Wednesday, February 24, 2010


This week World Vision magazine came. I quickly sorted it out of the junk mail and thumbed through excitedly before throwing it on the coffee table. As I walked away I was hit by the shocking realization that my relationship with the words and pictures in this publication has changed dramatically in the last five years. Five years ago the magazine went right in the trash. I felt powerless to effect change and disconnected from the statistics. So why look at haunting images?
So, I had to ask myself, what has changed? I was a believer then. In a similar station of life. We go to the same church. Mostly hang out with the same people. We still have the same trashcan. And I stood there, caught off guard by the realization that I have been moving slowly down river, only to now realize that I am miles from where I started. We have heard repeatedly about the importance, in our insular worlds, of letting poverty become personal. Of letting God speak to us. Of understanding his passion for the poor. For me, that has been a process.

As we were waiting to adopt I read everything I could about eastern Africa. Personal stories. Geographies. Political history. Before traveling to Ethiopia I had been on mission trips to Mexico, Guatemala, and Albania so it wasn’t that I hadn’t seen poverty up-close. But, by the grace of God and the hand of time, the last five years have moved me. I feel that I am finally in a place where I desire to know what is going on in my world and am able to digest difficult stories and images without the toxic cocktail of shock and guilt, which had previously left World Vision magazine on the curb with the recycling.

As we continue to weigh a clear biblical mandate with wise words of caution regarding our motivations, I found this week’s realization helpful. As I earnestly seek the Lord and let him lift my eyes to what is around me, I am moved. Sometimes slowly, sometimes with great speed. Sometimes in spurts and other times more like an unsuspecting homeowner near a fault line, which creeps south each year at a nearly indiscernible speed. But I am moving. Really moving. Because my walk with God is not on a treadmill.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Keping My First Love

During class I've said that our outreach to those in need reflects our relationship to Him. In a class dedicated to the world's poor, this position seems to go counter to many commandments and directives. If it is indeed true that there are thousands of verses calling for the care for the poor, we should just do as He commands. I agree. My experience, however, has taught me that when we set out to "work out our salvation" it is very easy to substitute the cause for God. I have seen many charitable works (several were mine) start but wither when the cause became the motivating factor.

Jesus writing to the Church of Ephesus says, "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love." I swallowed hard when I realized I fit in the Church of Ephesus. I have sought to fulfill his commandments, so much so that I lost my first love. You see, Jesus calls us to keep his commandments, but not to his exclusion. He is the vine and we are in the branches. Our good works flow from him, through us, to others. I can produce no fruit unless I am in him. To work outside the vine, to substitute the cause for the one who saves us is to lose your first love.

I am passionate about orphans. I am a zealot for my first love. To all my classmates, remain in the vine. Jesus says, "Just as a branch cannot produce fruit unless it stays joined to the vine, you cannot produce fruit unless you stay joined to me. I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I stay joined to you, then you will produce lots of fruit. But you cannot do anything without me." To do his work here, pursue the vine with all you have and the fruits will flow from him, through you, to those in need.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


On the topic of sheepish confessions, I have never really participated in the practice of Lent. I am not apposed. Rather I have been apathetic. But, in the context of our class, I am excited to relinquish to the Lord (for a season) two primary spaces that I usually fill with creature comforts, namely sugary snacks and movie rentals. I have been disappointed to find that in adulthood I still have the culinary palette of a junior higher and readily snap up ‘little treats’ wherever they are to be found. For forty days I want to both give God the chance to satisfy and remember, when I tempted to rummage through cupboards, that other moms are also looking for food- for their children’s only meal that day. Secondly, we like to watch movies and ‘check-out’ on the weekends. I have stacked up some books and am praying to ‘check-in’ on some heroes of the faith and issues that move the heart of God. I admit this feels like a big commitment. In the context of class, such reflections sound silly and shallow. But for that reason I share them. Because part of my ‘public and transforming relationship with the world’ begins with small honesties in safe groups. Here’s to forty days a little farther in the shadow of a mighty God!

p.s. I feel a need to say again how deeply I am appreciating this group and your encouragement as together we allow God to open our eyes to a deeper understanding of himself and his purposes for each of us here on earth.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


In reading The Hole in Our Gospel this week I was captivated by the stretches of text Mr. Stearns quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King's famed Letter from Birmingham Jail. Sheepishly I confess that I had not ever read the entire text. I did so today and wanted to share the link with you if you also felt so inclined. It is long. I found it important to print it, find a quiet place, and let God speak though this Christian brother.
I also read this today and got a little teary, appreciating this group and what each of you are teaching me about my relationship with Christ, his body and the world:
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurable more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:16-21

Monday, February 15, 2010

Water Walk

On Saturday our family and a few others walked a mile with empty buckets, filled them in a creek and walked back. It was an amazing experience, but I think one of the kids summed it up best. A few hundred yards into the return trip, leaning away from the weight of her sloshing bucket she turned her face to mom and said, "I want to go to heaven right now. This is too hard."
This week I was reading about our misconceptions about the poor, namely in regards to their work ethic and ingenuity. I know I have assumed that opportunity is available for anyone who is willing, but the 'bootstrap' promise of the American dream is elusive when factors (like clean water) are outside of the control of the individual. And so I thought, as I carried, of Bono's remark about "an accident of latitude" deciding one's fate.
When we finished walking we lined up the buckets. There wasn't even enough to fill an American bathtub and the water was murky.
Thank you, Lord, for opportunities to understand a little better.

Giving to Whom?

The passages we read in class this week all talk about giving. I use to see that the widow, the Macedonian Church, and the church in Jerusalem were giving to meet the needs of others. I read a lot into these passages, particularly the Macedonian Church. I focused on the fact that they were giving to another church in need. What I truly missed was that they were in fact giving to God. During class someone related a story of feeding a homeless person in San Francisco. To this faithful giver, I say, "Praise God," for the gift of a meal was not given to a man, but to God. Giving to God means that you never have to worry if the gift is used "correctly." God takes care of that. Giving to God means never having to wonder if you have given "enough." God multiplies your gift. Giving to God glorifies him, the ultimate expectation he has for us.

My walk with Christ is full of subtleties. The words of a News Boys song about being the hand's and feet of Christ once served as my rallying cry, and they still ring true today. The difference is that I now see that I am giving to God and that he sends me to do HIS work. Before, I thought I was doing HIS work when in fact I was doing MY work. In a society where charity is so ingrained it can be hard to discern the two. In China, my work is to give to God. Recall the young boy gave fish and bread to Jesus? Jesus took that act and fed 5,000. If the boy had given the food to the people, he would have fed 5 people. I strive to seek God first in China. I seek to glorify Him in every way for this is His expectation of me. I strive to serve Him first. Matthew 6:33 is always on my mind, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you." As odd as it might sound, I put the care of orphans in the category of "all these other things." It is all too easy to lose focus and serve the children. I say that I glorify the Lord by caring for orphans. I know this is subtle, but it has truly changed my life.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A matter of focus

This study has caused me to think about widows, orphans, and poverty. The course material is replete with sound bites, one line quotes, and provocative calls to actions. As I progress through the week, however, I begin to think about focus. The material pushes so hard toward the care of those in need that at times it glosses over the subtleties. For example, the passage of the sheep and goats is not about the poor in general, it is about caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ. We all too frequently remember the beginning of the passage, "Unto the least of these..." and not the latter portion " brothers." This passage, while consistent with God's passion for the poor in spirit, addresses how we are to treat those that are in Christ. Since Christ responds to an invitation by believers to live within them, not every person is Christ's brother, sister, or mother. This passage says, "charity, compassion, and the love you express to the least of the believers is likened to expressing it to Christ.

This picture if of my friend Dale who often travels to China with me. He's holding a little orphaned girl named Emily. She has Down Syndrome and was destined to spend the rest of her life in an orphanage. Life in the orphanage for a child with special needs can be very, very difficult. There is very little supervision and these vulnerable children can be easily victimized. Because of Dale and donors, Emily has been given a foster home with loving parents. Emily is just one of thousands of children like her.

During one of our earlier trips in 2005, Dale and I and one of my employees worked the night shift at a large orphanage. There were three of us and 45 babies. We spent the night feeding, and changing diapers. Since they never turned the lights off in that room, many of the children were awake. What we quickly learned is that with 45 babies it's not about loving its about efficiency. This is a night I will never forget. The room was eerily quiet. We're told that children will stop crying when they learn that no one responds. In the early morning hours we found a local hotel and got some sleep.

When I woke, I saw Dale staring out the open window. This experience made a significant impact on him. With a tear in his eye, he asked me if I knew the serenity prayer that begins "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change..." He said, "Curt, this is my prayer right now." Looking back, my response seems cold. I said, "Dale, it's not about you. It's about God. He is the one who calls us to care. He is the one who equips us for good work, and he is the one who receives the glory."

It is difficult for me to explain; but, caring for orphans in their time of need is the effect. God is the cause. Through our pursuit of him, orphans are cared for. I know the power of images, statistics, and stories. It is so easy for me to pursue orphans over God that we have create specific statements and actions that help us keep our priorities right. It is through our pursuit of Him that care is provided to orphans in their time of need. "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Giving Thanks

In class on Sunday we began to understand that our relationship with the poor is not so much a reaction (compelled by guilt or compassion) to real needs but rather our personal response to God’s love finding expression in our acquaintance with ‘the least of these’. In the same way that ‘Christ has no hands but ours’ when it comes to doing the work, he also can most tangibly receive our gratitude and love through the outstretched hands of humans in need. I think I should have already known this, or knew it in some capacity, but when I get down to the business of giving thanks, this thought feels new. The address to which I send my thank you note to Jesus is in Soweto. If I want to hug my Lord, I will need to drive down to the soup kitchen. If I want to really look into His eyes and tell him all that He means to me, I am compelled to listen to the story of a mother on the other side of the globe as she cries because there is nothing to feed her children.

“Then the King will say, ‘Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40

Monday, February 8, 2010

Spending the Master's Money

In college it was alot easier to spend my parent's money than my "own." I spent it on my friends. It was easy. Jesus encourages us to use the master's resource in the same way. In Luke 16 he says, "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings." I am often asked what I do during a trip to China. My response, "I am spending the master's resources and making friends."

To my fellow sheep

There is so much to discuss in class. Our group discussed the "Going deeper" section of the lesson. The workbook asks, "Do you think Jesus is teaching that one is saved based on his works?" The answer is clearly no, but the author gave little explanation of the sheep and the goats parable.

In the video, the author started the discussion on verse 34, if my memory serves. The earlier verses read, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on the throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepard separates the sheep from the goats." By verse 34, the sheep and goats are already separated, based upon their faith (lambs book of life). The familiar passage of caring for the needs of the needy follow.

The sheep respond not with confirmation of their acts but with some surprise. "When did we see you hungry?" Why were they surprised? Were they surprised because someone was watching or because they discovered Jesus in those situations? What motivated them to act in giving ways? God did, for no good thing comes from man.

In my own life, I have learned that it's God who gives me an eye for the needy. In some ways, my willingness to act on behalf of others reflects my relationship with Him. As my relationship has changed, I continue to learn the meaning of "If you love me, keep my commandments" and "thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven." As odd as it might sound, I serve the orphans of China to please God, to glorify Him. I know it is subtle, but at times I have to ask myself if I am serving orphans or God. I can confidently say when I serve God and seek to please him, orphans are cared for.

"With This Ring"

Hey all, I follow a blog called "Jesus Needs New PR" by Matthew Paul Turner (a christian author) and his post today ties in with our study.

He recently visited Uganda w/ World Vision and has been posting a lot about helping the poor recently.

Anyway, if you're interested in some blog hopping, go check out this post suggesting people donate their wedding rings to charity. Interesting concept.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Helping starts with one step

I have followed the growth of this charity. Just think what God might have for you.

Giving to the poor or Giving from God

I am very excited about this class and have great expectations! (No pressure Anna.) In 2004 Helen and I began working with orphans in China. These experiences have really tested my faith, my thinking, and my view of the world from the kingdom. Let me share an experience.

Last year I visited an orphanage in China and met with its leaders and the government officials who operate it. This is a really sad place, a collection point for society's unwanted. This is one of 30 sad places I visit. While I am there, I can control my emotions. In the quiet places, however, I have wept uncontrollably. One year a flight attendant on the trip home asked if I needed help after seeing a grown man cry for hours.

During my visit last year the struggle reached its apex. After visiting this place every year for six years very little has seemed to change. I stood in a room and looked over so many children who were defined by the act of their parents. No less than six charities have worked at that orphanage, yet so many children still remain. We could pour every penny we raise into that orphanage and when we left, it would still be there. What would Jesus do?!

What would happen if Jesus came to that city and taught for a year? If Jesus came and taught, I am convinced that the orphanage would still be there when he left. Jesus says "the poor will always be with you" (Mark 14). In John 9, Jesus heals a man blind from birth. The disciples ask Jesus, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" and Jesus responds , "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." How does God use orphans? Like the man born blind, so that the work of God might be displayed in their lives."
My perspectives have truly changed. God will use the plight of orphans to bring glory to Himself.

Going through this week's lessons, it would be easy to feel guilty -- let me suggest to you that this week's lessons should not engender guilt but EMPOWERMENT! Who is more able to affect the earthly lives of the poor? We are, for we have been so richly equipped. No guilt is required. Responding to the plight of the poor is the effect, not the cause. The cause is God's never ending love for us that fuels our desire to please him. When we reach out in love to those in need, the work of God is shown in their lives.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Day 5: 30-hour Famine

As I sit here in my well-stocked kitchen with a full belly from lunch, I can't help but feel guilty and blessed at the same time that my children are well and fed, and that they've never known true hunger. I can't imagine living in a community where the young die at such a rapid rate, simply because they don't have any food. I think of all of the food that I've had to scrape into the garbage that didn't get eaten, and how so many would have been happy to have eaten half of what was served at that meal.

I will never forget this video I saw of some American soldiers delivering food to remote villages in some desert region of the Middle East, and how this one elderly man was hunched over sifting through a section of the sand surrounding the soldiers' vehicle, looking for and collecting the single rice grains that had fallen from the bags that were delivered. Single rice grains in the sand. That is true hunger, and I'm thankful to God for sparing me and my children from experiencing that.

If that wasn't enough, here's another sobering fact for me to think about today: 80 children died of hunger while I typed this entry. I can feel God's heart breaking for these children, and am feeling the call to action.

Day 2: Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink

I cried at this video. Despite the upbeat music, I sat and watched in horror as the people in Africa carefully scooped and SAVED each drop of the filthy, muddy, bug-infested water that they had traveld HOURS to get. My mind instantly thought, "How can I help these people?" and then the video showed Africans drilling for wells. Progress needs sustainability.

I know that this study is going to shrink God's world for me, and that already my heart aches for those in these impoverished areas. I just ask that you consider helping financially in some way some cause that God lays on your heart through this study. A share of a deep well is $100--I'm willing to give up our eating out money for that--consider ways that you can sacrifice and do what God expects of you. I'm so thankful that He spared me from that life, but I pray that He doesn't allow me to forget about those that are living it everyday.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What I Packed

Based on today's assignment I made a mental packing list:
Tennis shoes
Here are a few of the things I used today that I didn't pack:
Tooth brush/paste
Van with four car seats to safely transport my kids + an extra around town
Espresso machine (twice)
Phones (land line + cell)
T.V. + DVD player
Exercise bike + gear (was riding the bike while making the list)
Special blankies + books + the couch reading to my kids
The list goes on. Last time I did this activity I was traveling to Grandma's for Christmas. I had packed four suitcases for my kiddos and I. We left our house full of things- you couldn't even tell anything was missing. On the way to the airport I thought of a bunch of things I forgot. And we traveled to another house full or stuff, but I still "had" to stop at Walmart on the way home from the airport. And to think, I would have classified myself as un-materialistic. Hmmmmm.

Freak Out

OK, so last night as I was lying in bed I was plotting my day without water. I decided not to work out, shower before bed, brush well and cross my fingers. As I thought about this the more I became uncomfortable. Not just nervous but actually began to have a physical response. My throat was becoming dry, I felt like I was having a hard time swallowing and breathing and my heart was pounding. In the moment I was trying to not "freak out" and just go get a glass of water. I actually think I was having some kind of anxiety attack. The thought of not having water was enough to cause me to have a physical reaction of major panic and discomfort. I don't typically have panic attacks so this felt big and significant. So I reluctantly decided not to do the water challenge. However I was very aware of how accessible and how often I use water. I typically go through 3 water bottles by lunch time. Working with preschoolers I noticed the water was not only for my thirst but to recharge and start fresh... a sort of fresh slate. So water plays a huge role in my mental as well as physical health. Oh how it breaks my heart and makes me think about the anxiety and pain many have to endure through everyday without water. It's not right, nor fair. Today every time I turned on a faucet or took a drink out of my water bottle I praised God and thanked him many many many times for WATER!


Monday, February 1, 2010

A Day Without Water

Kristen and I both participated in this day without water experiment. For the most part, we were prepared for the physical challenges. We knew that our throats would be dry, our hands would be dirty, and we couldn’t really prepare any meals. We chose to forgo our workout at the gym because we couldn’t take showers afterward. Our daily routine had to change in the absence of water.
What we weren’t prepared for was the mental aspect of this challenge. This experience led us to realize just how much we rely on water and its on-demand availability. We spent a lot of time just thinking about water. It occupied so much of our attention that we found it difficult to focus on the task at hand. Both Kristen and I noticed that we were more hungry than usual, probably because our bodies were trying to send us a message. Food didn’t sound appetizing, though. It’s much easier to go without food than to go without clean water.
Of course, we really can’t complain about this short little experience. Even though we felt the physical and mental effects of going without water, we knew that an endless supply was waiting for us at the end of the day. Overall, it was a not a fun challenge, but it was a worthwhile challenge. We prayed today that God would remind us of the mere 12 hours we spent without water in order that we do not take for granted the simple action of being able to turn on the faucet.

Is my Jesus God-sized?

Do I have to answer honestly?
Could I answer honestly?
Exodus 20, familiar because it is home of the 10 Commandments says that "when the people saw the thunder and lightening and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." I know the best friend, pocket-Jesus I have clutched close to my heart since elementary school is a dim reflection of his full self. But even with my bite-sized Jesus, I confess I have often preferred a mediator between myself and scripture. The stand-alone bible is beautiful and awesome and sometimes raw, especially in its instructions regarding my attitude towards the poor.
So, I am afraid it is true. Twenty-seven years into my life with Christ, and I suddenly realize I don't know his size. How embarrassing, when I think back to all the sweaters I have bought him for Christmas.