So many of you who read my posts are known for your justice work.
You write op-eds.
You give money to organizations that bring wholeness and healing to the world-- causes of all kinds.
However, when it comes to orphan care, foster care and adoption, I’ve noticed we don’t talk as much about this kind of work. Nor do we as people of faith, especially those of us in the progressive camp, direct much of our advocacy work in this direction. Though current stats tell us this story of a great area of need:
When Kevin, my husband, became the head of a global relief and development organization in 2012, our family began to see this need right in front of us. We met children from all over the world who not only struggled to have enough food to each, but who also were living without one or both parents. We saw children who might have had big dreams of going to college without any adult in their life to support them. We learned so much about how a child or teen never outgrows their need for family.
While we were open to adoption (and eventually did become adoptive parents), a new calling stirred in both of us to be a part of orphan care even outside of our home or paid jobs.
This new thing in my life grew to have a name: Our Courageous Kids. It's a foundation incorporated with the full blessing of an IRS 501(c)3 status that is raising funds as we speak to give grants to kids growing up in international orphanages to allow them to go to college or graduate school. It also seeks to support other special experiences with the intention of raising a child's hope like special field trips or Christmas gifts.
Children need to be fostered domestically!
Children need to be adopted domestically and internationally!
Children living in foster homes or international orphanages need to know their stories are valuable, their dreams are important to somebody and that they have more family than they realize that are cheering them on!
Such are overwhelming asks, I know. But, I believe the answers to these needs often lie somewhere in our communities. And baby steps of action begin when we connect with organizations like Our Courageous Kids and countless other groups who are pioneering a movement to champion some of the most vulnerable children among us.
If you're a church person, one easy way to plant the seeds in your congregation would be to observe Orphan Sunday as we will be doing this Sunday at The Palisades Community Church in Washington, DC this November.
Orphan Sunday is a national emphasis sponsored by the Christian Alliance of Orphans geared toward helping churches remember the calling of James 1:27 which says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.”
If you observe it, it’s a great day to share statistics about the need for foster parents in your community. It’s a great day to have folks who have adopted domestically or internationally share stories about this faith journey in their lives. It’s a great day to speak to God’s heart for the vulnerable children in the children’s time or in the sermon.
Dear readers, know that orphan care is work you'll hear me talking a lot about for a long time. For me, it's one way how the faith I teach and preach about finds action. If you're up for it, pull up a seat with me and join the ride as I learn. Consider following Our Courageous Kids' blog if you want to have a front seat for the adventures that lie ahead. I know it will be fun.
As many of you know, over the past year, I’ve been in the process of going through the necessary paperwork with IRS to establish a foundation in support of orphan care.
After spending so much time from 2012-2015 traveling the world and learning from kids living in residential centers, I felt a new calling to do something . . . to use my voice . . . my resources . . . to challenge my friends to include vulnerable children in their family.
I’m so happy to report that in July, Our Courageous Kids received it’s 501(c)3 status and we’re up and running.
Our Courageous Kids was born!
The vision for Our Courageous Kids is simple: to help orphans thrive the same way we would do for any child growing up in our family.
We don't want to be in the orphanage business ourselves BUT want to pool our resources together to provide grants for educational and life enrichment projects for kids in already established residential centers. We want to say to kids without parents, "Dream big for your life! You have a global family cheering you on!"
You can read more about the mission of this work here at our website.
Currently, I’ve forged partnerships with three orphanages— an all-girls home in Kenya, a boys and girls home with many special needs children in Kenya and all-boys home in Honduras. These are places I’ve personally visited many times, vetted and trust completely.
Thanks to the generosity of some of our first donors, our first two projects we’ve supported came in connection to the Christmas holidays. Two weeks ago, 40 boys in Honduras received Christmas presents thanks to Our Courageous Kids and a joyous Christmas celebration complete with a very special Christmas dinner! Soon, Christmas presents will be delivered to one of the orphanages in Kenya. And the other center in Kenya is completing it’s grant application currently for it’s first project to be awarded in January.
The smiles in the pictures below came this week because of Our Courageous Kids.
As you are making your plans for end of year giving, Our Courageous Kids would love to have you support!
In 2017, we look forward to empowering several children with their school fees and establishing a counseling center at one of the orphanages to help the children examine their own stories and move forward with hope.
Checks can be made to Our Courageous Kids Foundation and sent to PO Box 41054, Arlington, VA 22204. Or you can donate online.
If you have any questions about our work or how you can be a part of supporting particular projects in the future, don’t hesitate to contact me. Happy holidays!
Founder, Dreamer and Administrative Guru for Our Courageous Kids
Such is the start of several conversations I've had lately with folks who wonder why I'm not serving one particular church, full-time.
"But you're good at it. Why would you not?"
"The church needs you. Why are you keeping your gifts from it by not applying for ___ job?"
"Did you really go to seminary just to supply preach?"
I know that folks don't mean to be rude or insulting with these questions. What they're saying in a round about way, "You're good at this. Why don't you do more of it?"
For it's often the struggling preachers, or the new to ministry preachers or even the older retired ministers who engage in intentional short-term ministry. (And I don't think I fall into any of these categories).
So I get it. From the outside looking in, it might appear like I'm wasting my education, ordination or even time. For it's true: I don't know many 30 something female ministers who have chosen interim ministry as a way of life or even really enjoy supply preaching.
But I do! And here's the thing, I'm not wasting time. I'm exactly in the place of life I need to be.
I'm creating what doesn't exist.
It's great ministry to have one foot partly in the church and another foot somewhere else.
For me that somewhere else includes as much time as I can muster together thinking, writing and writing some more. It's the place where my book Birthed came from-- squirreling away hours of the day to loose myself in words with hopes that one day they would be of encouragement to someone else. And I would like to write more books.
That somewhere else includes dreaming, planning and working on the administrative details of a foundation I began last year. I've been quiet about it for a while waiting on my 501(c)3 status to come through before I mentioned it to you. But three weeks ago I finally got my paperwork!
Our Courageous Kids was born!
Our Courageous Kids is something you'll hear a lot more about in the future. But for now, this what I most want you to know: orphan care has become a great passion of our family. And out of this passion, my hope is that Our Courageous Kids will become a collective voice of empowerment for children that you'll consider partnering with!
It's mission is to come alongside orphanages around the world to provide grants for life and enrichment opportunities as well as scholarships for secondary education and college tuition. I want Our Courageous Kids to say to brave, brave children, you are not alone: you belong to us all and we want you to have the best future possible!
And that somewhere else includes being present with my family. Kevin, my husband, has a very fast paced schedule over at the American Diabetes Association as their CEO. I want to be as supportive to him as I can and available to travel to uplift him and those who are living with diabetes, a horrific disease. I want to have time with the children who are important in our lives. And I want to keep the bonds strong with friends who have become our family in places all over the world. I want all of these things because I know these special people make me more human. They know and love me unconditionally. And I love every minute I get to spend with them.
While there will always be large membership congregations that require full-time staff, such I think, will become more and more rare.
When I think about where the church will be in the next generation and then the next, I think that more of us will become part-time, embodied in the world ministers than full-time staff members with health and pension benefits.
Sure, financially it can be awkward at times to piece together different kinds of work and pay the bills, but as we as ministers become less dependent on the institutions to support us, we re-gain our prophetic voices.
We can say and do things that the Church needs to hear without fearing we'll not eat if we do. And we might just find ourselves becoming more human in the process. I know this has been my path. And I'm loving it.
What do you need to create that doesn't exist?
Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress. - James 1:27
If you’re looking for practical theology, you have no farther to look than the book of James. And according to James the call is simple: your faith must include the care of widows and orphans.
In agreement with this, many Christians have banded together in care for vulnerable children in particular. You can find most of these groups in the membership roster of the Christian Alliance of Orphans (CAFO)—the largest collective of Christian based ministries devoted to concerns such as orphan care internationally, adoption, foster care in the United States, child trafficking, and teen runaways.
As a collective body of disciples of Jesus, they’ve said with their actions that it’s our job as people of faith to love all children, no matter what circumstances they find themselves in. Invisible children will be invisible no more! And the church, these advocates say, must rise up and be more inclusive of this calling. To do this and build community among it’s members, every year, CAFO hosts an annual meeting of 3,000+ leaders called Summit.
In 2013 as part of our family’s work with Feed the Children, I attended this meeting in Nashville, TN and loved the energy and enthusiasm of those speaking and teaching. My curiosity peaked. Like a sponge, I gladly learned what I could about such important concepts as attachment parenting, restorative therapies and what adult adoptees really thought about their institutional experiences from childhood. It was great to apply what I learned to the kids we met during all our travels.
Though my husband’s job has changed now, I’ve realized over the last year that orphan care ministries is something I want to be a part of the rest of my life. What I saw and experienced during our three years of globe-trotting are children, I can’t un-see. Children in less than adequate homes. Children without access to education beyond primary school. Children who really worry late at night if they are loved. I want to be a protector of vulnerable kids like these. I want to continue to lend my voice and resources to help in any way I can (which is why I recently traveled back to East Africa). I want to help other church leaders feel empowered to do the same.
So, again I connected with CAFO at this year's meeting May 5-6th in Orlando. It was great to be in a wonderful community of Christians thinking critically about what best practices in orphan/ foster care looks like. And again, I left the conference last week convicted by these stats—
This is what I know for sure: these are facts few in the church ever talk about. It's the kind of work we often leave for "someone else." But, I am confident that God’s heart is always on side of the most vulnerable-- children without protectors. The question is: what are we going to do about it?
Want a simple way to think about beginning this conversation in your church?
Each year CAFO invites churches to participate in an Orphan Sunday emphasis. It’s an important day in congregations to raise awareness about children in the foster care system in your own town. It’s a great way to include those whose own stories or stories of their family have been touched by adoption. And it’s also a great day to talk about God’s desire for all of us to be adopted more fully into the kingdom of God.
Consider hosting Orphan Sunday on November 13, 2016. I’ll even come guest preach for you that day (I haven’t been asked yet). It's as simple as inviting a special speaker. Talking about the foster care system and it's needs in your community. Or, creating a call to action. The call of orphan ministry is one we can't ignore.
Americans can be so small-minded. We can be out of touch with what life is really like in other parts of our land and especially in other countries. We can so easily think that our community and its values are the center of the universe. Or that there aren’t equally good (if not better) ways of doing things in other regions of the world. Or believe that the same level of professionalism we live by is not practiced in other places (especially in Africa, gasp!).
For these reasons and so many more, I believe travel is good for the soul.
Getting out of town. Seeing something new. Saving our funds for an international trip (if possible). Why? Because our eyes are widely opened. We can not return from travel being the same people when we left.
In our shock we are reminded:
Not everyone speaks English . . .
Electricity or hot water is not always a given . . .
There’s no such thing as fast food on every corner . . .
And in traveling, we see the world as it really is instead of just what we know (especially if we're operating from a place of privilege).
This week, I’m in East Africa in the process of starting something new connected to orphan care. Something new I can’t wait to tell you all about when the all plans come together.
But for now, this is what I know: the opportunity to travel changes everything about your sight.
Even though Kevin and I spent 3 years on the road as nomads while he held a position at Feed the Children and were gifted to see so much in so many countries, I’ve realized once again that a culture is never something you “know” no matter how many times you visit a particular place.
This trip I’ve learned, as I do every time I visit.
Things like mice can be black (not just white or grey like they are in the children’s storybooks I grew up reading). The cat brought one to the doorstep of where I am staying!
Things like flying ants are creatures that come up from the ground and swarm after a strong hot rain. But they’re harmless and often die by morning (and can be consumed as good protein).
And things like it’s best to be home before the rains come, always. Traffic can be at a complete standstill. Often a standstill that lasts 12 hours meaning you sleep in your cars on the side of the road!
What a spiritual life lesson this is! For isn’t God ultimately the One we come to call Mystery? The One who is beyond us? The One we come to understand in the same vein of this Thomas Merton prayer:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so."
I know that budgets in many households can be tight year after year, and it is often it is the weekend out-of-town or the vacation that is first to go. But, the next time you have some extra income and you’re faced with the choice of buying a thing and the experience of travel, choose travel, my friends.
Travel will be good for your soul.
For, as you go, you might just find yourself meeting a new friend, tasting a new dish, or learning a new song that will be God coming close.
I know God has been close to me all week. And I’m so grateful.