What We Have Seen

It’s been three days since we’ve been home from Ghana and this time, post-trip, I’ve done something new and different.

I’ve let down.

After previous trips, my routine has been to spring out of bed the morning after and start working. There always seems to be more to do than time to get it done, and this weighs on me. “If I could afford to let down, I would,” was my response to my family’s plea for me to rest after the trip. Despite a bit of exhaustion and a touch of jet lag, I would fill my days with work, morning to evening, as if I was saving the world.

Each day that passes I realize with startling clarity that I am not saving the world. Sometimes let’s-save-the-world, let’s-change-the-world can be effective rally cries if you find the proper audience, but it can also be a dangerous mentality. As we entered each village where we work in Ghana, I once again reminded myself that I have far more to learn than to teach, far more to absorb than to dispense. And on this trip, I tried to clear my vision and really see what was in front of me. Unfortunately, we Westerners glide into different parts of Africa with too many opinions, ideas, images, and solutions blocking our vision. We think that we already know how it should be, and so we come ready to fix things and save people. I only know this because that’s me: fixing and saving.

But that’s all wrong. I can’t fix my own life and I sure didn’t save myself, so I’m not sure why I think I can do this for anyone else. I want to enter into the lives of our friends in Ghana in a way that allows me to see their world and learn from it. If I strip away what I think I know about the people in Ghana – or anywhere in the world – this just might be possible.

So over the past four days – starting with the 36-hour airport/airline festivities – I’ve been closing my eyes and seeing, once again, all that we were privileged to see in Ghana. I’ve been reliving moments and asking myself what I have learned from them. I’ve been dragging my vision across the landscape of a village, a mud and thatch house, a dark room, a contagious smile, and a hand-crank sewing machine. What does it mean that this is one young woman’s life day in and day out? Maybe it means nothing. Or maybe it holds answers to questions I ask every day.

I could come home and only bury myself in tasks (tasks, by the way, will commence tomorrow), but our work with families in Ghana demands more than a trite let’s-change-the-world mentality. So I’m settling in and thinking about what I have seen. We can never un-see what we have seen. We should never shut our eyes and try make it go away, nor should we attempt to shape it to a reality of our choosing. I want what I have seen to teach me, shape me, and cause me to think about the world and our work in wider, deeper ways

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It’s Orphan Sunday: Rise and Go

 

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It seems perfectly fitting that on Orphan Sunday we are boarding a flight to Ghana – a country I was introduced to through the faces of five orphans. Three years ago I looked at photos of the children taken in their orphanage, and a few months later was on a plane to meet them. At the time I thought that adoption might be in the plan, but it wasn’t. That was difficult for me to accept until I realized that there was another reason I was led to Ghana.

Orphan Sunday is a day to learn about, speak up for, and find ways to care for the millions of orphans around the world – including the ones in our own city. I am somewhat familiar with the plight of orphans, since thirteen years ago we adopted a daughter from China, and my husband directs an international adoption agency. But I wasn’t as knowledgeable about what all this looks like before a child is abandoned in a crowded market or brought to an orphanage. What are the circumstances that lead up to someone handing over their child? And what happens to children who are shuffled into the home of a relative after the death of their parents? Now I know the stories of some of these children, which is why I keep going back.

We began Rising Village for the purpose of identifying parents and caregivers who have little resources and find it difficult to provide for their children. It’s these families who are often at risk of placing their children in a local orphanage, or worse, being targeted by child traffickers – of which there are many in Ghana. We also decided to come alongside the families who have taken in orphaned children so that we can help provide education through high school and beyond. We want these families and the children to have every opportunity to remain intact and be a strong and vital part of their community and their country. It’s a big goal, but one that we believe in. We’ve seen the other side of it. Each one of us who is traveling today has visited orphanages, brought orphans into our family, organized orphan awareness events, sponsored children all over the world and participated in Orphan Sunday in years past. This year we will participate by boarding a British Airways flight that will take us to Ghana. We go without fear and with resolve.

We will spend time with orphaned children who live with relatives. We will continue to work with single mothers who have started businesses and entered apprenticeships so they can provide for their children and become strong, purpose-filled families. We will visit those who have received bedding to help prevent malaria – a disease that kills parents and children. All of these things help us fulfill our mission of transforming villages through family preservation. It happens slowly and not by our hands only. The people who live in Ghana are capable and ready to join in this mission – we simply bring resources, encouragement, and love to our brothers and sisters who are there. And we go with the blessing and support from all of you who have joined in the mission here. Your prayers and generous giving of your time and money have allowed us to begin and expand this work. We are grateful and humbled.

So this begins my travel journal on this Orphan Sunday. As always, I’m praying for reliable Internet connection so I can send the stories and photos back to you. We have seven pieces of luggage, so I’m also praying for a joyful reunion with that luggage in Accra. We’ll be staying in the capital city for one evening, and then we’ll fly the short distance into Kumasi, then drive to Ankaase. So you and I will meet up again in a couple of days when I’m able to post again.

Thank you for joining us on this adventure. We feel your prayers already. It’s an interesting time to travel to Africa, but along the way we have had continual affirmation that God goes before us, with us, and will bring us safely back to continue the work here – for families there.

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Facts, Not Fear

There is nothing that makes my palms sweat more than a ski lift. Even if I am 800 miles from the nearest one, just thinking about my legs dangling from one of those flimsy-looking benches, with only a single rod between me and the ground far below induces the sweat. And it seems that in so many movies lately, the final scene takes place miles above the ground with the villain and hero slugging it out inches from the edge. I either have to look away or tuck my sweaty hands under my legs. And I paid money for this?

Scientists tell us that fear can sometimes be a good thing. The fear response serves survival by generating appropriate behavioral responses, so when I am hiking in Colorado and winding my way across a mountain trail that juts up on one side and straight down on the other, my sweaty palms are warning me that I am in danger of falling. On a side note (and perhaps a justifying note) falling is one of two natural fears that occur in both humans and animals, with varying degrees. The other is loud noises.

And then there are the fears that grow from unnatural places. These fears can be brought about by our overactive imaginations (the monster in the closet), a traumatizing experience (a near-drowning in childhood), and misinformation – or lack of information. Lately, it seems that many of us are too-easily giving in to fear-mongering. Here is an example: Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell filed a restraining order to keep Ebola victim Eric Duncan’s incinerated belongings from being disposed of at a Lake Charles landfill. Said Caldwell:

“We certainly share sadness and compassion for those who have lost their lives and loved ones to this terrible virus, but the health and safety of our Louisiana citizens is our top priority. There are too many unknowns at this point,” Caldwell said. The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office is in the process of finalizing the application for temporary restraining order and expects it to be filed as early as Monday morning.

Additionally, the office is sending a demand letter to Texas state and federal officials, along with private contractors involved seeking additional information into the handling of this waste.”

It would seem on the surface that the Attorney General is taking responsible precautions to protect the good people of Louisiana. Unfortunately, he is simply adding to the cacophony of voices that seem to have given in to misinformed fear-mongering. In this particular example, the facts have gotten lost in the panic. Fact: Ebola is only transmitted through bodily fluids. So we can assume that once items have been burned to ashes, there would be no bodily fluids remaining. But instead of learning and sharing actual facts about this disease, we seem content to listen to those who are ratcheting up the panic level for what reason I am unsure (ratings, perhaps?)

Sometimes it helps to see things in their simplicity. Yes, I realize that this disease is complicated, but there are some simple facts that might help us have rational discussions rather than reactive drama.

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These are facts. Now, if you don’t trust your government to the level that you would dispute scientific facts that have been confirmed by infectious disease doctors, researchers and scientists, then I can’t help you. At some point, you have to hang on and trust or you’ll drive yourself and everyone else around you crazy.

But there is another danger to giving in to the fear-mongering. When we are wringing our sweaty palms because we are afraid for our own safety, we lose sight of those who are truly in peril.  Here are more facts.

  • Over 4,000 people have died in three West African countries since the Ebola outbreak began.
  • An estimated 3,700 children have been orphaned due to the outbreak. They are stigmatized and alone in the midst of the crisis.
  • In Guinea, a family of nine was infected with the disease and six died. They tried to care for one another with no reliable health care facility nearby.
  • There are survivors and they have stories to share, yet they are fearful of sharing them because they are certain they will be labeled, shunned, and stigmatized.
  • There are hundreds of health care workers – essentially volunteers – who have chosen to be in the epicenter of the disease in treatment centers in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. They are risking their lives daily to care for the sick and struggling to aid in their recovery with very little modern technology.
  • In treatment centers, those who bring sick family members watch them die and then must worry about whether they now carry the disease. One NPR story profiles a 21 year-old girl, Bendu Borlay, who lives in Liberia. She watched her older sister die of Ebola in a treatment center, and then stayed there to care for a 15-month-old baby whose mother died of the disease and grandmother was in the isolation unit.

“That’s the reason I’m still at the Ebola treatment center, volunteering to take care of this baby,” she told NPR. “The grandmother tested positive, but the baby tested negative, so Doctors Without Borders was looking for somebody to volunteer to take care of the baby.” Borlay says that if she gets any money from volunteering, she will go back to school when school opens. “Now I have to be self-supporting,”she says. “The only person who supported me throughout my life is gone.” She adds: “I want to finish high school and make sure I graduate.”

Lest we forget, there is an entire world out there that is suffering and has every reason to be fearful. Perhaps we can keep our own palms from sweating if, instead of being inwardly focused, we turn outward to see their pain and hear their cries. Maybe instead of listening to the fear-mongering we could gather in our churches and our homes and pray for the courage to see beyond our walls and our borders. When we give in to the fears that perpetuate an isolationist mentality, then we are very far from the God who touched the lepers and wept over the sick and dying. If we truly want to be counter-cultural, then let’s not fall in step with fear. Let’s walk outside it. Learn the facts. Pay attention to and have mercy for those who are suffering. Pray and speak out for those who are in peril. And encourage one another as we walk in faith and live with hope.

 

 

Let’s Honor the Mothers Together

My mother died six years ago this month. I remember the Mother’s Day after her funeral when I sat on the back patio and watched a nest of baby birds with their tiny heads turned toward the sky and mouths open, waiting for their mama to return. “Lucky you,” I remember saying to them, “at least you know she’s coming back.” I was pretty crabby that entire day and to be honest, Mother’s Day remains a bittersweet thing for me. I have children so it’s still a day to celebrate, but they’re at an age when they don’t know much to do except feed me and give me a book. Not that I’m complaining, because I’m continually sustained by food and books, but gone are the days of the cute handmade cards and the recipe holder with the picture of my child smiling painfully (my favorite).

I still miss Mom, which becomes a bit of an issue during the lead-up to Mother’s Day. So this year, I’m dealing with it this way: I’m putting together an Open House this Friday to honor both my mother and some very special mothers in Ghana. We’re raising funds so that Rising Village can continue its mission to transform villages through family preservation. Basically that means our organization finds solutions to problems that tear families apart – namely poverty in developing countries. We don’t do this from 30,000 feet. Instead, we are on the ground in three villages where we provide: 1) resources for women to start or expand a small business, 2) school fees so children can attend school, and bedding so families are protected from the deadly illness of malaria. These things matter, so I’m giving myself over to our mission in Ghana. That means I’m going to spend most of my time finding ways to fund our programs, which are in the very capable hands of our Ghana director, Isaac.

Two years ago I heard Pam Cope, founder of Touch a Life, tell a group of women that we could spend our lives nibbling on the chicken scratch that’s scattered on the ground, or we can choose to feast at the table. “You make the choice,” she said. “If you want to settle for a life that focuses on the little stuff, go ahead. But as for me, I’m going to feast on something bigger.” I walked around the rest of the day in a daze, realizing that most of my life had been spent with my head down nibbling on chicken scratch. I wanted a seat at the table. It was time to look around and see what God is doing in this big, wide world, and then jump into it, even if it was scary and uncomfortable. So I did just that. I was pretty ignorant, but sometimes that’s a good thing because if I had known everything that was going to happen, I might have put my head back down and stayed with the chicken scratch.

So back to my Open House, which I’m calling a Mother’s Day Shopfest. I’m asking everyone who wants to join me at the table to come shop at my house and buy something for your mother, mother-in-law, daughter, yourself. Every penny you spend or donate goes straight to Ghana. Or just come to learn more about these amazing mothers that we serve in the villages. If you think Mother’s Day isn’t for you because your mother is no longer here, then let’s honor our mothers together.

This is your official invitation to come to my house between 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. this Friday, May 2. Email me at lisa@risingvillage.org for address and directions. Until I see you on Friday, take a look at a few of the beautiful mothers we serve in the Ashanti region of Ghana.

And Happy Mother’s Day.

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It’s 2014 and I Have a Word for the Year

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Happy New Year! We rang in 2014 in the most anticlimactic way possible but that doesn’t mean that I’m not looking forward to what it holds. I don’t really make resolutions because I never keep them. I just choose a word  that I will spend the next 12 months attempting to learn more about and live out. There were quite a few contenders this year, but I finally chose.

My word?

Wider.

Not wilder, mind you. Wider. Or maybe they are the same thing.

This word kept pushing other possible words out of the way. It came up in conversations, I heard it in songs, it showed up in a book I was reading. It’s an odd word to choose and it requires some explanation which I’m not sure I have in great detail. Here is what I can tell you about my word for 2014.

The opposite of wide, is narrow. Much too often, I’m more comfortable and content to live in a narrow world than a wide one. I stay close to friends who think like me, and I keep a safe distance from those who have different points of view. It’s just easier, right? I like my narrow schedule because widening my scope of activities or experiences doesn’t fit in to that schedule. I get comfortable in ruts, which is another form of narrow. And when it comes to who I really love, I’m a little narrow. I’m finding that it’s easier to talk about love than to live it out. Again, narrow. Narrow also creeps into my life when it comes to how I think about myself. I don’t give myself enough room to try and fail, and so my life stays…narrow. God forced me away from some of this in 2013, so I’m going to keep it going.

If I go wider, then it may involve some things that look odd, confusing, reckless, or edgy. I like that, and then again I don’t. It could get wild. I’m continuing to pay attention to the narrow places in my life and find ways think wider and go deeper, which is another word I really wanted to claim for 2014. Kyle and I choose our words at the end of each year, and he was adamant about it being one word. That seemed a little narrow to me, but I like to play fair. So I reserved deeper as a kind of companion word that I’ll also be contemplating and learning to live out. But don’t tell.

Wider.

I have some ideas about how this word may work into my year, but God is always full of surprises. I’m asking Him to give me the courage to look at the world in wider ways, to think in wider spectrums, to believe that He can work in wider ways, to love people with my arms open wider.

So that is really all I know about this word that just wouldn’t go away. I’ve claimed it and will attempt to understand it and live it during the next 12 months.