Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Missing Man

The reason for this entry’s title may seem obvious since the frequency of my contributions to this blog have become almost non-existent. However, as appropriate as that might be, the subject actually concerns an issue that has haunted me long before this blog was ever launched.

In February of 2010 I had the privilege to travel with a group of men on a short-term missions trip to Guatemala. It was my first journey to the third world, and as those of you who have taken similar trips can understand, it had and continues to have a profound impact on my life. You never forget certain sights, sounds, smells, and experiences, and by God’s grace it starts a process of change in your life that doesn’t end once you’re safely back in your suburban cocoon.

Frankly, there is no easy way to comprehend the devastating scope of global poverty, though it becomes that much easier when we’re able to see it in the faces of those who live and die in its grip. For me, however, what has become even more disturbing is the ghostly imprint of those who are simply no longer there.

My experience in Guatemala soon revealed a nearly epidemic scarcity of husbands and fathers among the families we had the privilege to visit. Every story was different but familiar patterns soon emerged.

Severely high unemployment rates often meant that men would have to leave their families to look for work. Competition for jobs was fierce, and when they did become available they were often dangerous. Life threatening injuries and fatalities were not uncommon, and many who survived spent what little they made on illicit drugs or alcohol as a way to escape from the stress. If the men were able to return home, the drug and alcohol use typically continued and quite often resulted in the physical abuse of their wives and children. More often than not though, these men just seemed to leave their homes without returning.

The memory of those stories was fresh on my mind when we began the campaign to raise funds to start a Child Survival Program in the tiny village of Mbulu, Tanzania just a few months later. As Compassion began to provide us with information about the people who lived there, there were elements that immediately grabbed my attention and made the ongoing crisis in this community even more heartbreaking. Amid the devastating statistics regarding infant and maternal mortality rates, there were alarming statements such as:

“Some women abandon their children due to lack of support from their spouses,” and, “Men of this area engage in alcoholism, leaving women and children to suffer from malnutrition and diseases.”

It didn’t take long to understand that the tragedy I’d encountered in Guatemala was being duplicated in Mbulu, and worse yet, in unnamed villages throughout the developing world like an insidious soul scorching virus. I felt the overwhelming sense that since Christ is a Father to the fatherless, it goes without saying that we as His church have a responsibility to be His hands and feet for so many who are lost and dying.

Though one of the greatest joys of the Child Survival Program is the way that it provides for the mental, physical and spiritual needs of mothers and their children, one of its most overlooked benefits is the work that it does to help reconcile families. Whenever possible, a CSP provides counseling and guidance at the family level to make male parents participate in child upbringing. It’s a staggering thought, but in so many of these poorer communities the male role has been so diminished, that many men do not even realize just how vital they are toward the ongoing health and development of their children and the preservation of the family. Though hard to understand, I believe there are lessons here that we dare not ignore.

Perhaps we don’t talk about this enough, but as I look at the lives of American men and the culture in which we live, I truly believe that another silent crisis exists that is not that far removed from the one I’ve just described. Though our economic burdens may be universes apart from those in the third world, I believe it’s not a stretch to say that the American male has seriously strayed from the divine mission he was created fulfill.

Christian men and women alike have struggled to define and live out their faith in post-modern society, but sadly the populations of both sexes have adopted behaviors that are indicative of an increasingly secular worldview.

Confusion has reigned as Christian husbands and wives have allowed the pop theology of the culture to define the rules of engagement regarding spiritual leadership. As a result marriages vainly grope for substance in the dark as the roles both people were designed to play become reversed, and the beautiful complement of each becomes lost like some forgotten language.

Men increasingly fail to lead and seem more intent on frivolous pursuits instead of sacrificially loving their families and setting the spiritual tone of their household. Too often we have been guilty of failing to realize the crucial weight of our God-given responsibilities or the consequences of our unwillingness to live them out, but thankfully His love and grace holds the promise that it doesn’t have to remain this way if we yield to His work in our lives.

This is where I find myself now. By His love He continues to show me things about myself that must change, and by His grace alone He brings about a transformation that only He can give. It is a miracle that He still seeks out men to serve Him whether they live in Africa or Ohio. My prayer and my challenge to all men is that they would yield to His voice while there is still time and while there are still lives and souls to be saved.

Now is not the time to go missing.

To become a sponsor of the Anslay Church of God CSP in Mbulu click here!