Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Rescued

On this dreary Saturday I slept in.
Wading in that half-awake state of bliss; relaxation and a mind moving slowly, like a stroll in a park. Aware, but not alert, not worried for the day or for life, just present in time. And in this semi-consciousness, I thought about children.
(Look at my last three blogs- of course I was thinking about children!)

God put these clear commands to care for widows and orphans, to not oppress the poor, and to welcome the alien. Its from Old Testament to New- part of God's character and regulations for religion for the conservative, the practical acts of living out a faith-relationship for the liberal. No one gets to back out, no one gets exempted from these commands.

In my dream-state I thought of what this world would look like if we all (and I mean all Christians, not all countries, not all governments, not all communities: just Christian people) did this well.

What would that do to gangs?
What would that do to pimps?
What would that do to drug dealers?
What would that do to human trafficking rings?
What would that do to child-abductors?

What if there were no lonely, hurting children? What if there were no homeless youth, and emotional traumas were being healed well with love and community? What if the vulnerable were protected? What if those with mental health problems found help early on, and a supportive community in their neighborhood? What if the abused were advocated for? What if the broken-hearted were bound-up? What if children without good parental figures found them in the Church? Found a family within the Church? What if? What if?

What if the Church was a physical expression of Christ's love? What if Christians lived out grace, forgiveness, acceptance and adoption?
What if?

Well, then the world would change. Entire communities would transform. Children would grow up with love, support and help. And those children would become teenagers who reject violence, and abuse of substances. Then those youth wouldn't have negative peer groups because they found positive ones. Youth into adults.
We all grow up.

The senseless war in Northern Uganda has now migrated into DRC, it began nearly two decades ago, but the timing of the start of the war and the kidnapping of children has never been agreed upon. For those abducted as children, they are now grown. Having been kidnapped in childhood and tortured, manipulated and forced for around 20 years, you would see the face and size of an adult. They are now the oppressors, perpetrating what they were raised in upon others. Reinforcing violence, terror and war for a reason they don't know and can't fathom; it is just their life now. If you were to see them now, armed, in fatigues, and ready to kill you would attack back. But if you saw them at age 6 or 7, you would have pity. You would want to rescue them. They all used to be children.

The people you see in your own community, those people who scare you, anger you, make your blood pressure rise and give your heart some exercise- they used to be children, too. What horror were they raised in? What have they struggled with all their lives? What monsters have they come up against?
I was awed as I read Romeo Dallaire's writing on child soldiers throughout the world. The tactics used by war lards, militia commanders and abductors is the same process most gangs use to induct new members.

The tactics used to brain-wash child soldiers to become killing machines are the same principles that gang leaders utilize to secure new gang members.

Means of terror, manipulation and coercion are how pimps and drug lords keep people oppressed, too. What is happening in the jungles of Congo and Cambodia occur in North American cities daily. And it is happening to children, or to those who didn't have good supports at children; making them vulnerable and susceptible.

It all starts with children. Defending, helping, supporting, loving and advocating for children.

The first time I journeyed to North Uganda I interviewed former child soldiers. I distinctly remember a beautiful, strong girl who had been abducted at the age of 9. 
At 9 years old she had lived through war: that is third grade in North America.

But, she escaped!
She was alive because she escaped.
She is not now a killing machine, brain-washed body because she escaped. She doesn't inflict terror on others because she managed to leave. She wasn't aiding in abducting more children because she had managed to get out.

How can the Church help more children escape?

Grace Hope. That was the girl's name, the girl who escaped the LRA and Joseph Kony. And she smiled at me when we talked, told me of her hopes for her future, how well she is doing in school and pointed to the boy she has a crush on. Not just alive, but with a future, with dreams. Because she escaped.

And Grace and Hope are the response to rescue children in any community where violence, poverty, neglect and abuse threaten them and their future. By grace, and by hope. If it's the same principles used to control, to indoctrinate, then the same response is required, no matter what country.
Forgiveness, love, family - these all require Grace. Hope is the only answer I know to mental illness, to war, to atrocities. And what hope do we have? The same that raises people back from the dead and can transform a killer into an advocate: Jesus Christ.
This is why it is the Church that must reach out to the vulnerable; to orphans, because only the Church has grace and hope.

Let us help rescue children.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Little Ones

I've wanted to adopt for as long as I can remember.

My siblings can probably remember a lengthy list of over 100 names that I had picked out for all my future kids; and even at that age of writing in crayon, I was adamant about adoption. This was before awareness of the process of pregnancy and the fears of childbirth; at eight years old knowing that some children didn't have a family compelled me to divert from biology.
More recently, I've been thinking more seriously about not only adoption and foster care, but children in general.

This, I know is all complied over the years with God's directing hand.  Years of volunteering at an organized Christian camp, to crazy camps for inner-city kids with recreational events at gravel pits, to hiking in California with even wilder youth; I started at age 13- that's more than half my life helping at camps! Being a youth worker with neglected and/or abused children, and working with young offenders. A nanny on two different occasions. Protecting children from abduction in Thailand, to advocating for the plight of child soldiers in Uganda. Volunteering at orphanages or with former street children. Sports programs for kids, a mentor and youth leader. And the wonderful nieces and nephews who have adopted me as an aunt.

I've loved kids and worked with them in some fashion ever since I was one!

And now I'm 27, living with other single adults, and I recently quit my position working with teens.  My volunteer role with a youth soccer program is on hold for the summer months. At my age, stage of life and peer group, I could easily have no contact with children at all. Instead, I have children weighing more heavily on my heart than ever.

What is the first passage that jumps to mind when I mention Jesus and children? We see Jesus interacting with children frequently; the boy and his lunch at the miracle of feeding the masses, healing them of demons and raising them back to life. But I'm going to guess that what first came to your mind is of Jesus blessing the little children; that's what I first think of. But, as I opened my Bible for devotions this morning, the pages fell to the beginning of Luke.

"The birth of Jesus."
Jesus was a child.

If you want to be convinced that Jesus values and cares for children, just consider that Jesus became one.
His ministry didn't start until his 30s. Why be a child? Why not just descend, appear at age 29 and get to business? Why live through infancy, childhood, and awkward puberty?

*before you jump at me and say that it was because of the prophecies, remember that God made those prophecies because it was His plan for Jesus to be born, not that the prophecies were made and God had to 'obey' Himself- He is outside of time

Jesus became a child. The first few months of his life were marked by violence and mass-murder at the hands of a corrupt government. He was born a minority- a people conquered, discriminated and oppressed. His family fled to Egypt and he grew up as a refugee. If it were today, Jesus would have been one of the children aided by UNICEF, living in a refugee camp. Jesus didn't just patronizingly pat children on the head and bless them; he valued them so much he lived as one.

Thousands Of Syrian Refugees Seek Shelter In Makeshift Camps In Jordan

Jesus was adopted.

Joseph wasn't going to accept him, remember? (Matthew 1). He was going to break off the engagement with Mary and go about his life. God sent an angel in a dream to persuade him.
We don't hear much about Joseph in the rest of the Bible. He is not a main character- Jesus is. The adopted son, God himself who came as an infant and grew up is the focus.
But we see later on that Joseph took Jesus as his son and raised him as his own child. When the crowds question Jesus's power and miracles, they say "Isn't this the son of Joseph, the carpenter?"
They believed him to be Joseph's son, no questions. Because he had been adopted, placed in a family, put with a father and a mother.

Do we all need to have such dreams in order to adopt? Adoption doesn't have to be formal; it can be mentoring, being an aunt or uncle to children without strong family ties. It can be opening your home for a time, without government papers and processes. Or, it can be formal and permanent.

We have all been given this example, and the many verses telling us to love others, to love our neighbors, to look after orphans and widows. We have been told, I've been told. The question isn't "who?" but instead, "how?". We have been commanded and we need to obey. Ask God how He wants you to obey.

God loves children so much He became one. And He loves adoption so much He lived it.

"True religion is caring for orphans and widows in their distress, and refusing to be corrupted by the world." James 1: 27