Saturday, December 17, 2011

Merry Christmas!

'This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born
In a land in the crushing gripe of Rome;
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Savior make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth."

Madeline L'engle

Make you feel our savior's love this Christmas season... and may it compel you to birth even more love for those around you.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

You Would Never Know

She jumps up and down, demanding to be picked up. You snuggle her close while the other children grab at your skirt, demanding the same attention. As the dinner bells rings you gather them up and move with them into the home. They all sit down as you pass out plates of food and water and bow your head in thanks. She looks up at you with gleaming eyes and smiles as she shovels food into her mouth and dribbles water down her front.

And you would never know.

Never know that there was a little symbol that changed her life. That that symbol, written in her profile, brought her chances of being adopted down dramatically. That that symbol makes people avoid her. Nervously offer hugs. Push away her kisses. Freak out at the sight of her blood.

+

HIV +

That’s all it takes. One symbol. And her life is changed.

What if we didn’t tell you? What if we treated her like everyone else and you never knew the difference? You would hug her. You would kiss her. You would put Band-Aids on her scrapes. You wouldn’t fear. You would love her freely.

And maybe… just maybe… you’d consider making her your daughter.

The thing is- you’re confused. That + sign doesn’t make her unadoptable. It doesn’t even necessarily make her sick. HIV has never been spread in a household environment. You can’t get it from hugging and kissing and putting on band aids. It’s easier to manage than diabetes.

She’s not stuck in that orphanage because she’s HIV+. She’s stuck in that orphanage because we are misinformed. Because we don’t know.

Today is world AIDS day. Take the time to KNOW and LEARN. And maybe…just maybe… take a step to help children like her out of orphanages. Take a step to reach out to someone branded with that symbol. Take a step to speak out for the people all over the world fighting this stigma. Take a step to love them like Jesus.

http://www.projecthopeful.org/get-involved/truth-pandemic#.TteVgTBoR9c.facebook

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fair Trade Christmas Shopping

That beautiful wonderful time of the year is almost here! Christmas!

Which means it's time for Christmas shopping too. Americans spend billions of dollars each year on Christmas.

Why not use that money to buy gifts AND support those in need all around the world?

If you're in the DC or Philadelphia area you can come to one of our fundraisers on December 3rd (DC) and 4th (PA). We will be selling Uganda crafts to raise money for Abide.

The DC event is 12:00-3:00 at Christ Our Shepherd Church is South East DC on December 3rd.

The PA event is at 2:00-5:00 at Kelsey's house on December 4th.

If you can't make either of those events don't worry! There are still tons of awesome organizations out there you can support this holiday season! Here are just a few. Let us know if we missed your favorite!

Ten Thousand Villages

Tukula (LOVE them!)

Ssekos

31 Bits

Krochet Kids

147 Million Orphans

Punjammies

World Finds

Forgotten Shirts (the idea behind this company is genius)

Mend (OBSESSED with these bags. They are real pricey but beautiful and durable)

One Mango Tree

Ember Arts

Annie O Boutique

Acacia Creations

People of Hope Crafts

Good and Fair Clothing (um... can we just talk about the fact you can get fair trade underwear from here?!?!?!?!?!)

Giving Squared

Pure Citizen

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ashes

We have a new baby in our house.

And we’re all fighting over her.

I’m now the oldest of five, my dad is off work this week, we have one set of grandparents staying at the house, and countless friends, aunts, uncles, and cousins coming to visit each day. Needless to say this baby is held A LOT! But as she gets passed from person to person, and we ooh and aah over her, it isn’t long before she needs to go back to mommy to eat. And when she is placed in mommy’s arms you can almost see this audible sigh of relief. She settles into mommy’s chest and she is as content as can be and I am reminded…

Attachment starts in the womb.

There is an undeniable biological bond between a mother and child. Infants can recognize their mother’s voices and smell. The mother produces milk at the sound of her infants cry. The nine months in utero have prepared the mother and baby for what is to come. The mother’s bodies releases the hormones needed for infant care. Baby recognizes mom and knows her as a place of nurture. To take an infant from their mother and a mother from their infant is unnatural.

Sometimes it is necessary. And when it is adoption is a glorious way to find beauty in the brokenness.

But may we never forget that brokenness. May we never forget that mother and infants belong together. May we do everything in our power to prevent them from separating. May we never let adoption become a business where demand creates the supply. May we never forget that adoption should always remain as an answer to a tragedy. And may we be careful as to what we label a “tragedy”.

I look at my two day old baby sister sleeping peacefully on my mother’s chest. I watch the way her body curls into my mother’s arms. The way her breath matches the rise and fall of my mother’s diaphragm. I know she is breathing in my mother’s scent and voice whispering in her ear.

Their bond is pure beauty.

And I can’t help thinking of the unnecessary breaking of that bond I have witnessed. I can’t help thinking of the grieving mother watching her milk dry up, her emotions rage out of control, leaving the hospital with no infant, healing from birth with no baby in her arms. And the infant, adjusting to new smells and voices, snuggling into a stranger’s chest, and drifting off to sleep in the arms of a new person.

Jesus will bring the healing to everyone involved, but there may be scars. And we should only be okay with those scars if they were a result of protecting a child from even greater scars.

Adoption. It is beauty. But it is beauty from the ashes. Let us not forget the ashes.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What's in a Name? Jesus is our Center

We went through about six different names. We tried Luganda, we tried Hebrew, we tried Swahili, we tried Lusoga, and we settled on English. Every name was good but just not perfect.

We chose Abide because in the dictionary it means to “remain stable or fixed in a state”. We wanted our families to have a place to come and heal, be restored, gain direction, and tools for success before heading out on their own as stable parents, spouses, and members of the community. We also desired for them to come to know their savior and learn to abide in Christ each and every day of their life.

But what really set Abide apart from all the other names we considered was the message it sent to us. We know about missionary burn out. We know about missionary selfishness. We know about striving after success rather than Christ. We know all about failure.

Abide is a daily reminder to us about where our center should be, where our eyes and hearts should be focused. Every time we say the name aloud, every time we read it in a document, every time we (one day) drive into our home and see the welcome sign we will be reminded of what it’s all about. Jesus.

We will be reminded to stop the hurry and the worry and the to-do lists and abide in our savior. To rest and to soak up all He has for us. Kelsey and I are big on accomplishing things. We have busy schedules and always have a million things that need to get done. It is so easy for us to lose focus- to forget to stop and soak up that child’s laugh, that mother’s hug, that father’s smile; to see God’s craftsmanship in everything and everyone around us.

And we don’t know yet exactly what he wants for Abide’s future. But we do know that he wants us to wait for His voice… and to abide in His love

Friday, September 23, 2011

This is the Life He has Called us to

This is the life He has called us to. One of loving and losing. One of extremes. Great joy and great sorrow- sometimes all mixed up into one. This is the life we have said yes to- because we live for the joy and we live through the sorrow because that bit of joy mixed into it all is what makes it all worth it.

Like medicine hidden in chocolate. The joy keeps us going. The sorrow teaches us to trust and lean and bring it all to the feet of Jesus.

And it’s in moments when yet another baby dies that we think- why the hell did we say yes to this? Why did we say yes to loving? Why did we say yes to a world full of disease and death and corruption and cruelty? Why did we say yes to a God that never promised to stop the hard times from coming?

And we breathe in deep… and we force our heart to calm and soften and open to the Truth that washes healing through us. Because that joy that keeps us coming back for more- that is JESUS. He is what makes beauty from the ashes… He makes beautiful things out of us… He is who makes it all worth it… He is the one that brings the love we pour out each and every day… and He is the only one that can bring the healing and renewal.

We love and we lose. And yet we gain Jesus through the whole process. And we gain eternity with the one we are losing.

Baby Peace, Baby Joel, Baby Shamim- We miss you. We love you. We cannot wait to see you again.

~

I wrote this two weeks ago when Baby Shamim went to be with Jesus. I wrote it for my friends who loved Shamim and fought for her life no matter the cost. I didn’t send it… I don’t know why. Maybe because these truths hadn’t quite made it from my hands to my heart and Jesus knew I would need them this week.

Sweet, Precious Ajuma went to be with Jesus this morning. I’m not going to lie- I don’t feel at peace, I’m not trusting God, I’m not strong.

I’m angry.

For once I want a baby to live. For once I want a miracle. I’m sick of loving and caring and working for lives only to watch them slip away. I’m sick of being positive and dreaming about the day they’re running around and laughing only to see that image crushed to pieces.

But you know what? This isn’t about me. Madeline L’engle wrote “compassion means to suffer with, but it doesn't mean to get lost in the suffering, so that it becomes exclusively one’s own.”

The moment this grief becomes all about me is the moment I’ve lost sight of what this all means.

So friends please join me in having compassion for Ajuma’s family- his family that are grieving the loss of their son and brother, a family that sat by his bedside for months at a time, the family that didn’t blink before sacrificing anything that was asked of them to try and save their son’s life. They need your prayers.

And please friends join me in remembering the hope we have in Christ. It is because of Jesus that Ajuma is dancing in heaven fully healed and fully whole. It is because of Jesus that we do not need to grieve. It is because of Jesus that we know the sadness with only last for a season.

It is because of Jesus that we have the strength to do this again. Love and lose. Again and Again. And humbly pray that we leave glimmers of Christ along the way.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Negative Effects of Institutional Care

“I constantly experienced a sense of profound loneliness and a deep sense of uncertainty. I felt lost. You have to understand that my exposure to the outside world was limited… What did I have? Where would I go for Easter or Christmas?”

- - Stephen Ucembe (grew up in an institution, speaking about trying to fit into University life after the institution)


Reading this post it is easy to come to the conclusion that we believe all institutions are bad. However we believe there are such things as good institutions. We define a good institution as one that…

1. 1. Understands they are not a long term solution for a child and seeks to re-unify or adopt their children out as soon as possible.

2. 2. Ethically seeks out alternatives for their children and seeks re-unification with family members before turning to adoption.

3. 3. Does their best to meet the children’s emotional and physical needs

4. 4. Meets a need in the community rather than creating one. This means they set up in an area that is not already overrun with orphanages and they only take in children that are truly in need of their care.

The goal of this post is not to attack every institution out there- it is to show that institutions should be a last resort for children and never a long term solution.

We will approach this by addressing myths some people hold when it comes to institutional care.

Myth: An institution that is well run and well funded can provide all a child needs to develop into a healthy and functioning adult.

“For the last half century, child development specialists have recognized that residential institutions consistently fail to meet children’s developmental needs for attachment, acculturation and social integration.”

The best institution in the world cannot give a child everything a loving and committed family can. Children in institutions may be given food and clothes and an education but their emotional needs cannot be met in an institutional setting. In the best institutions children are well loved by the workers and volunteers who care for them. However these volunteers come and go and the workers shifts’ end and new groups come in. One consistent caregiver is not provided and as a result children develop attachment issues that can lead to developmental delays, self esteem problems, trust issues, behavioral problems, and future relationship issues. Children’s unique needs and differences aren’t accommodated when there are other children to be cared for and this can also lead to increased emotional, psychological, or physical problems. Research shows children raised in institutions have lower IQ’s, higher rates of suicide, homelessness, brain damage, and psychological disorders and medical problems.

Myth: But the kids seemed so happy and loving. They came running up to us and held our hands and jumped into our laps. They must be well-loved if they know how to show it.

“Although such behaviour may initially seem to be an expression of spontaneous affection, it is actually a symptom of a significant attachment problem. A young child with a secure sense of attachment is more likely to be cautious, even fearful, of strangers, rather than seeking to touch them.”

Think of the children you know back home. If they were in a room without their parents and a whole group of people who didn’t look like them walked in, how would they react? Most children would be scared. They’d either cry and run away or at least act shy. It isn’t normal, safe, or healthy for kids to run up to strangers and jump into their arms immediately after meeting them. This behavior is a sign of attachment issues these children face as a result of their years spent in an institution. These children were never given one caregiver who consistently met their needs so they never learned how to attach to another person and develop that relationship of trust and love. They can get their cuddles and special attention from the new visitors or anyone else that shows up- it makes no difference to them.

Usually this can be changed if and when the child is placed in a family. A consistent amount of time having their needs met by their mom and dad eventually teaches them how to form relationships and place their trust and love in others. Some children however develop a disorder called Reactive Attachment Disorder. This is often a result of severe neglect and/or abuse and is often found in children who have grown up in institutions. This disorder can be hard to treat and makes family life difficult for these children.

Myth: Okay so kids in orphanages may be a little behind developmentally but they can easily catch up as soon as they get into a family.

“Every three months that a young child resides in an institution, they lose one month of development.”

Kids are little sponges that are great at bouncing back and catching up in their development when given the right environment, but for a child who spends years in an institution permanent damage can be done. For someone who has never been consistently loved it’s hard to believe you are worthy of love. For someone who has lived in an incredibly structured and strict daily routine it is hard to adapt to any new environment. For someone who has never known family life it’s hard to adjust. Some research even supports that institutional life can actually damage a child’s brain and affect their ability to emotionally process their environment.

*Now if I was not a Christian I might believe there are children who are beyond saving, but thanks to our all powerful God I can say that no child is beyond saving - that miracles are possible, that healing is within these kid’s reach. However that does not mean we cannot ignore the long term affects children face from institutional life.

Myth: There’s nothing wrong with someone moving to a country to open an orphanage. There are still kids out there that need help.

“In communities under severe economic stress, increasing the number of places in residential care results in children being pushed out of poor households to fill those places.”

In some cultures, such as African cultures, a significant amount of value is placed on family ties. In countries where there are very few institutions available children are often cared for within the extended family or community if their parents are unable to care for them. However when institutions start to open families who are uneducated in the possible developmental harm of these institutions make the decision to send their children there instead of finding alternative solutions. The orphanage can actually create the need.

A survey of orphanages in Uganda in 1992 found that 95% of the children in institutional care had living relatives. Now it would be na├»ve to assume all of those children could return home to their families but a large majority of them could and did thanks to efforts by Save the Children (86% were re-united). This is why it is so important that institutions are careful about what children they allow to be admitted and why just starting an orphanage without the research and knowledge of the area can be more harmful than helpful. Some orphanages are what we would call good institutions (see opening) and these can meet a real need for orphaned and abandoned children, but we don’t need hundreds of orphanages in the same area. We really only need a few good ones so to that person wanting to move to a country they know little about and open an orphanage- please think about the impact you’re really making and whether it is going to be a beneficial one.

Myth: We’re a Christian run orphanage and we’re raising up our children to be strong Christian leaders in their own country.

With the developmental delays, possible brain damage, attachment issues, and psychological and medical problem your children are at risk for chances are they’re not going to make really good leaders. Every child deserves a family (God places the lonely in FAMILIES-Psalm 68:6).

I hope this discussion of the harmful effects of long-term institutional care shows why it is Abide’s goal to prevent as many children as possible from being separated from their families and entering into this form of care.

Sources/other resources:

*All quotes (unless mentioned otherwise) are from the document Families Not Orphanages found here

Blog of a wonderful couple living in Uganda and working with alternative orphan care initiatives- http://rileysinuganda.blogspot.com/p/important-links.html

One of our favorites in the blog world- Kristen is an adoptive mother and advocate for creative orphan care solutions: http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2010/02/et-tu-anderson-cooper.html

http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2011/03/psychological-impacts-of-abandonment.html

Some great resources for studies and documents on alternative care options for vulnerable children:

Better Care Network- http://www.crin.org/BCN/

The Way Forward Project: www.thewayforwardporject.org

Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children (OVC): http://www.mglsd.go.ug/ovc/

Book:

Federici, Ronald. Help for the Hopeless Child. 1998.

(Megan would like to add a personal note about Dr. Federici. She has had some experience with him and while she loves his research and insight into institutionalized kids she does NOT support his therapy practices. So please do not take away from this article that we endorsing his therapy in any way, shape, or form)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Families Not Orphanages

"A survey conducted in Uganda in 1992, in the wake of civil war and increasing AIDS mortality, found that approximately 2,900 children were living in institutional care. The survey also found that approximately half of these children had both parents living, 20 per cent had one parent alive and another 25 per cent had living relatives. Poverty was the reason most of these children were in residential care. Guided by these findings, a multi-year effort by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and Save the Children UK improved and enforced national policies on institutional care reunited at least 1,200 children with their parents or relatives and closed a number of sub-standard residential institutions. A 1993 evaluation found 86 percent of the children to be well integrated in their families. Unfortunately, some of this work in Uganda is now being reversed, and the trend of orphanages seems to be on the rise, apparently due to shifting priorities in policy implementation."

- Families Not Orphanages by John Williamson and Aaron Greenberg (2010)
Taken from the Better Care Network

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Second Chances

He was malnourished. She was sick. They took her to witch doctors. They left him at the orphanage for years. The Dad can't hold a job. The mother is HIV+.

It's HARD to return kids you love to these situations. It sucks. All you want to do is hold onto that baby tight and never let them go. You don't want to trust their parents- they've messed up once and they'll mess up again. You don't want to trust God when he whispers in your ear that these babies deserve a chance to live in their homes. You ignore His gift of grace- extended to you and longing to reach those families too. God is working in you, calling you to extend his grace to those families. To give them second chances. And all you want to do is yell no and take all those babies home with you.

You don't want to stop and wonder if he was malnourished because they didn't have money for food. If she was sick because they couldn't get medical care. If they took her to witch doctors because they figured that was better than watching their baby die. If they left him at the orphanage because they doubted they could give him more than the orphanage could. If he can't hold a job because jobs are disappearing all around Uganda. If she could get ARVs and still be able to care for her baby.

You don't want to stop and realize that you are no better than them. That you are a sinful human being that God has poured his grace over time and time again. That you have never faced these hardships and you have no idea if you would make the same choices.

That his mercies are new every morning. For you and for them.

Because is we stop and realize all these things and give these families a second chance we will be blown away. We will see kids transformed into happy, attached, and well-adjusted kids. We will see parents doing everything they can to give their child a good life. We will see families built and grown.

We will see images like these:

-

Now sometimes these second chances don't work. We have had to remove kids from their homes because their caregivers aren't committed to them. They don't love and care for them even when given the ability to do so. And sometimes second chances can't be extended because of blatant neglect or abuse. Those situations do happen and when they do the child should absolutely be removed from the home or not returned to it to begin with. BUT we're finding this is rare. We are finding a majority of families love their kids and when given the means care for them wonderfully. And we can't let the minority where it doesn't work out cloud our vision so that we don't give the majority a chance at living in their homes with their families.

Families deserve a second chance... because every child deserves a chance with their family.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An Introduction

Hey all- my name is Kelsey. I felt it appropriate to at least introduce myself, as this is the first time I've posted on Megan's blog- the blog which has been taken over as the Abide Family Center blog. I am a 21 year old social work major at Temple University, in Philadelphia. I took the Fall 2010/Spring 2011 semesters off to live in Uganda, and completed some independent study work on the side. Over the last 2 years, in and out of the country, our eyes have been opened to the generation of children growing up in institutional settings because of extreme poverty, not because they are totally unloved or completely orphaned or abandoned. We have found parents and extended family members who love their children, they just have no way to provide for them. We believe in strengthening families/reunification being the first priority, and if that is not possible kinship care (adoption through the extended family) or domestic adoption should be the second option explored. As we understand the current situation surrounding orphan care in Uganda, we realize we do not hold the popular opinion. As we follow through with our vision for Abide, we pray and we discuss the controversial not just to create a stir, but in hopes that others will understand we are not anti-international adoption, but we are pro-ethical permanent placements for the children in Uganda. Yes, there ARE cases where international adoption is the best option for that child (cases of abuse/neglect, older children, children with medical needs/disabilities) we have just seen many cases where this was not so. As Megan stated in the previous blog, when God calls us in scripture to care for orphans, we are called to care for the widows and the poor as well. I just can't imagine that God calls us to "rescue"children from poverty, separating them from the family God placed them in, while ignoring the needs of their natural families.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Holistic Approach

We land in a third world country full with poverty and hunger and disease all around us. And that is all we see. Our eyes skip over the beauty, the simplicity, the clouds forming in the sky, the tress dancing over the horizon. We see the children playing in the yards and the mothers nursing their children. And because we don't see new toys and hugs and kisses we assume the love is not there. Love may look different in this culture but we don't take the time to learn that.

We walk into orphanages and joke how we "want to take them all home," without stopping to wonder whether they already have one. When we hear a child is being adopted internationally we tear up at the new wonderful life they are going to have, without stopping to mourn the country and culture they are losing.

Some of us even go as far as to take children from their homes and fly them off to America. We justify it because the parent agreed or the family is too poor or the mother is HIV+. We don't wonder, did the parent agree because they didn't see any other choice? Did we even think to offer them one? We take the child away instead of helping the family out of poverty. We take the child away instead of getting the mother on ARV treatment.

But Adoption is ALWAYS okay we argue... just look at James 1:27. We love the first part- the caring for the orphan. Because we all love to cuddle cute babies. But what about the widows? How are our actions caring for the widows? How is adoption caring for the widows?

It's not. Adoption is good. Adoption is necessary. But if we as a society, as a church, as a country, as a generation, really want to address the orphan crisis we better stop putting all our eggs in the adoption basket. We better start creating and supporting programs that reach the ENTIRE family. Programs that prevent orphan status. Programs that re-unite families.

Because the truth is God didn't just command us to care for the orphan. A majority of the caring for orphans scriptures are followed by a command to care for the widow or the poor as well. So let's go out and serve the orphan but let us remember that we cannot effectively address any problem unless we look at the whole picture... and for orphans that means their families too.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Maybe Radical is Really Ordinary

People have told me i'm amazing. People have congratulated my "calling."People have made sad faces at the sacrifices i'm making.

But the truth is I love every minute of these "sacrifices".

I LOVE Uganda... being there is like being home. When i'm there I feel like everything was made for me... like God created me to be there and every strange weird thing about myself suddenly becomes my strengths. The experiences i've had in my life all seem to have been pointing to this very moment and this very country. My soul is at peace and is saturated in joy. And although the hard is so very hard the good is so very very good- and it cancels out the bad every time.

So do I get the luxury of believing i've got it all figured out? I know my calling i'm following God. Look at my i'm being radical like David Platt said, i'm loving like crazy like Francis Chan wants me to. I'm following God's call on my life- aren't I so obedient? Five gold Jesus stars for me.

The last few weeks i've been really struggling with these thoughts. Am I really following Jesus? Am I following his call on my life or am I just doing what I really want to do? I do truly believe God has called me to Uganda but I wonder if I didn't want to go would I still go? I'm starting to realize i'm not chasing after God with my whole heart because my motivation isn't really him.

I justified my calling by my joy. I concluded because Uganda felt so right and I felt so happy it must be God' will for me. What a completely ridiculously idea. Did Jonah want to go to Ninevah? Did Mary want to a pregnant teenager? Did Abraham want to leave the only home he knew? The truth is none of this is about me. It's all about God.

If my motivation truly was God I would find him here in America too. If my focus was Jesus I would be able to find just as much joy here as in Uganda. I would learn to be content in all situations, as long as I had Him by my side.

So i've been asking myself the "what ifs"

What if God said no Uganda? What is He said wait a few more years? What is he said there wasn't a husband coming? What if he said I wouldn't be a mother?

Would I still follow him to the hard places? The places I don't want to go. Would I trust there are rewards there too?

Because this whole radically loving God thing has nothing to do with what great things we accomplish but everything to do with obeying God. Even if that means being completely ordinary. Even if that means a quiet life in a dead end job. Even if it means just being an amazing stay at home mom.

Because I don't think missionaries in Africa are as radical as them. The Christians who get no recognition. The one's whose accomplishments aren't viewed as such here on earth. The one's who just follow blindly where God leads, even when there is no earthly glory.

You are my heroes. I want to learn from you, I want to be like you. And I have a feeling in heaven you'll be the one's everyone's patting on the back.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

For Such a Time as This...

Esther was born in a village.

No one knew her story... no one knew her name... except for the twenty or so neighbors and family around her.

They couldn't feed her. Her mom's grave was being dug right beside the hut she cried and slept in. Goat milk? Tea? What do you give a newborn when her mother's milk is gone right along with her?

Medical care too far away... and costing too much money.

This sounded like a recipe for disaster.

How much Jesus loves to take a life the world thinks is heading for disaster and turn it around to shine his glory.

Two weeks ago Esther got very sick.

Friends ran around town trying to find her blood...
She dominated Facebook statuses...
Skype accounts were drained as people phoned back and forth...
People a world away who have never met her woke up in the middle of night to pray for her...
A youth group who heard her story moments before got together and prayed...
Tears fell as people that loved her grew anxious and frustrated...
Medical bills were payed... prayers were prayed... kind words were spoken...

This baby born in a village in Uganda had people all over the world praying for her. People who have never met her... but really want to now :)

I just can't even comprehend all of this. I am overflowing with thankfulness for everyone that helped save Esther's life two weeks ago. I can't believe how God has used her life and her story to bring Him glory... and i'm so excited to see what else He has in store for her and her family.

And so excited God's bringing me along for the ride :)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Eye of the Storm

The wind whipped and the thunder roared. They huddled together in fear and their eyes spoke the same words, “how are we possibly going to get out of this situation?”

And then the impossible happened when they looked through the fog and saw their savior walked towards them. Right into the eye of the storm he walked- refusing to remain safely on shore when his disciples were afraid and alone. And in the midst of that storm Peter wanted to be with Jesus. He wanted to feel the wonder of joining God in a miracle. He wanted to have an experience with Jesus. He stepped out of that boat and he did not fear because he was on top of all the turmoil that raged beneath him. His eyes were fixed upon his savior… until the wind slapped and dragged itself around him and he lost that focus. He looked around him at the dark sky, vicious water, and threatening wind and he began to sink into the storm. In that moment when everything raged around him he cried out for Jesus and his savior was there to pull him up out of the storm.

Peter failed. Peter doubted. Peter’s faith was small. But Peter experienced a miracle with Jesus. Peter had the faith to step out of the boat right into the eye of the storm in his eagerness to get to his savior. Peter got to grow in his faith. Peter sunk into the darkness and learned that Jesus will always be there to catch him.

But what of the disciples still in the boat? All they got to do was witness a miracle- their eyes straining to see through the fog and the rain. Their fear kept them in their seats and kept them away from God. They missed out on the opportunity to be with Jesus, to grow in faith, and to venture into the heart of God’s wonder.

I don’t want to just watch from the sidelines as Jesus does great things. I don’t want to be safe. I don’t want to just sit in the boat. I want to walk into the eye of the storm with my eyes fixed on Him. And I will fail and fall and feel as if I am sinking right into the storm but I know Jesus will always be there to catch me. And though my life may be one series of storms I will get to have an experience with Jesus with each and every one. I will get to feel His strong hands catching me when I sink and I will see miracles walking on the water.

I want to live in the eye of the storm.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mama Joel

Shyly and somewhat awkwardly we smile at each other. Through a translator I try to share the words I want her to hear. Words that just grasp at the surface of the love I have for her, the depth of what she has taught me, and my ignorant desire to take away some of her pain.

But words here always fail.

We don’t speak the same language and yet somehow we are connected. I held her baby for the first twelve hours of his life… hours that should have been hers and I wish so much that they were. When that baby went to be with Jesus we wept together. It was a terrible and ugly moment and yet the beauty of it overwhelmed me. I loved her son with her and together we grieved. Ugandan style we knelt in the dirt and screamed and sobbed. We didn’t have words because language and culture tried to keep us apart but the love of Christ drew us together as we wept. Who needs words when grief is the same in every language?

In such a vulnerable ugly part of her life she invited me in. And I am forever grateful.

As I drive to the airport with the usual dread in my heart a friend asks me what the highs of this trip were. To my surprise I say, “Baby Joel.” And I don’t just mean the days he lived. The day he died is a memory I will always cherish. Because I’ve never felt more like Jesus’ hands and feet then when my hands were rubbing the back of a grieving mother and my feet were covered in dirt as we sat in the hut preparing her baby for burial.

Anyone can bring money to try and save a child’s life… run to hospitals to find blood… but only Jesus can bring the comfort a mother needs. I am wide eyed that he chose to use me as a part of his plan to do that. In the moments after Joel died I grabbed onto the hope God has promised us and I have never felt so close to heaven and so sure of our God’s faithfulness.

Tears fell in that car. A baby lay in parent’s arms with no earthly life left in him. Sobs came and went in waves. Prayers were whispered in breaths. And I remember clearly looking over the scene and knowing more than I had ever known before…

Jesus was there.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Ethics of Adoption

A year ago I wanted Ugandan babies to be flown to the US to live the life I thought was best. A year ago international adoption was my favorite thing in the world. A year ago I didn't realize the importance of culture and I didn't understand the ethics and corruption involved in the international adoption world.

But now I have grown. I have seen children who I thought had no future but to be adopted to America home with grandparents, fathers, or uncles who LOVE them. I have seen children thrive in the village. I have seen moms who we wrote off as incapable of caring for their children step up to the plate and do marvelously. I have seen fathers who people just assumed couldn't do it love their children back into healing.

I see our kids smiling, laughing, and running to their grandparent's arms and I realize I got it all wrong. My ethnocentrism went to the extreme. The extreme where I actually believed a life in the United States would be better for these children then a village life with their biological family.

Because adoption is beautiful- seeing a child and parent linked not by blood but by love is miraculous. But we cannot forget the hard parts. We cannot think away the day when our adopted kids ask, "why didn't my first mom and dad want me?" When that day comes we HAVE to be able to say we did everything we could to try and resettle them, to try and empower their families to care for them. Every adoptive parent should know their child's story, should know the details behind it, and should do the research themselves to ensure the adoption is ethical.

Before adoption is even considered every effort should be made to reunite a child with their biological family. If it’s a matter of money offer them sponsorship or job training. If it’s a matter of ignorance about parenting come along side them and help them learn. If the child’s been abandoned every effort should be used up to find their families. Too many people assume because a child was abandoned that every member of their family doesn’t want them. It only takes one person to abandon a child and you don’t know the full story or what aunt, uncle, grandparent, father, mother is waiting and wondering what happened to their child. Don’t write a father, mother, care giver off until you’ve given them a chance.

When reunification is not possible the next step should be domestic adoption. We cannot make the dangerous mistake of believing we can give a child more than their own culture and society can. We cannot be ignorant of the identity issues adopted children can face and why it is so important to give them a chance at growing up in their original culture. I love Uganda and it hurts me to see American parents come in and bring children out of this country with no intention of ever bringing them back or even trying to maintain their culture and language.

It is my opinion that is only after all these options have failed that a child should be adopted internationally and I believe it is because these options have not been exhausted that so many countries have shut down their international adoptions. I fear that for Uganda it is coming all too soon. I realize these opinions of mine are not popular. I realize they could make some people- even close friends- mad or offended. But I can’t stay silent because I’ve seen the disastrous results of people’s ignorance when it comes to international adoption.

I believe it is all our responsibilities to ensure that adoptions are done ethically- those working with orphan care, those adopting, those supporting others who are adopting, orphanages, adoption agencies, etc… There are millions of orphans sitting in orphanages and just waiting and they need us to act but we HAVE to make sure we act in the way that is best for them… not the easiest way or the way that makes us look the best. We have to put aside the mentality of the American life as being the best option. We have to forget the white savior mentality. We have to stop being selfish and truly ask ourselves: what is best for these precious children?

Important note: Many of you know I work closely with Amani Baby Cottage. My comments on unethical adoptions in Uganda are NOT a reflection of my work with them. I have found Amani to have some of the most ethical adoptions in all of Uganda. Amani does the research every child deserves into their families and encourages domestic adoption as well as processing international adoptions.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Life is a Gift

Life is a gift.

The ability to dream about your future.

The ability to make plans.

The ability to breath in and out.

The ability to laugh and sing and never wonder if today was your last.

The ability to love and build a life with someone.

The ability to take the simple things for granted every single day.

We teach our children good manners because we believe one day they will need to use them at their job. We send them to school because one day they will go to college. We joke with them about their futures- telling the toddler with her baby dolls that she will make a wonderful mother. We expect children to have a future- we take this for granted.

But what if they didn’t? What of that day when the doctor sits you down and says, “we have done treatment after treatment and test after test and there is no use.”

What if the doctor tells you the amount of money you must pay to save your child’s life is more than you will make in a year? What of that moment when your dreams about your child’s career, success, wife, children, college all fade away when you realize they may never happen.
You took life for granted and now it is slipping away.

His name is Ajuma and he is not a fictional character to make you care about the poor. He is not a statistic for governments to write in their books. He is not a child we use to get sympathy and funds from you. He is a real live boy who has held my hand and whispered greetings into my ears. And he is dying all because the money is not there.

His father sat in the hospital with the doctor shaking his head sadly and he called us and told us, “they are saying he needs a kidney transplant to live and it will cost more than 6 million shillings ($3,000)”. We gasp and ask him to repeat. We don’t have that kind of money. We’re trying to fundraise for so many other things- we don’t have a clue how to stop and fundraise for this. For one surgery, for one boy.

But this is a life. A child’s life. And money is just paper. How can we even think about saying no?
So we said yes. Yes we will fight for your boy. Yes we will strive for the day he graduates school. We will work for the moment he welcomes his child into the world. We will do all we can to give him a future.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your help.

If you know ANYONE with contacts in the medical world PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE e-mail me and let me know. We have been advised that the best course of action would be to try and get Ajuma to the states to perform the surgery. We have a copy of all his medical records that we can send to any doctor who might be able to advice us in how to proceed. You can e-mail me at megster16@gmail.com or e-mail my friend Kelsey who is also working with Ajuma at tub56099@temple.edu

And of course we welcome and love your prayers.

Ajuma’s father has left his farm, family, and home to stay by his son’s bedside for over a month now. He has not given up hope even when no one can promise him his son will be okay. Ajuma’s father is still fighting… and so are we.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Baby Joel passed away this morning.

"How great is your goodness, which you have laid up for those who fear you. Since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides you, who acts for the one who waits for him. Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love him. But God has revealed them to us through his spirit. You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

How precious is your loving kindness, O God! Therefore the children of men out their trust under the shadow of your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your pleasures. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

Godliness if profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come."
Daily Light May 25th

So grateful for your prayers. Please continue to pray for Joel's family.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Jehovah is Lord

After our first night with baby Joel where we monitored him and kept him on oxygen I expected to return him to his mom and come back in a few month to visit a happy healthy baby. The next day however we found Joel with jaundice and when we approached a nurse to ask about the mother the nurse ignored us and instead answered her cell phone and walked away to have a private conversation. After the previous night where they refused to put a barely breathing Joel on oxygen because they didn’t have a cannula and then got mad at us when we said we were leaving we were done with this particular hospital and took Joel to a clinic in town. The clinic told us jaundice was normal and to bring him back the next day. When we took him back the next day they tested his blood levels and told us he needed a blood transfusion but that they weren’t legally allowed to do it. So we took Joel to hospital number three where they tested his blood type (B+) but told us they didn’t have any blood. So we went to hospital number four where they had blood but no one there to test the blood for compatibility. So we went to hospital number five where they only had a small amount of blood and much sicker babies who needed it more. So we went to hospital number six. If this hospital didn’t have his blood we were going to have to leave for Kampala and start going to hospitals there. We had been searching for blood for Joel for six hours now and were so upset. Over and over again we had prayed as we entered each new hospital and over and over again I expected God to show up and he hadn’t. I was so frustrated and angry. How could the God that kept this baby going when he fought for life his first hours on earth not show up for us now? I sat in the car so sleep deprived and with not an ounce of patience left in my body and I screamed out to God, “where are you???” And I felt Jesus in that car looking me in the eye and saying, “I’m right here.” God never promises that everything will turn out how we want. He never promises that all our selfish requests will be granted. But he does promise to always be present with us and in that car I knew that whatever happened God would be there by my side and whether he granted my desperate requests or not Joel’s name (Jehovah is Lord) will never cease to be true.

And so I was struggling to hold on to those promises as we ran into our sixth hospital and desperately asked a nurse whether they had blood. She said she wasn’t sure but she found someone to bring us to the fridge where they stored it. We walked in and he opened the fridge. Sitting at the bottom was ONE bag of blood and as we leaned in we saw written on the bag B+ (Joel’s blood type). We screamed. We laughed. We cried. We praised our God.

It was a miracle and it showed me once again that God is listening and ever present in our lives.

But it didn’t mean Joel was out of the woods. Today we met a British doctor who agreed to come to the hospital with us and examine Joel. She said he was severely jaundice and fighting a pretty bad infection. Thankfully the doctor is doing everything she recommended but hearing more negative news about our precious Joel is wearing me down. God brought him through his first night of breathing- He provided the blood he needed- why can’t he be a healthy baby boy already? I just want so badly to go visit Joel and for once hear good news.

But God is continuing to whisper, “I am right here and I’m not leaving.”

He doesn’t promise me that Joel will be okay. He doesn’t promise that the next few days will be easy. But he does promise to never leave me nor forsake me.

And no matter what happens Jehovah will always be Lord.

Please keep Joel in your prayers.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Baby Joel

Some experiences are just too holy to fit into words.

Meet baby Joel:

He is the son of the guard at Amani.

The guard told us that he needed to leave work because his wife had just given birth and was in critical condition so we drove him to the village clinic where his wife had given birth. We found his wife very weak and still bleeding and his two hour old son barely breathing so we drove them both to the hospital. The drive to the hospital was terrifying as baby Joel’s breathing became more irregular and we sat in the car navigating Jinja’s roads at night and begging God for Joel’s life. When we arrived at the hospital we met the usual Uganda health care frustration which I’ll save for a different post. We ended up leaving in a rage and rushing Joel to Amani where there was an oxygen machine. We called Amani’s nurse and once she established that Joel did not have any other serious needs other than oxygen right now we settled in for the night. When the sun rose Joel was ready to breathe on his own and we were able to bring him back to his mommy.

Today we found him with jaundice and the mother’s milk hasn’t come in yet (but her bleeding stopped and she seems much stronger). Please keep Baby Joel and his mother in your prayers.

We were given the honor of naming Baby Joel and chose Joel because it means Jehovah is Lord. May we never forget that Jehovah was Lord the night Joel fought for his life as he is every day. Nothing we do or accomplish is us… it is all for his glory.

“Rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God. For he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

Joel 1:13

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Unqualified

In bible study someone says, “I think God chooses to use those that are not qualified to do his work in order that his glory will shine even brighter.” We all nod in unison. So very very true.

I sit in a hospital in Africa and question a Ugandan nurse about kidney transplants. Next to me is a father who has put all his hope for his son’s life in me and Kelsey’s hands. He sits quietly with his arms around his son, looking at me expectantly, as I struggle to find the right questions to ask and the right words of comfort to give.

I am 19 years old with one year of college under my belt. I have spent a total of five months and two weeks in this country. I am so not qualified to be in this place. To be sitting in this hospital handing over the file for a dying child and trying to find a way to save his life. As the nurse looks over his file I can’t help but wonder- how in the world did I get here?

How did I become a sorta-maybe-kinda- mother to a 15 month old? When did I become the girl a father trusts his son’s life with? Who decided I was smart enough to make judgments about whether a child’s home is healthy and safe? What was God thinking when he brought me here?

I am not particularly adventurous- I was never the girl who jumped at every chance she got to do something new and exciting. And yet somehow I ended up hopping on bodas that weave in and out of crazy traffic and bargaining prices in a foreign market. I was never good at roughing it- I liked air conditioning and a warm shower every day. And yet somehow I live in Africa where it’s hot and there are bugs and I’m always covered in dirt.

I am not qualified for this life. I have a feeling that even if I read all the books and found the exact perfect major and spent years listening to more qualified people I would still never feel like I knew what I was doing.

But you know what? That’s just the way I like it. When I feel inadequate each and every day I have no other choice but to lean on Jesus and when once in a while I actually accomplish something I have no one else to praise but my God.

I hope I never feel qualified for this life.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Meeting Esther's Family

I’ve sat down to write this post so many times and sat right back up with an empty page still in front of me. I guess it’s just too hard to use mere words to describe the perfection of Esther’s home, the faithfulness of our God, my paradox of emotions, and how unreal meeting her family was.

And then I worry that I will just sound like a broken record when I tell you that God is so good and so faithful and I am so happy. It’s all true but it’s nothing new. And yet I will tell you I am blown away by God’s goodness and faithfulness because a year ago I had no idea what Esther’s future looked like and now I could not ask for it to be more perfect.

When we arrived at her compound her entire family came running to greet us and were so excited to see Esther. One auntie told me, “we have been anticipating her since this morning.” I cried in the Jjaja’s hut as I told them, “I prayed for Esther to be loved and cared for and you are the answer to my prayers.” As I looked around the home and saw the family pass Esther around to welcome her back I knew without a doubt in my mind that there was no better place for Esther to grow up than here.

My favorite moment of the entire visit was when the Jjaja took me to see Esther’s mother’s grave. Esther’s mother, who was called Esther but spelled her name Easter (because she was born on Easter day), is buried right behind where Esther eats, plays, and sleeps. I love the symbolism of how close Esther gets to be to her family, her heritage, and her culture. I love that she grows up hearing stories of her mother’s life and learning her local language and playing in the dirt and being Ugandan.

One of the days when Esther was visiting she called me mama. I wrote it off at the time as her being confused or me hearing her wrong but when I brought her home to her family they called me mommy Esther and asked Esther if she had liked visiting her mom. My first instinct was to say, “don’t call me her mother. A real mom does not live a continent away from her baby.” But I stay quiet and they keep calling me mommy Esther and I start to wonder if maybe I could be a different kind of mom. One who prays for Essy from afar, one who sends the support her family needs, one who seeks to make the best decisions for her- even if those decisions don’t include me, and does her best to give real live hugs when she can.

I look down at her mother’s grave and my heart is overwhelmed. I wish I could talk to her. I wish I could tell her how much I love her daughter and how much I want what is best for Esther. I wish I could tell her how grateful I am for the opportunity to care for her daughter and how I ache for Esther to know her family and her culture and feel rooted in this country that I love. She must have been a beautiful woman to have produced such a gorgeous baby girl. I hope she knows her daughter is loved and that I will make sure she is loved and cared for as long God knits the two of us together.


Greeting Esther's familyStaying for tea
Esther's home
Esther's mom's grave
Me and all of Esther's family


Monday, May 9, 2011

Pictures

Alice with her Aunt- she is in our sponsorship program and I did her home visit last week

Gift with her Jjaja (grandma)- seeing this kid home and happy was SO amazing, she is very close to my heart
Allan home with his Dad. Seeing these two together and loving each other reminds us exactly why we started this program.

Me with Gift

Me with Sam- please keep him in your prayer. We are unsure of where his situation is going.

Essy and me

Essy is the dress my grandmother bought her.

My little diva girl

Modeling for us... don't worry we paid her in biscuits :)

If you want to buy some of the headbands and necklaces she is modeling let me know! We'll be using them to fundraise over the next year.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Check out Obukuumi!

Hop on over to the blog for the sponsorship program:

www.bringthemhomejinja.blogspot.com

We're having a blog week where we are updating the blog each day. We will be highlighting each of our kids in the program and updating everyone on our thoughts for the future.


God is Good

God is good- ALL the time. That phrase has been circulating in my mind since I landed in Uganda four days ago. I seem to be incapable of producing any other words or thoughts.

I stared up at the Ugandan night sky with stars peppering the darkness as my precious Esther fell asleep in my arms. I put her in my bed and spent the hours left of the night staring at her- trying to wrap my head around the reality that this beautiful, healthy, wonderfully, happy child was that four month old baby I left a year ago. I watched her suck her thumb and snuggle into the covers and tears streamed down my face as I thought, “God is good- ALL the time.”

We saw his father bringing him down the hill and when he reached us we couldn’t believe he was the same kid. He couldn’t stop smiling and he had grown into a smart little boy. Where was the solemn baby we had known before? He snuggled against his father as the father told us it was a joy to parent him. God is good- All the time.

When the van pulled in she was already running towards us laughing the entire way. When I jumped out of the van she propelled herself towards us as her friends looked on with shy smiles. She smiled and giggled when I hugged and kissed her and when I left she went to her grandmother’s arms with the same joyful spirit. God is good- All the time.

The house is full to bursting of children and I see my friends standing in the midst of the glorious chaos and I can’t help but tear up at their dream- the one we talked and prayed about a year ago- a reality before my eyes. Ten sweet children who could now point to this house and call it home and point to my friends and say ‘mama.’ God is good- All the time.

We sit in a circle talking in circles and finding no real solution. I juggle Esther on my hip as I try to wrap my head around this precious boy’s fate. He has been in three homes this year already and now we are all discussing where to send him next. This beautiful boy who captures the heart of everyone he meets except for the family who is supposed to love and care for him unconditionally. We fight for adoption, someone else wants him in their orphanage, and the auntie claims she should be given another chance. I look at him and ache for him to know love and call someone mommy. But there is only so much we can do. God is good- All the time.

God’s goodness is not dependent on our situation but when our situation is good is when we are reminded of his goodness. I am reminded of God’s goodness when I hold my baby girl and when I see children home and happy. When I look into the eyes of a little boy I cannot help and when I see poverty all around me I force myself to look up into the sky and declare that our God is good- ALL the time.

God was just as good when I sobbed into Esther’s shoulder begging God to keep me from having to say goodbye as he is now as I watch her smile and laugh in my arms.

God was just as good when I sat behind my computer screen in America wishing I could see those kids with my own eyes as he is now when they jump into my arms and throw their heads back in laughter.

God was good yesterday- when it was night, and he is good today-when the morning gleams. God is good. All the time God is good.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Is it Enough?


In the corner… all alone. Oh how my fingers tremble trying to put ill equipped words to the situation of the fatherless. The child sitting in the dirt, his skin struggling to stretch over his bones, and his eyes- those empty eyes- they are open but they look at nothing. His mouth closed tight. It gave up on asking for food or love or care of any kind long ago. What’s the point when no one ever responds? All around him well fed children play in the dirt, laughing and dancing. No one pays him mind. He’s all alone. His parents left him. His caretakers ignore him. He isn’t fed. He isn’t loved. He doesn’t know touch or attention of any kind.

My mind cannot even fathom. I write in fragmented phrases because

how can I form a sentence that even begins to grapple at this pain? How many more children are all alone, sitting in the corner abandoned? How many won’t be found and rescued? How many will we never hear about? And how do I spend my days worrying about test scores and how do I spend money on new clothes and jewelry?

This is an emergency. 147 MILLION orphans. How do we even begin to reach them? How do we even start to open our eyes to them and soften our hearts to their pain? Must we force our heads to turn towards their suffering when all we want is to look away and continue living our comfortable lives?

I see the suffering and my heart hurts. It aches. But then the ultimate uncomfortable question ignites- what am I going to do about it? Do I settle for setting up a sponsorship program that has helped 17 children home? Giving my time and money, surely that must be enough.

But then I see him… sitting in that corner all alone, never knowing love. How could I have ever thought I’d done enough? To let this work become a check list and once enough time and money is checked off for others I am allowed to go buy myself a new dress and waste hours on the internet.

Is giving 10% enough? Is service meant to be a checklist we mark off and then live our lives however we like? I don’t think every Christian needs to sell everything and give to the poor. I think that verse is often taken out of context. But I do think we need to give more. More time. More prayer. More money. More love. Why? because the God that we love and owe it all to is aching and crying too when he looks at that sweet boy all alone in the corner and God desires for US to be the ones to show his His love. What an amazing privilege and gift... and yet we don't choose to take hold of it.

That little boy sitting all alone with the skin straining to stretch over his bones? He is now CHUBBBY, LOVED, and starting to HEAL… all because some of my amazing friends stepped out in faith and allowed God to work through him. They never stopped believing they had done enough.

147 million orphans minus one… what are you doing about the 147,999,999 still left?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

He Is Risen

My mother died when I was six so my memories of her are short and scattered. Most of them are fused together with stories i've been told by others so that i'm not sure what is true recollection and what is memorization. But Easter one is one of my purest memories.

The Easter before her death was a special one indeed. I didn't fully understand it at the time but she, and everyone around us, knew it would be her last. What a beautiful thing it must have been to be standing in church celebrating Jesus making a way for us into heaven and knowing you were going to taste that sweet promise in a few short weeks. What a beautiful and terrible thing all wrapped up into one. Celebrating that gift and counting the cost of what you will lose all at the same time.

That morning I remember getting ready for church, her fingers tying the ribbon on the back of my dress, and her saying "He is risen" and me reciting right back at her "He is risen indeed." We had practiced days before so that I would be ready and know just how to respond when the people around me declared, smiles painting their faces, that He is RISEN!

The phrase always make me remember her.

Last year my parents were teaching my baby brother Benjamin the same phrase and reciting with him the proper response. His preschool ears got it wrong though... or did he get it just right? Instead of responding "He is risen indeed" he shouted "He is risen in me!"

From the mouth of babes...

And so today we remember and we rejoice and we say thank you. Because of Jesus' incredible sacrifice when we face death we know he has already declared himself victorious and that we get to take hold of the precious gift of eternal life. And when we face life we get to put on a child like faith and declare "He is risen in me!"

Have a blessed Easter.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pause

Her head rests against my chest, soaking my sweater with drool and tears. I sing gently and I rock her back and forth. I sing Amazing Grace- the theme of my life. I feel her body shudder and then fall into limp calm as I sing over her sweet self and rub peace into her back.

I really should give her back to the teacher. I should have left thirty minutes ago. My to-do list is falling off the page and today time is of the essence. I already woke up feeling like this day just didn’t have enough hours in it. But I stay where I am because as I rock this body and try to bring the calm she needs I am blessed with perspective.

People are more important than lists

This child’s need for peace right now is more important than the exam I have later.

God does not care about me looking successful to the world- he cares about me showing his love to the people he puts in my life.

I am not here to please my professors or peers. I am here to please God.

My lists are full of meaningless toil. My plans fail.

When God stops my frantic hurrying for a moment so that I can run my hands across a crying child’s back THAT is where I am supposed to be. Living in the moment God has given me.

My prayer today and everyday is that my lists and plans will never keep me from stopping for the child, the friend, the co-worker, the stranger who God puts in my path and gives me the opportunity to bless.

And so I stop. And I breath. And I sing into her precious ears. And I force my brain to stop planning, stop list making, and start living.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Discussion of Invisible Children

Invisible Children is arguably the most popular non-profit organization working with Uganda. If you’ve never heard of them (which I would be shocked if anyone reading this blog hadn’t) visit their website www.invisiblechildren.org. Over the last year or so I’ve been hearing some criticisms about Invisible Children and I feel like it is time to gather all the facts and opinions and try and put them together in a clear and concise manner. My goals is not to support or bash Invisible Children but to allow myself and others to make an informed decision on our opinion of Invisible Children and decide whether we want to start or continue supporting them as an organization. Here are some accusations I have heard made towards Invisible Children and a small discussion on each. Enjoy!

Accusation: Invisible Children makes people believe that the war in Northern Uganda is still going on. They are perpetrating this lie so they can get more donations and attention towards their organization.

The Invisible Children rough cut film was filmed and released in 2003. While the film was being made the LRA had already moved into Sudan and was present in both Sudan and Northern Uganda. The last LRA attack in Uganda was in May 2004 while the movie was gaining popularity and spreading across North America (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/uganda.htm). At this point the people started to return home and Northern Uganda began to re-build while the LRA started terrorizing DRC, Southern Sudan, and CAR. However while all this was going on Invisible Children was circulating a movie depicting war in Northern Uganda. The official organization called Invisible Children was not started until 2004 and a campaign to “end the war and end night commuting” was done in 2006. People were given the impression that the war still existed in Northern Uganda when in fact it had now moved to other countries. Today however Invisible Children provides peace and conflict updates on their website (http://www2.invisiblechildren.com/peace-and-conflict-updates) and recent videos update followers on what is going on with the LRA right now. Invisible Children’s most recent work in Africa is actually taking place in DRC where the LRA is most active now.

Accusation: Invisible Children film director’s salary from their non profit is way too high- they are making money off of the war

The highest paying member of the Invisible Children leadership team is Jason Russell and he is paid $89, 625 a year. This seems like too much when you compare it to the US average yearly income which is $40,711 (http://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/AWI.html). However compared to other large NPOs this is actually a rather low salary. The World Vision President is paid $380,609 a year, Red Cross Chief Executive is paid $467,252 a year, Save Darfur President is paid $190,000 a year, and International Justice Mission President is paid $201, 931 a year.

Accusation: Invisible Children does not give enough money to people in Uganda. They exploit the suffering of the Acholi and then use a majority of the funds on awareness in the US rather than actually helping the people.

The Invisible Children website states “Consequently, 50% of our programming budget is utilized in bringing awareness to the situation and promoting international support of the peace process taking place. At the same time, there is a dire need for relief in northern Uganda, especially when it comes to the region’s youth. The remaining 50% of our budget provides top-notch programming for affected children and their families”. According to Invisible Children’s 990 form (what you have to file yearly with the IRS) and their audited financial report their total revenue in 2009 was $8, 253, 941 and $3, 336, 566 went directly to Uganda. That means only 40.3% of their total revenue went to Uganda while 60% of it was used for programs in the United States.

A problem with this policy is that some people believe when they are giving money to Invisible Children their money is going directly towards helping the Acholi people. Some Ugandans also feel that, since their images are being used to promote Invisible Children, they should be receiving more than half of the donations in the form of aid on the ground. However the flip side of this is that it could be argued that raising awareness of the issue and lobbying the US government to be involved is helping the Acholi in an indirect way. Invisible Children is educating and inspiring a generation of American young adults to become more involved in world affairs. The question that remains is: are they effectively educating the US (see accusation about spreading the untruth that the war is still going on) and is it worth the money they put into this education?

Accusation: Invisible Children has downplayed the Ugandan government’s role in the war

This is a very difficult accusation to test because it is not fully known what role the Ugandan government played in the war. It doesn’t take long when you’re in Uganda to learn that the Acholi and other Ugandans believe that the current president Museveni (Ugandan President) perpetrated the war for his own gain and did not try to stop it until the international community started paying attention to the conflict. I cannot find any legitimate source giving any support to this idea. If you know of one please let me know. According to the UN the Ugandan government has never targeted the Acholi for discrimination. In the 1990s Museveni assigned a government minister to the task of ending the war and this man made contact with the LRA in 1993. Around this same time Museveni launched the Operation North Campaign. This campaign ultimately failed and efforts were revisited in 2002 following the United States naming the LRA as a terrorist group (http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33701.pdf).

Accusation: Invisible Children has simplified a complicated war that requires complicated solutions

I don’t think it can be argued that this is not true but it could be argued that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Most people do not have the time or desire to pour over hundreds of newspaper articles and reports on the LRA and this East African war and even if they do it is difficult to comprehend the wealth of information. It is important to have organizations that can put the information together- assuming the information is true (see discussion above)- in a way that people can understand and learn the basic facts. Not everyone enjoys the research and effort it takes to fully comprehend a conflict as complicated as this so Invisible Children provides an opportunity for the average person to at least have a basic understanding of the conflict. However as mentioned above Invisible Children has a monopoly on this story and might have left out important facts, such as when the war ended and the role of the Ugandan government, so is it justified for them to simplify the story when they have such power and control over how the American people hear and view the situation?

Accusation: Invisible Children violated the IRS regulations for tax exempt non profits by using donations to lobby for the passage of LRA disarmament bill

This is inaccurate. Invisible Children is filed as a 501(c)3 organization and according to the IRS it is allowed to use funds to lobby as long as their lobbying efforts do not use more than 20% of their budget (http://www.npaction.org/article/articleview/100/1/248). According to Invisible Children’s 990 form they only spent $65,136 directly lobbying in 2009. This is less than 1% of their total revenue so their lobbying was perfectly legal.

Accusation: Through the LRA disarmament bill Invisible Children is advocating US military action to help capture Joseph Kony and end the violence perpetrated by the LRA

Political bills go way above my head because frankly politicians are just plain confusing. If you understood this bill and want to fill me in (in simple words please) please do! Here is a question and answer on the bill http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33701.pdf. This is from the Enough Project that lobbied for the bill so it is most likely biased. I couldn’t find another good article critiquing the bill.

Conclusion: you make it J

Let me know if anyone has any other accusations against Invisible Children that we can address on here. This is by no means an exhaustive report of the strengths and weaknesses of Invisible Children so please feel free to add more resources, comments, or fact check me.