Friday, March 23, 2012

We Finally Make a Decision About How We Feel About the Kony2012 Campaign

We think Jason Russell deserves grace and love and prayer. I (Megan) am sorry for how I first reacted to the news, thinking it was a drunken escapade when it turned out to be a psychotic break. The hate directed at him from the online world is sickening.

We think we need to listen to the Ugandan people as we decide how to respond to the Kony2012 campaign. Joseph Kony has affected Sudan, DRC, and CAR, but the Ugandan people have suffered the most and if they believe they are being exploited we need to listen. Please watch this film. It completely changed my (Megan) view on the campaign. I no longer support it at all. And I had to admit Kelsey was right all along J

We believe about 70% of the criticism towards Invisible Children floating around is not justified. But the 30% that is is cause for real concern. Do you research and check your sources.

We believe Joseph Kony needs to be brought to justice and that the killing and kidnapping needs to stop. We don’t believe a t-shirt or a 30 minute video or a bracelet or a poster will accomplish that.

We believe the people at Invisible Children are honest people who believe they are doing good work. When criticizing them we need to be respectful and kind.

We believe a God bigger than ourselves and Joseph Kony holds the world in the palm of His hand. We believe He is a God of justice and we pray for justice for Joseph Kony and healing for all those he has hurt.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I am one of the fatherless.

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy dwelling place - Psalm 68:5

We don't usually get personal on this blog, we stick to 'business' I guess you could say. I've been praying about this post the last few days- because Abide is not about Megan or I and our stories. It is about the God we serve and what He is going to do in the lives of families in Uganda. Redemption. Restoration. Beauty from the ashes. That is the God we serve. Humbled by our limitations and thankful we get to see Him show up in big ways for Uganda's poorest and most marginalized. But I feel it important to at least shed some light on why I believe so strongly in Abide and fighting for families to be kept together.

Megan and myself are both 'orphans'. Some of you already know this, some of you may not. We are both half orphans by definition. Megan's Mother died when she was 5 and my Dad died when I was 14. This will be the only time I speak for Megan and myself in this post- Having lost a parent, we understand what that absence feels like. There was and always will be one very important person missing at every significant milestone- College graduation, wedding days, and the birth of grandchildren. We did not however, experience the reality of our family being ripped apart after we were 'orphaned'. Our families stayed together because they were given the chance to. Had we grown up in Uganda, our stories might have looked quite different.

We fight because we believe when God required us to love the orphan and the widow, that He did not mean we should take the orphan away from the widow without first offering to come alongside her so that she might get the chance to keep her child.

When my Dad died people were cooking meals for us non-stop, our house was consistently full of people who loved us in the days and weeks following. Soon enough our house emptied and we were finally left to grieve and try to understand the ugly reality of my Dad's life ending here on earth. Not ugly for him, but pretty stinkin' ugly for us. While money could be no compensation for his passing, we were very blessed to receive life insurance and social security. We also benefited from free school lunches and CHIP/medicaid. As a single Mother with 4 kids, my Mom would have had an extremely difficult time making ends meet without insurance and government assistance.

This month, March 19th to be exact, is the anniversary of my Father's death. He passed away suddenly of a periodic embolism {a blood clot that traveled from his legs to his lungs after having surgery}. As many memories fade, what his life and death taught me have only been strengthened through living and working in Uganda. I believe in a God who has perfect plans. A God who works for the good of those who love Him. And sometimes {okay A LOT of the time} He works really ugly things into really good things. The perfect example of Jesus on the cross. The messy example of me- a sinner, saved by grace.

Why am I writing this? You can not understand my heart for Abide without also understanding that I, as a half-orphan, was given the chance to stay with my Mom. To be raised in my family. This is something I believe every child and family has the right to. Regardless of where you are born, I believe you deserve the chance to grow up in the family God decided to place you with first. No, I know, this is not always possible. Sometimes parents and extended families want nothing to do with their child. But may we not make the mistake in assuming that because a child is abandoned or placed in an orphanage that it MUST mean they are unloved. That we offer family strengthening as an OPTION before removal. As the church, may we begin loving the orphan so much so, that we work with urgency to help keep them in their families.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Village Model: Can it Replace a Family?

A new model for orphan care that is growing in popularity across the African continent is called the village model. This approach seeks to reduce the negative effects of institutional care by having one consistent caregiver care for 8-12 children of varying ages in a home like environment. Typically a number of huts or small homes are built on a compound with the “mother” and the children each having their own. The school, clinic, and main offices are nearby so a stronger community feel is produced within the context of these smaller homes.

The model is a good one and one we believe certainly reduces some of the negative effects of the traditional institutional care. However we believe it is detrimental to believe this model is good enough to provide for children as a long term solution. We do not believe the “family” created is able to give the children all that a real family could. Here are some issues we have with the Village Model.

1. The women who are hired to be the mother’s in the home have a conflict between caring for their own children and the children they have been hired to care for. Some models force the women to leave their biological children behind with family members. We believe it is hypocritical to break apart a family in order to try and create a new one. Other models allow the women to take their biological children into the home with them. With this you can have a real issue with the mother favoring her biological children. She has not made a sacrificial decision to care for these orphans; she is being hired to do it. While I would imagine many of these mothers love these children I do not believe doing a job is going to produce the same kind of nurture that caring for one’s child would.

2. The ratio of caregiver to children is not what it would typically be in a home. The best of these models has a ratio of 1:8 and the worst 1:12. It is very difficult to give that many children the love and attention they deserve or that they would receive in a traditional family.

3. There is very little male influence. Nearly always a widow is hired to lead the home so the children are not given a father figure. The importance of a father figure is a whole other topic for another day but we believe that fathers are important and that, when possible, children should have the chance to have them. Unlike a single mother household these children rarely leave the compound so they are not given the opportunity to even form relationships with uncles, grandfathers, or male family friends.

4. The children are not exposed to the world. Usually the clinic and school are on the same compound so children can go their entire lives without leaving that environment. In a typical family a child has gone to market with their mother, ridden the bus with their father, and bargained for household supplies with an older brother. Children in this environment are never given the opportunity to learn these life skills that they will need to lead healthy and productive lives.

5. It is hard to oversee the women in the homes. In a traditional orphanage the children and workers are grouped together in the same living environment so an abusive or neglectful worker will be easier to identify and deal with. In the village model the only people there to witness abuse are the children themselves and they are much less likely to speak out.

6. Infants are often not included in this model. Typically infants are given the more traditional orphanage care and then placed in the village model when they are around two years of age. Please see this post where we discuss the dangers of institutional care. In their early years the infants are not given a consistent care giver to attach to or given as stimulating an environment as a family could. Developmental psychologists agree that the first two years of life are crucial for our development as healthy human beings. Instead these models provide the children less consistent care when they are infants, setting them up for possible future mental health issues.

7. When they age out they have no family to return to. The best of these models pay for university and help place the children in a job but where do these children go for Christmas dinner? In traditional African society family ties are everything- they are how you get jobs and promotions and who you rely on when you hit a rough patch. Without this, these children are already at a real disadvantage before they even set out in life.

So while we think this model is better than traditional orphanage care we do not believe it should ever replace a family. If a child has the opportunity to be re-unified with biological family members or adopted into a new family they absolutely should. No matter how great the village model is a real family will always be able to provide better for a child. Village models that prevent children from being adopted because they believe they can provide as good or better care than a family are greatly mistaken. We believe this is a dangerous way to approach orphan care and is doing great harm to children. Children belong in families!

This is not meant to be critical, but we truly believe that as Christians caring for orphans and widows, we should do so to the best of our ability. That yes, there are millions of orphans and other vulnerable children that we are called to serve. However, we must examine where funds are to be directed and how to best serve these children and families with relevant and culturally appropriate models.