Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Alas, our entire household has the crud...Shell started it, Amy got it next, and I'm croaking like a frog today. We all have the energy of an over-medicated slug.
A friend dropped by the other day and just starting cleaning our kitchen. We protested and tried to stop her, but soon she won out. You can always tell a true friend when they just "do" for you instead of asking, "Is there any I can do?"
With some notable exceptions, the folks who have come to our rescue over the years most often when we've been confronted with illness or hard times are those type of people, oddly enough, the people that come to mind most readily haven't been members of our church, or for that matter any church.
There's a lesson in that I suppose...or maybe it's the fever
Tonight is our next "cell group" meeting, so Amy and I are trying to rally.
It looks like the "new" blogger has some features which I'll like, but right now I think a dose of Nyquil and a nap sound more tempting.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Hey, we will be sending thank you notes, but just to give some of you some perspective, two of our kids haven't received their Christmas gifts yet...due to our postal paralysis.
Yesterday, an old friend who left Covenant some years ago, contacted us and dropped a not so subtle hint about joining him on a mission trip to Mexico. I pretty much filed that idea away, considering finances, my remaining vacation time, and heck...we did just get back from Moldova. The trip would be next month.
Amy and I are still called to missions and so I'm not ruling anything out.
I want to remain positive about our mission goals...
So I have now edited out about 400 words I wrote...that post will come some other time, maybe. At least now I can cut to the chase.
"Go out and be the church."
Those are words we've taken to heart.
Sometimes, it also means making hard choices.
Last week we met with a "cell group" of the church we've been attending, and it was very good, very uplifting, very biblical. When we gathered for corporate prayer, Moldova was still pressing hard on my heart and I tried to briefly let these new friends know where we've been, both mission-wise and church-wise, and about the plight of the kids in Moldova.
As we were leaving, one of the elder members of the group took me aside and offered some very encouraging words about being called to missions and about the "mother church" with which this group is affiliated. I hadn't met this man before and here he was encouraging us to pursue what we feel is God's calling.
That meant more than I can say right now, for a number of reasons...again, another post, another day, maybe.
So this morning we go to church and in the order of worship is a notice about a "missions meeting" to learn more about what this particular church is doing with missions, offering mission opportunities, etc.
My first thought was, "We're not ready, God."
My second thought was, "When have you ever been?"
Maybe we'll go to the meeting tonight, maybe we'll go to Mexico next month, maybe we won't...one thing I know for certain...this mission stuff, has very little to do with "Ground Control."
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for its living,
And a child that's born on the Sabbath day
Is blithe and bonny and good and gay.
That old poem doesn't read quite the same anymore does it?
Maybe it's just my mood.
I've been in a bit of a fog this week. It's been dreary in San Antonio. Cloudy, rainy...muddy. Amy and Shell are both wheezin' and coughin' as the allergens blow in. The State of the Union address only resulted in robbing me of my sleep and reminding me how divisive people seem these days.
In an attempt to be inclusive, tonight we're visiting a new "cell" in the church we've been attending. I'm excited by this idea of regular intimate gatherings of worship and study, and a little bit daunted...you never know what or whom to expect, but we've met the couple who runs this small group and they seem very nice and also seem to have had similar past church experiences which hopefully we won't dwell upon.
Amy and I attended a different "cell" meeting shortly after getting back from Moldova which was wonderful. However upon subsequent examination we realized it was - in part - geared toward grooming folks for church leadership, or cell leadership, positions. Believe me, that's not what we need right now. We're in a place of healing and church responsibilities are not on our "top ten" list of priorities.
Or top 20....or 80...
Get me in a seat, let me sing (or attempt to sing), challenge my heart a bit, let me pray and then get out of the way. One day I'll be ready to shoulder some of the church's burdens, but these days we need a church to shoulder us for a while.
Anyway, the folks running this other small group understand where we're coming from and "attended" our current church for six or eight months before they actually joined, so I'm not too worried we're going to feel like we're on the fast track.
I know, I'm rambling...
My mind has been on a lot of things. I did manage to arrange to buy a couple of coats for Igor and Slavic in Moldova, although the CERI coordinator was quick to point out in an email that "it's warmer in Moldova than it is in San Antonio."
I ended up arranging to simply wire funds to the CERI folks on the ground in Chisinau along with a tiny picture of the boys...there are a number of Igors and Slavics at the orphanage and I wanted to make sure the right kids got the coats, although we sent enough to buy extras I suspect.
Knowing it's warmer in Moldova than it is here has not really improved my mood.
We need some sunshine. I'm tired of cold, and rain....and mud.
You'll note a recurring theme of mud...having two little white dogs who also hate the cold and rain, but seem to be oblivious to mud, makes for a recurring pattern on our carpets too.
Then again, it could be worse. I could be a snake charmer.
Yes, that was an odd transition, you needn't read it again.
Apparently, snake charming is illegal in India, but not in neighboring Pakistan. Pakistani snake charmers however are worried that they're not making enough money so they're asking the government for help.
I really haven't researched this deeply but my understanding is they're looking for what would essentially be snake-charmer subsidies.
"My country tis of thee, sweet land of subsidy..." Sorry, I broke into song there for a sec...believe me it was worse on my end.
I applaud the snake-charmer's efforts. After watching the State of the Union Address it would seem to me that if they can convince politicians to give them money...that in itself would be proof of their abilities.
Then again, it may just be my mood.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
It's not an easy decision. There are a lot of kids.
On one of our first days - maybe it was the first day - in Moldova we were taken to an orphanage for very young children. It was actually "nice," at least by Moldovan standards. The kids seemed well cared for, very loving, and the teachers seemed equally warm-hearted.
It was heartbreaking, make no mistake, but these children are being loved which was easy to determine because they were so willing to love us.
Sponsoring a child or two or nine, would involve kids from the orphanage where we spent most of our time. The scenario boils down to sponsoring a younger kid - which admittedly is less expensive - and hoping to build them a good nest egg for when they're turned out, or sponsoring an older child, about 3 times the price, who is in need now and will be out on the streets very soon.
We're exploring some different ideas and admittedly Amy and I are still looking at financial realities, which are numerous, while trying to listen to God.
I obviously bonded with some of the older boys, Amy bonded with some of the older girls...
Then there is the mystery of "Lena."
Lena was a little girl who showed up a day or two into our visits. She and Amy quickly made a connection. The truth is Amy would have stuffed her in a suitcase and taken her with us if we thought that was at all possible. For the record, physically "adopting" a child from Moldova is not an easy task, international adoptions were closed for several years, but have since re-opened on a "limited basis." Adopting is not really something I think we're suited for...at least with the distance of time and space between us and those kids.
But Lena easily won our hearts.
As our time was running out in Moldova, Amy inquired about Lena with the orphanage director. The director was surprised we knew about her at all.
Lena doesn't live there.
Lena's sister is at the orphanage, but Lena is too young and will be coming there "next year." "Next year" is a phrase for which I want a better definition.
The odd thing is that Lena's sister was not at the orphanage when we were there, so the director was at a loss to explain Lena's presence.
Needless to say we didn't imagine her.
As were many of the girls, Lena was fascinated by Amy's earrings. Amy gave away all the earrings over our time there...one of which went to Lena.
The next time we saw her, Lena had the earring pinned to her sweater.
Amy has more holes in her ears than I have in my head, but this particular earring was one of a pair and Amy long ago misplaced the other. It's an earring with an unmistakable message.
We have research to do, numbers to run, and apparently a mystery to solve...
How did Lena end up at the orphanage those days? Who brought her there? Why didn't the orphanage director know?
Or maybe we don't have a mystery to solve at all.
Maybe the answer is pinned to Lena's sweater and deep inside her eyes.
As always I suspect, mysteries such as this are resolved when we don't listen to God with our heads...
Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach... - Proverbs 22:17
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
This should not be happening in South Texas.
I know, all you cold weather folks think this is nothin'...but us South Texans like South Texas for a reason...many reasons...one of which is these things don't normally grow above our cacti.
You can take your weather back now...we won't be offended.
Though my butt might take a little longer to forgive you...
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
I didn't think I'd have much use for long underwear once we left Moldova, and although I left about two-thirds of my winter clothes behind to be distributed as needed, I hesitated on leaving the underwear - quite frankly the idea of giving someone "used" underwear, even long underwear seemed kind of creepy to me. As it turns out, I need it now...freezing rain, sleet and bone-chilling cold have set upon San Antonio, and believe me, we ain't used to this stuff.
In Moldova, I don't think the temperature ever got above 39 any day we were there, and we had some wet/snowy weather..
Maybe it's the fact we're back in San Antonio that it seems so much colder...that and the cold harsh reality that the heater in our primary car is not exactly a blast furnace, something which also is not a critical need most days, but I feel far colder today than I ever felt in Eastern Europe.
Not to say it wasn't chilly in Moldova, in more ways than one.
I'm still working on getting coats to the kids who asked/prayed for them, but the Eastern Europe Director for CERI has told me essentially that it would cost me more to ship them to Moldova than to buy them, and suggested I give money to CERI to wire to a contact there with instructions to buy the coats, as he put it, "Moldova is not a philanthropy friendly country." U.S. mail is out, FED-Ex is a possibility. Right now, the point is moot since any "sales" on winter coats in San Antonio have likely been postponed due to a surge of opportunistic capitalism...until this ice storm passes.
Anyway, as I alternately huddle between the fireplace and the glow of the computer monitor, my thoughts today have been about reaching kids. There are a couple of reasons for this, not all of which deal with Moldova.
While in Moldova, I was teamed with two "experienced" guys - men who have been there before and who are each "sponsoring" children at the orphanage where we spent the bulk of our time - to teach a "voluntary" daily Bible study class. It was very basic stuff, lessons on the Widow's Mite, God's Gift of Jesus, the story of the sacrifices made by Mary and Joseph...
All the lessons were intended to touch on the idea of the true nature of giving.
Our class was made up of pre-teen and teen boys and you can imagine their enthusiasm...if you can't, here's a picture.
Oh yeah, they were thrilled. Most days we simply tried to keep them participating, and the nature of the "message" drifted quickly to how they were going to be tempted, and it wasn't going to be easy to make the right choices which we tried our best to tie back to our basic theme of the day...with a modicum of success.
For a couple of days though our "conversations" quickly turned into debates between my cohorts, myself and one kid who really didn't belong in our class. A big kid, whose name no one could tell me, except to say he was "Sasha's brother." Sasha is apparently a kid who has already left the orphanage and was also known as something of a trouble maker. The name he wrote on the name tag I gave him, I'm fairly certain was actually a suggested position for my head, which would be anatomically impossible to assume.
He was argumentative, foul-mouthed (although the translator tried to censor some of his language), and arrogant.
He was angry...and he was seeking.
He yelled, and spouted out questions, tough questions about theological differences between Baptists and the Orthodox church. This went on for some time, and when I gave him my best answers, he eventually spewed what I assumed were curses...
The translator finally looked at me somewhat awkwardly and said, "He doesn't want to hear from you anymore."
I took that as something of a success...I can debate with the best of them, but it helps to know what the other party is saying...I figured if I frustrated him into cussing me out, he at least didn't have an answer.
After our first day of this "debate," one of the guys I was working with turned to me and said, "He's the lost sheep."
I didn't want to disagree. I'm familiar with that parable, and I couldn't say he was wrong...per se.
The next day's "lesson" was dominated by the same kid in much the same way and it was then I began to ponder the "lost sheep" parable a bit deeper.
Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders..."
I would love nothing more than to bring this young ruffian to Christ, but our time in Moldova with this batch of kids was extremely limited. I soon stopped participating in the argument and started trying to re-gain the attention of the other kids...passing out photographs I had taken, giving them some small treats, and letting them peruse photos I had brought along of our family, and friends.
By the time I left Moldova, I had made peace with that one kid, but I felt I had at least reached a number of the others a bit more deeply. It will take far more work than I was able to do to convince them Christ is the answer to all their problems...Christ-like work.
Maybe I was wrong, but it seemed to me that there were are a lot of lost sheep in the "open country" of that classroom, and not near enough shoulders.
Throughout Moldova, the number of "lost sheep" is in fact staggering.
I think it was Plato who said, "Know thyself mortal."
It's on cold, somewhat lonely, days such as this that I feel I must still remind myself of the only "non-mortal" whose shoulders are broad enough to carry us all.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Anyway, I wanted to write today about communicating in Moldova. Oftentimes, I was alone with kids and no translator, yet after a few gestures, shrugs, and the like we usually managed to convey our messages to some extent...occasionally, a kid would become frustrated and go find a translator and drag him or her back to make sure I understood what they were saying.
But I saw other communication without words too.
The most poignant came when some of the kids joined us in a service project delivering fruits and other treats to residents of a very lonely multi-story home for the elderly. Most of the kids would march into the residents rooms with bags of treats in tow and quickly hand them out, wish them a Merry Christmas, and then it was off to the next apartment.
It wasn't long before I noticed Amy lingering behind.
This was not uncommon in San Antonio, much less Moldova...Amy has a tendency to "furble," but this day was somewhat different.
Amy was going back into the rooms of the people the kids visited and stopping to talk with the residents, even though she can't speak Romanian or Russian anymore than she can do hand-springs.
But she communicated.
In one of the rooms we met a very old woman who was obviously desperate for company...by the way, as in virtually anything I post you can click on the photos to enlarge them.
Amy has never met a stranger, and soon we were both in her room...her one room..with a bed, a radiator and a sink...and very little else...except all of her family memories neatly arranged in a gold frame on one wall.
Soon Amy was communicating up a storm, pointing to photos and confirming they were of the woman's children, or her deceased husband, or their wedding day...
It was so apparent this woman didn't need fruit or candy, as much as she needed company. By the time we left she was chattering up a storm, crying, hugging us both and thanking us for spending time with her.
Okay, she wasn't the only one crying...
I soon decided to abruptly halt my "Amy we must keep up with the others" mantra, and simply let her do her thing...love people.
I've been proud of my wife on many occasions, this day counts among the top.
We'd see grumpy-looking old men and women sitting in corners of the stark and barely sterile facility or waiting for "the elevator none of us trusted" who would eye us initially with what appeared to be distrust or disdain...
Moments later, Amy would have them smiling, or talking or laughing... Some following us outside to continue the conversation, completely unconcerned yet fully aware that we didn't barely understand a word of what they were saying.
I couldn't help but look at Amy that day and think of God.
He doesn't need to speak words to us necessarily.
He sends His love...
The rest seems to fall into place...
For Your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in Your truth... - Psalm 26:3
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
It's difficult to decide where to begin.
Honestly, I think I was so driven by the process of getting Amy healthy enough for the trip, trying to arrange financing, making sure we could pass muster at the various inspections, and then making sure that Amy and I could contribute when we arrived, that it wasn't until we were back in the states that the emotional aspect of it all hit.
On the bus to the airport in Kentucky yesterday Amy started to sob, when we finally got home I sat on our back porch and wept. We had bottled up our emotions I think as a defense mechanism, as we tried to gradually process the enormity of the situation in this small country.
Moldova has so many problems...sex slavery, organized crime, drugs...a lost innocence.
The nation's leaders want to get Moldova admitted to the European Union, but there are standards to be met, not the least of which is reducing the population of orphans.
As I've said previously Moldova has some 900 state run orphanages/boarding schools. The current fear is that the "solution" to the problem will be to simply close most of them.
Government thinking really varies very little from country to country.
As to what happens to all those kids, that hasn't been addressed.
The country itself is showing the signs of the old Soviet-style infrastructure collapsing, and foreign investors bringing their money and many bringing their goals of capitalizing on Moldova's misery.
The result is a strange landscape of box-like buildings reminiscent of the old USSR practicality which are degrading rapidly, pock-marked by McDonald's, and casinos, and buildings with more character.
There does not appear to be a middle class. You are either very poor...or you are well off in Moldova. Most of the people we dealt with were very poor.
We spent the bulk of our time working at the oldest orphanage in the country. It normally houses about 600 kids. During our stay about 100 to 125 children ranging in age from about 6 to 17 were there. Many of the children have family members with whom they stay during the holidays, but those families are unable to care for them during the rest of the year. The kids we dealt with were essentially alone.
Many were hardened, most were very loving, and I was assigned to a group of middle school aged boys. It took only a day or so for me to break through to some of the "hard case" kids. The two I grew closest two are named Slavic and Igor
I never fooled myself into thinking I could actually change their lives in any great way, except to plant the seed...to let them know they are loved and cared about, and that Amy and I, and all the great people at CERI were trying to find as many ways as possible to help them escape a destiny of despair.
Evangelism quickly took a back seat. Although I, and a couple of other team members, taught a daily "bible study" lesson, usually that turned in to a rather raucous debate about whether God actually cared whether they smoked, drank, cursed...etc...
It was at night, before the kids went to dinner, that I think I made the most progress. We would take the kids back to their dorm rooms and talk, pray a little.
It was humbling.
The first night I huddled down with six or seven of the boys and started talking about how Christ could help them, one older boy entered the room and said quite bluntly,"We already know who God is...Who the "bleep" are you?" The translator was with me that night, and edited out the bleep, but I knew from his inflection what he said...some words transcend language.
It was a good question, which I tried to answer honestly. It's a rare occasion when I can actually use my past to prove a point. I told the boys about Amy and our kids, and my job, and then I mentioned I was orphaned at 14, that I had lived on my own since I was 17, that I had fought the demons of drugs and alcohol my entire life, and that God was the solution I found which truly worked...although it took me a very long time to listen closely enough to hear Him calling me.
I said I knew they were going to make wrong choices, and sometimes were going to have to choose between sinning and surviving...and I told them God would forgive them.
By the end of the week, Igor and Slavic were rarely letting me out of their sight and were dragging me by the hand to show me various aspects of their lives. Most of the time I did not have an interpreter with me, but we seemed to communicate well enough.
The boys begged me to come back this summer, something I won't be able to do, and Amy and I are considering our options about "sponsoring" some of the kids - something I'll likely detail later.
Igor and Slavic ended the week not only with pleas that I send them photos and that I return, but that I send them winter coats. They don't have any. We had given them warm sweaters and other clothing but coats were not in our budget. Amy and I have already decided to quickly buy those two boys warm clothing and get it to them as quickly as possible...the logistics of which I'll figure out in the days ahead.
Making sure items sent to Moldova reach their intended recipients is another problem when a country's best running industry is corruption.
We loved on dozens of kids and in the coming days you will see pictures of many of them, not only from the orphanage where we worked, but also from another orphanage which handles younger kids.
In many of their faces you will see some aspects of joy, and in some you will see hardened hearts.
But if you look closely into the eyes of each of these kids you will see something else...a small glint of hope.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Anyway, during a portion of one day in Moldova we took some of the kids to visit a deaf community and an apartment complex for the elderly to deliver fruit, food, candy, and a lot of love as a service project.
Some of it was wonderful...real wonderful.
Some of it was tough...real tough.
More on that later.
While at the deaf community, the kids posed for one picture, which says a lot to all of you who have prayed for us, rooted for us, cared about us, and encouraged us.
I thought I'd share that before conking out for...um...let's say 18 hours...
Saturday, January 06, 2007
I should have sent this earlier but our power
was out at the team house. Amy is doing MUCH better.
Tomorrow is Christmas...in Moldova at least.
We're busy wrapping up gifts and stuffing stockings.
Thank you for your prayers and encouragement.\
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Things are generally going well here in Moldova. I've met some amazing kids, seen some pretty rough stuff, and made a few "connections" with kids which I hope will eventually lead them to consider connecting with God.
Amy has been having some health issues, which are concerning me greatly. We thought it was a medication mixup, but I've monitored her meds and she's actually not taking as much of anything as she was stateside...yet she's falling into these "fugue-like" states. We thought she might be allergic to something at the orphanage, so I kept
her at the team house this morning, but upon on return she was still pretty out of it.
Right now, I'm having to choose Amy's health over continuing work with the kids with whom I've developed a rapport. I'm hoping that some solid rest and close monitoring will get her back in the saddle. In the interim, when she has been feeling well she's been able to do some things to help the team while here.
Please pray that she overcomes this illness quickly. We have much to do and every hand is needed.
I've got some good stories to tell, Moldova is an amazing, alarming, and disheartening country. Some of these kids already have prison records and they're not yet teenagers. The orphanage is very harsh...it's sort of clean and compared to others we've learned of,
it's okay...but believe me you wouldn't want any of your kids, or grandkids to spend any time there.
Some of the kids are crying out for God, but they fear making a decision for Christ will restrict their options for survival...it's hard to tell a kid who may be dumped out on the street with nothing
that he'll go to Hell if he steals, and hard to explain forgiveness for sin - thru a translator - without sounding like you're giving them a "free ticket." Some of the kids have peppered me with very tough theological questions and are not the most receptive to the translated responses.
On the upside, and there's been A LOT of upside, we've had some wonderful weather, it was "warm" by Moldova standards for our first few days. Yesterday we had snow...which led to a new form of outreach to young orphans...the snowball fight for Jesus :)
Our team is made up of some very devoted Christians both young and old and it's been amazing watching them work with some of the kids, and
working with them.
My version of "Gift Of The Magi" went over very well, thanks in large part of a great interpreter who really got into telling my version of the story.
The food is great, our accomodations (with the exception of lights going out occasionally and a hot water pipe breaking) have been wonderful.
We still have Christmas to celebrate with the kids and lots to do.
Please pray for Amy...I need her help...I think God needs all the help here He can get too.
Monday, January 01, 2007
The younger kids orphanage was really nice, very clean, the kids looked happy and well cared for...the other orphanage (and I'll post photos when I return) was very "institutional."
Everything is painted concrete, and the kids - some of them 10 or 13 - seemed "hardened" in many ways. We only had a chance last to visit as best we could, see some of their rooms, and try to make some connections. We had a plan going in which was quickly abandoned. I ended up just getting Amy to sing and following her into kid's rooms trying to get them to join us.
Today we will have a bible study session, play some games, do some crafts and have an evening devotional as well as one on one time with the kids in our "groups."
I'm pair up with two guys who have been here before, which is a blessing and a hindrance, they seem to know what they're doing, which is nice, but it does highlight the reality that I don't seem to know what I'm doing.
Other highlights...Amy and I strolled the neighborhood of the team house and tried to talk with a few shop keepers. It's pretty obvious that Amy is going to be the key to any communication I require.
We stopped by Mercy House, a project under construction on the outskirts of the city which -if completed- will serve as "transitional housing" for up to 25 young women once they are forced out of state run homes. There's another project, not as far along for young men. It will require a lot money, the okay - permits - from local government officials and apparently the okay of a local church leader who fears the baptists plan to actually build a church.
This is not evangelical ministry...this is feet on the ground for God stuff. We are trying to show this kids there is another way besides prostitution and other forms of crime...and the only tool we have is each other, the word of the Lord...and your prayers.
My computer time is up....more later.