Thursday, December 13, 2012

Why India? The Value Of A Minute

"How did that happen??!  Wait, didn't you just get back from Haiti?"  Given that it was the most frequently asked question I've heard in the past few weeks, that is what I shared first about my impending mission trip to India, in this post.

One Child....

The second most frequent questions were "What will you be doing there?  Who are you working with this time?  Is this another independent trip?"

As many of you know, my heart breaks for the vulnerable people of the world, those living in extreme poverty, especially when it brings about increased risk of human trafficking, slavery and abuse.  This passion is born from personal experience, and it runs to the depths of my soul through God's redemption of my life.

Another Child...

India has the dubious reputation for being 2nd in the world for children suffering from malnutrition, which stems from a critically high number of children living in abject poverty.  Girls have little value in India, often ending up trafficked, sold into marriage, forced begging, or worse.  Boys are not spared either.  That is, if these boys or girls even reach past the age of 5.

Yet Another Child...

In the time it has taken for you to read this post up to this point, four children under the age of 5 died in India from preventable causes.  Lack of clean water.  Malnutrition.  Malaria.  Cholera.  Pneumonia.  Diarrhea.

2.1 million precious souls a year...

Four children, every minute.

This continues, around the clock, every single day, every week, every month, year round, seemingly unstoppable like the ocean waves that continue to crash on the world's shores...  Except for one difference:  While we can't hold back the ocean from crashing ashore, we CAN turn back the tide of poverty.  One child at a time.

And the tide IS being turned back...  extreme poverty is being served an eviction notice like never before.  One by one, people are being empowered against poverty, and the chains of injustice are being broken.

His Hands Ministries works in India through the local church to support their outreach programs that serve the most vulnerable children within the local communities.  Through the ministry and the local church, children's basic need for food and education are being met, and through education, the stronghold of poverty is loosened and these children's risk of human trafficking, slavery, and other heartbreaking practices is significantly reduced.  Children are holistically empowered and are led to the skills and abilities needed in order to gain employment, and as such, the generational poverty cycle breaks.

Four more children...  

Every minute we wait equates the lives of four more children.

The harvest is plenty, the workers are needed, the call is on my heart to go...  the time is now.

For more information on His Hands Ministries, please visit their website here.

Your financial support would be a blessing, not only to our lives and spiritual growth, but most of all to His people in India.  Please consider helping me with the travel costs by using the Paypal button on the upper right hand sidebar.  Children from the His Hands program are also available for sponsorship through His Hands Ministries here.

And with your help... this minute...  a child will live. 

Join us in prayer, let our light rise for Him in unison as we live out Isaiah 58, together.

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard...and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58: 6-8, 10
Tuesday, December 11, 2012

India By Way of Nehemiah: 2013

In November of 2011, days before we were set to leave for Ghana, I received the news that I would be joining a mission team in Cameroon the following February.  Having used all my vacation time for Ghana, and having very little time to fundraise the necessary travel costs, saying yes was still an easy act of faith.

In November of 2012, days before we were set to leave for Haiti, I received the news that I would be joining a mission team in India the following February.  Having used all my vacation time for Haiti, and having much less time to fundraise the necessary travel costs, I wanted my yes to be just as simple, but it required more prayer and consideration.

I'll be honest, when my spiritual leader and role model, one of God's amazing disciples, Jamie Charles, reached out and extended the invitation to join her as she leads this trip, I wanted nothing more than to say yes at any cost.  The opportunity to join His Hands Ministries in India is overwhelmingly great, both in terms of the blessing to serve Him and His people there, but also in terms of spiritual and personal growth.  That being said, to some, I had every reason to say no.

It's no secret that it's been a tough year.  Some would say that alone makes it the wrong time to be doing another mission trip, so close on the heels of the Haiti trip and all the changes here at home.  Few would say all the more reason to go now, even though serving, spending of ourselves to save the life of someone else, brings healing and restoration to the spirit.  Most would say the cost was too high, the time not right, that I had "too much on the go", "too much on my hands", that I needed a break, that I needed to be there for my kids.  While I understood their concern, what I really wanted to know was God's perspective, not ours.  I don't want what the world offers, I don't want easy or comfortable, I want what He wants.

I responded to the invitation by taking the time to pray.  The conversation with God went something like this:

"Father, I have this blessed opportunity in front of me to serve Your people in India, but I do not know if I am the best person for Your work there...  if You can really use me right now, as I am, with the present circumstances.  I need to know Your heart on this..."

I sensed God asking me why I felt this way, why I felt He might not send me...  I answered:  "Daddy, there seem to be so many reasons I should not go... My marriage has ended, I am on my own.  People will tell me I should stay home and take care of my family.  I only have one income now, I have to be very careful with my financial resources, I need to protect my ability to sponsor these 17 children I have committed to, and to provide for mine as well.  I do not have vacation time from my work so that I can take the time to go, this means that I would not be paid for my time while I travel.  I am trying to prepare the house to sell, it is a lot of work and I have so little time left for much else.  I am tired, and worn, and although I greatly desire to go, I do not want to hinder Your Kingdom by being the weakest person for You to send."

His response was yet another question, asking me how I felt He would respond to these reasons...  and it came to me swiftly and strongly -- "Father, You would remind me that although my marriage has ended, I am not on my own, I am never alone for You are with me always... and You have provided me with people who support and love me and are by my side... You are the one Who takes care of my family when I serve You first.  You would also remind me that my income is limited, but Your provisions are endless, and all that I have comes from You and belongs to You.  You'd also point out that You have protected my ability to provide for the sponsorships and for my children for the past two years while reduced to practically one income.  You would tell me that You created time and Your provisions are endless, and that You provided for the same circumstances last February when I was in Cameroon, and it's certainly within Your power to do it again.  You would probably laugh at me and remind me that the house will sell in Your time, not mine, and ask my why I do not simply let You take care of that and not be concerned?  And last but not least, You would remind me that You often choose the weak, the most unexpected, the worn, the old, the tired, the ones the world would not send...  You came to earth for the sick, the poor, the lonely, the orphans, the widows -- You promised that in our weaknesses, You are made strong, Lord, and as such, I should not question Your reasons for sending me, that perhaps it is not only to serve others, but so that I may grow in You, or lead by example for someone here... I don't know Your purposes and plans, Lord, but I trust You...  Yes, I may be weak in the eyes of the world, but You equip the called and I hear Your call on my heart.  I am willing, and that is my answer...  I am willing.  May it be done as You have planned."

I am willing, always.

I gave my answer to the trip leader, and told her that should all the pieces fit and the Lord be willing, she could proceed and book my ticket while I was in Haiti. I would learn upon my return whether or not I would be going to India.  Either way, I would accept His answer.

When I returned, God had answered... my tickets were booked.

If you are familiar with how the fundraising went for our mission work in Ghana, you will remember that I compared it to Nehemiah, who had been given the task to rebuild Jerusalem's walls in 52 days.  It seemed impossible.  The same was true of our fundraising efforts.  We needed to raise $30,000 by November of 2011...  we started in March of 2011, and by September of 2011, we were at 12%.  How would God do it?  We trusted explicitly that He would.  With less than 53 days to go, He provided, all of it, in full, as well as our own travel costs.

All it took was faith in a God that could, and would.

That's what it will take this time too, in abundance.

I have until Monday, December 17th to pay my airfare to India.  $1563.  A mere six days.  I have until February to raise the in-country travel costs ($500).  Seems so little in light of the $30,000 we raised for Ghana, or the $3300 we raised for Haiti... but on a human level, it seems just as impossible.  The amount has never, ever been the issue.  Whether $30,000 or $3300, or $1563, it always comes down to the fact that I come to the table with empty hands, only able to spend of myself, pour out my life as an offering, but coming short of the miracle it will take.  I have nothing to offer but absolute faith in the God I serve.

Nehemiah built the walls in 52 days.

I have 6 days.

That might just be why God picks me time and time again -- He delights in doing the seemingly impossible through the least likely.

If you would like to sow seeds into this miracle in the making, into this ministry, donations can be made by Paypal (link on sidebar or or in person, through online banking (Canada) in any amount, no amount too small, as our God multiplies the blessings.  Your support is a blessing, not only to the people we will serve in India, but to people whose lives I touch here back home, and to my spiritual growth too.

Most of all, please pray, and keep watching to see what God will do...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


     I've been home from Haiti for a week, and the words are hard to come by, and the ones that do trickle  through are raw.  The words flow slowly -- painfully -- it's rare for me, and unsettling.  I hesitate to share.  It's not pretty.  I can't make it pretty, I refuse to.

     In Honduras and Ghana, I shared stories, photos and our experiences while we were still there.  Cameroon, the words and stories came more slowly... the words drying up before the stories were finished.  Haiti....  I don't yet know what's about to pour out, I just know it has to.

     I hit the ground running when I arrived home from Haiti, in more ways than one.  I knew.  I knew that if I slowed down, it would hurt.  It helped that I had an overwhelming amount of work to come home to -- a bittersweet blessing, it would help me process the pain of what we have seen and experienced, and what we came home to.  It always hurts, like a heart bruise being leaned into, poked and prodded, pressed down.

     Things are never as they were when we come back from the mission field -- always a cost -- we come back to contrasts we don't know how to process, and an unsettling feeling that comes with our new shift of perspective.  The reality that we as a church aren't doing enough to be the hands and feet -- we're not doing enough to get out of the comfortable and bridge the gap between the rich and the poor in a radical way.  We're not doing enough to answer the call -- the knock comes, the call comes, but we turn away.  Do we assume someone else will pick up the call for the poor?  Are we leaving it to virtual voicemail?  Not just the poor in the standard sense, but everyone in our path in need of the gospel, in need of love, hope, light.  We're too distracted by the shiny and fancy trappings of this world, by preconceptions and attitudes and entitlement, by our own selves... our greed...  by the enemy's deception -- that it's someone else's job, that it won't matter, that it's too hard or that the lost deserve it somehow, it's their own doing, isn't it?  I've heard it before,  the rejection of responsibility... "If they're so poor, why do they keep having kids?  We shouldn't help these people, they do it onto themselves.  They should all be given birth control before we give them any help.  You know, help our own people here at home and let their government deal with their mess."  Appalling.  Unthinkable.

     Yes, the coming home has always been the hardest.  Coming home from Haiti, even more so, for two reasons:

1.  Haiti has the most extreme poverty I've witnessed to date. I've only traveled to three other faraway countries, but it's by far the worst living conditions I've seen in person, and I can't shake the images from my head -- nor would I want to.  I came there to know, to see, to feel, to experience, to walk alongside the hurting, the hungry, the lost, the lonely, the orphans, the widows, the poor, the broken, the sinners.  I tasted poverty.  It covered me in a thick, suffocating layer, seeped down deep into my weary bones.

In each place I had been to, I experienced a quiet but deep sense of community and connection with the poor, the broken, the lost -- this was no different.  Being judged and shunned back home by some of the members of His body, His church, especially this past year in all the changes taking place here back home...  it has hurt, and I don't want to do the same to others, I don't want to give anyone the silent treatment, the cold stare, the judging look, the abandonment, and I've been guilty of it before.  May God have mercy on me. It crushes me to think that someone, somewhere, could have seen this in me and knowing I follow Jesus, assumed this was of Him.  I don't want others to mistake this for Jesus' love.  I don't want to walk away, to turn my back, to give up on anyone.  I don't want that to be what the body of Christ looks like, and I want it to start with me.  Yes, it hurts to be in the trenches, to serve the poorest of the poor.  To see the desperation, to hear it, face it, see it, taste it...  to relate...  It hurt, but I can't look away, I won't look away.  I want to see.  I need to know.  I have to remember...  to memorize their faces is to remember the face of Jesus, and to not grow hardened in this world.  It is the awareness that I am no different.  I am just as broken, just as much a sinner, just as badly in need of a Savior.  We all are.  Those who judge, those who are judged -- equally loved by Him.

2.  The day after I left for Haiti, my fourteen year old son Joshua moved 2800 miles across the country to live with his father.  His father had been living in the basement of our home since October of 2011 when he left our marriage.  After a long period of unemployment, he recently found work out west and made preparations to move.  Joshua decided to follow him there.

     Given my tendency to clean the house before I leave for vacation or leave for any length of time, I was bracing myself for what I'd find in the aftermath of their move.  I walked through the house, rooms echoing emptiness, the furniture gone except a few pieces, each room newly unfamiliar and barren.  Odds and ends littered the floor upstairs, all that was left was in a state of disarray.  It didn't feel like home, at least not the one we knew.

Yet as I looked at the coffee table, the kitchen table and chairs, my mattress set, one dresser...  all that was left...  I remembered the homes I had seen, I remembered Medgina's grandmother lifting her arms in praise to God, shaking with joy while standing in her seemingly empty one bedroom home with a broken roof and no doors, thanking the One who provides... and it confirmed what I knew -- God is enough, and I am blessed.

     Heaps of trash scattered all throughout the basement, junk in every possible inch of space, it felt as though what was once a home was ransacked, leaving only debris in the wake of the storm.  Suffocating.  A somewhat milder version of Hoarders, minus the team hired to make the nightmare disappear.  That's how it felt.  Brandon and I rolled up our sleeves, put our heads down, and worked our way through, room by room, hour by hour, day by day.  Solidarity.  My love poured out for Brandon, stepping up as a man, doing what was right and what needed to be done, taking charge with initiative and drive, and caring for his family.  It took a week to nearly finish two rooms, and we're nowhere near done the basement.  All this time, it threatened to eat away at me; the living conditions, the responsibility, the energy it would take to clear this mess and prepare this house to sell...  how unfair it was that they walked away and left us holding the bag -- dozens of trash bags, and counting...  and then the furnace broke down, then the fridge, then a leak in one pipe, two leaks...  the used-but-new-to-us fridge in the middle of our kitchen, too big to fit the space left empty by the old fridge...  all within the span of a week...  and I wonder if the power is next, the property taxes, one income not enough to sustain... but I fought HARD against it, against being overwhelmed... fought hard to cling to gratitude and joy...  and won...  because....

...   when I closed my eyes, I saw images of raw sewage running openly through Port Aux Princes, of one family standing about a hundred feet from the roadway in the city, adults and children alike, in a heaping, smoldering pile of garbage at a landfill, digging for food and anything else they could salvage for survival...  a scene so brutal to the heart I could not raise my camera at the time, hand frozen, heart broken.  It stayed with me the entire week we were in Haiti, and I  looked for this family on our way back to Port Aux Princes at the end of the week, wanting to reach out to them, bring them rice, words of encouragement, love... Jesus... something... anything... but could not find them.   Still, the image remains, much like the image of Richard permanently etched into the back of my eyelids -- pictures I can't and won't erase...  and I knew that God would be enough to sustain, to strengthen, to nourish, to bless... them, and me.

     We guessed her to be about two.... her name was Gwyneth -- she was the youngest of the 29 orphans at the Bethanie Orphanage.  The women gathered all the girls, while the men gathered the boys around them, and we set out to distribute clothes to the children.  Under the dark cover of night, we stood on the second floor balcony, the dimly lit area buzzing with activity, picking through dresses, trying to guess the girl's sizes.  I had intended on helping the women find dresses for the girls, but the moment I saw Gwyneth, so tiny, so young...  my heart convulsed violently and I found myself on the ground near her.  She melted into my lap, quietly sucking on a lollipop while holding another, and the realization that this precious babe, this tiny little child of God, had no earthly parents to love on her and care for her...  it was more than my heart could bear.

I broke down into quiet sobs, crying prayers over her and the 147+million orphans like her in the world.  Millions and I am only holding one.  ONE.  One just as precious to Him as the others in the ocean of children crying out for a family.  Still cradling her in my arms for as long as possible but not wanting to be selfish in holding her, I lifted her gently into Jillian's waiting arms, and as Jillian held her, explained to my precious 11 year old daughter that this sweet girl didn't have a mother or father to love her, to take care of her, to live with her and do life with her... Jillian's heartbreak was written all over her face as she gasped, and looked from me to Gwyneth and then back again...  asking, searching, not understanding.  "These are children from the orphanage, love -- an orphanage is a home for orphans -- orphans are children without parents to love them and look after them.  This little girl does not have parents to call her own."  Her face grimacing painfully, she shook her head and said "But mom, she's so little, she's just a baby, can't we take her home, I've always wanted a sister, I could take care of her?"  Tears poured once more, this time from both of us -- the well seemed bottomless.  "I know, love...  it's not fair.  For any of them.  No matter what age.  There are kids younger than Gwyneth who are all alone.  Babies.  Kids your age.  Older kids.  Orphans.  One hundred and forty seven million of them right now, in this world, today....  orphaned.  We, you and I, the church, the hands and feet, we're failing to respond to the call.  We're failing to be enough.  I know you and I would, in a heartbeat, take her home, but we don't have the ransom, the resources... not at this time...  in His...?"  We stared at each other in quiet disbelief, at a loss for more words, and quietly turned our attention back to Gwyneth and her friends in those precious few moments we had to pour love into them.

I return home to the children's father gone from their home.  Although they're not with their father, Brandon and Jillian are adjusting well to life without their father here... it's a new normal, but they're thriving.  They are loved and cared for and there are phones and Skype and someday, perhaps they will even travel there.  We are all blessed with a Father, and He will always be enough...

(Photo credit:  Tia Kollar)

     While serving, we met a team from one of the purest, Godliest Acts style churches I've yet heard of, who were also in Haiti being the hands and feet.  These Christians from Antioch, Tennessee had, among many other acts of service, locally purchased four tons of rice to distribute to people suffering from hunger.  We asked if we could join in their efforts to distribute the rice and minister to His people.  They welcomed us into their family without hesitation, without question, loving us as we were -- the true and loving body of Christ.  On Wednesday evening, we traveled to a field where a church was being built by their team, where the men had toiled hard under the hot Haitian sun earlier that day, and where there would be children waiting to receive precious rations of rice to bring home to their families.  Several fifty pound sacks of rice had been divided up into small family sized portions, individually bagged for distribution.  The rice was loaded on top of the bus, and as the bus made its way into the field, we immediately realized that the word had spread about the rice, and the entire village had shown up.  As we stepped out of the bus, praying for God to multiply as He had the loaves and fish, people pressed into us, welcoming us with eager anticipation.  The sun was setting, but it wasn't the only darkness that could be felt -- hope and desperation hung dangerously close to one another in the air, an intense and charged spirit weighing heavy on us...  we were just as desperate as these people were -- desperately hopeful that God would multiply the rice and make it enough.  When we realized that it would not be so tonight, we were told to quickly get back into the bus for our own safety -- they knew a riot would break out.  They wanted us safely back into the bus before they were to announce that we would be back tomorrow not just with enough food, but with more than enough.  Joy turned to mourning -- and in an instant, the bus was filled with the sounds of the desperate cries of mothers, angry shouts of men, children screaming and running after our bus as it was being kicked and pushed by a mob of angry, hurting, and desperately hungry people clawing for a shred of hope, trying to reach the bags of rice at the top of the bus.  They were simply hungry.  Hungry for the end of suffering.  Hungry for peace.  Hungry for hope.  Hungry for nourishment.  God had provided more than enough for Tia, Jillian and I through our fundraising, so we offered from God's abundance and provide for 3 or 4 more fifty pound bags of rice to the team to help ensure there would be more than enough for these people the following day.  It wasn't much, but we knew God would make it enough.

Sitting at the table that night at the guest house, in front of a warm plate of food and a cold drink...  it was hard to chew -- to chew through not only the food, but the reality of the multitudes that go hungry when elsewhere, there is more than enough.  Thousands of children die each day from hunger and preventable causes.  Yet God gives more than enough from which we are to bless.

More and more, as I travel to these countries and walk hand in hand, heart in heart with the poor, "rich" loses the hold it once had.  I don't want stuff.  I don't want wealth or riches.  Black Friday makes me want to throw up.  I want only to spend of myself in order to save someone else.  I don't want what the world has to offer -- I want enough.  Simply enough.  For me, for them.

I want enough compassion for everyone, by everyone, everywhere, in every situation.

I want enough understanding.

I want enough awareness.

I want enough love.  Love in action.  Love as a verb.

I want enough service to others, at home, next door, in our communities, churches, throughout the world.

I want enough of us to hear the call.

I want more than enough of us to respond.  Radically.  Urgently.  Lovingly.

And enough mercy and grace for myself as I find my way through this.

"The call of orphan care is not a call to simply "save the orphan". The call of orphan care is to share in the suffering of the orphan. It's to intentionally position yourself, your family, your community, to suffer alongside the orphan. To say, 'Your suffering, is now my suffering. Your story, is now my story. I willingly position myself to suffer alongside you.' "
-- Aaron Ivey, Adopted - The Cost Of Love.  

That seems, to me, to be the very definition of Compassion.  For the orphan, the poor, the sick, the widow, the broken, the sinner, the lost, the lonely...  even the rich --  for all our neighbors.  Compassion.  Love.  Hands and feet.  The true body.  Rather than turn our backs, shun, give the silent treatment, judge, shift the responsibility and the call elsewhere, to someone else, anyone else...  what if we ALL joined in the suffering, the brokenness, and simply loved IN the trenches, simply loved and gave and served and looked and saw and shared and became one in Him until it was enough, even knowing it will never be enough until He returns?

It starts with me.
Sunday, October 28, 2012

All Things New: Book Review

It was with great anticipation that I awaited Lynn Austin’s newest labor of love, her book “All Things New”, especially given the theme of the book – the Reconstruction Era.  I have read all of Ms. Austin’s previous works on the subject of American slavery in the 1800’s, along with other fiction and non-fiction books on the same theme, but had never read any works focused exclusively on the Reconstruction Era.  In short, this area followed the Emancipation Declaration of 1863, which declared it against the law to own slaves in the U.S.  

From the first few pages, the author transports us to the White Oak plantation in the deep south, owned by the Weatherly family in 1865.  The civil war had just ended after devastating life and land in the south, and both whites and their former slaves were left to pick up the pieces and try to adjust to a new reality.  Families could no longer own slaves or force them to work, yet they depended on the help as their large plantations could not thrive and survive without the labor they had been accustomed to.  Black slaves were free, but having been born into slavery and living in fear of their former masters, many of whom still held on to old traditions and beliefs, the blacks were not yet free in spirit.  Furthermore, without the resources to own land or rebuild their lives, the former slaves had nowhere to turn but to the people who held them captive by force and fear for generations.

All Things New follows the individual lives of several families following the war.  The main character, twenty-two year old Josephine, has lost her father and brother to the war, and is learning to adapt to the loss and dramatic changes in her life alongside her mother, sister and brother.  Her mother,  Eugenia, tries to deal with the changes by trying to bring back the grandeur of the past, controlling her daughters and the freedmen that stayed behind on the plantation, and clawing through her grief at anything that she believes will bring her happiness and social status back.  Meanwhile, her brother returns from the war dealing with his bitterness by plotting revenge on the Yankees and the former slaves.  Their attitudes and actions seems appalling to Josephine, who has befriended their former slaves and sees things through a new heart.  

Set in an era when women and girls are raised to submit without question to authority and elders and to defer all decisions to their parents or spouses, imagine the turmoil when young Josephine begins to question her family’s position on slavery and begins to follow God’s heart for the least of these?  

What does one do when she questions God in the midst of all that’s been taken from her, through the drastic changes in her life, and yet finds herself following a calling that’s against the grain, creating more challenges and changes than she’s ever known? 

This book not only has an invaluable and thought-provoking view on the realities of slavery and the transition as slaves gain freedom and their masters change their ways, but it also has some of the best answers to timeless questions such as why God sometimes seems not to answer questions, and why the characters who resisted change experienced such trials and challenges.

I appreciated how many unique characters were brought in to the story to give us a complete picture of the way our past, differences and personalities affect how we deal with change, as well as how God uses each one of us to redeem what's been lost.  There is profound wisdom and solid truth in this book, and it's beautifully embedded into a story you won't soon forget.  Although the author mostly focuses on the lives of three strong women -- a mother, a daughter, and a slave -- the author beautifully weaves in the stories of the men that surround these women, and the effect these men have on the lives around them.

Every work of Lynn Austin’s is impeccable in the way it transports us and causes us to really consider the lessons that can be learned from past generations and from the trials of life.  This book, though, takes it to a whole new level.   Whether or not you have an interest in history, slavery or even Christianity, this book is meant to be widely read and distributed.  The stories are as relevant today as they ever were – in terms of slavery, yes, but in terms of bitterness, hardened hearts, following God’s calling, questioning God, seeking revenge, wisdom through change, and loving one another as He loves us.

I couldn’t put it down.  I even found myself taking notes of some of the answers God provided through certain characters of the story, mainly the wise Mr. Chandler!

This book, although new, is already a timeless classic in my heart.  If Heaven has a library, this is surely in it.

Run, don’t walk...  Get.This.Book.TODAY.   

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin communications, Inc.  Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group".  
Thursday, October 04, 2012

Home For Haiti Support Letter - Nov 12-18 2012

God has grown and challenged me through the mission field in the past 12 months.  Ghana in November of 2011, where God provided the resources to shelter up to 100 rescued child slaves and blessed the negotiations to release 2 children from slavery.   Cameroon in February of 2012, helping with school and water development projects for children and communities living in extreme poverty.  

Priceless experiences and growth, but carrying the Cross has a precious cost.

While the faraway mission field had made a significant, life-(and-faith)-altering impact on me, my home mission field was about to suffer a serious blow.  I came home from Cameroon to discover that my spouse had not only lost his job, but worse, had chosen to leave our family/marriage.  With our family irrevocably restructured and the income halved, to say it has been a year of loss would be an understatement.  That is why I had not anticipated God being willing to use me in my shaken, stumbling state, to go to the faraway mission field once again and serve Him by faith.   In time, yes, but now?  What could I offer in this season of loss?  How could I be the hands and feet to the broken when I, too, felt just as lost and broken? 

God told me the same thing He told me when we faced raising $30,000 for Ghana’s rescued child slaves…

“I’m not asking whether you can do this.  I already know you can’t.      
I’m asking whether you trust that your God is sufficient in this.”

My answer was an apprehensive, subdued, yet faithful “Yes”.  Over and over again, God uses the weak – like me. My life has changed, yes, but God Himself has not changed – and that’s why He calls me once again.  I will trust and serve Him.


In November of 2012, I will be traveling with my 11 year old daughter Jillian as well as my best friend and Ghana team member, Tia, to the Les Cayes region on the South West shores of Haiti.  Our primary project will be to provide a home reconstruction for one family so that their home will become a dry, secure safe haven. The Castel family lives on the outskirts of Les Cayes with extended family in a house that is crumbling around them. They have 3 young children, one of whom has disabilities. Medgina suffered brain trauma at the age of 3. Now 11 years old, she has repeated Grade 2 several times, and is yet unable to reach past this grade level academically due to the learning disabilities and memory loss caused by the brain trauma. Jillian is Medgina’s sponsor, and also suffers from learning disabilities as well as autism, and like Medgina, struggles in school and in life.  Unlike Medgina, Jillian has a warm bed and a safe home to sleep in.  We seek to bridge the gap and provide relief for this family, and at the same time, grow Jillian’s heart for the mission field.


Beyond the home restoration, we will be serving the needs of the community that surrounds Medgina’s family, distributing school supplies as well as seeking to tend to the needs of the “restavek” child slaves and orphans in the area, much as we did in Ghana.  We will simply be God’s vessels, led by Him, seemingly empty, but pouring out from His abundance, into the lives of the people of Les Cayes and Torbek in Haiti. 


Prayer, first and foremost.

$825 for the home reconstruction
$900 for Jillian’s travel expenses (including immunizations, passport, flights, transportation, food, lodging)
$750 for Jolaine’s travel expenses (including flights, transportation, food, lodging)
$750 for Tia’s travel expenses (including flights, transportation, food, lodging)
All funds over and above this will be poured into the needs of the Les Cayes and Torbek communities.

We are currently at 30% of the funds raised!!

In Canada, tax-deductible donations can be made by cheque, cash or Paypal.  For payment address and instructions, please contact 

CANADIAN Paypal payments can be made using this link:  

In the U.S., tax deductible donations can be made to our organization, Worldwide Relief of Children in Captivity (WRCC) through the PayPal button provided on my blog sidebar at:  
Donations can be accepted this way from anywhere, but receipts for PayPal transactions on the sidebar link will only be provided to U.S. residents.


We have taking this trip on our own, not through any group or organization. This trip is ALL about faith. We are already growing through this, challenged and stretched by what’s ahead, and learning to completely rely on God.  While there, we trust God to keep us safe, provide our resources, guide every single step, lead us to every need He will fill through us, and to teach us through the people of Haiti.  This isn’t “our” trip nor “our” plan, but His – and yet through this, He will not only serve the needs of His people in Haiti, but He will invest into our growth and our lives.  Will you invest in us too?

Please be in prayer for this trip and for God’s provisions to be sufficient, even overflowing.  We urge you to pray for our safety! We are aware of the potential dangers and are asking God to surround us and supply security as we serve. Haiti is a place of unrest, disease, spiritual warfare, and extreme poverty.  It will be unlike our experiences in Africa.  Much more importantly, Haiti is a place of hope and healing… for them… for us.

We ask that you continue in prayer throughout the days ahead, and while we are in country.  Your prayers and support are vital to this mission.  If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to let me know. 

In His grip of grace,

Jolaine (JD) Richardson
Thursday, August 16, 2012

Home For Haiti: Nov 2012

We are Haiti Bound.  

Not unlike our mission work in Ghana in 2011, this seed, too, was planted through a series of letters from one of our Compassion children.  This time, it is my ten year old daughter’s Compassion child, Medgina, whose letters stirred our hearts to rise to action.  

Jillian began sponsoring Medgina in 2010.  At first, it seemed they simply had their age in common.  Medgina is a mere 24 days younger than Jillian. It wasn’t until this past year that we discovered that Jillian and Medgina had much more in common than we were aware of.  It was a hint of what was to come...  although we couldn’t see what He would do, we could certainly feel it coming.

As a young child, Jillian was very sick.  She weighed barely 12 pounds at a year of age, and spent most of her first year in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals.  The answers eluded us until she was 14 months old.  Once we understood the problems, we thought it would be smooth sailing ahead... but as she grew, it became more and more apparent that there were other underlying issues.  

By the time she started Kindergarten, some would have labeled her as “non-functional”.  She could not cope in a classroom setting and had no social skills.  She could not dress herself or handle much in the way of personal hygiene.  She would resist eye contact, would rarely smile, and was partially mute.  Add to that extreme sensory issues and the inability to transition from one activity/plan to another, and life seemed like one colossal minefield.   

She wasn’t the only one who was overwhelmed.  The moment I opened my eyes each morning, the minefield came to mind, and I would cry out to God before even lifting my head off the pillow. 

Months later, my suspicions were confirmed.  My daughter was on the autism spectrum.  

Unlike the brain of neuro-typical children, Jillian’s brain was extremely and constantly overwhelmed by the world around her, sending her into a dizzying sensory overload.  It was akin to an allergy to stress – and everything stressed her out.  Her brain would shut-down to self-preserve, to cope.  It was exhausting, intense, and heartbreaking – for all of us, including her.  Our child was trapped inside this bubble where everything seemed to cause her anguish.

On top of this, testing revealed learning disabilities and central auditory processing disorder. 

You know that story about planning a trip to Italy and instead, landing in Holland?  That was us.  And although we’ve adapted well to “Holland”, and Jillian has made tremendous progress, it’s still us.

Meanwhile, roughly two thousand miles away, in a south west corner of Haiti, Medgina also faces similar challenges.  A brain trauma/injury at the age of 3 robbed her of her ability to memorize or remember things.  She has repeated Grade 2 several times, and is yet unable to reach past Grade 2 due to her learning disabilities.  

She may also be facing other symptoms and effects of the brain trauma that were not detailed in the letters written to us by her family.  They mention her challenges in practically every letter.  It obviously is something that impacts them deeply. 

I get it.  I do.  

How beautiful of God to join our families together in this depth of understanding and compassion...  Compassion literally means “to suffer with” – it is not simply the act of our hearts going out to others, or the ability to put ourselves in their situation and do onto others, or even helping someone...  it’s coming alongside of someone and entering their place of suffering, to carry the weight with them, to feel the cost. 

We are there, in the suffering, we understand, yet we don’t fully understand. 

Unlike Jillian, whose access to specialist and therapy has helped give her a new life, access to specialists is limited for Medgina.  Compassion has assisted Megina by taking her to see various doctors, but no specialist has yet been able to help with this situation. 

Jillian has sleep issues that compound her condition, but unlike Medgina, she has a warm, clean bed to sleep in each night, and a solid, safe house to shelter her.  Medgina had neither.    

As a mom, my brain is stretched to the limit on a daily basis, and I don’t have these added challenges.  I can’t begin to imagine brain stretched to the limit on a daily basis, with the added challenge of a brain injury/trauma and learning disabilities, and then sleeping on the ground in a crumbling house? 

I don’t know about you, but after a few days of camping on the cold hard ground while away from home, I’m more than ready for my soft, warm bed and a good night’s sleep.

Except Medgina isn’t camping.  This is her daily reality, and beyond lack of proper sleep, she can’t seem to shake this recurring nightmare. 

When Jillian and I learned of her situation with the lack of a proper bed, we sent a family gift in the amount of $175, hoping it would cover the cost of a bed.  We knew we couldn’t heal her brain, but we could help her sleep so that her brain could benefit from proper rest.  We know what it’s like when Jillian doesn’t sleep well.

That did not solve the issue of a crumbling house, though. 

Until God said “Build one, then go.” 

I have a confession to make...  I said “Yes” to Him immediately, wholeheartedly, but not without a heavy heart, a knowing of the cost.  

Few know the life-price we paid for our work in Ghana last year, and for my work in Cameroon.  It is a price that cannot be spoken of on this blog, save to say that those who pursue Christ intensely are intensely pursued by the enemy.  The enemy only comes to steal, kill and destroy, and so, yes, there has been a high personal price for our pursuit of justice, and I know the weight and cost of the cross in the face of what God was asking of me.

Still, I knew His hand, and followed His trail of seeds.  He had already begun to provide, before we even knew what His plan was. He would continue.

I will go, even in this season of thirst.  

Even in this season of brokenness.  

I will go even though I have little to offer.  

I trust the Shepherd.  He will provide.  He will continue to provide, not only for the people we will serve, but for us as we serve Him.  Doesn’t Scripture say that one who waters others will himself be watered?

So, after months of prayer and preparations, the travel is booked, the plans under way. 

The simple goal is to raise $825 to help Medgina’s family repair their family home.  

In addition to raising these funds, we will be raising an additional $550 (each) for Jillian, Tia and I to travel to Haiti in November of 2012 to do mission work in Les Cayes, the city closest to the town where Medgina lives.  This covers the cost of airfare, accommodations and in-country travel expenses.  

Any funds raised above and beyond these needs will be poured into  mission work in Les Cayes.  We want to invest beyond Medgina’s family, to the community that surrounds her by serving and giving of ourselves, and by sharing the blessings received.  

We will serve by simply following God’s voice and serving where He leads, how He leads, leaving all the details and plans into His care.  He knows the needs before we do, and will direct us to them so that we can pour ourselves out for Him.  It’s all that we have to offer... 

I’ll be honest – time in mission work has taught me that there is little I can bring in terms of an offering for these people...  nothing but love in action and the hope that it will be enough through Him.  I am just as broken as they are, maybe more so...  God is bringing us together for each other, and for Him, and no matter what, my answer is “Yes” to His call.  

I have struggled for months to put this into words, and in the end, it’s Tia’s words that said it best, that spoke my heart.  Please, would you take a moment to read them here?  

This will be Jillian’s first time on the away-from-home mission field, and given her heart for the poor, her intuitive and experienced understanding of brokenness, I know that it will fuel the flame in her heart for future mission work.  Please pray as her heart continues to break for the things that break His, for all of us as we lead her gently into this calling.  Pray as we lead her through this with the added challenges that she faces.

The house repairs may or may not be done by the time we arrive in Haiti, depending on how long it takes to raise the funds.  We will either see the finished results when we meet Medgina, or we will see the need first hand, in person.   It will be in God’s hands, and in Compassion’s care.  We trust both completely and explicitly. 

A few days ago, our tickets booked and our words painstakingly finding their way onto this page, Jillian and I received a letter from Medgina that caught our breath...   Before we had booked the trip, before putting this into words, she had been praying for this very thing... Before her prayers reached us, they had reached God... except it was "too late" ;)  God had already answered them, knowing her heart's cries before she formed the words.  

"She'd be very happy if you could spend a day with her in Haiti, seeing you face-to-face... she'd do so many things with you such as swimming in the sea and playing..."

God knows the desires of these children's hearts, and can not resist answering their prayers before their prayers reach our ears, much as He did with Ato Sam's prayers for us to serve the children of Ghana.  

We will be face to face with Medgina in less than 90 days, sharing with her the story of how God answered her prayers before she spoke them, and showing her that Jesus is Compassion, and Compassion is Love.

I hope that you will join me in praying for our mission trip to Haiti, and that we can count on your support. 

How can you help?

Pray as our hearts prepare to be broken more deeply.

Spread the word – use this link: in your blog posts, Facebook messages, and tweets. 

Pray against spiritual attacks from the enemy.  Please, do not underestimate the protective power of prayers, and the difference it makes.

Sow seeds into our mission fund.  We can not do this without your support.  Donations can be made through Paypal directly to Interlink Ministries (link in sidebar, upper right).  Tax receipts for U.S. citizens will be issued.

Pray for the funds to be stretched and multiplied.

Pray as we fly with United once more...  Remember the saga from our Ghana mission trip?  It continues...  (read here)

Follow our journey in November of 2012. 

Encourage us as we prepare, as we serve in Haiti, and again once we’ve returned home, adjusting to how He has re-shaped our hearts.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

God's Sword (2009)

Lately, I've been reflecting on this devotional / blog post I wrote back in 2009.  It's buried deep in my blog somewhere, but I thought I'd dust it off, and post it again.  It's worth sharing.

When we step aside and allow God to use our lives for His purpose, putting our entire life in His hands and giving ourselves completely to Him, it is much like becoming His sword for His battle. We don't always understand the battle, what He will ask us to do, where He will take us, or even His purpose, His plan. 

We simply know that it won't be easy and that at the end of each battle, we may feel as though all we've gained is a chink in our blade... 

Yet, we are to trust our Master, we are to fully die to self. 

Does a sword ever question its Master? Does a sword ever hesitate in its Master's hands? When is a sword not brave, not willing, even knowing that its Master will not set it down until the battle is finished and won?

Can you relate to this?  Would you share some of your recent "God's Sword" experiences?
Monday, July 16, 2012

I Am Second: Book Review

I Am Second.

Often surrounded by a worldly obsession for first place, the book title stood out like a breath of fresh air.  I knew that inside the covers of this book, I'd find people I could relate to.

Then, I read the description:

"Countless stories. One incredible ending.
A major league baseball player. a Tennessee pastor. A reality TV star. a single mom. A multi-platinum rocker. What do these people have in common? They''ve all hit bottom. And none of them stayed there.
Famous or unfamiliar, these are the stories of real people who reached the end of their strength, the end of their control, and found the most surprising truths. It taught them not to rely on self or substance but to lean on the only completely reliable source of love, hope, and freedom: the God who created them. Shocking in their honesty, inspiring in their courage, these testimonies are critical reminders that no one is too far from God to find him."

I know a thing of two about being at rock bottom.  I've ricocheted off the rock bottom several times in my life.  I have intimately known desperate times and hardships, horrific life circumstances, and been saved out of impossible situations.  I have already learned that I, too, am second, but given that I'm going through yet another rock bottom situation, I was interested in reading this book to learn from and be encouraged by the experiences of others.

The sentence that got to me?  "They've all hit rock bottom, and none of them stayed there."

I didn't want to stay here either, and thought the book was worth reading if only to reinforce what I already knew -- God won't let me stay here.

I really liked the book format, which shared story after story of successful people who had made it in life after facing what seems on the surface as insurmountable and impossible.  Some of the names in this book might surprise you... Michael W. Smith?  I had no idea.  It's a reminder that there is always more underneath the surface, that we are all broken and in need of a Savior, not just in hard times, but for a lifetime.  

These aren't "feel good stories", they're hard life lessons, hard truth, each with a common thread -- Jesus was their only way out, and Jesus was the difference in changing their situation around completely.  There is no other way to explain the power He had in their lives.  In those desperately dark places, they each reached the end of themselves, and accepted that they were second and as such, they had to rely strictly on God to get them out of the pit.

Each story finished with QR Codes for more similar stories.  I thought this was a brilliant and interactive way to include more material, which eventually led to searches, videos, etc of other I Am Second stories, blog posts, articles.

All in all, this was like hardcore Chicken Soup For The Soul, except better -- the chicken soup was the appetizer, it came second...  Jesus Himself is the main course that sustains.

Two thumbs up.  (I only have two thumbs...  otherwise I'd give it five.)

"Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson".  

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Religion Vs. Relationship -- Teenage Perspective

At the end of June, our church welcomed 350 K-5 kids for our annual VBS program.  As you can imagine, with that many children pouring into the church every evening for several hours, many hands were needed on deck to lead small groups, host games, and help serve.

The Children’s Pastor has asked if any of my three kids could come and lend a hand alongside of me, and on one Tuesday night, my youngest and oldest were available to help.  It was great to have my oldest alongside of me that night, as it is rare for him to join me at church.  Having been raised in a spiritually divided home, he is still working out his own path, his own decisions.  I lead and let go, lead and let go, lead and let go...  and pray endlessly.

He was assigned to help with a group of Kindergarten aged boys, who were delighted to see this tall, cool teenage boy sit with them to play and hang out.  In no time, he had boys crawling all over him and chatting up a storm with him.

The entire evening, the church was alive with the Holy Spirit, there was such a beautiful energy all around.  The band played for the kids, the kids danced and worshiped, the lessons were powerful and thought provoking.  My son quietly took it all in, watching, observing, processing what he was experiencing.

On our way home, my son reflected out loud on what he had seen. 

“If I went to church, I think that’s the kind of church I’d want to go to.”

Me – “I understand... I love our church family.  It’s a great church.  Thank you for coming tonight, it meant a lot to me.  We really appreciated your help.”

Son – “No problem.  Hey mom...?  How does the church afford all the expenses, the building, the people, the programs, the music?”

Me – “It does take a lot of funds to run a church like this.  It runs on donations from the people who attend – we’ve talked about it before, it’s called tithing.  Tithe comes from the word tenth, and it’s believed that ten percent of all that we have – money, time, resources, everything, should be given back to God.  That’s just a number, though, some give less, some give more.”

Son – “I can’t imagine ever being religious enough to give money to a church.  That just blows my mind.  When I get my pay, I want it all to myself.”

Me – “The word religious, keeps coming up in our conversations.  I know that this is how you see it, but can I share with you another perspective?  To me, it’s not about religion, it’s about relationship.  To me, religion is rules to conform to because we have to, because it’s expected of us.  To me, it’s about relationship.  I don’t love you because I have to love you, son, I love you because I want to, I can’t help but love you, it pours out of me.  I don’t take care of you because I have to, it’s because I love you and want to take care of you.  It’s a matter of relationship.  Yes, motherhood is such that it’s expected of me to provide for you, love you, guide you, teach you...  but if I did that only because I had to, it wouldn’t be the same ,would it?”

Son – “I suppose... but that’s still a lot of money.”

Me – “How much do you love the young woman you’re courting?”

Son – “Oh my, it’s impossible to put that into words, mom.  I love her... beyond measure, like you’d say.  I can’t live without her.”

Me – “When you get paid next week, say you earn $110 on that pay, and she asked you to give her some of your pay. How much of your pay would you be willing to part with in order to give to her?  How much does she mean to you?”

Son – without hesitation “All of it!!  I’d give her everything I have, you know I would!”

Me – “Yes, love, I know you would, I know she means that much to you...  and that’s relationship.  It’s not because you have to, it’s because your heart desires to.  Imagine for a second how much you love her... close your eyes and imagine this...  then hear me when I tell you that as much as you love her, I love Jesus and God immeasurably more.  So now, tell me, how much would I give to God if He asked me for something?”

Son – “Hmm....”

Me – “I believe that all I have has been given to me by God.  He provided my job to me, my funds, my time, my resources, everything that I have was His first and He blessed me with it – who am I to hold back from sharing it with those He loves?  That is not religion, love, that is relationship.  All the rules of the church, the rules in the Bible, I do my best to follow them not because I have to, but because I truly want to, I desire to please God this way, and I see the wisdom in it.  I don’t do it perfectly, but I do it passionately – it’s the least that I can do for God, you know?”

Son – “I think I’m starting to understand.”

Me – “I think so too, bud.  I think so.”
Saturday, June 23, 2012

Poverty, Priorities, Perspective

As recently shared on Compassion's website:

It's been a rough year. 

Our family structure has been irrevocably altered, and with those changes, along with job loss, our household income has been significantly reduced. 

In the years past, I had cut back my expenses significantly so that I could make child sponsorship a financial priority, but that meant that there was little left to cut back on now. 

It's hard to cut back on groceries. Electricity. A mortgage. Property taxes. At least not without drastic changes, and drastic changes are inevitable at this point. 

I knew it would come, the concern from close friends.  "What about the sponsorships?"

It's easy to think that given the financial hardship, one of my first thoughts would be to stop financial support of the children we sponsor. After all, aren't we in tough times too? 

While I understand the concern, who would I choose to let go? 

Ato Sam, who calls me "Mother" and whose lengthy letters drew us to Ghana in 2011 to combat child slavery? 
Novet, who is "studying to become the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry" for Uganda and who leads me spiritually? 
Noah, who went from a temporary shelter to a semi-permanent house on a mere $75 family gift? 
Victoria, who is visually impaired and disabled? 
Suwanna, who after years of encouragement, finally learned to write? 
George & George? 
The others?

As I consider the value of these sponsored children, I look at my own three children, Brandon, Joshua, and Jillian, and I ask myself, "Which would I choose to let go?" 

The answer is swift and simple. 


None have any less value than the other. My children, sponsored or birthed, are not my own, but God's, and each have equal value in His eyes and in mine.   

The reality is that these families are facing financial hardship so much more extreme than this, their choices often leaving life and death hanging in the balance. 

God will continue to provide for them, just as He continues to provide for me. It can be as simple as Him providing opportunities for me -- mowing lawns, collecting recyclables, taking on some photography clients. There are options, but discontinuing sponsorship is not an option for me. 

Whatever it takes, we will get through this temporary situation, and in time, the continued sponsorships will get these families through their temporary situation too. 

If anything, this situation has helped deepen my commitment to these families, and my perspective on the choices they face. And for that, I am grateful.

Philippians 4:11-13 -- I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.

Some minor changes on this blog:
Comments on {CompassionCan} will continue to be enabled (and welcomed) but will be not be published for privacy reasons.  The kids and I deeply appreciate your prayers during this difficult season of our lives.