Five Things…

I recently finished reading the YouVersion Bible plan, “Praying For Vulnerable Children – Human Trafficking.” It was a fascinating devotional by Compassion International that discussed five things that, when present, better protect children from people trying to hurt them. I was moved by the publication of this plan as it addresses many of the activities that make up the bulk of the work we do at UnFinished. I wanted to share some of what is covered by Compassion in this plan as it applies directly to working with children with disabilities.

With Giving Tuesday just around the corner, giving you a better idea of what UnFinished does seemed appropriate. Since most of what is written below was lifted directly from the devotional by Compassion International, I am obligated to give them writing credit. Very little of what comes was written by me. The italicized portions are from the Compassion International devotional. Below is the link to the plan. I encourage you to read it. There is much more to the devotional than I include here, and I believe you will be blessed by participating in the actual plan. Compassion International is a fantastic organization doing an incredible work of God.

https://www.bible.com/en/reading-plans/15664

A Tight-Knit Community

“A tight-knit community can keep watch over those who are most vulnerable and speak up when they see injustice. God calls us to rescue the weak and the needy and deliver them from the hand of the wicked. He challenges us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves and defend the rights of the poor and needy. God has put each of us in a community, and we are called to speak up and defend those who are being treated unfairly.”

The children in UnFinished programs are often hidden away, either in homes or institutions. They live lives of abandonment and abuse. UnFinished enrolls them into schools where they begin to make friends and find out they are not alone. Also, we work to bring the caregivers together into a supportive community. This helps the mostly grandmothers also feel they are part of a community and not alone.

A Loving Family

“There are always those who are pros at deceiving families. They tell caregivers they can offer their children with a special need a better life. Instead, the children are used or often sold into child labor. Children work for little to no pay, far from their home, completely hopeless.”

We’ve met many families who’ve been swindled of what little money they have with promises of help. “Organizations” that tell grandmothers if they pay a fee, the organization will evaluate the child and determine eligibility. These people take the only money the family may have and offer false hope. We include the family in every aspect of our process, never charge a fee, and do what we can, within organizational protocols, to help the entire family along with the child. Supporting a family environment, providing a home, only enhances the life of the child and helps to restore real hope.

Education for the Community

“Be devoted to one another in love. That’s the challenge Paul gives us in Romans 12:9-13. These verses are paired with a list of commands that, when taken together, paint a picture of a Christian life fully sacrificed to God. The unifying theme shares that we’re to set ourselves aside in order to effectively love and serve the Lord”

Our mission involves more than just educated children with special needs. We seek to change social stigmas related to the abuse and oppression of these kids. We involve the schools, teachers, administrators, churches, pastors, and government officials to change values and laws to prepare a better future for individuals with disabilities.

Holistic Child Development

“(UnFinished) also chose to care for the neediest using a holistic model. Our method develops minds, bodies, and spirits to help children with special needs. All of our programs provide opportunities that encourage healthy development in four areas—spiritual, physical, social and economic. That means we don’t focus entirely on physical needs. Instead, all aspects of poverty are addressed in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and stigma for that child. Children are lifted out of the stigma that entraps them and makes them vulnerable to exploitation.

Prayer

“God is aware of stigma and oppression and He cares about the suffering of His children. He has not turned a blind eye. Instead, He stirs compassion in our hearts when we hear stories like the ones of children with disabilities in Kenya. As a result, our compassion moves us into action, which creates change.”

This year, Giving Tuesday is December 3rd. You have the unique opportunity to provide these five things into the lives of children with disabilities in Kenya. Again, I encourage you to read the Compassion devotional, be in prayer and support for that organization, and follow the link below to learn more about UnFinished International and the work we do.

http://www.unfinishedinternational.org

The Evolution of Iron Man

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*Warning – This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame – starting in the first paragraph.* (You really should have seen it by now).

With the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the story of these heroes we have followed for the past 11 years comes full circle. But none so much as that of Iron Man. While not technically the first movie in this massive franchise (That would be The Incredible Hulk), Iron Man is the film that set it all in motion. Being the excellent storytellers they are, the writers at Marvel brought the series to an emotional close in this chapter – from the birth of Iron Man to, sadly, his death.

I grew up a Marvel kid. However, Iron Man was not really on the top of my hero list growing up. Tony Stark has always been more of a “grown-up” character. His struggles with daddy issues, women, and alcohol, thankfully, did not appeal to me as a child (well, maybe the daddy issues – but that’s a different post). My go-to, “good-over-evil” hero was Spider-Man. A superhero kid himself in brilliant colors and fun bad guys had me hooked.

Conversely, when I needed real action and some comic-friendly violence, Wolverine was my man. I subscribed to many of the different threads of each one of those guys and filled my room with their action figures, bookshelves, sheets, and everything else I could get my hands on. Iron Man was cool, he was still a key character in the greater Marvel Universe, and I’d pick up comics with him as a player often enough, but he was never my main guy.

Then 2008 came along and not only did Marvel change but so did my life. I lost everything after a very long fight to save that which I loved most in the world. It was a terrible conflict that cost me just about everything a person can lose. To say I nearly died fighting this battle is not overselling it. The trial that was this time of my life still haunts me to this day. (More on this in another post). I learned through this experience that loss can birth new life – if you are willing to learn from experiences. This transformation is precisely what created such a huge Iron Man fan in me. It was the evolution of Tony Stark, the change in his life that loss brought on, that revealed some needed truth in my life and changed the way I see myself.

2008’s Iron Man introduces us to Tony Stark, an arrogant, self-absorbed, careless, conceited, billionaire weapons developer and arms dealer on tour in Afghanistan to showcase his latest creations for the U.S. military stationed in the country. On his way, he finds himself escorted by a threesome of young, starstruck members of the military. However, their convoy is attacked, and Stark watches all three of these all-but teenagers die, and himself nearly with them, at the hands of his own technology by terrorists who were specifically targeting him.

One might think a scenario such as this alone would be enough to change a man. However, Tony is not finished watching people die at the hands of his weaponry. Stark is escorted to a cave where he meets fellow prisoner and scientist, Yinsen, who also loses his life as an indirect result of Tony’s life and choices. These deaths, up close and personal, set Tony Stark on a transformative journey unlike any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, all the characters throughout the 22 movies grow and change, but none like Tony Stark.

The opening scenes of Iron Man give way to Tony giving up the profits-over-everything mentality and changing everything about himself and Stark Industries. The company becomes a producer of clean energy and Tony begins to use his tech to fight the bad guys he once armed. At the same time, he must deal with his own mortality as the technology keeping him alive is also killing him. His attempts to ignore these issues reveal to him his need for others and force him to confront his father’s legacy that has been killing him spiritually as much as the palladium has physically.

From here he is denied “membership” to the Avengers by Nick Fury. Once things get bad enough that he’s allowed to help, he gets an ego check through accepting he is not the leader of the Avengers. This acceptance does not come easy as he repeated knocks heads with Captian America along with the rest of the team. Tony had been a supplier of war all his life, but it took him actually being in one to make him realize he did not deserve to be the leader. Here he began to understand that others had things to offer he did not.

But these revelations are of no consolation when Tony finds himself alone, dealing with PTSD, and the only help he can find is a young boy with daddy issues of his own. Growing through this scenario sees Tony finally give up control, destroy his suits, and throw his arc reactor into the sea. However, Tony Stark is an addict, and giving up one addiction often leads to finding a new one. Now that he has given up protecting the world, he lets fear fully manifest itself, and he bullies Bruce Banner into creating Ultron to defend the earth.

The results are, disastrous and Tony’s guilt gets the best of him. For maybe the first time, Tony learns that actions have consequences. So, to clear his conscience, the man who once told the government they’d never have his tech becomes their poster boy. Turning his back on his friends to calm his own demons, Tony tries to mitigate this newly created guilt by mentoring young Peter Parker. Still struggling to admit his wrongs, he, like many of us, just moves on. Tony makes amends with Pepper Potts and, with Captian America out of the way, becomes the face of the Avengers once again. However, I would go out on a limb and say that Tony saw Peter as a possible way to rebuild the burned bridges between him and the friends he turned into fugitives one day.

By the time we get to Infinity War, Tony’s sentiments reveal that time has allowed him to get past the civil war between Steve Rogers and himself. He seems to be genuinely sad that he and Steve, “fell out hard.” While his relationship with Peter has grown, Peter’s rejection of Tony’s offer to join the Avengers may have been another wake-up call for Tony. Learning that his friends don’t need him as much as Tony needs them is part of his final transformation. Tony, once the ultimate loner who lived on the outskirts of life, now only desires to be surrounded by his friends.

Tony Stark began his journey believing everything began and ended with him, and if something happened to not fit that mold, he ignored it. Gaining a family, then losing it, helped Tony to realize how wrong he was about things – it tends to do that. Following the life of Tony Stark, his, “arc” if you will, we watch a self-centered man evolve from believing his life was the only one that mattered to sacrificing that life to literally save the world. While all the characters in the MCU change and grow over this Three-Phase adventure, none experience the transformation that Tony Stark encounters. Many of the Avengers began their journey as heroes. Tony had to suffer and experience loss, many times at his own hands, to understand that sometimes not wanting to be a hero is what makes a hero.

The evolution of Iron Man teaches us that it’s a long, and challenging, journey from child-like attitudes to being a hero. That Tony Stark’s walk through life mirrored Robert Downey Jr.’s so closely only made the character more relatable. It took Tony Stark 10 years to come out on the other side and RDJ even longer. There were ups and downs, and for every two steps he took forward, he sometimes took ten back. I think that gives us hope that maybe being a hero is about more than just saving the day and fighting bad guys. Sometimes is about just getting through the day and fighting your own demons. But if an alcoholic, self-entitled, jerk with daddy issues like Tony Stark can become the hero we got and the end of Endgame, perhaps there is hope for us too.

Maybe, I am Iron Man.

A True Story of Change

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I know you’ve seen posts all over social media about this #GivingTuesday thing. It’s overwhelming at times; I get it. However, it’s so important. I don’t usually share the darker sides of what we do in a public forum. However, I wanted to give you just one of the stories of why this is so meaningful to us and show you a real kid whose life was changed powerfully through donations that were given to UnFinished International on a #GivingTuesday.

I’ve left her name out and any details that could narrow her down from pictures we post. But this is the story of a child in our program. A real little girl your giving has pulled out of the darkness and into the light of Jesus.

We have a girl in our program who was identified as a special child when she was three years old. Her nursery teacher recognized she was not able to read and write and found she was a very slow learner. Therefore, the teacher referred her to a special school in their area

However, the child’s parents were illiterate and steeped in poverty. As such, they were unable to transfer her to the special school. Financially, they could not pay the school fees, and they didn’t understand the reasoning in moving her from public school. They decided instead to keep her at home to help them with housework and chores. The little girl’s days went from school work to collecting firewood, digging, getting water from the general spring, and cleaning.

One day she had gone to fetch water from the spring. On her way back home, she was raped by an old man in the neighborhood. She became ashamed and lost hope since no action was taken by the parents. She was not taken to the hospital, nor was the incident reported to the police. The man started threatening her, and she began a life living in fear. She withdrew inside herself and did not speak or associate with other children.

However, one day, God brought you into her life. Through your giving to UnFinished, she was placed into a boarding school for special children, which moved her more permanently from the area, her attacker, and the constant reminders. Her new teachers report she is now a happy and smart girl in school. She is receiving treatment for both her physical disabilities and psychological trauma, and she is doing exceptionally well with her education. She also now communicates well with other students and teacher not like before. She is hardworking and promising and learning to be happy again.

This story is just one of many. For instance, we have two children who were born with HIV on top of disabilities. Because of your giving, they are not only in school; they get regular treatments for their HIV because they now have medical insurance. Your giving has literally saved their lives. What you do on Tuesday actually saves the lives of real kids. There are so many more stories I would love to tell you should you ever want to sit down and hear them.

Thank you for all you have done in the past. I look forward to seeing what God does through you on Tuesday.

May God bless all you do.

“Change the World?”

we-gather-in-small-groupsNowadays, we see the term, “Change the World,” often. While most using it probably have good intentions, the frequency of its use has perhaps weakened its practical application on the broader population’s mindset at this point. I believe most people wearing it on their hoodies, t-shirts, or ball caps genuinely want to be a world-changing force in some way, I also think the general public no longer sees the term as meaningful.

Are Christine and I trying to change the world? I suppose we are. Both of us are visionaries, entrepreneurs, Type-A, nose-to-the-grindstone, types of people with a heart for others. We dream of UnFinished reaching all 192 countries of the world. We aspire to change international legislation and make the world a better place for those with special needs and disabilities. I tell Christine all the time I see the day she is standing before the United Nations, delivering a speech on the need for change in the world of disability.

So “Change the World” is indeed a thing for us. However, it’s not the main thing. At least not right now. Right now, we are more, “Change the Life.” We have children in our program who live with special needs, disabilities, orphan status, stigma, HIV, and poverty. All of our kids experience at least one, if not all of those things. Yes, we have a six-year-old child who is being raised by a grandmother because the parent’s left, is special needs, has a disability, lives in poverty, and has HIV. He is six-years-old.

We are blessed to have people around us who care very little if the world is changed. Yes, I said blessed for that. It is a blessing because they are not worried about what the society as a whole thinks, as Christine and I do most of the time. They are concerned about that little boy. They are worried about the two little girls in our program with mental impairments who go home to sexual abuse during school break that we can do nothing for at this time due to legal entanglements. Our business manager, who is required to worry about nothing except money and numbers, cries and prays daily over these kids. Changing their lives is much more important to her than changing the world right now.

I believe you change the world one life at a time. We started out with two kids. As God has seen our dedication, our hearts, and our stewardship of all He brings our way, He has grown us to fourteen enrolled and several on waiting lists. If the right resources were available, those numbers could be in the hundreds just here in Kenya tomorrow. Through working with kids individually, we are also educating their guardians, their school teachers, their extended family. This is how you change the world – one life at a time.

Christine and I also heavily involve our three-year-old in our work. I struggle with trying to figure out how to raise him without letting him develop an entitled mindset as is rampant in my American culture. I need him to grow up around poverty, lack, need, disadvantage, and all the things that are prevalent in the world outside our upper-middle-class bubble. He is another one person that is part of the change the life mentality.

My point in all of this is that “changing the world” is not as complicated as people try to make it. Even Jesus did not work on a large scale. He used twelve people, and they are still changing the world to this day. If each one of us would get out and try to change a life, that is billions of people improving the lives of billions of people. That IS world changing. Get to know your neighbor. Do something nice for them. The world continues to become more divided and decisive each and every day. You don’t have to cross the ocean to be a world changer. Just change the world for someone across the street. Have your friend over for dinner. Say something beautiful to the person checking you out in your local retail store (God knows that would be life-changing for them).

Let’s resolve to change the world together.

“There are people here who need help…”

Missions-HeaderA few weeks ago, a friend on Facebook who posts a lot of SJW statuses and memes posted one that hit close home for me. The photo had what appeared to be children in Africa on the top, and what was supposed to be a homeless person in America on the bottom. The meme called out Christians, asking the age-old question, “Why do you have to go to the other side of the earth to help people when there are people who need help right here in America?”

It’s not a new question. In fact, I even hear it asked by fellow Christians all the time. I tend to answer this question differently when discussing it between Christians and non-Christians. In the case of UnFinished International, the answer is somewhat easy to provide as we help both. We support kids in Kenya that need help, and we have programs for kids and parents right here in our backyard.

It’s often a moot point to enter into a discussion with many people on the topic, however. Most people who have asked me about it did not support anyone anywhere and were only trying to incite an argument or offend me in bringing this up. However, as Christians, we do need to understand the basic principles of working and supporting in international missions. Particularly in today’s environment as the world becomes more and more nationalistic. Why should we as Christians support organizations and church projects and programs that send money to help those outside our own country?

Most Christian organizations will point to Acts 1:8 when defending their mission work. He said to them, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” The, He, being Jesus, we really don’t need any other reason as Christians to be “witness” to the end of the earth. However, the Bible actually addresses the subject long before Jesus gave this mandate. In fact, Jesus Himself discusses two instances of this occurring.

In Luke 4, Jesus stands before a synagogue and reads from the book of the prophet Isaiah. Once He finishes, he says to the congregation, “I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Clearly, this passage tells us that there were many widows within the borders of Israel. However, God did not send the great prophet Elijah to any of them. God sent Elijah to minister to a widow outside of Israel. Likewise, we are told there were many lepers within the borders of Israel during the prophetic times of Elisha. But God sent Elisha to cleans not an Israelite, but a Syrian. During the times of two different prophets, there were people within each prophet’s country that needed both provision and healing. However, God did not send neither Elijah nor Elisha to any of them. God sent both prophets to do his work internationally.

Why does God send us to care for people in other countries when there are people who need help right here in our own country? There are many answers to this question. However, for this post, I will only point out one. God’s love is unconditional. God’s love, mercy, and grace are not based on where you are born. God has no obligation to provide for only those who live in America, or Israel, or any other place for that matter. God’s love, mercy, and grace are available to all, especially children with special needs or disabilities in the darkest of places.

Now, that is not to say those in our own country are not able to receive provision and healing from God. What it does say, however, is they are not the only ones who should receive it. When God called Elijah and Elisha to go outside the boundaries of Israel to do His work, they did not argue with Him. God called them, and they answered. They understood it does not matter who you are, or where you live. They understood that God so loved…. the world.

We as Christians are called to help the least of these. We are called to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. Many times, that will lead us to places we had not anticipated. We are called to be a light in the darkest of places. While there are indeed plenty of dark places here in the United States, God is not a God exclusively of America. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul teaches that the local and international body of Christians is made up of many members. So, what we must understand is that we are missing out on the blessing and fruit of God’s work when we are not pouring into international missions. As Shannon L. Alder  put it, “One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.”

God and Country

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Mere months ago, many who called themselves, “Christian,” found themselves severely upset over the removal of monuments dedicated to individuals who fought against the American flag. These people, Robert E. Lee, etc., formed a rival government and led a Civil War against the country of the United States of America. This group of people founded their own flag and killed American Patriots dedicated to preserving the nation. Hundreds of “Conservative Christians” lined the streets of America and pontificated on social media against the removal of monuments and statues honoring these individuals who lead a revolt against the American flag.

Fast forward a month later. Suddenly, “Christian Patriots” are offended that football players are either taking a need during the National Anthem or not coming out to the field at all. My first question is, where were these offended before 2009? Why 2009? Well, let’s look at a bit of history.

Before 2009, not a single football player took the field before the National Anthem being played. Up until 2009, every single player on every single team remained in the locker room until AFTER the singing of the National Anthem. Until this point, the National Anthem would be played or sang, then the team would charge out onto the field in a grand spectacle of fireworks, fanfare, and paper displays strategically placed for that key player to burst through in a great display of domination. No one was offended, and no was in the news decrying the absence of football players on the field during the National Anthem. What changed? What made football, and every other sport, put their players out for display during the Star-Spangled Banner? Marketing. Good ole fashioned Capitalism.

The average cost of a Super Bowl ad was $5 million for thirty seconds of the 2017 game. That is $167,000 per second for an ad in the Super Bowl. Advertisers must see value in broadcasting to football fans. Consider, from 2011 to 2014, the Department of Defense paid the NFL $5.4 million to put players on the field during the National Anthem and flag ceremonies. The National Guard followed suit, paying the NFL $6.8 million from 2013 to 2015 for player representation during military presentations. Before 2009, NFL players stayed in the locker room for the National Anthem, but no one seems to remember that. So, why the change?

This subject is a much deeper topic than I can get into on this individual post. However, we cannot overlook the relationship between the effect of Super Bowl ads and the paid presentation of NFL football players during the National Anthem. The DoD and the National Guard began a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign in 2009 to the fans of sporting events. Much like Michael Jordan selling Nikes, the thought was that sports fans watching their heroes saluting the flag would become more patriotic as a result. This performance was billed in government documentation as a “recruitment expense.” Even the “surprise welcome home” events are a part of this paid marketing. Yes, the government pays the NFL, MLB, and others to do these “surprise” welcome home events during their games. John McCain himself penned a letter condemning this practice. The current outrage that players do not participate in the government-funded activity is proof their marketing dollars are worth the expense.

This attempt to gaslight the public, and us as Christians, to become enraged over a football player not coming out to the field, or taking a knee during the National Anthem, is nothing more than a successful attempt to lure us into blind, unconditional support of the government institution. This manufactured anger over a flag that we wear as bikinis or use to wipe the ketchup from our mouths as a napkin at Fourth of July BBQs takes our focus away from what is real and relevant. Jesus never swore allegiance to the Jewish State. Our Christ never got offended at someone kneeling before the Flag of Rome. Jesus respected Caesar and what belonged to the government, but His allegiance was to the Kingdom of God.

We as Christians have become easy prey in attempts to gaslight groups into outrage over things that are wholly insignificant relative to the Gospel. There is a significant difference between, “God and country,” and “Christ and Kingdom” and Christians need to understand that every issue does not require a response. Jesus spent most of His ministry ministering in silence. We as Christians have become debaters instead of demonstrators. The “Take a Knee” issue has become but one in another matter in a long line of misguided attempts to drag us into the secular culture war. Jesus never fell for this, and neither should we.

The “Take a Knee” issue is not about patriotism; it’s about racism. Racism is wrong, and we as Christians should stand against it, and we need to stop hiding it behind things like patriotism. If you are uncomfortable with diversity, you’d probably hate Heaven anyway. The issue of black football players taking a knee has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with racism in America. Christians should not allow patriotism to cover the sin of racism.

I fly an American flag in my front yard every day of the year. I love my country and admire patriotism. However, the National Anthem is not a hymn. Patriotism is not forcing people to stand and salute the flag. Patriotism is creating a country where people want to stand and salute the flag. Veterans fought for freedom, not a flag. We as Christians need to live lives that draw people to Jesus and taking to social media over every issue is not the way to do that. Jesus did not address every issue. In fact, most of His ministry was worked out in silence. We should be so wise as to model His behavior.