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!