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. 

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