What Happens When We Listen

Listening to people has become a lost art. Hearing people’s stories and understanding their experiences teaches us more about the world, and ultimately more about God. Empathy allows us to build bridges of understanding between people from drastically different backgrounds, and ultimately, when we take the time to listen, we realize that most of us really want the same things in life. So, when the women at Parkway Fellowship went to help and share tea with the women at Prestige Learning Institute, I was not surprised that despite their different cultures, they were able to find things in common. The refugee women, many who are Muslim, were open to sharing their stories of loss.

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Jennifer Fields was one woman who went. She shares honestly that she had never been interested in other cultures, and since the beginning of terrorist attacks in America and the heightened awareness of immigration from Middle-Eastern countries, she has been quite closed-minded toward those who don’t speak English and dress differently. Jennifer, like many people, had a lot of fear in regards to Muslim people.

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However, that changed for her when she sat at the table with women from Afghanistan, Guatemala and Bangladesh. She happened to sit next to a woman who began to cry because she was so homesick and knew very little English. Though communication wasn’t easy, they were able to understand each other’s pain. Jennifer lives here in Texas without her family, and so she felt her loneliness. She says, “That moment was the moment my mind changed and I began to see these women as real human beings and not just a statistical news report. “

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Laura Townsend was another woman who went to just simply love on these women who have lost so much. She shared that at first it did seem quite awkward. It was hard to sit and have tea when we didn’t even speak the same language. However, towards the end of tea, one woman and Laura just happened to lock eyes, and the woman headed straight over to Laura. She wanted to share her story. The woman began to tell of how her husband had worked with the American Security Forces in Afghanistan, and it was no longer safe for them there. Her family had to leave, and she, her husband, and her young children were granted asylum in America. However, she has children that were older, and they were not immediately granted the same status here. They have to do their own paperwork. And so the woman began to tell Laura all about her family; how one daughter is about to get married and she will not be able to attend and how another is about to have her first grandchild. This was when those bridges of understanding began to be built. Having children of her own, Laura could sympathize with a woman who was cut off completely from the life of her grown children and soon to be grandchildren.

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Jennifer, Laura and many of the other woman learned that though we seem to be so drastically different, we all long for similar things. A mother desires to see her daughter married. A grandmother longs to hold her grandchild, and being away from home is lonesome. Listening to other people’s stories and understanding their experiences helps us to see the faces behind the statistic or the new article, and instead to see the person that God created them to be.

Speaking Up for The Oppressed

I am proud to be part of a church that cares deeply for the oppressed. The people of Parkway Fellowship were working towards ending human trafficking before I even came along. They have been a tremendous financial supporter of the global organization, Love 146, and they have had a task force for several years that would support the work of Love 146 here in Houston. This shared passion for the trafficked victim has made transitioning into my role as Missions Pastor easier here. Last Saturday, I was honored to be part of our church as we received The Abolitionist Award from Love 146.

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Having earlier handed Matthew Miller, Rob Morris, and Steve Martin of Love 146 a hefty check on behalf of Parkway, I saw the heartfelt appreciation in their faces. These men know where this money will go and what it can do. They have looked into the eyes of girls and boys who have sold their bodies in order to buy food for their families. They have provided hope and a future to children who otherwise would have none. On a week when our sermon series was called, Speak Up, they knew that this money would go to amplifying the voices of these who had previously gone unheard.

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As they presented Mike McGown, our Senior Pastor, with the award, they spoke of Parkway’s value of elaborate generosity. I am so thankful to be amongst people who know how to give. However, we did not only receive the award for the giving of our money, but also for the giving of our time and energy. Just this past January, before the Super Bowl came to town, our hospitality teams visited 32 hotels along the I-10 Interstate. Our dedicated abolitionists understood that the Super Bowl was going to bring in an elevated risk for human trafficking, and so they went out to ask the staff at these hotels to be aware. They left packets of information with red flags to look for, and they left the human trafficking hotline number.

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Bec Blakemore, Jamie Peterson, Michelle Taylor, Katie Braden, Karen Sanders, Troy Hobson and Chesley Combs reported an outstanding outcome! They brought back reports of hotels thanking us and appreciating our work! Katie Braden shared that one hotel manager was so passionate that he was giving her more ideas on how we could have a greater impact. Chesley Combs encountered one hotel manager who said that they had just been talking about needing to train their staff, and all of our teams had hotel staff that asked for more training. Troy Hobson has three daughters who attend Katy ISD schools, and the more he learns about what is happening in our community, the more concerned he becomes.

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Reports of recent arrests during Super Bowl weekend have families in Katy, Richmond, Rosenberg and Fulshear concerned about their children. These hotels right in our area are being used in advertisements as a meeting place. Love 146 is assisting us in being able to provide training for the hotels and their staff. If our work is able to save even one person from becoming a victim of this horrific industry, then it will be well worth it.

Come to Parkway Fellowship this Sunday as we learn how to Speak Up on behalf of those who are trafficked!

A Page from My Journal…

2/3/17

I think a lot about the level of depravity in our world today. I hear about and sometimes see with my own eyes about children who are forced to sell their bodies, repeatedly through out the night hours.  I know sick people around the world tune into internet sites where they can get their depraved needs met by watching children be sexually abused. I know that the hotels around me are filled with people answering ads for underage victims.

 

I hear of babies being thrown in the trash. I know that there are 6000 children waiting in my state for a family to love them. Just waiting… but knowing that if they are 10 years old, they will wait forever – never really knowing what it feels like to belong.

 
I meet families who have been torn apart from ISIS Fighters whose sole goal is to dominate the world and bring on an apocalypse. I see the face of a little boy who was separated from his family and walked for five days in the snow and through the mountains to get to camp where he was reunited with his father. I hear the stories of desperation as they lived a normal life one day and then the next they are watching family and friends get blown to pieces.

 
I walk with people down dark paths as they fight for their children’s lives, and I know multiple stories of children and teens that feel so desperate and lost in this world that they would rather not be in it any longer.

 

And I ask myself, how did I become an expert on the pain and anguish in the world? How am I a messenger of depravity?

 

But then, out of all of that darkness, the phone rings….

 

Kelly, my family wants to adopt one of those 6,000…. And I smile, and I know that there is hope….

There is still hope for this world – in all its darkness. A small flame pierces the darkness and shines even more brightly in the dark than in the night.

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Kelly, I want to go….

Kelly, I want to love…

Kelly, I want to give…

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And we join our lights, carrying our candles out into the darkness, like warriors into the night….

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Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

Baby Rescue

Parkway’s Student Ministry has been visiting and supporting Rich and Michelle Franzen’s ministry, Impact Africa, in Johannesburg, South Africa for several years now. I am excited that Parkway is partnering with Rich to help further their ministry reach and specifically, to care for abandoned children.IMG_0963.JPG I first met Rich before Christmas, while he was here in the States visiting friends and supporters. Rich and his wife have been serving God in missions for over 25 years, and they have built a holistic ministry in Johannesburg that seeks to share the love and truth of Jesus through meeting some of the practical needs of people living in squatter camps.

As estimated 10 million people live in makeshift squatter homes where severe poverty, substance abuse, orphan-related issues, lack of education and HIV-AIDS create dire circumstances for families.

When I met Rich, he passionately told us stories of babies that are abandoned daily, as women have no means to care for them. They leave these babies in dumpsters, chemical toilets and other places. Rich and his wife have been seeking solutions to this problem and have created a Baby Rescue program. They have three “Baby Safes” throughout the city, where mothers can leave the babies safely. baby-safeThese safes have alarms on them so that they are notified when a child is left. They recognized the need to educate the community, and so they have formed teams that will go out into the community and offer pregnancy counseling and practical help to encourage mothers to keep their children or to give them up for adoption. Finally, Rich shared with us that the Lord had led him to build a home to care for these babies after they are abandoned until a forever family can be found for them, but Rich had to take advantage of an opportunity that came his way to purchase and organize this home. Not having full funding yet, he followed God’s leading, took advantage of the opportunity brought before him, and Parkway has come alongside him to finish the funding of the baby home.

The need to care for the fatherless is the church’s role. We will not ignore abandoned children, whether here locally or around the globe. God calls us to intervene in these children’s lives. In Proverbs 31:8-9, He calls us to speak up for the destitute, the poor and the needy. Jesus called all the little children to Him, and this call is for all the children of the world (Mt 19:14, Mk 10:14, Lk 18:16). Would you be willing to ask the Lord where He might be calling you to intervene in the life of a child? Sowing the seeds of eternity into the heart of a child is a worthy endeavor.

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We will have a luncheon this Sunday after the third service (12:30) in the Sandbox at the Westpark Campus where we will identify some ways that you and your family can care for the orphan. In addition, if you are interested in seeing and supporting the work of the Baby Rescue Ministry in South Africa, a trip is planned for the end of April.

Good and Perfect Gifts

Good and Perfect Gifts

I have met so many great families at Parkway Fellowship that have been called by God to love and care for the fatherless. Many of them have been or currently are foster parents, some to as many as thirty different children over the years! Some families have adopted newborns, some older children, some locally, and others from foreign nations. The heart of Parkway families is to care for children, whether they are birthed out of genetics or birthed by the hand of God. James 1:17 tell us “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” These special families recognize that every child is a gift from God, no matter how they are brought to us.

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Kris and James Buescher are one such Parkway family. Three years ago, they brought home their first baby, Stetson. They had started the process to adopt him long before. After struggling to get pregnant, they discerned that God was calling them to adopt. They were paired with a birth mother, and they began to do what they could to support their new child before he was even born.

Kris shared with me that they moved into the birth mother’s apartment in the last weeks to support her. This gave them an opportunity to see the environment that Stetson would have grown up in. Kris is sure that if it had not been for their intervention, Stetson would have little hope of a good future. As they waited with anticipation for their new baby, they held baby showers and celebrations. They shopped and did all the things that new moms and dads do when they are awaiting the birth of their children. buecher-156And then one day, the birth mother just changed her mind and decided that she wanted to keep her baby. Kris and James were devastated, but with the support of their friends, they decided to press on. The birth mother changed her mind back, and as it turns out, this happened seven times before they actually had Stetson. It was a heart wrenching process, and Kris shares that she only had her faith as she had to trust God because it was completely out of her hands and her control. Eventually little Stetson was born, and Kris and James were able to adopt him.

The Buescher’s are so thankful to have Stetson as their son, and desiring to help more children like him, they began a fund to help other families adopt. The Buescher Foundation has helped to place over 37 children in homes in the last two years. You can learn more at www.thebuescherfoundation.org.

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Kris Buescher will be at the Orphan Care Lunch on January 29th at Parkway Fellowship, after the third service at 12:30. Other families who have fostered or adopted will be there as well. If you are interested in learning more about how you can support these families, foster, adopt, or intervene in the life of a child in other ways, please join us on the 29th.

 

 

 

Let THESE Children Come to Me

I had the privilege of meeting in Manila with the Director of Survivor Care for Love146 this week. Dr. Gundelina Velazco is an an astounding woman whose wisdom, compassion, and tenacity runs deep. She was tasked with the formation of Love146’s aftercare program, and she runs both the boys and girls homes in the Philippines. Her strategy of restoration, care and even prevention is remarkable. She believes in children being able to have a voice and believes we as adults have much to learn from the simplicity of a child. It reminds me of how Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me. Do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to those such as these” (Luke 18:16).

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She took us to see the place where many of these children live and are sold every day. It is a grassy block-long plaza in the middle of the city where children live with their families and their belongings. Foreigners come each and every day to pay for a child, take them to the surrounding hotels, do unspeakable things for an hour, and then return them to their home. I recall that I had read a scholar at some point say that when Jesus called the children to him, it is likely that Jesus could have been specifically referring to street children, just like the ones who live at the plaza. And so I envision Jesus standing in the middle of that plaza, arms outstretched, and saying, Let THESE little children come to me. Do not hinder them.” And He reaches out with His strong arms and scoops them up and gives them rest from their weary lives. 

roundhome_panoheaderThis is what Love146 is doing for these children. They are the strong arms of Jesus who have gone to the plaza, called the children to them, and given them a safe place to rest from the horror and trauma that they have experienced. I was privileged to be able to visit this place. It is tucked back into a winding road surrounded by beautiful green tropics. The property is a child’s dream with a huge treehouse, a volleyball court, flowers, and even a farm. The home is a circle with an open garden in the center. But the best part is the beautiful faces of children dancing, singing and playing. 

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I was blessed to be able to spend some time with them and am astounded by their recoveries. The littlest who is 18 months old, is not there because she was a sibling. She is there because she had been sold as well. And the oldest, who had graduated, was there with her new child on a visit. She lives in a different city now, but loves to return. She is blind and was able to learn to read and write in Braille while at the home. She proudly holds her three month old child and never stops smiling. For some of them, recovery will continue for many years, but all of them have this time and place to rest and to be restored. 

Rob Morris, founder and President of Love 146, will be speaking at Parkway Fellowship at all three services on December 11th. If you would like to learn more, come and hear him speak.

Urban Light: Bringing Hope to Forgotten Boys

I have been traveling through Thailand and the Philippines with Rob Morris, founder and President of Love 146. Human trafficking is prevalent and surrounds us at each turn. After talking with Christian workers who are ministering in this region, I began to understand how it can become easy to be overwhelmed at its vastness and feel hopeless. Yet, I am reminded of how Mother Teresa also saw need as a vast ocean, but believed that each small drop within it truly matters and would be missed. I believe that with every drop of hope, this ocean grows a little less bitter and a little sweeter.

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Alezandra Russell, founder of Urban Light, is one such drop of hope. She experienced this ocean of sorrow while on a short term trip to Thailand three years ago. Her group was focused on ministering to girls and women within the sex industry in Thailand, but taking a turn onto a back street that was filled with young boys changed her life forever. She saw young boys who sole purpose was to sexually entertain men, and it haunted her. She knew that she could not turn away and courageously entered one of the establishments and sat down at a table. A young boy, Oi, approached her and urged her to leave, but Alex was determined to stay. Instead, she bought him a coke, and soon all the boys gathered around. She returned to see them day after day, and she would sit and play games and laugh with the boys. But, then her trip ended and she returned home.

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Back in the States, memories wracked her mind, and she could not move on from what she had experienced. She knew that she needed to do something. So, with determination and money from selling her wedding ring (at her husband’s suggestion), she flew back to Thailand, unsure of her next step. She returned to the establishment where she had first met Oi, unsure of whether or not he would actually be there. When she arrived, he was the first person she saw. He told her that he wanted to learn English, and so she began teaching them in a cafe until the owner told her she had to leave. Being persistent, she rented a small room where she began the ministry that is today, Urban Light. 

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Oi works at Urban Light now, but only after paying a high cost from his previous life. He was just released from jail after stealing the equivalent of $60 dollars from a customer. He spent four years in jail for petty theft, while his abuser, a paying customer, walks free. While Oi was in jail, Alezandra drove the two hours necessary to visit him every Wednesday. Her faithfulness to visit Oi week after week demonstrated how deep her love and passion for him ran. He now has a tattoo on his hand that says how much he loves her.

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Urban Light exists to help boys like Oi, and I am thankful for Love146 who came alongside Alezandra to help her get started. Alezandra saw that there was help for the girls and women that were trapped in this industry, but the boys were looked down on and even blamed for their situations. Her organization provides education, meals, transitional housing, and a safe place to belong. The space they are in now is several stories high and is bright and colorful. The boys participate in screen printing, and Alezandra is opening up a shop next year to help fund the ministry. Alezandra energetically demonstrates the gospel message of love, faithfulness, and mercy to these children. She sees the ocean of need, but for her this is all about being a drop of hope for boys like Oi.

*Rob Morris will be speaking at Parkway Fellowship at all three services on December 11th. If you would like to learn more, come and hear him speak.