Saturday, December 31, 2016

Seek and you will find.

I'm pretty confident that 2017 is going to be interesting. In some ways, we have high expectations (I've lost count of how many times this year was referred to as a "dumpster fire." How much worse can it get?) And at the same time, I know there's a lot of anxiety and apprehension about the year to come.

Last year, I was challenged to think of a word to define my 2016. I chose "love." I hoped to love intentionally and fiercely. In the interest of full disclosure, I completely forgot about the challenge and that particular goal for the year, but I still tried to love. It's less a product of new year goals and more a product of my growing faith. The more I read the Bible and the better I get to know Jesus, I know that that's what He does best and what He wants most from me. And that goes a long way in guiding my choices and actions, from how I treat people to how I cast my ballots.

Once again, I've been challenged to choose a word for 2017. This is honestly something I've been thinking about since before the challenge was extended. I've been thinking about what's happened this year and what's to come in the next one. I've been thinking about where I stand and what I want to stand for. Whether you're aware of it or not, the world is changing. So is my country. There's some scary stuff on the horizon. How much of it is idle threats and how much is legit, I'm not sure. But I want to do something about it.

The things that are unfair in this world have always bothered me, maybe a little more than they do other people. I'm bothered by the fact that there are so many people in this world who are being taken advantage of and who need someone to stand up for them. I'm infuriated by political threats of action, which, recently, have sometimes been unconstitutional and illegal. I'm disgusted by the silence of people who are in a position to do something. Recently my city made national news when some nasty woman publicly berated and cursed two ladies who were doing their Christmas shopping, screaming at them to go back "where they came from," accusing them of being leeches on society, and a number of other horrible comments. I was angry at her statements, of course, but I think we can all admit that we've heard things like that before. Maybe not in public. Maybe just at the Thanksgiving table or in an internet comments section. But I was horrified that NO ONE in that line said anything. Not a single person. The sales clerk eventually told her to watch her language when she got really profane, rather than calling a manager or security. There were at least a dozen people in that line, and no one offered a simple "stop." Or "no." No one. It was embarrassing and infuriating. My heart broke for the women in line. My brain hurt that someone would say such stupid and nonsensical things. Somebody should have said something. And stuff happens EVERY DAY that we have a chance to speak up about, to do something about.

In all this pondering how I am going to stand up, speak up, fight back in the face of so much wrongness, I've decided that my word for 2017 is this: justice. It's not a verb, but a goal. In the coming year, I hope to stand up for others. I want to do what I can to make the world a better place. I want to consider how my actions impact others and choose the path that's best for everybody. I want to be more intentional in my advocacy for children in poverty. My husband and I are already pursuing a path of justice for orphans by moving forward with our adoption paperwork. I want to speak truth and seek what is right in every situation, even if it's not what is easy or popular.

Why should we care about justice? I think we are inclined to put ourselves and our interests first. Maybe you don't think it's important to care about what's happening to other people. I don't want to live in a world like that. Right now I'm seeing a more passive attitude about these issues from my Christian friends, who have plenty of Biblical prompting to seek justice, rather than my non-Christian friends; I'm ashamed to say that plenty of my acquaintances are of the belief that non-Christians have no moral compass or motivation to "do the right thing," yet in my personal circle, my friends who don't go to church have seemed more motivated and enthusiastic recently about seeking justice and recognizing these moral absolutes. This year I want to do a better job reaching my fellow believers on this issue, so I will be studying scripture and delving deeper into God's word so I can do the best job at sharing what He thinks (as indicated in the Bible) about what's going on these days. This isn't a fad, or a modern idea, or a political trend. Micah tell us that this is what is required of God's people. To seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. If you love God, you'll want justice for his children. That means everyone.

I hope that we are able to take the failures and heartbreaks of 2016 and turn them into something beautiful. That hate will be traded in for love; closed minds for open hearts; harshness for gentleness; violence for peace.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Outgoing Mail: Gifts of the Magi

I've been sending a lot of letter replies recently, still catching up from letters received a few weeks ago. One "new" letter I've sent this month is about Christmas!

A few weeks ago, maybe during Thanksgiving week, my pastor was talking about gifts and the things for which we are thankful. He told a cute story about his grandson that I immediately knew I wanted to share with our kids! The short version is that they were playing a "treasure hunt" game, and the treasure that the grandson chose to hide was very unexpected- but it was still precious to him. Our pastor then asked the parents of the church to talk to their kids about what kind of gift they would give Jesus if they could. They are then supposed to bring those to our Christmas Day service, and they'll be placed at the altar. I know he's asked the parents to include a note explaining why the kids chose that gift, and he'll use that in a later message. So I, in turn, asked *my* kids what kind of gift they would give baby Jesus! I also told them about a treasure that is important to me. I really hope that I hear back from several of the kids on this. I tried numbering the questions so the translators or tutors will know to pay special attention to them, as has been recommended on Compassion's website before. We'll see if it works!

I'm sharing the text of the letter here, so you can tweak it if you like. It might be fun to talk to your own sponsor kids about the gifts of the wisemen, and ask them what they would give! I also sent a nativity coloring page (which I found using Google) which you can download and send. And Compassion has two different nativity-themed pieces of stationery on their website!

Hello! Greetings from my family to yours. I can't believe that Christmas is just two weeks away. My pastor shared an interesting story in church last week, and I wanted to pass it along to you. It really had me thinking! Many of his sermons have been about Christmas recently, since the holiday is almost here. He was speaking about gifts. I think we all have gifts on our mind during Christmas, because of the gifts we give each other, and the gifts we receive. We even read about gifts in the Bible, when we read about the wise men who traveled to see baby Jesus and present him with gifts of gold and precious perfumes. My pastor (his name is Bill) had a question for us that had me thinking quite a bit- if we could give a gift to God, what would it be? We usually think about the gifts God gives us, but what would we give him if we had the chance? Bill then told us about an afternoon he spent with his grandson (I think he is 6 years old.) Bill and his wife were visiting their daughter and her family for Thanksgiving. The grandson likes to play a game called "treasure hunt," where he hides a treasure in a box and then they make a map to go find it. And he said "it has to be a treasure!" A treasure is something very special and valuable- even if it is not worth a lot of money, it may have a special emotional value. So the grandson hid the treasure, and Bill followed the map to find it. When he opened the box, he was surprised to see that the treasure was a bread roll from Thanksgiving dinner the day before! At first, it didn't seem like a treasure- but then Bill remembered that his grandson had eaten four or five of those rolls during dinner! He loved them so much and they were his favorite part of the meal- and he would have eaten more if he could! So this was a treasure to him. Something very special that he wanted to share with his grandfather. Bill asked us what gift we could give to Jesus if we had the chance, and asked the parents in our church to ask their children the same question. On Christmas, the children can bring their gifts and leave them at the altar as a symbol of their gift to God. I can't wait to see what they bring. I wanted to ask you two questions. 1. What is something that you treasure? 2. What would you give to baby Jesus if you had been there when he was born? For me, something I treasure is the Bible that belonged to my friend and mentor Betty, who passed away a few years ago. And I think I would make a soft blanket of the finest yarn for baby Jesus, so he wouldn't have to sleep wrapped in rags and dirty cloths in the manger. 
I hope to hear from you soon! I love you so much and I am praying for you every day. I can't wait to learn about your replies to my questions! 
Love, Jessi

Friday, December 9, 2016

Project Letter: DR-385

Here's a letter from Yarianny's project in the Dominican Republic! All the photos came from Compassion's website.

Hello! I hope you are doing well. May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus reign in your home. My name is Ramon P., and I am a pastor of (the church) in the northern region of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Here we minister to Yarianny, your sponsored child, in (the project.)

I want to thank you for your great effort and determination you have shown in seeing to Yarianny's well-being. Thanks to that, we have been able to provide for several needs. Through you, we have been able to reach our children in a more complete way, with all the benefits of a Dominican childhood.

We belong to a community whose growth and development is a little scarce. Due to that, we see ourselves as having the responsibility to contribute to such growth. It is a challenge for us to work for the growth of this community, since we see so much delinquency and corruption in it, and the youths are oftentimes involved in such acts.But in Jesus' name, we will take our children away from the enemy!

Our vision for our church and center is to reach both children and their parents and closest family members, and therefore, create healthy families. Where there are healthy families and communities, as well as a growing and healthy church, God is glorified.

Currently 11 of the center's children's families attend our church. We also have 7 youths who have completed the program, and some of them are part of our youth ministry.

I want to highlight that it is really important for children to receive their letters, since they get really happy when they receive them. They also get very sad when they see other children get letters and they don't. I want to motivate you to write to your child. If you already do, I encourage you to continue in this good action.

Without further ado, hoping the Lord provides for your needs and compensates you for your good actions, I say farewell.

If you're interested in sponsoring a child from Yarianny's project, check out sweet Juan! He's so happy! Juan is 5 years old and has been waiting over 9 months for a sponsor.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sweet Greetings from Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Haiti, Brazil, and Bolivia

Happy Mail Call Monday!

Mary A.

This year our Ghana girls have been writing pretty short letters. I was excited that Mary not only responded to each prompt on her stationery, but that she wrote a whole extra page! Mary said they've been learning about decision making and consequences at the project. and her family is doing really well. She said she really enjoyed the animal letters I sent this fall. She said she's been learning bead making, sewing, and cooking at the project. She also wrote about the Odwira festival, which you can read about here. I always love it when the kids tell me about local festivals. I get to learn a little about their culture, and I get a better idea about where they live!


We hadn't heard from Francisco for 7 or 8 months, so it was great to get his letter! He didn't say too much, but he did mention his visit with the Canadian sponsor tour group and getting to meet Jennifer and Katrina! He said he was so happy to meet my friends and he was really grateful that they spent time with him. The form portion of his letter was about holidays and special events. His favorite holiday is Carnival and he likes throwing fireworks! He also said that when they have school holidays, he goes fishing with his dad. And he said he was sending lots of kisses and hugs! He also drew this picture.


We also got our first letter from little Carla in Bolivia this week! We've had Carla since the spring and hadn't heard from her. I'm so thankful that Bolivia letters are on the move again. Carla's letter was also about her holidays. Her favorite is Christmas, and when she's on holiday she likes to play and watch movies. And at Christmas, when she's with her family, she plays and talks to everybody! Carla wrote that she greets me with the peace of the Lord, which is lovely. Carla said she got to go to the zoo recently! That's so fun! She said she hoped that we would send more letters, and drew this lovely picture! 


Patricia shared that recently there was some flooding in her town, when "the river got full." She said that the project then opened the door to everyone and handed out clothes and food! She also shared that she's started taking drawing classes at the project, and she loves it. She also said her church is called Church of Peace and she's involved in the youth group there, and she likes to go with her sisters! 


Zalifina's letter arrived just five days after she wrote it! She lives in the Manyara region, named for the big lake there (which I have seen, from a distance!) It's just a couple hours away from where the field office is. How neat that her letter came so fast! Zalifina said she'd taken the national exam and she was confident she had passed because of what she had read in the Bible. She said she keeps rejoicing when she gets letters, and she prays that I keep writing with the same heart. She shared that the mangoes on the trees were ripe, and she really likes mangoes (me too!) She asked how many trees I've planted! 


Teresia's letter arrived the same day as Zalifina's, but it was written a bit earlier. Teresia's family isn't planting mangoes, they're planting maize and millet! She said she prays every day for me to have a long life, which is so sweet. And she invited me to come spend Christmas with her! If only I could! I think Tanzania would be a wonderful place to spend the holidays. Joy and praise are overflowing there. It would be hard not to be in the Christmas spirit. 


It was a good week for Tanzania letters! Said said his family is doing fine. I am going to do an inquiry for him when I can, though, because his family description online has changed a bit in a way that concerns me. Said said that he liked learning that it was hot where we live this summer. I'm glad someone enjoyed it! :) And he liked hearing about the summer reading program at the library! Said wants to know if our church has a project like his church does! And he enjoyed reading about the "animal garden" (the zoo) and told me he's visited a national park before and seen animals there! 


This was our first letter from Haiti since the Hurricane. Benji didn't have a lot to say, but he did say that the hurricane didn't really affect his family, and asked us to pray for the families that lost their homes and crops. 


Fatuma shared that every day, her family goes to the mosque. I'm thankful that her family is open to her attending the project and based on what she has described to me in her letters, they aren't really in opposition to Christian teaching. I like knowing when my kids live in places where people get along. :) Fatuma said that they have been discussing business plans at the project, which is pretty impressive since she's so young! She said she wants to open her own business selling mangoes and oranges. She said that her favorite thing to eat at the project is pilau, and they also get a fruit with their meals. 


Two letters from Gloria arrived this week, which was great since we hadn't heard from her in over six months! Gloria asked how I am doing and said "I think you are fine." Gloria has been away at school- she wrote to me a while back that she was starting a new school, but I didn't realize it was a boarding school! Her teacher is named Edith and there are 35 students in her class. She also shared the names of her family members- her mom's name is Charity and her dad's name is Leonard! She also said "my teachers love me because I am well behaved." She is such a sweet little girl- I don't doubt that! 

Also, just as a general sort of announcement, I am thinking of taking a break from this after the holidays. I've been struggling with blogging lately for a couple of reasons. Most of the time I just feel like I'm talking to myself. When this started there was a nice little community of sponsors who were blogging for Compassion and we were all communicating with each other. Now, most of the women who got me interested in both Compassion and blogging have sort of dropped out. And I don't think blogs are as much of a "thing" as they used to be anyway. I'm not sure what people are doing now instead. Maybe live facebook videos. I don't know. But it's been a few weeks since anyone commented on here and I don't think there's much of a "readership" anymore. Plus the advocacy part doesn't seem as effective- in two years only one person has sponsored from this blog, and I'm at the point now where I feel like if my friends and family were going to sponsor, they would have done it. I might still share waiting kids or pastor letters on my personal facebook page, but with no interaction from people reading this (if anyone is) and no known fruits of my labor, I guess you'd call it, motivation is kind of tough to come by. I love telling people about my kids, but on Sunday nights or Monday mornings, when I think of how I "have to" come here and post, I feel a little frustrated and like I want to procrastinate. And I don't like that feeling. I might change my mind, and I hope to have some updates to share on my other blog about our adoption, but I just wanted to share what's on my mind and why you might see a lack of posts in the new year. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Project Letter: UG-256

It's been a while since I've shared a pastor letter! Here's a letter from Jowan's project in Uganda. 

I am Leonard N., pastor of (UG256) in Uganda, located in the western region of Uganda. We minister to Jowan at the project. I thank you so much for your generous support of Jowan!

(The town) is a rather hilly area and cocoa is grown, which leaves little land for food crop production. Most people survive on working in other people's cocoa gardens as laborers to get a wage to buy food. Some of the people in this community have already accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Our community faces a number of challenges as our area is hard to reach. Usually, one has to pay a fee to a motorcycle rider to travel from place to place. The health facilities in our area are not in good conditions so people have to travel a long distance for medical services.

In ministering to the community, as a church we have faced the challenge of long distance when doing pastoral visits to the people of God. Another challenge is that the church still has an incomplete structure for fellowships and conferences. We are praying to God for its completion. Education is still a challenge to the community since most of the parents are not able to pay tuition for their children to go beyond secondary level of school.

Our vision is to reach out to the community and transform them to live Christ-like lives. We endeavor to serve the community and ensure that people can participate in all activities of the church. At the center, we aim at bringing up healthy, educated, and mature children who will transform the community for the glory of God.

The center has had a great impact on the children who attend. Before, many of them suffered from skin diseases, but now they are doing much better as they have access to good medical treatment at the center. These children are now able to go to school as we pay their tuition and provide them with scholastic materials. Approximately 80 children have made their first profession of Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I'm also glad to see that over 100 registered children's families now attend church regularly.

The workers of the center encourage these children to practice good hygiene both at the center and at home. As a result, we have seen fewer cases of illness. Apart from the implementation of this program, the church arranges prayer meetings, conferences, and trainings to benefit all members in the community. We also educate the people about good health practices and how to prevent diseases.

When children get letters from their sponsors, they feel loved, cared for, and excited. We have seen children's self-esteem improve as a result of receiving letters from sponsors! These letters really strengthen the relationship between children and sponsors, and makes a huge difference in their lives. Children who do not receive letters from their sponsors get concerned whether their sponsors are okay. So, we encourage all sponsors to please write to these children. Every word of love and encouragement motivates the children to do their best in all things!

Please keep our ministry in your prayers and pray also for God's provision to the families of the sponsored children and their entire community. Pray for all the church leaders to always serve the children faithfully.

If you are interested in sponsoring a child in Uganda, please consider little Stephen! He just turned 6 in October and he lives in an area that has a high rate of HIV/AIDS and child exploitation. Read more about Stephen here.