Sunday, June 9, 2019

Remade: A Woman's Perspective on Mission Life

It has been six years since my family moved to The Philippines in service of street children. It has been an entire year since I've touched this blog and, to be honest, I had to reset the password because I had forgotten it. 

Please don't mistake the year of blog silence for "life has fallen into a predictable routine".  The only thing that is predictable here on the mission field is that nothing is.

And being a woman on the mission field, I have found, brings a unique type of challenge. We are so relational. Plus, they don't sell tampons here but that is a whole other blog post.

Looking back over my older blog posts, I see that I am nothing like her anymore. She was so optimistic. She believed that she could reach even the most distant child's heart.  Her faith was stronger than it is at this moment and she wasn't as tired. But she is so much wiser now.

 Kids have come and gone. More than 85 children have been served in some capacity in Mercy House's live-in, residential care program. The coming in is wonderful. The "going" part can be brutal.  We have said "goodbye" for happy reasons like family reunifications or adoptions. And we have said "goodbye" for devastating reasons like running away or  the need to  transfer to another place more equipped to serve a particular boy.   Every "goodbye" does something to my heart.   And, even as a four-time adoptive mother, these six years have changed my view of adoption radically. Adoption truly is NOT for every child nor is it for every family.  Some of my boys who have been adopted are struggling in the most painful ways. Some are laying waste to their adoptive families with their trauma. And we have done all we can to prepare them. Those who are thriving are the youngest and most resilient. The brokenness of the world  takes no prisoners. Everyone in it's path feels the burn to one degree or another.
In the last year, my precious mother has been diagnosed with stage 4 bone cancer, my stateside children have had struggles that are unreachable here and we have undertaken a building project that has added a lot of weight to the load we carry.

But I suspect this life isn't so different to what it would have been had we not come 8,000 miles from our home land to serve. There would still be family sicknesses, struggles and people we lose physically and emotionally as life moves forward.

The distance magnifies the helplessness but the loneliness compounds everything.  The loneliness has always been and will probably always be the strangling part.   There have been countless times of feeling like I wanted to implode from having no one to talk through the hurts with.
 And as a Follower of Christ, He should always be the One. But there are times when a girl friend with a listening ear, no judgement  and lots of  "that must be hard" is what my heart wants most.  And can not have.  A friend guaranteed to spur me on and believe in my crazy ideas. The plans that others would say are too big or too silly to walk in.   The things I want to try that are too fragile to share in case they are crushed.
So I suppose when Paul said in Philippians that everything he once held dear he now counts as loss compared to the greatness of knowing HIM, he might have   meant things would be like this. 

But the OVERWHELMING peace and joy that follow us over here are the warm blanket over the hard days.  And now that we have been at this for six years, we have literally raised several of our boys from small street children to amazing young men who, although not given a family by adoption for various reasons, have found a PLACE that is their own.  Parents who will walk with them into adulthood, however flawed we are, and pour into them what was missing for those years the street stole. 

And God has drawn our oldest son, Aaron, into the work with us and that has been a great source of joy for me.  He has kept our immediate family here healthy, an illness here beyond the norm is a great fear as we just don't have the access (or insurance) we once did. 

If you asked me "if you knew then what you know now, would you still have come?" the answer would be, I would have come SOONER.  I would have RACED headlong into the distance and loneliness and other trials I have walked here.  I would not trade a moment of this life for the comfort of my old one.  I would not miss a second of holding broken boys while they grieve in exchange for an ounce of additional "me time".   Because THIS IS LIVING for me. It is not the calling on everyone's life (and I am thankful for that because so many of you are needed to stay where you are, serve in your workplace and family and be our champions from afar).  

So, to my precious friend who is on her way over here, family in tow, ready to tackle the crisis of fatherlessness with wide-eyed optimism. . .  hurry!!  

This life will not be easy. But I expect you know this. The enemy will come at your both guns blazing in a firestorm of discouragement in hopes of sending you away defeated.  So cling to the cross! 
The pain of the mission field brings the goodness of God into clarity.  The successes in ministry remind you that it is all HIM because we are more frail and less competent than we care to admit. 

"Superwoman" is a myth.   On the field and off.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Reflections of a Battered Missionary

I am sharing this post today as we near the five-year mark of serving orphaned and abandoned children here in The Philippines.  It feels like a lifetime and yet also seems were were just landing
in the Manila airport, six kids in tow, wide-eyed and idealistic and with no idea what we were actually doing.

These five years have been fraught  with  highs and lows that I do not believe  are accidents.  God has used every joy and every pain to shape me into the image of  His son and I have come so far. And yet, still have so very far to go.

The joys:
Our first Muslim child (without the hat) is an amazing, strong young man

Three boys from very different and very hard places forging a brotherly bond 

A 'family' birthday party to honor one of our faithful caregivers
By far, with no exception, the JOYS of serving street children outside my first culture are the kids themselves.  I have witnessed startling transformations, seen children come to salvation in Christ, reunited some with long, lost relatives who thought they were dead and have handed others over to nervous and excited adoptive parents who prayed for them before they even knew their names.
And those are just a few of the indescribable joys of life serving the fatherless.

The Pains:
I have become more cynical and jaded about people, their motives, their honesty and integrity since moving to this place. "We are NOT in Kansas anymore, Toto" .  For Reals.

And to avoid using this blog as a place of vengence, I will refrain from calling names but, when we were new here, a woman who is older than I and has been in child welfare for much longer than I reached out to mentor me.  I was grateful. She was a sister in the Lord and someone I respected immensely.  I called her with questions about everything from paperwork to how to register our newly-admitted children to public school here. Everything was so new and different.

One day, she called me to meet for coffee. I was relieved. It had been a particularly hard ministry week and I needed that time away.  When I got to the coffee shop,  she looked right into my eyes and asked me  not to "step into her sphere of influence".   I had no idea what she meant and she would not elaborate.   I did not know if she was asking me not to be friends with her staff, not to have contact with her financial supporters, not to go near her husband . . . WHAT??? What had I done? What was she afraid of?   I still do not know. We haven't spoken except via email since then and nothing has been resolved.  She only responded that whatever I had done was "confidential". That's a big fat cop out.
Just a few weeks after that confusing meeting, I received a very strong letter from someone here who is a government official in charge of the work we do. That letter accused me of kicking one of my own adopted sons out of our home and not allowing him to come near us.  The information was UNTRUE and the situation was nothing like it was presented in the note.  But then I remembered. The mentor "friend" who asked me not to step  in her "sphere" (what even IS a "sphere"?) questioned me previously about the struggles we were having with that particular adopted child.
And  I realized what a naive, trusting, wide-eyed ding bat I had been.   And vowed not to let that happen again.
If that experience had been one-of-a-kind, I would probably still be  giving more grace and less suspicion of  folks. 
BUT . . . 
And staff has stolen from us (in small amounts) and had to be fired.  Kids have told lies about us to deflect from their own misdeeds and we have had to defend ourselves unnecessarily.  But none of that holds a candle to the CALLING we have to stay here and serve street boys.

If the enemy wants us out of this country, he's going to have to do better than that.

And in these nearly five years, I have not only been wounded, I'm sure I have been the one doing the wounding.  I am no better than the "friend" with the "sphere" .  I'm wretched in my own ways.

Aren't we all?  

If you said "no, not me", you probably have a "sphere". 

I know. I need to get over that. 

Five years of living outside the USA has given me a more global perspective than I ever had. I realize that the world outside my home country is huge and different. Better in some ways and worse in others.   And that people inside and outside the States all need the same things:  Forgiveness and a relationship with their Creator, a place to  be loved and belong, the security that someone is FOR them, even when they make poor choices and mess up and just to be respected and treated with dignity - whether rich or poor, brilliant or not, productive members of society or dependent ones.

So, five years has been challenging and a blessing with overflow so rich I can not contain it all.  I would not trade it, nor change it.
Even the pains. They have a place.    

I look forward with great expectation to the next five years, lessons to learn, children to bring off the streets, new families forming and, more than all of that, a deeper walk with my Savior as He uses all the joys and all the pains. 

That is Him. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Taken the first time we ever saw him

The first time I ever saw Adonis he was high. We were having a medical outreach and feeding in his city, sponsored by a friend from North Carolina. There was spaghetti, chicken, hygiene kits  and candy given to more than 100 street children.  There were testimonies shared, prayers prayed and lots of hugs and medicine handed out to some pretty neglected kids. And then it was time to clean up and go home.  But at the very end of the program, one of our Mercy House boys came to me and  said "Can my cousin come and live with us?".  I had almost gotten away. Almost.

But he introduced me to the child in the photo above. 

I could tell he was on some sort of drug by his behavior - lots of laughing and smiling. He could not focus on what I was saying. He stepped outside my direct line of sight and peed on a wooden post about two feet from me.   And I was  a little scared of him.  He was 15 years old -  older than any other children we had at the time - and he was clearly saturated by street life in a "leveled up" way from that of our other clients.  So I asked him to add me on facebook (as most street children here have a facebook account that they check often from the internet cafes when they can find the money), assuming he would lose the scrap of paper I had written my name on for him,  and I left him there in the city, a little relieved that I didn't have that "heart tug" that so often knocks me over when I  meet a child we are supposed to invite into our Mercy House family. 

But by the time I got back to the  center, a friend request from Adonis was in my computer.  And a long message written by a different street child informing me that Adonis could not read or write but he would really like to come and live with us, go to school and "fix his life".  The friend shared with me that Adonis has bad asthma and was sick a lot and that he would be "a good boy" for me.  I laughed.  Because I had heard that before and the kids promising they were "good boys" were almost always the worst behavior problems.  I was getting jaded. Or experienced. Or both. 

So, I lay down that night in my bed to pray for the kids we had served that day and to ask the Lord what to do now for specific children. And the words  "go get Adonis" kept coming to mind. I think I said "NO WAY" out loud. And I tried to reason it was not the prompting of the Lord but  my own "savior complex" putting that thought in my head.  I tried to focus on the foolishness of accepting a child that old with that many issues into our center. But that nagging. It would not go away.  And  I knew. 

The following day, I asked our social worker to call the city social worker from Adonis' town and ask about him. She BEGGED us to come and pick him up. She shared the problems he caused in the street,  the stealing and vandalism. The bullying of younger children, the constant use of drugs in public - and so much more.   So, with more fear than faith, we  went to his city to ask him if he was serious about changing his life.

Admission Day
He came into our center and slept for about three days, ate an inordinate amount of food and began to be more "himself" as the substances he relied on to keep him feeling strong and happy wore off. 

And for about 5 months, he did well with us.
Until he didn't. 

A few months after leaving Mercy House

He began to miss the drugs, the computer shop, the girls, the begging and the money. So he began to act out inside the center - disrespecting staff, bullying other children, anything to draw attention to himself  and disrupt whatever activities were going on.  So we counseled him regularly about his actions. We prayed with him and for him. But, eventually, he insisted that we get him back to his city of origin or he would just run away.  So with the cooperation of the local government and Adonis' birth mother, we reunited him with a very fragile family that we knew would not  be able to handle him.
Sadly, we were right. He was in the street again. 

Within a week, Adonis was messaging us asking if he could come back into our home.  But upon his leaving, our Mercy House boys began to share with us some pretty extreme things Adonis was doing while living with us- things they were afraid to disclose until he was gone.  So we went and met him face to face to let him know we could not take him back and why, but we would help him find a place if he was open to another home. 
We found him in the street easily as everyone in that city knows him. He was having an asthma attack and had no medicine so, we immediately  bought two inhalers, one for him to keep in his pocket and  one for the city social worker to keep in her desk and give to him when the first ran out. She agreed to do that for us.  
We fed him lunch and then he fell asleep on a city park bench, head on my lap, and all I could do was put my hand on his and pray silently - for his protection, for a center that could handle all the behaviors and keep their other kids safe, for the God who made Adonis for a bigger purpose to begin to reveal to that young man that he was created for so much more than the life he was currently living.  And then, with heavy hearts, we left him there to search for a place that could handle this difficult boy with the beautiful heart.  We had seen so much in him that was worth saving. So many sweet moments and protective instincts toward our staff.  

Enter: Kid's Home International.  Pastor Raffy Sison and his staff were introduced to us by an Action International missionary, my friend Erin.  Pastor Raffy runs a tight ship. He serves older boys 15-18 and some have committed serious offenses. He opened his home to Adonis and we were beyond grateful! Adonis thrived there. He learned to read. He learned to handle the word of God and serve in outreaches. He learned to hand wash his own clothing and take responsibility for himself and, best of all to us, he was only about 15 miles from Mercy House so we were allowed to visit him there. 
For 11 months, Adonis did well in the program at Kid's Home  but eventually approached Pastor Raffy and asked if he could be excused from the program. He  had asked that in the past but always changed his  mind after some counseling.  This time, it was different. Pastor Raffy texted Mercy House and shared with us that Adonis wants to return to us and he was 100% certain this time that he wanted to leave Kid's Home.  

I would be lying to say I wasn't at least a little thrilled at the prospect of getting him back.  

We missed him. Visiting him at KH and seeing his growth and maturity were highlights of our days. Knowing he was in the perfect place for him - the safest and most Christ-focused place he could have asked for - was the answer to so many prayers for that young man. But hearing he wanted to come back to us  and was now more READY was also an answer. 
So we went and got him. And brought him home.  He is now 17 years old and no longer the skinny, hyper active, drug dependent kid we met two years ago on the streets of his city.  He's a young man who is showing himself to be a good big brother to the kids here at Mercy House. He leads devotions. He helps the staff with any heavy lifting or labor-intensive jobs without being asked. And, my goodness, that sense of humor and smile just light up this place.

How did we make it for so long without him?   

And I share this for a few reasons. First, just to flat out spread the joy we have at being given a second chance with this boy. Second, to thank Kid's Home and Pastor Raffy and his staff a MILLION TIMES OVER for taking a chance on Adonis and for also being willing to give him back after  they all did so much of the hard work it took to get him to be the young man we see before us: changed by the power of God and looking more like His Son than we imagined he could.  
And third, I share this because all of  you who pray for and support Mercy House have a hand in the redemption of this boy .  And, people, if this was the ONLY child we served in our whole ministry. It would still be worth  the leaving and the selling and the coming across the ocean.  The resources we have invested to visit him, buy medicine and now to care for him every day come from those of you with a heart for street kids and the gospel.  And we can not express well enough how valuable you are.  
We eagerly await the rest of this story. We are not naive enough to think it will be smoothing sailing for the next couple of years and then Adonis lands that corporate job and rides off into the sunset to live "happily ever after".  Kids with rough beginnings tend to have a lot of extra work to do just to rise to the level of average kids in intact families.  But we put all of our trust in our Great Great God, to show us how to meet this young man's needs day by day. Step by step. Walkng by faith and expecting the Lord to keep every promise He has ever made. Because He will. 
So, for now, we are just raising a son who is right where he is supposed to be at this time in his life. 
And we are grateful to everyone who has poured into him and cheered him on along the way.
Playing Ball at Mercy House 

Hanging out with two of his Mercy House brothers

Add Adonis to your daily prayers, please!  He has a long way to go academically and spiritually before he will be ready to face the adulthood that lies just around the corner.  And while you pray, thank the Lord for  calling so many to serve just the one. 

More than we ask or imagine!  That is our God!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Nobody's Heroes

Just this week, our medical missionary and myself were called to  a small shack in our barangay at the end of a muddy road.

We were told there was a woman inside who was possibly demon possessed.   Now, don't get me wrong. I do believe the Bible teaches that people can, in fact, be possessed. But as an evangelical Christian, reformed theologically, who does not believe every sickness, lost wallet or bad day needs rebuking and binding, I was guarded and a tad nervous at the same time. 
What greeted us as we entered the small hut was a woman about 30 years old, bound by her hands and feet and almost non-responsive. 
When we sat her up and interviewed her caregiver, we discovered she has struggled with weeks of stomach issues, has a high fever, rapid pulse and heart rate, no appetite and pupils that were not responding to light. 
Our medical missionary, Brianna, was at a loss. We prayed for this young woman while holding her hand and surmised pretty quickly that she was not possessed . But she was extremely ill. Possibly dying. And something was going on with her brain. Was it swelling? Parasites? Infection? Encephalitis? 
Only a CT scan could tell us what was going on here and getting this woman, who does not bear her own weight on her legs anymore, out of the hut and into our car was a Herculean effort undertaken by our Administrator, Andrew, and one of our construction workers.  When we finally got her into the vehicle, she had to be sedated by our missionary with an injectable sedative because she became so agitated and combative.  Her weary caregiver, a close relative, was covered  with bruises and exhausted by the previous weeks' care for this woman.  Our hearts went out to her. 
The CT scan revealed some anomalies with the brain and we informed the family this young woman would need to be admitted to the hospital for an in depth blood chemistry. 
As Brianna consulted with physicians abroad, sending every test result and every observable symptom to them by text, we could see this family pulling away from us. 
When questioned about their willingness to let us admit this young woman, and assurances from us that her bills would not fall to them, they continued to hesitate. 
They confessed to us that this woman has an intense fear of hospitals and would not likely go freely. We offered to sedate and stay with her, to hold her and restrain her if needed. 


Yes, you read that correctly. The family refused additional treatment and took this gravely ill woman back to their hut - with no electricity, no running water and no cell phone.

                                                             And there she remains. 

We have no authority in this situation.  We have told the family that she may not live. Or she may not recover or improve at all. She may stay "like this" for the rest of her life, requiring around-the-clock care from an already over-taxed family. 

They Understand. 

And so, this blog post does not end with a "rescue", a "salvation" or a success story.  It ends with despair and confusion.  It ends with a reminder that we are not everyone's great, white hope.
We are just people.  With limited influence, a limited budget and finite powers. 

Just people. Not heroes. 
Just people. Not healers. 

We lean on the ever-present, endless reserves of our Heavenly Father.  He can.  If He wills. 

And if not, He is still good.

THIS, my friends, is the hardest part of ministry. Not the fund raising or the late nights or the discipline problems of the children in our care.

The clear understanding that we can not help everyone all the time.  Sometimes they won't let us. Sometimes they don't want us to. 

Please pray for this young woman, and pray for her family and her main caregiver.  We ask the Lord to breathe LIFE into that family - body and spirit.  We pray that our caring touch of their daughter showed them something of the love of Jesus.  Prayer is more powerful than "doing".  
For that, we are grateful.  
Pray for Brianna, our missionary, and her reckoning with "we can't save them all".  If there is any demon in this ministry, that is Him. The accuser. The one that tries our souls with the reminder that "this one got away".    Or "that one ran away".   Or "you can do so little and the problems are so big." 

He is a liar. 


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

From One Orphanage To The Next

I recently heard a statement from a friend who is in the child caring world that shocked and saddened me.  This friend stated that when big families adopt, it's like the children going "from one orphanage to another".  The following blog post is decidedly bias. Just know that.


That was her exact statement, verbatim. I sat  in confusion for a few seconds but thought to "fix my face" before she looked back at me.  I considered my own family of six children - four adopted and two biological - and wondered if she meant me.  Or someone else. Is six "orphanage numbers" or was that comment only directed at the mega families of 9, 10, 11 or 17 children?  

I said nothing. Because I was offended and didn't want to say something I might regret. 

And then I decided to try and be very diplomatic and evaluate her words carefully, considering the people I know "in real life" who have adopted children and large families, and since I direct and live inside of an orphanage, it was easy for me to compare the two scenarios.  

I see, in some aspects, how she is right. In both my orphanage and the large families I  know well,  there are some glaring similarities:  lots of people, piles of laundry, big grocery bills, the need to take turns in the bathroom, fights over TV shows, the last cookie being a big deal ,  running out of toilet paper at lightening speed , people having to wait a little while to be heard, a fair amount of chores for each child to simply keep the place running . . . and those are different and maybe harder paths than small families walk.  

But then I weighed some other similarities: always someone to play with, likely at least one person to take your side, a dying to self that creates good character when the "me, first" attitude has to go, older siblings to teach younger siblings everything from swimming to shoe tying, younger siblings to teach older siblings to be loving caregivers, a place to try out your gifts and talents in front of a larger audience, and ultimately, more people to love and be loved by. 

And the implication in the statement was that placing my precious Mercy House children into a large family was somehow a disservice to them.    That maybe just keeping them in the first orphanage was sufficient if no small families were considering them  since a large family is pretty much an orphanage.

That,  my friends, is a lie! 

 If I know one thing, I KNOW orphanage life. I believe I run a pretty wonderful orphanage. I truly love the children in our center. I kiss them goodnight and make sure all their needs are met. They are happy, growing, thriving people who are getting to know Jesus and are safe from harm. They LOVE their lives here.  They count. Their opinions matter.  I sit up with sick ones and hold crying ones. 

But I would never even try to submit that my orphanage is better than or even equal to a large family. 

You see, parents in large families, there are some things YOU can give my children that I can not.

A new family tree.  A last name that matches yours. A group of siblings who will be there for him long after you and I are gone. Not leaving for their own adoptive homes.  A place to bring his own children someday that is his REAL home and a family that is his REAL family. Grandparents, cousins, crazy uncles!!! 

We at Mercy House are LIKE a family.                             You, my friends ARE a family.

Don't let anyone discourage you, Mothers of Many, from following your dream of adopting a child. Or a sibling group.  

And you, my fellow orphanage director friends, please consider those large families and don't dismiss them simply based on numbers. Really SEE them.  Each individual member.  I realize some of the children in care NEED to be in a smaller family for a number of reasons. But I truly believe that almost any child can succeed and thrive in a large family. Sometimes better. 

So, if you ever hear a statement  like my colleague made above, whether you are in a large family yourself, a single person or married with one dog and two fish, please defend big families. 
In a world that celebrates all kind of families, let's not forget the large ones. 

You have so much to offer! 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Fire

In our little shelter for street children, I try very hard to be open to any child referred to us. I absolutely despise having to say "no" to admitting a child in need. They are there. We are here.  It seems an easy thing to open our home to the boys who have no place to go. It is what we do.

The last three children referred to our center were small boys. They were 9, 7 and 4 years old. I felt confused by this as younger children are rarely referred to us.  I assumed that this was the Lord's way of guiding our center to serve younger clientele and we welcomes the 9 and 7 year old willingly. (The 4 year old comes to us next week). These little boys are so extremely cute! They are all affectionate, cheerful little people who want to sit in your lap, be kissed goodnight, play with Legos, watch cartoons and do "little boy things".  

I saw my staff enjoying these children and, in a move that needs to happen more often than it does, reminded myself that Mercy House is NOT ABOUT ME.  The little dudes are happy here and my staff is happy.  They  bring a lot of joy and laughter to our shelter. They light up the place.

Their "issues" are nothing like the issues of the older boys we serve. They are easily managed. We haven't broken up a single fist fight or had to restrain  even one of these little ones in the heat of their anger. I was weighing the benefits of younger kids vs. older kids in my mind and finding a thousand reasons that younger street boys are the perfect kids for Mercy House.

But then, last week, I went into the street to spend time with a former client of ours who decided to go back to the "old life".  And I met his friends.  Actually, I woke his friends up to serve  them and see how they are doing in the unstable world of street life.
Our former client as we woke him up to eat lunch  

Good friend of our client 

His "tropa" - the best friends and literal "partners in crime"
And just like "that", the fire in my heart began to ROAR.  And as my eyes met theirs, I saw what true hopelessness looks like. Again.  And I felt ashamed at the same time.  I had spent too much time convincing myself that these boys are too old, too hardened and too difficult to serve.

That Mercy House should become a place for little kids.

I was prepared to do what has already been done to these young men time and time again- to turn my back because the work is daunting and the success rate is LOW once boys pass the age of 14 or so. They miss the street, and girls, and smoking, and having money. Being under authority gets tiresome to them sometimes. 

If I were not standing in the street, looking at these children, I could have justified it all. But God put a FIRE in me for these older boys.  He has given me a love for them that ONLY comes from him. It is not something anyone could manufacture.  It is as pure and true as any genuine love can be. It causes me to overlook the smell (oh, there IS a smell), and the curse words and the "tough guy" act they like to put on.  This supernatural love causes me to pray for these kids and to always remember their names, even after meeting only one time.  It makes me able to tell them apart from far away when I see them in the street and to remember what they like to eat or the small details of their lives they told me the last time we met.  It allows me to understand more Tagalog in the street than I can ever understand in a meeting. 


This fire in my bones for these budding young men was placed in me just the same way my faith in Christ was. By HIM, for HIM , through HIM.   I could no more extinguish this flame than I could snuff out my love for my own husband and children, it is there for good, I suppose. 

And they know. These boys know that I love them. They know they matter to me and, most importantly, that they matter to their Creator God. One of the first phrases I learned in Tagalog was "Jesus loves you so much".  I wanted to be sure that as I handed them their meal or their medication, they understood it came, not from some white foreigner, but from their father in Heaven who thinks they are worth feeding and loving and dying for. 

The time has come! We have a gorgeous piece of land that is free and clear. It's ours and it's waiting for a building. And INDEPENDENT LIVING CENTER for older street boys to be built on it. I have to do it. I have to do it for the boys in the photos.  I have to do it for the scores of older boys who are walking the line between street child and career criminal. I have to do it, more than anything, for the God who called us here and who put a fire in me that just will not die!   So please, please pray for Mercy House.  We don't have the staff for an independent living center. We don't have the funds to build. We aren't trained in the finer points of investing in the lives of these boys over age for adoption. All we have is a fire.

  But with the God of "two loaves and five fish", it is enough. 
Former client asleep on my lap as we wait for my staff

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Missionary Mama: Raw and Ugly

Have you ever felt like God was calling you to the mission field? Has that notion dominated your thoughts and prayers for a long enough time that you're beginning to believe it's not just an emotional, knee-jerk response to a cool video, a David Platt book or a compelling speaker you were exposed to?

Well, I know where you are if that's you. I know how it feels. I've been there. And now I'm "here" and I want to get agonizingly REAL today about some things you might face if you take that leap. Maybe I'm tying to scare you away a little.  Maybe I'm trying to help you vet yourself before the field chews you up and spits you out.   Maybe I'm just looking for an opportunity for some catharsis and this seems as good a platform as any.   Jury's out . . .

When I said to the Lord "use me" or "take my life", I'm beginning to think that what I really meant was "don't touch my children" and "you can bring me anywhere you want as long as I retain enough comforts to feel safe and connected to my old life".  But "take my life and use it for your glory" was what I THOUGHT I meant.

And God, in His infinite wisdom and unwillingness to play by MY rules, did everything I didn't want Him to do.

And every day is a seemingly endless battle to take my eyes off myself, my circumstances and my own pain and put them on HIM.  Every day.  All the time. Even when I sleep, which is not much anymore.

The root of some of the most tragic pain on the mission field stems from the environment I'm in.

WHERE He has placed me has the makings of struggle.  

We are in a very remote village of indigenous people high up in the mountains of a province. It is breathtakingly beautiful here. It is also menacingly isolated.
We have no wifi (gasp, faint, seize!).   We have a little personal "hotspot" type deal that has to be loaded and runs out unexpectedly.  If we skype, watch videos or download anything, it is akin to revving our engines and watching the gas meter drop before our eyes. And you may think "whaaa, First Word problem number 23, 455"  but, people, that wifi is what connects me to my kids, my family back in 'Murica and the friends I left behind and our supporters. When it has to be policed and monitored and makes a dent in the budget,  I hesitate to use it.

When I hesitate to use it, it's lonely for me.  But yet, I'm never alone here.  Never.

The language barrier is another tricky aspect of being here. I am starting to pick up the language here pretty well after four years. I understand a good bit of what is being said. The daunting part is answering.  Tagalog is a language that is so much easier to understand than to speak. One verb can be conjugated 80 ways!  The precious kids in my center understand my fumbling, silly, Taglish and I'm not afraid to try new words on them. But when it comes to adult conversation - my pride just won't let me try too much.    I have Rosetta Stone. I need to make the time to use it.  The language barrier contributes to the isolation factor. A lot. The notion that people speak English in The Philippines isn't exactly accurate. Many do. But the kind of conversation my heart longs for just isn't.  I want slang and deep words and culturally saturated talk. I need my BFF for that.  And I'm pretty sure she has moved on. I would expect that.

The distance from my two biological kids is crushing.  The fact that we moved to The Philippines with six kids and are down to TWO under our roof is panic inducing! Yes, it's normal that kids grow up, they start their lives, they find their own paths - blah, blah, blah - but my kid have been, for a long time, some of my closest friends. And I feel the distance tangibly. The corners of their lives where I am not allowed are screaming at me through our skypes.  They have pain and they don't want us to worry. They have expenses but they don't want to ask their missionary parents to chip in. They have physical complaints but know our insurance isn't good enough and so, they don't mention things until they are GLARING and we want to hop on a plane and "fix it".

The fact that I'm the leader is another double-edged sword. I run a shelter for street boys. I handle the staffing, the schedule, training in behavior management of the kids, leading of staff devotions, meetings with adoption officials and social welfare officials, traipsing around in the hot, dirty streets to meet suffering kids (the BONUS of the work, right there. The TIP TOP IN love job) , the donor contact, the newsletter writing, the child sponsorship updates . You get the idea. And the reason I don't sleep. And, sheesh, I sound like martyr right here. Like I'm a contortionist who has figured out how to pat herself on the back.  NO! That's not why I unrolled the list. Not even close. I say that because, the pressure NOT to crack, flip out, turn over a table and run from the center screaming profanities is often looming.  If the leader falls, the whole house of cards tumbles down around us.  I've seen it in churches and secular business. When those in leadership can't get their schtuff together. Everything crumbles. Fact!

My own family who is here serving alongside me. The enemy does a bang-up job of opening that Pandora's box of Mama Guilt and there's no shortage of reminders from flesh and blood people that I have my own kids to "worry about".  Do they not think I know this? It's a teeter-totter of balance to have an abused, neglected, slow-to-trust child coming toward you at the same time your well-loved, cherished, adored OWN child is coming toward you. Who to reach out to first is not the obvious "your own" or "who needs you most".  It's a minefield in the heart and mind of a mother who already feels like she's not enough for either of them.

The perception of the people around us is difficult to swallow. We are a bank to some (ha! The Irony . . . ) , a novelty to others, a status lifter for some as the idea that you have foreign friends elevates you in the culture.
What I'm not is "just me".
There's a city nearby that is filled with missionaries. They often place their kids in the same school and attend one of two or three churches. They have a missionary community. I came here vehemently NOT wanting to join that community. Maybe it didn't seem "radical" enough for me if I lived here and had a bunch of white friends and put my kids in private school. To tell you the truth, it looks pretty appealing to me about now.  I envy those missionary Mamas who have friends right in their neighborhood with no agenda except to be friends.

The perception of the people back home  is always in the back of my mind. Have I become one of those weird, cultureless missionaries to them? The ones with the sensible shoes and the funky accent who prefer long skirts and asks them for money in round about, back door ways?  Do they feel funny telling me about their vacation or showing me their dog's new dress because, well . . .the starving street kids and all?    Do they pour their $6 coffee into a Kangaroo cup because they feel wasteful and unspiritual drinking that caramel machiatto in the presence of a missionary?  Sometimes I feel that. Often it's in my head I'm sure.  Not even a reality.
Do they feel sorry for me because instead of being a home-owning, miata-driving Mama who spends time filling up my cart at Target and Aldi, I've morphed into a chick who borrows her kids cars and sleeps in the guest room at her parents house?  Not sure if that sounds pitiful or spiritual right there. It is what it is.

And trust me, mission-minded friends. I could head right back up to the top of this blog post and spiritualize EVERYTHING I've shared as a struggle. I KNOW all the verses about "losing your life to save it" and "counting everything as loss" and "not looking back after picking up the plowshare" and "taking up your cross and following Him".   I know them by heart. They are ABJECT TRUTH.

They never change. HE never changed.

I have changed.  This is not a cry for help. I do not believe I am burning out. I love, adore and breathe the work that we do here.  Part of my lack of sleep is my excitement to get started each day. Promise.

But for those of you feeling THE CALL, I want to crack open the back door and let you peek into the messy part of the house.   I want to be raw and real with you about the painful side of serving God in a place that isn't your first country doing work that sweeps you up like a tidal wave.

And  I also want to encourage you to CLING to the relationships you have before you go. Cultivate them.  Take the time. Hone them. Cherish them.  Because the ones you skip out on in favor of some lesser "task" are likely to be the ones you crave when you get neck-deep in your new life.

Trust me on that.  Please.

And top-of-the-heap advice to my"called but not yet moved" friends: keep your walk with the Lord as first place. Every day. Even when you don't feel like it or your facebook has 27 notifications or your kid wants "cuddle time" during what was intended to be your "quiet time" with your Maker.

There is NO SUBSTITUTE for a deep, abiding walk with Jesus. No touchy-feely song and no sitting by a stream.  NOTHING sustains the heart, calms the mind, renews the vision and banishes the arrows of the enemy like time in prayer and meditating on God's word.

Trust me on that, too.

And so, now you know.  You still coming? I'll bet you are. Because His voice rises above the noise and you know it.