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Friday, July 25, 2014

A Mother Like That

I have a dilemma. It has come unexpectedly although should have been anticipated from the inception of our residential care ministry to
street children here, in The Philippines.

I am a mother. It's my calling and my joy.

Our ministry center is a nice-sized family home with four large bedrooms. Staff quarters is downstairs (a 2-room master shared by me, my husband and our two youngest children) and two big bedrooms upstairs. One is for the girls and one is for the boys.
We have always conceived that our ministry would run as a family home. We dreamed of these disenfranchised street children getting the experience a "regular, nuclear family".    And they do.  With one exception.

I am a mother. I am not good at drawing boundary lines between who is "mine" and who is not.

I love the children in our care.  Some more than others because I am human. There is one I would love to keep forever. For no other reason than "I just want to".  He's not particularly well behaved. He has done nothing to earn the favoritism. He's just a beautiful boy with a shattered family unit.

My missionary  heart is helping him to be prepared for an adoptive family someday.   My mother's heart wants to "lose" his documents and keep him.

I have been warned by my husband that the love I shower on this child might make it harder for him to bond with his new family when that time comes.  And he's probably right.  But something in my heart of hearts just simply can not keep this child at arm's length. He has never ever EVER had a mom of his own.  He is ravenous for mother love.  He fakes illnesses or injuries and steals glances at me to see if I'm coming to his aid.   He draws piles of pictures of his "family" (which always includes me, my husband and our youngest child) and puts himself right in the center. He copies our youngest child (using sign language even though he can talk, folding his arms and shaking his head "no" when he doesn't want something) and it is not in a mean way.  It is a blatant attempt just to be like him. Maybe to learn the trick to being utterly adored?   

And he knows the facts.  He has been counseled, more than once, that Mercy House is not his "forever home" - that we are all in prayer  that God will bring him his OWN parents and his OWN forever family.  He always says "no.  I'm staying here with you" and points to me.

This is hard and has probably gone on longer than I should have allowed. 

  As "nature took it's course", there was not a thought in my mind that pouring into this little boy could have these consequences.  I could only see the hole and fill it.   I felt like a stand-in or a substitute.  And, that IS what I am.

But I am also a mother. So imperfect but a little perceptive, too.

I know real from fake.  It's not the "image" of a mother that this little boy is after. It's an actual mother. Right now, it's me.

I dare to think  none of my other friends in child-caring  ministries have been so stupid as I.  They probably all decided from day one to stand back and let the paid caregivers do their jobs.   They probably predicted that bonding with a child who is not their own could be a mixed blessing for that kid.    Some people only have to be told that it hurts to be hit by a bus, others have to actually be hit by it to believe. I suppose I'm a member of group #2.

To top it all off, I am not convinced I am doing wrong.  I know this child will move on to a permanent home.  He knows and I know.
In the meantime, I  want to be a model for him of what a good mother will be and will do.  My earnest prayer is that the lessons and the sense of safety and unconditional acceptance will be transferred to his NEW mom and dad when that time comes.

Why do I not feel this way about every child in our center? I have wondered that many times. I never set out to single one child out or to show favoritism. I am conscious of the jealousy that can arise between the children.  But of all the children in our care, THIS is the one who will likely go the longest without a family. Some of the others have family. One of our boys has a loving mother, step dad and siblings. They will be together again soon. The family just needs time to get stable.  Our girls . . . well, they are girls. Everyone seems to love orphaned girls. They are sweet and girly. They draw the eye of every visitor. Who wouldn't love them?

But THIS child is a boy. Older. From the streets. Formerly a glue-sniffing, thieving, trouble-making BOY.  The line for a child like him is short.  His teacher at school recently told us he is the poorest behaved child in her class. Maybe that's why he grabbed my heart so quickly.  The most hidden of hidden treasures . . . but I can see it.  

And I pray, above all else, he understands when THAT time comes. That he is not hurt but is thankful.
This is a risky, muddled business and as a flawed human, it is sometimes hard to separate what God has commanded from what I simply want.

I want what is best for this beautiful boy.  I want him to be found by his forever family.  I want him to slowly grow into a deep love for them that trumps anything he has experienced here, in his first family love.  I want him to stay off the streets and develop a love for his Creator that spurs him on to choose right.  I want him to know what it feels like to be highly valued.    I believe every one of those things is possible.

So I have begun to pray daily. For all of those.  I take special care to pray for his new mother. I pray that she is patient. I pray she looks at him and feels so lucky and blessed every day.  I pray she is sympathetic to the fact that he has suffered a lot of rejection and will likely try to act "tough" for a long time.  I pray that she adores even the scars.  That she understands that he would never have been hers if he had not first been down the road of abandonment.  I pray she only speaks well of his birth family, even after she learns about the things some of them have done.  I pray that she won't resent me for being so close to him.  It was before we knew who she was. It was at the lowest time of a child's life when he is having all his life decisions made for him with very little respect to what he might want. It was at a time when there was nobody else.

Because THAT is who this little boy needs most. He needs her.  A mother like that . . .

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The "Christian Vacation"

Recently, I've read and heard a good bit of scrutiny of short-term mission trips.  This could be because it's summertime in the US and many of my friends, or  the children of my friends, are fund raising for short term trips.

Once, a fellow missionary shared with me that short-terms teams just get in the way and bog down her schedule.  She saw my mouth agape and quickly followed up with a long list of all the reasons they are a blessing but, the cat was out of her proverbial bag by then.

Even Dave Ramsey, an author and financial teacher I greatly respect, referred to short-term mission trips as "A Christian Vacation".
In one of his radio bits, he balked at the way some Christians want to go help in other countries for very short amounts of time and they want YOU  to pay for it.   For some people, maybe that's the scheme. I can't speak for anyone going on a short-term mission trip nor can I address the motivation of his heart. 

Speaking purely as a parent, I loved the fact that two of my own children got to spend time on the field in Mexico, Romania, The Dominican Republic and The Philippines.  Those trips laid groundwork for the eventual moving of our own family to the field and, at the time of the short trips, we had no idea God was preparing them for it.  But He knew. 

What I CAN do is give you some pretty darn good compelling reasons why my family and I - missionaries to street children in The Philippines - LOVE having visits from "short termers".   I'd also like to share the benefits I perceive that the "short termer" might walk away with after a visit to a developing nation. Some of these are so obvious I feel slightly stupid even typing them but if even one person wrestling with whether to COME to the filed or just send money instead decided to actually come out here, I will sleep with a smile on my face tonight.

So, here it goes . . .

From the missionary's perspective, a team or small group of short term missionaries provide:

1. A Pep Rally - Just as in every facet of life, it's easy to fall into a routine and start going through your days a little numbly.  When visitors arrive at our ministry and we get to introduce them to the children, tour the areas our street kids used to live and talk about our plans for Mercy House, the fire in our hearts gets rekindled for what we are doing.  We are snatched from the mundane and reminded of the great things God has tasked us with.  And as much as we love seeing visitors get teary-eyed when we share the stories of our kids with them, we ourselves are choking back emotions and some of those emotions are gratefulness that we have, once again, been reminded of "the bigger picture".

2. A Chance to Teach- Anytime I'm talking to a visitor, especially a teen or young adult, I keep in the back of my mind that this could be a future missionary.  I am careful with my words so as not to discourage the listener nor to imply that anything apart from sharing the saving Good News of the atoning death of Jesus is paramount here.  It is easy to get "sidetracked" by meeting the felt needs of children who have lived horrible lives and to forget that, without the component of the gospel, we are wasting our time.   The chance to impress that on a short-term missionary is a golden opportunity I never want to miss.

3. The Ability to Spread the Fire - short term visitors will often return to their countries of origin with a huge heart for the ministry we have here. They will tell others, they will fund raise, they will encourage their friends to come.  This is vital to our sustainability.  Yes, God provides but He often uses the passion of short term visitors as the vehicle for our provision.   We need that.

4. Simple Friendships- It can get lonely out here on the field.  Making new friends is not as easy as it was in our old lives. We welcome those lasting friendships that can be spawned by serving side by side.

And some of the Blessings we hope our visitors will receive are .  . . .

1. A Cross-Cultural Experience-  Everything from the food to the restrooms is different in The Philippines.  It's so good for people to step out of their comfort zones and live on someone else's turf for awhile.  Yes, it's hard. Yes, you make a ton of silly mistakes that leave the locals snickering at you.  But, oh, the vast stores of knowledge you gain just by simply being away from all that is familiar.  They are priceless.

2.A Better Understanding of True Poverty- I remember joking about being "too poor" to eat out after church on Sunday when we lived back in America.  I never joke about being poor anymore.  Poverty is a brutal trap and it is much different from not having extra spending money.  It means not having the basics - food, clothing, clean water, medicine when you are sick, supplies needed to go to school.  I learned that living here.  It is our hope that short-term visitors will walk away with a better understanding of true poverty and that it is not always because the poor are lazy.  The poor in The Philippines are usually VERY VERY hard working - taken advantage of by their employers sometimes - and continuing to work manual jobs in intense heat because they know it means survival for them and their families.  Okay, sorry. Off the soap box.  This is something so dear to my heart and, maybe if you'll come and visit us, it will become dear to yours.

3. An Opportunity to Unplug and Listen- Internet out here is spotty and slow.  Visitors are not allowed to be online in our center for more than a few minutes a day to update family and friends.  Those components work together to help unplug our visitors from technology.  And on the field, that's a  GOOD thing.  It's hard to absorb what is going on around you with ear buds in your ears blasting
and youtube videos parading across your line of sight.  Thankfully, there's little time for those things on a short term trip. And you might be surprised how little you miss them when you're here.

4. Doing What You Were Created For- Yes, of course you can do what you were created for - worshiping and sharing your Savior - while in your own country. And you should!  Daily.  But there is something about being with people from a culture other than your own that removes the barriers of fear and makes people bold.  The communication barriers (although many here speak English) somehow help fear to diminish and boldness to creep in.  And when you have experienced truly, verbally, boldly sharing the gospel with a soul who  needs to hear about forgiveness, you are never the same.  That is something you take with you no matter what country you are in and, hopefully, continue to share.

So, if you are praying about going on a short-term mission trip and feeling like it may be a waste of time and money, PLEASE consider some of the points I've brought up here - and that they are coming from a real, live missionary living in a real, live developing nation.  And then write your support letters, have your car washes and bake sales, pack your bags and hop on that plane.  If God allows even ONE of these points above to become a reality in your own life, I think you will find it well worth the effort.

From the missionary perspective, I know we will.   So thank you, on behalf of all missionaries,  for considering, for praying, for stepping out in faith and for leaving your comfort zone to come and get your "hands dirty" for awhile. 

We hope to see you soon!