Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Mom is Going to TANZANIA!!!!!!

You may remember that my mom traveled to Ghana for the first time last December 2010 with Jake and some others on one of our trips. When she got home from that trip she was left asking herself and God….WHAT NOW?!?!?! This response is actually the main reason why Jake and I love to take anyone and everyone on our trips….even if they don’t feel like they know their purpose for going in the first place. Because once you SEE, your heart is stirred to take action. From there you just have to figure out specifically what it is that God would have you to do with what He has shown you. There is a verse in Proverbs that seems to explain this pull to action perfectly….

"...once our eyes are opened, we can't pretend we don't know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows that we know, and holds us responsible to act." ~Proverbs 24:12~

Yep, that’s right where my mom found herself early last year after her trip.

There was one little boy my mom met in Cape Coast named Edward…

Her heart was full of compassion for this little guy, and in the days after returning from Ghana she thought about him all the time. She wondered if he had a family, if he was an orphan, if he had enough money to go to school, and to eat. She wondered about his parents and if they were alive and whether they had jobs. She pondered where Edward might live in Cape Coast….probably one of the tiny little shacks that lined the shore line. As her heart continued to run through these things she decided that she would look into sponsorship programs. She would love to sponsor a young child just like Edward to be able to give him financial support for education and for his daily needs to be met. She began weighing the many options of sponsorship programs and thought that perhaps this was the action step God was leading her to take.

There was something else that had been in the back of my mom’s mind. Back in early 2010 my mom felt that God had placed it on her heart to renew her nursing license (you can read more about how that came up here). A looonnggg time ago my mom used to be an RN. But she had not been active in the nursing practice for years and years. She decided to start taking credits to get renewed. She wouldn’t be changing her day job (research & data collection on cancer for the University of Iowa), but as she wrote about in the post I linked to above, this nudge to renew her nursing license kept coming up. So she went for it and in September 2010 she started taking the credits that she needed. This of course was all before my mom’s December trip to Ghana and before we knew we would be building a medical clinic for the village of Asikuma! When plans for the clinic began to churn on our March 2011 trip earlier this year my mom got so excited! She thought that with her license renewal almost complete she could definitely serve at the medical clinic once it was all up and running! Not only that, but while Jake and I were on the trip, my mom’s employer (The University of Iowa) published the following article about a medical team that had just returned from a 5 week missions trip in Ghana!


God continued to ignite this idea of medical missions in my mom’s heart. So, she decided to start looking around online for ‘village nursing courses’ to ready herself to serve in this capacity should the opportunity come up. On March 25th of this year my mom emailed me this:

Right now I’m looking for classes to find some type of instruction on remote village nursing care. I found an awesome study abroad class this summer through Michigan State Univ, but you have to be a student there :). There are a lot of ‘companies’ that have Ghana trips for internships, etc. My friend Carolyn has a sis/bro-in-law who live in Minneapolis. He is a doc and he does Doctors w/o Borders. There are even Mercy Ships/cruiselines that go to various countries and I found a group last night that works out of Takoradi.

I just want to learn more about Ghana health care and their health needs. Been reading lots of stuff. I know that God is up to something and I’m just open right now to what He has in mind. I feel strongly that if I serve more than a week here and there it needs to be health care related. Or maybe I need to become a midwife :).

And God was up to something. For over a month there on my nightstand had been sitting a packet of information and newsletter from an organization called STEMM which is based out of Sioux City, IA. Doug Vander Weide (a regular attendee on our Ghana trips) had given it to me to look over before our March Ghana trip. He had wanted me to see how a well-run missions organization was set up and how they communicated their trip accomplishments and fundraising needs. Being the self-admitted procrastinator that I am, I hadn’t even glanced at it. I had set it on my nightstand for the night when I had a little extra time to read before bed (yeah right!) and had literally forgotten about it. Stranger still, the night before my mom sent me the above email, I had come across the packet while cleaning and stuck it in my purse so I could read it over during Justice’s taekwondo practice. I figured it would give me something to do. So, what does STEMM have to do with my mom’s email? Well, STEMM stands for Siouxland Tanzania Educational Medical Ministries - they do MEDICAL MISSIONS TRIPS, and they do them well!!!!!!!!!!!!! What timing to have finally picked up this packet of info, read through it, only to get my mom’s email the next morning expressing that she was wanting to find a medical missions class! Heck, why not get the class with the trip all in one?!?!?! Immediately after reading my mom’s email I felt God speaking. I knew I had to get this information to her ASAP! I emailed her right away sending her the link to the organization's website (http://www.stemm.org/). That same day my mom contacted the organization’s coordinator. Here’s an email excerpt from their phone conversation:

Just got off the phone with Gail from STEMM! She talked to me for a long time. Wow, do they have a program! I can’t begin to tell you all the stuff they are doing, but she did talk about their work with Hospice and the HIV/AIDS people. I’ve been toying around with the Hospice volunteer program that the Hospice house in Marshalltown offers but the dates haven’t worked out for me. But I know now why I’ve been toying with it :). The AIDS/HIV has been a focus for me since I read The Price of Stones book and the orphans because of “Slim” deaths, as they call it.

Anyway, with the little girl on your blog today who needs surgery – STEMM is orthopedic focused. Not sure what they could do for this little gal, but they are doing surgery in Tanzania and have even done joint replacements. In that area of Africa there is fluoride that comes down the mountain in the water and makes their bones brittle, so they need osteotomies to straighten their legs. They are very cultural based, have a lot of government officials on board and someone from Parliament is on their executive board. She was very interesting to talk to.

Their trips are usually 2 weeks long and they do a 3-day safari in the middle of the trip for people to regroup and relax before digging back in. They also are getting children bibles translated into Swahili and doing bible studies with them, building chicken houses, and they have an orphanage where people work besides doing the medial trips.

WOW WOW WOW! This just seemed like the perfect opportunity….exactly what my mom was looking for to take the next step into answering “what now?” So, this was back in March of this year. This may all look like it was completely clear, but let me tell you that the idea of going on this entire trip was practically working my mom into cold sweats! Fear of the unknown can be so paralyzing, but little by little God gave my mom personal stepping stones into giving her the courage and confirmation from Him that He really was leading her to this trip. You can read more about how God led her to say YES to this trip in her mission’s story on her blog here: http://odlemountain.blogspot.com/p/my-mission-story.html

A major part of the ‘cold sweats’ was coming from the impending cost of this trip. Two installments of $2500 to be exact. My mom does not have the money to go on this trip which is coming up in June 2012. But, she too trusts that if we ‘bring what we have’ God will work in supernatural ways to multiply it and provide. If you feel led to donate to my mom’s trip fund there are many ways you can do so, starting at just $5:

1) My mom is the all-time homemade salsa maker in these parts. She has whipped up a bunch of jars from her summer tomatoes and is currently using them as a fundraiser – minimum donation of $5 gets you one yummy jar! She can’t ship these but she has contacts around Iowa in which she can hand deliver you a jar if you make a donation. (to order, email her by using the contact form on the sidebar of her blog).

2) My mom also does scenic photography. She has turned some of her best photos into note cards….perfect for sending an encouraging word or a little note through the mail or as a card with a gift. These cards will be an assortment of seasonal photography, 8 cards for $12 (envelopes included), blank on the inside. She can ship these if requested. (to order, email her by using the contact form on the sidebar of her blog).

3) Pampered Chef Open House & Fundraiser. You can purchase items as usual and her rewards will be turned into cash by the consultant to put towards her trip. All items are guaranteed by Christmas. To browse the online catalog and place an order online go here: http://www.pamperedchef.biz/jeriskitchen and click ‘shop online’. You will be prompted to enter my mom’s name (Lori Odle) so that your purchase goes towards her show.

4) Lastly, if you would like to just make a general donation without purchasing anything, you can go to my mom’s blog http://odlemountain.blogspot.com/ and donate via pay pal which is on her side bar.

Way to go mom!!!!!!!!!!!! I am so excited that you are taking this step of faith! Who can fathom what God will choose to do through you on this trip?!?!?!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Guest Post on Foster Care ~ The Wykle's

You may have heard me talk about Jayla’s buddy, Max, a time or two here on the blog and on Facebook. This little friendship of 3-year olds has caused a bigger friendship to take root between me and Max’s mommy, Jenna. Earlier this year Jenna and I started having conversations about her and her husband’s heart for adoption. Over the past 6 months I watched as God led this couple to becoming foster care parents. This is a couple who has two tiny children at home and yet, they didn’t let that stop them from signing up to open their front door to strangers in need. This is a couple who is currently in between selling a home and waiting until the time is right to buy again. They didn’t let their temporary living quarters in a townhome hold them back from stepping forward in obedience to what God laid on their hearts. Over the summer they went through the 10 week course to become licensed foster care parents and now have their first placements! I have loved the heart-to-heart talks that Jenna and I have had about how differently you see things once God peels back the layers and confronts you with the needy lives of helpless, vulnerable children. God has personally been teaching Jenna and her husband so much through this adventure of becoming foster care parents. Though they are still new and green in the foster care world, I asked Jenna to write down some of her thoughts about their experience thus far so that we could all get a little glimpse into their adventure…..

My husband and I have been licensed foster care parents for a whole 4 months:) However, we got our first placements just a few weeks after receiving our license and in a very short time we have learned A LOT about God's heart for orphans and the challenges and victories we have seen in the foster care system. I haven't really had time to reflect on our experience, so this should be good to write it out.

First off, a little short back story to how we got to be foster parents. Since I was in high school I can remember feeling that someday I wanted to adopt. I would hear stories of orphans in other countries and my heart would be burdened for them. What started as a small feeling, God grew in me and eventually Nate (my husband) to put that compassion into action and obedience. The further I have grown in my walk with God, the heavier the burden to help orphans has grown and to simply say yes to Him and just obey. I didn't have all the answers...and still don't...but we just said yes to what he laid on our hearts. So after praying and following Nate's leading, we chose foster care over international adoption at this point. Even though I feel that some day we will adopt internationally, right now we are definitely where God wants us.

The fears we had starting out were very unfounded and most had to do with the unknown, because the unknown is very scary if we let it be. We wondered what our extended family would think. Some of them already thought we were a little crazy in our faith, so this would really throw them. We also were concerned about the effects it would have on our biological children. There are fears about getting a child that might hurt one of them or even us. There are fears about not knowing how to parent these 'troubled' kids when we are just learning how to raise our own kids. There are fears about what other people will think about us. So how did we get past these fears? After thinking this through, I see how far God has brought both of us in our faith. I can see that He truly is the one that is determining our course and He has protected us from Satan's attempts to throw us off course. Neither of us dwelled on our fears but rested in our faith. These are all the fear filled thoughts we had, but we didn't allow them to take over our minds or act on them, but instead let God determine the next step. So my answer to anyone who may be filled with lots of fears and trying to figure it all out is to rest in God and let Him guide you in your next step because He is so faithful and He absolutely will. I still have fears that creep in, but I don't let them stop me from obeying. Our God is bigger than our fears.

So right now we have a 7-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl that have been with us since September. I should also say we have a 3-year-old son, Max, and a 10-month-old daughter, Mya, that are our biological children. Every single day has been a learning experience for us. Overall, we couldn't have asked for a better first placement because these kids, despite their circumstances, are remarkable kids. They have fit well in our family and our son adores them both. Right there is one of the victories we have experienced. I know it probably won't always be this way with every placement we have, so I'm thankful that this has been the case this time. So saying that, I'll give you a glimpse of some of the top challenges we have faced.

1) LACK OF INFORMATION! I don't think I could say this enough times and the people closest to me are probably sick of me saying it:) It's very hard to get information on the parents' status, how long the kids will be here, when we go to court next, what happens if the parents don't do what they need to do, et cetera. And since this is our first placement, I really don’t know if this is normal or not, but this has been our experience so far. I do have a ton of compassion for the social workers because I know they are very overworked and are doing their best, but it is still hard to not have any idea how long the kids will be with us or what the probable outcome will be. Especially since the kids are old enough and they ask us these questions. This is an area of learning to rely on God's timing and knowing I really don’t NEED to know every fine detail but to just keep on going.

2) DISCIPLINE. This is a pretty major one for us. The tendency is to want to discipline them the way you would your own kids. The only problem with that is your kids (or at least ours) haven't come from a background anywhere close to foster kids. They haven't experienced neglect, abandonment, abuse, drugs, alcohol, violence, or anything remotely close to what potential foster kids could have gone through. So what may work with your children will most likely not work with foster kids. Another angle is during your licensing classes they suggest taking things away from the foster kids as a form of punishment. That sounds great in theory, but we have found that our foster kids don't value anything. And I feel that our current placements are a very, very mild case. I can only imagine that the more severe the children's behaviors and backgrounds might be, the worse this would be. They have very selfish hearts and like to 'hoard' a lot of things, but they don't value any ONE thing to take it away. So we are still trying to figure out the most effective tools for discipline and doing more training on that.

So those are probably my top 2 challenges we have been faced with so far. Now let me tell you that is nowhere near all of them, but I could probably write a whole book on them.

I'll just briefly share some of the heart challenges I specifically have been dealing with. I'm sure my husband would have totally different ones and I know everyone in similar situations can attest to different personal challenges, but here are some of mine: Probably the biggest heart issue I have had to deal with is my own selfishness. I never realized how extremely selfish I was with pretty much everything God has given me. My time....it requires a lot of time to take care of kids in general, but these are kids who need extra attention, extra love, extra patience, extra everything. It's exhausting. Yet SO worth it. I'm selfish with the time I want with just 'my' kids. There are days I just want to snuggle with my two kids and no one else. I have to realize 'my' kids belong to God and He gave them to me as a gift and we are teaching our kids what it looks like to help those in need and open up our hearts and lives to help other people. That's huge. Every possible area of my life that I could feel selfish with, I have. I know selfishness is something we all have somewhat of a struggle with, but I never knew to what extent I struggled with it. So that is a daily thing God has asked me to lay down so these kids can have hope and a chance in life. Someone said (and maybe it was you, Janel) that opening up your home is like looking in a mirror and it's so true. You lose your idea of 'a perfect little family' but saying all that, I have never seen God work so much in my heart and in our family than what He is doing right now.

One word Nate and I use a lot is PERSPECTIVE. It's so easy to lose perspective on why we are doing this. It's easy to get bogged down with the daily tasks of having 4 very needy children in your home. But we are doing this because we are called to take care of orphans and lay down our lives for our brothers. We know what self sacrifice looks like now. This is not easy. I think one reason God calls us to do 'radical' things is because there is absolutely no way I could do this on my own strength. I HAVE to abide in Him to get through the day. It is completely by Him that I am able to get up in the morning and take care of 4 kids...2 of which are not mine and being completely honest, there are days I'm not sure I even like them, let alone love them. But because this is where God is, I can love them, I can care for them, and I can provide the loving, nurturing home they need. We are doing this to give hope where there is none and to simply be obedient. Usually God provides 'perspective moments' for me throughout my day. When one of the foster kids tells me that Christmas is really about Jesus' birth and Easter is about Jesus' death and resurrection, that's perspective for me. When the other one says that she knows she doesn't have to be scared anymore because she now knows Jesus is always with her, that's perspective for me. And these are coming from mouths that have never been to church before. It's hard work, but the seed has been planted in two people's lives that no matter what their circumstances are, Satan can never take that seed away. Our prayer is God will water it and let it grow. And it's all because we said yes.

Sometimes it's easy to focus on the negative parts of foster care and adoption because that's kind of natural for us. However, I don't want anyone to read this and think that this sounds horrible and way too hard to do. It's hard, it's crazy, it's challenging, it's uncomfortable, it's awkward, it's not human nature, but it is sooo God. He meets us where we need it the most and He works THROUGH us. I can't love these kids on my own, but I can with His strength. Foster kids NEED to be in Christian homes learning about the hope that is possible for them and learning truth. I have this sense of peace and drive to help these kids and their families to know Jesus. It's addicting to say the least. My challenge is for other believers to just say yes to laying down your life for those in need.

For more information on becoming a licensed foster care parent in Iowa visit http://www.iakids.org/

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Day 2 with Athletes in Action - A Powerful Testimony

More reflections from Jake on his time spent at the Athletes in Action World Academy last week...

Have you ever read scripture and asked yourself the question of whether or not you really believe it? Of course if you are a follower of Christ you believe that Jesus died for you on the cross for all of your sins and rose three days later. We believe Jesus is the only way to eternal life and the only way to a true relationship with God. We believe the parts that will make us feel good. We believe the parts that give us strength during difficult times. But do we believe the entirety of the Bible? Do we really believe in the power of God?

When we read Proverbs 21:1 – The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases - Do we really believe this?

When we read Isaiah 40:22-23 – He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of the world to nothing - Do we really believe this?

When we read John 14:12-13 – I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it - Do we really believe this?

If we really believed these things with the same conviction that we believe Jesus died for us on the cross how much differently would our lives look? How much more would we accomplish to bring Christ glory?

I believe these things came alive to me in the form of a testimony today. I could share all the exciting things that we did today like attending the Wright State men’s practice and the leadership development sessions that we got to participate in. I could share more of the stories of how many laughs and funny moments we had together. However, all of the fun details of the day do not compare to the power of one testimony that shaped the entire day with Athletes in Action and will forever shape me as a believer as I begin to understand the true power of God.

Following breakfast Coach Mo, one of the head guys with Athletes in Action, introduced us to another staff member named Rayshon (I hope I am spelling it right). Rayshon came from the country of Kyrgyzstan which is located in Central Asia. Rayshon’s story is below and I hope that it will have the same power in your life as it has in mine.

Rayshon’s story began by discussing how his first twelve years of life started with his mother’s desire for him to become a devout leader of the Muslim faith. Each day his mother would take him to the mosque and he would study the Koran and pray all day long. However, when he turned twelve his father had different plans for him. He told his son that he was not be called to be a religious leader, but rather a world champion boxer. Rayshon’s Dad drove him to the local boxing academy in Kyrgyzstan and that is where he would spend the remainder of his childhood.

Rayshon went on to become the number one ranked boxer in Kyrgyzstan by the time he was 18 years old. He was told by his coaches that he would be attending the world championships and would then become the boxer representing his country at the Olympics. On the day he was scheduled to leave for the world championships his coaches informed him that the government would not allow him to represent the country because his parents came from Uzbekistan. Even though he was a citizen of the country and had trained his body to become the best, he would not be allowed to showcase his skills at the highest level. With that decision coming from the highest officials within the country he decided that there was no point to pursue boxing any further and hung up his gloves on that very day.

Once his boxing career had come to an end he turned to robbery and other various crimes within his country. Rayshon told us story after story about how he robbed people, beat people up, and took everything they had. Until the one day that he got caught. He spent some time in jail and upon his release he decided not to turn from his ways, but rather to be smarter about how he committed his crimes. He decided that the smartest thing to do was to enroll into college and study criminal law. Rayshon believed that he would continue to do his crimes, but would need to be more educated on how not to get caught.

A short while after enrolling into the University he saw a flyer floating around campus announcing that there were a few students coming from the United States for a semester of school at his university to teach English. With this knowledge he decided to enroll in the classes, not because he wanted to learn English, but because he thought there would be no better people to rob and steal from than Americans with a lot of money.

He enrolled in the class along with his other criminal friends. He told us how he and his friends tried to do everything to distract the American students leading the class. They were blurting out comments, kicking chairs, talking and being very disruptive. He said to his surprise these Americans just kept on teaching and showing us that they were truly in his country for a much bigger purpose. One day the Americans announced that they were going to teach the entire class how to play American football. He describes how his first thought was that this would be a great opportunity to hit these Americans as hard as he wanted. However, as that evening went on he had a great time and slowly these Americans began to break down the walls he had built up over the years.

As the weeks went by Rayshon’s relationship with the Americans grew. During the last few days before the Americans had to return home they invited him and his friends to their apartment for a movie. Rayshon and his friends accepted the invitation and soon they were sitting with the Americans in an apartment watching a movie on Jesus. Rayshon tells us how he remembers sitting and watching the movie and not being able to believe what he was watching. He had heard of Jesus, as Jesus is one of the primary prophets of the Koran. However, he had never heard about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. He was taught through his Muslim beliefs that Jesus was taken right up into heaven by their god allah.

Once the movie concluded Rayshon and his friends sat up into the wee hours of the night learning all about who the real Jesus is and how He died on the cross for all of our sins. They asked questions and conversed in some heated discussions. As the night concluded and the sun began to rise he had given his life to Christ.

Soon the Americans were gone. Rayshon had put his faith in Christ, but not much in his life would change until one day he went out to rob some innocent person. As he began to beat up this individual and take his money he began to feel sorry for what he was doing. He began to feel guilty about his actions. While in the middle of beating this victim up he decided he could not live like this any longer and he picked the stranger up, wiped his pants off, and handed him all of his valuables back. He told us that the victim after somehow grasping what had happened ran off, but not before telling Rayshon that he is the craziest criminal he had ever met. As Rayshon knows now, the Holy Spirit was alive in him and beginning to hold him accountable for his sin and raging war against all of his fleshly desires. His life would definitely never be the same!!

Once Rayshon fully realized that his life would never be the same because of this new Jesus that he knew, he decided it was now time to tell his family that he was now a Christian. As he returned home to share this new Jesus with his parents they became horrified. He said that the minute he told his father and brother that he was a Christian they began beating him up with no mercy. Rayshon told us that he could have easily fought back, especially since he was a world champion boxer. But he knew that if he would have done that it would have been disrespectful to his father and brothers. So, he lay there and took the beating. They kept telling him to deny Christ and say that he was a Muslim. He kept telling them that he could not do that and so the beating continued throughout the night.

Finally his father became so discouraged with his son that he told him he would rather have a son that is a criminal and a Muslim instead of a son who is not a criminal and a Christian. Rayshon said that since he would not deny Jesus that his Father told the family that it was necessary for him to kill his son. His Dad left the house only to return a couple minutes later with an ax. He was going to chop his head off with the ax. Rayshon says that for respect to his Father he knelt down on his knees and placed his head on the table and told his Dad it would be better to die because of the Jesus that he now knows than to deny his new Savior. He told us after he spoke these words he began to pray as his Dad raised the ax above his head. And then all of a sudden his Dad stopped and told him to leave the house and that he was no longer his son. Rayshon got up from his knees and left knowing that only God could save his family.

Rayshon said some time went by and he tried to reconnect with his family, but it would never be the same. With the reality of the situation with his family quite clear he decided to leave for Turkey as he had an opportunity to attend a seminary school there. As he left his country he never knew if he would see his family again, but he recounts how he prayed daily for God to save his family.

About a year after he left for Turkey a genocide broke out in his home country. The government was going around massacring large numbers of Uzbekistan descendants that now lived in Kyrgyzstan, and this would include his own family - or so he thought. Only by the grace of God, after months of silence did he reunite with his family in a refugee camp in Turkey. He talks about not only how God answered his prayers and saved his family from this genocide, but how only the power of God would allow them to end up in a refugee camp in Turkey very near to where he was attending seminary school at.

He remembers seeing his family for the first time in a long time, and the first thing he asks his father is, “Why did allah not protect you while in Kyrgyzstan?" He goes on to tell his Dad, “Don’t you feel it is ironic how my God brought you out of the country back to me in Turkey?” His father did not have any great answers and has not yet given his life to Christ, but like God did in Rayshon’s life, God is breaking down some walls and slowly revealing His power to his father.

Rayshon went on to tell us that it is funny how God is working in the smallest ways in his father’s life. Last Christmas Rayshon brought his entire family to the United States to visit. He told us that after a Christmas party that ended at about 2am he had a friend drive his father back to Rayshon’s house. While his friend was driving his father back to the house they stopped at a red light. Rayshon tells us that his Father apparently turned to his friend and said, “Why don’t you just go through the light? It is 2am and nobody is around.” Rayshon’s friend turned to his Father and said, “I can’t go through this light for two reasons. First, it is against the law in the United States to go through red lights. Second, if I knowingly choose to break a law it would not reflect well on my savior Jesus Christ.”

Rayshon goes on to tell us how his Dad brings this event up quite often. His Dad thinks it is amazing that these Christians that believe in the Jesus that died on the cross obey God even when no one is looking. The greatest part of the story is that Rayshon’s mother has given her life to Christ, though it is not something that is discussed much because of respect for his father. Rayshon concludes his story that he still prays daily that God will save his family once again from the eternal damnation they will face if they don’t repent and turn to the real Jesus. He knows God can do all things through His power as he has seen the reality of that in his own life!!

For me, I am simply amazed by the power of God. I am amazed at how God has orchestrated Rayshon’s life. If his Dad does not make him a boxer he may have never heard about Christ. If he would have gone on to the Olympics he would have maybe never heard about Christ. If he would not have become a criminal he maybe would not have ever heard about Christ. If he would not have gotten caught he maybe would have never heard about Christ. If he would not have gone to law school he would have maybe never heard about Christ. If those Americans would have never come he maybe would have never heard about Christ. If those Americans did not teach him how to play American football he maybe would have never heard about Christ. If the American’s would not have had the courage to show the Jesus film maybe he would have never heard about the true Jesus. And now you wonder maybe if there was never a genocide in Kyrgyzstan, maybe his parents would never have had a relationship back with their son who God may use to lead them to Christ. When thinking about all these circumstances in his life that have been orchestrated by God is it not amazing? Does it not make all the scripture about God’s power seem so real? How can we choose anything but to believe in the full and complete power of God? And, if we do really believe in the true power of God I wonder how differently our lives will begin to look. I know God has my life in the palm of his hand and he will most definitely direct everywhere it will go.

All I can say is what a couple of days this was with Athletes in Action!!!!! I can’t believe God has given me this experience. I am not sure where God is going to take all the new relationships that I have had the opportunity to create in just 48 hours. I know God is up to something pretty cool and I am excited to be participating on his team to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Athletes In Action World Coaching Academy - Day 1

Last week Jake attended the Athletes in Action World Coaching Academy. He had stories coming out of his ears when he came home so I asked him to write about his experience in a few blog posts….here are his thoughts from Day 1….

In a recent song written by Casting Crowns called 'Courageous' there are lyrics that go as follows:

“In the war of the mind I will make my stand.”

When you read those lyrics can you relate? Do you take a stand or do you allow Satan to deceive you into ignoring where God is calling you? Does that war that is taking place in your mind prevent you from experiencing the awesomeness that is found in all that Christ is doing? For me personally that war rages daily in my mind, and almost prevented me from experiencing a couple of the most amazing days of my life.

On Sunday, November 13th I jumped on a plane headed for Dayton, Ohio to take in a couple of days of the Athletes in Action World Coaching Academy. Everything in my mind was telling me to stay home. I was weary from a few busy weeks with Kingdom Hoops, and was just coming off a busy weekend of coaching in Lincoln, Nebraska. I wanted to just stay home, stay in my normal routine, and be with my family. My mind was waging against me, but in my heart I knew God was calling me to attend this event. For weeks prior to me actually leaving Satan was using my mind to deceive me in wanting to pass on this opportunity and stay home. But, like God so often does, the Holy Spirit was speaking a little louder and there was no way I could just ignore God speaking so clearly in my heart.

I had to make a stand against my mind and against my flesh to travel to this coaching academy where I knew no one and had no idea why I was even going. I did not know where I was staying. I did not know who was picking me up at the airport. I did not know the itinerary for the couple of days I was going to be there. I kept wrestling with God why he even had me going to this event. However, I could hear the Holy Spirit asking me if I really trusted. I could hear God saying that it is not for me to know all the details. The days leading up to the event it was like he was telling me to remember that He is in the business of calling us and we are supposed to be in the business of following.

As I hopped on the plane for Dayton on Sunday night I picked up a book that I am reading called ‘Courageous Living’. In the book the author poses a question. If you look back on your life how many things have you accomplished that you had actually planned on accomplishing? His point was that God dictates our life. He said usually the times in which we don’t know where we are going are the times that God is most involved. This is my story of the past couple of days! All I know is that God moved in me in mighty ways and I pray that God can move in the others that I got to meet while in Dayton, Ohio.

Monday, November 14th – Day 1
Finally I arrive in Dayton, Ohio at 12:00am on Monday, November 14th. Craig Sladek a staff member with Athletes In Action (AIA) was there to pick me up at the airport. I had no idea Craig was picking me up, but it was a relief when he texted me that he was waiting for me outside the airport. I have come to know Craig over the past couple years as he actually lives in Johnston, Iowa, and is one of the few off-site staff that Athletes in Action has within the United States. It was great to see a familiar face at the airport. We took the 20 minute drive to Xenia, Ohio where the AIA headquarters is located. I got checked into the dorms around 1am, and it was immediately to bed as breakfast was being served at 7:30am.

As my alarm sounds on Monday morning it feels like I just fell asleep 15 minutes ago. I jump in the shower and I am off to breakfast with no idea of what to expect or what God was up to. I walk into breakfast and I am met by friendly faces from all over the world. There are coaches from Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Togo, Columbia, Jordan, Guatemala, Uszbekistan, Kazakistan, Turkey, and Canada. There are people speaking French, Spanish, English, and various other dialects. No matter what the language barrier there are smiles on everyone’s face and plenty of people to greet me as I enter breakfast.

As we finish breakfast it was time for what AIA calls “Team Time.” It is a large group Bible study where everyone discusses various scripture. On this particular morning we discussed the freedom that is only found in Christ. The study was centered around Colossians chapter 2, and it resonated loudly with so many of these coaches. Where many of these coaches come from freedom is a premium and in many of their countries it is something that is dreamed about daily. Many of these coaches come from cultures that hold back the gospel due to tradition, the large impact of the Muslim faith, or simply because they are scared, like many of us, of what others might think if they boldly profess Christ. No matter how long you have been a Christian, it is like drinking the most refreshing glass of ice water in the hot desert to be reminded about the freedom that Christ has given all of us, because of what he did for us on that cross.

After “Team Time,” we were headed to the 15 passenger vans for an exciting day in Cincinnati. I, being new to how the van situation goes, hadn’t noticed that all the vans were divided up by ethnic groups! Not even realizing it, I had jumped in the van with all of the Guatemalans and Columbians. It took us about 60 minutes to reach Cincinnati and it was an experience that I will never forget. I was completely out of my comfort zone in this South American van, and wondering why I did not pay more attention in Spanish class! I loved the South Americans and getting to know them, but through this small experience it was all the more clear to me that God has really ignited a passion in my heart for Africa.

Our first stop in Cincinnati was at a Christian training facility called Ignition. Ignition trains athletes of all ages and ability with the primary focus on speed/agility, acceleration, and strength training.
Their trainers are also responsible for training the Cincinnati Bengal NFL Football players which was a huge hit with all of the coaches even though many of them knew very little about American football. During our time at Ignition they put the coaches through various workouts and training methods that they can take back to their country. Our time was short at Ignition, but as God so often does he began working in ways that I certainly can’t explain.

As many of the coaches were taking in the various training methods by the Ignition staff I saw an African coach sitting against the wall. Most of the African coaches that were at the event came from French speaking countries, so I did not expect much conversation as I headed over to the wall, but I could feel the Holy Spirit nudging me to go. In one of the most awkward ways possible I simply said hi. I was only expecting a head nod, but to my surprise he responded, “Hello, how are you doing?” He spoke perfect English. Before long I was sitting along the wall with him learning all about his life and about the people of Uganda. The crazy part about this man from Uganda named Gad is that he comes from a village called Ogoli. If any of you know Dylan and Jen De Bruin this is the same village that God has led them to in caring for the orphans of Uganda (http://orphansofteso.wordpress.com/). During our conversation I also had the opportunity to share my story of what God has been doing in my life over the past couple of years in Iowa and Ghana, Africa.

When you get into conversations you never know for sure where God is going to lead it, but I soon found out that Gad actually is in the United States for a few months on a multiple entry visitor visa. I have no idea how he got this type of visa as it is very, very rare, but none the less he has it. Gad told me a story about how when he first came to visit the United States six months or so ago he was coming to visit his cousin in New York City. A couple of days before he arrived in New York his cousin received a job transfer to a city in Pennsylvania. He did not want to go to Pennsylvania so he spent a few days wondering around New York City. He said, he walked by a church and could feel the Holy Spirit telling him to go into this church and just to pray about what he was supposed to do. As he entered the church the first person he met was a lady from Uganda (go figure! God is working!). This lady introduced him to the pastor of the church and the pastor and his wife immediately took him in like family. For the past five months he has been living with the pastor and his family and you can simply see the joy in his face as he talks about them. This was one of the many times in the next 48 hours that God’s power would be so clear to me!!!

The next hour flew by and before I knew it we were all being escorted back to the vans to head for lunch. My new friend Gad told me to ride in his van and to my delight I was surrounded by seven African coaches and one lady from Canada named Steph who is part of the AIA staff. She was translating everything into French for the majority of the African coaches. All of sudden I felt comfortable and at home as we headed to Qdoba for lunch.

Over the course of lunch I met all the African coaches and got to hear so many incredible stories about the power of God in their lives. I also had the opportunity to share my adventure with Christ with all of them. Let me tell you if you ever want a challenge in telling your God story have a translator sitting with you interpreting all of it into another language. You have to break the story up into a few hundred fragmented sentences, but it did help refine my God story in as concise of a story as possible!!!

Following lunch we headed over to the University of Cincinnati to watch their women’s team practice. Upon arriving I of course had to sneak over to the Cincy football stadium to take some pictures to send to JJ.

The facilities at the University of Cincinnati are incredible and it was a great time taking in a practice with these coaches from all over the world. Here we are outside the Cincy stadium...I took all these pictures on my phone which is why I am not in any of them!
After practice concluded we had about two hours until dinner in Cincinnati and the AIA staff decided this would be a great opportunity to head to a coffee shop and break into small groups to discuss all that we were learning. Before I get into the details regarding our discussion time I want to paint a picture for everyone. Imagine you are standing in your local coffee shop trying to get your caffeine fix for the day or you just got off of work and before heading home you head to the coffee shop for some quiet and alone time. Just as you sit down the door flings open and 40 people walk in. Not just any 40 people, but 40 people from all over the world - multiple languages being spoken, a mix of cultural African scents invading the air, incredibly loud talking Spanish people, all with a group of white people laughing their heads off. Try to imagine what you would be thinking at that moment. I wish everyone could have seen the faces of all of those people in the Bruegger’s Bagels store that we stopped at. It was one of those priceless moments.

The AIA staff all split up in different areas where they had been ministering. Basically there were three tables. Central Asia, South America, and Africa. I was helping to lead the African discussion group. We all had two questions to ask our group. 1) What have we learned in regards to basketball? 2) What is going on in your heart right now? The first to speak was Jaqukes (it was spelt something like that) from Rwanda. He told us in French (thank God for the translator) that the thing he is learning in regards to basketball is the importance of assistant coaches. He said that in Africa nobody has an assistant coach except for the National team, because coaches don’t want to share their system or training methods with anyone else. They fear that if they share information other teams will pass them up and take opportunities away from themselves. This not only provided us leaders of the group a great opportunity to talk about working together for the greater good of the country in regards to basketball development, but even more importantly to intertwine the gospel into this conversation. We focused on two main areas regarding the gospel and the simple idea of having assistant coaches. First, we talked about the great commission as Jesus told his disciples to go out and share the good news and make disciples all over the world. We even posed the question to the group of African coaches that what if the disciples would have just kept Jesus all to themselves? If the disciples would have done this all of us sitting in Brueggers Bagels that day that have accepted Christ would not have eternal life because we would have never heard of him.

The second question we posed to all the African coaches was the idea of storing up treasures. Could the unwillingness to share information be that they were focused too much on storing up treasures here on earth? Many of the coaches were concerned with the fact that if they win a tournament/game they get paid more money, and if they don’t win enough games it could cost them a promotion. Through their conversations it was clear that they held opportunity and money at a high value – to the point where they don’t trust their fellow brother and are unwilling to help others become successful because it might take an opportunity away from them. During our entire discussion we never even had to ask about what was God doing on each individual’s heart in our group. We all knew the answer. He was challenging each of them to share what they are learning in order to allow the gospel to spread all throughout Rwanda, Uganda, Togo, and all of Africa.

Following practice it was back to the vans as we headed to Faith Bible Church in Cincinnati. They had a small group within the church cooking and serving dinner to all of us.
We had sloppy joes, rice and beans, and some pumpkin pie to top off the meal. It was so incredible to see all these ladies serving us! The exposure of culture and God’s ultimate love just spread throughout all the coaches and all the people serving. As we got ready to leave the Africans wanted to thank all of the people who served us with a little African song and dance! Of course the Guatemalans and Columbians were not going to miss out on this opportunity to sing and dance. They didn’t know the words since they don’t speak the same language – but that didn’t stop them from joining in!

After leaving the church we had about an hour drive home and like God so often does he used the insignificant moment of a drive home to show me how His power is alive in so many lives. On the way home two of the AIA staff shared their God-stories with me. I will share their stories in a future blog post. Let’s just say you will love the stories of how God’s power is leading people to the ends of the earth in order to see the gospel shared. These testimonies on this rainy drive home not only refueled me, but spurred me on to attempt to do greater things for God.

Before I knew it we were back at the dorms and we all headed downstairs to a 96 inch TV to take in some college basketball games on ESPN. This also provided an opportunity to be able to converse with these other coaches into the wee hours of the night. My favorite encounter of the evening was with the director of Athletes in Action in Uganda. He shared his story with me and I will be sharing it with all of you very soon. The other cool part is that I think it's going to work out for him to come to Iowa this week and experience Thanksgiving with my family before he has to return to Uganda.

As 1am in the morning rolled around we decided to go to bed or so we thought. My roommate and I headed to our room and before we knew it the clock read 3:39am as we shared our God-stories with each other and sat up into the night discussing the various challenges we face daily in our walk with Christ. To me it was incredible how something like this could happen. Two young guys from the United States that have grown up in two totally different environments that never knew each other 24 hours earlier were sitting up into the early morning hours of the next day talking about all that God is doing. Eventually we got ourselves a couple hours of sleep with a joy that can only be expressed by a day truly orchestrated by God.

For tomorrow’s blog post I will share all about day 2 with these men and women of God in Dayton, Ohio!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Job, Angela & Godwin Vander Weide (Three less orphans)!!!!!

Our friends the Vander Weide’s are moving right along in their adoption process of Job, Angela & Godwin from the Beacon House Orphanage in Ghana! I first blogged about this beautiful family stepping up to adopt here! Well, just last week they got to fly to Ghana to file their I-600 form which is the last approval they will need before they can bring their kids home. Getting this approval can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Once they have the approval the next step is to get the kids their visas, and then they will get to come home to West Des Moines, Iowa! I just had to post these awesome pictures of the time the Vander Weide’s got to spend bonding with their kids in Ghana last week. How I LOVE that Job, Angela, and Godwin are soon going to get a brand new life with a loving and caring FAMILY!!!!!!!!

Looking at videos from JD, Emma & Grace (the Vander Weide's kids back at home)....

Doug teaching Job how to shoot....

At the Beacon House they raise grass cutters (a type of animal that they eat in Ghana for a protein source). Angela doesn’t like them! As they were looking at them she said,“Mommy, protect me!”

Dawn and Godwin snuggling after his nap....

Dawn and Godwin....

The Vander Weide's took a night and had dinner with the Kingdom Hoops Ghana basketball team in Accra....

Grocery store in Osu....

Doug and Godwin eating cashews....

Dawn snuggling with Angela after her nap....

Job Vander Weide....

Angela Vander Weide....

Godwin Vander Weide....

Doug and Dawn got to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary on their trip! They had a great dinner with Nana and Esi which included cow intestine soup!

I also wanted to include this little letter that Job had written to Doug and Dawn a few weeks before this trip. This boy is SO SPECIAL!!!!!!!

He also drew them this picture....so many of the young kids in Ghana have such artistic talent!!!!!!

Doug and Dawn actually saw that picture come to life on their trip when they got this close to some baboons!!!!

Loving on Godwin....

Dawn says Godwin loves to be held....

Yep, this pretty much says it all!

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this family!!!!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Will adoption 'ruin' my biological children?"

Too many times those of us who already have biological children who are weighing adoption think that adoption is going to ‘ruin’ our biological kids. That it is going to take away something that they deserve. I believe this sort of reasoning is a lie, straight from the devil himself, and I feel the need to expose it!

As I’ve said on this blog many times, over the past few years God has absolutely destroyed MY idea of what our family should look like. It started with our adoption, it continued with allowing our home to become open to those in need. With clenched fists I desperately wanted to hang onto the dreamy family picture that sat on our fire place back in 2008. In my mind, we embodied the perfect American family: a mom, a dad, a little boy, a little girl. I wrestled with God over how opening up our home to those in need was ruining my dream. Our time, our money, our everything was now being spent on OTHERS…not just our own children. It bothered me….I wanted my kids to have all my love, my attention, my energy, my wisdom, my gifts FIRST….and the ‘leftovers’ could be spent on others.

What God eventually revealed to me was that I had deceived myself into fashioning and forming my children into little idols.

I wanted to focus on raising my kids first, to protect them from everything ‘bad’ in the world, and to put them above all else. Don’t get me wrong, we do have an extremely important responsibility to care for, protect, and raise up our children that God has blessed us with. But, here’s the thing: as believers we have an enemy prowling around who takes his job of deceiving Christ-followers very seriously. Satan totally capitalized on these motherly best-of-intentions of mine by twisting them a little. Before I knew it, I had gotten myself caught up into all sorts of scenarios that ‘might’ happen. I became completely paralyzed in the decision to adopt because in every scenario there was the potential for our own kids to be affected negatively. I worried that bringing in an adopted child might ruffle our own kid’s feathers too much and could possibly mess them up. I reasoned that we certainly weren’t being wise to open up our home to a ‘stranger’ when we had such young kids at home. And it seemed that an adoption would take away from the time and attention on our own kids….

Jesus had something to say to me about these thoughts.

Matthew 10:37-39 ~ ‘Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’

This verse is now my reminder that my first devotion always needs to be towards God and His Kingdom. That might mean that He may ask me to do some hard things. Like adopt orphans into our already established family. Yes, it will change our family dynamic. But not as much as Abraham probably thought his family dynamic was going to change as he walked up that mountain to follow God’s command to sacrifice his one and only Son that he had waited years and years for (Genesis 22). And He stepped forward in faith, trusting that God’s plan and purpose was greater than even his own mind could rationalize. God isn’t asking me to sacrifice my one and only son. He’s asking me to give life to my son/daughter living on the other side of the world that I never even knew I had.

There are things that your biological kids WILL have to ‘give up’ in adoption (birth order position, a room all to themselves, etc). But contrary to what Satan would have you think, these things are not going to ruin them. You’re actually giving them SO MUCH more! For our family, adoption and opening up our home to those in need has taught our kids more about the gospel than any bible study we have ever done. Since they do have to give some things up, they experience firsthand what it’s like to love sacrificially - just as Christ loves us. They get to see us reach out to give hope, a future, and a family to the fatherless….just as God did for us when we were living without Him. They see what it looks like for others to be adopted into our family and have all the rights as sons and daughters, just like God adopts us as His children through the blood of Jesus Christ. They see in our family picture a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God will look like some day when we get to heaven ~ colorful! Again, these things are just tiny glimpses of the gospel, but setting our family up in this way is shaping and forming our biological kid’s character and personalities better than anything we could teach them with our words. Sure we could tell them with our words that Jesus commands us to love the unloveable, to seek justice on the account of the oppressed, to love their neighbor as themselves, or to lay down their lives for others just as Christ did for us. But through serving others and opening up our home and family by way of adoption, we get to SHOW them all these things and more. We get to live this out. Our kids are seeing that following Jesus can be quite the adventure. It’s not boring, it’s exciting. It’s a thrill to allow God to use you, and to watch Him work in supernatural ways, right in your very own home.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"I would adopt if only it weren't so expensive!"

If you’ve ever said that then before you do anything else, take about 5 minutes and go read this blog post: http://ordinaryheroblog.blogspot.com/2011/06/i-would-adopt-if-only-it-werent-so.html The points that she brings up cannot be any better said!!!! I especially LOVE her thoughts on getting over the hurdle of feeling bad about asking for money and recognizing that as a pride issue.

As the author of that blog post notes, of course nobody wants to go into debt in order to fund an adoption. Recently, another adoptive mom published a book called ‘Adopt Without Debt’. The subtitle is ~ Creative Ways to Cover the Cost of Adoption. Earlier this summer this mom/author was featured on The Dave Ramsey Show, and you can listen to her interview here: http://adoptwithoutdebt.com/?p=219 You can also order the book off that same link and check out the Adopt Without Debt blog.

As you read through each of the links above you will continue to come across this word: Fundraising!!!! Be creative! If you are the sporty type how about organizing a 3 on 3 tournament in which you can raise money through entry fees and spectator admissions? You could apply the same idea with a dodge ball tournament, or have runners collect pledges and host a 5k/10k in your neighborhood! We have friends down the road who raised over $3000 for their adoption fund on a weekend garage sale! Their friends and family donated items to the sale and it was a huge success! People are always willing to give you their old/unwanted/unused STUFF….so make use of it! I could write pages and pages of ideas on fundraising – from sending out support letters (just as you would do to raise money for a missions trip), to selling t-shirts (check out http://www.adoptionbug.com/fundraiser.htm), to hosting an event like a concert (maybe you have friends who are in a band), hosting a dinner/movie night at your local community center in which you can sell tickets beforehand, or maybe you have a skill/hobby in which you could sell your handmade items online (photography, jewelry, baked goods, cloth bags/purses,etc). Not creative? Sell merchandise already designed for adoption fundraising through either of these organizations: http://www.147millionorphans.com/147-Million-Orphans-Fundraising-Program_ep_51.html OR http://www.ordinaryhero.org/Ordinary_Hero/OH_Fundraising.html One of the churches that Jake recently spoke at asked for an offering for our adoption by having its congregation put in whatever they were going to spend on going out for lunch that day. What a great idea! This pastor knew about God’s multiplication! He got this offering idea from John 6:1-15 and the little boy who donated his personal lunch which became the pieces Jesus multiplied and used to feed the five thousand (I just blogged about this concept here: http://team-sullivan.blogspot.com/2011/11/bring-what-you-have.html) How about putting a pay pal button on your website/blog and simply asking people to donate their lunch money for one day? Watch it add up!

There are a few more things to look into in addition to fundraising:

A number of companies have adoption assistance programs built into their benefits with some providing between $2000 to $8000. For more information visit http://www.adoptionfriendlyworkplace.org/

An increasing number of churches are establishing adoption funds as part of their budgets. As I’ve blogged about previously, our church gives out generous adoption grants and have been an integral piece in us coming up with our finances to adopt. Ask your pastor whether your church has something set up. If not, ask about starting a fund.

A handful of our friends who are adopting have sought out their parents or family/friends for a loan to cover adoption expenses. They then pay them back when they receive their adoption tax credit which comes through on taxes after the adoption is finalized. If that isn’t an option for you there are many organizations that give out interest-free loans for adoption. Here are a few to look into:

-The ABBA Fund (http://www.abbafund.org/) is designed to help Christian families overcome the financial obstacles of adoption through interest-free loans that can be paid back over time. (I also stumbled across a really cool ministry of the Abba Fund called LegacyChild [http://www.abbafund.org/legacychild.htm] It is designed for families to set up memorial funds in memory of a loved one. The family is able to choose a pre-approved family that is waiting for funding for their adoption to receive an interest-free loan.)

-Lifesong (http://www.lifesongfororphans.org/) is another organization that provides interest-free loans.

There are also many foundations that give out adoption grants to those who qualify. Here are two:

-Show Hope http://www.showhope.org/

-James 1:27 Foundation (Iowa families only): http://www.james127foundationadopt.org/

And don’t forget to look into adoption through your state’s foster care system! The costs are minimal to none. http://www.iowakidsnet.org/index.cfm

Last, but not least, be honest with your friends and family on how much adoption costs, and at the same time be open about how you trust in God to provide those finances (DO YOU?!?!)!!!! When others realize how much adoption costs, God may stir them to bless you with a one-time gift to help out! :)

Please add more ideas or post your adoption finance success stories in the comments section!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Light and Dark

This is what God the Lord says-
he who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk in it;
I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
(Isaiah 42:5-7)

Reading these verses the other day immediately gave me a visual of one of our Rosebud girls.
There she sits, in darkness. No, you would never know by talking to her. She’s happy, social, and carefree on the outside. But on the inside her heart is cold, hardened, defensive. She goes her own way. Ignores warnings, suppresses truth. She knows scripture. She can read a verse and tell you what it means. She’ll sing to the Lord on Sundays when everyone is watching. But she’ll also tell you in the next breath that she rejects Him. “These are just stories to me,” she says holding up the Bible. She reminds us again and again that they hold no value for her life. To her, the message of the cross is foolishness. She’s purposefully distracting and unresponsive during family devotionals. So much so that one evening I got another vision of her. Sitting there at the table, I pictured her giving the middle finger to God. That’s the only way I could describe her blatant disregard towards the One who sustains her life. I’ve gotten so angry with her at times that I’ve screamed out, “Don’t you know that God could take away your very next breath?! You aren’t promised another day! If you die tomorrow….”

Oh boy. My responses to her are often so full of anger and without love. It’s not what I am saying. In a world full of lies she so desperately needs to be confronted with truth. But it’s how I am saying it. I think to myself Good grief, you are supposed to be making Christ attractive, and here you are getting all offended and shoving it down her throat! Time and again I resolve to be more gentle and compassionate the next time, knowing that I purposefully have to choose that heart attitude because it doesn’t naturally come.

On other days I’ve caught my heart on the verge of giving up. Why keep telling her about Jesus? She just continues to reject Him. Just let her go her own way. Let her be. You have too much going on to deal with someone who doesn’t even want help. Ugh, my heart is so ugly. I know Satan wants me to dwell on the thought that there is nothing in this for me, and that in fact, dealing with her is burdensome. Jake and I have had a handful of deep talks with her. Each time it’s like going down into the dungeon to sit there with her. It’s draining and I feel weighed down with her unrepentance and blatant rebelliousness. I feel unequipped to know how to reach her, how to connect with her, how to even smile at her when my heart is so turned away from her.

Jake reminds me that we don’t need to beg her out of the dungeon. “Jesus never begged anyone to follow Him,” he says, and he’s right. I know from scripture that Jesus does seek out the lost. He reaches out His hand offering release from darkness and fullness of new life, but it is everyone’s choice whether or not they will grab on.

So far, she’s not grabbing.

On the other end, our other Rosebud girl has responded to the gospel as I wrote about here. In her young teenage life, her responding ‘looks’ different than say what it would look like in a 30 year old. But Jake and I have watched her continue to take steps out into the light of God’s presence. It’s rocky and she’s young. There were weeks in a row when we questioned her genuineness. But day after day it seems that her excitement about God grows, her worship becomes more heartfelt. There are MANY lows in between the highs. Her tendency is to shut God out when things get hard, something my own heart is familiar with. But she always comes back to Him. When He gets too close she’ll push Him away, only to days later run back into his loving and forgiving arms. I know she is unfamiliar with what it is like to have a God who doesn’t keep score. Who loves no matter what. Who is a refuge. Who is safe. Who will never leave or abandon her. She’s never known this sort of relationship before. She’s testing it out to see if it will endure. In church yesterday we sang some lyrics to an old hymn. I know she hadn’t heard the song before, but once she got a hold of one line, she started singing it louder and louder each time it came around. By the end of the song she was belting out this particular part….

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love,
Here’s my heart Lord take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.

Oh, how all of us who follow Christ can relate to these words. Standing next to her, listening to her sing, I felt a sense of relief that she was able to belt out the tug of war going on in her heart. This tug of war has become a current theme in her life. Days before she had shared with me how God gave her a vision one day when she was looking out into a grass field. She clearly saw two paths, one narrow, one wide. She went on to describe Matthew 7:13-14 in her own words. She said “I know God wants me on the narrow path. That’s the way I should go.”

Our Rosebud girls have come from the same place, the same culture, similar pasts, and dealt with similar patterns in their familial relationships. But their hearts are responding differently to Jesus. One sits in her dungeon, storing up wrath for herself without care. The other has taken a step into the light, lifted her head up, and tasted salvation. The hard part is that these two are the best of friends. The one who is stepping into the light doesn’t want to leave her friend in darkness. But the one in darkness wants nothing to do with the light. Since the one stepping into the light is the weaker, more timid of the two, she succumbs back under all she has ever known - her friend sitting there in the darkness.

For the past few weeks Jake and I have wrestled with the idea of separating our two girls….finding a different host family for one of them. We’ve gone back and forth trying to pick through the good and the bad of staying or splitting. But we keep coming back to this: our ‘light girl’ who is responding to the gospel needs to be able to breathe and to discover her identity without hiding under the other. This is just absolutely not possible with their current living situation in our home. When the two are together, they tend to stay in step with one another….feeding off each other in games of manipulation. Furthermore, we find our ‘light girl’ being pulled back into the darkness, enticed to take part in sin, and taking unnecessary steps backward. Jake and I know that her relationship with God needs to be priority over a friendship. Pretty hard for a teenager to understand. Or so I thought. I brought this idea of a split up to her in the car the other day when we were alone. I explained everything I’ve written here and, expecting the worst, I asked her how she would feel about a split. She said, “I think it would give me an option to come away from her.” Whew! That went over well. I think she’s been feeling suffocated and torn in two, but just hasn’t had the courage to bring it up. She actually sounded relieved at the thought of it.

Of course there will always be stumbling blocks in our walk with God, and we aren’t trying to shield our ‘light girl’ from developing the faith to get through them by initiating this split. We also know that God could eventually choose ‘light girl’ to draw her friend to Jesus. But if that is God’s intent, I know that them living under different roofs will not thwart His plan. In fact, our hope is that ‘light girl’ would so grow in her faith that she does become in a position to take the gospel to those who reject Him….for her that will start back on her reservation. I have so many hopes for ‘light girl’…..it seems that a split might just be the first step in helping her to blossom….

Don't become partners with those who reject God. How can you make a partnership out of right and wrong? That's not partnership; that's war. Is light best friends with dark? Does Christ go strolling with the Devil? Do trust and mistrust hold hands? Who would think of setting up pagan idols in God's holy Temple? (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bring What You Have

I have a handful of posts I am hoping to write on adoption finances and fundraising. When I talk with people about adoption, the first thing that usually comes out of their mouths is “There’s no way we can afford that!” Yep, Jake and I said the same thing! But there is a way….many ways actually! There are just a TON of resources on this topic, and I will be blogging about them next week. But first, for today, we’ve got to get our perspective right. My mom’s comment on my post yesterday about ‘God’s multiplication’ is the perspective that we will be grabbing today. I’ve taken a little excerpt out of one of my favorite books, The Hole in Our Gospel (pages 251-253). Everything below was written by the author Richard Stearns - I added a few tiny thoughts in blue....

One of the most common mistakes we can make is to believe that we have nothing of significance to offer – that we’re not rich enough, smart enough, skilled enough, or spiritual enough to make much difference at all, especially in the face of huge global problems. Remember the words of Moses, when God asked him to go to Pharaoh and lead His people out of Egypt? “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” He had his excuse too: he wasn’t eloquent enough. And we’re just like him. Deluded, we sit on the bench, watching the game from a distance, content to let others play. But the very good news for those of us who want to follow Christ and be part of God’s plan for our world is that He uses what we have to offer, no matter how unimportant we think it might be.

In the New Testament, the story of the feeding of the five thousand is found in all four Gospels. Jesus used it to change the way we think about underwhelming resources in the face of overwhelming challenges (sounds like adoption finances to me!!!). We are told that as Jesus and the disciples attempted to retreat to a quiet place to rest, a large crowd of people, eager to hear Jesus’ teaching and to be healed, followed them.

The first thing we notice is how differently Jesus and His disciples viewed the situation. The disciples saw only a large problem: “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat” (Mark 6:35-36). But Jesus looked at the exact same situation and saw an opportunity: “When Jesus…saw the large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things” (v.34). And according to the gospel of Luke, “He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing” (9:11).

When we see poverty and sickness, hunger and famine, cruelty and abuse, do we see them as problems, or do we, like Jesus, filled with compassion, see their human faces and immediately begin to respond – as a shepherd to his vulnerable sheep? The disciples told Jesus that He needed to do something: he should send the crowd away, so they could buy food. In other words, “Jesus, You need to deal with this problem!”

Of course, Jesus did not tell them what they wanted to hear. Instead, He calmly put it right back on them. “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16; emphasis added).

Now, this was an overwhelming predicament, from the disciples’ point of view. There were five thousand men present, “besides women and children” (v 21). Theoretically, then, there may have been as many as ten or even twenty thousand people present. At this point the disciples were getting a bit exasperated, and they panicked; Jesus couldn’t expect them to do the impossible, could He? They even did some calculations to demonstrate to Jesus the absurdity of His reponse. “That would take eight months of a man’s wages!” they told Him. (again, this sounds like an adoption finance thought!) “Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37).

There. Surely Jesus gets it now, they thought. There is no earthly way all these people can be fed. There are too many; it would be too costly; it’s not possible. But Jesus persisted.

“How many loaves do you have?” He asked. “Go and see” (v.38). Notice that Jesus did not fall into the same trap His disciples had, by being overwhelmed by the size of the problem. He didn’t ask about magnitude or strategy or feasibility. He asked not how much it would take to solve the problem, but only how much they had to offer. The disciples told Him that one boy had five loaves and two fish that he was willing to give. “Bring them here to me,” He said (Matthew 14:18).

The disciples had found just one boy who was willing to give what he had. Presumably there were others, too, that had some food. Thousands even. They could have offered it, but instead they kept it to themselves, perhaps rationalizing that “someone else” would respond. And one did – just one. So Jesus received this generous but meager offering and showed the disciples what God can do with even the smallest gift offered in faith. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (vv.19-20).

Can you see the real miracle at work here? Confronted with an overwhelming problem, Jesus did not ask the disciples to do the impossible; He asked only for them to bring to Him what they had. He then multiplied the small offering and used it to do the impossible. The principle here is so very important for those of us who are overwhelmed with the immensity of human suffering and need in our world: God never asks us to give what we do not have…But he cannot use what we will not give.

I used to wonder why we are told so specifically at the end of this story that there were twelve basketfuls of leftovers collected. Why twelve? Might it be because there were twelve disciples who needed a tangible reminder of their lack of faith? Each one now had his own basketful of God’s surplus. And as the little boy who had given his lunch looked on, can you imagine the joy he must have felt, seeing his gift multiplied by God to feed thousands of hungry people, many of whom he probably knew? It was his lone “puzzle piece” that completed this miracle of God. When we, as Christians, are willing to lay our pieces down on the table, we, too, can take part in God’s “multiplication”. But if we are unwilling, we will assuredly miss out on every opportunity to be used by God in a powerful and amazing way.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How Will We Afford Another Adoption?

Let me start off by saying that I believe if God has put it on your heart to adopt, then He will provide. And sometimes, He asks you to take the step of faith before you have the answers of ‘the how’ (you can read more of my thoughts along those lines here).

As I’ve blogged about previously, this summer we had faced some major financial setbacks, and we weren’t sure how we were even going to make it through July both personally and with Jake’s Kingdom Hoops program. At the time we signed up to adopt we were just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel through that trial, but we weren’t back on our feet yet. However, we trusted that we had heard God speaking to us on behalf of these girls, and we moved forward. As I posted on yesterday, earlier this summer I had opened up an adoption savings account to start putting away extra/unanticipated income to save for a future adoption. Now in case you didn’t catch this, let me highlight that at the point of application, that $319.88 was all we had for an adoption that will cost us somewhere in the range of $25,000-$30,000!!!! About now I can hear the wisdom of the world chanting ~ Fools! Unwise! What are you thinking?!?!?! But, I take delight in remembering that we are not trusting in ourselves to fund this adoption. We are trusting in the One who says that with Him nothing is impossible (Matthew 19:26 ). And we believe it.

So, there we were, signed up to adopt these two sweet ones at the end of August…..just coming out of a financial hurricane from the past months…..and starting in on our homestudy update which was going to be the next chunk of money due. Now let me tell you how God is funding our adoption….

Around the end of September Jake decided to start calling the IRS every week regarding our adoption tax refund that we had yet to receive back from Justice’s adoption. With the first phone call they said they hadn’t even reviewed the stack of paperwork (invoices, copies of payments, receipts, etc.) that we had mailed in back in July (after our first two stacks of paperwork in April & June were rejected as not enough evidence of our adoption). By Jake’s second phone call a week later they said our refund had been APPROVED and would be issued within 2-3 weeks. Less than 2 weeks later we had $13,419.11 in hand and we took a big, huge, deep breath and rejoiced – with Him, nothing is impossible! About half of our refund will be spent on paying off bills that piled up over the last year. But, the rest we will be able to put in our adoption fund.

Another BIG chunk of our adoption fund is coming from the extra income that Jake has picked up through his individual trainings. He is working himself to exhaustion with these, but with his efforts we are able to actually put away money each month into our savings (our savings right now is our adoption fund) - something that has been absolutely FOREIGN to us the past few years.

Other than that, some unexpected things have happened that have brought us unanticipated money. These unexpected things are totally from the hand of God, and it just makes me smile that we had no idea these chunks of money would be coming to us when we signed up to adopt. First off, two different churches in Iowa asked Jake to come speak to their congregations regarding our Ghana projects. Jake has been able to share ‘our story’ of how God has opened up our eyes and hearts to the nations with the accompaniment of many listening ears. He's also been able to bring awareness of God’s heart for each individual Christ-follower to reach out to the 'least of these', care for the child that has no family, and visit orphans in their distress, in bold and courageous ways (for some this is adoption!). One of these churches supported our Asikuma projects earlier this year, and this time after hearing about our two girls they decided to give money towards our personal adoption fund…..$2500 to be exact. WOW! For those of you in the adoption process you know this is a HUGE chunk of money - when we opened their check that arrived in the mail we rejoiced with mouths dropped to the floor – with Him nothing is impossible! About a week after that we received another check in the mail from a person who goes to that same church who also wanted to contribute to our fund personally….that person blessed us with $225! We smiled knowing how God moves in the hearts of people when it comes to adoption – with Him nothing is impossible! A few weeks later at a different church, Jake got to share our story again, this time with a small-town basketball camp in the mix. All proceeds from the camp were to go to….you guessed it…..our personal adoption fund. This church is adding in a donation to the camp proceeds to go to our adoption and a check will be on its way within the next few weeks. Whooop whoop! With Him nothing is impossible! Two Fridays ago at the fundraising event, Jake had a chunk of time to share about our Ghana projects and he also included the announcement of our adoption and told the story of our girls. At the end of the night while we were cleaning up a grandpa of a family in our program walked up to me and said something like, “Keep up the good work.” As he said it he reached out to shake my hand and as nonchalantly as could be he slipped me a $100 bill! I was so surprised but I shouldn’t be - with Him nothing is impossible! Even yesterday, I got a text message from my mom saying: ‘Your brother just told me to cancel his Christmas list and use the money we were going to spend on his presents to give to you for your adoption fund’ !!!!! Are you getting my point? We did not expect ANY of these things to happen, but these little chunks of money here and there just keep adding up all into a whopping exclamation of WITH HIM NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE! Do you believe it yet?

Jake and I are also blessed to be members of a church that ROCKS and is committed to supporting adoptive families financially. Our church gives out GENEROUS adoption grants to families who make an effort to take up fundraising on their own. I don't know if I can fully put into words how awesome these grants are. Our church truly sees adoption for the gospel-mission that it is, and to be able to rely on them so heavily with our funding relieves such a huge burden in our hearts.

Other than that I am also working on a few more traditional fundraising efforts…..I am currently giving out hand-beaded Ghanaian necklaces/earring sets for anyone who gives a donation of $50 or more to our adoption fund.

(Us girls are also wearing these in our family picture on our blog header)

If you would like to do this, you can mail us a check (or give cash in person) made out to us personally to: 315 Ridgewood Drive, Huxley, IA 50124. If you mail a check I will need your address to know where to mail the necklace to. Somewhere on the check note if you have a preferred color. Most of them are multi-colored in options like dark blue, turquoise, brown, red, orange, green, black/white, yellow, etc. I can’t absolutely guarantee what color you will get because it will depend on my current stock, but I’ll try my best. :) Or if you can catch me in person then you can just pick one out!

Also, for the past few months I’ve been working on starting up a sale of adoption themed t-shirts and hoping that eventually I can grow sales into an online store. This has been quite the process, and I’m facing some obstacles…not exactly sure if it will pan out, but we’ll see!

So, that’s the plan stan. Right now, if we include the anticipated grant coming from our church, we have 3/4 of the funds that we will need to pay for our adoption! For the rest we will continue to trust that God is BIG, and that with Him nothing is impossible!!!!

More ideas/resources on financing/fundraising for an adoption tomorrow!