Thoughts on International Justice

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Thoughts on International Justice

It feels like a theological double entendre that Jesus would heal a blind man (John 9:7) by putting mud on his eyes and telling him to wash in the pool of Siloam.  Jesus can do miracles, check.  Jesus can cure blindness, check.  Jesus sends us out to see the world as it really is, check - wait, what? Siloam means "sent."  Sent in order to see. 

What is there to see? 

Jesus convinced me that he loved me by going to the cross.  It is faith in this that not only saves us, but gives us sight, insight, into truth.  And acknowledging what is true in a fallen world - whether pleasant or horrific - is how we are to engage with the world and give meaning to our lives while we dwell in it.  Christians are meant to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8) But first we have to acknowledge, and care about, the injustice in the world around us.  

Do we?  Care, I mean? 

As a society, our country is founded on beautiful principles, but we can be so myopic in our vision, like Paul in Acts 9, who was struck blind, but healed 3 days later when something like scales fell from his eyes.  Then he could SEE.  Is that a reminder, perhaps, that Jesus, after spending 3 days in a tomb, is able to cure our blindness? 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
— Declaration of Independence

Our nation is meant to uphold prosperity among all men, in order that all men are allowed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Our history as a nation bears up that we have not always applied those truths universally to all people, and at different periods in history, after wars, marches, and protests, we have had to acknowledge and correct our short-sightedness and double standards.  Democracy allows our nation to correct our course when we recognize wrongful or harmful practices that we ourselves have instituted.

Maybe we weren’t founded on Christian principles, but “liberty and justice for all” sounds a lot like Jesus.  As we, as Christians, seek to further develop our character in His likeness, we will care more and more about seeking justice for others, for strangers, for refugees, for neighbors, for victims, for the poor, small, and invisible, as well as for ourselves.  

Is that true? I hope so. 

So be it. 

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Walk in Freedom

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Walk in Freedom

leather wrap

It’s something we all want, but it’s hard to put a finger on. We can recognize when we are without it, but there’s no clear path to attain it. It comes in many forms. International Justice.

In this globally interconnected world we live in, justice for others is so deeply tied in with our day to day lives. But we don’t always have the ability to recognize it, let alone change the injustices we see.

This last month, we had the opportunity to collaborate with another company here in Middle Tennessee that is working for international justice, just like us, the Branded Collective. Branded Collective exists to empower survivors of human trafficking through meaningful employment and economic independence. They work directly with End Slavery Tennessee, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote healing of human trafficking survivors and strategically confront slavery in our state.

Their partnership provides meaningful work to women coming out of trafficking situations. These women gather together, learning how to stamp and press jewelry, making art that means much more simply because of the hands that are creating it. Their metal cuffs carry a number which represents the brands and numbers that many captors use to label their victims as they traffic them. They fight against this by giving this power back to the freed women, who then initial each piece they make, to change the story, re-route their path, start a new conversation toward healing.

While our locations and approaches are different, we are after the same thing- freedom for all people.

At our Mission Lazarus vocational schools, we train young men and women in a trade, equipping them with workable skills so that they can enter a more reliable job market upon graduation. In our program, they receive 3 years of vocational training alongside academic education, while earning a stipend so that they can continue to financially support their family. When facing poverty, day to day survival becomes a continual state of mind. We want to change that narrative through community development, inclusion, opportunity, and job creation. It’s not a hand out, but a leg up; it’s the boost that these young adults need to make a lasting change.

What makes our collaboration so unique is the shared vision and thus multiplied impact of the products. Our Walk in Freedom leather cuffs and wraps start their journey in Nashville, Tennessee with Branded Collective. Women who are free from their oppressors and are beginning their journey toward healing, learn how to make jewelry, hand stamping brass pieces with the phrase, “Walk In Freedom”. From here, we sent these pieces down to our vocational school in rural Honduras, where young men in our program cut and sew leather into the wrap and cuff design. After careful inspection and attention, these bracelets were packaged and shipped back to us in Nashville. Coming full circle, each bracelet is handmade by one woman, walking in freedom from human trafficking, and one young man, fighting for freedom from poverty. Each bracelet represents their freedom story, and as you wear yours, you share their story and it becomes a part of your story too.

Recently, I heard the phrase “You can’t do everything, but everyone can something.” It’s a mantra that has been stuck in my head for the past three weeks. Sometimes we look at the problem and all we can see is the overwhelming, multilayered issues that seem much bigger than our two hands could ever fight back against. This feeling is true in both fights for international justice, the fight against human trafficking and the fight to end global poverty.

But when God made us, He didn’t make us insufficiently. He gave us exactly what we need; HIM. By our own strength, we cannot fix the problems of human trafficking and global poverty. But through Him, and together, we can accomplish something with lasting impact, something toward freedom for those who are oppressed or unheard, something with Kingdom significance, something that matters.

hands walk in freedom

You can purchase your Walk in Freedom Leather Cuff or Wrap through our online store here.

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And whatever you do

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And whatever you do

Health care is an incredibly important component when raising a child.  When raising 38 children, it’s important x 38.  We have an incredibly small medical staff — one full time doctor, one professional nurse, and two clinical nurses.  When a child gets sick at The Refuge, our caregivers coordinate directly with one of these providers, who is always on call, which means our kids get quality, same-day care, every time.  

A few weeks ago, our staff treated one of our teens for an ear infection.  When hearing was still diminished after completing a standard antibiotic treatment, our caregiver promptly communicated concern.  We took our teen to an ENT specialist, who diagnosed severe eustachian tube dysfunction, nasal septum deviation, and tonsillitis, confirmed by endoscopy.  

Our young man has been scheduled for surgery on July 13th.  Without its detection and intervention, he would go permanently deaf. Our thanks go out to Dr. Ayala, Dr. Diaz, Dr. Osorio, our own Dra. Nelsy Alvarado, our nurses Idalia, Giselda, and Patricia, as well as our Refuge director and caregivers, in getting one of our own the quality specialty care he needs, promptly.  Your collaboration and compassion do not go unnoticed.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
— Col 3:17

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Uncomfortable - yeah it is.

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Uncomfortable - yeah it is.

Uhm, Do we really have to talk about this, today, here, right now?  

         

Do I really need to answer that? Yes. It's epidemic.

 

But what can we do about it now, like you said, it's a problem everywhere!

 

Are you kidding me? You started it, you can turn it around.

 

Hold on, it just sort of happened, and now it's beyond our control. 

 

 Don't be defeatist. Every person who's aware can make the world a little better.

 

What am I talking about?  Orphanage tourism.  Didn't know it's a thing?  It's a thing (a thing we created.)  And people, and churches, ask us for it all the time (scary, like an addictive drug.)   When you go to a country to serve others, most people have expectations of directly interacting with the people in need of that country.  It surprises people when we explain that often the best use of your time is to equip and train the individuals who are hard at work with their own people everyday.  Honoring and supporting local doctors, social workers, community leaders, teachers, caregivers, and permanent staff is more beneficial and multiplicative, than direct interaction with beneficiaries and vulnerable children, and it carries a much smaller risk of direct harm.  

 

Wait a minute, "harm?" - Is that not exaggerating just the teeniest bit?  

 

Not at all. 

 

Convince me.

 

I am certainly endeavoring to try. 

 

So let's look at some facts, because we can't get mad at facts; they just are what they are.  And the pieces will help us to see the big picture.  Several articles in recent years have cited ineffective volunteerism, emotional distress (abandonment), increased exposure to child predators, and exploitation/manipulation by the very institutions meant to protect them as real and significant harms to children in residential care.  Real as in reality.

Awareness and intention in our policies help us to eliminate or minimize the risk of these, and other potential harms, in our children's homes.  Anyone who has visited with us in Honduras already knows that despite the constant influx of volunteers in other programs, direct interaction with the vulnerable children in our care is generally prohibited.  

Our advice to anyone considering visiting or volunteering with a children's home:  First, do your homework.  A visit to a children’s home is an endorsement of its practices.  Is this home committed to holistic child care?  If not, do not reinforce the status quo.  Second, do no harm.  What purpose does your visit serve?  Volunteer activities should be limited to supporting permanent staff or providing specialized care for a specific, previously identified need.  If direct activities with children has been approved by administrative staff, all activities should be continuously supervised by the staff, should be task-oriented, time-limited, and neutral (no preference for an individual child should be shown at any time.)  “Hanging out” or “playing” with children does not meet these qualifiers.

To close, in her article in the Telegraph, Orphanage Tourism: help or hindrance?, Monica Pitrelli gives a fantastic list of DO's and DON'Ts.  We share a few of them here:

DO: bring special skills. Medical specialists, teachers and human rights educators are often needed.

DO: donate goods in kind. Ask the organization about their needs. 

DO: consider helping community-based programs, which support families and enable the children to live at home.

DON’T: go to any orphanage that actively solicits tourists.

DON’T: work with the children directly. Instead, assist the permanent staff; this keeps the locals in charge and minimizes attachment issues.

DON’T: volunteer at any organization that doesn’t ask for a CV, references and police reports in advance. The more that is demanded, the greater chance that the children are being protected.

DON’T: post photos of children online. The orphanage is the children’s home, and their privacy should be respected.

 

And those are the "big bads" that get write ups in articles.  Here are a few other reasons that we don't bring visitors in to our children's homes.  Put your parenting cap on, and imagine that instead of choosing who, where, and when visitors might come by -- they just do, total strangers, into your personal living space, interrupting your daily routine, snatching kids away for "fun time" when you just finished telling John that he couldn't go out to play because he hadn't done his homework.  Your authority is completely exposed as limited and easily undermined.  

Now what about the after-effects? An impotent caregiver has little chance of success at generating a relationship built on trust because there is no accountability in the relationship because there is constant third-party interference.  All the children in our care have ever known is broken relationships, and now we are no exception.  If we fail to break the pattern of dysfunctional relationship, when this child enters adulthood and assimilates into society, he still won't have mastered the most fundamental of all life skills - that of trusting a trust-worthy human being (other than himself.)

So bottom line, what I am saying, most adamantly, is that we should never harm the progress of a caregiver who works hard, every day, to demonstrate that trust and accountability can be positive, safe, and beneficial.  Authority, as well as attachment, must be the daily tools of the caregiver, and we can't go snatching them out of their hands.  We work very hard to protect that, and to keep well-intentioned volunteers from destroying that which is so hard to build.  So, we're just asking for your cooperation and support, by doing the hardest thing of all -- as a volunteer, show restraint.  Talk yourself off of the Facebook photos, trading emails, having that "favorite," giving that gift, saying "I love you."  The best way to love these vulnerable children is to let those who can love them best every day love them, without you for competition.       

 

Whoa, that's hard to swallow. Is that really true?

 

     It is.  You trust me right? We hold each other accountable.

 

I've never seen what you're talking about, but I believe you. 

 

I've lived it.  Orphanage tourism.  I just called it feel-good frenzy back then.

 

I'm so sorry. How do you deal with it now? 

 

I'm responsible for myself now.  Learning to trust other people when all my instincts tell me I can't, is hard. But I'm learning now what no one taught me then.

 

I'm here for you.  And I'm here for them.  I know I can show restraint -- I just didn't know that my gift to vulnerable children of the world was to be guarded for their sake.  

 

No one knows what they don't know.

 

But now I know.

 

Now you know.

    

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Pulling Together.

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Pulling Together.

I want to convince you of the strength of the family as a system, and why it's more than the sum of its parts.  We often think about "caring for vulnerable children" while our mind leaves the family out entirely.  In our heads it often means building institutions to house orphans.  Most often, it should mean something other than that.  It's always more cost-effective to intervene early on in the pipeline.  The struggles that commonly precede disaster are often preventable.  This is a basic business principle, but it applies to people, families, and communities too.  

A few examples, just to rev things up.  In our medical clinics, we screen for cervical cancer and intervene surgically to remove precancerous lesions, instead of waiting for them to become malignant.  In our schools, when student performance begins to drop, we schedule parent-teacher meetings and arrange tutoring, instead of waiting until we pass out a failing report card.  On the ranch, we administer treatment for parasites to our livestock on a monthly basis, instead of waiting for an animal to show signs of parasitosis. And in our churches, we count Sunday's offering in front of the church, instead of waiting for accusations of impropriety.     

So what does it look like to "care for vulnerable children" early on in the pipeline by supporting the family as a system? Well, first, let's get out the dictionary.  A system is :

1. A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole. 2. An organism or body considered as a whole, especially with regard to its vital processes or functions.
— www.dictionary.com

Right, ok.  That is a paradigm that helps me to understand the choices that families sometimes make for their well-being as a unit, rather than as individuals.  So sending Juan to work the fields, which brings $2 home to the family that day, instead of sending Juan to school, which deprives the family of that potential income -- that decision makes sense in the context of a system that values "everyone pulling together."  We could jump down the parents' throats and claim negligence or violation of the minor's human rights, call child protective services, and make ready a bed in our children's home. (FYI, We don't do that.) 

Or, we could offer the child an opportunity to go to school and receive a weekly stipend that compensates for the loss of the family's potential income due to their child's school enrollment. Yeah, we do that, and that is an example of how to care for vulnerable children while strengthening family resilience.  

Another, different example, and fair warning, this ends on a solemn note.  A few weeks ago near the beach in Cedeño, we met, through the church, a family with a 15yo girl whose name means "Strength." The family was concerned about their daughter because she was not healing from a fracture in her leg.  She had lost weight, was weak and lethargic, and in pain.  For the last six months the family had seen several doctors but weren't getting answers.  

We decided to work with the family to manage the case.  We found out this morning from specialists that "Strength" has osteosarcoma.  It's in her lungs; it's in her stomach.  Surgery and chemo are not options.  Palliative care is.     

The greatest sadnesses of the world are the situations whose course cannot be altered.  How do we care for this vulnerable child, how do we support this family? Our impotence in the face of the diagnosis does not diminish the power of our availability to offer spiritual support.  Where we can not alleviate suffering, we will accompany the family through their sorrow, so that they do not walk it alone.  

I am in awe of the perseverance that this family has displayed in pursuing answers for their daughter's illness.  The answer they found is a terribly sad one, but we are by their side, and, for as long as is necessary, we will all "pull together."  

As an organization, we honor the struggle and the resilience of families.  We support you, and where love runs deep, we dare not dismember.  Please pray for "Strength" and her family.  It is going to be what makes the difference.   

  

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Anyone hear me? Is the mic on?

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Anyone hear me? Is the mic on?

Vulnerable children come from vulnerable families.  You hear me? That's important.  It's not necessarily intuitive, but over the years we've learned the importance, in the developing world, of seeing the context in order to direct interventions to the dysfunctional systems that propagate the problem (i.e. seeing the forest as well as seeing a grouping of trees.) 

The idea of "rescuing" vulnerable children from their circumstances translates too often as removing children from their God-given, built-in support system - their family, for a plethora of reasons.  When we think in these all-or-nothing terms, beliefs are formed, by governments, NGOs, parents, even people like you and me, that children are "better off" in an alternative environment.  We reinforce the idea by building children's homes and receiving vulnerable children whose familial poverty coerces their guardians to sacrifice them to an institution in the hope that a minimum provision of food, shelter, and education will sustain them.  That should never happen.  When we live in a world where parents give away their children because it seems to be the only available intervention, something is wrong.  

As Christians, and especially as a Christian development organization, we can not put parents in this horrific position.  We have a moral obligation to provide other alternatives that build up families, that allow them to stay together.  Things like primary, secondary, and vocational schools that provide two meals a day to its students, as well as quality education and health checkups. Things like creating jobs with dignified wages that empower families to obtain what their family needs.  And things like parenting, marriage, and financial seminars that cultivate the formation of long-term goals, not just survive-the-day thinking. 

With an arsenal of different interventions, families do not have to break themselves up.  We can strengthen the fabric of families instead of tear its threads.  Vulnerable children are best protected and cared for when viable family strengthening interventions stand ahead of the last resort decision to give up a child, or to legally mandate their removal.  So let's practice talking about vulnerable families, not just vulnerable children, and let's commit to finance many different strategies to support families and increase family resilience.  

At Mission Lazarus, we do all of the above.  When exceptional circumstances mean that we do provide a child a home, we both grieve the necessity and rejoice at the opportunity, but above all, we conserve, strengthen, and promote each and every child's family ties whenever possible, because family is the fabric that holds our society, whole nations, the entire globe even, together.    

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Economics 101.

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Economics 101.

Economic Development. What a complicated, large, catch-all phrase. It’s what we want for the developing world, but do we know how to get it? How can one harness the economy and bring it down to size, using it as a means for growth, rather than being a pawn in its scheme? The only answer, creatively.

I won’t bore you with a lecture on economics, let’s make it real, applicable, attainable. Economics is a force outside of us, but smart business people use it to their advantage daily. What if we did the same? You don’t have to be a business buff, you simply have to see the value of business methods. What if we used these same business methods toward a different bottom line? Rather than an end-goal of business growth and profit, what if used those same methods with end-goals of community growth and social justice for those without? We can.

Social Entrepreneurship.

I declared a major in Social Entrepreneurship, then I spent my entire first year in school trying to nail down what it means. Here’s what I’ve learned.

It’s a creative approach to solutions- taking business practices and methods and applying them in a non-traditional setting, to bring about social justice for a people group, for a cause, for a purpose. It’s the passion of a social mission which drives the business, a greater aim for the company or organization. To funnel resources into a sustainable business whose underlying goal is more important than the profit and return (though these are still important), a goal for impact, for change in a social sector. Now, as the Social Enterprise Manager for Mission Lazarus, I see the immense value of this proposition. I have seen the impact this business model has on communities in the developing world, so daily, I fight to push this organization forward, towards growth, because here, business growth means growth of impact for God’s Kingdom.

How does it really work?

Well, just like any other business, but the mindset is different. The focus is systemic change, long-term impact. A social entrepreneur sees a person in need and doesn’t simply handover pocket change for their next meal. A social entrepreneur creatively uses resources at hand toward impact that breaks the cycle. It's that same philosophy of education: if you give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Let’s say they create an opportunity for work which leads to consistent pay over a long period of time. This means there will be food on the table, and when that food is purchased at the market, the family who owns the market is impacted, and every person who works at the market is impacted. That’s an economic impact on the local community. This means their kids are in school instead of leaving school to work to earn more money to support the family, which means the next generation has access to education, which means a future filled with brilliant minds to continue lifting the community and driving the local economy. That’s an economic impact directly on that family, and who knows how many others that family might impact along the way!

In the developing world, social enterprise is the most effective way to attain economic development. It’s a jumpstart for the local economy.

Mission Lazarus, through a social enterprise model, has impacted 200+ families which now earn a livable wage. That’s 200+ families lifted out of the cycle of poverty, that’s 200+ families with food on the table, spending their wages and stirring their local economy, educating their children, and growing their future opportunities. That is impact, that is change in the social sector.

That’s great! But I live so far away… What can I do to help?

You might be closer than you realize! Every day you can impact others around the world from the comfort of your couch, at your favorite retailers, at the grocery store. Each time you purchase a product, that sale generates a demand for that good. Ready for your economics lesson for the day?

Let’s say you buy 6 avocados from Mexico. That’s 6 avocados taken off the market, that’s a decrease in the quantity left- when supply goes down, if demand stays the same, the prices will increase. If the avocado company earns more money, that means they can buy more land to plant more avocado trees, which means they will hire more workers, which means more people are employed, which means more people earning money, which means more people spending money at their local grocery store. The moral of the story is not to buy more avocados, although 10/10 recommend avocados. Your purchase impacts a community of farmers in another country. The lesson here: what you buy MATTERS. So, make sure it’s the right kind of impact, one towards economic development, toward economic empowerment and prosperity of others. 

When you purchase leather goods from our Social Enterprise Store, you are generating a demand for the products made by our artisans in Honduras and Haiti, you are providing opportunity for work and education through our vocational schools. The more we sell, the greater the demand for their craft, the more work for the artisans, the better earning opportunity for their families. Yes, it’s business, but it's more than that- it’s change, it’s impact, it’s for God’s glory and His Kingdom.

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Change of Plans.

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Change of Plans.

Like many college entrants, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I started at Abilene Christian University. I was interested in languages and history, though not Academia, so I majored in International Studies. My parents convinced me to minor in Business Administration because “it will be useful,” no matter what field I entered. 

Throughout my freshman and sophomore years, I went through several phases of career aspirations. By the time I started my junior year, I decided that my love for travel and people would fit well in the tourism industry. With general yet growing knowledge in business and languages, I thought I had decided my future. 

But God had other plans.

In the spring of my junior year, I took a “Poverty and Development” class taught by one of the many fabulous and wise business professors. Every Monday night, I was shown pictures, videos, statistics, and breaking news about the developing world. To say I was moved would be an understatement. To complement lectures and class discussions, some guest speakers discussed the problem of poverty and how to solve it.  One of those speakers was Jarrod Brown of Mission Lazarus.

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He communicated to us his vision that God-backed, Bible-inspired social entrepreneurship is the best means for alleviating poverty.

Knowing from observation that throwing aid - monetary or otherwise - at poverty does little to solve the problem, Jarrod’s testimonials convinced me that while it may not completely eradicate poverty, social entrepreneurship rooted in the Gospel can accomplish much more than aid ever will. 

Jarrod’s passion—and the purpose of Mission Lazarus—has become my own. The more I see of the world, the more I witness first-hand the material depravity caused by spiritual lack. The “problem of poverty” is one of the reasons I’m in business school in London—to become better equipped with knowledge and experience to help others out of that vicious cycle. More than that, I pray that others who see the success of Gospel-based social enterprises will recognize that God is the only solution to all of humanity’s ills, both material and spiritual.  

Dana is currently studying in London for a Master's in International Business. She feels a strong call to use her God-given knowledge and skills to help other people thrive. She plans to work in the non-profit sector for a Christ-centered social enterprise or an international organization.

Dana is currently studying in London for a Master's in International Business. She feels a strong call to use her God-given knowledge and skills to help other people thrive. She plans to work in the non-profit sector for a Christ-centered social enterprise or an international organization.

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What we say we want.

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What we say we want.

Sim·plic·i·ty. /simˈplisədē/  noun  1.  the quality or condition of being easy to understand or do.

This is not new, and not at all profound, but, none of us lives a simple life, do we?  In a 21st century world, whether you live in a New York City penthouse or in a hut along the banks of the Zambezi river, life is not simple.  Whether your survival depends on landing a business deal or crossing a river full of crocodiles, simple doesn't really enter into the equation.  

So whether or not you order your groceries thru the latest app on your smartphone, or you grind corn on a rock to dine on "tortillas con sal" (that's tortillas with salt, folks, and it's my son's favorite) no one can escape that life presents challenges, requires work-arounds, and demands payment of our physical and emotional energies.  

Haiti is a tough place to live.  There just aren't that many jobs, for men or women.  The construction of our school in Gras has afforded a few permanent jobs - school director, teachers, cooks, and security - but it's really a small team.  The unemployed of the village have no false expectations that this school is a source of permanent job security for their families.    

It really opens your eyes to see that "simply struggling to survive" isn't "simple" at all, and how the opportunity for employment - even temporary employment - is nearly impossible to secure when there are so few jobs, and so many men and women vying for them.   As we have been adding classrooms to our school in anticipation of next year, we have again recruited construction workers from the church and village surrounding the school.  We hire about twenty men, but have to turn away at least forty, every time.  

Because opportunity is so scarce, we try to share the opportunity by rotating workers in and out. We have a a core team of 7-8 who are permanent, but the rest work two weeks on, then two off, to give opportunity for income to every willing and capable man in the village.  

Even that, isn't enough.  When the man who worked beside you last week is now gathering wood to make and sell charcoal this week simply asks you if he could work another week because his family has nothing to eat, it isn't enough.

It isn't enough. And it isn't simple.

Not-simple problems do not have simple solutions, nor do they have quick ones.  Charity is never a solution to a long-term problem.  It's great for momentary problems or large scale calamities, but it just doesn't work for what "isn't simple."  And that is most of life.  

So where do I put Jesus?  He is that one solution that is not like any other.  Is Jesus simple? Yes!  Is Jesus complex? Yes!  He is both, and.  He is Alpha and Omega.  He is beginning and end.  I struggle to convey what I believe is good and true -- that economic development goes hand in hand with spiritual development.  How can we, as rich as we are, offer Jesus to someone with nothing, without also offering them an opportunity to obtain skills and secure employment so that God's promise of abundant life is real? 

Discipleship offered by the rich "first world" Christian, without economic development, with people in "third world" nations like Honduras and Haiti -- and many others around the world -- is the epitome of a plank in the eye.  But, maybe the solution is simple, after all -- just take that plank out, and see, unimpaired.     

Teaching vocational skills and creating jobs in a market that is devoid of opportunity takes innovation, expertise, partnership, and most of all, God's blessing.  Help us support economic development because it is a conduit for discipleship relationships.  If you are a Christian, you are an ambassador equipped to serve others - to help people who do not know God to derive meaning in a fallen world and to discover the depth of God's love for them.  

Santos Espinoza, Spiritual Director of Mission Lazarus Honduras, baptizing new believers in Haiti.  

Santos Espinoza, Spiritual Director of Mission Lazarus Honduras, baptizing new believers in Haiti.  

 

 

 

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Get Your Dander Up.

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Get Your Dander Up.

My thanks to the Dutch for this weird phrase, that literally means “to burst into a sudden rage.”  The world makes me crazy sometimes, like when I’m raging against it and then suddenly gratitude finds its way in, and the two feelings feel so weird together - so paradoxical.  But if we’re paying attention to realities near and far from home, we might notice that we get a lot of exposure to this strange feeling combo.  It’s uncomfortable, but I think it’s uncomfortable on purpose, in order to get us to take meaningful action.  

So what’s the point of noticing when gratitude and outrage come as a package deal?  I think it’s so we can take a fresh look at the fallen world around us, because we have the eyes, hands, and heart to observe and grieve the gap between what is and what should be.  We grieve because we don’t have the power to fix the world.  

So I’m gonna scream my dickens.  (This is how I used to announce my impending temper tantrums to my family when I was a little girl.)  Let’s see, I could scream about terrorists, or refugees, or nuclear armament, but it’s doubtful that even raising our collective moral hackles will result in finding a peaceful and just solution to these situations.

Enter strange feelings number three and four - helplessness and/or hopelessness. We usually have only a fleeting glimpse of these in our neat and orderly lives, because we have things like status, and retirement, and insurance, and routine, and a justice system, and emergency services, and education, and employment, and credit cards and on and on. The people we serve in Honduras and Haiti usually have NONE of these things.  

We are unaccustomed to feelings of vulnerability, unlike many people in other parts of the world. While we are well insulated from helplessness and hopelessness, our neighbors suffer from overexposure to these elements practically every single minute of every waking hour of their lives.

Awareness can be a disturbing thing, especially when it highlights contrasts that signify unacceptable differences in quality of life among human beings.  What do we do with it? — Lots of us bury the awareness.  “Out of sight, out of mind” is so true.  Or deny it, or better yet, blame people.  If people deserve what they are getting, there is no injustice between these contrasting realities. Or you can internalize it and become depressed and disillusioned because you can’t fix the world.   

We shouldn’t delude ourselves that we can take down entire broken systems.  End poverty, hmm, probably not — there are those who make these claims, but, I don’t really think that can be done.  But it’s not about what we can’t do. (What we can’t do is always irrelevant.) It’s about what we can do; and there is opportunity for meaningful contribution.

Whenever you are able, do good to people who need help
— Proverbs 3:27

So this is my thought. We aren’t asked to save the world or solve the problem of evil.  We are asked by God to respond when we have both the opportunity and ability to make a meaningful impact.  What is the best “good” that we can do?  This is what I like about economic development.  Let’s equip people with skills and opportunities for gainful employment, in the name of Jesus, so that they have financial security to provide for their family’s needs as well as contribute to their church, for its further development.  This is a real outcome.  We focus on economic development because it is the best “good” that we can do, in the name of Jesus.

So be outraged.  Be grateful.  Be intentional.  Act.  Near home.  And Far.  

   

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"Not Alone"

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"Not Alone"

Connection is critical to life.  Being "not alone" is protective, it's nutritive.  From the first moment that you came into existence, you were tied to someone else.  Once you arrived in the world, you were part of a family, and part of a community, and part of a larger world.  But at the core of it all, is your world - your inner world.  

In Honduras and Haiti, we work with individuals, families and communities commonly affected by violence, shame, loss, trauma, grief, guilt, neglect, injustice, abuse, apathy, anxiety, depression, and poverty.  While some of these effects are visible and obvious, many of the most significant harms occur internally.  We may never know about them if the person does not feel safe enough to choose to reveal them.  

Our pastors and directors spend lots of time discipling others in our churches, clinics, schools, offices, and in the Refuge because connection is that important. We invest in people because people are that important.  God's prescription for healing calls for increased connectedness. 

That is why one of our greatest joys is witnessing a decision to trust Jesus, who redeems the pain of the past to enrich the present and future, and uses each one of us, if we're willing, to be a connector.

Everyone born of God overcomes the world.
— I John 5:4

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                                                                         "Porque me nace"

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"Porque me nace"

This has been going on for well over a year, as in, not a whim, or a fad, or a ploy for credit.  Every afternoon after school she goes to the hacienda to assist the Refuge staff - to make copies, do data entry, file documents, clean the bathrooms; you name it, she’ll do it.  

She” is Greysi, the oldest sibling of five who’ve been at the Refuge for eight years.  

Greysi is somewhat shy and quiet, yet orchestrated her own sort of unpaid internship when she told the Refuge director she “wanted to give back.”  She suggested the role of office assistant and set the hours, committing to volunteer her time daily.  

What is extraordinary about this is that it isn’t for show, it isn’t for compensation, it isn’t to gain special favor or status.  She is a young woman with an unusually strong conviction to pay it forward, starting NOW.  

Of course, that is our vision for the Refuge - that we raise up Christians who love God and use their talents to better their community.  But to see it being realized already NOW, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised but it blows me away. 

“Porque me nace” is a phrase that conveys action prompted by an internal desire but it more literally means, “because it is born in me” — I can’t help but see how Jesus brings new life, and cherish the privilege I have to see presently, that the buds and blooms of now are sure to mature and grow into the fruit that God has promised Greysi through His Spirit. 

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
— Psalm 37:4-5

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