With no skirt to cling to

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

She clings to her Momma’s skirt.

Everything is new. Everything is scary.

For baby and for Mom.

In a new place, with all new faces.

It makes sense that she would cling to Mom.

I go in to say hello, she is unsure, she cries and she runs to her Mom’s side to grab hold of her skirt for security.

In an unfamiliar place, she still has the familiarity of Mom. Her scent, her voice, her ability to scoop her up and hold her tight when all of the newness becomes too much for her.

~

This scenario is similar to what we encounter with nearly every family that moves in to our emergency housing at Abide.

These families are coming from hard places.

Mostly single Moms who have been rejected by their partners or by their families.

Women who have been left with nothing.

No home. No income. No support system.

They are scared, they are in a very desperate place.

Often these women are approaching babies’ homes and orphanages to take their children from them because they see no other way to provide for their children.

~

When we are in scary places, we cling to our families.

We know this from experience. So why, so often, is our response to families in crisis, to offer to tear them apart, when we know family is what they need most?

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, that is, so often, what children’s homes and orphanages are doing when they take children from families in crisis.

Rather than offering to stand alongside of families, helping them to remain together through their crisis, we are magnifying their crisis by splitting them up.

~

I witness the difficult adjustment children have to life here at Abide when they move into our emergency housing.

I think about just how much more traumatic this transition would be if they did not have their Momma with them to help them cope and make sense of all of the changes that are taking place.

If they were simply dropped off at an orphanage, the change would be insanely more terrifying and traumatizing.

Strangers in an orphanage can not replace the love and care of a family.

We can not continue to pretend that poverty is reason enough to allow children to enter our child care institutions.

If children have families who love them, we will be causing them far less trauma if we help them to remain in their families through the crisis they and their families are experiencing.

~

We know that most children living in children’s homes and babies’ homes throughout the world have families. Families who placed their child in care while they were in crisis. Families who were not provided a fighting chance to support them and help them keep their children.

Research provides us with undeniable evidence that institutional care is not only damaging to children but that is, largely, being used inappropriately to address the needs of poor families in crisis.

~

I will not stop pleading with you to start working toward ORPHAN PREVENTION and services that support vulnerable families before they need to give their child up to an orphanage.

We are called to fight for justice for orphaned and vulnerable children.

And I promise you that justice is not increasing the trauma and pain a family is experiencing by separating them when they need each other most.

Because Jesus wouldn’t have been cool with the Anti-Gay Bill either.

louengle

No, not the Jesus I fell in love with at the foot of the cross. Not the Jesus, who, despite my doubts, my sin, my questioning, my rebellion — He loves me, He is gracious with me and He wiped my slate clean when He was nailed to that cross. Not the Jesus who intentionally sought after the misfits and the outcasts– Who I tend to identify with more than most church-goers. Not the Jesus who loves dearly, our gay brothers and sisters, who Uganda has decided to ostracize, criminalize and demonize — The folks we, the church, have abandoned. Because He sees each of us, in our entirety of who He made us to be, and not just according to one aspect of our identity.

He would not have been on the side of the religious zealots claiming one sin worth punishing by death or life imprisonment while selectively turning their heads to the more “culturally appropriate” ones.

Now that Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill has been struck down, I can finally publicly share some thoughts on how broken I have been over it.

On Friday, I had friends texting, calling and shooting me emails with the news that Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill had been struck down.

Expat friends who live in Uganda and friends who live outside the country. Friends inside of the church and friends who wouldn’t think twice about stepping foot inside of one. Straight friends, gay friends —  People close to me knew the joy this news would bring me. We celebrated last night, as justice seems to rarely happen for the marginalized here, this news brought HOPE.

Just as you may not agree with another’s faith, you would not agree or support them being persecuted for it. For a Christian, it would be absurd to share Christ with Muslim folks by throwing them in prison– In the same light, whether you believe being gay is a sin or not, whether you are pro-gay marriage or strongly against it, that isn’t even the issue I am arguing here. This is a human rights issue. LGBT folks are fleeing Uganda and seeking asylum abroad for fear of losing their lives. Gay and lesbian Ugandans have been beaten to death, harassed, and sentenced to prison time all in the name of God.

This is deeply unsettling and it should be. The same Book that has taught me what unconditional love and sacrifice look like is being used to teach hatred and bigotry. I refuse to stay silent and just watch this happen.

The Gospel has never spread well by finger-pointing, alienating, and condemning folks — Rather, I am reminded of the Jesus who met the woman at the well, the Jesus who knelt before the woman the Pharisees were ready to put to death — And I think, “How in the WORLD can Christ-followers believe that this is what Christ would call them to do in His name?”

Many have known the deep wrestling I’ve been working through in my own faith — mainly regarding the Church and how we are reacting to the LGBT community. How are we loving and pointing to Christ a group of folks who continuously feel alienated and “other-ed” by us?

How are we displaying Christ by protesting gay marriage but staying silent, if not contributing to, the persecution of gay folks in Uganda with the passing of an Anti-Gay Bill?

{If you want to better understand why I am conflicted in identifying with both the American and Ugandan church based on their contribution to Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill, you should start by watching the documentary God Loves Uganda — While I do not believe this Bill to be entirely perpetuated by American Evangelicals like Lou Engle of IHOP, I do believe we’ve played a role and I do believe we will have to answer for it.  There are areas of the documentary I feel could have been improved upon, but it’s a good starting point}.

I avoided church here for a long time surrounding the passing of the bill — Out of fear of hearing someone say something in support of it and out of sheer sadness that so many Christians have been so silent throughout the whole thing.

BILLY

In this, I’ve been reminded of this Billy Graham quote.

We are called to love — Not to convict, not to condemn, not to judge — Our own sin separates us and pulls us down from being in any position or power of authority to do so.

We’ve gotten the roles confused and the very people we should be loving and creating a safe place for, we feel the need to judge and condemn, letting them know just how sinful we believe they are.

That’s not what this world needs. The world knows it is broken. The Holy Spirit WILL convict those who come to know Christ on the areas of their life that are not honoring to God.

Accountability, calling each-other out– That’s supposed to come from within the church — Instead we are casting it outside and we are closing the doors and pulling out the welcome mats from under people’s feet before they even get the chance to enter.

In wrestling with this topic, my faith has been called into question as has the support for Abide from church, family and friends — And you know what? I’m willing to risk some church folks’ opinions of me if it means reaching out and trying to figure out the best way to love my gay brothers and sisters.

My heart breaks at how the church has acted toward the LGBT community back home and even more devastatingly, here in Uganda — I won’t pretend to know exactly how we are called to love, I just know we are — And I know that love is NOT what this community has been shown here.

I pray for change. I pray for walls to be broken down. I pray for community to be built.

I pray against this bill ever being passed again and for progress forward, not backward.

But for now, well done, Uganda.

The striking down of this bill is one step forward!

 

Don’t tell me I’m amazing

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

{Political unrest,
Rebel Militias,
Stomachs swollen with emptiness,
Water polluted with disease,
HIV,
Gender violence…

…And we all want to know, who broke Africa?}

A clip from Micah Bourne’s spoken word, “Who Broke Africa?”

We commonly hear or read about Africa painted in this light.

Movies, books, CNN, BBC– Most often, media portrays Africa by her weaknesses rather than her strengths.

We hear of how Africa is unable, incapable — in need of us and our saving, our interventions, our rescue.

And I won’t pretend the weaknesses aren’t there. I won’t gloss over the injustices suffered–but I will challenge our need to constantly portray this continent, in its entirety, as one that can have its problems solved by the great white hope and the great white hope alone.

~

You see, for a while now, I’ve been uncomfortable with people telling me I’m amazing or that what I do is amazing.

Am I part of an organization that does cool stuff? Is what God has done in and through Abide Family Center so far pretty amazing? YES. Absolutely.

And I know these compliments are coming from a good place, I do. But the honest to God truth is that I am a messy, broken, young woman in her mid-twenties, who doesn’t like to be bothered by caregivers in our emergency housing on her days off or after hours. I’m a selfish, often self-seeking person trying to sustain my faith and figure out how God could love me unconditionally and pour out His grace so freely.

So I promise you, I am not amazing and I get uncomfortable that living and working in Africa, heck, visiting Africa for two weeks, is enough to have people singing my highest praises and electing me a saint.

~

In working through the book When Helping Hurts with our interns and reading it for probably the third time in the last few years, I think I finally realized why I get so uncomfortable when people treat me like a super hero for doing what I love in a place that I’ve chosen to live.

We’ve focused so much on what Africa lacks, that our presence, in and of itself, on this continent, is praiseworthy.

If Africa is really as badly off as it has been portrayed, I must be amazing for choosing to live here.

But here’s the thing, it’s really not.

In the book, the author talks about different kinds of poverty- Spiritual poverty, poverty of being (how we view and understand ourselves), poverty of community, poverty of stewardship (how we use the resources that have been entrusted to us in the world) and yes, material poverty.

I am poor, just not materially poor, by the world’s standards.

What I do not suffer from in material poverty, I assure you I make up for in some of the other areas.

And I think that’s what makes it so hard for me to be told I’m amazing or to just sit back and accept the praises I receive as well intentioned.

The idea I want to shatter? That I am this super selfless American who gave up her life at home to serve the poor in Africa.

Are the clients we serve materially poor? Yes.

But, almost always, they are wealthier than I– Spiritually, in their being, in community, in stewardship.

So when you start praising me and I redirect you to the stories of our families who have overcome serious adversity, it’s not because I’m trying to be humble, but because I honestly believe that’s where your focus needs to be.

~

I want to be a part of telling a new story of Africa– A story where we focus on her strengths, where we focus on her areas of wealth, not her areas of poverty.

Because I believe once we start telling this story, we will respond to the poverty much differently.

This will probably make it harder for people to be in awe of those of us who come and live here. It should help to challenge the hero complex and our incessant entitlement to do whatever we want in this part of the world {I wrote on this here }.

~

When you learn of the strong African leaders and qualified professionals who are working to address the very problems we claim to be the only ones caring about, it will probably be harder for you to look the other way when young folks with high school diplomas start playing doctor and performing medical procedures.

When you hear of passionate pastors and churches who desire to meet the needs of orphaned and vulnerable children, it will be a lot harder to just swoop in and start flooding the country with international adoption programs without first considering the African church as a force to meet this need {look into what Saddleback Church is doing to partner with the Rwandan church in this}.

When you understand vulnerable families as capable and when you begin to focus on their strengths, you will shift your intervention and response to one that breeds independence, rather than dependence.

Because, believing that someone can and will succeed plays a huge role in whether they do or not.

And in order for me to believe that the folks we serve will succeed, I need to focus on their wealth, not their poverty.

This is why I ask you to re-direct your attention away from me and away from those of us you probably encourage too much– Oh yes, we need encouragement, but we also need our egos deflated a bit. We are young, we have a lot to learn and we are not the solution to every problem. We need wisdom, guidance and we need accountability.

So please, don’t just decide I’m amazing because I live in this part of the world– challenge your views and assumptions about Africa and understand that, most often, the real heroes you’re bypassing while praising me– they are incredible. They have a great deal of wealth and if you listen long enough, it will be harder to pity and much more likely for you to envy them.

Shattered Families

THIS IS PERFECT.

pearl to be found

We’re the ones who have watched grandmothers sob when told their child is now in America.

We’re the one who have seen falsified documents with our own eyes. Documents that claim this parent is dead when they’re standing right in front of us.

We’re the ones who have sat with adoptive parents and begged, begged them, to reconsider. Because those children? Their mom is right outside and she says she wants her babies back.

We’re the ones who have seen an aunt pick her niece up from the orphanage after she was kidnapped and the orphanage was told she was a cut and dry abandonment case. The little girl was on the list to be adopted, and now she’s home with the aunt who searched for months to find her.

We’re the ones who have seen fathers cry with joy when reunited with their children who got lost in the…

View original post 449 more words

On being white and saving Africa

Image

Somehow my generation has it figured out that being white and passionate is enough to solve problems and work effectively cross-culturally. It’s not really something expressed in generations before us- us on-fire, bleeding-heart millennials. Especially in the church.

It’s something that was built up and encouraged in my own life- something I am actively working to grow out of and challenge as I identify my own tendencies toward entitlement and thinking I can do it all without really knowing how to do much.

Now, don’t get me wrong, passion is great. I believe passion drives great work to fruition. But church folks (not only church folks, but yes, mostly church folks), we’ve got to stop encouraging passion without education, passion without experience, passion without the proper training and expertise- we’ve got to stop maintaining that passion is enough.

Why is this so important?

Because we are making a mess.

I’ve seen it, I’ve cleaned it up, I’ve been responsible for it myself.

We’re coming to countries like Uganda and we’re playing doctor, we’re playing director, we’re playing teacher.

We’re playing with people’s lives.

~

I hold a high standard, but not an unrealistic standard, for how things should be done in the missions, aid and service work we deliver to vulnerable communities here in Uganda. In Social Work school we spent a lot of time studying best practice/evidence based interventions and we focused on the importance of delivering clients the very best possible services.

Competence is one of the 6 core values in our code of ethics and it teaches us not to offer services or practice outside of our training/expertise, “Social workers should provide services and represent themselves as competent only within the boundaries of their education, training, license, certification, consultation received, supervised experience, or other relevant professional experience”. (NASW, 2008).

This is why Megan and I have hired Ugandan social workers who are licensed and trained to work with our families. It’s why most of our job centers around boring administration work and not direct practice. We know we aren’t the most fit and that Ugandans can do this sort of service work with families and communities far better than we can.

This core value, competence, is why I didn’t drop out of school and why I want to continue my training and education until it actually matches up with my job description.

I know that currently, to be running an NGO effectively, I probably should have 10 more years experience (at least) in the field, learning from others. I definitely, at the least, should have my MSW (Masters in Social Work) and most of all, I know I am certainly not the most fit to be filling the role that I am.

I know that, a 24-year old white girl, fresh out of undergrad, should not be the one overseeing a Ugandan social worker with 10 years experience in the field or a pastor with a life-time of knowledge and wisdom in working with and alongside of vulnerable families and communities.

It feels unnatural and it should.

It should feel strange to us that people with less training and expertise are the ones in charge.

It should make us angry when people practice medicine without medical degrees.

We should challenge the young person dropping out of college in a blind fit of passion after a 2-week mission trip and encourage them in the benefit of gaining education and experience before launching an NGO on your own.

Church, I believe you owe this to us. I believe you owe it to us, I believe you owe it to the missions you are funding and to the communities you are investing in.

You owe it to us because ultimately, holding us to a higher standard and challenging us will improve everything we are doing as cross-cultural workers and representatives of the Western church.

~

I’ve had a lot of conversations with my staff around this topic, and the conclusion we always seem to reach is that, if it would not be allowed to happen back home in America, it should absolutely not happen here in Uganda.

Having a lower standard, because it is Uganda, because “This Is Africa”, is unacceptable.

And church, I’m really tired of you turning your head to this.

Not only turning your head, but I’m upset with you for encouraging this blind passion in me, in my generation.

I believe God loves His people around the globe dearly and I believe, when we have access to education and we turn it down because we are impatient and we WANT IT NOW, we are not loving his people well and we are showing them that a lower standard of care and service is what they deserve.

We remember that love is patient and that God is not unaware of the needs of his people.  While we step away to educate ourselves. While we wait and gain experience. He is right there with those who are suffering. And when we enter back into the field of service and we get to love His people from other cultures, we get to serve them the way they deserve to be served. We get to say to them, you don’t deserve a lower-standard. You deserve the best I can give you.

So, church, this is me asking YOU to ask me the hard questions. To challenge me, to challenge the young folks entering international work. Encourage more patience, question our entitlement, remind us that we don’t know it all and that we have a heck of a lot to learn still.

We might get mad at you at first, but {most of us} will thank you later, and so will the staff and communities we work alongside of.

~

-Kelsey

And in the mourning, He gives life: Ezra’s Story

This last week our hearts have been heavy. It was a week ago today we lost Sharifu. And a week ago today, Sharifu started running, dancing and playing with Jesus. We mourn and we rejoice.

Every Monday morning we start off with our weekly staff meeting. We always check in with one another.  This week the check in took up most of the meeting. We discussed how to move forward as a staff, how to support the other caregivers in our emergency housing and the cultural differences in our grief. We made plans for a sunflower garden in memory of Sharifu and had a carpenter come so he could begin measuring for a fence that will enclose it.

Our pastor lead us in a prayer to release Sharifu to God. I reluctantly repeated the prayer, still wanting to hold on. Still angry that every time I walk out of my door and look across to the room where Sharifu should be, my heart sinks and I am still fighting back tears, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

We are incredibly grateful for all of the support, prayers and encouragement we’ve received from friends and family back home. So many have written us and been so intentional during this time. I can’t count the messages I’ve received acknowledging that while you might not have the words to say, you wanted to say something and you wanted us to know you were in this with us. You, who never even met Sharifu, were both celebrating and mourning his life with us this past week. And through you, our community near and far, we have felt Him near. Thank you for walking with us through this. I can’t tell you how much it has meant.

~

And He meets us in our doubt, in our anger, in our heartbreak.

He meets us there, exactly how He knows we need Him to.

In the midst of our mourning, He sends reminders that He is the giver of life.

That yes, he takes away, but he also GIVES. He gives abundantly and beautifully.

And I want to live focusing on all He has given, not dwelling on what He has taken away.

~

Many of you remember a Mom and baby we asked you to pray for in November.

Brenda, at 16 years old, had given birth in the main government hospital here in Jinja and due to complications during her labor, she had to be rushed in for a c-section.

Brenda’s beautiful baby boy was born healthy, however Mom’s post-op recovery was another story.

Brenda’s incision was not closed properly, she could not afford the proper medication or a follow-up surgery, which resulted in the wound becoming infected and the incision remaining very much opened 1 month after surgery.

Mom became septic because of the infection and was no longer able to breast feed.

When we were referred this case we were told, “The Mom is in Jinja Main. She is most likely going to die. She is unable to breast feed and they have been giving the baby black tea and cow’s milk”.

At a month old this beautiful baby boy had not even been named as the family was so focused on trying to keep him and Mom alive.

The family asked us to name him and we picked Ezra.

Image

Ezra, at 1 month old, the day we received the referral.

We covered the expenses for the follow-up surgery and medicine Brenda would need to keep the infection away this time.

We got baby on formula and some minor medical care he was in need of.

One of our case managers, Susan, made consistent visits to the hospital to make sure Brenda was receiving good care and then visits to their home once Ezra and Mom were healthy enough to leave the hospital.

Grandmom was a rock-star and helped take care of Ezra and Mom as she healed.

Image

Ezra at 2 months old, in the care of Jjajja (Grandmom) as Mom was still recovering

~

In this case, our centre was able to offer the most preemptive form of family preservation.

We were able to help keep a Mom alive.

In a country with high maternal mortality rates and poor access to healthcare, mothers dying due to complications in childbirth is a major factor in babies ending up in orphanages.

If we had not been referred this case, the family would have likely placed Ezra into an orphanage where he could have received formula and proper healthcare.

We were able to offer these things while the baby remained with the family and Mom received the medical care she needed to stay alive.

~

This week, Brenda started our parenting and business classes at Abide.

Today, when we see a chubby healthy baby in the arms of a Mother we were told was not going to live, we celebrate a life saved and a family kept together.

And we thank God for allowing us to walk alongside of this family.

Image

Brenda and Ezra (3 months old) today at Abide

Now that she has regained her strength, she is able to breast feed and Ezra no longer needs formula from us.

Ezra is growing big and Mom has hope for their future together.

~

We love the niche in orphan care we get to fill.

We love prevention as it allows us the really neat opportunity to come alongside of entire families and prevent orphans from being created.

We know and understand that the needs of orphans and otherwise vulnerable children throughout the world are vast, but the truth is, we are not pouring enough resources into preventing orphans in the first place.

We are not doing enough to ensure that children are not being placed in orphanages unnecessarily.

Rather than accepting systems as broken or non-existent, I invite you to partner with us in helping to create systems that protect children and build up families.

To help us prevent children like Ezra from becoming orphans:

Donate here

On being present and what Sharifu taught me

“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart. Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”  ― Henri Nouwen

~

When we leave hospitals with good or bad news, the first thing we do is make sure we heard the doctor correctly, the next is calling our loved ones so they can celebrate or mourn with us.

I called Meg on Monday to celebrate.

“Meg, the cardiologist at Mulago said that with proper treatment, a good diet and consistent follow-up for the next 1-2 years, Sharifu has a good shot at a full life”.

And recently, Meg decided we needed a way to remind ourselves of all the ways God has gone before us. All the ways he has blessed us and Abide. So we wrote out all the ways God has provided. We wrote them out on rocks and put them in a basket so that on days we felt discouraged and defeated, we could pull one {or all of them} out and remind ourselves that He. Is. Good.

So when I finished telling Meg the good news, she told me she was giving Sharifu the biggest rock in the basket.

Image

When I got home, it was true, Sharifu’s name was written on the biggest rock in our basket. I picked it up and I smiled. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. This little boy is going to live a full life.

And suddenly our hope had been restored and all the frustrations and hard things we had been facing, they didn’t matter. They didn’t matter because we were finally given an optimistic, far-better-than-we-expected prognosis for a little boy who had become very woven into our lives and our Abide family.

~

Image

On Wednesday morning I kissed Sharifu goodbye and walked to the car, carrying on the tradition of asking him if he wanted to come with me, knowing he would just glare at me, so as if to say, “Ummm, HELLO, I’m with my Jjajja (Grandma), heck no do I want to go with you”… The usual.

I was going for a meeting in town.

Around 10:30 my phone rang, it was Meg.

“Where are you?” very short. very desperately.

“I’m in town. What’s wrong?”

“I think Sharifu just died, they’re taking him to Jinja Main, meet us there”.

I hung up the phone, paid my bill and drove to the hospital.

Another phone call.

“They think he’s still alive, they’re taking him to Al Shafa now, meet us there”.

I hop in the car again, driving even faster. Praying. Pleading. Believing that God can and will save him. In some ways, I felt Sharifu’s life had been promised to us on Monday, and I was holding out for that promise.

I run into the hospital where the doctor is examining his little body.

As I reach the exam room, they are picking him up, wrapping his body.

All of the eyes glancing back at me tell me what I already know but I ask anyway, “What are you going to do for him?”

The doctor looks at me and says, “Nothing. He’s gone. I’m sorry.”

I take seconds to hear those words. Hear them again. and again.

And I lose it.

I pull myself together enough to see if I can hold him.

I sat with him. I asked if it was okay for me to unwrap him enough to see his face.

I rocked him. I held him tight. I kissed his face. I told him I loved him.

He was still warm and felt very much alive.

We drove back to our home, what had been his home for the past 3 months.

I held him and I whispered how much I loved him the whole way.

Image

We came home and we grieved with Sharifu’s Jjajja {Grandmother}. We cried out to God with our entire Abide family. As burials go here, you mourn fully and very much in the present as soon as someone passes.

Without question all of our staff and caregivers on site, along with all of their babies and kiddos, loaded up into two vans to go for burial.

Our staff were rock stars and stood beside Margaret {Sharifu’s Grandmother} and her family the whole time.

Julius, our pastor, spoke. As did I.

The burial was hard, for more reasons than I would like to get into on here.

I will say this.

In Sharifu’s short 3-4 years of life, he had experienced tremendous abuse and neglect. He overcame. He fought. He possessed strength I can only imagine having.

Image

And because of that abuse and neglect, Sharifu had a very weak heart. A heart that was weakened by an untreated virus and then made worse by multiple cases of malnutrition and continued neglect.

He came to Abide around 3 months ago as local government officials were desperate for a way to keep him safe.

He spent a lot of his time with us in an out of hospitals. We first had him treated for the malnutrition and then for his heart and kidneys.

But he was getting better. Stronger. The doctors were even saying it.

Image

When he came to us 3 months ago, he wasn’t strong enough to stand on his own. Two weeks ago he started walking all by himself & he was so proud too!

We watched and we cheered him on as he healed physically.

We supported and we encouraged his Grandmother in her attachment to him.

We got to see Sharifu become a child of value and of worth in his Grandmother’s eyes.

And it was beautiful.

~

Image

On Tuesday afternoon we celebrated an optimistic prognosis and the following afternoon we buried him.

I’m not going to try and pretend to make sense of this. Certainly not now. Maybe not ever.

I know that God is with us in this. I have felt Him so near during this time. In the numb. In the anger. In the sadness. He. is. there.

And I know. I know for certain.

His plans are greater than ours. His plans for Sharifu’s life were better than what we could have ever had.

He knew what He was protecting Sharifu from in taking him home so soon. And I rest in that.

I might not be able to make sense of it. I may not be happy with the outcome. But I rest in it still.

~

Image

I do want to share one last thing about Sharifu and what he taught me.

I want to share with you on how important it was to be present.

I found it extremely hard to pass by Sharifu and not stop.

Playing hard to get was an understatement with him.

He made it very clear that he would like you on his terms and his terms only.

I tend to like the kids that don’t gravitate toward you, I take it as a challenge that I am confident I can meet.

And, eventually, I did.

No matter how busy I was. How late I was. I always kissed him goodbye. I always made time to sit and hang out with him.

During the work day, when I needed to take a break from sitting behind a desk, I would just go and sit with him on the mat until I could get him to laugh.

In the last few weeks, as he started to walk, he even started coming to me. WILLINGLY.

I was careful not to show too much excitement, as I knew he’d be quick to back off when he realized he had given me exactly what I wanted.

Sharifu came to us without much value placed on his life at all.

Through us welcoming him and Margaret into the Abide family, we got to see VALUE and LOVE poured into his life.

He did not die alone. He did not die unloved.

I am thankful for that. I am.

And in being present with him, not realizing my time would be so limited, I am reminded of how important it is for us to be present with each other. Especially those who might need it a little bit more than the rest.

It is so easy to get caught up in work. In emails. In fundraising. In paperwork and files.

Life distracts us from relationships. From the people around us who desperately need us to be present.

And I am here, reminding you, that email can wait. You can make that phone call after you sit down and make time for the people around you who need it.

Pause. Give your undivided attention. Remind someone that they are of worth. That they are valued. That they are loved.

ImageSharifu,

Thank you for all you have taught me.

I will miss you more than you know. I know you are not only walking now, but RUNNING with Jesus.

Give Him a kiss for me {and try not to be too stubborn about it}.

I’ll see you soon.

Love,

Auntie Kelsey

 

Contrary to Popular Belief: We might be doing more harm than good on our short-term missions trips

Guest post: Nicole Wilson-Murphy

I believe in challenging. Challenging what the world sees as “normal” social systems and services. Through my experience I have become increasingly confrontational as I have witnessed families, communities, and nations destroyed by the “good” we assume we are doing. Thus, I have begun question the manner in which we serve developing nations.  My hope is that as we continue to serve abroad, we also begin to raise our standards for effective serving.

Cultural Insensitivity; its ignorant and unfair, but I’m guilty of it.  I was conditioned to believe to that whatever warms my heart is good but I now see things much differently. I now know my actions have to be based on so much more than our feelings.  I want to ask you how you would feel if you were sitting in the hospital with your sick child and a person from another part of the world who spoke a language you may not understand picked up your child, and started praying. What if you, as that parent, were brought up with the notion that the person of the other race was “holier” than you? What if a person walked into your home and started snapping photos of your family life as if it were a museum display? What if some clean western person came into your home and cried at the living conditions? What if they then talked about the tattered clothing your children were wearing? Would you want to cry at their lack of understanding? Might you feel offended, shocked, ill-treated? Might these actions encourage and only confirm the feelings of worthlessness? I can guarantee most of the displays of “service” we do while we serve developing nations on short term trips are offensive and would not be tolerated in our communities or homes. So why then do we commit these offenses? It’s because more often than not we use these trips to make ourselves feel holier.

Why do we assume we can do things we wouldn’t dare do in the western world, just because we are serving abroad? Serving a developing nation does NOT mean we get to throw out the rulebook for preserving people’s right to privacy.  Serving the less prosperous does not mean we get to make judgments on cultural parenting choices or their standards of living.  Sadly we do abuse people right to privacy and by doing so this is how we exploit the very people we go to serve.

Exploitation happens when we begin to think missions are about us. When we send out our youth so that they can be “exposed” to true suffering in hopes that it might make them better people.  This is not serving the people or the community. This is not alleviating their needs, but it is purely self-fulfillment. When we believe suffering can be solved by spending little time investing but much time trying to rearrange communities to our western standards, then desiring them to be grateful for what we do. We are creating a system of selfish service, which is really not service at all.  This is poverty exploitation and something I believe Jesus would be infuriated with in His time. Missions are about the people we serve and we cannot effectively serve a culture we do not understand, because we do not take the time to do so. Simply stated it is wrong and dangerous when we act in this manner.

There are a couple types of standardized types of exploitation that I have become familiar with. These are orphanage tourism[i] and poverty tourism.[ii] These particular types of exploitations have become common practices during service trips. Sadly, they not only project a negative feeling to the communities visited but they also turn poverty and vulnerable children into commodities. We subject the very people we are there to love and protect to evils we do not stand for. By doing so we put children and communities at risk for abuse and trafficking.  A recent example of the abuse that occurs is of a British airline pilot who used orphanage tourism to sexually assault loads of girls.[iii] I ask myself how did he get away with this? Where were the people who should have been protecting these young girls?

Even short trips to orphanages where Child’s Rights[iv] are observed and thus protected from such abuse can consequently have a negative impact on the children in the home. A study on Reactive Attachment Disorder states “Most children with Reactive Attachment Disorder have had severe problems or disruptions in their early relationships.  Many have been physically or emotionally abused or neglected.  Some have experienced inadequate care in an institutional setting or other out-of-home placement such as a hospital, residential program, foster care or orphanage.  Others have had multiple or traumatic losses or changes in their primary caregiver.”[v] We send teams to orphanages with intentions to do good. During their time in the home they will hold, feed, and change babies. They will play for countless hours. They may even clean and help organize. They will bring toys, diapers, formula, etc. All of these things are good and helpful. Unfortunately the effect of this temporary trip will cause the children in the home to further suffer the loss of the ability to form healthy attachments in relationships for the rest of their lives. In this case the money we spend on these trips would be better spent supporting local organizations fostering long-term change in these homes and communities.

These are sadly just a few realities of these practices. The vulnerable become exposed to violations such as these. With no protection from them as strangers are allowed to roam free with no regulations. This should enrage anyone who goes to serve abroad with good intentions. However, until we refuse to support these practices, it will continue. Because as long as there is money to be made from these trips, there will continue to be people willing to commit these evils for a profit.

Many may question if I claim it is so harmful why do so many orphanages and communities participate in short term trips. Though some have real needs to be met by these teams, more commonly it is because westerners come with material possessions and money.  We go to these places and offer/throw money around as if it actually did grow on trees. In desperation or greed these communities and people say or do little in fear that we might not come to help if they actually communicated their beliefs on how they would desire to be served. For the ones who are brave enough to speak to us as equal and put us in our place, we often respond with wild accusations. We question how their people do not care well enough for their children. We question their entire culture. We develop this condemning SAVIOR complex. We try to take the upper hand when instead we should be humbled by their honesty. That is the key to serving, to be humbled by what they have to say.

So then I ask myself, how do I serve humbly? How do I nurture relationships with communities in such a way that they can be honest about the best way to meet their long-term needs?

During service trips abroad it is vital to maintain a positive and negative viewpoint. Speaking from personal failure, we often go into developing nations out of pure intentions to help and so we only see the positive of our actions. By doing so, we often fail to look at the negative consequences, which there always are. It is crucial that we understand and believe we can inherently harm a community by doing “good”. In the book “When Helping Hurts” Steve Corbett points this out perfectly: “The way that we act toward the economically poor often communicates- albeit unintentionally- that we are superior and they are inferior. In the process we hurt the poor and ourselves. And here is the clincher: this dynamic is likely to be particularly strong whenever the middle-to-upper-class, North American Christians try to help the poor, given these Christians’ tendency toward a Western, materialistic perspective of the nature of poverty. “

Let us learn from this.  We are called to do service not out of ignorance, but to serve with diligence and respect. To assume we always know what’s best for the communities we enter is ignorant at best and arrogant at worst. To serve in ignorance or arrogance in the name of Jesus is not befitting to His cause. It would be wise of us to remember that at times Jesus did walk away from crowds. He didn’t walk away because He didn’t care or because His mission had changed. No, He walked away because He was diligent in His mission, serving when He knew it was His time. Jesus was wise, he knew that He had to garter respect by giving it; an example we often forget in our service.  So we ought to serve as He served. We should begin to make the changes necessary to create productive short-term trips. We have to become educated about unethical practices and learn how we can take a stand against them. When we rally to stand against them, we will no longer unintentionally take part in selfish service.  If we stand in the light that knowledge offers, then we will no longer be a part of the darkness that is ignorance.

Mission trips will serve people best when our intentions are to build up what the local communities have established and not when we go to set up something our way that we expect the locals to replicate after we leave. We must believe in them enough to let them grow on their own.

Short-term trips are not hopeless. There most definitely are beautiful and positive changes that can be the outcome of these trips. However, out actions and the services we provide need to be refined, just as iron must be shaped by blistering heat to become a useful tool, we to must let the challenging and questioning of how serve be used to sharpen our resolve and our opinion of how to help without hurting.

Countdown to Kindness: Give the gift of family this Christmas

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

AbideTriplets

I miss snow. I miss REAL Christmas shopping. I miss Christmas music on the radio, even the cheesy stuff. I miss that extra time you get around the holidays to just be around family. I will miss Christmas Eve service at my church at home. I will bum out when everyone is gathered for our traditional Christmas eve dinner and all the other parties and festivities that take place over the next week or so.

This year, it hasn’t felt much like Christmas. Not just because I can walk out of the house with short sleeves, but because we’ve had a really rough last couple of weeks. We’ve been hard hit with many new cases, most of which have been complicated and taxing on our entire staff. Being in and out of hospitals, grim prognosis, worrying about money for the upcoming year, corruption and countless stories about really ugly stuff happening within the world of orphanages and international adoption. It just doesn’t exactly put you in the Christmas spirit.

A few days ago I was even bordering Grinch status, which scared me because Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year.

But then I see the 17 year old Momma of triplets who lives with us not only holding down her own set of multiples but helping the other caregivers who are new to formula feeding learn how to care for their little ones and checking up on them to make sure they are doing it properly.

I watch the new 19 year old Momma with a 6 mo. old baby boy jump right in to the Abide family as she is learning tailoring, starting our business class and getting back on her feet.

I am blessed to see the caregivers both living on site and off site, forge relationships with one another as they are facing and overcoming similar challenges and growing into confident, capable caregivers.

I get to live right in the middle of all of this. Watching as these ladies transform. They are proving people wrong on the daily and I love it.

Many caregivers come to us withdrawn and with obvious signs of depression. We get to see them go from struggling to provide for their families’ even basic needs to entering a space where they get to identify skills, strengths and passions within themselves and pave the way for a new future for them and their kiddos.

And while I am sad that I won’t be home with my own family for Christmas this year. While I want so badly to escape and forget about the really hard stuff happening around here right now, I am thankful to be here to celebrate with the awesome and the crazy caregivers here at Abide.

This Christmas I am reminded of the gift that is FAMILY. That I am fortunate to be able to have a family I love so dearly that I ache to be with them during this time of year. I am blessed to be able to spend this holiday season missing them while I get to actively help preserve and keep families together so they don’t lose the very thing we all value most this time of year.

And what better gift can we really give than that?

I invite you to help us give the gift of family this Christmas.

As you cherish the traditions and holiday fun with your family, consider giving a gift in their honor toward our Countdown to Kindness Campaign this year. We have just reached our $11,000 mark and are working toward $20,000 !! We are more than halfway there.

You can donate here: http://abidefamilycenter.org/donate0.aspx

And when you donate, if it is a gift for someone else, you can print this and give it to the recipient:

Image

Help us spread the word and be on the lookout as we complete more Random Acts of Kindness in the next week!

Image

From Adoption to Resettlement: The journey of a potential adoptive family in Honduras (Guest Post)

I was connected with Brittany and Nick Krueger who are currently living and serving in Honduras. They were all set to adopt a sibling set of 3 when their world got rocked and they realized the girls had a birth Mom who loved them. This has undoubtedly changed the Krueger family and what they see orphans and vulnerable children needing in Honduras. They were given my contact to ask about our experience with resettlement here in Uganda and now I have asked if they would share the journey they’ve been on in moving from adoption as the answer for their girls, to resettlement. 

~

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. ~ Isaiah 55:8

When plans change, is He still good? When things don’t line up quite like you had planned, is He still good? When you don’t get the answers that you want, is He still good?

YES!

Our journey to Honduras began back in December, 2012. We came to visit a ministry, Eternal Family Project for the holidays and see what God was showing us. On the last day of our visit, just hours before we had to board the plane, we visited the government run orphanage in San Pedro. We visited the rooms of babies, held precious little lives in our arms, played with kids on the playground, and just tried to shower these sweet souls with love. We stepped into the room of preschool kids and were almost immediately drawn to one very quiet 4 year old named Nahomy. We felt strangely connected to her and felt as though God was asking us to care for her. We were so confused as we were headed to the airport and had no idea how to help.

On the plane, Nick and I discussed our feelings about Nahomy. We were absolutely devastated that we had to leave her there. I wrote in my journal, “Why God? Why did we have to go there? Why did we have to see these things? Why do we feel so strongly about a young girl that we had to leave behind? What does this brokenness mean?”

Coming home did not stop our desire for a relationship with Nahomy. We continued to think about her and prayed fervently for God to open a door to help her. We knew Honduras had a difficult adoption policy with the United States. It was a potentially lengthy, and sometimes impossible process to adopt a Honduran child and bring her back to live with us in the US. So, we just continued to pray. Meanwhile, we asked to get more information about Nahomy. Our contact in Honduras, Allison, was able to find out that she had two sisters, but that their mom was going to come back and take them home. We were thankful that her mom would hopefully return to take her children back home. We continued to pray for these three sweet girls and for God to open a door if He wanted us to help them.

~

The Call That Changed Everything.

The week had been crazy and busy, as weeks tend to get, and I was still at the school for parent teacher conferences. Nick sent me a text that stated he had spoken with Allison and that I needed to call him quickly. I called him only to find out that I would have to wait and talk to Allison later in the evening. So after what felt like eternity, I finally made it home at 8:00 pm. Allison called at 8:30 and what I was about to hear would forever change our lives. She said that the director of IHNFA (an organization similar to the Division of Family Services in the UShad come to have tea with her on Sunday afternoon and began sharing about a case that was weighing heavily on her heart. She felt personally responsible for finding three girls a home; their ages were 12, 8, and 4 and they were currently at the state orphanage.

When Allison heard the ages, she asked if the youngest girl’s name was Nahomy, to which the director answered, “Yes, but how did you know that?” Allison proceeded to tell her about our family’s visit and our trip to the orphanage. Then she said the words, “They are adoptable.” WHAT!? WAIT!? The tears stung as they poured down my face. She told us to pray and seek God’s will for this. Once we were off of the phone, Nick and I quickly felt that they were our kids, but continued to pray.

Image

Our sweet girls

As had been planned for some time, I left town early the next morning to go visit a dear friend that had recently had a baby. With minds full of thoughts and emotions pouring out all over the place, Nick and I continued to pray and talk on the phone for the next two days. On Friday, February 1st we made our decision to walk in faith through the door that God had so clearly opened. We called Allison to tell her that we wanted to adopt the girls. Much to our surprise, she was at the orphanage when we called. We told her our answer (expecting to have until Tuesday before she would go back to the orphanage), only to be met with another decision to make. “I can take them home with me today, if you want me to.” Our heads were really spinning by this point. We asked her to find the answer to two more questions that we had; and we also wanted to contact the chairman of the EFP (Eternal Family Project) board of directors, to let him know all of this was transpiring. Within 10 minutes, all three of those pieces fell together. Allison had good answers for our questions, and the chairman gave us his support with no hesitation.

Fast forward about 4 months and we arrived at our move date. When we moved to Honduras in June, we had a fairly clear plan on what God has asked us to do. Take in 3 girls as our daughters and adopt them. They were in an orphanage, and in our little knowledge of the situation we thought obviously we are the best solution. That was until we met their birth Mom. Again we had preconceived ideas on what their mom would be like; likely flakey, uncaring, and unloving…just to name a few. That is not at all what we saw when we met her a short 2 weeks after getting to Honduras. She was actually the direct opposite of all of our unfair judgments. We immediately began asking about resettling the girls with their mom and met resistance. So, we prayed. We continued to invite their mom to visit and continued to build a relationship with her.

A few weeks ago, our social worker came to the house for a visit and had some big news to share. She had decided to place the girls back with their Mom. At first, our hearts sank but God quickly gave Nick and I a peace that only He can give. There are many mixed emotions, but we are confident that God is in this.

We are going to be working with our social worker, another family ministry called Operation Blessing International, and their Mom to create a plan that allows us to help them for a certain period of time while she gets on her feet soundly and then can care for the girls 100%. The transition time, at this point, looks like about a month. The girls are currently living in the other ministry house until the social worker is ready to resettle them with their mom.

We feel that God has opened our eyes to the realization that many kids don’t need to be taken from their biological families, but instead some families desperately need the right support group to come alongside them.

So, our path doesn’t look like it did a few months ago and it is a beautiful thing. Resettling a family is not always easy but the healing that can happen in the process is amazing. Please pray for their family that God would heal what is broken & make this resettlement successful. Please pray for wisdom for us to know how to best help during this time.

God doesn’t ask us to have it all figured out, He just asks us to trust Him, and that is exactly what we will continue to do!