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.

Standing in the Synagogue

I have spent the week traveling through South Asia with Love146 seeing first-hand the horrors of human trafficking, meanwhile the Advent season of rejoicing at the coming of baby Jesus is upon us. Reading through the Christmas story, I am forced to reconcile the two, and I am reminded of when Jesus first presented Himself publicly in his role as Messiah.

img_2967Jesus was in Nazareth, his home town, and as was his custom, he went to synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read, and he was handed the scroll of Isaiah. He read, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim liberty for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind. He sent me to set free the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:18-19). And then Jesus sat down. If this was the end of the story, it might well had been enough, for all who were listening understood the prophecies about the coming Messiah, and they understood that Jesus was implying He was the one the passage was speaking about. But, as if to remove any ambiguity, Jesus adds, “Today this prophecy is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).

The people sitting in the synagogue that day had been waiting for the king who would come inaugurate God’s kingdom. They weren’t expecting that one of their own, from Nazareth, would be that king. Instead, what God initiated with Jesus’ ministry was the overturning of the existing power system. He came to redeem the world, but not in the way that they had been expecting. Instead of a powerful ruler, He chose to reveal his character as Restorer and Deliverer, and eventually as a Suffering Servant. God understood that proclamation of His new kingdom wasn’t enough, but in love, He chose to demonstrate it by liberating captives and giving sight to the blind. This would be no ordinary human kingdom.

However, that year of the Lord’s favor He spoke about, the jubilee, has still not been fully accomplished. There will come a day when Jesus will finish the work that was begun and make everything right again, and this in between time is where we exist. We live in tension between what has begun and what will be. Russel Moore, in his book, “Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel” explains, “So if Jesus does not yet rule over the world, where does he rule? He rules, in the present age, over his church (Eph. 1:22–23). The church is a signpost of God’s coming kingdom (Eph. 3:10), a preview to the watching world of what the reign of God in Christ is to look like, a colony of the kingdom coming” (Moore pg 59).img_2968

And so, the question for us becomes, what do we do with that gap, the intermittent time when the kingdom has begun but isn’t fully accomplished?

Rob Morris, founder of Love146, asks us to imagine taking the synagogue that Jesus stood in and placing it in the middle of the red light district of Bangkok. What would it look like to overturn a power system of brutality and abuse that is the lucrative industry of trafficking? What would it look like to stand on the streets of Bangkok and declare all captives free?

img_0358Just as Jesus was rejected in Nazareth, you can imagine the outcry. But, this is the mission of the church. As the body of Christ, we are called to proclaim the new and righteous Kingdom of God. We must be willing to stand in the synagogues of the red light districts, the synagogues of the slums, the synagogues of the elite and powerful, and like Jesus, declare that we have come to inaugurate a new and a better way. We declare a way that is filled with love and mercy and justice and freedom and goodness and life. We demonstrate a Kingdom that values each and every life, where there is forgiveness and release from the darkness. We bring to fulfillment a Kingdom where broken hearts are healed, mourning is turned into dancing, where the blind can see and all tears are wiped away.

If we believe in this Kingdom, we must, like Jesus, be willing to be Restorers and Deliverers, and if we believe in this Kingdom, we must be courageous enough to demonstrate this gospel message in the synagogues of this world’s dark places. And finally, in this Christmas season, we must embrace His story as one that goes well beyond that of the simple nativity.

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.

What Really Exists in Bangkok’s Red Light Districts

What Really Exists in Bangkok’s Red Light Districts

Disclaimer: This post is not for the faint hearted.

Last night, Rob Morris, founder and President of Love 146, an anti-human trafficking organization, took me through the Red Light Districts of Bangkok. As you can imagine, all sorts of perversity and depravity exist in these dark places. Areas like this exist in all cities, but people from all over the world visit Bangkok specifically to experience the sex tourism industry here.

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As we walked through Nana Plaza and Patpong Bizarre, there was a jovial air around us, like we were walking through a grand party and celebration. Girls scantily clothed, and in some cases, not really covered at all, smiled sweetly to us and urged us to enter their establishments. Many of them wore numbers so they could be easily picked by the men who wanted them. Street vendors approached us with menus for whatever your perverted dreams might imagine. On the surface, it seems harmless, women choosing to offer a service to these men in order to survive. It might not be what we would chose, but life is hard. However, we know what lies beyond the fake facade. We know that an innocent young girl would never chose to enter such a lifestyle filled with horrors and abuse. We know that they are required to meet a quota every night and that she fears what might happen if she doesn’t make it. A man’s t-shirt in Patpong Bizzarre summed it up this way, “God’s busy. Can I help you?” And with no other means to survive and no one else to turn to, girls all across the globe fall prey to the powerful people who can provide for their needs. That t-shirt says it all for those of us who know that God is not ever too busy to care for those He loves, but what about His church? Have we been too busy?

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As we completed the rounds through the red light districts, Rob took us to one more bizarre. We walked through one more street, and this street nearly was the end of me. Signs advertising “Fresh Boys and Hot Males” lit up the street. Young boys sat outside waiting for customers, smiling at us, and like the women earlier, invited us into their establishments. Some of them were dressed up like beautiful women, and a man walking with a cane greeted these boys. Old men sat among them, having the desires of their flesh met and growing in intensity. And, my heart broke. I saw an old man lean in and kiss a boy, and I saw the excitement run over his face and he smiled. I wanted to run from the street as fast as I could. And I remembered that God also sees such things. 

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This was the first time I have seen evil in this capacity. I have seen a lot of things, talked with prostitutes, and felt the darkness of evil in these places. However, this was a new experience for me, and as hard as it was to see it, I wondered how God’s heart must handle this night after night, day by day, all across the globe. It is in these situations that I am thankful for God’s hatred of the evildoer. I am thankful for his love of justice. Psalm 10 teaches much about the evil intentions of those who prey on the innocent, “He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net” (Ps 10:8-9). I think about the net that these boys and girls have been entrapped in. It forces me to cry out to God like the Psalmist, “Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted… you have been the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none” (Ps 10:12, 14a-15).

Yes, our God is love and mercy and grace. But, He sits on a throne whose very foundation is righteousness and justice (Ps 89″14). And if you have ever doubted the existence of evil in our world, let me assure you that it is alive and thriving today.