ChildrenExamine the marketing materials for most aid and development organizations, and you’ll notice that children are prominently featured in everything from clean water to refugee resettlement. Sometimes they’re depicted as desperate, wide-eyed, malnourished, and alone. Other times, images portray children flashing wide grins, full of energy and unbridled hope for the future. The innocence of youth is compelling.

Children are incredibly precious, significant, and special. It’s impossible to blame them for their current situation – and we are motivated to do something to help children achieve a brighter future. But for their good, I believe we need to stop making children the exclusive focus of our programs and shift away from an exclusively child-centered approach.

Why in the world would I be encouraging us to consider decreasing our emphasis on children?

Before you call me a Grinch and accuse me of possessing a “heart that’s two sizes too small,” here’s why I think it would actually be in the best interest of children if we stopped exclusively focusing on them:

Not all children in poverty are orphans.

Overly simplistic images of children by themselves and out of the context of their surroundings perpetuate a pervasive, damaging picture that all children in poverty are orphans. Orphans are particularly vulnerable and need special care, but to paint all children as orphans just isn’t true. The Better Care Network points to studies in Cambodia, for example, revealing that 75% of children living in orphanages are not actually orphans but have one or more biological parents still living. And even more have living extended family members. We need to recognize that most children have families and are best supported within the context of the family.

The picture above is a cropped version of this image. It’s time to stop cropping out parents, literally and figuratively.

Family

For deep, lasting change to occur, transformation must be experienced not only by children, but by their whole families. I’ve witnessed the gut-wrenching reality that when children are returned to families who have not received the support and care that they need as caregivers, children can end up in the same cyclical, heartbreaking situation.

Might it be that by focusing on children, we are undermining the role of families? Why are parents invisible and often forgotten? Perhaps it’s because paying school fees is far easier than walking alongside a parent who wants to start and grow a small business or become free from addiction.

Whatever the reason, loving children demands an equal measure of love for the family around them, no matter how difficult it might be.

Please understand, I am all for helping children! I simply believe that focusing exclusively on children to the exclusion of their families often proves to be less helpful, and possibly even damaging, in the long run.

Let’s seek out organizations and strategic approaches that focus on empowering men and women to provide for themselves and their families. When the family flourishes, children grow up with strength and hope for the future.

For more, check out When Helping HurtsThe Poor Will Be Glad, or download the free e-book Stop Helping Us!.


This post originally appeared on the PovertyCure blog.

Post-Christmas Blues

January 5, 2016 — 1 Comment

At the end of Christmas day, my son looked up from his sugar-coma on the couch and sadly lamented, “I can’t believe that Christmas is already over.” I understood how he felt. In between the untangling and stringing lights, the gift-shopping, and cookie-baking, there’s so much sweet anticipation of Christmas. Hallmark and the cheerful strains of the radio promise this to be the most wonderful time of the year–but in the twinkling of a Christmas light and the tearing of wrapping paper, it’s gone.  Christmas Tree

This week, the post-Christmas blues may be settling into your home and your heart. My friend Greg described his response on December 26 a few years ago:

“I slept in, then had a late breakfast consisting of two items: ham and pecan pie. Lots of ham and two large slices of pie. I had my salty, I had my sweet, and it was excellent. But the rest of the day I kept chasing. I ate a box of Nerds—straight sugar—so naturally I followed it with some pretzels. But then I missed that sweet sensation, so I found some chocolate. By the time that was gone, I needed more salt. Hey, who took the cheese curls? I stayed on that bender through the New Year. I wish I could say that the net gain was zero, but it wasn’t. It was five.”

Pleasure can feel tormenting in its brevity, and not just at Christmas.

We live in a world saturated with pleasures. We need only to look out our windows to find God-designed creature comforts everywhere—gifts from a good God who delights in giving His children good things. We sink our toes into green grass, stare up at a midnight sky littered with stars, and bask in the glow of warm sunshine. We sense our Creator’s pleasure in a hard run, a joke that makes us laugh until it hurts, and the tantalizing smell of frying bacon. The list is endless if we only have eyes to see it. Crisp, clean sheets. U2 at Foxboro Stadium, the reckless joy of ‘take me out to the ballgame’ at the season opener, a daughter’s delight scoring her first goal. There is something deeply good and right about all of it.

But pleasure is both ever-present and ever-fleeting. It seems like the very moment you finally have it in your grip, it’s slipping like water through your fingers. When we’re young and naive, we assume that life’s sweetest pleasures are all ahead of us. When I get married, then I’ll be content. When I get that promotion, then I’ll be fulfilled. When I’ve been there and done that, then I’ll truly be gratified.

As we age and achieve a handful of the precious things that we’ve desperately craved, we slowly come to the realization that no created thing can satisfy the longing that our hearts so acutely feel. As Ravi Zacharias shared, “The loneliest moment in life is when you have just experienced what you thought would deliver the ultimate—and it has let you down.”

The good gifts that God has given us here on earth are merely reflections of the ultimate gift that He has given us in Himself. They are designed both to delight us, and to make us homesick for heaven. CS Lewis said it best when he commented, “The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? ” ― C.S. LewisTill We Have Faces

Whereas now we see dimly, as “through a dirty window”—one day when Jesus returns, we will experience the truest and best gift—our Savior—in all of His fullness. Only then, when we are finally home, will our restless hearts find their soul-satisfying rest.

As this New Year begins, may we enjoy the moments of pleasure and good gifts we’ll receive this year. But don’t forget that we celebrate something far more significant than the ill-fitting sweater that your great-aunt left under the tree. If you’re feeling the post-Christmas blues, look again at the breathtaking story of our Messiah – the One who can (and will) satisfy our deepest longings.


40/40 Vision

Adapted from

40/40 Vision:
Clarifying Your Mission for Midlife

by Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty
from Intervarsity Press

ORDER NOW

 

(f)Utility

November 12, 2015 — 1 Comment

sandcastleShe was giddy, shouting across the golden sand as she raced down the beach. “Daddy, come quick!” I had just arrived in Newport Beach, California, and Lili was more than a little enthusiastic. The sun was setting in a breathtaking haze of purples and golds. Not wanting to waste a second of remaining light, we hastily tossed our shoes, rolled up our jeans, and sprinted into the waves.

At six the next morning, Lili was in her bathing suit and ready to go again. We were the first two people to feel the morning dew on our feet and see the foam collecting in whirlpools on the shore. Learning to surf proved far more difficult than anticipated, and so in lieu of riding waves, we decided to build a sandcastle. With just a few basic tools, we built the most magnificent castle ever. It had a central fortress almost as tall as my daughter, which was guarded by thick, well-constructed walls. Every other castle ever constructed looked paltry by comparison.

As the morning wore on and my skin turned a stupid shade of tomato, I noticed the tide coming in. Lili and I had taken pains to build our castle far from the destructive waves, but apparently I underestimated the water’s reach every bit as much as the sun’s rays.

Hours of work were under imminent threat.

As one wave washed dangerously close, Lili pleaded, “Daddy, we need to build thicker walls!” We worked furiously as the unrelenting waves lapped closer and closer. But finally a single wave breached the outer wall, causing a side of the sandcastle to collapse. With greater urgency, Lili shouted, “Quick, Daddy, we need to dig a moat!”

It took exactly one more wave to fill our moat to overflowing. We were no match for the mighty Pacific. Everything was reduced to short, soggy mounds. Sadly, Lili sighed, “Daddy, it’s all gone.”

As silly as it sounds, I had truly yearned to save that castle. Not that I expected it to last forever, but Lili and I had made a moment, and I wanted it to last.

What happens to castles of sand also happens to castles of steel. Our greatest works are subject to ruin.

How many bulletproof business plans, ironclad deals, and rock-hard bodies have melted before a wave? Fast or slow, the tide is coming in. And when it does, it will erase virtually all evidence of our ever being here.

In the immediate aftermath of our passing, someone will say something like, “Gone but not forgotten.” It’s a nice sentiment. But after a few more swells of everyday living, even memories of the dead fade away.

So we’re left with a key question: What’s the point of living if everything is dying? Can our fleeting lives leave enduring legacies?

This is precisely what led to Solomon’s frustration expressed in the book of Ecclesiastes. Through all his considerable strengths, he was trying to make enduring marks on the world. But it was futile. The sands of time and the cycles of nature erased them all.

But what if instead of leading to frustration, the brevity of our lives was a call to consider what we spend our lives building?

What if brevity made us look further and higher for meaning? What if it caused us to let go of our tightfisted grip on the things which don’t ultimately matter?

When we learn to “number our days,” my guess is that we live, love, build, and serve differently.


40/40 Vision

Adapted from

40/40 Vision:
Clarifying Your Mission for Midlife

by Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty
from Intervarsity Press

ORDER NOW

The Snake Oil of Charity

September 23, 2015 — 2 Comments

If anyone tells you there are easy answers to poverty, brokenness, and injustice, they’re probably selling you snake oil.

medicine_bottle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snake oil gained wild popularity among 19th-century laborers working on the U.S.’s First Transcontinental Railroad and desperate for relief from their muscle and joint pain. While there is legitimate evidence indicating that oil from certain sea snakes in Asia are actually effective in relieving pain, it’s highly unlikely that the kinds sold to those unsuspecting railroad workers contained it. Despite this, convincing (but negligent) traveling salesmen jumped on the bandwagon, peddling knock-off elixirs and miraculous remedies—claiming to heal everything from hiccups to hearing loss—without disclosure of what they contained or why they worked. An entire industry, based on bottled, over-hyped solutions, was born.

It might feel easy to blame these slippery salesmen. How could they possibly think that something as complex as a person’s health could be trusted to a single solution?

But the truth is, we become peddlers of our own version of snake oil when we claim that a single approach or organization offers a universal remedy to the world’s brokenness.

I discovered this anew, not through my international work in poverty alleviation, but as my family has become involved in Safe Families, a ministry providing respite care for children. The program serves as a safety net, offering parents dealing with the challenges of drug addiction, domestic abuse, incarceration, or illness, an alternative to foster care for their children.

It’s a powerful program, and through it, we’ve gotten to know courageous parents and precious children. It’s also given us a glimpse into just how complex and difficult these situations are.

Addiction is strong.

Poverty is real.

Violence is crushing.

Sin is pervasive.

We love these kids, and when they return to their families, the current crisis might have abated yet very significant challenges remain. Our hearts have broken, and we find ourselves longing for lasting solutions.

But seeing these situations firsthand, we’ve also learned just how crazy it would be to assume there is one simple fix to all of them. When you’re up close and the problems become personal, you see the shades and the nuance. You see how sometimes there is real progress, and sometimes situations don’t seem to change. You get glimpses of hope and moments of despair. Life is complicated, and you realize there are no easy answers. That’s why we support the respite program we’re a part of, and we recognize how essential it is for there to also be detox programs, job placement training, housing assistance, local church support, and other aspects of help.

I’m passionate about Safe Families and equipping churches to serve as havens of rest for families in crisis. I’m also passionate about microenterprise development and helping families start or expand businesses to provide for their own needs. But seeing the brokenness and complexity, it’s clear that neither are perfect or complete solutions.

There are no “Three Easy Steps” to the significant problems of our world, and the complexity of the situations makes me realize how thankful I am for a hope that is secure. We trust that God is at work bringing healing and wholeness—and we celebrate the glimpses of grace breaking into even the most challenging situations. We leap even more fully into the brokenness, as imperfect people loving and serving others through imperfect solutions, but guided by our perfect Savior.