoring and loving God through His own directives in the Torah, it was about keeping their thumb on everyone else. In recent weeks, we’ve heard controversies from famous pastors that have established a level of control and influence, yet have clearly strayed from God’s word about truth, love and humility. You can be sure that the yeast of the Pharisees has had something to do with that.

As these things were running through my head concerning Jesus’ warning in Mark 8, I couldn’t help but think about Jesus words in Matthew 13:33 where He says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast which a woman takes and hides in the meal until the whole thing becomes leavened.

So yeast isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Small things can make a big difference a lot of the time. We open ourselves to all sorts of yeast in our lives, those small influences that change the entire meal for us. We often have our passions become a bit misdirected because of this. It doesn’t have to be the political tirades or the religious power plays (though it often is). It can be the things that are good, but have taken precedence over the real important things, or over the most important thing.

Get the good yeast going in your life. The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, just a small amount can profoundly change your entire life. Once your life is changed by the Kingdom of Heaven, there’s no telling the amount of good that’s going to flow through you from God.

Our ministry is on the precipice of expansion. We have five kids right now, but after we return from our upcoming baby furlough we’ll be adding more children into families. Melissa and I were discussing how that’s going to play out and I’d love for it to spread like wildfire if we can handle it, but if we just add one or two kids up front, I’m totally good with that. The reason is because one is a lot of people to receive the Kingdom of God. God does a whole lot through one person that is received by Him.

Just that small amount of one child among three million others in Tanzania, has the potential to do an immeasurable amount of good by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the kind of yeast, however small, I want to be influencing that child, that family and this nation.

What’s influencing you? What kind of yeast are you allowing in your life? The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, just a small amount will take over everything.

8998101719_5ced879629_z
Photo Cred: https://www.flickr.com/photos/subseasniper/

Designs for Orphan Care (Part 2)

3875458405_05128eaa72_z

If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, I recommend it before getting in to this post. Click.

/ / / / / / / / / / / / /

He was the kind of guy that asked pointed questions. He already ‘knew’ the answer before he asked you your opinion. We were having dinner with him and his wife a few years ago and knowing that we worked at an orphanage, I imagine he was thinking we were quite enamored with that form of orphan care. Global-Effect had just started a program called Kimbilio Families which was seeking to put orphaned kids into families and he pointedly asked me what I thought. I told him, “I think it’s great, I think if you get it to work, it’s the best situation.” He was taken aback and disarmed.

For me, this has been a process and I think that some of the people that know the downsides to the orphanages, are the ones that have worked at the orphanages. We had our former director over for coffee a few months ago and when we told her that we had taken over Kimbilio Families (and since renamed it Kingdom Families), she said “I’ll be praying for you, that’s the best situation if you can find good parents.” Another American friend that runs a local orphanage was talking to me about how one of their younger boys really would be better suited in a home with a Tanzanian couple that are mutual friends of ours. One of the pastors that we partner with currently was the assistant director at the orphanage with me, and he, as a Tanzanian, has come to believe in this model as well.

Though the families model isn’t really utilized on a large scale in Kilimanjaro, those that are involved in orphanages are the ones that know more than most that it is the best situation for an orphan.

The recurring question in all of this isn’t should Tanzanian orphans be raised in Tanzanian families. The question is, how do you implement it and find parents that will do it for love and not for the support money?

Admittedly implementing such a model comes with it’s own set of challenges. We, in fact, are currently working through many of those ourselves. While our program has been active for a few years, it’s still entirely in it’s infancy. Now that we’ve stepped into the director role, we’re starting to wrestle with things that have yet to be resolved. So as we go through these items and compare the families model to the orphanage system, I confess that I don’t have all the answers and am writing this as a way to add to the larger conversation within Christian orphan care.

One of the difficulties that Melissa and I are coming to grips with is the lessened amount of control that we have over our ministry. For an American missionary, an orphanage is the supreme amount of control. There are of course elements such as government regulations that are out of one’s control. But nonetheless, you have say over where money is spent, who is employed at the orphanage, how the kids eat, sleep, study and all those things. The American director gets the final say on everything. Whereas with our ministry, we only get final say on some large picture things and the normal day to day, week to week decisions fall to the Tanzanian parent that we’ve entrusted the kids to. This is a burden for us to bear, because we like having control. We love having control.

But this is a necessary part to the process. We do this by faith and trust. We believe that the outcome for the child is better. I am not adopting these children. They are born in Tanzania, they live their entire lives in Tanzania, they will die in Tanzania. They ought to learn life directly from a Tanzanian in a truly Tanzanian environment. It’s our responsibility to choose parents that have a heart for orphan care, a father’s heart, a mother’s heart and that they’ll do this for love and for the sake of the gospel. My title says director, but I’m more of a facilitator. My team and I facilitate these relationships so that the parents become the heroes to these children.

Because there is a lessened amount of control by facilitating these families, we really rely on our national partners to help with oversight. For Kingdom Families, all families come through churches/pastors that have chosen to partner with us. Therefore we have national leaders set up to help us with oversight. These men and their wives are in the lives of these families on a normal basis and can communicate with us how they’re doing and what they might be in need of. We of course have relationship with them ourselves and do visits to the homes and see how things are going. Even with that though we rely on our Tanzanian liaison and assistant, Meshak. These partnerships are key. Remember that we want these kids to have a quintessential Tanzanian upbringing. It’s normal for your pastor to visit or your “honorary uncle” Meshak, but it’s not typical to have a couple white people swing in all the time and take pictures of your kids (which we nonetheless have to do periodically).

This is all about empowerment. To the best of our ability, we want the nationals within our ministries to become empowered, not dependent. This is their calling, not their vocation. We do offer financial aid to our families. We will not do this with each and every family going forward but for those we have now, they receive it. It’s a road that we are walking and trying to find the balance. Our hope and plan is to increase the income of the families as much as possible and enter into agreements where they understand within 3-5 years, the support will either be gone as they’ve become entirely self-dependent, or be diminished as they’ve become more self-dependent. I say that because that’s our plan, not because we’ve yet to achieve this. We have to have a plan for making these families self-sustained because that will be the most secure thing for the children.

American support is important with starting out these families and it’s a role that our overseas partners can play. While our hope is to over time transition families out of support, even for the time that they do receive support, it’s a fraction of what it costs to run an orphanage. American run orphanages require a lot of money just for normal expenditures, several thousand a month for a medium sized orphanage. They need that money to run a good operation. If an orphanage doesn’t have that kind of money, then the children and the facility languish. By partnering with families, we have a set amount that is agreed upon (two sponsors of $50 per kid per month) which provides the family with money for food and normal day to day and we have the money to cover the school fees which can vary depending on what level and what school the child attends. Imagine 20 kids in such a program. $2,000 divided between 40 donors gets 20 kids all that they need and most importantly they’re in a loving Christian home. All parties would be happy as the family has the means to love and care for the orphans, the child knows what it means to be a son or daughter and the ministry is consistently in the black.

The thing in all of this is that we don’t want the kid to know that they’ve been orphaned. I’m not saying that the kids will forget their past, but rather when they play with the kids next door they aren’t going to feel, act or be seen any different at all. Most importantly, they’ll have parents that love them and teach them about God. As a Christian, this is very important to me.

Some of my non-Christian friends reading this will not agree and I totally understand your disagreement. I’m not asking you to agree with me, but I want to be clear in communicating that I love Jesus and I want the children that we care for to know who He is, what He’s done for them and what His plans are for them. That’s why we partner specifically with churches.

Last week, I took a tour of a 75-kid orphanage here in Moshi. They strive for excellence in what they do and I appreciate the good they’re doing in the area. It was nice talking with their communications director as she showed us around. The property was astounding. Huge dormitories, mess hall, playground and field, classrooms and other facilities that showed they had all their bases covered. They have kids that hear about their orphanage and hitch rides clear across the country to come knock on their gates. Astounding. This is the orphanage of orphanages.

While I oohed and awed over their facility, I asked lots of questions, hopefully not the pointed questions of my friend, but I was certainly curious. Because I’d rather see kids in homes as opposed to an orphanage, there were several things that I didn’t see eye-to-eye with them on, but the thing that bummed me out most was the children’s spiritual lives. The original founder received support from her church and others so that they can start this orphanage, but now they don’t help the kids know Christ. If a kid wants to go to church, they can. If they want to go to Mosque or go nowhere at all, they can. It bummed me out as I would see that as an opportunity for gospel exposure. You can’t force the gospel, when you do , it doesn’t work. Every human being has the choice of what they believe, but as an evangelical Christian, which I am in the basic meaning of the term, my hope is that children would know the Lord and hence have to be told about Him. I wonder if this is what the original founder had in mind.

Discipleship makes the wheels go round in Christianity and orphan care is a critical form of discipleship. This is how my family makes disciples of the nations. With any form of discipleships and ministry, we have to have times where we take a good long look at what we’re doing. Is it effective? Is it God’s ideal? Is it biblical? I hope that this blog series has challenged some of your thoughts on orphan care and spurred you on to take a step forward as you strive to care for the least of these.

I have been blessed to serve orphans in Tanzania, both in the orphanage and now within Kingdom Families. My heart in all of this is that kids would know love. They’d know the love of a family and the love of God. Join what God’s doing in orphan care, wherever you are and in whatever ways the Lord calls you.

/ / / / / / / / / / / /

If this conversation has intrigued you, I encourage you to keep learning and most importantly, start acting. If you live on the central coast, I highly recommend the Welcoming Children Home Conference on November 8. I’ll be teaching a workshop on this exact topic and the keynote speaker for the day is Johnny Carr who wrote Orphan Justice which I also highly recommend. Comments, shares, likes and emails are always welcome. Blessings.

Designs for Orphan Care (Part 1)

752038128_78eae2f64d_zI was reading in the book of Ezra the other day and though I’ve read the book several times, I came across a story in chapter 3 that really struck me like never before. The Persian king Cyrus had commissioned a large group of Israelites to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians a few generations prior. As the captives that returned to Israel established the foundation of the new temple, a time of worship broke out in the community.

“And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD: ‘For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’ Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout and the sound was heard afar off.”

I had to get out my commentary to confirm why I thought the old men were weeping over the foundation. Mr. Halley agreed, the old men in remembering God’s design for Solomon’s temple, wept that the temple they were now building would not match the grandeur of God’s design for the house of worship. Many people shouted for joy as formal worship of the LORD was being restored and there was all kinds of hoopla, yet still there were those that remembered the superiority of God’s design and in some ways were disappointed that the community was no longer at that level.

As I’ve journeyed with caring for orphans in Tanzania, I feel as though I’ve aged. It’s been five years now since I accepted the job at Treasures of Africa. When I first started I exuberantly told everyone, “this is my dream job.” I was one of those worshipers that when the foundation was laid, I rejoiced and shouted and worshiped. I was in love with working there and knew that it was where God had called me. It absolutely was where God had called me for the three years I was committed there. I grew in faith and I grew in love. I’m so grateful for the leaders that gave me such an opportunity. I was given an insightful look into these kids’ lives, their backgrounds and their specific needs as they came out of traumatic experiences. By welcoming them to the children’s home they were shown love, they were provided for and were able to rest and recover from the blows that orphan life had left them.

Beyond learning about the needs of the kids, I also had an insiders view of how the best orphanage in Moshi was run. I say it’s the best not only because the physical needs of the children are met and they have a clean, safe environment in which to grow up, but because the leaders of the orphanage were very godly people. The kids heard and received the gospel, which to me is most important.

From that insiders view, I have also learned the downsides to the orphanage system. It would be easy for me to look at government orphanages in Eastern Europe or the poorly funded, poorly supervised orphanages here in East Africa, but I’ve actually seen the downsides to the very best orphanages around. I’ve aged. I’ve become one of those old men that weeps as the foundation is laid and remember that God’s design was and is far superior.

As I’ve been working through all these things in my head over the last year since we’ve returned, I find myself needing to temper what I say. I personally invested so much in the orphanage system and even more so because I have close friends that are currently ministering in orphanages and most importantly I have a group of twenty-six kids that I love a whole lot that live at a children’s home. The difficulty in navigating what I write and hence other people read is that in critiquing the orphanage system of orphan care, I am critiquing the most common form of orphan care in the world. In many contexts, it’s the only form of care for these kids. Because of all this, it tends to be the type of ministry that you, me and everyone else has supported if you’ve been involved in the biblical mandate to care for orphaned children.

There are two designs here that I’m looking at and I in no way want to come across as heavy-handed, pugnacious or cold. I feel the exact opposite towards the orphanage system. I think that it can have it’s role in caring for orphans, but we often see it as the end all in millions of instances and I don’t think that’s good. So the two designs, I humbly submit, is God’s design (Solomon’s temple) and man’s design (the temple in Ezra 3).

So, in a nutshell, what are those two designs? As Johnny Carr says “man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children.” Now that is a pretty strong opinion, I confess. What I’d like to do today is just look at a few themes that we see in the Bible concerning this conversation.

The first thing that we must understand is the fact that the Bible, both testaments, speak a lot to caring for orphans. In the giving of the Law to God’s people in the Old Testament, caring for orphans was something that was expected of each and every individual. In Deuteronomy, God hammers a group of people into the minds of the Israelite community: the widow, the stranger and the fatherless. It was God’s chosen people that were expected to care for the needs of these people. If you read chapter 24 in particular, you’ll see God commanding Israel to preserve justice for the fatherless and also provide them with food from the people’s own crops. It was a commandment, not an option.

God demanded that of His people, because they are to be His reflection and hence maintain His own character. They were to administer justice for the fatherless, because He administers justice for the fatherless (Deut. 10:18). They were to help the orphan, because He is the helper of the orphan (Psalm 10:14). And in keeping in step with who He is, God’s people are to father the fatherless, because that’s who He is (Psalm 68:5).

In the New Testament, we see a core spiritual truth about who we are in Christ applied in these same terms. Jesus teaches us to pray to God as ‘our Father’ and in Romans 8, Paul teaches us that we have been adopted as children of God. If we were adopted by God, that means that there was a point when we ourselves were orphans too. God was gracious and brought us into His family.

In Christian practice, just as I spoke to a moment ago, what we see God do, we ought to do ourselves. We love because He first loved us. We are commanded to be holy just as the Lord is holy. We give, because He gave it all for us. So if God in his generosity, compassion and righteousness, adopted us orphans into His family, what does that mean for us when we consider these kids that also need a family?

In the beginning, God established the family. He put Adam and Eve in the garden and told them to be fruitful and multiply (read, have lots of kids). This was God’s first design, He had a family in mind as the ones that would take care of the earth and expand the garden.

This is just a really quick overview of what the Bible says in regards to orphan care and God’s design for adoption and family. Nonetheless, we can gather a few things from just understanding this text. If you were to read the Bible, then be presented with the plight of millions of orphaned children, would you gather that all you need to do is establish an orphanage? The Jews of the Old Testament didn’t do that and it wasn’t until the legalization of Christianity a few centuries after Christ, that Christians started to do it.

I propose that there is a better way. God’s original design was for children to be in families. By the power of the Holy Spirit we can get back to that design and see orphans receive what they need most of all, the love of a godly father and mother.

/ / / / / / / / / / /

Click here to read Part 2 where we’ll talk about some of the practicalities and difficulties that are presented through both the orphanage system and the families model. If you found this post interesting and something to be considered, then I’d appreciate you sharing it. These are conversations within the church that need to take place and every single one of us has a role to play. Not all are called to adopt, but all are called to do something.

the things we seek

Do you ever wonder what other people think of you? Yeah, so do I. For most of us our social media profiles, posts, blogs and all that often have a lot to do with what we want other people to see and hence think about us. The last couple days, I’ve been wondering how people perceive me just going off of what they see on Facebook and our email newsletter chain.

I like to think that my focus is on the Kingdom of God. I’m kind of obsessed with talking about the Kingdom of God or at least mentioning it. Our orphan care program is called Kingdom Families, I just renamed this blog “Build This Kingdom,” I want people to think of me that I’m someone seeking the Kingdom of God and yet, I personally am unconvinced myself.

There are a lot of things that I feel I’m seeking ahead of the Kingdom of God. Money, security, reputation, you know, stuff like that.

I’ve been in a little bit of a funk the last couple days and my wife has known it. I’m generally an even keel person, don’t get too high or too low. But a few circumstances that arose yesterday before church kind of brought me down a few notches. A few moments before I sat down to write this, I hugged Melissa and asked her “What are we seeking?” In my mind, she was going to encourage me by quoting Matthew 6:33, “Bran, we’re seeking first the Kingdom of God,” but instead she was honest and just said “I don’t know.”

Here’s what’s got me down and honestly I hate to talk about it. It’s actually my least favorite thing to talk about in the public arena. I’m down because of money. I know, I know, another missionary talking about money that they need, I apologize. I’m not going to make a plea for your money in this blog, I promise. Just sharing my convoluted thoughts on the matter.

Last week, I was talking with Ryan about our plane ticket situation and we really need to buy them, but we’ve been holding off so that we can get the round trip tickets and save money. He told me that I should do some short little video of Promise being cute and just tell people that we still need money to buy the plane tickets. Great idea.

So we did it. We shared it on all three of our blogs, each of four Facebook pages and an email shout-out. Promise was cute. She showed everyone how smart she was as we read the story Bible together, we kept it to 90 seconds and haven’t received a single donation since it was posted.

It kind of got me down and now I’m just wondering if that, coupled with putting our giving information in our newsletters and making a status update about giving on Facebook has people thinking that we’re seeking money. I guess we are seeking money.

Now, I just share all that because it’s on my mind and this is my blog where I share what’s on my mind. I’m sure that there are ways that you are also seeking money. Maybe just to pay the bills or maybe to get you to the next financial level in society. I would also like the security that I perceive that it brings. I want money so that I don’t have to worry about money.

I wish that I would come to a personal resolve on the matter. I don’t want to talk about money anymore and I really, really don’t want to ask for it anymore.

What about you? What are you seeking after first? Lately, for me it’s been money, security and reputation. That’s not good, I confess. When I worry about these things and seek them above God and His Kingdom, that’s sin. When I seek money first even for plane tickets, that’s sin. When I seek the security of my family first, that’s sin. When I seek after the praise and good reputation among other people first, that’s sin. Because even if those aren’t bad things I’m not seeking the Kingdom of God first.

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” That’s our directive. That’s what we do. Anything short of that is missing the point. If there was no further promise in that scripture, it wouldn’t change our directive to seek His Kingdom first in our lives.

Yet there is a promise from our gracious God “…and all these things shall be added to you.” God knows our needs, Jesus only asks that we seek Him first of all and let Him worry about the other stuff.

I told my wife that I’m not going to be sad anymore. Melissa will deliver in California, we will spend the holidays with family and we will return to Tanzania at the start of 2015. My job isn’t to seek the things that secure that path. My job is to seek first the Kingdom of God.

IMG_9625
Found this cool piece of the verse here: http://artbybritt.blogspot.com/2011/07/matthew-633.html

 

Story Time with Promise

A little look into our nightly Bible reading time with Promise. She loves reading the Bible, can’t go a day without us reading it together.

If you watch the video and decide you want to help us with our upcoming travel costs, we’d really appreciate it! You can give online by clicking here and just designate ‘Brandon and Melissa Stiver’ in the dialogue box. You can also send a check if you prefer. Make it out to ‘Global-Effect’ and write ‘BMS’ on the memo line. Send the check to Global-Effect, PO Box 992856, Redding, CA 96099. Thanks!

Slacks and Old Loafers

I suppose a good life ought to give you moments when you say, “am I really doing this right now?” I had one such moment earlier today.

I wore slacks today. I rarely wear slacks and when I do, it’s on Sunday, not Thursday. But today I did. I also wore the only pair of dress shoes that I own, which I bought at JCPenney for my junior year homecoming. So that’s 12 years ago. If those hush puppies were actual puppies in 2002, they’d be dead now, as my shoes ought to be. Such a rarity this outfit, Melissa was inclined to snap a picture.

IMG_2037

What a dweeb, and why am I folding my hands like that?

I don’t normally dress this way, but Meshak and I had a meeting with a regional officer at social welfare to talk about our ministry’s introduction letter to the department. I was dressed to impress, quite literally.

As is the custom, we arrived later than planned and still waited a while outside the office on a rickety wood bench. As we sat, we talked about Meshak’s church and their involvement with Kingdom Families. We talked about American sponsorships, vocational training, parental training and all this other stuff regarding our ministry. We talked. There are a lot of times where we talk about stuff that we haven’t yet done and don’t necessarily have experience in. Talking is pretty easy.

At last, Mama Mboya, the official we were meeting with, calls us in. We sat down and exchanged the normal greetings. She looks at me and introduces herself and I remind her that we’ve met before as I previously worked at Treasures of Africa. She smiles and says (in Swahili of course) “oh yes, I remember you. Your beard is bigger now.” My trademark. I am “mzungu na ndevu” that is “the white guy with the beard” that’s my remembrance.

As we begin conversing we share with her about Kingdom Families and what we’re doing. Now, we do already have five kids in our program, but in most respects the project is still in it’s infancy. Hence why we’re introducing ourselves to the regional office in the first place. She shares with us her thoughts, a concern or two and gives us several items that we need to include in our introduction letter for opening a file at social welfare. After fifteen minutes or so of talking, Meshak and I tell her goodbye and walk out to the parking lot. There, we converse some more about the letter that I’ll be writing this weekend and then part ways.

When God first called me to Tanzania, I knew that at some point my wife and I’d be running an orphan care ministry and now that it’s happening, I’m like “what’s happening?” I just told an official in welfare that we’re going to be responsible for children that are not our own. We’re going to try and match them up with families that we believe will love them and care for them. We’re going to find sponsors for all these kids, provide oversight to make sure they’re taken care of, train the parents that bring them in. And we’re doing all of this by faith. We have to believe that God is helping us, we have to believe that we’ll get kids that need families and we have to believe that out of their own goodwill, Tanzanian couples are going to open their homes to these children for the next dozen years or so. What’s happening? And why am I wearing these 12 year old loafers today?

I’ll be honest, I’m in uncharted territory. I wound up here somehow. I don’t have to be in Tanzania. This is my choice. I didn’t have to go and tell a regional officer of Kilimanjaro that me, Melissa and Meshak are going to start putting orphans into Christian families and then supporting that family. This is my choice. This is a largely thankless job most of the time and that’s totally okay. Orphans shouldn’t have to say thanks for being my dad or thanks for finding me a dad, because being a child should just mean that you have a dad. It’s supposed to be the norm. It’s our choice to be here. We’re here because by faith we believe that God said something to us years ago about caring for orphans in Africa and we by faith decided to walk towards that.

Faith. That’s the currency of Christian life. By this world’s standards, I’m wearing 12 year old loafers and a second-hand button up shirt. But I want to be a rich person, that’s my aspiration.

Lord, just let me be rich in faith