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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, (Psalms 107:2 NIV)


The whirlwind end of 2014 has been organized and put on the shelves.  Gone are the Christmas decorations, my newly married daughter and her husband are beginning their new lives together and our youngest biological child moves out within the week.   A strange quiet and emptiness fills the house as a new era starts for us.  Rooms that were full of children over the years are empty now.  This didn’t just happen overnight and it isn’t really anything new for us, so why does it feel so different to me now?  I suppose it’s the reality that these rooms won’t be full again and the front door won’t open with one of our older children walking threw it on a daily basis.  Maybe the house isn’t as empty so much as the way my heart is.   I know that time moves on and this is what we have worked towards for many years but it still takes getting used to.  Without a doubt though, I am the proudest dad.  Our children are successful and living life to its fullness.   It’s what we raised them to be but it is in this setting that has made me especially reflective this New Year and my need to write…

A prayer of Surrender and Desperation

I guess I just need to ramble a bit on my life and share a little bit about how I got to where I am today.   Although the last 44 years contributed tremendously to current events, I choose not to make and autobiography but share a brief excerpt of it.  Let me start with a few remembrances of my life as a young boy.  I was born into a family that raised me in a Christian home.  I remember going to church every Sunday and I loved these early years of my life.  Some of my best memories are from a very young age.  I remember special times with my father and mother and lifelong memories of my grandfather.  It was in this period of time, around the age of 7, that I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ at a small Nazarene church in Long Beach California and told my mother and father that I wanted to accept Jesus into my heart.  So in the innocence of a child, I knelt beside my bed that evening and prayed the sinner’s prayer.  Unfortunately these early care free years were shortly lived as my parents divorced and my life began to fall apart.  Searching for a father for her three boys, my mother would marry three more times before I turned 16.  Each one a disaster that was destructive and full of abuse.  I desperately wanted to escape this world I lived in and so I eventually found solitude and peace in the mountains.  The mountains became my god for many years to come and I found temporary peace from the pain through rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing.  Incredibly through those trying painful years, I never felt a time that Gods presence wasn’t with me.  I don’t know why or how that was but he never stopped pursuing me as I desperately tried to fill the vacant hole in my life from the abandonment and abuse of my childhood.     

Fast forward through 22 years of marriage and 4 biological children and apparently I have done a somewhat okay job at fathering.  I can only say that because my children have graciously loved me and said I have been.  Those 22 years were filled with some difficult times and my mistakes tremendous but I know that Gods grace and mercy did more than I could have ever done in protecting the children and family I loved.  Looking back, I guess I fathered in fear.  A fear, that I never wanted my children to live a childhood like mine.  When things got rough in my life, that fear kept me going.  God never seemed to leave me alone but the reality is I never could commit to him completely and wholly.  The draw of this world, the lust of the flesh and the desire to conform, continually tugged at me.  Like anything in life, there were great periods and then there were bad periods.  I can only say one thing to this and that is God is a faithful father and never gave up on me. A little over 4 years ago, the reality of empty nesting, new career paths were upon us and travel began to overtake our thoughts.  After so many years of giving to our family, we finally began to see the finish line but little did we know what lay ahead of us. 

It wouldn’t be much longer before a vision of the orphan problem in our world and the reality of our need to do our part would begin to grow.  Spurred on by messages from our pastor that would cut to the heart and challenge us to take risks in our personal life, we began to get involved in a local ministry that advocated for the orphans of Ukraine.  We had no intention to adopt at first but that quickly changed as we felt the call and saw the tremendous need.  It was during this time that my heart began to turn towards God again.  I am not sure why but something happened in me as I began to see the father heart of our God for his children.  Why now?  I don’t know but it began to happen and the running began to change to a level of obedience.  It was not overnight but I began to feel a heart change.  

During this time I began to read tremendous books like “Fields of the Fatherless” by Tom Davis and my all time favorite “Radical” by David Platt.  The book Radical was so intense and deep for me that it literally took me a year to read.  I could only handle a chapter before putting it away.  It literally began to shake me to the core and tear down my world views.  In Ukraine, we spent countless hours and Kilometers driving in taxis between our two children’s orphanages.  It was during this time that I took up reading Radical again.  What a setting to read this book.  Here I was in Ukraine, hot, muggy, a bit scared and living on the edge and God kept impressing upon me that this was just the beginning.  What!?!!  Just the beginning!??  I remember leaning over to my wife in the back of a cramped, hot taxi and saying something like “I don’t think this is the end but just the beginning of something God is doing”.   She didn’t look very thrilled at this comment.  You have to understand we had risked everything financially in faith to adopt and we were pretty uncomfortable.   I do remember feeling a sense of purpose and knowledge that we were being obedient to the call on our lives but at that moment my obedience turned to complete life surrender to God.  I will never forget telling him in a prayer that no matter how uncomfortable or scared I felt, if God asked me to do something then I would say “Yes”.  Since that moment of complete surrender somewhere near Kramatorsk Ukraine; saying “Yes” to God became my mantra. That moment of surrender has been the most difficult decision I have made and yet the most rewarding. 

Shortly after returning from Ukraine with our two new children, I would be asked if I would be willing to join a nonprofit as their field director.  Honestly, that scared me to no end!  Big time fear but remembering my commitment of surrender, I said Yes.  That decision, as scary as it was, stretched me and grew me and I did things I never imagined I would do.  From leading a team of missionaries to the heart of eastern Ukraine for a summer camp for orphans, to being a part of the process of launching a transition home for aged out orphans.  I began to see the power of the word “Yes” when it came to surrender and obedience to the direction and call God had me on.  This time was not flawless and I made huge mistakes along the way but looking back God had a way of using it for my development and life direction. 

During my second trip to Ukraine, I remember seeing how many children were at risk of becoming orphans.  Honestly, I didn’t think much of it at the time but this reality or imagery of children without families began to occupy my thoughts all the time.  A blog post by Tom Davis, stated that we need to take time and look at the root causes of an issue.  In other words we cannot just be trying to put out the fires of our world but step back at times and see what is starting the fires.  Well, that bit of wisdom would not stop haunting my mind.  I began to wonder if we could begin to change the conditions that would force a child to be placed in a government institution or orphanage.  Why not?  Why not attack this world problem from both sides?  Advocate for adoption and orphan care and at the same time invest in the family!  I was pumped with excitement at the possibility!  The challenge was how.  The reality was my home life was falling apart.  The challenges of adoption and the difficulty of immersing our two children into our family and culture were straining our relationship to the point of complete disaster.  What we had optimistically entered into was far more than we bargained for.  Our typical roles we had had raising our biological children were not working and my wife was near emotional meltdown.  Both of us were constantly being stretched to the max and the reality was this was going to be a difficult life choice.  So on one hand I was seeing limited success in ministry and on the other hand I was blind to all the new challenges our family was enduring. 

How could I possibly begin to consider launching a ministry that was focused on orphan prevention when my wife and family were at the brink of collapse?   Needless to say, I still presented the reality that I wanted to start a nonprofit.  The response was less than receptive.  In fact, I received a much deserved ear full.   Adopting was a ministry and I needed to figure this out first before jumping into another!  Hard as that was to hear, it was the truth.  This whole willing to submit and say “Yes” was beginning to tear at every part of our lives and rip us apart.  Little did I realize at the time, that these were areas of my life that needed addressing first.  This was part of the process of surrender!  So the family began to be a major focus and the vision a secondary one.  In time, both of us began to see that this vision and calling was upon us as we began to figure out how to balance our lives together.   

Three months later, we stepped out in faith and launched Vision for the Children International, almost two years to this day.  I was elated and yet scared beyond reality.  This was a huge step of faith for me! The cost of adoption and medical bills had stretched us beyond what was bearable and now I had stepped out and launched a nonprofit?  Insane!  I remember withdrawing $40 dollars from our personal account to put into our new business account that was opened for VFTCI.  Leaving the bank, I remember wondering how I was going to make it to our next paycheck without those 40bucks!  Life began to feel like I was walking on a razor edge with complete failure on both sides!  I remember laughing to myself at the insanity of it all but staying committed to the “Yes”.   

What would follow were some of the most difficult months of my life.  God was doing an amazing thing in the ministry but I was beginning to go through hell!  It is hard to explain those months.  It was like I was in the process of an extremely painful birth spiritually.  I felt like I could bear no more.  Finances had been completely tapped, old friends turned against me and I felt abandoned with no hope.  Mental anguish was constant and I remember getting up every morning for months, searching the bible for hope and praying in complete and utter desperation for God to rescue me.   This time was the most intense and horrible time of my life.  Thoughts of ending it all would invade my mind but God sustained me and his complete rescue came!  It was like I had been tested by fire and somehow I came out of it. 

 At the end of my rope, God came through and miracles began to happen. God completely rescued our lives.  Since then, it’s been no rose garden but we began to see breakthrough in our lives.   Door after door began to open up for us.  God faithfully provided for every need we had and the ministry began to explode.  It was more than I could imagine!  Lives began to change, partnerships and volunteers began to join our team, incredible and unimaginable events would take place.  I still to this day stand in awe of all that God continues to do.  In the last two years, 8 mothers have been rescued from an uncertain future and 12 children from lives in an orphanage.  We have launched education programs, a computer lab for children to do research and get extended education, we have seen 80 plus salvations, and provided nearly 4000 healthy meals for needy children as well as numerous outreach programs and summer camps.  I know this wasn’t by our own power but by a God who has worked through us and provided beyond our wildest dreams.  

As I write this, I am honestly amazed!  Why me?  The answer is why not!  We are all called.  The bible says “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.”  Do you understand what that means?  It means that there is success for those who are willing to labor.  The harvest is there ripe for the picking!  We are just co laborers to a God who has already done the planting.  Are our lives any easier because we said “ Yes”?  I would say definitely “NO” but God continues to bless us, show us his provision and encourage us.    We know that every time we recommit a prayer of submission, which sometimes is daily, He is faithful to complete the work He sets before us.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, (Psalms 107:2 NIV)