Monday, June 29, 2015

MEN WHO GO MONDAY: Carter English, Uganda team member

It’s been several weeks and I'm still trying to wrap my head around what I experienced and the life lessons I learned while in Uganda. I have always had the desire to work in an orphanage in Africa, but never could commit to finding the “right” time or even afford the financial backing to go.

In 2014, I came to a crossroads where I kept reminding myself that, “I want more out of life…” By all accounts, I have an amazing family. I have great friends. I have a good job. All of which contribute to my happiness, but if I were to be completely transparent, I felt I was missing something. I think every human being at the core of their inner soul, simply desires to be loved and express love. Through this realization, I began focusing on myself, my future, my desires, my needs, my pleasures, which only added to mounting seeds of depression, discontent and entitlement. I decided I needed a little life perspective in 2015. After talking with a friend that had traveled with Visiting Orphans, I thought what better way to get life perspective then venturing approximately 10,000 miles over 30 hours to a third world country with 17 other strangers. (This is sarcasm) It may seem crazy, but it proved to be a journey of a lifetime; one that I will never forget. There were lots of laughs, dancing, flat tires in the African bush, boda rides, french fry eating monkeys, boat rides on the Nile, and numerous pranks to name some of the most enjoyable. A few of the more intimate experiences were times in which tears were shed, broken hearts were mended, physical healing occurred, teammates encouraged one another, and seeing God’s provisions in both the small and big things. Below are a few additional takeaways from my trip.

It may not look like how you want or come in the nice, clean, package you envision, but God provides. Somehow there is always a lesson to be learned while waiting for His provisions. He turned my anxious thoughts of fundraising and provided well above and beyond what I ever imagined. He provided a team of 17 unique individuals that I could share this incredible journey with. He draws me closer to Him on days when I go my own way and offers perseverance and encouragement when life gets tiresome. As scary as it is to step out in faith and surrender control, He has shown me that the return on investment can be so much greater.

We as Americans have no clue how people around the world suffer on a global scale. Several days we provided medical treatment to patients, most of which were children that suffer from jiggers. Jiggers are sand parasites that burrow into the skin of people that do not have shoes or inhabit less than impoverished living conditions. The first patient I worked with had over 115 jiggers removed from his hands and feet. Removal is done by extracting the jiggers with safety pins and razor blades. Unfortunately, anesthesia is not provided unless you consider lollipops a remedy for the pain. For more information on #zerojiggers, visit Another great organization we were able to work with is

While in Africa, I learned the importance of living life with a sense of urgency. I have to remind myself daily that there is so much more to life than the American dream, materialism or even myself. Wherever we're at, we're called to make a difference. There is a void in the lives of children all around the world who are in desperate need of seeing positive role models, especially among men. Whether we're called to invest in friendships, minister to a stranger, buy a meal for the homeless or take a trip with Visiting Orphans, all people have some need emotionally, physically or spiritually. Anyone that would say otherwise, needs to get to know the people around them a bit better. Going to Africa, I wanted to help everyone suffering from poverty, malaria and HIV, but the reality of the situation is we cannot be everything to everyone. God has entrusted you to make a difference in your community, neighborhood, place of work, relationships, etc.

People come into our lives for seasons and likely reasons we won't know until the other side of eternity. Whether it’s a relationship of two weeks or 25 years, Africa has reminded me to be present in the here and now because we never know the impact. Some of my VO team members encouraged me in ways I will never forget. I'm also reminded of the day-to-day blessings I have with family, friends and acquaintances back home. Perhaps the highlight of my trip was getting to meet the people of Uganda-Moses, Santa, Henry, Ochino, Gersache, Muwaya, Makayla, Lawrence, Gweda, Samuel, Abraham, Roger, Matthew, Kempey, Tadio, and Denis to name a few. Never in my life have I seen such elation from simply smiling. Their desire to help others, live joyfully, and give back is inspirational.

I've heard in the past, we're all one-phone call away from our lives being flipped upside down. Life is short. We live in a broken world where struggles, trauma and hurt are inevitable. We're all living for something or someone. Everyone has a story. Mine has taught me that I don't have to be perfect. Religion filled with rules and regulations is exhausting and isn't how I define my faith. I don't have to have all the right answers because I trust in a Savior that’s greater. My prayer is that when all is said and done, my life can be one characterized by faith, joy, grace & love. Dare I end with asking, what is your purpose?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Don't Do Nothing!

written by Autumn Kerr, Executive Director of Visiting Orphans

Probably once a week I see a post come across my facebook feed and I click to read how short-term mission trips are a bad idea, how you should never visit an orphanage, how you shouldn't adopt internationally and so on. Before I go on, let me say that most times there are some things I agree with within these posts. However, I just cringe when I come across the ones that are very one sided as if orphan care or adoption or ministry has just one possible solution. Oh how I wish it did. But ministry and orphan care and reaching the hurt - it's all messy. And hard. And complicated. And broken. Because people are involved and people are broken.

The most frustrating thing to me is that I read these posts and I imagine myself 8 or 9 years ago prior to serving overseas, prior to adopting as a single mom, prior to learning all that I've learned in my 6 years at VO and I know that posts like that would have scared me from doing anything. I have conversations with people and they tell me that they are afraid to do anything because they are so afraid of hurting or doing things the wrong way. I absolutely never want to hurt or do something the wrong way. But even more than that - I do not want fear to keep me from doing anything at all. Will you make mistakes or mess up? Most likely. I am, and you are, human after all. But we can learn from our mistakes, we can change and grow, we can go to those we may have hurt by those mistakes and apologize, talk it out and seek new solutions. And honestly in my friendships, those are the times that take our relationships to a new and deeper level. Because we don't just bail when it's hard or messy or one of us messes up - we work through it. And we come out stronger in our relationship on the other side and of our understanding of one another. It requires humility to admit when we are wrong and commitment to stick it out when things get tough.

That's why it has to be about relationship. Because in a relationship, there's a commitment to one another. And a willingness to work through the messes and misunderstandings and even cultural differences. I agree that international adoption is not the first resort because keeping a child with his/her birth family should be the first choice whenever possible. But the reality is - that isn't always possible. I agree that you shouldn't just stop in and visit an orphanage, take pictures and parade around like a tourist. Children are not tourist attractions. But they do need love, to be held, prayed for and reminded they are not forgotten. Those that care for them need support and encouragement and love too. If you have a relationship with a ministry that happens to be an orphanage and it's a long standing one in which you send teams to the same place over and over again, including a lot of the same people and leaders on those teams who return over and over - I see that as a good thing. Not a perfect thing in which we are guaranteed to never make any mistakes. But a beautiful thing where Jesus can be glorified. I've been on teams that had return team members and I will tell you how much that means to those kids - to see those familiar faces and to know that they have come yet again to visit that child. It matters. Sharing Jesus with them matters. Loving on the caregivers matters. Supporting amazing ministries who are serving children and communities day in and day out - that matters. We go to support those on the ground and to come alongside the work they are doing in the countries they serve. We don't go on a 1 or 2 week trip expecting to change the world. We don't go to tell ministries how we think they can do things differently or better. We go to be love and that starts with building relationships. We go to learn from one another and to be a blessing - not in the ways we think will be a blessing - but we ask the ministries what would bless them and serve them in that way. They know far better than we do what that is. We don't go in with our own agenda. We go to serve and to love, whatever that looks like in each particular place. Sometimes that looks like throwing a party for the staff and volunteers like our recent Uganda team just did at Sole Hope. Yes, we do visit some orphanages - ones that we have relationships with and send many teams to. We also work with a lot of ministries that are working in communities helping keep families together. We work with a lot of different types of ministries because orphan care and preventing kids from becoming orphans is not simple nor is there only one solution so we want to partner with organization that are helping in many different types of ways. 

On a personal note, as a mom who adopted a child from an orphanage - I am forever grateful to all of our past team members who visited my son, loved on him, helped meet his needs for food and basic necessities. A few of those past team members moved to Ethiopia for a season and served at that orphanage longer term. I am thankful for them. When I was waiting and couldn't be there to hold him and love on him - I was so thankful that others could be. So thankful. Because what is the alternative to visiting? Not visiting. Not checking in on or helping meet needs of or holding kids who rarely get held for more than a few minutes at a time simply because there aren't enough caregivers to go around. What about James 1:27 that says "to visit orphans and widows in their distress?" I'm thankful for all those who took that scripture seriously and visited my son.

There are always right and wrong ways to do things. There are things that might work well in one location and not another. There are things that work well for a time but then stop working. What I'm learning is that there isn't one easy answer. There isn't one cookie cutter solution to how to do orphan care. It is complicated. But we can't give up dear ones. Galatians 6:9 says: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

A lot of people give up. I understand why. It is messy and hard and we do have to be willing to admit when we are wrong and to change the way we do things. We have to be open to what God will teach and show us. And we have to be committed. Giving up would be far easier than sticking with it. But God isn't after what is easy. He's after our hearts and He's about transforming us more and more into His likeness. And if we will commit to not give up, we will reap a harvest. And there will be much fruit.

Do be wise. Do pray and seek the Lord. Do pray for wisdom and discernment. Do seek counsel from those who have gone before you in the things God lays on your heart. But please do not let fear of failure or what ifs keep you from doing anything. Don't do nothing! Do something. Not just anything - but the something God is calling you to. And commit to it. If God is calling you to adopt or foster or start a ministry, don't let fear keep you from moving forward. If God is calling you to go on a short-term mission trip or a long-term overseas missions assignment, be obedient and continue to seek him as you step out in faith in that calling. Be brave. Be bold. And commit to being committed to letting God use you, shape you and change you. But whatever you do, please don't sit back and do nothing at all. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

WHY GO? WEDNESDAY: Reflections from Uganda

We have a team in Uganda right now. They've been serving for the past few days with Sole Hope. Danielle, Sauvage Story blogger, is on that trip. Here's an excerpt from her most recent post. You can (and should) read the whole blog post here.

"So as I watched this little boy have egg sacks pulled out of his feet with a razor blade and a safety pin, I felt ashamed.
Ashamed that I have always looked away.
Ashamed that I have contributed to a culture that looks away.
Mother Theresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
I belong to those suffering with jiggers and so do you."