Stacy’s Story

I love being a parent. There is nothing quite like the joy my son brings to my life. Growing up without a father, I do all I can to be ever-present in all aspects of his life. One could probably make the case that I over-parent at times, and I would likely plead guilty. I know the effect a missing or absent parent has on the mind of a child attempting to learn his way through life somewhat alone. I do all I can to ensure my son feels loved, accepted, and secure when it comes to his family life.

He is also blessed to have an incredible mother in his life. If my wife is better at being anything than a wife, it is a mother. As much as I know my presence in his life is needed, I can take some solace in knowing if anything ever happened to me, his mother would do all she could to make sure she filled that void in his life. Most of you reading this are in a somewhat similar situation. You take some solace in knowing if God were to call you home tonight, mechanisms are in place to ensure your children are consoled, loved, cared, and provided for in your absence.

However, what if that were not the case? What if you didn’t know what would come of your child should something unexpected suddenly happen to you? How would you feel if you were the only one out there to protect, defend, and fight for your child, and once you were gone, they were all alone? Would you not want peace of mind knowing that your son or daughter would be safe if they were left in this world without you? If your answer to any of those questions is yes, then I ask you to read Stacy’s story.

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Stacy was born to a single mother in a small village in rural Western Kenya. Stacy was born with a deformity in her arms called, Phocomelia, an extremely rare congenital disorder involving malformation of the limbs. Her father left when he realized she was born with a disability. In the villages of Kenya, a child born with disabilities is often viewed as a curse on the family. Also, the child is seen as a burden to many, and parents will abandon often abandon them.

Stacy was fortunate in that her mother kept Stacy and life went on with her brothers and sisters. However, Stacy’s mother was a victim of alcoholism and worked as bartender outside the village. Even with a mother in the home, her presences was rare, and Stacy and her siblings never knew the love and acceptance most children experience. But what was to come was even worse.

In December of 2017, late in the midnight hours, Stacy’s mother left work bartending, was struck by a car, and killed. With the father gone, Stacy and her brothers and sister would wake up in the morning orphans. However, the story continues to get worse. Once news of their mother’s death was learned, Stacy’s aunts and uncle came to collect the children. The various family members picked up all of the children and took them home. All of the children, that is, except Stacy.

The family decided that bringing Stacy into the home would not create an economic opportunity to support herself. Since she had a disability in her arms, the family did not feel they would see a return on the investment they would incur in raising her. So Stacy, at 8 years old, was left in her home to grieve her mother and miss her brothers and sisters.

This is the story of many children with disabilities in Kenya. They are often abandoned by their parents. The lucky ones are raised by a grandmother. However, once the grandmother is gone, they are left to fend for themselves. This is a reality every day in places like Kenya. Children with disabilities are left to die either through abandonment or death. When I tell about you how vital the work UnFinished is doing, these are the stories I am describing. We are not always just trying to give a child a better way of life. Often, we are quite literally asking you to help us save the life of a child who has done nothing wrong.

This was the case for Stacy as all hope for her was not lost. Stacy is a child in UnFinished International programs. Once VhdyojMHRxKLT2MwUjYeeg_thumb_e322Stacy’s situation was discovered, teams returned to her village to resolve the situation. Stacy was found with a neighbor. Due to Stacy’s already broken relationship with her mother, this neighbor played a crucial role in raising Stacy. The team took Stacy back to school where she had teachers and counselors that cared for her, friends to play with, a bed to sleep in, and meals to eat. We also worked as a mediator with one of her aunts. That aunt eventually took her in, and Stacy now has a family to join during school breaks.

The work we do is real. It is a calling that we believe in wholeheartedly. However, we cannot do it alone. Our programs do not just improve living conditions – they literally save the lives of children. You would want that for your child. You would want someone to step in during a time of need and save them. Why would you not want that for a child elsewhere? Kids in developing countries not only face stigma and challenges, but they also face life-threatening situations daily.

In the coming weeks, I plan to share more stories of children that are in UnFinished programs. I hope to paint a picture for you of what life for these kids is really like and spur you to action. We’ve made a difference in the lives of 17 kids over the past 5 years. However, we are faced daily with the cries of so many more. Unfortunately, we can only help so many with what we currently bring you. You can change that.

I pray that over the next few weeks, these stories of these children will touch you in a way that moves you to action. 100% of anything given goes to support the children. UnFinished International is a place you can effectively and efficiently be the Hands and Feet to truly the least of these.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Go West, Young Man

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11 of the 14 kids of UnFinished International

Kakamega is a town in Western Kenya that resides in Kakamega County. Before changes in the national government in 2012, Kakamega was part of the Western Province. Since the shift to a county-based administration, Kakamega has become a part of a network of larger towns within the western counties of Kenya.

We arrived in Kakamega Saturday afternoon after a flight with 540 Airlines from Nairobi to Kisumu. From Kisumu, a drive of about half an hour led us to our final destination. Kenya is currently undergoing a massive infrastructure improvement that has been underway for the past six years making travel over the road much quicker and safer.

Our first order of business was a visit to the Kakamega Teaching and Referral Hospital, known locally as Kakamega General Hospital. One of the children in the UnFinished International program had been admitted a week earlier. Tausi, the child, contracted malaria. Under normal circumstances, the school Tausi attends provides for the children when they contract malaria, which is often. However, Tausi’s case became so bad, she had to be admitted, consigned to oxygen, and placed under a doctor’s care.

In many countries, medical care must be paid for upon receipt. This is the case in Kenya. In fact, it is often worse. In some cases, fees must be paid before receiving care. While we were waiting to secure Tausi’s discharge, a child was screaming in the ward. In this hospital, there is no triage. All patients are lumped together in one room no matter why they are there. Whether a broken bone or a contagious disease, they are all treated in one room together.

As this child screamed, we heard the hospital staff explaining the situation to the parents. The parents were told the child had fallen and hit its head causing an open, bleeding wound and bleeding on the brain. However, the hospital would do nothing until the parents paid the bill. They advised the medical procedure would cost, 100,000 Kenya shillings – approximately $986.

The parents were beside themselves. The news would have been no different if the hospital told them to leave with their child and refused care. Their child was bleeding both on its brain and on the floor, and the hospital would do nothing until payment was made. Payment was not coming.

As we presented our documentation proving the payment made to cover Tausi’s medical expenses, we were told the doctor was out. The staff advised us they would not release her until the doctor signed off and he was gone until later in the day. We left the paperwork with the front desk with the understanding Tausi would be released as soon as the doctor returned.

The situation was explained to Tausi’s mother. She was overjoyed hearing the expense were covered. Even though she lives in poverty, Tausi’s mother had begged and borrowed 1,000 Kenyan shillings in an attempt to pay the bill. Through the dedication of UnFinished International supporters, Tausi was able to return to school.

We left the hospital to venture far out into the village. The grandmother of another one of our children, Anne, had been in the hospital for three weeks due to high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Upon our arrival, we found the grandmother at home with the four children she raises along with Anne. While she was in the hospital, for three weeks, Anne’s oldest sister of nine years old was left to care for her younger siblings and cousins.

Anne’s grandmother told us of her appreciation, gratitude, and joy at Anne’s improvement in the last two years in our programs. She relayed stories of amazement from friends and family at Anne’s growth physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We spent time talking with her and encouraging her to carry on with the lives she provides for herself and her grandchildren. We left her with food supplies and the few shillings we had in our pockets.

We ended our day at Daisy Special School. This is an integrated school founded by missionaries from Finland. They visited Kakamega decades earlier and started the school in honor of their daughter with special needs. Over time, the school became a county school administrated by the government.

UnFinished International has 12 children at Daisy. Our visit was most eventful, spending time with our kids, sharing snack time, and experiencing our girls sing in their group. The majority of our children are orphans. Not only have they spent life being shunned by society, but they also lack the necessary attention and love that comes from being part of a family. Anytime we can take a few minutes from our always packed schedule to love on them is a blessing.

The Starting Block

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I love airports. I know that is a break from the normal thought pattern. There are so many reasons not to love airports. The lines, the TSA, the lines, people, the lines. One could find many reasons to call airports the Mos Eisley of Earth. But once you look past all the horrible things that are processes within the airport, there is something beautiful – life.

Airports are full of people going and coming. Some are heading out on grand adventures to see new places and experience new things. Others are coming into welcoming arms of loved ones and friends. Airports are hubs of life and exploration that I find fascinating and full of hope. I love to walk through the terminal and see the looks of excitement on the faces of those ready to journey to someplace new.

Today my family and I entered the doors of the all too familiar George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). While not as quaint and warm as its smaller counterpart, Hobby Regional (now international(ish)) Airport, it has a character all of its own. The terminals that comprise the airport are cultural destinations in their own right. Houston, being a city of incredibly diverse culture, fills the halls of IAH with people and atmospheres of worldly callings.

Our regular transportation out of Houston is Emirates Airlines. I’ve flown scores of airlines, and none come close to the class and quality of Emirates. However, this trip sends us to a new location, Doha, Qatar, and Qatar Airlines is our conveyance across the pond. While the service offered by Qatar Airlines is nothing to sneeze at, I find myself missing my typical ride out of town. To steal a line from Prince via Sinead O’Connor, nothing compares 2 u, Emirates.

The purpose of our current escapade revolves around our nonprofit organization, UnFinished International. Through the incredible actions of our dedicated supporters, we use the resources they supply to restore hope to children with special needs and disabilities in impoverished areas. This trip leads us to Western Kenya to follow up on operations with our independent organization there, UnFinished International Kenya.

UnFinished International, through UnFinished International Kenya, currently supports fourteen children and their families. Our sustainability programs there provide educational opportunities for our kids, developmental opportunities for their families, awareness programs for communities, instructional classes for educators, and legislative advocacy through local officials and village chiefs.

This year, we have incredible opportunities to attend to and advise. Eight of our kids are scheduled for life-changing surgeries in August. These operations are merely part of new lives our kids and their families never even knew to dream of just a few short years ago. The programs supported by UnFinished partners are literally miracles delivered to indeed the least of these.

Airports. The starting destinations for life-changing adventures. I am grateful to the many people, churches, and organizations that send us to Kenya on this day to love on these kids that were orphans before UnFinished came into their lives. I look forward to sharing the adventure with you.

Much more to come….

 

The Heart Inside You

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My kid, like his father, is a movie watcher. Also, like me, he watches the same movies over and over again. He makes his old man proud, loving all my favorites. From Star Wars to Marvel to thirty-year-old Disney movies, I have found my partner in motion picture appreciation. While it is quickly being replaced by, “Coco,” his latest fixation has found itself in nonstop replays of Disney’s “Moana.”

While few can resist the lure of a Disney/Pixar movie, this was a particularly fun movie for me. I am a lifelong WWF/WWE fan. So, The Rock playing the role of Maui was a delightful aspect to this movie. In this story, Moana Waialiki, the daughter of the village chief, must locate Maui, a demi-god, who has brought a curse upon the sea over 1,000 years ago by stealing the Heart of Te Fiti – the mother island that possesses the power to create life and brings other isles into existence. Once Maui, a shape-shifter, acquires his magical fish hook, he and Moana set off to face Te Ka, a demon of lava and fire which rises from the sea like a volcano, who guards the island.

Maui fails to defeat Te Ka, sacrificing his magical fish hook to ensure Moana a chance to deliver the heart to the island. Upon arrival, Moana discovers the entire island of Te Fiti is missing, replaced by the shape of the goddess gouged beneath the water. Looking back, Moana notices a spiral symbol on Te Ka’s chest as it rages and understands. Holding the heart in the air, she attracts the attention of Te Ka in an attempt to save Maui’s life. Moana instructs the ocean to allow Te Ka to come to her and she walks to meet Te Ka face-to-face.

What Moana has come to realize is that Te Ka, the rage-filled monster, full of anger, hate, and destruction is actually the goddess Te Fiti herself. The backstory here is Te Fiti was once full of love, and that love manifested itself in her giving her heart to others through her creation of islands, the wind, flowers, trees, and all the other things the seafaring people of the South Pacific loved. However, Te Fiti’s heart was taken from her. That those she loved stole her heart changed and transformed her over time from the loving, giving beautiful goddess of creation to the fiendish legend known and feared as Te Ka.

Pixar is a master of placing the feels in their movies. Each outing to a Pixar movie almost guarantees a tug at the heartstrings at the very least. However, this movie in particular was different for me. I know what it is like to have your heart stolen from inside you. I know what it is like to have your heart taken from someone you loved and gave your all. I am sure many of you do too. How many of us have allowed the pain of what someone did to us or took from us turn into a hate-fill, raging, bitter monster?

When those we love wrong us, it causes significant damage to us, and we react in different ways. Having my heart stolen from me sent me into a full-blown spiral. I was drowning, and I pulled anyone who tried to help me under the water as well. The danger of becoming a monster was real. I was blessed that hate and rage did not transform me, but it took years waiting for my Moana to come along and restore my heart.

Our lives, our hearts, revolve around whatever we place at its center. If we set a job at the center of our lives and we lose our job, our world falls apart. If we place a person at the center of our lives and that person leaves or is taken from us, our heart breaks and our world falls apart. Anytime we place something of this world at the center of our lives, we run the risk of losing our heart. There is only one constant that will never leave or forsake us. That constant is God, and when you place Him at the center of your life, it does not matter if the other things go or are taken. Your foundation remains firm because all those things are not the center of what makes up your world.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Granted, I was blessed to have a foundation in the Word and a surrounding of friends to keep me from that road. So, I did not become a bitter monster, filled with rage and toxicity destroying all in my path. But I know people who have. I am sure you do as well. Ta Ka was fortunate enough to have someone like Moana who was brave enough to confront her and restore what was taken from her. I will never have what was taken from me returned. It is lost forever. The best I can do is pass on to others what I have learned.

Much like my last post which discussed the hidden things people go through that lead to suicide, we need to be like Moana. Brave enough, caring enough, and willing to get involved in the lives of people. Don’t let people in your life suffer alone, wallow in their pain alone, do life alone. What happens if, like me, they never get their “heart” back? They will need someone like you to lead them out of that dark place to find a new purpose in their life. We need to be reminded, as Moana reminds Te Fiti, “They may have  stolen the heart from inside you, but this does not define you.” Be willing to cross the ocean and take on the monsters of this world affecting the lives of others. Make the world a better, brighter place.

“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.”