Missions

I love missions.  It’s been almost eight years since I first moved to Mexico and heard myself being called by a new name: “La misionera.” The missionary. It felt weird and unreal then but I think I’m finally used to it. I think. = )

As much as I love missions, however, I also think we can approach missions better than the way we often do.  These are some articles that have helped me over the years think critically about how we approach missions, and I’m going to leave them here for anyone else seeking to gain a fresh perspective on this subject.

The Good Missionary: An African orphan on what he loves (and doesn’t) about short-term mission teams. by Samuel Ikua Gachagua & Claire Diaz Ortiz

I want short-term missionaries to show love and care, but it’s important to be aware of this difficult reality and to proceed carefully, knowing that you—the missionary—are the adult in the situation. Kids are particularly vulnerable to short-term visitors, and they often don’t understand the reality of your life back at home and why you really have to leave after a few days. It may not be fair to you that a kid is disappointed when you only stay a week (which is a long time off work for you!), but as I saw again and again, many of my peers just didn’t understand the concept of traveling so far for such a short time. These visits can be good, but proceed with caution.

Short Term Missions and a Church in Haiti by Shannon Kelley

This time a [foreign] group is visiting [my haitian church] on a short-term mission trip. …As the service wears on, a few of the moms of the group motion for some kids to come sit with them. They proceed to chat and play with them while, unbeknownst to them, the congregants are praying.  The elders that typically shush the kids shake their heads and don’t say anything because they don’t want to insult the visitors. The kids know this and take full advantage of playing with cameras and phones and other gadgets, being generally disorderly in comparison to the usual way they’re expected they behave.  I sit there and wonder how we would feel if we were sitting in a church in the States and a group of people from another country came in and acted that way.

Thinking through STM   by Tara Livesay

STM = Short Term Missions/Missionaries
LTM = Long Term Missions/Missionaries

Below are random (but true) examples:

C.)  A STM group comes in wanting to help build houses.  The LTM suggests they work with Haitians and get their input. The LTM makes man suggestions based on the years in country and the things they have learned about the culture and its building practices. The STM wants to build the house according to their practices and styles of building.  They force their way of building onto the group of Haitians they are building the house for and refuse to believe that the Haitians way of doing it has any merit. They finish the house and take many photos of their good work to go home and show their church proudly.  The following Sunday the group is sharing their photos at church and the Haitians are tearing off the roof of the house and re-doing the way that they prefer.

Things No One Tells You About Going on Short-Term Mission Trips.  A few ways to make sure your mission trip is effective.  by Michelle Acker Perez

Poverty Can Look Different Than You Expect.

If at the end of your trip you say, “I am so thankful for what I have, because they have so little.” You have missed the whole point.

You’re poor, too. But maybe you’re hiding behind all your stuff. There is material poverty, physical poverty, spiritual poverty and systemic poverty. We all have to acknowledge our own brokenness and deep need for God before we can expect to serve others.

Choose well. Invest wisely. (Reimagining Short-Term Missions)  by Jamie Wright

Jesus appointed those he sent.  And I think maybe He did that on purpose. 
In the midst of looking to replace the familiar model of sending short-term missionaries to far away places where ministries have created (often unnecessary) opportunities to accommodate well-meaning volunteers, my Missions Pastor Husband learned that our partner in Cambodia had multiple couples whose marriages were suffering under the strain of their work, so he asked if a marriage retreat could be beneficial. When the answer was “YES!!! PLEASE, OH, PLEASE. WE NEED A MARRIAGE RETREAT!”, he didn’t make an announcement or post a sign up sheet on our website. Instead, he went about choosing a team. Nobody was forced into becoming a short-term missionary, they were simply invited to be part of the team, and they were told why they’d been invited. Not everyone was eager to join, and not everyone accepted, but in the end, he appointed an experienced couples retreat planner, two Marriage and Family Therapists (one specializing in trauma and PTSD, the other in Men’s issues), a Pastoral couple, a leadership development expert, a child care provider, and a few other leaders from our marriage ministry. There are 11 people total, but only the 7 bodies essential to the event itself will be traveling to Cambodia — because round trip airfare to SE Asia is hella expensive.

How Going on Vacation Might be Better than Going on a Mission  by Jamie Wright

Going on a kickass vacation can be healthier, more productive, and more beneficial
 to both the traveler and the world than a short term mission.

I’ve come to believe my money is better spent in the hotels, restaurants, shops, gas stations, parks, monuments and attractions that provide legitimate jobs and dignified work to the very same locals I would otherwise be “blessing” on a short term mission trip. Tourism is a gross domestic product, an industry that creates layers and layers of real, sustainable jobs for a countries workforce. I’d wager that it’s far kinder and more generous for you to leave a tip and a favorable comment for the woman who cleans your hotel room each day, than for you to show up on her doorstep with your selfie stick and a bag of rice once a year (#blessed). When you vacation somewhere, you’re contributing to a healthy demand for everything from the edible goods of the rural farmer who might otherwise sell his child, to the administrative services of the urban student who might otherwise sell herself. When you vacation in the places you’d usually mission, you’re engaging people’s pride and joy without exploiting their shame.

What to Do About Short Term Missions  by Sarita Hartz

“The most effective form of short-term ministry is to pour into the local missionaries and their national staff rather than beneficiaries. (Yep, that might mean good-bye VBS with kids climbing all over you and braiding your hair.)

You will not be able to impact those beneficiaries on a day to day, but you can impact the missionary who will get to. That means you probably don’t need a team of 15 people, but rather a smaller, more intentional team.

It doesn’t look like we were ever really intended to do short-term missions the way that we do them.

The only “missions” in the gospel was relational and long term. Churches like Phillippi would often send 1-2 missionaries from their church to support and encourage the work of long-term missionaries like Paul, but the intention was always to serve the long term missionary so he could continue the work of serving people.”

THE PROBLEM WITH LITTLE WHITE GIRLS (AND BOYS): WHY I STOPPED BEING A VOLUNTOURIST   by Pippa Biddle

Our mission while at the orphanage was to build a library. Turns out that we, a group of highly educated private boarding school students were so bad at the most basic construction work that each night the men had to take down the structurally unsound bricks we had laid and rebuild the structure so that, when we woke up in the morning, we would be unaware of our failure. It is likely that this was a daily ritual. Us mixing cement and laying bricks for 6+ hours, them undoing our work after the sun set, re-laying the bricks, and then acting as if nothing had happened so that the cycle could continue.

Basically, we failed at the sole purpose of our being there. It would have been more cost effective, stimulative of the local economy, and efficient for the orphanage to take our money and hire locals to do the work, but there we were trying to build straight walls without a level.

HOSTING SHORT-TERM MISSION TRIPS (PART 1) by Kelley Nikondeha

Another term for this summer activity – short-term mission teams. While I’m not a fan of short-term anything when it comes to development work, we’ve discovered a way to weave short trips into long-term relationships. (This is worthy of another post, really.) We view these trips of days and teams of friends as expressions of a growing friendship between two communities. Each trip becomes a brick in the building of sustained relationship between a Burundian and an American community and over years we’ve constructed deep connections. We’ve witnessed transformation on both sides of the ocean due to these deep bonds. So we participate in the short-term trips as part of a long-term commitment to development in all communities involved.

How Can Short-Term Missions Best Advance God’s Mission?  by Brian Howell

On the whole, are you for or against short-term mission trips?

As an anthropologist, I’m absolutely for people traveling and encountering what God is doing in other parts of the world. I am for people understanding more about their own culture and the cultures of others. To the extent that these trips are a significant vehicle for people to do that, I am for them.

I am not for the narrative that has typically driven these trips: “We are going because there’s this tremendous need out there that we have to meet. And there’s this burden that we have as the wealthy country to go and do something in another place.” I support transforming this narrative so that it becomes, “How can we connect with what God is doing in other parts of the world? How can we learn to be good partners with Christians already in these places? How can we participate in what the church is already doing in these countries in effective ways?”

Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trips by Darren Carlson

East African country used to have a large clothing industry that employed many people. Then, in our generosity, the West started donating clothing. As a result, people lost their jobs, and if you drive around major cities in Africa, you will see hundreds of vendors selling donated shoes, belts, shirts, and more for less than a dollar. On one level the issue boils down to relief and development. Relief aid should only last for a few months. The problem with most trips is that we perpetuate relief instead of moving toward development work. Haiti is a perfect example. In the four decades before the 2010 earthquake, $8.3 billion had been given, and yet the country was 25 percent poorer than before the aid began.

Toward Better Short-Term Missions  by Darren Carlson

One of the problems with short-term missions is that we are stuck in relief work. We paint and build houses, hold babies, and give presents. We do this because almost anyone in our churches can get involved. This type of work makes us feel good but sometimes harms people. Relief is appropriate for short periods, but if you want to get involved in alleviating physical poverty and use that platform to share the gospel and relieve spiritual poverty, you must move toward development work. It’s harder, takes longer, but is certainly a better form of mercy and justice ministry.

The 7 Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission from SOE.org

2.  Empowering Partnerships  An excellent short-term mission establishes healthy, interdependent, on-going relationships between sending and receiving partners, and is expressed by:

  • Primary focus on intended receptors
  • Plans which benefit all participants
  • Mutual trust and accountability

A PASTOR’S TAKE ON SHORT TERM MISSION TEAMS  by Landon Coleman

To that end, here are a few things that help make short term missions teams an asset on the field, rather than a liability.

  • The short term team is able to establish a long term relationship. This only happens when a church is able to send multiple teams to the same location. It takes time for trust to develop. It takes time for a bond to form. One short term team that never returns will have little kingdom impact. But short term teams that return to the same location many times have the opportunity to make a much greater impact.

Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do  by Ian Birrell

Many orphanages let tourists work with children. But what would we say if unchecked foreigners went into our children’s homes to cuddle and care for the kids? We would be shocked, so why should standards be lowered in the developing world? Yes, resources might be in short supply, but just as here, experts want children in the family environment or fostered in loving homes, not in the exploding number of substandard institutions.

known, loved, seen.

So this is the new year. I return Mexico Home after a month away in the winter wonderland also known as Minnesota. Our children ambush me the way they always do when someone returns home: wildy, boisterously, joyfully. I can’t move for a minute I’m squished so tight smack in the middle of their collective bear hug. I don’t even realize how much I’ve missed them until now that I’m right here laughing with them again.

Then as soon they appear they disappear, back to practicing a choreography they’re preparing to perform. I can’t help but giggle at Arturo’s awkward tween boy dance moves, and I can’t help but swell with pride and amazement as I watch Lucia dance every step perfectly, but it’s Cristina who I notice most. My sweet Cristina, who had packed a little fairy doll in my suitcase before I left, telling me it would make me remember her every time I saw it. Thank you darling, I had told her, but I’ll be thinking about you all the time, whether or not I have a fairy to help me remember.

I notice Cristina now because she’s staring at me, a little shyly but mostly just pure happy. Her Momma’s home again. I see that she’s looking at me wondering if I’m looking at her too, and indeed I am.  I beam bright and she beams back at me, and we stay that way for a long time. Her dance moves are all off beat, she moves left as everyone else moves right, but she’s smiling proud because she sees me smiling proud at her first.

I’m her person, you see. I’m the one she feels safe enough to cry in front of, close enough with to tell her secrets to, accepted enough to be absolutely silly around. I know she’s been well cared for this month, but now as I watch her light up in my gaze I also know she’s been lonely for this—to be seen.

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thank you thank you thank you

2014

I’ve packed up my things again and I’m leaving to catch a plane.  But first I hug you both close, saying I’ll see you later & I love you so much.

Only a few weeks later though and I get the news.  You’re gone, you’re both gone, you’ve been taken away despite your sobs & protests, ripped out of the family you’ve come to claim as your own.  When I get the news I fall to the floor, I fall apart, I fall into months of grief & rage.  I grieve for your losses and also my own, I grieve this awful reality and I grieve the dreams I’m watching burn away into ash right in front of me.  I couldn’t imagine that grief could ever leave me, and actually it never does.  It evolves, it’s jagged edges soften, but the ache for you both remains.

 

2016

I still hear the sound of your laughter in my dreams.  I still wake up to feel your absence and the familiar sorrow that comes with it.  I’m still here crying for the two of you, praying to God that you’re safe, happy, loved.

It’s a hot afternoon, I step outside and that’s when I hear you shout my name, “BRI-TA-NY!” and I’m shocked silent but overjoyed because finally I’m holding you in my arms again.

Two little girls, taken from us for two long years, brought back home again.

You are my wildest dream come true.

. . . . .

We’re sitting in a circle on a concrete floor, tossing cards into the center, shouting “UNO!” and laughing, laughing, laughing.  I can’t take my eyes off of either of you and my spirit can’t stop praying, “thank you thank you thank you.” Holy ground, who knew sitting in a circle playing Uno could feel like such Holy Ground. 

Thank you Thank you Thank you.

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sparkle bright

She runs up to me, with flushed cheeks and a dirt-smudged chin.  I offer my hand to her and together we meander towards the swings & slides: me walking, her dancing.  She looks up at me and when my eyes meet hers she doesn’t glance away, doesn’t even blink as she says, “Sarita told me she can tell you love me a lot, like a Mom.”  It’s a question, more than a statement, and her eyes sparkle bright as she waits for my answer.  I smile and I ask what she thinks of what Sara has said.  Her eyes sparkle brighter and her smile grows wider, “I think she’s right.”  We’re smiling at each other now, my eyes sparkling right back at her.  “Yes she is, I do love you very much, like my daughter.”
 

She runs off to swing & slide, with flushed cheeks and a dirt-smudged chin.  And every time her eyes meet mine, to make sure this Momma of hers is watching while she slides down on her belly or leaps off the swing to fly, I see them sparkle bright.

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Monkeyshine

You loved me before I was ever even born.

I’m covered in a pink blanket telling me it’s true. As I was knit together in my Mother’s womb you knit together strands of yarn: this gift for me.

I have never known life without you in it, loving me, delighting in me, calling me Monkeyshine.

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I am teeny tiny and you are scrubbing me squeaky clean in your bathtub.  The bottom of the tub is rough and the water is cloudy from all your bars of soap.  I hear the TV in the living room, Grampa’s watching the nighttime news.  The tub is draining now, loudly & slurpily while you sit in your little chair drying me off and wrapping me up tight in clean towels.  You put a dry washcloth on top of my head and I always wonder why but I never ask.  Every single time, it’s just what you do.

Like when we spot Chickadee’s on your deck and you sing out, “Chickadee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee”  and you teach us to sing along with you.  Like when we cross over the Mississippi River and you have us all saying Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi Mississippi as many times as we can while we’re driving over the bridge.  Like how you are always serving us Raspberry Ginger Ale in itty-bitty fancy glasses and calling it pink pop.  It’s just what you do.

You have a million ways to tell us how much you love us.

When we sleepover you make up the fainting couch in your room as a tiny little bed for your tiny little Grandbabies.  Your basement doubles as your quilting room, where you spend years & years sewing pieces of fabric into quilts for each of us.  Your kitchen is filled with candy jars, and I know you know we sneak in and steal candy every chance we get.  In your closet not only are there clothes for you but tiny little dresses for us to play dress up in as well.  We are silly little geese, running around in these dresses playing house and fashions shows and weddings.

It’s Summertime and we are swimming in your backyard.  You’ve collected enough tiny tin tubs to give us each a little swim tub, and we laugh & splash as you make it rain over us with the spaghetti strainer.  The wind chimes hang from the trees and play their song while the leaves rustle and the hummingbirds buzz around your bright red feeders.  When the plums are ripe we run after you to the trees, you carrying a white cotton sheet and us carrying on after you like the little Monkeyshines we are. You cover the ground with the sheet and we help you shake the trees, it’s raining plums at Gramma’s house and our faces are sticky with their juice.  Soon you’ll be simmering this fruit into jam but for today we just sit here together under the trees and stuff ourselves with plums.

It’s Autumn and your kitchen counters are filled with every kind of bread and jam and pie.  You stand at the stove stirring pots and I am beside you, itty bitty and asking when supper will be ready.  “Hold your horses.”  You tease me.  It’s Winter, the windows are frosted & frozen but inside this house with you there is only warmth.  For breakfast you make us oatmeal brimming with cream, or french toast with powdered sugar, or fry bread with peanut butter.  It always smells like food in here because you’re all the time fixing us something to eat.  We all squish into your bed to watch Anne of Green Gables, and you teach us to play Old Maid, and you let us work your puzzles with you.  It’s Springtime, everything is new again, and we are planting flowers with you.  You laugh at our silliness and show us how to pack black earth around the flowers’ roots.  We plant Marigolds and Geraniums and Morning Glories and you hang them all over.  You make everything beautiful.

This is your rhythm, season after season, year after year, you fill our lives with love.

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I am not so teeny tiny anymore, but you keep on caring for me.  I move into my first apartment and you show up with everything you think I’ll need.  Towels and glasses and rugs and silverware and groceries and even a rolling pin.  It’s crucial for you that I learn to bake a good pie, isn’t it?  Don’t worry Gramma.. I got the hint.

The seasons keep changing and your hair grows whiter and your wrinkles grow deeper.  You move slower and remember lesser.  Soft & slow our roles shift into new shapes.  Your sons & daughters & grandbabies gather in tighter to care for you in all the ways you’ve cared for us.  We love you so fiercely.

Bathwater showers down warm, you’re in the tub and I’m scrubbing you squeaky clean.  I wrap you up in clean towels and I set a washcloth on top of your head.  It’s tradition, although I still don’t understand it.  I comb through your hair and sometimes I curl it.  I remember you taking me to the salon on special occasions.  You’d get your perm and I’d get my hair done in curls.  I paint your nails and I remember sitting with you at the dining room table, newspapers and breadcrumbs scattered everywhere, and you painting my itty-bitty fingernails pink.  I’m painting slowly, carefully.  “Hurry up.” you say, so I tease you back, “Hold your horses.”

I am twenty two now, you haven’t recognized me in weeks, but today while I’m putting on your socks I notice you looking at me differently.  “Gramma do you know who I am?” I ask.  “Well of course I do.”  you sass.  “What’s my name?” I ask gently, I just want to hear you say it.  “Brittany Ann!”  you exclaim, your only confusion is why I’m asking such a question.  I’m slipping your feet into your shoes and tears are escaping down my face now.  It’s just so good to be known by you again, if only for this morning.

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You are so dear to me, Monkeyshine.  I am far away, building my life with my own little ones, but I am all the time missing you.  I teach my tinies the tiny bit of Ojibwe you taught me, I teach the girls a song I remember you singing with us, I call my daughters Monkeyshines.  In Colombia I find a blanket you would have loved and I use it as my bedspread because it reminds me everyday of you.  I share the movie Corina Corina with my Kiwi family and they love it as much as you do.  Your legacy stretches so far & wide.

Here I am home again, twenty five and your Monkeyshine still.  Outside the leaves have burned bright and bold and beautiful; now they scatter away in the wind. Inside I’m tucked beside you in bed, all I want to do is be close to you.  I hear your heartbeat and smell your Gramma smell and I can still remember exactly how it felt to be teeny tiny and snuggled into bed with you.  I lay here soaking the pillow with my tears, listening to the both of us breathe.  You inhale & exhale & inhale again, but we know your time is close.

I don’t know how to live in a world without you in it.  I don’t know what life will feel like without you here.
But I do know this: you have left a part of you inside of me.  Your breath will stop but mine will continue and I will carry you with me into all the days of the rest of my life.

You have sown pieces of yourself into each one of us.  You have loved us deep & true, sweet sassy Monkeyshine, and we will always, forever, fiercely love you. ♡

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Jaqueline Joan Fairbanks
May 13th 1928-October 22nd 2015

hell on earth//heaven on earth.

I thought we were going to an orphanage.  I thought we were going somewhere that would be similar to places where I’ve lived & worked in the past, so I packed accordingly.  I imagined children running around joyful, like children always do.  I imagined there would be a sidewalk or a cement driveway or somewhere we could fill with chalk drawings, so I brought lots & lots of chalk.  I imagined there would be teenage girls, harder to connect with due to the language barrier, so I brought nail polish… thinking manicures could be a fun way to connect.  I packed my backpack full of toys and off we went to play with some kids.

I asked a lot of questions while we drove there; I’m well aware that it’s not good for children in an orphanage to be receiving a constant influx of random guests who cuddle them & then leave, so I wanted a better understanding of why we were going there.  What I learned shocked me.  The “orphanage” we were visiting isn’t really an orphanage at all… it’s a front, a scam, for the three men who run it to receive money from well-meaning foreigners.  They receive funds & donations from foreigners (who think their money is going towards helping the children) and then they use that money for themselves, and sell donations in order to have even more money… for themselves.

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the view from the front door.

What makes the situation worse is that while these men profit off these children, they’re not being well cared for, not even close.  Most of the young children weren’t wearing underwear or pants.  There was no food or water to be seen.  There was no Mom.  No women.  Just three men, who don’t even live there… at night they lock the children inside the walls and LEAVE THEM THERE ALONE.  No power, no toys, no water, no blankets, no adults.  The structure they live in doesn’t even have a roof over all of it.  I can’t even.

the two bedrooms the children share.

the two bedrooms the children share.

The kids showed us around their house, they showed us around the two bedrooms where the 20-something of them sleep.  We brought a lot of toys to play with them but many of them mostly just wanted our water.  Our water.  Some of the kids had distended bellies from being so malnourished.  There was joy, as there always is with children… but there were also kids who wouldn’t smile, who have maybe forgotten how?

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I had brought nail polish for the teenage girls but there weren’t any.  This devastated me further because in an orphanage the older girls typically take on a mother role for the younger ones… but there was no one.  This darling was the oldest girl, she was sweet sweet so sweet and I could tell someone had loved her well at some point in her life.

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Her name is Wilka. Pray for her?

Where do these children come from?  I wondered.  Certainly social services would never bring them here.  Here’s the thing: imagine you are a loving Momma struggling to provide for your children, they are hungry and you can’t feed them, they need an education but you can’t afford to send them to school, and you are praying for God to provide.  One day a man shows up in his nice car and his nice clothes and his expensive watch, and he tells you that he runs a children’s home, funded by foreigners, where your child will be fed & will receive an education.  “I can give them a better life, a future.” he says.  It seems like God has answered your prayers.  Hallelujah.  You hug & kiss your children goodbye.. thinking your miracle has arrived.  This type of trafficking happens all over the world, but I never thought I would see it with my own eyes.

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I tried to use the chalk with the children but it wasn’t really a success.  The little one with me tried to eat it.  Her name is “Little Mouse.”  I picked her up at one point and then she would not let me put her down… it’s universal it seems, the way toddlers do that thing with their legs where they act like they’ve forgotten how to stand until you just give up on ever setting them down.

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“Little Mouse”

I was holding Little Mouse when the man in charge came to talk to me.  He asked me what I do for a job and I told him about Mexico, saying: “We have the same job.”  But I was giving him a death glare as I said it, I don’t know if I’d ever been so angry with someone.  “But you suck at it.” is what I wanted to add, but I didn’t.  Maybe I should have.  One of the women on our team was drawing on a chalkboard with one of the boys… she drew a person with a smile on their face and the boy drew a person next to hers with a different face.  This picture says so much.

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I asked our guide, “What about the police?”  The police have been called, it seems.  But when they arrive the man in charge gives them some money for their silence and those children continue on being enslaved & exploited.  One of the little girls, Darlene, was drawing on the chalkboard, showing off her alphabet-writing skills.  Someone taught that little girl to read and it wasn’t the man in charge.  Those children have families at home missing their babies but thanking God for giving them a better life.  Meanwhile it’s 11:05 pm and I can’t stop thinking about how dark it is where they are, and how alone they must feel.

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The whole situation felt hopeless… if the police won’t stop these men then who will?  But later on, while we were talking through the day as a group we were reminded of that passage in Isaiah that says,

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh & blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Then your light will break forth like the dawn.  The thing about a sunrise is that the sun starts to rise while it’s still dark.  And at first there’s just a hint of light, an essence of hope.  I was so angry at the way those children are being so neglected & exploited, and I am still so angry.  But I know the situation isn’t hopeless, as awful at it was.  The fact that we were there in itself shows that God is at work… His light has begun to enter into the deepest, darkest, crevice that I’ve ever seen.  And I believe His light will continue to break forth and rise like the dawn.

Little Mouse prayed for us before we left.  She lifted her tiny hands up into the air and proclaimed, “Aleluia!”

 

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I’m sharing this story because y’all need to help me pray.  Typically I wouldn’t put the faces and names of children I barely even know online but these children have been hidden long enough.  These children need to be remembered and prayed for.  They deserve our battle cries.

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Something we can do besides pray for these children is to help prevent these situations from occurring in the first place, and one of the best ways I can think of to do that is to sponsor a child.  There is so much I love about Heartline Ministries, they are doing SUCH BEAUTIFUL WORK in Haiti and it was an honor to be able to glimpse into their world.  I’m especially in love with their Maternity Center but they do so much more, including child sponsorships to send kids to school.  When we help alleviate a bit of the poverty that so many families in the world face, we are also helping to prevent these families from facing the kind of desperation that has led to these children being trafficked.  We are not helpless, and this situation is not hopeless.

ours.

May 2015

We sit across from one another in the bakery, two glass bottles of soda between us.  Dust from the street outside trails in with the wind that’s blowing through our hair.  We’re waiting for our tinies to finish their school day.

Her tinies.  My tinies?  Our tinies.

I could feel those tinies coming months before they arrived in Kiwi House.  Maybe a little bit like seeing two pink lines appear on the strip, or feeling an itty-bitty pair of feet kicking your stomach from the inside.  I felt desperate for them, we had so much space, so much love, so much passion to give… so when we finally brought them home to Kiwi it felt so perfect, it felt like what we’d been waiting & preparing for.  Love grew quickly.  I taught Emy the sweetest words in English: I’d say, “Emy I love you.” and she’d smile and say with her Colombian accent, “I love you too.”  Baby Boy started calling me Mami.. one day he asked me, “I came out of your tummy right???”  No my dear, I love you and I’m one of your Moms right now, but you came out of your Mama M. remember her?

Now me and Mama M sit across from one another in the bakery with the dusty wind and the cold glass bottles of soda.  It’s been two years since since she brought her babies to Kiwi where they became my babies too.  I look at the woman across from me and I see so loud & clear the threads of grace & redemption God is weaving throughout her life.  Today she is telling me all about her classes at Beauty School.  She’s telling me all about her dreams to open her own salon and I find myself smiling and believing in her.  But I remember once trembling with anger & fear, so worried about what life would be like for our Little Loves if they went back to live with their First Mama.  No.  I said to God.  They’re safer with us.  But His reply was louder, “Do not dwell on the past.  I am doing a New Thing.”  So we trusted Him and we trusted her and the tinies started splitting their time between us: their two homes & their multiple Mama’s.  There was a time when the best & safest place for those two was with us in Kiwi, it’s true.  But God was doing a New Thing with Mama M… and once again the best place for those Little Loves was in her arms.  I see that for what it is, a Miracle.  Redemption.

The tinies are out of school now and we’re walking home together.  I remember a time when Baby Boy only liked to hold my hand, and today after all these months apart he’s finally holding it again.. but he’s wrapped up his other little hand inside his Mama M’s.  We walk home this way, my boy, her boy, our boy between us and it’s perfect.  At home we sit at Mama M’s new kitchen table where she takes my hands in hers to work her manicure magic.  Emy sits on my lap as her her Mama labors over my hands, she sits there between two of the women who love her most and it’s perfect.  Later we’ve got salsa music going and Mama M teaches me new steps.  Baby Boy & Emy watch us, laughing and smiling as two of the women they love most dance together, and it’s perfect.

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clinging to Hope.

“God’s children can never run too far or be too lost for God to find.” 

-The Jesus Storybook Bible

Sometimes I feel like Wonder Woman.  I feel like her in moments of chaos that I bring to a calm, like that time I successfully put all six tiny Kiwi’s down for naps by myself.  If you knew them you would understand why I am still marveling about that day.

 

I’m in Mexico now, Home here with my Dear Ones… these children who’ve held my heart captive for the past (almost!) six years.  The other night, during those evening hours when the girls’ house is bursting with silliness & games & homework & play & music & delightful chaos I heard Cristina start to wail.  I followed the sound of her until I found her squishy little 5-year-old self splayed out on the floor, crying out in her adorable manner of speech:  “AHHHH!!! ME APASTASTE!!!!!!!!!”  AHHHHH!!!!! YOU SKISHED ME!!!!!!

 

I picked her up and she melted herself into me, wrapping her arms & legs around me tight, and snuggling her sweaty face against my neck.  “Ohhh, te apastaron?” They squished you? I spoke gently, affirming her hurt while carrying her away from it, her crying calming to sniffles as I tucked her into bed and stayed with her until she slept.

 

Sometimes I feel like I have a magic embrace.  Wonder Woman style.  I hold a hurting child close and the pain seems to melt away.  I think it’s often like that with our little ones isn’t it?  We are their safe place, their harbor, and our laps are meant to minister to them comfort & healing.  Our laps are meant to show them the unconditional Love of the Father.

 

I have a girl here, who’s become more woman than girl now actually.  But when she was still a girl she settled in close to me and asked me if I would be her Mother.  Her eyes spoke deep wells of sorrow & rejection, but glimmered hope with that question to me.  God helped me with the answer, I’m sure.  I don’t think I had that much wisdom in me.  “I think God will give you many women in your life to be Mothers to you, but I am honored to be one of them.”

 

All of these children are dear & beloved to me, but some are more like Daughters than others.  She is one of my Beloved Daughters.

 

She opened up her heart to me recently, like she’s done so many times before, but this time my embrace wasn’t enough.  I couldn’t melt away her heartbreak and make her pain disappear.  I wanted to, oh how I wanted to, but I couldn’t.  I told her that, as I led her up to the prayer tower in hopes that my prayers would fall over the barren places of her heart like sweet summer rains.  I said, “Darling I want to take away your pain but I can’t, there’s nothing I can do to fix it.  Only God can heal you but you have to let Him.”

 

I prayed and she cried and I held her close but I knew it wasn’t enough.  I am not the Healer.  Perhaps I am His nurse, because I know He works in me and with me to carry healing into a hurting world.  But I am not the Magical One.

 

My heart has been all ache-y since that night, you know what that’s like right?  When your heart literally hurts, you can feel it heavy & burdened.  I smile and laugh and joke and do homework with my Girl, I even hold her tight when she joins me and the little ones at bedtime, squishing in close, still not too big for this Mama’s cuddles.  But in the morning when the house is quiet and all the kids are at school I go into her room and fall down on my knees in front of her bed to pray Warrior prayers for my Daughter.  Choosing healing, choosing redemption, choosing Jesus is up to her.  She has to decide for herself.  But I will carry on crying out to God for her, all the days of my life if that is what it takes, believing  in a miracle.  Believing that one day I will see her silhouette on the horizon, returning Home.  She will be a Prodigal Woman, lost but then found, dead but brought back to life.  She will come Home into the arms of the One who first Loved her, and I will be right there with our FatherMother God hollering at the servants to bring the finest robe and a ring for her finger and sandals for her feet.  We will dance and feast and celebrate our Daughter come Home.

 

I cling to this Hope because I look at my Girl and my heart aches deep & heavy because she is hurting and I can’t heal her.  I know I am not enough for her.

 

But I know the One who is.

 

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Psalm 27:13-14

 

selfsame well

“Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”

-Khalil Gibran

Last week I said goodbye to my little Kiwi’s, well maybe cried goodbye would be a more accurate way to describe that night.

It felt like my heart was breaking wide open.

Everyone at the farm came, we ate dinner and everyone prayed for Meesha & me, and then the kids gave us goodbye cards.  I started crying before anyone even started praying.  It was that bad.  At one point Little Miss M disappeared, we called for her telling her I had a present for her but she didn’t come.  Meesha went to look for her and found her curled up on her bed, crying.  When Meesha picked her up she started wailing.  Then Emy followed, and not long after that Baby Boy too.  Tati & J held it together but it was obvious they were fighting back the tears.

I love those children.  I love when J says, “I have five Moms!”  And then lists me as one of them.  I count you as one of my own as well, My Dear.  I love those early mornings, when only Emy & I are awake, and she cuddles up next to me with a picture book while I drink coffee and pray.  I love how silly and hilarious Tati is, and I love seeing how she soaks up how delighted I am in her.  She knows I love her big, and she revels in it.  I love watching Isa come into her own, taking risks & being brave, becoming the woman God means for her to be.  I love how Miss M randomly runs up to me to squeeze me tight and scream, “BEE-TTANY TE AMO!”  I love the way her nose is always flushed pink.  I love goofing around with our teenager L, hiding from one another to scare each other, driving her nuts by making embarrassing pictures of her my desktop background.  I love when Vero helps me in the kitchen, so diligently measuring & mixing, sneaking glances at the other kids to see if they’re jealous of her, ahaha.  I love how Baby Boy laughs himself silly, how he’s never stopped slapping his head for fun even though we’ve never encouraged it, how he thinks it’s so funny to call people “Cara de Papa!”  I will never forget you, Potato Face.

I want to tell L about the mistakes I’m making in this switching over from Colombian Spanish to Mexican Spanish.  She would find it just as awkwardly hilarious as I do that instead of saying what means, “I have to pee.” in Mexico, I keep saying, “I have boobs.” Because the same sentence in one country means something else in another.  I saw a bunch of Barbies at a friend’s house the other day and I wanted to call Emy & Miss M over to play with them but then I remembered I don’t live with them anymore.  At a 15th birthday party the other day the Birthday Girl entered the ball room in an antique car… I longed to hear J’s reaction, “Ooosh, carro severo!!”  But J is 2,000 miles away from me now.

That’s a long way away.

I miss my children.  Leaving is what I wanted, but it still hurts.  In my first months in Colombia I asked God if I needed to let go of my Mexican daughters so that there would be room in my heart to love the Colombian children He’d given me.  I was surprised by God’s answer: “No Silly, you just need to open your heart up wider.”  I didn’t know how to do that but I know that somehow I did, because leaving them has been so painful.  Painful in the way a goodbye can only be when you’ve allowed someone to enter in deep into your heart.

I’ve been intentional in allowing myself to grieve, and in feeling everything I need to feel.  That’s why when on the last night I washed up the dinner dishes in Kiwi, and I felt the tears coming, that I didn’t try to stop them.  I just stood there in front of the window, my hands all warm & sudsy, and cried.

The other day I remembered a word of prophecy spoken to me by a girl with whom I had never shared anything about my life as a missionary or what it is I have a heart for.  God told her though, because what she said to me was, “You already have children, but God will give you more.  You will be a Mother to many.”  That was before I ever set a foot in Kiwi.  Now I wonder if my whole life will feel like this, like loving with my whole heart and then letting go.  Again & again & again.  Probably.

Soon I’ll be reunited with all of my Mexican Lovelies, and at the thought of that I am OVERJOYED.  Yet the joy & sorrow are co-existing, I’m allowing them to co-exist.  My heart is simultaneously nostalgic for Colombia and excited to be here in Mexico… and I think I will be like this for awhile.  Grieving & rejoicing.  Crying & laughing.  And I think that’s okay.  I need that to be okay.

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Full Circle

“Also at that time, people will say, “Look at what’s happened! This is our God! We waited for Him and He showed up and saved us!  This God, the One we waited for!  Let’s celebrate, sing the joys of His salvation.  God’s hand rests on this mountain!”  Isaiah 25:9-10

 

Winter 2013

I’m flying back to Colombia after a beautiful month in Mexico doing exactly what I want to be doing with my life.  I know I am called to Mexico, someday, but God has spoken and said there are things for me to learn in Colombia.  So I obey.  It breaks my heart wide open but I leave my daughters again.  I don’t know how I am going to be able to learn to love a new house full of children when all I want to do is stay with my little girls in Mexico but I fly back to Bogota anyway.

 

It’s evening when my plane lands, I’m not expecting anyone to meet me in the airport but as I wheel my suitcase outside I hear a chorus of applause and whistles that sound like love & friendship, because there they are: my new friends “the crazy girls” as Claire has dubbed them.  We catch a taxi home together and as it’s while I’m squished between two of them in the backseat that I feel it, the reassurance that I am perfectly where I am to be, even though it’s not at all what I want.

 

I think, “This is what it feels like to be exactly in the center of God’s will.”

 

 

Summer 2013

Colombia is harder than I ever imagined it would be.  I have learned enough! I tell God.  Take me back to Mexico!  I beg.  Everyday I climb a mountain to get home to Casa Kiwi.  A mountain.  It so perfectly represents what I feel about my time here: exhausting, difficult, work.  An uphill battle.  There’s a song I often listen to as I carry on up that hill, one foot in front of the other, slow & steady.  I sing along, I pray along:

 

I know that I can trust You.  I know that I can trust You.  I know that I can trust You…
I lean not on my own understanding, my life is in the hands of the Maker of Heaven…
I know that I can trust You, so give me a heart to love You God…
I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open.  I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open.  I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open.  I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open…

 

God has something for me here on this mountain.  Something good & sacred.  I don’t know what it is and I don’t know when I’ll be able to stop climbing, but I know I want whatever it is that God has for me.  So I climb with my hands wide open.  I enter into Kiwi with my hands wide open.  I help my children do their homework with my hands wide open.  I chop garlic & onions with my hands wide open.  I fold tiny blouses & scrub porcelain toilets with my hands wide open.  I sing my Darlings to sleep with my hands wide open.  I struggle to find joy but I chase after it anyway.  I cry out to God, How much longer?!  But even though I am so tired, and it is so painful, I keep my hands wide open to receive the gifts He wants to give me, to learn what She wants to teach me.

 

 

Autumn 2013

One year, it’s been one year since I first began to melt into this ministry, and one year is all I promised.  I want to go, I’ve wanted to go for a long time and my promised year has finished but I know it’s not His time for me to leave.  There are no words of prophecy telling me to stay, no verses in the Bible shouting out to me that it isn’t time to go, but I know the voice of my FatherMother God and She is saying, “I have more for you here, my Darling.

 

I have climbed so far but I know that if I give up now I’ll be missing out on the gift God has for me.  So I stay here and my hands stay open.  I don’t know how much longer I’ll be climbing but I don’t want to step outside of this perfect will of God, no matter how painful His perfect will is.

 

 

Summer 2014

Finally You’ve spoken to me, loud & clear to let me know that I’ve almost made it to the top.  With you I will go, You say to me and I know it’s okay now.  I can go, Your presence will go with me, and You will give me rest.

 

One of the crazy girls wants to take me on an adventure before I leave, so we travel out from the city where the mountains are perfect for climbing.  Rock climbing, with harnesses and carabiners and chalk and special pants.  The air is chilly but the sun is bright, and I am amazed at how cathartic & refreshing it is to climb these mountains.  There are many moments when I don’t think I can keep going, I’m way higher than I’m comfortable with, I can’t see the top, and I can’t see or feel anywhere steady to cling to.  It’s when I’m frozen there, paralyzed and heart beating wildly when Ingie calls up to me, “I’ve got you.”

 

“I’ve got you.”  She’s right, I can feel her holding me there strong & steady.  I can’t see her, all I can see is the rock in front of my face but I know she’s got me.  I might fall a little bit, and it will be painful, but I’ll never fall so far that I won’t be able to pick myself back up again.  It’s her voice calling up to me that gives me the courage to carry on.  I know that I can trust her. 

 

I know that I can trust You… I lean not on my own understanding, my life is in the hands of the Maker of Heaven… so I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open…

 

I make it to the top of that mountain, as Ingie holds me steady from the ground.  It’s when I’m at the top, looking out at the beautiful green grass & the bright blue sky when I’m overwhelmed with gratitude.  I am bruised & a bit bloody but I’ve made it to the top and Oh the view is beautiful.  It’s when I’m at the top that I see what You’ve been trying to show me all along… that it would be worth it.  All I can say is, “Thank You.”  Thank You for believing in me to climb the Kiwi Mountain.  Thank you for holding on tight to me and for being patient with me when I didn’t think I could keep going.  Thank you for whispering to me, “I’ve got you, Beloved.” and giving me this gift of climbing.  The gift of challenges and perseverance and showing me that I can do excruciatingly hard things.  Ingie waits awhile for me to be ready to come down because I am having a Moment with You… yes the countryside is beautiful but I’m seeing the rest of them now too.  My Boy J, Little Miss M, Emy, Baby Boy, Tati… I see the faces of my children and it has been an honor to be a Mother to them in this time.  Thank You.  Thank You Thank You Thank You.  They are worth the climb.

 

Fall 2014

I leave my house keys in Kiwi and I walk out that door for the last time.  When I return I’ll be a visitor, a guest, not a Mother.  I start walking down that mountain and I am crying because this is it, it’s ending.  You my God are belaying me down, the hardest of it is over with.  I did it.  I made it.  All the way to the top.

 

Tonight I am out with the crazy girls, there is dinner and dancing and laughter and treats snuck into the movie theater in our purses before the night is over.  We’re in the taxi now, I’m even squished between two of them again.  I remember that night I felt so perfectly where You wanted me to be and I feel exactly that way again.  This is where I belong, I think, Right here smack dab in the center of Your good & perfect will.  I am so proud of myself for not giving up and taking off all those times when it was all I wanted to do.  I am so proud of myself for staying right where You wanted me.

 

I look down at my hands and they’re full now.  Full of my sweet children & my dear friends, full of two years of memories, full of beauty from brokenness, full of growth from pain, full of wisdom from the challenges I crashed into along the way.
I climbed the mountain with my hands wide open and I’m so thankful that I did.

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