A Roof Over His Head: Grace Church Generosity

Perhaps you’ve forgotten, but, last Spring, Grace Church helped to replace the roof of a good friend of our missions workers in the Central African Republic. The full story is HERE.

We just received a note from him this week. I hope it inspires you to be grateful  and to be generous during this season of thanksgiving!

“I continually give thanks to our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ for his unchanging love which he showed on the cross for us. His love justifies us and our belief in Him has made us His children and a part of the Christian family. You have shown that it is true that because of this, when one of the members of the “family” suffers, the whole family suffers. So, my beloved family in Christ, your kindness has made a real mark on my heart and I’ve asked God to bless you with His grace just like He says in Malachi 3:10-11 so that He will open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you won’t have a place to store it all and will be able to keep on helping others as you have done to me.

I [am] well and truly received all that you sent but ask your continued prayers for others and for the rest of the work needed on my house as well. 

We also send you the thanks of our four children who love you in Christ.

We “give” you the verse Philippians 4:6 Don’t worry about anything! God is great.

Amen

BENAYANG Julien in Bangui”

Please take a moment to pray for Julien and his family as well as all the others who are suffering in this difficult time in CAR history.

 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

The Gospel Come to Life (Ch. 10)

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“Twenty-seven hours after leaving China with our new daughter Xiaoli, we finally pulled into our driveway. After weeks of meetings, paperwork, hotels, and airplanes, home sweet home was like a dream come true, particularly for Xiaoli, who had no concept of a home other than her crowded orphanage.

James rushed inside ahead of us and made a beeline to Xiaoli’s bedrooms, dragging her in tow. In his broken deaf speech, he screamed and shouted to his new little sister, ‘Yours! This yours! This yours!’ Pulling Xiaoli’s shoes out of the closet one by one, James set them carefully in front of her, signing and shouting ‘Yours’ all the while. Jerking open her dresser, he began to pile the clothes around her in mounds, still screaming ‘Yours!’ at the top of his lungs.

It was quite a sight. Xiaoli was sitting there bewildered–surrounded by shoes, clothes, teddy bears, and toys. Meanwhile, James was dancing around her room with the sheer joy of a man who’d just discovered gold. In that moment, James saw something that the rest of us missed. While Beth and I were preoccupied with unloading the car and getting dinner on the table, this little boy understood the radical change that was taking place in Xiaoli’s life.

He had lived it.

As James pulled out Xiaoli’s shoes, clothes, and toys and showed them to her one by one, my son opened my eyes to the gospel. On a very deep level, James understood that his little sister was starting a new life. Far more than just a roof over her head, shoes for her feet, and clothes to put on her back, Xiaoli Carr was now part of a family. She had a new name, a new identity, a new home, and a new future…

As James danced around his new sister shouting, ‘Yours! All yours!’ I couldn’t help but think of Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, ‘There for, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things’ (2 Cor. 5:17) Like James, Paul was saying, ‘It’s yours! Everything the gospel has to offer you is yours!”

“Ultimately, orphan care is a gospel issue”

The passage above comes from Johnny Carr’s last chapter in Orphan Justice. In his final thoughts of the book, he boils everything down to the simplest analogy: salvation. Can you see the similarities in all of our stories? How we needed rescuing. How we needed to be joined with our Heavenly Father, adopted into His family and offered an eternal home. How this is all made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice…Maybe, today, you just need to be reminded of the joy that accompanies salvation. But let us not forget God’s command to us to care for the fatherless. We have His example to follow. Let our own adoption into God’s family overflow our hearts with a love and burden for the millions of children in need of an earthly home and family that will teach them the love of Christ.

Recognizing that this is not simply a social justice issue but a spiritual battle is crucial. When you minister to the orphaned, you are taking a direct stand against the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6:12). Here are some practical steps Carr gives to consider in moving forward.

  • Fast and pray for the aspects of orphan care and the orphans themselves
  • Pray for the families involved with or in the process of adoption
  • Ask God to show you specific ways for you to minister to the orphaned and vulnerable children in our world.

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: To look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world

James 1:27

Family was God’s Idea

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We live in an area rich with passion and loyalty towards family. Next week, the holiday madness kicks off and many of us will find ourselves sitting in a packed-out house buzzing with laughter,the  old and glorious family tales, squeals from the newest additions, and all-around goodness. Beauty in the familiar simplicity of a holiday, or any day, with family.

“Man made orphanages for children, but God made the family for children.”

It makes sense, doesn’t it? That as we think of the beauty in our family, we are reminded that God designed us for this. Long ago, He knew that all the quirks, challenges, and oak-strong bonds between family would stir up great passion and love in our hearts. Family was God’s idea. But have we limited our understanding of His design for family?

When we are saved, we are adopted into God’s family. We, a church family, the body of Christ. Yet, all around us, in America and the rest of the world, families are broken. Sickness, divorce, abuse all come crashing in on the remnant of the design God began. But we know that in the initial blueprints for family, God alone is the foundation; there is no alternative.

I think many of us who cherish family so deeply at Grace do so because we recognize it is a thing from the Lord and we are to be responsible in caring for it. We are familiar with the design; we see it’s strength. When a family-member is in trouble, especially a child, uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, parents, they all come out of the woodwork to lend their support and love, no matter the challenge, no matter the sacrifice. This is God’s design for His family, the church. There are many in need. There are children in need.

Take time to be thankful for your family and our eternal family. But also, reflect and ask God if He is calling you, a member of His family, to come out of the woodwork for someone. Maybe it is an actual family member or a friend, or someone at church who is on the front line of caring for the fatherless. Maybe it is your neighbor, or a foster child in desperate need of consistency and love in their life.

We are loving reading through Orphan Justice. Johnny Carr’s insight from his personal experience and his heart for God’s call on our lives in caring for the fatherless is powerful. There is a lot to think about but Carr provides us with practical ways to begin to answer the call. If you like, you can pick up a FREE copy at the missions table at church this Sunday.

Christmas Giving to Make a Difference

gtgh2“Dominick the Donkey” is already playing on the radio and the retail monster is already rearing its ugly holiday head! Have you ever felt that moment of slight (or perhaps major) disgust over what the holidays have become? Instead of really pausing to enjoy a season of gratitude for all that God has done for us, we are tempted to skip right on to Christmas…but not the Christmas that’s about “Christ”; rather, the Christmas that’s about, well, pretty much anything BUT Christ.

There’s a movement to change our perspective, and we invite you to be a part of it! In our culture, gift-giving is a significant part of the holiday tradition. How about considering an ALTERNATIVE approach to gift-giving this Christmas! Instead of plastic toys that will quickly lose their luster, or the random gadgets that will just fill the junk drawer, consider giving a gift that will impact eternity! You can get started this weekend:gtgh

  • THIS SATURDAY, November 22, is the Lancaster Gifts that Give Hope Fair, your headquarters for alternative gift giving! Visit nearly 30 organizations at the Farm and Home Center (1383 Arcadia Rd. Lancaster) between 10 a.m.-4 p.m. or shop online! Bless your family and friends by purchasing gifts that make a real difference in the lives of people all over our community and world! And be sure to stop by the table for GROW. All the details are available HERE.

Here are a few other ways to give alternatively this Christmas:

  • Give to Grace Church’s ‘Birthday Gift for Jesus’ – Details coming in December! Stay tuned!
  • Give a meal to a local family in need – Details coming in December! Stay tuned!
  • Support a special global missions project through Encompass World Partners

Q&A Forum: “Open” and “Closed”

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In Pennsylvania, the adoption process always has a level of “openness” to it. If a birth mother makes the choice to place a child in an adoptive family, she has the opportunity to choose that family, either through a personal ask or more typically, through a selection process led by an adoption organization where family profiles are presented for the birth mother to choose from. In that sense, the adoptive family is ‘known’ by the birth mother. In some cases, the birth mother may choose to have no other contact with the adoptive family from that day forward. But many modern adoptions have much more openness, which is a decision that is made according to the birth mother’s and adoptive family’s preferences. Some adoptive or “forever” families provide occasional updates and photos for birth parents. Others have actual face-to-face visits from time to time. And still others, have very open relationships where birth parents are a significant part of the adoptive families lives and events. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it – and it can be a very difficult process for adoptive families to go through, trying to consider what is best for their adoptive child and all the other individuals involved.

The foster-care system functions a little differently, in that many children are forcibly removed from their birth families for their safety and protection. While birth parents have visits with their children and may receive updates from foster families, they are done with supervision from government social workers and without direct access to the foster families. Due to the nature of this process, when foster situations turn into permanent adoptions, they often remained “closed” in this sense. Once children are in “forever” families and no longer part of the foster care system, they will likely have no contact with their birth parents unless they choose to do so later in life.

Open Situation:

What is your situation and what is your child’s level of openness? How was that decision made?

“Our child sees both birth parents twice a year.  Coming to that agreement was not an easy one.  We really had to look past our own desires to determine what would be best for our child, not just what would be ‘easy’ for us.  We wanted our child to know her story, that she had two birth parents who loved her enough to make an adoption plan but also didn’t desire them to have a great amount of influence in her life moving forward, accepting our role as parents.  We felt by visiting with both birth parents twice a year she is able to come to an understanding as she ages of who they are and the significant influence they had on her life before her birth.  As she grows in maturity we will evaluate whether she would like more or less interaction with them.”

What is the typical response when people hear about your open adoption?

“A typical response when people know our adoption is open is ‘wow, isn’t that weird for you and your child?’ or ‘do you think she will be confused by who her ‘real’ parents are?’.  The answer….no and no.  Prior to ever adopting I would have had the same questions but the process of adoption has changed my mindset.”    

 So, what are some of the challenges of having an open adoption?

“The benefits of an open adoption far outweigh the challenges for us.  The challenges are similar to any adoption, closed or open.  I think the biggest benefit to our open adoption is that our child will know how much her birth parents loved her from the beginning:  they chose to give her a new life, a new family full of new opportunities that they would have never been able to provide for her in their circumstances. By having a relationship with them it allows for questions, that we would never be able to answer for them, be answered.  We feel that her occasional interaction with her birth parents will give her a greater sense of identity to who she is and hopefully most importantly, who she is in Christ.”  

Foster/Closed Situation:

What is the typical response when people hear about your situation?

“Most conversations go like this: “They are adorable…Where are they from?….Have you ever met mom or dad?…Her hair is beautiful; it must be so much work.”

 What are the challenges of your situation – having no contact with the birth family?

Not knowing health history or basically any of the genetic stuff that can be passed down can present some challenges.”

We asked one final question to parents in both closed and open situations: Can you tell us some specific ways we can be praying for you, your family, and your child(ren).

“Although adoption is a wonderful thing, it does require a loss for the child.  No matter how well adjusted they are, at what stage they were adopted or how ‘bad’ their birth family situation was they have lost a birth family, a family that by blood they are connected to.  My prayer would be that as adoptive parents we would be able to work through that loss as a family, keep open communication about it and allow the child to grieve and work through that loss at whatever stage(s) they need to.”

 “The long term. Pray that, as our kids grow, they will seamlessly transition into adulthood as they come out of a mixed family.And for us, as parents, to stay open, be respite or whatever else God is asking us to do.”

Orphan Justice: Orphan and Human Trafficking (Ch. 2)

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It’s hard to speak into an issue as daunting as human trafficking and sex slavery. Hearing statistics that tell us “in 2007,  slave traders brought in more profit than Starbucks, Google, and Nike combined” is terrifying. What could ever halt this monster that rakes in an estimated $32 billion every year? Where do we begin?

After reading the second chapter of Orphan Justice, I think that’s just it: we begin. We begin to face the reality that whether daily life reminds us or not, there are people all over the world living every day under the burden of slavery, mental and physical brutality. We begin to educate ourselves to understand the problem and be proactive so that we might become part of the solution. We begin to ask God to give us His heart for those who are suffering. We begin…

“No longer can we stand idly by while coercion, deception, and brute force rob the lives of vulnerable women and children around the world and in our own communities.” In the shadow of something so overwhelming, we often try to cope by focusing our attention towards more “manageable” issues and dialogues.

“There is no easy answer.”

But there is always a starting point. And we should not delay in finding our starting point in an effort to “speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed” (Prov. 31:8). If you’re interested in learning more about some practical ways to engage with the issue of orphan and human trafficking, pick up a free copy of Orphan Justice at the missions table in the church lobby.

Q&A Forum with our Hope to the Oppressed Families: On Being “Called” to Adoption/Foster Care

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With November being National Adoption Awareness Month, who better to talk to than our own families here at Grace Church who are directly involved with adoption and foster care? We sent out a few questions asking them about their own experiences about the ‘calling’ to get involved. Here’s what some of them had to say…

There are a lot of different accounts of how families have come to make the decision to adopt or foster. What was it like for you/your family? Was it a booming-voice-from-heaven experience or maybe a persistent whisper? 

“I’ll start off by saying that we had never even talked about doing foster care/adoption.  After the Haiti earthquake in January 2009, my husband said, “We could handle one more.”  It shocked me, and I can’t say I was fully on board with the idea.  We checked into Haiti adoption, which was closed at the time so we didn’t pursue it any further.  A couple of months later, Brian was listening to a Family Life broadcast on WDAC by Russell D. Moore on their story of adoption.  I knew nothing about it until he told me, “By the way, I ordered a book online about adoption, so just look for it to come”.  Then came the series of messages at church on caring for widows and orphans, and the numerous people that we ran into that had fostered/adopted.  We then realized that we were being led to explore adoption/foster care.”

“We weren’t really pursuing adoption. We sort of fell into it. When the process of our child’s adoption was being finalized, we could look back and see how God had been leading us this direction, but in the process it wasn’t that clear. We were committed to taking one step at a time and were asking God to slam doors shut if we weren’t supposed to proceed.”

“I think we always knew adoption was in us but we never really discussed it. Through 5+yrs of trying  for biological children with no answers on why we could not, we just decided to stop the game. We had been running ourselves ragged trying to do the kid thing on our own. We tried to control the process. We decided to test the waters of foster care and just see what it was all about. What came next was nothing short of a whirlwind. In the span of about two years we were approved and placed with three children. As soon we let go it was incredible what God did.”

“We had discussed adoption before we were married and were definitely planning to pursue it, but our plan had adoption AFTER having our own biological children first!  Of course, God changed the timing of adoption when we learned of our infertility.”

After you answered “the call”, what was your first thought? What came next? How did you find out how you needed to proceed?

“I hate to be “this honest”, but my first thought was “how in the world are we going to pay for this”? We were working with an organization that guided us through the requirements and process, but one of the first steps was receiving a bill from the organization for $12,000 to process the adoption. There were other costs above and beyond that as well. Since we had an identified options (where the birth parent asked us to consider adopting), we went with the organization that the birthmother was already connected with for counseling and planning.”

 “We had a choice to make….obey what we felt God calling us to or not??  (It would’ve been easier to choose “not”, but we would’ve missed out on what God wanted to teach us and the many blessings and incredible people that we met through foster care.  Not to mention the two little boys who are still dear to us.). We still were not clear which direction to go, but thought we could just go through the foster care training with no obligation to get involved.  We simply called Lancaster County Children and Youth and and in January of 2010, (a full year after Brian’s first comment) we went through the 2 Saturdays of training, and felt even more that this is where God was calling us to be.  We had not even received the final “you’re certified as a foster parent” paperwork, when we got our first call to pick up a 15 month old little boy.  The adventure began…”

“We wouldn’t be completely honest if we said that we weren’t cautious and a little afraid.  It’s a big decision to take responsibility for another life, so it does require proper thought, prayer and counsel from others.  The nice thing about fostering and adoption is that there is a LOT of paperwork and preparation before you would even have a child placed in your home, so it gives you time to adjust emotionally and mentally. “

“We looked at a number of organizations and finally settled on Bethany Christian, which to us, seemed to provide the best training and support and had an excellent reputation from those that we spoke with.  They truly did a wonderful job of walking with you every step of the way and we would highly recommend them!”

The concept of being “called” to adopt or foster is hefty and could imply a lot. What are your thoughts on the Church’s role in caring for orphans and those in need? What does that look like?

“I personally feel this is one of the areas that the church really needs to step up.  Our society looks to the government to solve its social ills when really that is the universal “calling” of the church. There are small ways we can make a difference that may not feel as hefty. Especially if a church commits to be a network that surrounds the families that do decide to take the hefty part. When churches get this right it’s amazing what happens.  Case in point is the Bishop W. C. Martin’s church in the meager town of Possum Trot, TX.  Over 70 kids lives have been changed by one church who got it!
Another way is by a program championed by Bethany Christian Services called Safe Families.  Think church based voluntary foster care for at risk families. Check out http://www.bethany.org/lancaster/safe-families-children and consider how Grace Church could jump in. There are placements ready in Lancaster right now!  This is a unique opportunity to help kids but also speak directly into the lives of their parents and perpetuate lasting relationships and the opportunity to point them to Christ. “

“Our process has  been pretty easy compared to some of the other stories that are out there. However I can completely understand how some who can struggle with control would struggle in the system. It is a process that is long and tiring. Yet we have come out the other side saying we would have it no other way. We learned a ton about ourselves and what it means to trust God. I believe that the church is called to care for those in need. The question is, what does that look for individuals. If you don’t feel called to foster care/adoption , think about simple ways you can care for those that do. simply getting approved so you can babysit.”

“We firmly believe that taking care of orphans and children in need is not optional, but a mandate (James 1:27), if you are going to take your faith seriously.  There are many WAYS to fulfill this mandate that doesn’t necessarily require a person to take children into their home.   We simply could not have adopted our five children without the spiritual, emotional and material support of so many people.  There are also huge financial burdens that can be lifted by those whom God has blessed financially, particularly for those amazing families who endure the lengthy international adoption process or those who adopt special-needs children.” 

“I don’t think you can be a follower of Jesus – the real Jesus in the Bible – and not be concerned about the plight of the orphan. Scripture is very clear that if your heart is aligned with Jesus and the Word, your heart will be “for the orphan”. I don’t think that means everyone is called to adopt – but there are great ways that ANYONE can help out with the crisis of 153 million orphans worldwide. I’d love to see every single Christian be able to identify at least one thing that he/she is doing to care for orphans.”

We hope this new Q&A format has provided you with some helpful insight and will serve as a reminder to keep these families and the rest of our church family in your prayers as we continue to ask God to give us a heart for the fatherless.

In the meantime, here’s something we can ALL ask ourselves:

 Am I “able to identify at least one thing that [I am] doing to care for orphans”?

Make sure you check back on the blog for more Q&A as we take a look at a different topic next week!