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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Slava Ukraini

Although Ukraine and its current social and political issues are always on my mind, I have yet to publish a post of my thoughts on the current events.  If you follow me on Facebook, this is completely the opposite.  You can at anytime find current events and my opinions.  Today I feel the need to write and in some ways this is my therapy for the pain I feel inside for this people that is suffering so greatly.  I ask you to bear with me as I put in words, my heart that is breaking for a country and its people I care deeply about.

Today the news is full of pictures and articles that show the dead and talk of the increase in violence on the streets of Kiev.  Hundreds have died and are missing, as this country tries to advance towards a better future and not slip backwards into a dictatorship and even more corrupt society. My heart breaks for this people that never stops to amaze me in their strength and persistence.  I think of those who actively work in this country day in an day out to rescue those who are hurting and who have been forgotten.  I talk with them and read their posts and I know what they feel and grieve for them.  I have always believed in a Ukraine that was lifting itself out of years of abuse and corruption.  Stalin and Hitler waged their campaigns of hate and destruction on much of this land and yet out of the starvation, death and ashes, a people rose out of it, stronger and more determined. Today these same people continue to believe and fight for a better future and I too believe in what they are standing for. 

Why do I and so many of us work in humanitarian occupations?  For me it is simple, I believe in the people and the countries I work with.  I believe that in time they too will find greatness and be able to provide for their own but in the meanwhile they need a helping hand along the way.  Jesus did the same when he walked on this earth.  He often met the person at their need and rescued them from their immediate circumstances.  Afterwards, He guided them to a better way and in the process gave them hope. Sometimes our needs and hurts become overwhelming and that is all we can see at the moment.  So,when we adopt, rescue a woman from prostitution, save a family, provide education or give hope to an individual, I am always believing that not only are we changing their futures but in essence we are changing a people, a society and eventually a country for the better.  In essence we are giving them a vision of hope for a better tomorrow. I am always working in the now and in the future at the same time, forever optimistic of what we can do if we join our hands in unity as a people.  In Ukraine, thousands stand believing in this same principle that what they are doing today will change the future of their country.

I often wonder why Ukraine is so much in my blood and why a small post soviet state has affected me so greatly.  I honestly don't know but somewhere along the way it has.  Maybe it was the weeks we spent struggling to adopt our two children or maybe it was the weeks I've spent with orphaned children and kids from hard places.  Maybe it was the people I have worked with along the way who have inspired me with their determination and hearts of compassion in the midst of so many great odds.  Whatever the case, I stand today in awe of them and I pray that they will succeed as the continue to stand and believe that what they are fighting for and dying for is not in vain! 

Slava Ukraini

Vision for the Children International

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The birthplace of Los Angeles and .....

The last few days have been somewhat surreal and amazing all at the same time. Two weeks ago, I had been asked to be apart of cowriting an article with Jennifer Atencio for the "The Tidings" the oldest still printed newspaper in Los Angeles. Jennifer works with the San Gabriel Playhouse and is a Non-Profit Consultant and Grant Proposal Writer specializing in Program Development for established and start-up non-profit organizations. She is also very interested in educational programs and ministries in the Catholic Church and other Christian organizations with a focus on evangelization, grassroots Ecumenism, and Pro-life Causes. She was also a very close friend of my wifes in her teen years and had reconected in the last year or so. She had recently become interested in what we were doing with our nonprofit and wanted to get involved. The purpose of the article was to bring awareness to the plight of the peaceful protests going on in Ukraine now commonly refered to Euromaidan. It was and is to focus on the colaborative involvement of the churches and the resulting unity of different denominations, orthodox and Catholics. As many of you know, writing is not my best subject but knowing this was a great opportunity for us, I of course said yes. What I didn't know, was the total extent of the opportunity that was beginning to open up to us. Shortly after excepting the challenge, I was asked if I would come to California and be filmed in what I thought was somewhat of a mini documentary on the same subject. All of these different aspects were going to eventually link into what Vision for the Children International was doing in Eastern Europe. Needless to say, I was very stressed and didn't sleep very well as my departure to CA got closer and closer. Thoughts of inadequacy, fear of the unknowns and unrealistic expectations were running ramped in my mind. I eventualy came to some peace of mind after meeting with some friends of ours for council and prayer and realizing that at worse case, I would waste the cost of an airplane ticket and suffer some unrepairable emotional trauma ;) All of the details of my stay in California were very vague but regardless of this I found myself in San Gabriel California a week later. Arriving in LA, I was greeted by Martin the husband of Jennifer who gave me a whirlwind tour of Downtown Los Angeles on our way to his home were I would stay and work out the details of the coming days. After hours of discussion and processing information we both found ourselves not much clearer of what lied ahead and a bit brain dead from the long day. Many things needed to come together for any of this to happen and nothing at the time was a definite. Wednesday morning arrived quickly and running late we found ourselves at the beautiful and historical site of the San Gabriel Mission to meet with the film crew to discuss the details of the shoot. For no logical reason, I found myself at peace that this was going to work out and I was enjoying the beautiful day and the California History that was surrounding me. The San Gabriel Mission is the birth place of LA and was started by Father Serra of the Catholic Church. Well over 25,000 baptisms were conducted at San Gabriel between 1771 and 1834, making it the most prolific in the mission chain. In its heyday, it furnished food and supplies to settlements and other missions throughout California. Somewhere amongst my site seeing and conversations, I began to wonder if Father Serra would have ever imagined how his step of faith would grow into what now is the sprawling metropolitan community of Los Angeles. Interestingly that became the opening theme and a talking point that would introduce the video being produced. It was this idea that when anyone of us steps out in faith to follow the prompting or leading of the Holy Spirit, none of us can ever grasp the full extent of the impact that obedience can have on our world around us. Tying this theme in and the beautiful settings we began the interview. An interview that was to connect the dots of how a kid from LA county would end up running a ministry in Eastern Europe. It was very evident that God was involved in all this as the conversations took on a life of their own. Only once or twice did we have to stop the shoot and refilm a segment and even those were mostly because of noise polution. I have only on two occasions had to speak in front of a camera and both times it literally took about nine retakes of me saying the equivalent of two or three sentences. This was one of the reasons I had found myself panicking after excepting this opportunity. I have mentioned in the past how one of the greatest enjoyments in running our non profit is the people we meet. Well, one of these people was the director of this shoot, who I might note, did this entire shoot at no cost to us and only out of a heart to help bring awareness to at risk children, orphans and the sex trade industry. Louis Cywinski came to us with an impressive filming history and the recipient of five Emmys and in his words, he had filmed almost every great Hollywood star. As he began to list off an impressive number of actors that included John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ronald Reagan and the Dahlia Lama, I became overwhelmed with gratefulness at what God had orchestrated for us. Louis' easy going personality and experience quickly set the tone and put us all at ease. Meanwhile, Jennifer who had orchestrated my busy days in LA, began to make me feel I had some high powered agent working for us. Her contacts, passion and intense desire to create something impactful and meaningful for us and our mission was amazing! Often I felt like I had been sucked into a raging stream with nothing to do but ride it out to its completion. This raging current eventualy took us from working on the beginnings of an article that would go out to 200,000 readers, to a beautiful promotional shoot for Vision for the Children International, and lastly to meet with Father Alexie, a leader in the ecumenicle world of the Catholic Church. It is our hope an desire to create working relationships with the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe and this meeting was the beginning of this dialog. All these wonderfull events will ultimately bring us back to California on July 19th of this year to be highlighted at the Arcangel Film Festival at the San Gabriel Playhouse. No words can express the tremendous gratitude I have for Jennifer and her intense passion for what we are doing! Her heart for her lord, those who are hurting in our world and her desire for unity and love amongst Christians and our churches is a wonderful thing to witness. Please keep her in your prayers and thoughts as she continues to press in and finish the writting, finding the necessary filming editor for the promo and her ongoing work with the upcoming film festival. Well, I now find myself on the last leg of my flight home and I find myself in awe of the impact of all those who surrender themselves to the will of God and his purposes. I wonder if in time, the seeds of faith and action of these individuals will become like those of Father Serra and will eventually grow beyond anything they could possibly have imagined. I guess, only time will tell but just like it did for Father Serra and the San Gabriel Mission I am believing it will.

Vision for the Children International

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Getting out of the boat is so important as a believer...

Stumbled upon these ramblings of mine in my notes on my phone from around two years ago.  Looks like I was coming to grips with why God doesn't seem to move or react to issues in our world.  Since this time, getting out of the boat has become somewhat of a theme in my life.  Again no grammar police! I'm sure theirs plenty of mistakes ;)

If God is a good God then what holds back his hand from giving good things.  In Matthew 7:11 its says, If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So why does it seem there is so much need and Gods hand so slow to respond.  The bible clearly teaches we are His hands and we the church are the body of Christ.  There is unmet needs not because Gods is slow to respond but because we His hands are slow to respond.   Romans 12:5,6 So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us....It goes on to say that what ever gift has been given to each of us, use it!  I believe that God puts in us each of us a special calling or gift that is unique to us that he desires us to fulfill in this life.  But it requires us to reach out in faith and action to accomplish it.  Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  What is God calling you to do?  What is His purpose for you in this life?   I think that He gives us a glimpse of that mission and then waits for us to take a step out in faith.  Matthew 14:26-33  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."     We like the disciples and peter must each catch a glimps of Jesus in our lives and stop fearing  what we are seeing.  What is it that we fear?  Isn't it the unknowns?  What is it going to take to  get us out of the comfortably known boat of our life's and do the extraordinary!  Did anyone notice that God didnt stop the storm?  It would appear that God wasn't going to make it easier for them.   We know that he calmed the seas before but why not this time?   I believe that Jesus was trying to have them exercise their faith.  Maybe Peter was tired of His present struggles and desired to hang out with Jesus.  Isn't that the best place to be while in difficult circumstances?!!  So many of us are quick to judge Peter because of his lack of faith but did anyone else get out of the boat?  Did Peter walk with Jesus on the water?  Wasn't that his intention.  I say,  so what if he began to get scared I am pretty sure I would too.  The point to me is he got out of his circumstance to attempt the impossible and when he began to sink he cried out to God first and He rescued him.  He succeeded in what he set out to do!  I would only imagine that Peters faith grew rapidly after that walk of faith.    If we are to be his hands and feet in this life we must be willing to risk it all.  1 Corinthians 2:9  However, as it is written: "No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him"   Do we believe this?  If so then we must do our part to obtain it.  What do you mean we need to do something?  It says God has prepared this for us.  Prepared, Yes but we must choose to partake of it.  James 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.   For us to be used we must choose to believe and step out in faith.

Vision for the Children International