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

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….

 

Unknown Parts

20-anthony-bourdain-grub-diet.w1200.h630The news of Anthony Bourdain’s death came to me as I was driving. My wife’s cellphone notified her of a news alert. She gasped in shock as she read the screen and said, “Anthony Bourdain is dead.” I sat there in silent shock. The news did not yet reveal the circumstances of his death, but I suspected what would come next. Suicide.

I knew that would be the report. I did not personally know Bourdain, but I knew his type. A few years ago, my life fell apart. I lost everything that was anything to me, and I did not know how I was going to make it even minute by minute. I was a mess. I was going through counseling at church, but that was only helping me hold onto my faith, not get through the grueling hours of day-to-day life. Don’t get me wrong, I needed that spiritual reinforcement, but it was not enough. A then friend (that’s another story) was a somewhat recovering drug and alcohol addict. He would attend A.A. and N.A. meetings and seemed to get some internal peace through them.

Time went by, and I learned they had these so-called, “open meetings.” These were meetings that were open to the public to attend. Most outsiders that joined these hour-long sessions were students and medical types – nurses, psychiatrists, and the like. One day, he invited me along, and I went.  What I found there changed my life forever.

I discovered people who were just like me. They were broken, lost, confused, and looking for a way to function, day to day, in life and find their way. Much like Edward Norton’s character in “Fight Club,” I found myself in these meetings. Not only did I find myself, but I also found my relationship with God and people. My church meetings help me to maintain my belief in God, these meetings help me to develop my relationship with Him through my storm. More than that, I learned that these people, this group of outcasts people belittle and condemn were some of the most loving, accepting and giving people I’ve ever met.

This company of anonymous train wrecks became my lifeline. They taught me how to build my life back by giving it away. I learned from them that getting out of my own life and helping others is the only way to heal my wounds. The work I do now with UnFinished International was developed largely within the walls of that little building on Brown Street. I was not an addict or user. I did not suffer from an “ism,” but I was accepted nonetheless because I was broken in other ways, just like they were.

As my life progressed and I began to heal, God started opening not only doors for me, but the world. I met my now wife, and we commenced years of international travel. This is why Anthony Bourdain was somewhat of a mini-hero to me. The guy came from nothing and became an international traveler and raconteur after my own heart. That is not to say I place my rubber stamp on all his beliefs and ideas. I do not, nor do I your’s. However, you don’t have to believe what I believe or think like I think for me to respect you. Anthony Bourdain experienced people and places with love and a passion for understanding them. He, at least professionally, was a man after my own heart.

When I heard the news I knew was inevitable, I was heartbroken. That Bourdain took his own life harkened back to my days in those walls with men and women I came to care about who had their lives ravaged by drugs, alcohol, depression, anxiety, and all the other things this world throws at you. My heart went out to a man who lived a life I love to live, and, in the end, it was not enough to save him. He left behind an 11-year-old daughter and many friends who loved him dearly.

Once the news hit, social media did not disappoint in its ability to disappoint. What shocked me the most, and I still do not know why I was shocked, were the comments from people who called themselves, Christians. Some of the most horrible remarks about Bourdain’s death came from the posts and comments of fellow Christians. “One less junkie in the world,” “Another liberal blowhard out of the way,” “This guy was a piece of trash,” “Can’t believe people are upset he died,” “He took the coward’s way out.” These are comments from people, in the same posts, that talked about being a Christian.

I feel there are far too many of us out there that don’t take time to understand what people go through. People just don’t get the, “there but the grace of God go I,” mentality. Mental illness is a real disease. More than that it is a tool and an attack from our enemy. People want to throw it out there as a gun control tagline or use it to place others in some kind of caste system. This is not how Jesus would handle the broken. Bourdain was an atheist himself, and that too breaks my heart. We as Christians are too often too content to let others suffer and die in their sickness. When I went through my dark place, plenty of Christians came to my aide, but so did a lot of atheists and agnostics.

I am not a proponent of the current level of celebrity worship in our society – even church celebrity worship. But I admired Anthony Bourdain’s desire to make the world a better place by sitting across the table from another person and discussing differences over a meal. As he put it best himself, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.” So many Christian scream about “making America great again,” when they don’t even know their next-door neighbor’s name. It’s time to care about people again. It’s time to stop judging and name calling and living in your bubble. Jesus went into Samaria and ate with tax collectors. Country Club Christianity is failing. Bourdain may have hated religion and been resolved to die without it, but your neighbor might not.

Anthony Bourdain may not have represented many of my personal or religious convictions, but I am sad he is no longer bringing the world into my life. I suppose I will now resolve to stop living vicariously through him and just get out there and do it myself. Perhaps I can save a few people along the way. Perhaps you can too.