Thursday, April 28, 2011

Guest Post on Foster Care

I know not everyone has a husband that has so much access to youth in need like I do. In fact, outside of our adoption of Justice, every single person who has stayed at our house for long periods of time have come through the means of my husband’s youth basketball program (and the Kingdom Hoops hosting program with Ghana). So, I think our situation is pretty uncommon. For that reason, I asked a friend to write a guest post for our blog regarding foster care, which I am posting below. For all intensive purposes, I feel like Jake and I are doing ‘unofficial’ foster care parenting in some sort of strange way. There are a lot of similarities, and I think that is why my heart gets so excited to hear about foster parenting stories. For those of you out there who feel that you could be a blessing to youth in need by opening your home, you may need to take steps to head directly into the path of those who are broken. Signing up to become a licensed foster care parent is one way in which you can do that. For those of you living in Iowa, that journey starts here:

Also, there is NO COST to become a foster parent. Everything is funded through the Department of Human Services. WOW! Adoption through foster care is also completely inexpensive compared to traditional adoptions through an agency. I might have another post coming up soon about adopting through foster care.

So, below is the post from our friends, Tim & Christy McCollough. This post was actually written for their blog last fall after a group of us were able to speak on adoption and foster care at our church’s family ministry. This is a synopsis of their speaking segment….if you go to the audio message that she refers to, you will also get to hear Jake and I speak on our adoption journey, as well as a few others from our church, and also a family’s experience on hosting a student from Rosebud.

On Foster Parenting and Adoption by Tim & Christy McCollough....

Two weeks ago Tim and I were given the opportunity to speak on a panel about foster care and adoption at our church's family ministry meeting for parents. I thought I would post a rough script of what we said for any of you who might be interested. If you'd rather listen to the talk, visit our church website, scroll down, and click on the talk entitled Adoption and Foster Care 11/17.

We were asked to share why we decided to become foster parents, why we are considering adoption, what some of our initial fears were, what has sacrificial love looked like in our situation, how has God come through for us.

Why did you decide to do foster care?

Early on in our dating relationship, we went to a conference down in Texas with The Salt Company, called Destinations. The emphasis of the conference was missions, specifically on following through on the call God gave to Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3. (God blessed Abraham so that he could bless other people through him.) Since then we have felt strongly that we have been blessed…so we should be a blessing to others, and have prayed for years together about what that would/should look like.

When we read passages like Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more,” we see ourselves in the category of those who have been given much, and we know that because of this, God expects us to use our resources for His glory and His kingdom, rather than simply our own comfort and pleasure.

About 3 years ago we moved here, and bought a 4 bedroom house even though we were a family of only 3 at the time. Tim really wanted to fill up the extra basement bedroom, with a college student renter or something. I (selfishly!) really just wanted an empty guestroom!! One Sunday at Cornerstone there was a flyer in the bulletin about a foster care meeting…and the Holy Spirit did a number on my heart. I mentioned the idea (very hesitantly) to Tim, and he took the idea and ran with it. A few weeks later we were signed up for training.

Why are we considering adoption?

Two years ago I (Tim) came across an organization through a Facebook friend that had an incredible mission statement and general philosophy regarding what a Christian response should be to abortion. “The Zoe Foundation exists to further the cause of adoption as a positive alternative to abortion in America.”

Randy Bohlender, board member of The Zoe Foundation and missionary with The International House of Prayer, explains it like this: "…in order to truly be "pro-life," we should be willing to step up and provide a mother considering abortion with another option for her child. Mothers who are considering abortion will be much more likely to listen to the gospel message from us, as believers, if they see us willing to put our actions where our mouths are, and not just tell them to give their babies life, but offer to raise those babies for them."

We love that this group doesn't just place children in homes, but seeks to place them in believers' homes. They don’t just take care of the physical needs of orphans, they also share the gospel with them and their mothers, and help take care of the needs of these mothers who choose life. They work alongside churches…who should be leading this charge rather than the state!

All along, the primary driving conviction that has been leading us to prayerfully consider adoption is the simple fact that in order to truly be "pro-life," we should be willing to step up and provide a mother considering abortion with another option for her child. If abortion truly were eradicated, 3700 babies would need a home EACH DAY in the U.S. Are we willing to say, “please don’t abort your baby, we will take care of him or her?” Which is why these words from Russell Moore’s Adopted for Life have really resonated with us:

"Mothers who are considering abortion will be much more likely to listen to the gospel message from us, as believers, if they see us willing to put our actions where our mouths are, and not just tell them to give their babies life, but offer to raise those babies for them."

"Not every believer will stand praying outside an abortion clinic. Not every believer will take a pregnant teenager into his or her guest bedroom. Not every believer is called to adopt children. But every believer is called to recognize Jesus in the face of his little brothers and sisters when he decides to show up in their lives, even if it interrupts everything else." (p 81)

"What if a mighty battalion of Christian parents would open their hearts and their homes to unwanted infants--infants some so-called "clinics" would like to see carried out with the medical waste? It might mean that next Christmas there'll be one more stocking at the chimney at your house--a new son or daughter who escaped the abortionist's knife or the orphanage's grip to find at your knee the grace of a carpenter's Son." (p83-4)

What were some of your fears going into it?

Our main fear going into foster parenting was the effect it would have on our biological children: that a foster child would injure or abuse them, or influence them in negative ways, by modeling bad behavior, bad language, or by taking away our attention and causing them to act out.

We prayed a lot about this, and talked a lot about this, and primarily it came down to us taking a step out in faith and trusting that God has an even greater vested interest in protecting our children than we do. And knowing that it is SO GOOD for our kids to grow up witnessing us sharing our faith, and living our faith, by caring for these kids, every day of their lives. It became as much of us doing foster care for the benefit of our own kids, rather than in spite of what it might ‘do to’ our kids.

In addition, we try to make wise decisions about what kinds of kids we take in. We’ve said ‘no’ to probably 25 out of 30 calls from IowaKidsNet over the last year, asking us to take children into our home, either because the timing wasn’t right or we weren’t equipped to handle their specific behaviors, or because they didn’t match our preferences. We choose to only take girls, since we have young girls. We feel it wouldn’t be safe to expose our girls to older boys who may try acting out physically or sexually towards them. We also don't take kids who are physically aggressive, or fire-starters, to name just a few of the things on our list!

Our other fear was that we would take a child in who would act out or not do what we asked, and we would have no idea how to handle it. And honestly, this happens all the time! But God continues to give us the grace we need for each and every situation. We are in totally over our heads right now, but we have friends and family rallying around us, helping out where they can, and it has driven us to our knees in prayer. It’s exactly where we are supposed to be. Time and time again, when we are overwhelmed, things just “work out.” God clearly has a hand in that.

What has the idea of sacrificial love looked like within your situation....i.e. what sacrifices has your family had to make to do this? (And how God has come through for you?)

Foster parenting is definitely inconvenient. We have less free time. We are expending more emotional and mental energy than we normally would have to, trying to meet the needs of the teenage girl living with us. Our personal space is invaded. Our kids have had less sleep, and thus, so have we. We have been stolen from, lied to, cussed at, disrespected, insulted, and our personal property has been damaged. Logistically it’s one more mouth to feed. (It’s more work for cooking, but the food is paid for since state foster/adoption situations are subsidized. If you are at all considering adoption but really really can’t afford it, this is a great place to start!)

Most notably, we’ve brought spiritual warfare into our home. As soon as our current placement moved in, (who is most definitely not a believer in Christ,) our 3-year-old daughter’s night terrors ramped up like never before. It has driven us to our knees in prayer. Every night now, after they are asleep I sneak into Audrey's bedroom and pray over her, out loud, in the name of Jesus, and over our house, and for Norah, and for our foster daughter, not because I just want to, or feel like I should, but I have finally realized that I NEED to. And Audrey’s night terrors have stopped. It has been such a great, physical, in-your-face reminder every day that we are in a battle, on the front lines, in fact; and it is not against flesh and blood. And the souls of children are at stake.

Daily this experience is helping to refine us. We are learning about God’s unconditional love for us as we attempt to show these kids (who have never experienced even normal human parental love or stability), not only healthy love and normal family dynamics, but the unconditional love of Christ.

This current experience has really driven home some of the messages from the 1 John series that our church is currently studying. For me (Christy) it has been convicting to be face to face with the reality of loving someone who doesn't necessarily love me back, every day. And to daily ask God for, and rely on Him to provide, grace to me so that I can offer grace to her. And I have finally started to realize what God sees in me, a sinner, and yet He loves me anyway.

For me (Tim) it has been a lesson in learning a little bit about what it meant for God to sacrifice His own Son for someone that was not in His family, and who sinned against Him every day. It is also a chance to live the heart of Jesus out in front of these kids, many of whom have been burned by hypocritical Christians for their whole lives. We have the chance to fulfill Jesus' commandment in Matthew 25:31-46, to feed, clothe, and invite ‘the least of these’ into our homes, every day. And we are finding out that our lives are impacted as much as theirs are. Foster parenting truly has taught me the Gospel anew. These children, when they first come into our homes, don’t love us, don’t know us, and don’t really want to be there. We are making (small) sacrifices in our lives to try and love them. And it is hard. It is easy to love my wife and kids (most of the time), but to love a stranger, who doesn’t want anything to do with me, is a whole new story… and yet that is exactly what God did for us.

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Rom. 5:6-8


If you think about it, we as Christians should be ashamed that the state foster care system even exists. We (the Church) are the ones called to care for the orphans and widows. (James 1:27) In neglecting this command, we have left this work to a secular world. (And as a sidenote, isn't it interesting that this passage about caring for orphans comes immediately on the heels of James' admonition to be doers of the word, not merely hearers who delude themselves?)

There are on average 3,400 kids per month in foster care in the state of Iowa, and 600 kids waiting to be adopted. According to Google, there are 3528 churches (of all denominations) in Iowa. You do the math. There are a lot of foster parents out there who are great people, but they are not believers. Think of the impact we could have on the kingdom of God if Christians stepped up to this task!

* * *

To hear more from Tim & Christy, you can follow their blog at To read more of their segments on foster care go to the labels section on their side bar and click on Foster Parenting.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

People Are Hurting

There I sat a few days ago in our church’s meeting room. I was there to learn about our soon adventure coming this fall of hosting a student from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. I sat waiting for the meeting to start. A friend walked in. At first glance she saw me and laughed, “Oh, I should have known you would be here,” she said. “You’re taking in another one?”

I am taken aback by the implications of her tone. But I smile anyway and say, “Yep.” Because she doesn’t yet know what I know. I know what God has opened my eyes up to over the past year. The helplessness, the injustices, the exploitations, the utter darkness…all played out in the lives of humans. And I can’t ignore it. I can’t ignore the tugs at my heart. I know God can use me if I just have open arms and an open front door to the situations that He brings. And recently, Rosebud hosting was what He brought. Jake and I know nothing about Native Americans, and nothing about life on ‘The Rez’. But we will learn. I sit through the meeting. I hear about the hopelessness on the reservation. The alcoholism, the drug use, the sexual abuse, the high rate of teen pregnancy, suicides, and school drop outs, the gang pressure….the cycles of generations and generations that continue on. There seems to be no escape from their dreadful inheritance of family bondage. And I hear God’s whisper.

People are hurting. Do something.

The informational meeting ends. I look at my friend. With tears in her eyes she says, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“What’s holding you back?” I say.


“Fear of the unknown? Like what sort of child/situation you would get?”

“No.” Silence. And she gazes ahead.

“Fear that you are inadequate?”

She smiles through her tears and looks at me. “Yes.”

“You are inadequate,” I say. “We all are. But God can still use us. He will equip you to accomplish His work, but it won’t be comfortable. And it won’t be easy.”

We talk some more, and then head home.

* * *

Our empty downstairs bedroom hasn’t been empty now for about 4 weeks. A young man who needed a second chance at life sought out Jake for help to get back on track. He’ll be staying with us until the end of summer. Jake committed to helping him with one stipulation - If you’re serious about changing, come live with us. Get out of the environment you are in, and start over. And he did. Another young man, another wake-up call. More pain, more rough situations, more sad stories - played out in the life of a human. My eyes are peeled back more. I hear you Lord.

People are hurting. Do something.

For 20 years of his life, this young man has not known the love of a family. Yes his family was around, sort of. But now they are not accessible. He began following down their same path but then something inside of him sparked and he realized he didn’t have to live that way. He didn’t have to follow in their footsteps. He could create a different path for himself. A different life. And he is ready to change. The problem, though, is that his heart has been damaged. He’s lived the consequences of his family’s poor decisions and a few of his. And it’s hard. It’s hard when you want a second chance, but people don’t believe in you. It’s hard when you need help but have no where to turn. It’s hard when people look at you and judge you for what they see on the outside, especially when they don’t understand the torment you are going through on the inside.

People are hurting. Do something.

“Would you believe that none of my family ever came to any of my basketball games? Not one. They were never there to watch me play,” he says.

People are hurting. Do something.

“Do you think I could have all of this someday?” he asks Jake. “A house, a wife, a good job, kids?”

“Why couldn’t you?” Jake answers.

“Where I’m from, this is pretty uncommon,” he replies.

He’s nervous for 3 days straight as Easter weekend approaches. He knows he will be spending a lot of time in a family setting. He’s timid, unsure what a day at my great-grandparent’s house will entail. He makes it through lunch. He gets sadder and sadder as the day goes on. Dinner comes. He heads outside. It’s too much for him. The laughter, the teasing, the jokes, the stories at the table, the time spent together. It’s all a reminder to him. A reminder of what he didn’t have growing up.

People are hurting. Do something.

Hours later Easter Sunday is over and we head to the car. My grandma and grandpa stand on the back step and wave as they watch Jake and I try to corral everyone to load up into the car. JJ has a crying attack as he discovers that he left his brand new shoes in the house. He jumps out of the car and sprints back inside. Sam and Tyran argue with each other over who is going to sit where in the car, and neither of them will get in. I get Jayla buckled in. She turns and says to me, “Mommy, I have to go potty.” We watch as my grandma and grandpa giggle at the pure chaos of the simple task at hand - just getting in the car.

I turn to him and say, “They just love this - my grandpa and grandma. Look at the smiles on their faces.”

He watches intently and says thoughtfully, “That must be so crazy for your grandpa to get to watch his grand-daughter grow up and have children…..he gets to know his great-grandkids.” The quietness in his voice burdens my heart.

People are hurting. Do something.

He’s silent on the way home. “What’s the hardest part of all this?” Jake asks.

“I’m uncomfortable. Everything I am doing is hard.”

The emotions of the day hit him. The tears come. And there’s no stopping them.

“It’s supposed to be uncomfortable,” Jake says. “Living for Christ isn’t easy. Just ask his disciples.”

“Sure, you can say that. You have a family to fall back on. You have the joy of coming home to your kids and your wife. I don’t have a family.”

“But you do. You’re in the car with them. God knew that you needed a family. And he gave you one.” The conversation continues and then ends. Jake turns the music up.

Something here is wrong, there are children without homes, but we just move along to take care of our own, there's so much suffering just outside our door, a cry so deafening, we just can't ignore…

The lyrics read my mind. People are hurting. Do something.

My heart cries out for this young man. But I know something He doesn’t. I know the past CAN be overcome. I am living proof. He doesn’t know what the family sitting there enjoying Easter dinner has overcome. My mom and I know what it is like to be left all alone. We were there many years ago. We know. And my grandpa that he was encouraged by? He knows too. His mom up and left he and his sister at a very young age. Shortly after, his dad was gone too. He was raised by his aunt and grandma. He knows the pain. The reality of our world is that human relationships fail. We treat each other imperfectly because we sin. We have broken relationships and broken families because we live in a fallen world. But the past does not define us, nor are we enslaved to it. My very own family is overcoming the chains of brokenness. We have found freedom. How?

Because there is One who can be trusted because He has said He will NEVER leave us or forsake us. There is One who loves us unconditionally, no matter the circumstances, no matter our mistakes and poor choices. There is One in whom we can take refuge until the storm passes. There is One who provides a relationship that gives ultimate peace, ultimate fulfillment, and ultimate hope. This is the God I serve. The God of second chances. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12). The God who seeks out the lost. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10). The God who brings new life. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). The God who makes all things new. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). And this is why I will say yes to God again, and again, and again. Yes, God, I will open my home to those you bring. Yes, Lord, I will bring outsiders in and treat them like family….like they are my own flesh and blood. I hear you Lord.

People are hurting. Do something.

I will say yes because of what I know – there are more young men and women out there like he who is living in our spare bedroom. And there are more Sam’s and more Justice’s. More and more and more. And they don't need a beautifully decorated bedroom in my middle-income family home. They don’t need elaborate meals. They don’t need perfect parents who know exactly how to respond to every situation that comes up. They don’t need every word spoken to be beautifully arranged with advice and wisdom. And they don’t need someone who is going to love them only if they change or get their act together. No. They need a relationship with their Heavenly Father. And in the meantime, they need to know that someone cares. They need someone to love them for who they are today….not for who they could become, but for who they are right now. I know because I’ve been there. I know because I serve a great God who transforms lives and sets the captives free. I've experienced His power. And I want to continue to experience it. Again, and again, and again.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A King on a Donkey?

As they approached Jerusalem, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:1-11)

I love it when some sort of new truth hits me about my Savior. This year, as I’ve taken my kids through Resurrection Eggs for Easter I realized something that I hadn’t before about the meaning of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday. The Resurrection Eggs booklet explains the significance of the donkey in this way:
What many people don’t know is that it was traditional for a king to ride on a donkey in times of peace. And although Jesus is the King of kings, God the Father wanted Him to bring peace to people when He came to earth in what is called “The First Coming”. Jesus’s peace comes as we repent or turn from our sin, and believe in the Son of God. And then as we continue to obey and trust Him as the Lord of our lives, we will experience His peace.

I love that with Jesus, every single action and word has deep meaning that can be looked into if we just take the time to seek Him….even something as surprising as an entrance on a donkey….it has more meaning than what we first see at the surface level. As I thought about Jesus’s first coming being all about bringing peace, my mind drifted quickly to his second coming and what that will look like. I know from scripture, that Jesus’s second coming will be drastically different. The book of Revelations gives the stark contrast…

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelations 19:11-16)

When Jesus comes back he will appear out of the clouds at the sound of a loud trumpet call (Matthew 24:27-31). This time, as the excerpt from Revelations detailed, he will ride in as a Conquering King, on a white horse, wearing a robe dipped in blood, also wearing many crowns, and having eyes that look like fire. Followed by heavenly armies, this time, he will have a sharp sword. What a contrast to His first entrance as King, gentle and bringing peace, riding in on a donkey. Jesus’s first coming brought forgiveness as He sacrificed His life and made payment for our sins. So what will His second coming bring about?

For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:31).


That’s a hard word to swallow, and I know that not many people like to think or talk about it. For me personally, I've realized that sometimes things in the Bible are hard to choke down at first. But scripture doesn’t lie.

All this is evidence that God’s judgement is right…this will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed (2 Thessalonians 1:5, 7-10).

He won’t be judging how well we performed in this life, whether we were a ‘good’ person or a ‘bad’ person.

He won’t be judging whether we stacked up enough good works to give us an acceptable heavenly resume.

He’ll be judging our relationship with Himself. Did we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Or not?

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).

Did we believe that Jesus was the Son of God and the atoning sacrifice for our sins?

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:40)

If this was our belief, did we live like it? Did we obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus? Did we repent of our sin, turn from it, and surrender our lives to following our Savior?

We know that we have come to know Him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:3-4)

The time will come when our relationship with Jesus will either be proved genuine, or proved false. And this judgement will decide where we spend eternity.

Until that day comes, the offer awaits. We are in the days after our Savior has come the first time, gentle, and riding on a donkey. Right now He offers eternal peace and salvation to all those who would believe. But another day is coming….a day of judgement that will bring us either eternal blessing or eternal punishment. Every day we get closer and closer to Jesus’s return. The Bible tells us to wait expectantly for that day… ‘and now, dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be CONFIDENT and UNASHAMED before Him at His coming (1 John 2:28)’. How I long to feel those emotions when I see my Savior coming out of the clouds. And the Bible promises that for those who have a relationship with Jesus, His second coming will be glorious, beautiful, and the culmination of all things hoped for. It will be a day of salvation.

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Adopt-A-Refugee Program through USCRI

Some time ago we met with Valerie and her U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) Des Moines staff to talk through the need and details of the adopt-a-refugee program that would be launched. Two of Valerie’s staff members are themselves former refugees. They have been successful here in the United States, and both of their stories had one common denominator, which you will be reading about in this post. As each of these staff members shared their stories, I was blown away by their memories and details of what it was like for them personally to have fled their home country, only to end up alone and in a sort of cultural and emotional shock in the United States.

Just take a minute and try to put yourself into the shoes of a new refugee arrival. Imagine waking up in Des Moines, IA the day after you arrive from your country. Picture the fears of getting lost if you venture outside of your apartment. You don’t know English, you don’t know how to ride the bus, you don’t even know where the grocery store is. You have no friends and no family around. What is your first move? Where do you go? What do you do? How do you get a job? How do you get a phone? How do you get a driver’s license? Not to mention, all of this is thrown on top of the fact that you have literally fled your home country because of persecution, war, or violence. Jake and I were able to hear the details of one of the recent families who arrived. One refugee’s leg was broken by government military as punishment for the ethnic tribe he belonged to as well as for his Christian beliefs. Today he still walks with a limp because he never received medical care. Another refugee witnessed the murder of her brother being shot in the head by military in her home right before she came to America.

These are just a few core examples of why it is integral that USCRI match new arrivals with people in the community who will support, encourage, and teach the refugees about life in America. Human contact/relationships are a vital aspect of helping refugees become successful. Therefore, other than donations and volunteers, USCRI is also looking for people who are interested in investing time into creating relationships with refugees.

This is NOT a huge time commitment. We are literally talking 1-2 hours a week of individuals meeting up with the refugee family and making an effort to help them get started on the right foot. This is a small gesture but it does a world of good. If a refugee can wake up in the morning and know that someone cares, just imagine how that will boost their courage and confidence. The end goal of USCRI is to enable the refugees to become self-sufficient. This starts with making connections and relationships with others in the community.

One of the most important aspects of this commitment to ‘adopt’ a refugee and/or family is giving them more opportunities to interact using English. USCRI provides English classes to the new arrivals, however, if the refugees get the opportunity to practice English in conversations, they will learn it much faster. Other facets of this relational commitment could be: showing them where certain places are (grocery store, library, bus stops, etc.), having them over for dinner every once in awhile, taking them to church, introducing them to others in the community so they can begin to make friends/connections, possibly even helping them on their job search, etc. Refugees are employable from the moment they arrive in the U.S. (part of the resettlement program is that they receive a social security # and Medicaid). This is another of USCRI’s short-term goals - to help the refugees find jobs.

If you are interested in learning more about this program you are asked to contact Valerie directly at This adopt-a-refugee program will involve a screening process and a scheduled time with USCRI staff to introduce participants to the refugee family they are matched with. It must be emphasized that although this is not a high time commitment, it is important that participants are really ready to be committed to their refugee family. These refugees have experienced so much loss and disruption already, it would be unfortunate for them to experience more of the same in a setting that is made to help and encourage them.

And that’s the scoop on the adopt-a-refugee program! I also wanted to include a quick update from Valerie that I received yesterday:

It’s been a crazy few weeks here at USCRI. We had three arrivals come in the last week, and ended up moving them into their apartments in the freezing rain! But we got it all done- thanks also to some amazing volunteers we have. Two of them found out about us directly through your blog, so again, a huge thank you to you! Our storage units are FULL of the amazing donations we have received from Kingdom Hoops!

Many arrivals will be coming this summer and all the donations will be going to very needy families.

Also, just a reminder about our Open House on Friday, May 6 from 6-8 pm at our finished office space downstairs at Park Fair Mall (100 Euclid Ave, Des Moines, IA 50313)!!!!!

Check out for more updated pics on our arrivals/apartments!

What an AWESOME update! Thanks to all of YOU blog readers who have turned your compassion into ACTION!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Families Needed for Russia Adoption Program

Before we switched our adoption from Ethiopia to Ghana we had signed on with a national agency called Christian World Adoption ( I still receive their updates and newletters in my inbox. Recently I was sent an email from one of their case workers expressing a high need for families to adopt from Russia. Just wanted to pass the info along in case anyone is interested in finding out more:

Dear Families,
My name is Anya Rutherford and I am Christian World Adoption's Russia Case
Manager. I am sending this email to all of you in an effort to find more
families for our Russia program. If you are not interested, please just

Over the years we have seen many changes in international adoption, it seems to
come and go in cycles. Right now, the timing is right for an adoption from
Russia. The Russia program is working well and we are delighted to say that we
are accepting Russia applications and can accept as many families as possible
at this time.

We have been working in Russia since 1992 and have placed over a thousand of
children from Russia. I’m Russian myself and have a heart for Russian orphans
and am very happy when each one of them comes home. I have traveled to many of
the Russian orphanages and I know there are many children there who need loving
families of their own.

The last few years have seen a lot of changes for the Russia program. Russia
became more strict about paperwork, and adoptive parents' medical background and
lengthened the adoption process. However, there are still children in need of
families. We continue to have successful adoptions and a lot of children have
come home to families this year already.

CWA is accredited in Russia and currently working in 3 regions. We are in the
process of opening another region as well and very excited about this
opportunity. We have been receiving referrals steadily from all these 3 regions
and we have great relationship with their officials.

If you would like to consider a Russian adoption, have friends or family members
who are considering international adoption, or especially if you have a home
study ready, please email me at or call me at 828 693 7007 ext
304 and I will be happy to talk to you about the details of the process.

There are Caucasian, Asian and Eurasian children available in Russia. Boys are
available from the age of 10 - 11 months. Girls are available from approximately
the same age however the waiting time for infant girls is much longer.
Therefore, we can accept applications for preschool age girls and older or
families who are open to either gender of any age. We can accept applications
for boys of any ages. Sibling groups of either gender are also available. Older
child adoptions can be completed in a shorter period of time because the waiting
time (if any) for older children is much shorter in a lot of regions. Families
can usually be matched with older children soon after documents are submitted.

Please prayerfully consider this and if you are interested, email me at . We would love to have more families registered for Russia.

Thank you for your time and God Bless!
Anya Rutherford
Christian World Adoption

Monday, April 18, 2011


Brothers share a special bond, like blood, brotherhood,

It's thicker than water.

Friends may come and go,
and relationships may drift apart,

But brothers are forever.

Though the sun may rise in the east, and set in the west,

We will still be brothers.

Though the seasons may change,
spring, summer, fall and winter;

We will still be brothers.

What God has ordained,

No man can change,

Brothers are FOREVER!


(poem from

Thursday, April 14, 2011

She Lights Up My Life

With her super secret hiding spots...

And her squeals of delight when she's found!

Because she likes to do girl things!

But she can also hang with the boys! Because she's a sweet little mommy... And yet, one tough cookie! Because she makes a great cheerleader! And she delights in the little things...
Because she knows how to relax...
And how to have a good time!
Love you Miss Jayla! So thankful that you are mine-oh-mine!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Up to Minnesota & Some Firsts for Justice

Jake had a weekend break from tournaments last weekend so we took advantage and snuck away to visit Grandpa & Grandma Sullivan up in Minnesota! This also became a weekend of 'firsts' for Justice so I have to document via some pictures!

Our first night there Uncle Nick stopped by to see us. Uncle Nick just happens to be a cop, and my little mind didn’t even think to prepare him for Justice’s fascination with all things loud, weapon-y, fighting related, uniform related, good-guy vs. bad-guy stuff, etc. Let’s just say Uncle Nick figured it out first-hand. I wasn’t outside at the time Uncle Nick pulled up, but apparently Justice bombarded him with questions about every single weapon on his belt buckle, who rides in his cop car, if he gets to fight people, chasing scenarios, etc. Later on as Uncle Nick got ready to leave I caught some good pictures:

Sullivan boys

Explaining what pepper spray does. :)

Demonstrating the taser - I think that's what that is!

And yes, Sam got to come with us this weekend too! We've been getting to have him with us often, which has been SO GREAT!

Demonstrating the lights and siren! Meanwhile, Grandma Jane had her work cut out for her as she loved on her little girlies (Jayla & cousin Dakota) who did not leave her side…

I got to snuggle with my cutie nephew, Chase….really, he is oh-so-squeezable….

And for the first time we got to watch Justice interact with a baby! Since Justice has been with us he hasn’t been around a baby at all, so it was fun to see how he played with Chase….he loved it when Chase would smile at him.

I loved watching Jayla interact with him too. She liked to touch his face and give him kisses!

And as Jayla watched Auntie Crystal, she took notes on mothering skills. :)

Of course it would not be a trip to Minnesota without some basketball in the driveway against Uncle Nick...

And most certainly it is NOT a trip up to Minnesota without a day spent at the Mall of America!

(click to enlarge)

This again was another first for Justice! He had never been to an amusement park! He did work up the courage to go on one roller coaster, and loved it. His favorite, however? The bumper cars!

And the last 'first' of the weekend for Justice....LEGO LAND!!!!!!!!!!

You can imagine how much he loved this store! Wondering what's in the sack? A ninja castle! It will be the biggest lego construct he has attempted yet!

Somehow Grandpa Bill escaped my pictures from the weekend! He was there with us too - strolling Jayla around the stores so mommy and Grandma could shop, and disappearing into sports stores with the kids to make sure ‘they bought everything they needed’. :)

Thanks Grandpa & Grandma for a great weekend! (Cousins!)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Trip Highlights ~ Chris & Jake

Chris Gardner ~ Owner of Bella Homes, LLC; husband; father

In Chris’ words ~ For me, it is hard to figure out what was the top highlight of the trip. There were a lot of great things - the orphanage, shopping with Doug, the council meeting up in the village, all the great conversations we all had together, or even just the quiet time to reflect and worship our God. Below are my thoughts…

Reflecting back on the trip, I would have to say that perhaps the best part of the whole trip is simply how it has impacted my life so far.

It seems God must take me away from my life to get me to listen. For the first time in many years I had no internet, no computer, no cell phone, no texting, no TV, nothing….furthermore for some reason I had my own room for a couple of nights and I was all alone. I am not good at going to bed ever and trying to go to bed while dealing with a 6 hour time change was not that easy for me. I had plenty of time to think. At that time, I desperately wanted to talk to my wife and hear what she and the girls (I have a 4 year old girl, Kayley and a 2 year old girl, Halle) have been up to. I think I just wanted to be able to call and at least feel for a few minutes that I was back in the comforts of home.

Verizon phones do not work in Ghana. I could have borrowed Jake’s international phone to call my wife, but the funny thing was that my wife’s phone had gotten wet back home and broke the same day we arrived in Ghana so she was without a phone for 2 days. I think God might have had something to do with that….

I was stripped away from every convenience I knew - comfort of family, nice home, nice food, nice bathrooms, etc…. I was hot, sweaty and tired and all I wanted to do was hear my wife’s voice, hear my girls say ‘luv you daddy’, and I had no way to make that happen.

Some may know me enough to know that if someone tells me I can’t do something or something challenges me - I react, I do not back down. And yet, here I was, for one of the few times in my life, unable to control the situation….not happy…

This first night I was there, alone, middle of the night Ghana time, I was actually a little confused and frustrated to why I came back here. I don’t like being hot and sweaty, I don’t like strange food, I don’t like cold showers, I don’t like having a stomach ache all the time, I don’t like this bed, I miss my kids, miss my wife, and why is there no internet here!?!? Why doesn’t my cell phone work?!!? What the heck am I doing here!!!???

No answer from God, just more silence…

Next day as we were in the village I started to adjust a little more. I got a little more used to the heat, and got busy trying to keep up with my new friend Doug who just happens to compete in Iron Man events all over the world, and recently completed his 13th event last fall.

Each night, I would ask God why I was here…still no answer.

Each day became even busier than the day before as we encountered many great experiences - church in Asikuma, touring the school, sitting in the council meeting with Doug watching Nana lead his team, handing out gifts, meeting the basketball players, and more and more…

One of the last days we went to the Beacon House Orphanage and we were able to listen to the story of the director and founder of the home. Hearing her passion, her commitment, her laughter while being amidst one of the hardest jobs on the planet, made me open my ears and finally listen to what God was trying to tell me all week. It was not that God was not answering my questions of why I was here, it was just that I was not listening. I was still distracted. Still focused on how much work we could do here, how many opportunities there were here. And at the same time still focused on back home. I had not been listening.

After the meeting with the director, I was able to play with the kids for a little while. It was then I fully realized why I was here. It took these little smiling faces to make me listen. After playing with these little guys and having all the little girls dance with me while they stood on my feet and I twirled them around, I had to walk away. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was broken.

I realized that I was not be able to help these kids today, but in fact they were the ones who were doing all the helping… they were helping me, changing my life!

I will be back and will make a difference somehow in their lives and the lives of the kids in Asikuma.

I will not just be going through the motions anymore. I will listen.

God gave us all talents and abilities. He gave me the ability to build and construct. That’s what I will be doing for the Lord come August! The times in my life where I have felt closest to God have been when my girls were born and this trip to Africa. I cannot wait for August, working for the Lord, working with my hands, using the talents that God gave me. That is what it is all about.

* * *

Jake Sullivan ~ Founder of Kingdom Hoops International/Isaiah 1:17 Foundation; husband & father

I’ve discovered a new way to live. Every morning when I get out of bed, I look for Jesus. No, not because I’ve misplaced him. And I’m not talking about a feeling I get during prayer, or revelation that comes to me while reading scripture. I’m talking about finding Jesus in the eyes of real people. In the eyes of the poor, the handicapped, the oppressed, the orphan, the homeless, The AIDS victim – the abandoned and the forgotten. (Excerpt from Red Letters by Tom Davis)

In Jake’s words ~ In 2008 when this journey began this quote above was all I asked from God each night as I laid my head down to sleep. My prayers were not long or deep and often times I was sure I was the worst person at prayer in my whole church community. I simply wanted to see Jesus each day in the eyes of other people. I have soon discovered that my simple prayer each night for God to give me the eyes to see Him, and let my flesh obey Him, would radically alter my life and send me on an incredible adventure for Christ.

Seeing Jesus in the eyes of youth in a far off continent seems like it could be everywhere all the time. However, during my journeys to Africa the past three years it always seems like God brings that one person in my path whose face glows of Jesus like no other face….even amongst the thousands of children in a land of desperate need.

In 2009 the first face was a boy named Nana Yaw, the second face was a boy named Big Sam, and then a small boy named Samuel, soon later there was a Prince, and then a young man called to lead named Mike, then a stranger named Ezekiel, and then a unique mother named Mercy.

This most recent trip to Ghana was no different. As our journey began and a couple of nights had passed it seemed like God was not fully hearing my prayers as all the incredible people that came into my life seemed no different than the one before. Then God did it again. He showed me the face of Jesus in one little boy named Albert. Albert is 12 years old and incredibly intelligent with a desire to lead, a desire to be more than just another boy from Asikuma. Words can’t really explain it but it is like Jesus touched down and said, this will be the boy that helps to lead the youth and maybe someday the people of Asikuma.

So, how did I meet Albert? On day two in Asikuma I was feeling tired and worn down and decided to lay down and take a quick nap with JJ. Our nap lasted two hours and during our restful sleep the rest of the group snuck out without me to the village to hand out shoes and clothes. The group returned to the hotel at about 3pm and I quickly awoke because what type of servant sleeps the afternoon away in a place with so much need, but as always God knows exactly what he is doing.

My wife sat down on the bed to journal and I felt guilty so I quickly headed out the door to see what God had planned for me. As I took my first step out of the hotel there was a boy who fell to his knees with his face to the ground asking me for a pair of shoes since he did not receive any when the group was in the village. I tapped him on the shoulder and told him to stand up and look at me in the eye and ask for a pair of shoes. However, when he looked me in the eye I know for sure I saw Jesus.

From that moment on, Albert was at my side for the remainder of the trip. The most incredible part of Albert was his incredible proficiency of the English language and on top of that an unmatched level of self-confidence. How had he become so educated? How had he become so confident? This question swirled through my mind as he spoke and I got to know him. I had never met another young boy in the rural parts of Ghana quite like him. It was as if God’s hand had been on him throughout his life and brought us together intentionally to make one great team. Over the next few days Albert became my right hand man and my personal interpreter! I do not pick up on languages quickly as my Spanish teacher in high school could tell all of you!! This often becomes a real barrier for me in Africa and sometimes causes me to avoid new relationships as I am not confident in communicating with all the people. But with Albert I could go anywhere and talk to anybody and he would interpret everything I said and everything the other children or people of Asikuma said. It was like a new world was opened to me through one little boy with the eyes of Jesus.

Albert soon allowed me to meet his family which included his mother, father, sister and her twin boys’ who are going to become the most well-dressed one year old boys in the history of Asikuma when I return in August. I am not sure where God will take Albert or where he will take our relationship but I know God has big plans for him and I am so excited to be a part of his life. To sum it all up the highlight of my trip was God bringing Albert into my life. I have not had a morning or night go by that he is not on my mind and can’t wait to see what God has planned for us come August!!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Refugee Resettlement: Class for those interested in volunteering

As you know, our Foundation has been helping to raise awareness for the refugee resettlement program in Des Moines (USCRI). We’ve been collecting donations and spreading the word about the need for volunteers within the organization. I will be posting on the Adopt-A-Refugee program next week. Today I wanted to let you know about a class that starts tomorrow which will share about the refugee experience:

WHO: This is a class for USCRI volunteers (or those interested in volunteering), for the general public, and for those just wanting to know more about refugees.

WHAT: Topics will include refugee camps, refugee personal stories, volunteer experiences, and media presentations on refugees. Attendees will have the chance to meet recently resettled individuals and families from around the world. Inspiring stories will be shared from veteran volunteers who have helped newcomers begin their lives in the United States and are eager to share about their rewarding experiences.

WHEN: 10 am-11 am, every other Saturday starting TOMORROW, April 9, 2011.

WHERE: USCRI Des Moines, 100 Euclid Avenue, Suite 105, Des Moines, IA 50313 *Located inside the Park Fair Mall*

Also, the Spring 2011 newsletter for USCRI Des Moines was just completed. To sign up to receive the newsletter, or to read the touching feature story of the first family resettled in Des Moines, click on this link:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Trip Highlights ~ Doug & Dawn

Doug Vander Weide ~ Owner of VW Advisors, L.L.C., West Des Moines; husband to Dawn; father to Emma, Grace & JD In Doug’s words ~ Day 5: Today we are back from the village of Asikuma and in the capital city of Accra. We’ve got much work to do and we have our vision of how to accomplish our building projects.

So how do you go about building a medical clinic and library in a remote village of a foreign country 6000 miles away? You tackle it swimming hole style - take a running leap and jump in!

Today Chris and I went to the town center to begin bargaining for supplies for the medical clinic. We negotiated for and purchased some of the beginning essentials: a sink, toilet, hammer, nails, and cement block molds. In Ghana, EVERYTHING is negotiated. White people can easily be taken advantage of because they assume all of us have endless wealth. They clearly saw us coming too, I think we were the only white people we saw today. Bargaining became somewhat of a game to us, and we got very good at it. I’m confident we are getting the best deals we can on all of our building supplies. We priced lumber, cement, roofing, and electrical supplies. In August, I’m planning to arrive a few days earlier than the rest of the group to make sure we are as construction ready as possible. I’ve gladly accepted the role of being Chris’s right hand guy. I can see why this guy is a good home builder. He’s organized, straight shooting, and could outwork 10 men. We’ve literally been going 16 hours a day.

Yesterday in the village we had the amazing experience of getting to sit through a village council meeting. Picture seven town elders in a small village room-at best 200 square feet. These are not plush meeting room accommodations. So Chris and I walk in and start shaking hands (ending the handshake with the traditional Ghanaian “snap” is a must and a sign of respect.) The meeting was chaired by Chief Nana and assisted by his Linguist. It is necessary for the villagers to speak to The Linguist rather than to The Chief. Since The Chief is Peprah and Yaw’s father, we get to speak directly to him and he is grateful for us. Nana is great about including us, making sure we get the full experience of his culture. Picture a West Des Moines Planning and Zoning Meeting. Now picture that in a small village in remote Africa. It’s quite different.

Chris and I presented our thoughts on how we should partner together to help the village, describing in detail our Phase 1 building plans. The council was most grateful for our efforts and all of the elders voted to proceed. It should be noted that during our part of presenting the master plan and the value it would provide to the village, I actually saw Nana tear up a bit. This is clearly a big deal to him. He paused and began to speak to us. In a very emotional and heartfelt way, he described that every Chief’s responsibility was to do something significant to better his village. Given financial restrictions he had so far been unable to do this during his tenure. He said now his dream was being fulfilled and he thanked us. In a later conversation, Esi pulled me aside to thank me and said Nana confessed to her that day may have been the happiest day of his life.

And now on to the second part of the meeting. Also in attendance for the council meeting was a woman, a mother of 9 kids. The youngest was her baby, who was with her and attached for his mid day feeding. Turns out, this town council meeting was called for two reasons. One, so Chris and I could present the Phase 1 project. The other was to try the case of this unfortunate woman's 8 year old son. Planning and zoning turned quickly to court. As we learned, the son had killed a neighbor’s goat when the animal wondered into his family residence. The kid, in an effort to shoo the animal out, beat the goat on the head with a stick, killing it instantly. (It should be noted, the poor goat should not garner much of the blame for such an honest mistake of wondering into the wrong residence; it's home looks the exact same as the family, dirt floor and all.) So the issue in this council meeting turned- dare I say, Kangaroo Court hearing, was what to do with the the young boy. They take this type of incident very seriously. Had this been an adult, said event would have been criminally prosecuted.

So we listened to the woman plea her case for leniency. As she exited, she pulled out a bottle of gin and gave it to The Chief. All of this was occurring in their native tongue. Nana later interpreted for the benefit of Chris and me. Given her contrition, and the gift of libation, they agreed the family could simply repay the man with another goat and pay a small fine.

You can't pay money for this and I can’t make it up. Africa amazes me.

* * *

Dawn Vander Weide ~ Co-owner VW Advisors, L.L.C., West Des Moines; wife to Doug; mom to Emma, Grace & JD
In Dawn’s words ~ My highlights centered around the relationships I formed with several young men, most from the Khoops Ghana bball team. I got to talk with these boys for hours and hours with the intention of really getting to know them. We talked about all kinds of stuff: their religious beliefs, their families, their living conditions, how it’s different in the U.S. Emma and I taught several of the boys how to waltz and fox trot!

It’s been easy for Jake to identify kids who are good at basketball. It was my charge on this trip to identify kids who could also do well in the U.S. educational system. Our hosting program is based on achieving student visas. The kids can stay in the U.S. so long as they are in school, so they have to be bright enough and hard working enough to make the program a success, to give them futures and for our program to grow.

In preparation for the trip, I worked on outlining the process, every single step, in getting a student here from Ghana. It is so complicated that it makes me crazy if I think about it all at once. I had to break it down into small, achievable steps. I won’t bore you with the details here. Instead, I’ll tell you about a few of the boys.

James Okine – I spent a lot of time with James. His visa application was denied in December 2010 because he forgot to take his birth certificate to his embassy appointment, but also because he didn’t really know how to answer the questions the U.S. embassy asked him about his plans to study in the U.S. He has been invited to attend school at Pella Christian, and his host family will be the Baughs. I’ve probably skyped James 10 times, and we’ve sent hundreds of e-mails back and forth. He calls me Auntie, and he worked super hard to prepare for his May 16th embassy appointment – we’ve done mock interviews, and he’s ready!

Cyril Clarke – took and passed the Dowling exams that I proctored – math and reading comprehension. Our family will host him for his junior and senior year, starting in August. We email and skype often, and he calls me “mom.” On my birthday, he sent me the neatest poem ever. He treats Emma, Grace, and JD like his siblings, and we are so hopeful that he passes his embassy interview so he can come live with us. He is a gentle giant with academic and basketball smarts.

Riyaz Adams – has been invited to attend school at Iowa Christian Academy. Our family will host him starting in August, just like Cyril. He and Cyril are really good friends at home, so having them live with us together will be a really neat thing. We skype and email a lot too. He calls me, Mom, and really means it. His birth parents died in a fire 4 years ago, and he is a true orphan. His Godliness amazes me, and I know we were meant to meet and support this young man. He has great charisma and humor!

Obie – this kid is AMAZING!! Jake is looking for the right school for him, he’ll need a college because of his age. He’s got great basketball skills, but more importantly, he is SO Godly. He is basically a young preacher. His insight is beyond his years. He asked if he could call me “mom.” Of course, I said yes!!!

McMartey – this boy is beautiful inside and out. He practiced math and reading with me for hours because he wanted to improve academically. He is SO capable and smart, and he can dunk with serious finesse. We’re looking for a host family for McMartey. He also calls me “mom.”

I could go on and on. I can think of 10 boys who call me Mom, just off the top of my head. Many of them have asked me for advice on improving academically. They want to learn, and they are SO hard working!

If I could, I would host every one of these boys and several others: David, Henry, Prince, Michael, Mike, Rubin, Muhammed…. If you are interested in the hosting program, please email me at I’m hoping to match several of these boys with families and schools that are a good fit.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trip Highlights ~ Katlyn & Grace

Katlyn Brekke ~ Junior at Iowa State, majoring in elementary education with an emphasis in English as a second language In Katlyn's words ~ It is so hard to come up with specific highlights from the trip. As I reflected over my journal of the trip, two things really stuck out at me. First, on day two when we went to the village my heart was forever changed. Obviously, having not been out of the country before, I knew Africa was going to be a "world shocker" and completely different. Duh. I knew going to Africa the sights, sounds, smells, people, culture, and ways of life were going to be different. Yet, what I learned most on the day we were in the village is that this is not all bad necessarily. By that I mean, that people can and do live with joy in their hearts, who worship our great God even if they don't own a pair of shoes, or they don't eat three meals a day every day, or that their lives can depend on the amount of selling on the side of the street that they do. Walking into the village and simply seeing the smiles on the faces of children who had nothing, gave me the greatest joy. To see their excitement about a "new" pair of shoes, or two animal crackers, or a package of fruit snacks, or simply seeing their face show up on my camera screen - it was instant joy at the littlest things. They weren't expecting it. They didn't know what we held in our bags, but it took them only seconds to get excited. I reflected that night on how I don't get excited for the little things, or continually be grateful with less and instead delight in the Lord with joy by giving more.

The other moment that stood out the most was our time at the orphanage. After spending almost 4 days in the village among the people and seeing the things they did have and didn't have, I was then able to see a different group of children who at one point had nothing, and then see those children who had either been neglected or orphaned be clothed, fed, and most importantly loved. There was such a stark difference. Their bellies were round, their cheeks were chubby, their hair was longer, there even seemed to be an extra bounce in their step. Sure, having clothes and food on the table was essential in their physical progression, but what I noticed even more was their emotional progress. This all happened because a woman selflessly gave up a "comfortable life" to move to Africa, to Ghana, to open a care facility for kids who were HIV+, had sickle cell anemia, or were part of a sibling group. Not to mention, she lives on a very small amount of money because everything else goes to the kids she houses. Why did she do it? God called her to. Her love, and the love from others were making a drastic difference in the lives of African children who otherwise would have nothing. The ability to see what love does, and is capable of doing, made me think of the unconditional love that God offers. It made me see God's love differently and what it is truly capable of doing. Something we take for granted so often or push away, but can drastically change our lives if we accept it.

Between the two moments, I was made uncomfortable with my life at home. At one point in the trip, Janel, Emma and myself were having a conversation about how the conditions we saw were making us mad because such simple things weren't being done, yet would create drastic changes in many lives for the good. Janel continued to say that this trip shouldn't be about going home and simply being more thankful for the things I do have, but instead to be made uncomfortable and ask God to change my perspective, and to then DO something. She knew we would be asked that question when we came home, and of course she was right. I have yet to find words that even begin to explain the things I saw, experienced, and the work God has done in me and continues to do in me. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had, and I definitely pray it is not the last time I get to see change happen in Ghana. I want to be able to continually grow, see the bigger picture that God has for me, and to learn to give more to those in need.

Grace Vander Weide ~ 8th grader, West Des Moines; shooting guard for Kingdom Hoops 8th grade girls team
In Grace's words ~ The most unique experience I had in Africa occurred on the day we went to church. This was the same morning all of the high school boys who play on the Kingdom Hoops Ghana team came to our "hotel" so they could get to know us and interact with us. Church that morning started at 11am, and all of us began walking to church at about 11:45. In Africa, you can show up at your destination anytime you want, and still not be considered late. As soon as we arrived at the outside gathering called church, we instantly had kids that were staring at us, wanting so badly to either hold our hand or sit on our lap. So, after the first 20 minute song got over this little boy came over to me and jumped up on my lap before I was all the way seated! This little boy was about three or four years old, with dirt all over his face. As the pastor was preaching, I realized that the small boy was gripping something really tight in his left hand. A couple minutes later the boy reached his arm backwards to try and give me the 10 cent coin he had been clutching during the service. Since the boy and I couldn't understand a word each other said, I closed the boy's hand and told him to keep it. The boy tried to do this three or four times until he flat out fell asleep in my arms. From looking at the boy's face and clothes I could tell that the dime was all that he had, and he trusted me to hold everything that he had! This was my fondest memory of Asikuma because it showed me how much the boy understood that if he gives, it will be given to him, like Luke 6:38 explains.