Monday, January 24, 2011

St. Luke's Home for Blind Children

Everyone I know is invited to join me on a mission trip to Kenya from August 28 to September 5 of this year. We plan to provide medical clinics and construction work to improve the lives of orphaned and blind children. I've written previously about our work for Jehovah Jireh orphanage in Nairobi. Now here's a bit about the home for blind children.

St. Luke's is located in the small town of Kitui about a two hour drive outside Nairobi. There are currently more than 120 children living at St. Luke's, a residential facility that cares for blind and partially sighted children ranging in age from five to eighteen years old. More than 20 of the children are albinos as one of the symptoms of albinism is vision impairment. During our visit last year we discovered that, due to a lack of adequate funding, the children often do not receive sufficient medical attention. Many...if not all...currently suffer or have in the past suffered from malaria. Some have contracted cerebral malaria. All of them have worms. One little boy had suffered a severe burn on his leg that had been treated initially but had not been properly tended to. We were able to care for his wound and improve his condition.

Reliant on charitable dollars and fees from what few parents are able to pay, the home is terribly underfunded. The charitable dollars have been dwindling in the current global economic downturn. The manager of the home and his staff have gone as long as five months at a stretch without pay. They struggle to keep food in the pantry on a consistent basis.

The reason the school exists is to provide a place where blind children can stay as they're mainstreamed into the school system. Kitui has the only schools in the region with teachers equipped to work with children with disabilities. Without the opportunity for an education there is no hope for blind children in Kenya. More children arrive at St. Luke's all the time in order to seek a better life. The dedicated teaching staff there do all they can to prepare the younger ones to enter the regular school system. There are adults supervising dormitory buildings for girls and boys. They provide three meals a day...though often it's just a simple fare of beans and rice.

For the albino children St. Luke's also offers security. In the East African culture albinos are prized for their body parts. Those who practice native religions and mysticism believe the body parts of albinos have magic powers so they are routinely kidnapped, killed, dismembered and sold off in pieces. It's a horrible thing to share with you, but this is the reality of life for the children at St. Luke's in Kitui.

Join us in August and change the lives of these children. We need doctors and nurses who can provide basic medical checkups. We need donations of medicines that can be left with the local doctor who does his best to attend to at least the most urgent cases. We need workers to help set-up a sustainable, income producing business venture for the home so they don't need to rely solely on donor dollars. We need you. If you can't join the team yourself consider sponsoring someone from your church. Invite your doctor to join the team. Spread the word among medical professionals in your town. Please do what you can to see that we have a team of at least 20 people who can make a difference for the children of Kenya. Read my previous posts for all the trip details.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jehovah Jireh Orphanage

There's a great opportunity for twenty or more folks to join me on a mission trip to Kenya in August. One of our project sites is located in Nairobi. Jehovah Jireh orphanage is home to over 60 children, most of whom have lost their parents to AIDS and some of whom are HIV positive themselves. For two days we'll offer basic medical check-ups for these children while some on the team will work to improve their living conditions.

Jehovah Jireh started as a vision of the Anglican Archbishop of Nairobi. Unfortunately he died soon after taking the first steps to open the orphanage. Since that time a dedicated handful of people have struggled to keep Jehovah Jireh open. The orphanage was a personal project of the Archbishop and, as such, has never been supported as a ministry of the Anglican Church itself. Recently a nearby Anglican congregation, St. Catherine Tumiani, has agreed to support the orphanage but they have very limited resources, as well.

As of today Jehovah Jireh is managed by Florence as the only real full time staff person. That's right, an orphanage of over 60 children with only a single full time staff person. The facilities are actually an abandoned rock quarry headquarters and definitely not designed as living quarters. The children sleep in bunk rooms that are no more than brick and concrete storage rooms where bunk beds have been set up in rows. In an adjacent room each child has a small trunk to hold all their earthly possessions.

On my most recent trip to Kenya this past September the wonderful and generous people on the team offered financial aid for Jehovah Jireh. Some of this is providing a couple of tutors for the children (they attend the public school in the area) and money for food and mosquito nets. There is so much more need here and our trip in August will be another step in helping this orphanage become a better place for these children with nowhere else to go.

If you're a medical professional please consider taking a week of your time to change the lives of children in desperate need. If you're not a medical professional you can make a difference in other ways as we work to improve the bunk rooms this year.

I hope you'll join us on this mission trip from August 28 to September 5. A deposit of $200 by April 1 is required to secure your spot on the team with the remaining balance to be paid in two installments. Read my previous posts to see more details about costs and what's covered. I really hope you'll join us in Kenya this year.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kenya Trip Details

Okay, so here are some details on the Kenya Trip I'll be leading with my friend Deb Bornholdt this year.

Dates: August 27 - September 5 (over Labor Day weekend to save vacation days!)

Cost: $2295 double occupancy with fly-in safari included. $1695 without safari. This is when the wildebeest are running!

The Mission: Run medical clinics for orphans in Nairobi and blind children in Kitui. Also some construction projects for our non-medical participants. I'll post more detail on Jehovah Jireh orphanage and St. Luke's Home for Blind Children in future posts.

Includes: Lodging, ground transportation, certain meals, in-country airfare for safari, some tools and materials.

Doesn't Include: Airfare to Kenya, certain meals, drinks, tips, souvenirs.

We need at least 20 people registered by April 1 to hold this price. This is a mission trip so I would encourage you to consider soliciting donations from your church and others to support this effort. This is a life-changing opportunity.

Calling all Doctors and Nurses! The children we'll serve are all in desperate need. Your medical attention will make a world of difference in their lives. We're particularly interested in eye doctors as there are 125 blind children living at St. Luke's who get very minimal medical attention.

Lifetree Adventures is managing this trip. All payments will be made through them. Call 800-747-2157 today and register. All it takes is a $200 registration fee to join the team. Payments after that are in two installments. Join me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Go With Me to Kenya

Consider this your invitation to go with me on a mission trip to Africa. From August 28 to September 5 of this year I'll be leading a trip, along with my friend Deb Bornholdt, to Kenya. There we'll be serving orphans and blind children through medical clinics and construction projects. We're looking for doctors and nurses to join the team along with those with experience or interest in learning basic construction skills. I'll be sharing much more about the trip here soon. For now I can tell you that the price is very reasonable, the work is hard, the experience is life changing and the people of Kenya would love to meet you. We need commitments from at least 20 people by March 1 so start praying about it now. I really hope you'll join us.

Is This the Bride of Christ?

Last weekend I had the regularly scheduled pleasure of talking with my son and his family over Skype. Among other things we had the chance to talk about workplaces that take advantage of employees to such an extent that they exhibit the same symptoms as an abused spouse. The conversation got me reminiscing about my years in church work and how, in every case, my experience was consistent, in some ways, with abused spouse syndrome.

What does that mean. Well, it revolves mostly around the discrepancy between what church leaders say to their workers and what they do when it comes to compensation. A common behavior among abusive spouses is to profess great love for the one they're abusing while regularly destroying their spouse's self-confidence, individuality and humanity. It is widely known...and often joked about...that church work is a low paying profession. This is often justified because the 'reward' for a church worker is in heaven. No one seems to remember that the reward of heaven is for all who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Accepting low wages on the supposition that your good work will be rewarded after you die isn't just insulting, it's incredibly bad theology. The fact is the Bible specifically instructs that workers in the church should be well compensated for their labor.

Okay, before you click away because you think this is a rant about paying church workers better, let me explain how the abused spouse syndrome plays into all this. From both personal experience and many conversations with professional church workers, I'm here to tell you that the issue is rarely only the level of compensation. Instead it's about the attitude and behavior of lay leaders in the church. It's the praise heaped on you when you're doing what they want and the attacks that happen when you're not. It's the promise that they will take care of you because you're highly valued then refusing to pay a living wage as they cite any one of a number of reasons...none of which have to do with your actual performance of your assigned duties. This behavior wears away at the humanity of people. Ultimately you begin to accept that you're not that valuable, that your skills aren't necessarily exceptional, that you're just lucky to have a job so why would you jeopardize that by expressing concern about working conditions, unrealistic expectations or compensation. The best is when people question your faithfulness and trust in God because you're not willing to be on call 24/7 for what often amounts to minimum wage.

A friend of mine once confronted this head-on at a church voter's meeting as they considered the need to hire a new janitor. My friend was a teacher in the church's school with several years experience and a masters degree. To his amazement the pay package they were considering for a janitor exceeded his own. When asked how they determined the salary package the response was that they couldn't get a good janitor for less than that amount. My friend promptly rose to offer to take the position as it would mean a salary increase for him. Of course the leadership laughed at his suggestion as they were certain, with his level of education, shoveling snow off school walks and unplugging toilets was beneath him. He then pointed out that, in the absence of a janitor, he was already doing those things in addition to his teaching duties. I think they still missed the point but he got a clear lesson on what the church considered his value to be.

Last week in New Orleans I met a man who began his career as a Christian school teacher working for a church. He told me that he quit and went to the public school system because he couldn't afford to live on the salary he was paid. One of the benefits of moving to the public schools was that he was free, as just a regular church member, to advocate for better teacher pay at the church school. He observed that when you're on staff and bring up fair compensation people think you're just trying to line your pockets. But when you're just a member of the church people will listen.

So how about you? Are you a member of a church? Does your church treat its staff well? Do you advocate for the staff to be fairly compensated, given ample time off, have their professionalism and passion for ministry honored? Do you genuinely respect the staff of your church and communicate it consistently with what you say and what you do? A dysfunctional church system strips the humanity from its workers. It wears them down and crushes their spirits. I encourage you to take a hard look at the systems in your church and how they impact those who serve you week in and week out. If you see evidence that your church is acting like an abusive spouse take a stand to change it. Do it now.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Other End of the Spectrum

I just returned from a scouting trip to New Orleans. By scouting I mean looking at a site for future youth mission trips. That's what I've been doing for the last five years. Arranging trips and locations for home repair and community service mission trips for Christian teens. If you've been following my blog you know next month I'm transitioning to a new ministry but still involved in missions.

In New Orleans I crossed paths with a team of adults from Illinois and New York there to repair homes and convert a church into a community ministry center. I haven't done much with adult teams so it was fun to see the other end of the spectrum. Quite a few of these folks were retired. We met Walt who has dedicated his life full time to managing work projects for teams that come to New Orleans. He spent his career as a teacher then retired and started traveling the country with his wife to build churches. In '06 he suffered a massive heart attack that nearly killed him and left him unable to do the physical labor needed for construction. So he moved to New Orleans to teach others and set up work for teams coming to town. I can't tell what an inspiration Walt is.

Among the short term (one week) volunteers were several Lutheran pastors. Most of them are retired or semi-retired. Again, my heart was lifted seeing these men who have dedicated their lives to leading churches swinging hammers, building brick walls and reaching out to the community. The best part is that I only knew they were pastors because I happened to know several of them personally. Anyone from the community only saw men dedicated to restoring the Lower Ninth Ward and bringing them hope. That they were also pastors was coincidental.

Seeing people of any age serve is exciting for me. Seeing them serve regardless of vocation reminds me that regardless of calling there are wonderful, Christ filled servants willing to sacrifice for those in need. I need to remember these great experiences when I get exasperated with the knuckleheads out there that put on the collar...and there are quite a few. But today I'm encouraged by those who aren't.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Let's Read 'Radical' by David Platt Together

Just started reading "Radical:Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream" by David Platt. It came highly recommended from a friend of mine. It's starting off well. I'm sure there'll be posts here about this book. If it's as challenging as I expect, it could impact my ministry dramatically.

If you'd like to read this book with me, pick-up a copy at Amazon or your local bookstore. As I comment, I'd love to hear your comments. It's no Oprah's Book Club, but it'll be fun to read this together.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Back Into the Fire

This week I resigned my position at Group Publishing, home of Group Cares, the non-profit I've served for the last five years organizing mission trips in the U.S. and abroad. It is a bittersweet parting as I love Group and the work I've been doing there. However, the Lord has called me back into a ministry position in the Lutheran Church. Not at a church but with a missions agency that is a Recognized Service Organization of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Called Lutheran Church Charities, this mission of mercy and compassion is rapidly expanding its scope of ministry. Started in the 1940's as purely a fundraising organization, LCC has been transformed over the past 10 years into an incredible missions organization. Now nearly all funds raised go to help people in need. From disaster response teams to comfort dogs to clothing, furniture and car distribution, LCC is impacting lives in Northern Illinois and far beyond. Their international work includes building homes and delivering clean water in Haiti, drilling wells in Ghana and much more that I have yet to learn about.

What's most exciting for me is the opportunity to grow this mission in current and new directions. We are just now looking at ways to implement water filtration sources in developing countries. We hope to seed microbusiness/microfinance ventures that will lift whole villages out of poverty. There are opportunities to bring encouragement and support to Lutheran Pastors and congregations.

This is a move back into full time ministry for me. My work at Group has been ministry, but more often it was a step removed from day to day ministry. Group is a Christian business that supports ministry and does an excellent job of it. I always thought I'd retire from Group after waiting 13 years to join the staff here. God, as he often does, had other ideas. So it's time to leave the beautiful mountains of Northern Colorado and return to the flatlands of Northern Illinois. It's back into the fire of ministry within a denomination and all the joy and struggle that comes with it. It's good to be in the Lord's hands and each day I seek to be in the center of His will. With Him it's always an adventure.

And so it continues...

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

What Recession?

It has always been my considered opinion that when a church has a compelling vision people will rally around it and make it happen. A compelling vision is one that is clear, bold, rooted in scripture and clearly communicated. Churches that have such a vision and the leadership to clearly communicate it are growing and, unfortunately, rare.

I have a friend in Illinois who pastors a church the midst of this recession...has launched a second site that includes an upscale coffee house, an awesome kids space, a cool worship space and came at a cost of over one million dollars. Opened just a couple of months ago this bold, visionary move has seen church attendance grow by more than 400 people a weekend. The energy and excitement at this church is palpable. The vision for ministry is compelling with plans to see five new sites like this one launched by 2020. Weekly attendance at this church is now in the 1600 range give or take. Large, but not a mega church.

At my own church here in Colorado the leadership has cast a compelling vision to help the orphaned, lost, exploited and hurting of the world. Both at home and abroad. Sound familiar? If you've read the book of James chapter 1 verse 27 it should. "True religion is this, that you care for widows and orphans." Our leadership is taking that seriously and challenging all of us to do so, as well.

In less than two months time, presented with a clear, compelling vision to provide housing for orphans in Ukraine and Colorado and to support members of the church struggling in this difficult season our church collected and distributed over $111,000. That's over and above regular giving to support the operations of the church...which also ticked up in the same time period, by the way. Let me say that less than two months time the members of our church contributed over $111,000 to provide housing for orphans, fix homes, replace cars, pay rent, and meet many other needs in addition to regular giving. If I had to guess, the total weekly worship attendance is about 1000 people give or take. It's not a 10,000 member mega church.

One church is located in suburban Chicago and the other in mostly rural/small town Colorado. Two distinctly different regions and two distinctly different types of churches. What they have in common is visionary leadership not afraid to challenge their people with bold, outrageous ideas. They are not intimidated by the current recession because they listen to the voice of Him who holds the universe in his hands and is the maker and owner of all the earth. There is never a recession in God's economy.

Is your church seized with a compelling vision? Are you leading a church that's lost its way, floundering, shrinking, and timid? Are you wallowing in a spiritual recession? Or are you seeking God's will for your ministry and boldly proclaiming it? Are you challenging your people with a scary, ridiculous image of a preferable future? Are you wholly dependent on God to supply everything you need to accomplish everything he's calling you to? Why not?