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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.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Broken World

The world is broken. When sin entered this place in the Garden of Eden and everything straight was made crooked, there was nothing mankind to do to help itself. 

None of us is immune to the pain that living on a broken planet delivers. 

We have all been injured.
Remember hurtful words thrown your way? Betrayal by a spouse or family member ?
Someone you trusted sharing your secret pain for his own gain?
Injustice and prejudgement directed at you in times you had no power to defend yourself?

But we have also caused injury.
We have gossiped. We have chosen to believe gossip. We have lied.
We have stolen. We have been prideful and smug when humility was called for.
We have hidden behind the name of Jesus in an effort to avoid reaching out to people who live their sin out loud and proud. We have kept a record of our own good deeds and trotted them out when it suited us. We have been silent when we knew we should speak. 
In short, we have inflicted harm on other human beings. Sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident .

The child in the picture above is almost sixteen years old! He is about 4 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 64 pounds. He is a severe asthmatic and has been in the street for many many years. Abuse at home drove him into the street as a young child and there he remained, fashioning a sort of family for himself out of other street children.   We met him at an outreach in his city at Christmas time and we had no space for a new child at the time. To be honest, I was also a little afraid to admit him, although he asked very respectfully.  We have met MANY respectful, adorable, endearing children only to discover AFTER admission that they are way too much for us in every way imaginable. 
But this child, who can neither read nor write, found me online and had a friend write me a plea to help him. 
And then the city social worker formally referred him to us. Whether he asked her to or she just happened to choose him from the scores of street children in their city who need help, we have not quite deciphered.  All we know is this child kept coming up in our work and we could not ignore him. We told him the date we would be in his town and he messaged again the day before asking if we were still coming. My heart could barely cope with this kind of hope being placed in us. 
He was asking for rescue from a life that was too hard for too long. Sin broke his world and he was asking us to help do some mending. 
And, for us, saying "no" would have been sin. 

"And to him who knows the good he ought to do and refuses to do it, for him, it is sin"
James 4:17

And just like with all of our children, as they start to trust us a little and they start to open up, we learn details that are crushing. 
Our children have been the recipients of some pretty shabby fallout from the sin of others.
And sometimes they have been the ones to injure others.

The challenge for us as a ministry is to seek the Lord daily for wisdom in helping these children "unlearn" the imprinted habits in their minds and focus on living lives that please God rather than self.

Ironically, it's the same challenge we face on a personal level every day. Even as long-time followers of Christ who are educated in His word and know how He calls us to live. 

We, as missionaries, are not immune to the effects of this broken world. Much to the contrary, we often feel like weary soldiers trudging uphill with a very heavy pack at the end of a day of fighting. 

We are attacked from inside and outside.  And sometimes we lash back. Sometimes we fail at loving like Jesus.  But when we succeed, we give Him the credit.   He works in us as He sees fit.

And in the first sentence of this post, I typed the phrase "there was nothing mankind could do to help itself."  That sounds awfully hopeless.  But here is where what appears to be bad news is actually good news. The best. 

No, we can not free ourselves from the bondage of sin. We can not free other people. We can not stop the cycle of sin in the lives of the children we serve. 


The only hope for any of us, on any side of the social justice equation in this sin-sick world is Jesus Christ. Only He can forgive. Only He can restore. Only He can make us whole and fill those empty places in us that we seek to fill with lesser things. 

In the light of these truths. We are all on an equal playing field. Pope and missionary and street child and perpetrator.  We all need Jesus. 

Do you know His forgiveness? Have you been restored? Are you seeking to fill your life with lesser things and wondering why they never satisfy?  Only He can truly satisfy your soul.

Sometimes I make the mistake of believing this blog is only read by Believers, firm in their faith. But it dawned on me that I have not shared the gut, core, baseline reason for the work we do here. 

It is all about Jesus. His rescue of us from our own sin. His ongoing sanctification of us. His patient forgiveness of our blatant rebellion. His sacrifice that fills us with the hope that we can turn and offer to others. 

So, precious reader, if you have any questions about your own place with Him. About your position as forgiven, unforgiven, unrepentant or made new, please PLEASE reach out to someone you know as a trustworthy follower of Christ. Or email us (nikki@mercyhouseph.org) and ask those questions that have plaguing you about your own salvation.   

He loves you.  

"And THIS is love, not that we love God but that He loved us and sent His son as a payment for our sins".   1 John 4:10 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

When The Door Closes

The child in the photo above is barely six years old.  I did not know him then. He was a neglected child who lived in a cemetery with his drug-addicted parents.  His father was eventually put in jail and his mother did unthinkable things to survive.

And then, a shelter opened in his town. This shelter catered to street children, shared Jesus with the kids, fed them, loved them and helped them to have a life very different from their lives on the street.

 Then something happened.

The shelter had to close. 
We have no idea why this vital, one-of-a-kind place in a town where there are many street children and few resources for them had to  close but it closed.  And that precious little five year old who was just turning six found himself back in the cemetery. With a mother who could not mother him.

He was on his own.

For three years, from six until nine years old, this little boy was abused on the streets. He was taught a skill that brought much money but robbed him of his human dignity and his identity as a little boy.   
He was broken again and again. 

And in order to separate himself from what he was engaged in, and to assuage the pain of the life he was living, he turned to solvent and marijuana and other vices. 

By the time we met him, he was nine years old.  Those pretty white baby teeth were replaced by decayed adult teeth.  Those sparkly child eyes were hollow as he sat in the local government office waiting to be brought into our shelter.  When we walked toward the bench where he was sitting, we observed that he was too high to hold his head up straight.  His eyes would not focus or fully open.

Our pre-admission counseling was going to be completely useless at this point, we realized. This child could hardly gather his thoughts to simply answer the questions "what is your name?" or "how old are you?".  

And against our general policy, where we have to see WILLINGNESS on the part of a street child to be admitted, we admitted him. The government social workers pleaded with us. This child was in terrible condition and they wanted very much to see him helped. They knew him and cared about his life. They tried many times to find a shelter willing to take this boy and came up empty. 

On admission day, this child said very little.  Even as the drugs wore off and he began to process what was happening, he was resigned.
He came to us without shoes, in filthy clothes wearing shorts that were split up the middle.  So our social worker and her husband took him, first to their own home for a shower and when our social worker's sister-in-law saw this child, her heart was so touched that she gave him the flip flops right off her own feet. A nice pair. 
This young man was then taken to a nearby shop to buy shorts and a t-shirt. When a slice of pizza was ordered for him and he sat at the table with Mercy House staff, he began to cry.   Our social worker was worried that he was feeling anxiety about coming into shelter but when she asked him what was wrong, all he could muster was "I'm just happy". 

This child has a unique and hard story. It is harder than that of most of the children we serve. It is scary in some ways to admit a child with this kind of background. It has stretched us and required specialized training for our staff and extra vigilance.  And he is worth it. All of that and more.  This child's life has driven us to the feet of God in prayer and made the phrase "give me wisdom" my own opening and closing sentence.
But it has also energized us and renewed our commitment to street boys,  The three years between the closing of the former shelter and the admission to ours were devastating for this boy.  If we did not trust in the power of the God of Universe to redeem lives, we would say this child's prognosis is grim and his future dark. 

But we DO trust. And we know that amid a broken and depraved world where adults use children and people often do what appeals to the blackest places in them, a light shines.

John 1:4 says "In HIM (Jesus)  was life and that life was the light of man"

It is with eager expectation we wait to see what plans the Lord has for us in the life of this child. He is prayed for, he is receiving counseling, he is fed and clothed and is learning to read for the first time ever.  He goes to a school program that is catered to his situation. 

And, just as with every blog post or newsletter, we share all of this as a segue to one massive prayer request.

Please pray that we are NEVER that shelter that has to close down.  It can happen. We have seen it. It happens for any number of reasons. We pray it doesn't ever happen to us.  We know it could. That is just the reality of this type of ministry. 

Please pray with us that we can see this child, and all of our children, through to the culmination of God's great plan for their lives.

Is it adoption? Family reunification? Independent living with us until they are self-sustaining adults?

Only the Lord knows those answers. 

Please pray that we are found faithful.

Let there never be another "three years of damage" while a child waits for another shelter to come along. Let us be there, Lord, to catch them when they fall. 

Thank you to our prayer warriors and supporters. This is what YOU do. Thank you for caring
about "the least of these".  Matthew 25:40

 -Mercy House