Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Do Not Destroy the Work of God for the Sake of [Education]

So we're homeschooling this year.

And I really didn't want to write about it.  I'm doing this very reluctantly.  Because for heaven's sake, the world doesn't need one more blog post about Christian schooling choices.

But I decided to go ahead and write about it because
1)  People keep asking about what we are doing for school this year and

2)  Because it seems that there is an (unhealthy) idea that pastors and missionaries are somehow more spiritual and thus must be more spiritual in their schooling choices and thus must be emulated in their schooling choices.  I know this because I have been guilty of doing this with other pastors and missionaries, even though I am one myself.  And the thought that people are somehow looking at my choices as more spiritual because of my profession makes me nauseous.

So anyway.  Let's just get one thing clear.  I am not making a statement by homeschooling my kids.  We are doing it because it's what works best--for our schedule, our kids, our ministry this year.  

Of course, our family is benefiting from it.  There are a lot of benefits to homeschool.  But our family is also missing out on other good, stretching and strengthening things by not being in a traditional school.  Definitely.

I actually have some pretty strong opinions about education.  I've taught in both private and public schools.  For 10 years, I've been able to have a part in the formation of Haven of Peace Academy.  When we get back to Tanzania, I am going to join the board of governors at HOPAC.  I am passionate about education.

But I don't like to write about it.  I have read so many blogs, too many blogs, about this war going on among Christians over the subject of education.  And it gets nasty.  And we feel guilty and we feel judged and we feel arrogant.  Blech.

One man considers [one form of education] more sacred than another; another man considers [all forms] alike.  Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  

Why do you judge your brother?  Or why do you look down on your brother?  

You want my statement?  Here's my statement:
Pray.  Research.
Know your kids; know yourself; know your options.
And most importantly, what is often overlooked:  Know your calling, your purpose, your ministry as a family.

So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.  

I have seen godly kids emerge from all types of education.  I have seen ungodly kids emerge from all types of education.  God is sovereign, and there are no guarantees.

As for one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that [no form of education] is unclean in itself.  But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.  

All of us as followers of Jesus need to be thinking like missionaries.  It's not only those of us in Africa who are called to the Great Commission.  All of us are called to make sacrifices for the sake of the gospel.  And sometimes that sacrifice will mean homeschool, and sometimes private school, sometimes public school, and sometimes even boarding school.  All involve different kinds of sacrifices, and all can reap different kinds of rewards.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.  

(Romans 14)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Eternity in My Heart

Before we left Tanzania, I told my friend Alyssa, I'm scared I'll like it too much in America.  I'm afraid it will be too hard to come back to Tanzania.

I like it here.  I like my apartment.  I like that I never have to worry about water or electricity problems.  I like being comfortable.

I like that I can run out to the store at 8:00 at night and know I will find exactly what I need, and be back home in 20 minutes.

I like that I can walk through the neighborhood and no one stares at me because I stick out.  There's a pediatrician's office right down the street.  There's meat I don't have to cook for 5 hours to make it chewable.

I love that our families are so close and we get to see them all the time.  I love that we get to spend time with so many life-long friends.  I love that my kids get to be in Awana.

But I have been haunted.

It's all temporary.
It won't last.
It won't last.

It's only a year.  It will go by fast.  And leaving will be that much harder because it's so fresh in my heart.

It steals my joy.  It's hard for me to enjoy it all, knowing that it's not permanent and it will all end sooner than I want it to.

I ache for permanent.
For never-ending.
For eternal.

For eternity.  That's what it's all about, isn't it?

Because the truth is, that even if I got my perfect little life in America, with the Victorian house with the porch swing and white picket fence, even if I owned it and we were all healthy and financially stable with a great retirement plan,

It still would be temporary.

Because there are always fires and earthquakes and typhoons and cancer and robbers and failing stock markets and death.

And I know this, so why do I have such a hard time accepting it?  Why is there such a deep ache in my heart for permanent when everything around me is temporary?

Because I was not created for temporary.
As Solomon wrote, Eternity is in my heart.

Yet looking for eternity on earth is futile.  Chasing after the wind.

And so I seek to embrace this temporary life.  My temporary life in America; my temporary life on earth.  To find the joy in each of these days God gives me, in whatever country, whatever house, whatever situation I am in.  To live fully and completely here and now, knowing that the Permanent is yet to come.

We are not home yet.

hiking with Anchor Church friends in Long Beach

watching Uncle Brandon's soccer game

Awana Sparks

speaking at Concord Bible Church

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Boy with the Million Dollar Smile

My boy turned six recently.  

Josiah shares a birthday with his Uncle Brandon, and this was the very first year they got to celebrate together.  In fact, it's the first time he's ever celebrated a birthday with any extended family.  

He's a little guy for his age, but he makes up for it with energy and physical strength.  Josiah weighs 36 pounds (3rd percentile!), but he can do 10 pull-ups, hold a perfect head stand for 20 seconds, and has a very visible six-pack on his lean mean body.  We put the kid in gymnastics this year.  It might be his destiny.  
But really, he would rather just play soccer.  

I'm a sucker for my little buddy's smile.  Sure am glad he is in my life.  

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Proud to be an Evangelical Orphan Lover

Sometimes I am bewildered.

In the past number of weeks, I have read a number of articles that seem to be distinctly anti-adoption.  Have you sensed this too?

There was a really long one about this terrible underground world of "re-homing" difficult adopted children--usually those adopted internationally.

There was the one about how most orphans are not really orphans because their parents have died, but placed in orphanages due to poverty.

There also was the one I have seen a few different times, about how evangelicals are apparently to blame for all of the abuses in international adoption, because of their fervor to adopt orphans.  (Oh, those nasty could they do such a thing?)  That article was written by an author who has written an entire book on the subject.

Tomorrow is Orphan Sunday, the day when thousands of evangelical churches will be emphasizing orphan care.

How dare they?

Seriously, I am bewildered.  Since when did adoption become a bad thing?

I am not an expert.  I do not know very much about adoption in countries other than Tanzania and Ethiopia.  But I have a few thoughts on this.

Like every other system in the world, adoption has been tainted by sin.  It's a good thing--a great thing--but there are still people in that system who are corrupt and will use it for their own gain.  This does not mean we throw out  the system....or blame the people who want to adopt the children!  And there are many wonderful organizations out there who are working hard to make sure this corruption is kept at bay.  For our Ethiopia adoption, our agency sends out a private investigator to create a video record of the background of each and every child it places for adoption.  We can have absolute assurance that everything has been done to research these children.  There is always risk, but there are ways to keep it to a minimum.

Let's talk about those poverty orphans.  I think somehow we envision the poor, starving, weeping mother handing her baby over to an orphanage worker, while the orphanage greedily accepts the baby and shoves the mother out into the cold.

Have we ever stopped to think about the fact that most babies placed for adoption in America could be considered "poverty orphans?"  Yet do we wring our hands about this and discourage couples from applying to adopt them?

Of course, any mother or father who desires to keep their child should be given every opportunity to do so.  Absolutely.  No question.  Shame on the orphanages who discourage this.  I know they exist, but that does not mean that we deem the whole system corrupt.

Poverty is complex.  Money alone does not solve poverty.  Just like in America, poverty in the third world often includes all kinds of other problems:  addictions, family breakdown, abuse.  In America, a mother may relinquish her child for adoption even though she loves that child.  She wants the child to have a better life than what she can offer him.  Can't an African mother do the same?

There is no easy answer.  It is complex.

Or what about the reality that in some countries, many true orphans end up in relatives' homes where they are treated as second-class citizens?  Where they are given food and shelter, but become the house servant?  Is it better for such a child to stay with her family, or go to an orphanage?

I think that a problem with Americans in general--not just evangelicals--is that they like a quick fix and an easy answer.  In reality, it's never like that.  Which is why orphan care and poverty alleviation need to be long-term and relationship-based and gospel-centered--because that, of course, is the ultimate solution.

But let's just step back and say for a minute that we'll only consider true orphans for adoption.  Okay.  What about them?
What about those that were abandoned in fields or down outhouse pits?
What about those who live in countries ravaged by so much AIDS that there are not enough adults to go around?
What about those girls from countries where female babies are thrown away like trash?
What about the special needs children living in ill-equipped orphanages around the world?

These types of children still exist.  In droves.  What happens to them?

Yes, we need to work to change cultural attitudes towards girls.  Yes, we need to help prevent the spread of AIDS.  Yes, we need to help governments to value special needs children.  But in the meantime?

Apparently, someone other than evangelicals need to advocate for their adoption.

So.  Here are my conclusions as we celebrate Orphan Sunday:

As I have written and continue to write on this blog, strive to help and not hurt when you consider poverty alleviation.  Let's not fixate on orphanages just because they give us the warm fuzzies.  If you volunteer at an orphanage or financially support one, ask good questions.  Do they strive for family reunification whenever possible?  Where does their funding come from?  Are they involving the local community and local church in their decisions?

Sponsor a child.  Lots of good things come from this, and many times kids get to stay with their families when they otherwise wouldn't be able to.  But not all organizations are alike, so ask good questions in these cases as well.  Don't choose one based on TV commercials.  Do your homework.

And above all, please don't give up on international adoption!  It's gotten harder, all over the world, and I'm sure that's related to the negative press.  But there are still millions of children all over the world who need a family!  And if you don't feel called to it yourself, then look for ways you can support people who do.  The adoption process can be really hard, and sometimes it can be even harder to raise an adopted child, depending on the circumstances.  The Church needs to get behind these families in better and more tangible ways.

Don't be afraid, my friends, to advocate for adoption.  And my fellow over-zealous evangelicals--I count myself as one of you.  Yes, be careful.  Ask good questions.  Don't look for quick fixes.  But don't stop advocating for the orphan!

Evangelicals, keep at it.  I'm proud to be one of you.

*Note added in 2016:  Though I stand behind a lot of what I wrote here, my eyes have been opened to the reality of the corruption involved in international adoption.  Please click here to read what I discovered.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Best Idea Ever

Too much Halloween candy getting you down?

Afraid your children's teeth are going to rot?

Afraid your own will power just isn't strong enough?

Do you know deep down that at Christmas you'll end up throwing out half of it?

Well, have I got a plan for you!!!

Buy a padded envelope.  Or two.  Or three.  Fill with candy.  
(Tip:  Leave out the chocolate.)

Mail it to your favorite missionary.

It's a win-win for everybody!

Can I get an Amen??

The Dwarf, the White Witch, Queen Lucy, Queen Susan, and High King Peter
Standing in front of the our church's 'Trunk or Treat' last night
(Edmund was obviously kidnapped by the witch, hence the reason he was not there....though my children tell me that we better get a little brother soon.)