I’m an advocate for orphans and other vulnerable children. I haven’t always been.
If a child had stood before me needing a voice, I’d have spoken up – because I can be a real Mama Bear when there’s a hurting child involved. But when it came to the children not standing before me, for the most part I was silent. Ignorant.
The bottom line is: I was a professing Christian – a Believer – but in respect to caring for the world’s most vulnerable children, I wasn’t much of a Follower. Oh, I gave money to a children’s home in Texas, continuing the legacy that my grandparents and parents had started years ago, but I’d never really discovered this truth:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
For starters, I’d let myself become stained by the world – the world that subtly kept my focus on Me, my family, my friends, and a few “needy” people who occasionally made it to the top of my priority list. To anyone looking, I was a generous person, but seriously, how could I possibly think about being there for even one parentless child when I was already falling short of the Perfect Parent Gold Standard with my own two children? How could I rationalize stretching the family finances any further, splitting my time to care for another child, when we were already stressed?
Even if we hadn’t had any challenges of our own, why would I ever risk being able to give my own biological children “everything they deserved” by taking in another child to feed, clothe, educate? I’d just leave the orphans for the couples who needed to adopt. They really weren’t my responsibility. Even if they were, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
And the subtle lies of the World continued…
In September 2007, I made my first trip to Brazil. I met orphaned children who were considered to be “at mortal risk”. Children who, if they hadn’t been rescued from the realities of their lives, could have only hoped to live another 3-5 years at the most. Some were biological orphans; their parents were dead. But the others? Most were social orphans. Children who – for reasons like abandonment, abuse, exploitation – had no family to care for them.
But they still weren’t my problem. They had the amazing staff at Hope Unlimited for Children to care for them.
In October 2007, my husband became president of Hope Unlimited for Children. Ouch. Even though we continued to live in the U.S., the children’s stories from Brazil invaded my comfortable home. Drug trafficking, assassinations, pre-adolescent prostitution. Bleedings for voodoo sacrifices, death threats, scars – visible and invisible.
Working on behalf of these children was exactly where God wanted my family. The kids? They had become my problem.
Over time I met Camilla and Mauri and Wesley. I met Larissa and Franciella. I looked into their eyes. I heard their stories. I spent extended time with Hope Unlimited’s founder and met social workers, houseparents, and teachers. I saw their commitment – and their hearts.
In the midst of horrific pasts and challenging futures, I saw peace and joy … love and hope.
I discovered Truth:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)
My years of ignorant self-focus were exposed.
How could I have been so absorbed in my own world – with just enough “doing for others” to feel good about myself – and ignore a hurting world of children? A world with 153 million orphaned children.
Life was much easier when I was ignorant, when I simply shook my head in brief sorrow then looked the other way because
- I wasn’t “called” to care for orphans
- the task was too big
- I had no training with which to address the problem
- I already had a busy life – and responsibility to my own family
- all of the above
Any chance you’ve listened to the subtle lies of the world – and said the same things?
It’s now been almost seven years since my first meal around a table with heart. Seven years of seeing children grow up, graduate, start families of their own. Seven years of watching generational cycles of poverty, abuse, and neglect come to an end. Finally.
As lives of once hopeless children were transformed virtually before my very eyes, I’ve seen my own need. I’ve begun to realize just how much of my life I’ve spent being a Believer in God and in the saving grace of Jesus… but failing to take the next steps to become a Follower.
Life truly was easier when I was ignorant, but Christians aren’t called to take the easy path. We’re called to pick up our cross every day and follow. To focus not on our own plans and desires but rather on doing the will of God.
And so, I guess I’m a late bloomer. Better late than never. Renaissance Man and I (at 56 and 53 years of age) are making some changes. Changes that, in many ways, feel like the proverbial jumping from the frying pan into the fire. You see, although we’ve been pressing further into a hurting world for awhile now, we still live at a very comfortable distance. That’s not good enough. As Christians, we’re called to do more. To live a “dirtier” faith. To reach beyond ourselves in ways more difficult than taking a meal to a sick neighbor or handing a box of granola bars to a man holding a cardboard sign at the stoplight.
If you visit here often, you already know we’re selling our old house – downsizing our life to upsize our faith. I’ve also started training to be a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children – preparing for a whole bunch of broken hearts. But last week we took another step of faith: We volunteered to be a host family through Safe Families for Children. To provide a short-term safe home for children when a parent needs surgery or drug rehab or … but they have no support system to which to turn. How will we do that – with travel and planning to move and…? Only God knows, but we are trusting Him to provide for our needs and, more importantly, to use us to provide for the needs of vulnerable children and their stressed families.
Today I want to encourage you to search your heart. Are you, like I was for so long, resting secure in your belief in God – even the resurrection of Jesus – but not taking the next step to truly be a Follower? What would your life (and your community) look like if, on occasion, you skipped your usual tablescape, manicure, Bible study group … and volunteered instead at a children’s home, crisis pregnancy center, women’s shelter? What if that evolved into longterm commitment to care for “the least of these”?
What if you discovered that the answer to “Isn’t there more to life?” is YES? Would that be so bad?
Before you answer, I should warn you: The past few years have proved this journey to be one with a lot of hills and valleys and blind curves – but there’s a beautiful Light that has illuminated each step out of my comfort zone… each step spent learning to embrace religion that is pure and undefiled.
I should also warn you: There are a lot more Believers than there are Followers, and sometimes it’s a very lonely path. I’d sure love for you to join me on it. We can encourage each other… and hold each other accountable.
Is there something tugging at your heart?
Something pulling you out of your comfort zone?
Some voice whispering that there’s still “more” to faith than what you’ve experienced so far?
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
I’ll be joining:
Soli Deo Gloria at Finding Heaven
Testimony Tuesday at Holly Barrett
Playdates with God at The Wellspring
Unite at Rich Faith Rising
Titus 2 Tuesday at Cornerstone Confessions
#TellHisStory at Jennifer Dukes Lee