Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ready to Risk It All?

The video below is one that we've shared often since we first saw it last year, but it's one we love to revisit and its message seems to only increase in relevance over time. It was given by Dr. David Platt at the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors Conference in the summer of 2009 as he challenged his audience to devote their lives to pursue the kingdom and Glory of God. After watching this, however, you'll undoubtedly understand that this challenge extends to us all, and we hope you will take joy and encouragement from it.

David Platt: SBC Pastors Conference 2009 from Todd Thomas on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tanzania by the Numbers

It can sometimes be difficult to imagine the needs of those who live a world away from us. For those who have not had the opportunity to visit some of the more impoverished parts of the world, it's easy and perhaps even natural to almost think of such places as imaginary even though we know they are not.

When our contact at Compassion, Kirk Winter, told us that there was a need to start a Child Survival Program in Mbulu, Tanzania, I'll be the first to admit that it was difficult for this kid who grew up in an Ohio suburb to imagine daily life in a distant African village. Recently though, Kirk supplied us with a copy of Mbulu's CSP "Start-up Information Form" which gives a brief summary of the village's need along with several supporting statistics. It doesn't come with accompanying photographs, but I think you'll agree with me that the numbers paint a vivid and sobering picture of desperation and heartache that give the term "vicious cycle" a whole new meaning.

The form quickly reveals that in Mbulu the average age of first-time mothers is 15. Only 47% of these new moms give birth in 1 of the 2 area medical facilties due to the fact that they simply can't afford the high hospital charges. The natural result is that maternal and infant mortality rates are high because mothers are forced to deliver without the presence of a skilled health provider.

Should mom and child survive delivery, the realities that await them do not improve their odds for a better future. A young mother's simple lack of education exposes her and her new child to a greater risk of communicable diseases, and they often find themselves alone since it is the culture and custom of the village to shun unwed mother's, leaving them without a connection to their family or financial support. Fathers offer little help as so many of them disengage from their responsibilities and descend into alcoholism- out of work and out of touch. The young mother, desperate and alone, does whatever she can to survive and to feed her starving newborn by resorting to prostitution. The majority children who die under the age of 5 in Mbulu simply pass away because of malnutrition and starvation. It continues on and on and on...

I suppose the best and worst news I can tell you here is that this very real picture of despair is completely preventable, but the wait continues. Together, we can stop this. Education, access to pre and postnatal healthcare, nutritious meals, vocational training, and spiritual guidance and support are all available and are being delivered in communities around the world today. The stories of hope are just as real as those where no hope is in sight. I invite you to watch the video below to see what your contribution can do.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Living Faith

There are moments in the Christian walk when our objective head knowledge about truth and doctrine collides violently with the reality of daily events, and the place where our capacity to understand God’s purpose reaches its limits. Our study of scripture allows us to learn that sin came into the world through humanity and that creation remains under its curse until Christ makes his triumphant return. We may claim to believe this, but absorbing the implications of this story requires something else altogether.

We may even claim to have hope, but there are moments when our faith is shaken beyond what we could ever comprehend. One can read about the death of 25,000 children a day under the age of 5 and feel a genuine sense of sadness, but there remains a part of us that can’t grasp the scope of this ongoing tragedy until we see it firsthand or until death itself approaches our very own doorstep.

Though God may allow the sun to shine on the just and the unjust, we are at a loss when we receive news of a friend or relative who is the victim or bearer of an unforeseen tragedy. A neighbor’s child is born with a rare disease…an automobile accident takes the life of a young mother…a brother receives news that tests reveal an advanced stage of cancer…an emaciated child in a third world country inhales their last breath because of starvation. How do we cope with or make sense of this kind of news which we seem to encounter on some level almost every day? Perhaps you and your family are walking through an unbearable heartache at this very moment.

Hebrews 4 contains some of the most reassuring words in all of scripture, as it challenges the believer to hold firmly to their faith. Verses 15 and 16 explain, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

How often are we tempted to abandon hope, faith and trust in the one who loved us so much he sent his own son to die on our behalf? If we only looked at Christ’s humanity then perhaps it would be that much easier to give up where He did not. However, he understood our weakness and allowed himself to be led to a cross, where death was defeated and we were given a place to anchor our faith with a vision towards a new and glorious future. This abundance of grace and hope is what we are compelled to share with others around the world, and it extends far beyond the meeting of one’s physical needs.

Today we can read Jesus’ own words of comfort to his disciples and know that their truth meets us today in a place where head knowledge is transcended by the understanding of the heart. Read on and take joy in the kingdom that is coming…

John 14:1-4
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Word About One-Time Gifts

Well, it's only been 4 days since we launched the campaign to fund the Anslay Church of God Child Survival Program, and we have already been so encouraged by a number of e-mails and phone calls from those of you who have committed to support the needs of babies and families in Mbulu, Tanzania.

We have also received some excellent questions, so we wanted to take a moment to address one of them regarding the issue of one-time (versus monthly) gifts. Our initial e-mail stressed the need for us to seek out sponsors who are willing to commit to a $20 monthly donation. We chose to primarily focus on this aspect since the CSP's sustenance beyond the first year is absolutely vital for the ongoing health and developmental needs of mothers and their newborn children.

With that said, a base of $4,500 is also needed to officially start a program where a CSP does not yet exist. This is right where we find ourselves with the Anslay Church of God project. We can reach this number either by receiving a certain number of monthly commitments (19) or through the accumulation of one-time gifts. Both are certainly welcome, and this post is meant to serve as a brief tutorial for people who would like to provide a lump-sum gift.

To begin, interested givers would need to initially go to the Anslay Church of God CSP website. Once there, you would simply need to click on "Child Survival Program" in the sidebar to the left of the screen (illustrated in the screenshot below).

Clicking here takes you directly to a page (illustrated in the screenshot below) that allows you to securely make a one-time gift in any amount that you wish. It's as simple as that!

It is important for us to note at this point that your gift will go directly to the Anslay CSP even though no explicit reference is visible on this page. Gifts are automatically diverted to this specific project because it is directly linked to the Anslay Church of God CSP website where you initially entered. Though you are welcome to indicate special instructions by clicking on the box marked "I have special instructions regarding this donation" at the bottom of the one-time giving page, there is no need to do so since the information is already being tracked.

As always, we welcome your questions and comments, and we'll always do our best to respond to them quickly and accurately. This is an encouraging and exciting time, and we look forward to partnering with you in the days and weeks to come!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Little Is Much When God Is In It

“I don’t know where to start.”

This was my thought during a pre-dawn run late last summer that was meant for solitude as much as it was to beat the afternoon humidity. The daily routine gave me the opportunity to push myself physically but it also became a time to think through the day ahead and for prayer. I had grown to look forward to it, but this morning had been different, and a formless weight seemed to sit on my chest. I became convinced that God was working, or somehow trying speaking to me, though without clarity, and the notion effectively drained the energy from my legs and the wind from my lungs. My run slowed to a walk and I looked heavenward in the morning’s half-light and spoke the words that had already begun to repeat themselves in my head. “Lord, please show me what you want me to do, and then give me the courage to do it.” I said.

Later that night my wife said that she had something she wanted to talk about. There was hesitation in her expression as we sat facing each other, but her tears came long before her words ever could. When she spoke, she talked about feeling a tremendous conviction about the possibility of having a fourth child, but that she believed that God was leading us to adopt internationally. Adoption was not a foreign concept to our family, but the thought that it might be a path we might follow had never occurred to me. There was a momentary numbness and then sudden clarity as I once again heard the words of my prayer and a definite understanding that I had just received my answer.

I have used a lot of space to share how this journey began, but I can assure you that God has not only supplied courage, but he has filled our hearts with joy as we anticipate the arrival of a little person who have not met but who we love so deeply.

Looking into the heart of this troubled world can compel us to distract ourselves from the dire needs of the masses who may not look like us, share a common language, or even live nearby. I have discovered that doing so may not only fail to save a life, but it also robs us of the very purpose for which we were created. Perhaps you are also wondering where to start. No matter where you find yourself, you are not beyond the reach of God’s saving grace, and no service for His kingdom will ever be too small.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Welcome Aboard

Well, after much prayer and planning, the campaign to raise funds for the Anslay Church of God Child Survival Program (CSP) is off and running. It's hard to believe that it all began with a simple phone call.

My wife Julie, who volunteers as a Child Advocate for Compassion International, receives regular newsletters and publications about Compassion's Child Sponsorship programs as well as its other key initiatives taking place around the globe. As I read through one of her magazines a few months ago, I came across a truly inspiring story of a high school girl who successfully raised funds to start a Child Survival Program for a project in Kenya.

I thought heavily about this story since we were well into the process to adopt internationally from Rwanda, and I began to wonder what it would be like to somehow give back to the continent that would give us our son.

"How awesome would it be to start another CSP in Africa!?" I wondered. Though Julie was as excited as I was about this idea, it was immediately clear that neither of us knew where to begin. That's when I picked up the phone and dialed Compassion's headquarters in Colorado Springs to ask for direction.

We would eventually be put in touch with Kirk Winter who is Compassion's North-Central Region Development Director. (As Kirk likes to explain, his responsibilities essentially cover the Big 10 states. This made things much much clearer for a Buckeye like me!) He listened to our story and took it to the organization to learn about the areas of greatest need before reporting back to us about the possibilities. He said that a project in Tanzania was still awaiting funding and asked if we would be interested in supporting the efforts to secure it. We, of course, assured him that we were, and the project was immediately off and running.

Over the past few months, Kirk and the Compassion team have worked tirelessly to develop a website that would allow people to simultaneously gain firsthand knowledge about the project and give directly to it at the same time. Our prayer is that this unprecedented opportunity will inspire many to give, and as a result, meet the physical, mental, and spiritual needs of babies and their families in Mbulu, Tanzania.

What an amazing difference that simple phone call has made, and what an amazing difference you can make with a simple gift.