Saturday, November 7, 2015

Strength Based Orphan Care: HOPE

The other day I pulled into the orphanage with my little twin babies, Hanna and Sophia. I was promptly greeted by a few of the boys who were playing basketball in the court. They helped me get the girls out of their car seats and politely escorted them to the basketball court while strategically defending them from the incoming soccer balls.  I sat and observed as one of the older boys held Hanna close to him, gave her a big kiss on the cheek and just stared into her eyes with a goofy smile on his face. Although they are not the majority, this boy in particular is a double orphan who has no ties to his biological family. But that afternoon, I saw tenderness and selflessness from a boy who was once horribly abused when he was Hanna's age. And it dawned on me right then and there. Taking care of orphans shouldn't exclusively be about detecting hurts, assessing pain and elaborating recovery plans. Taking care of orphans shouldn't look like boot camp where adults are large and in charge and it definitely shouldn't look like Disneyland where they bounce from one entertaining ride to the next. I believe that holistically taking care of orphans should look more like that Sunday afternoon: choosing to give these kids a chance. It will often include taking risks and giving them opportunities they don't deserve and most likely won't be grateful for, but as we look into each child and seek to discover their God-given strengths, talents and aptitudes, I believe that we will be empowering them to not only "get over" their past abuse and neglect, but to become people that are famous for the grace in their lives and the hope that pours out of them. Day to day life at an orphanage is really hard and it is easy to focus on the negative things that are going on all around you. Children throw fits, house parents have nervous breakdowns, teenage girls shoot dirty looks and more than a couple passive-aggressive teenage boys partake in dramatically ungrateful and selfish rants. But I read in my bible that we serve a God of hope; not a God who rolls his eyes at us or even considers giving up on anyone no matter how ungrateful or selfish we are. To the extent that we allow His spirit to fill us, we are going to be overflowing with this powerful HOPE that has the potential to transform any life (Romans 15:13).

So I call out to my fellow co-workers wherever you are on the orphan care spectrum.What we do is really hard. Taking care of kids from hard places is not for the faint of heart, but I guarantee that none of us obeyed God's calling in this because we thought it would be perpetual fun and effortless bliss. So let's ask God to allow us to see our kids through a lens of hope. What are their strengths? What are they gifted at? What can I do to foster those God-given gifts instead of punishing their misguided manifestations? Brothers and sisters, it is EASIER to see the bad stuff, but thank the good Lord that we aren't called to do "easy". It's time we start thinking of our kids from broken homes and vulnerable situations as little vessels brimming with potential and chosen by God. They are victims of horrible crimes and abuses but they are also the elect of an extremely jealous God to whom we have the privilege of interceding on their behalf. Jesus will break the generational chains that have so effectively enslaved their parents and the ones before them. They will be the beginning of a generational transformation rendering their own children untouched by the past. They will be free because CHRIST has set them free. I am starting to believe this. I am opting to see these kids through a lens of hope. For the sake of all the kids we take care of and the generations that are to come. I urge you to do the same.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Father's Day

Days such as these mean a lot of different things to different people. I am sure that for some, this is one of those days that only serves to bring back hard or painful memories of a dad who has passed away or maybe a dad who was never there to begin with. The "dad" relationship is a tricky one for a lot of people, especially with the kids I interact with day in a day out at the orphanage. It makes sense. Statistically the dad is the one who most of these kids don't even know or remember. Many of their hearts have become so hard to the concept of a dad that the thought of a "heavenly"dad is just plain confusing. Compounded with abusive figures that are all too common, I feel like sometimes the hope I have slowly dims and fades. But I believe in fathers. I believe that from the get-go, God's design of a father of which he would be the ultimate model, is such a part of our DNA that every human being LONGS for that paternal relationship in spite of all the abuse and pain they could ever experience. 

I recently heard a podcast by Andy Stanley talking about the one impossible thing in any line of business and how we should have a perspective of considering that one impossible thing as one day being possible. The first thing that came to my mind was that all of the 4500 children that currently live in institutions in Guatemala would have a family of their own. Simple. But, impossible. In our line of work, we know that there is little hope that families will raise up to take in kids that come from terrible situations but I have begun to ask God for that to happen. How are the boys that grow up in institutions (where the vast majority of their caregivers are women) going to learn how to be fathers? Are they even going to want to be fathers? In Guatemala, I know that these boys that age out of institutions have a much higher rate of getting a girl pregnant pretty quick so how well are they being trained to be fathers? 

So, as I reflect on this day to celebrate the amazing dads all over the world I ask God with even more fervor that he would give these 4500 kids an earthly father of their own. We have kids that are turning 18 this year at the orphanage and they don't have that "dad" who will take them to college for the first time, teach them how to drive a stick shift, interrogate the new boyfriend prospect, show the boys how to treat a lady, show the girls how they deserve to be treated and so much more. As the #1 fan of one of those institutions, I can say we are trying our best. I dedicate my life to raise the standard of care these kids get in a loving and empowering environment. We even have incredible couples that strive every day to BE the love of God to these kids, but it just can't compare to the love of a father in a  family that they can call their own.  I hope you will pray with me that God would use a day such as this to speak into the hearts of Guatemalan fathers to be bold and courageous and open their homes to children that today live in institutions. Kids that didn't have the opportunity to say "Happy Father's Day" today. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Story Behind the Story

I just arrived in Canada after an amazing time in Nashville at the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) Summit. The four day conference was focused on the different aspects of orphan care: adoption, foster care and residential care. It was interesting to find out that CAFO has now included a fourth pillar in the spectrum of orphan care which is family reunification; exactly what we began doing at Casa Bernabe in January of this year. I am heading up the newly founded department of family reunification and my psychologist and administrative assistant/nutritionist were also able to attend the conference. 

Aside from all we received from the speakers and panels, the most incredible part of the conference was to be surrounded by thousands of people that have passionately dedicated their lives to taking care of orphans all over the world.
Before leaving Guatemala, I was able to visit one of the mothers that we are working with to see if she can possibly be reunited with her children. Knowing her story very well and the ways in which her kids have suffered having lived in 4 different orphanages, I arrived with a little bit of anger and disillusionment with what we were about to do. As we sat on her makeshift bed in a tiny rented room which housed everything she owned, we began to listen to her story. She had never known her father and was abused by her mother and stepdad. Being the youngest in her family, her older siblings learned to take advantage of her and saw her more of a slave than as part of the family. When she finally got the guts to run away and found herself pregnant shortly after, she had no option but to return to her abusive family, only now with a child on the way. The abuse continued and so did the cycle of mother running away only to come back some months later expecting another baby. When her children were very young she finally made a plan, saved some money and ran away once again with the father of her children. This father was addicted to inhaling paint thinner and finally became so numb to reality that he lived in a constant state of delusion. They lasted a few months, but her sister, discontent with her absence in the house, called Social Services and her 3 children were stripped from her. As this story unraveled, I was uncomfortably confronted with my supposedly justified feelings of anger I had felt only moments before. I was angry with a person who is a victim of so much abuse, sexual exploitation, neglect and brokenness. It made me realize that there are stories behind the stories that I am so familiar with. Through nearly a decade of hopping from different orphanages, these 3 kids are truly thriving at Casa Bernabe and I have come to love them very much. The boy in this family is honestly one of the most important people in my life and I consider him family. It seemed so natural and justified to feel angry and resentful towards a mother that didn’t take care of her child. How could she be so irresponsible? But, she has a story of her own. 

Although we are unsure if these kids will be able to live with mom again, we are now reaching out to her. I am coming to understand that anger is maybe not the most helpful response that I can have towards the families of our kids at Casa Bernabe and that God equally loves them, cares for them and has a purpose for their lives. A purpose amidst the brokenness. While I tell our kids this all the time, I don’t even think I believed it was true for their families. I heard someone say to me recently that we cannot love or truly accept our kids if we don’t accept their families and I am beginning to believe it. I feel like I can reach out to this boy in a much more honest, mature and appropriate way now that I have his mom in mind and I have come to love her too. 

With Andrea, we appreciate your prayers for the ministry at Casa Bernabe and all that is going on there. I am continually blown away by this amazing orphanage in the heart of Guatemala that I have called home for the past 12 years. I am excited to see how God continues to broaden our perspectives, challenges and grow us and always take us deeper in understanding of his love.
People have unashamedly told me that they only read my blog to see baby pictures and I think I am okay with that. They are pretty amazing little children of God whose lives are truly marked by grace.