"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are."
And so we are... children of God.
These words from I John 3 explain to us that our Father loves us and that is the reason we are his children. It is love. That is why Jesus gave up the glories of heaven... the fellowship with his father... to come to earth to suffer and die. He loved us. His suffering and death allows us to be in God's family. His love gives us a family. His suffering, his death, his love gives us hope... joy.... life... heaven... a family.
Was this easy for Jesus?
No. He suffered tremendously. He asked his father if this cup could be passed from him... "but not my will, your will."
It was not easy for God to adopt us into his family but he loved us and he did it.
As believers, we have this family and this life that we have because God loved us enough to bring us into his family.
See what kind of love this is. This love makes us what we are and gives us what we have.
I pray that God will help me see what kind of love this is. It is a wondrous kind of love.
It is a love that caused Jesus to lay down his life for us.
And this same chapter tells us that we are to do the same.
You and me. We are to lay our life down. Give it up. It is what Jesus did for us. It shows us that he loved us. It is our calling. It shows that we also have love. It shows that we understand what we as Christians are called to. The gospel is not about health and wealth. The gospel is about Jesus giving his life up for us that we may have true life... and then we are to do the same for others.
This is the test that reveals whether we have God's love in us - "if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" I John 3:17
How are we to love? Verse 18 says not in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
In deed and truth. We are to take action. We are to stop just talking about caring for people and do it. We are to stop just debating about the proper way to respond to the person in need and actually take care of them. We are to stop just talking about all the reasons we should not reach out in mercy and reach out in mercy. We should stop just forming committees to discuss mercy ministry and actually reach out in mercy to people.
What does mercy look like?
Share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Visit the widows in your neighborhood and clean their yard.
Welcome into your home the children in your neighborhood whose parents are never home.
Take blankets to the homeless that live under the bridge downtown.
Bring food to those in need.
Spend time with people... including your own family and relatives.
Give of your time, gifts and talents to help those that can give you nothing in return.
Give of your resources to help those that are ministering to others.
Visit shut ins.
Visit nursing homes.
This is only a short list of endless possibilities.
But what about making sure we reach out with caution and wisdom to make sure we are not taken advantage of? I am all for wisdom but real wisdom acts. Was Jesus taken advantage of? Was Jesus abused? Was Jesus hurt? Did Jesus suffer? Did he withhold mercy because of the way we would abuse his mercy? Have you and I abused his mercy? Am I thankful Jesus did not withhold his mercy to me because he knew how I would react to it?
Do we have God's love?
Reach out in mercy.
My time in God's word while in Ukraine consisted of I John. Reading it, thinking about it, praying about it.
I am in God's family because he loves me.
It is love that will give these orphans a family. It is love that will give these orphans life. It is love that will give these orphans hope.
Dear God thank you for your love. Please help me to love others as you have loved me.
Love gives the orphan a family. Dear God, help us to love.
Love is not easy.... but, oh the rewards are so great.
When setting an alarm to wake up, please check to make sure the clock is on the right time. I need to wake up at 7:30AM but I am wide awake at 4AM.
The clock is on my Ukrainian phone that I purchased a year ago on the adoption trip. It came in so handy while working through the adoption process, it has returned twice with families adopting since we came home with Karina and will be returning next month with a family adopting. I am glad that the phone can be used to bless others.
It did not feel like a blessing when I realized I woke up four hours too early... but we will see how God uses the time.
At my last post we had not visited the orphanages yet... we have since visited the orphans twice; met with orphanage leadership; hopefully encouraged a runaway orphan; made plans to partner with and support a Christian Ukrainian non-profit ministry that is doing the orphan ministry we want to promote (we have observed and followed this ministry for over a year now and one of the goals of this trip was to finalize the partnership - more details later);
spent time with people that used to care for our former orphans (This was such an encouraging time for the supervisors and for Karina and Kristina. The supervisors were able to see how much the girls had grown, that they were doing well, loved where God had placed them and they were overwhelmed by the thanksgiving of the girls. Both Kristina and Karina thanked them for caring for them while they were orphans and the supervisors were blessed to know that their labors had not been in vain.); and planned out the details of running a camp for orphans to be held in Ukraine during the last two weeks of July 2010.
We are putting the team together now. Let me know if you will be joining us.
Upon arrival to the orphanage we stopped at the iron gate to take a picture. The last picture I took at that gate was the day Karina left the orphanage with all of her worldly possessions: her new parents, the clothes she was wearing and a purse that contained a Bible and a few items. This time the girls entered the gate as children with families, as United States citizens, as believers in God, with bags full of gifts and with a mission to minister to children that are in the situation that they were once in.
Entering the orphanage we met with some leaders. They looked upon the girls and us in amazement. It seemed as if they had never seen children who had once been orphans for so long return to thank them for caring for them and let them know how well they were doing. The comments and questions for the girls and parents kept coming...
"What is life like for you now?"
"Are you doing well?"
"What adjustments have you had to make?"
"You smile so much and you look so happy. Why?"
"Do you like your families?"
"What problems have you had?"
"I see that they are taking care of you... they have not hurt you... they have not eaten you... you do not seem to be mistreated." Seriously, folks... this was one of the responses of seeing the girls.
They seemed very happy to see the girls. We let them know that one of the reasons we came was so that the girls could thank them. I hope to instill within all of my children a thankful heart. Even when circumstances seem bad, God's incomprehensible plan, his good plan, is being unfolded and we must thank him for the grace he sheds upon us, the people he uses to care for us, teach us, correct us and make us more like Christ. So we thanked these people for what they do and for the care they gave the girls. They seemed grateful... so grateful that I wondered how often they hear thank you from the lips of a former orphan.
We walked down the hall and the kids began to gather around us...
"What are you doing? How are you doing? Why are you here?"
Everywhere the girls go there is a crowd of children around them staring at them, asking questions and listening with amazement at what the girls have to tell them.
I love my boys. God has blessed me with four incredible boys. Harrison, Isaac, Noah and Baby you are four of the greatest blessings in my life. I love you. I love spending time with you. I love bringing you on business trips, lunches, hunting trips. I love tickling you and tackling you. I love playing football with you. I love watching you play and swing and work and serve and help and just be boys. I love when you ask me to look at what you have done or watch you do something brave or just listen to what you have to say. I love receiving your gifts and your pictures to hang on the walls of my office. I love your personalities. I love everything about you.
There are boys that do not have what you have. There are boys that no father loves because there is no father or the father cares nothing for his child. One of the things that makes me mourn is the loss of parents that do not want their children. They miss so much. Children are a blessing and to the extent that we do not minister to children (our own or others) we miss so much of the blessing God has in store for us.
My boys... I thank you again for your sacrifice in letting us be apart for a while to spend time with boys that have no daddy.
One of the first boys at the orphanage that recognized me flung his arms around my neck, I lifted him into the air and spun him around. The boys crave male companionship. They crave a manly example. They crave another man teaching them what it is to be a man. They crave teaching, time, protection... even correction.
Many of the boys and I have talked, thrown the football, been silly together and wrestled... how they love to wrestle. They will give me a few minutes to take a break but not too long. If I turn my attention to something else, they are quick to remind me we need to wrestle again. One, two, three, four boys at a time would jump on me and try to bring me to the ground. Over the year that it has been since last wrestling with these boys, some have grown stronger and some have grown weaker. Some are more outgoing and some are more hurt, scared and quiet.
All of them want to know... is someone coming for me.
The comments from them are the same as they were a year ago...
"I am a good boy. If I had a family I would be good."
"I pray every day for a mom and a dad."
"My birthday is coming. I am almost too old to be adopted. I do not know what is going to happen."
For my own children birthdays are great celebrations, wonderful milestones, a testimony of grace.
For an orphan a birthday is a reminder of the coming day when they will be sent to the streets...
A birthday brings them one year closer to a life of almost no hope...
A year closer to becoming a criminal...
A year closer to becoming a prostitute...
A year closer to living in the cold... searching trash cans for food, having hardly any skills to hold a job, a year closer to likely death.
It is hard to smile when talking about your birthday as an orphan. It is not a day of gifts (I have posted before about Karina's comment about gifts: "From whom, daddy?"). It is a day that marks the passage of time toward the streets.
So much more to say... I have a little while that I could sleep...
to be continued... thanks for your prayers... thanks for your support.
Never in my life have I seen so much snow. Flying into Kiev as far as the eye could see was beautiful, pure, bright white. The crisp, cold air and whirling snowflakes were refreshing after so many hours of travel.
We are in Odessa where the snow continues to fall... but let me go back to last Sunday.
How encouraging it was when Ligon Duncan preached from Luke 9:10-17 on the compassion, the power and the provision that Christ has for his people. A few thoughts from the passage continue to fill my mind as we reach out to orphans:
Just as Jesus came to earth to serve others and deny himself - we are put on this earth to serve. We exist not for ourselves but to serve others.
When the people came to Jesus, he welcomed them, taught them, healed them, fed them.
Jesus is more than enough. When Jesus provided for the people everyone ate, everyone was satisfied and there was plenty left over.
Satisfaction... only Jesus can truly satisfy and nothing this world has to offer satisfies like worshipping my savior.
My mind is also full of this past Sunday's sermon where Derek Thomas preached from I Samuel 17 and reminded us not to be afraid of or impressed by outward appearances and to be reminded of God's past faithfulness to us.
God's faithfulness is amazing.
After the early worship service (where we were encouraged not only by worship but by many friends who let us know they are praying - thanks!) we headed to the airport and met up with the Ulerichs. It was Anderson Ulerich (five years old - wearing baseball sweatshirt in above photo) who thought of the idea of baking "Karina Cookies" to help support the adoption of Karina. His mom, Erin, is one of our team members. Erin has been praying for and writing numerous stories about caring for orphans (published in Parents & Kids Magazine, Metro Christian Family, Belhaven Tartan, French Camp Today, several newspapers and others).
In Atlanta we met Robert Landrum (Landrums Blog) and Kristina Landrum. Robert and Leslie adopted Kristina a year before we adopted Karina. Kristina and Karina were best friends while living in the orphanage and have seen each other one weekend last spring and then now - it was a sweet reunion when they met at the airport in Atlanta.
The five of us headed off for a quick layover in Paris, France and then on to Kiev... I wish all my kids could see the snow in Kiev.
For those of you praying, thank you! We brought hundreds of gifts and supplies for the orphans and everything made it through... except my gloves... now where did they go... Kathy I am now very glad you sent extra gloves with us to give away... I may be wearing them before I pass them on.
We got tickets in Kiev for Odessa and landed in Odessa with more snow whirling around us.
In Odessa we were greeted by wonderful friends that we have grown to love. We are thankful for their love for God, their love for people, their servant hearts and their amazing ministries.
We are staying with a wonderful Ukrainian family that has a heart for orphans and we are so blessed to be with them. We pray that God blesses them immensely for their care of us.
I mentioned in the last post that one of the goals while we are here is to be part of a documentary. The film crew met us at the Odessa airport and immediately began filming. The main goal of this movie project is to make people aware of the orphan's situation in Eastern Europe and what a difference God and a family can make in the life of an orphan. It was fascinating to see the love that this Ukrainian film company has for orphans. They told me that the orphans have almost no hope if they remain in the system as an orphan and they hope that their movies can be used to encourage people to reach out and care for these kids.
The film crew followed Karina and Kristina as we left the airport and came to the home we are staying in where they had set up a studio for filming. I hope that many of you will be able to see the testimony that was revealed through this documentary. It truly amazes me to see how God has delivered these former orphans and how he is working in their life.
Many tears were shed as the girls compared their former life with the life God has given them now.
After several hours of recording, the film crew wrapped things up and headed back north.
They hope to have the movie aired on Ukrainian TV all across Ukraine.
Karina sat down beside me after they left and said, "Daddy it is hard to think of my friends and other orphans that remain in the condition I was once in. It makes me so sad. I hope God will one day use me as a missionary to help orphans."
I did not tell her but I thought to myself, "He already is."
The day before we left I gathered all of my children around me and asked them what they thought about this time in Ukraine. The response was....
"Every day we read God's Word and pray together. Every day we hug and kiss each other. Every day we have a mom and dad who loves us and takes care of us. Every day we have you but the orphans never get that... there is no one to have devotions with them... no one to hug and kiss them... you must go! We must always be willing to help them."
When Karina saw this response from her siblings... she cried.
With the filming behind us, we turn our full attention to the orphanages. We appreciate your prayers as we spend time with the orphans today.
We will also be visiting with orphans that are not living in an orphanage.
I appreciate you keeping the rest of my dear family in prayer as Sheila cares for our other five kids at home... this pregnancy has been a tough one but the little man inside is doing well.
I miss you my dear wife!
I miss you Harrison, Isaac, Noah, Storey Grace and Baby Boy!
Thanks for your sacrifice... my children in your own words you told me it was worth it so that the fatherless could taste a little bit of what it is like to have a father.
My boys at home, I hope your football game goes well today in the front yard with your neighborhood friends... I pumped up the footballs that I brought tonight and will be taking them with me to the orphanage... boys at the orphanage, I am keeping my promise to you... I hope you are ready for some football!
Eleven months since leaving Ukraine, Karina will return. This time, not as an orphan but as an American citizen and a member of our family. Returning not as a tourist but in order to minister to the very children in the situation that she was once in. As part of our family we have taught her that God blesses us so that we can glorify him and bless other people. We are placed on earth to serve... just as Jesus did.
Karina will serve as the translator for our team as we visit southern and western Ukraine.
Will you consider partnering with us in prayer as we make this journey?
Our mission consists of the following:
1. Visit orphans. We will be with hundreds of orphans spending time with them, playing, talking, bringing them gifts, checking up on them and seeing what needs we can help with and sharing the incredibly good news of Jesus that we have to tell them. The children love visitors. To have someone come see them shows that someone does care. I have asked orphans if they want people to visit and their faces always light up.
"Oh yes!! Please, please, please tell people to come see us! Anyone! It does not matter who they are! We just want someone to come be with us and play and talk!"
As always I will have an American football with me to teach the boys how to play. There is a group of boys that made me promise to come back and tackle them and teach them more about this interesting game called American Football. I hope to keep that promise.
Thanks to many of you we also have 112 gifts to be given to orphans that received nothing for Christmas. This will be the one gift they get all year. We thank all of you that helped with this project including family, friends, my Sunday school, parents that are adopting and many others! We will post pictures.
We will also see what specific ways we can help the kids.
2.Encourage Missionaries. We work with some missionaries in Ukraine that we will be meeting with to check up on their ministry, make plans for this next year of ministry, encourage and pray with and see what needs, opportunities and challenges we will face in 2010.
3. Film Documentary. Two former orphans will be taking this trip with us and we will be filming a documentary on how they are returning to minister to those who remain orphans. There is also a Christian film group in Ukraine that has asked if these former orphans would be in a movie they are making about orphans that now have families.
4. Explore Opportunities. Wherever God leads us we pray for opportunities to further this ministry to children and this trip is no exception. We will be meeting with leaders to see how we can partner with them and encourage believers in the States to come alongside believers in Ukraine to help reach out to orphans.
Will you be one of our prayer partners? Send us a message or leave a comment to let us know.
Many of you have followed the camp ministry in Peru. This is the third year for summer camp in Trujillo, Peru that ministers to the children in the churches and orphanage that Peru Mission is involved with.
You can follow along this year at the following blog: www.twinlakesinperu.blogspot.com
Also, please be in prayer as we make plans for a possible camp for orphans in Ukraine this summer. Let me know if you want to join us on the trip.
By God's grace we desire to live our life to serve and glorify Jesus. He is our treasure. He is the one we trust. He is the one we love.
We are a family of eight praying that God will use us to minister to orphans around the world and encourage Christians to reach out in mercy to orphans. At home we serve with Palmer Home for Children. Palmer Home is a ministry to children who are growing up as social orphans without the nurture and support of a loving family. Palmer provides a stable, Christ-centered home for these children. Internationally we serve with Share the Hope. Share the Hope ministers to orphans around the world. Both at home and around the world we proclaim good news of Jesus Christ and reach out in mercy to these precious children. We hope that this blog is a testimony to you of God's mighty hand and that you are encouraged to serve Jesus with all your heart and to reach out to orphans.
Matthew, Sheila, Karina, Harrison, Isaac, Noah, Storey Grace and James!