A Day In the Life

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Beth, one of our UnFinished kids, outside her home in the village.

Recently, I was upstairs in the office, working on about ten different projects at one time. I have been blessed to take my work home during this quarantine, and along with my dissertation, taking a course through the college that employs me to become certified to teach fully online, and running UnFinished. I’ve been busier than ever. Not to mention sharing the office with Christine as she too works from home and also on her various projects.

On this particular day, I was deep into dissertation work, when Christian, our five-year-old, came upstairs and crawled up into my lap. This is not an uncommon occurrence. He’s a bit of daddy’s boy. However, this time, as he wrapped his arms around my neck, he began to cry.

This is an uncommon occurrence. Christian prides himself on being pretty tough and being able to handle situations. He’s a five-year-old attempting to function on a 30-year-old’s operating system. (The WWE is not going to let cry babies main event Wrestlemania).

I asked him what was wrong and, letting the tears flow, he told me he missed his friends. He said he missed his friends from church, and he missed his friends from school. While I’ve tried to be cognizant of him being under quarantine as an only child, I’d not really thought about how hard it is on him. He’s an only child. I try to recognize that, and I play with him as much as my 46-year-old body will let me. We’ve let him FaceTime his cousins, my mother, my brother, and he’s had Zoom calls with his classmates and Sunday School meetings.

However, Christian, like his mother, is a social butterfly. He longs to be with his friends. He tells me almost every day that he wants to go back to church and school. While he does not let on very much, it became clear to me that day, this has been harder on him than I realized. I never thought about the fact that his mother and I can escape a little. We will make quick runs to H.E.B., the bank, the post office, and other places we simply have to go. However, other than walks around the neighborhood, Christian has not left the house in over a month.

This caused me to think – if being locked up in a nice home, with Netflix, Disney+, all the other streaming services, an iPad, PlayStation, and more toys than he should have, what is life really like for the children of UnFinished? I’ve been to their homes, I’ve seen what life is like for them. They live in mud huts with no internet, no T.V., no running water, and many – no electricity. How stressful and lonely must it be for them, already living with a disability, back home again, locked away after months or years of finding freedom through the support you’ve given them? It must be heartbreakingly sad.

We continue to do welfare checks on the kids. But much like we all do, the caregivers tell us they are “fine” and “doing well.” It’s been our mission to restore hope to our children and their families, and we find ourselves now dealing with the effects of the Coronavirus. I’m sure our kids are more ready than Christian to return to their schools, their friends, and once again escape life in the village.

Please continue to pray for our kids. Honestly, they are safer from COVID-19 deep in the village than they are pack into schools. It is also reassuring to know they all have medical insurance should the need arise.

So, please pray. Also, it has been amazing to see our child sponsor continue their faithful sponsorships. We still have ten children who need sponsors. We have committed to refrain from bringing on new children until all of our current kids have dedicated, reliable support in their endeavors. I can attest to the joy of being personally involved in the life of a child in UnFinished programs.

We have incredible potential for growth. We have a proven plan that works and produces results. If your church or business is looking to impact the world through a federal 501(c)3 program, we would love the chance to talk (at a socially respectable distance, of course).

Thank you for your continued love, prayers, and support.

Christianity: The Next Generation

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According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, religion is waning in America, including Christianity. The data shows that no age group is walking away from God than Millenials (data for Gen Z was not available). While more than three-quarters of Baby Boomers (76%)  describe themselves as Christians, only about half of Millennials (49%), do with four-in-ten identifying with no religious affiliation and one-in-ten Millennials naming non-Christian faiths as their belief system.

The report goes on to identify many reasons for the decline in religious affiliations by young Americans. While all of them are valid, vetted rationalizations for Millenials’ lack of faith in their parents’ dedication to the Christian faith, I feel the real problem is much simpler, yet far more dangerous.

We live in an “I want it now” time. To be fair, my generation, Generation X, kind of kicked off this mentality. We were the “microwave generation.” We were the first group of kids who could record our favorite shows and “fast-forward” the commercials. As the Latchkey Kids, we often found ourselves taking care of ourselves, which lead us to believe we were all that mattered. As time went on, this got worse. Now, our little brothers and sisters, the Millenials, are walking into middle age carrying the full brunt of the Internet, social media, and streaming.

Millennials grew up in the age of entertainment. Hundreds of cable channels, then streaming of TV, movies, and music, came to pass. Their need for instant gratification came as a product of entertainment evolution and younger Baby Boomers’ need for TV babysitters. As the world became more complicated, our parents, often single mothers, had to work more and be home far less frequently. This situation often led to guilt and a bit of spoiling on the younger child to make up as us Gen Xer were now old enough to ignore it all and do what we had always done – take care of ourselves.

What does all of this have to do with the decline of Christianity in America? I believe churches have attempted to take over the role of the parent for the Millennials in our current day. They look at the Millenials, and on to Gen Z, and see a crowd that needs to be entertained and reinforced with words of affirmation.  Attend any worship service in a church geared toward these age brackets, and you will most likely encounter strobe light shows, smoke machines, and high-energy entertainment. I am not at all saying these are in themselves bad things. I, too, enjoy a spirit-filled worship service. But is church really supposed to be about what I enjoy?

Once you move on to the message, it is more of the same. It has been years since I have heard a message on sin and its consequences. Church messages these days are all about how God wants to shower us with blessings – that having God in your life means prosperity and well-being. A quick search of the scriptures shows that most of the greats in the Hall of Faith did not experience a comfortable life. However, pastors in fear of congregates, or boards, feeling offended, will sidestep the hard messages for feel-good inspiration. I once sat in a service where the pastor paused before reading a section of scripture to apologize for what he was about to read in the case it offended anyone. “I don’t know what you believe, and I’m not trying to offend anyone. I’m just reading the words as they are written,” he said.

So, people sit in these church services and hear messages about how much God wants to bless them, and nothing can go wrong in their lives as long as they tithe and believe. Then, tragedy strikes. They lose their job, the one they love leaves, a parent dies, or a pandemic occurs. Some horrible things happen, they are not spiritually prepared to handle, and they bounce. They’ve been told all their life that God wants nothing but to bless them, that God is basically a vending machine to bend to their will, and they find themselves in a situation that does not line up with what they’ve been taught.

The enemy is prime to jump all over this situation. He begins to whisper in their ear, “See, God is not real. If God were real, He would not have allowed this to happen. If God loved you, He would fill your wallet. He would give you that job. He would have saved the one you love.” They have not been adequately prepared to understand that a life of belief is often a life of hardship. When the touchy-feely sermons don’t match up with the reality that is life, it comes off weak and fake, and people cast it aside.

None of this is to say that God is not loving, hates to see us suffer, or wants to see us suffer. He is none of those things. However, more times than not, our decisions get us into situations that are less than ideal. There are consequences attached to the actions and decisions we make. There are also ramifications from the actions and decisions of others that we have nothing to do with. This is a part of life. We are currently experiencing a pandemic. I’ve seen post after post on social media about this being a punishment from God. That is not how He works.

We now have an entire generation of people who have not been prepared spiritually to deal with misfortune, bad situations, and attacks from the enemy. I mean, churches do not even teach about an enemy, spiritual attacks, or spiritual warfare anymore. How can we expect the younger generations to believe in, much less stick with, a faith they are inadequately prepared to understand?

So, what is the answer? Barna group cites a need for churches to focus on “vocational discipleship.” One where faith and occupation are integrated. I feel this is an essential step for all Christians, as too many are prepared to defend and support their beliefs at work. However, I think it is more important to get younger generations plugged into churches that are preaching messages that need to be taught, and not only ones people want to hear.

I work in the college environment, and I can tell you most college students are ill-prepared to handle the stress that happens in life. This coronavirus has only revealed this fact to me more. I have students who are scared and looking for answers. While I cannot in my current capacity evangelize to them, I can be like Christ to them in my attempts to lead them through the rest of the semester. There is a need for messages that give us hope and let us know that God will be there through the hard times. But they need to be tempered with messages to prepare them for those hard times when they occur.

This does not only apply to younger people. Spiritual warfare is real, and we need to be prepared to fight for our family, friends, and souls when the time comes. These are perilous times we currently live in, and outreach to college, prison, homeless, and other vulnerable people should begin and continue with life application messages and not just the ones that will fill the seats and the collection plate.

Unknown Parts

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The 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 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 mainly developed 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 a global 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 yours. 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 Christians 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. Maybe you can too.