Saturday, June 28, 2014

Learning to Work With Orphans: Who Me?

Photo by Yolanda Shively
When it comes to orphans, I feel like I'm in a vast wasteland--cold and harsh with far too many nameless faceless children with far too many needs. It might be easier to turn my back on the problem, but I can't. These are the kids most at risk for being trafficked. And, someone needs to do something to keep that from happening. So, I'm trying to figure out what's my responsibility.

God's Word says it's up to His people and that includes me. There are no exclusions. Psalm 82:3 & 4 says to "Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked."

No one need deliverance from their plight more than orphans. Yet the "orphan challenge" is daunting.  Current estimates by UNICEF total 153 million children who have lost either one or both parents. According to information supplied by A World Without Orphans, these kids "live throughout the world--from war-torn Sudan to poverty stricken India, from transitioning Ukraine to affluent nations in Europe and North America. If we brought all these children together they would comprise the 7th largest nation in the world--a veritable 'Orphan Nation.'"

And, this year there's a new class of orphans in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of undocumented children flooding into the U.S. without their parents. These orphans join those already here in our already overburdened foster care system--approximately 1/2 million kids whose families for whatever reason can't care for them or don't want them. The problems may be related to poverty, drugs, gang affiliations, and sexual abuse. Whatever the case may be, these children have been rendered orphans despite having parents who are alive. And this exacts a heavy toll on their emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. Understanding that raises far more questions than answers, especially for Christians. These issues are not nearly so much about government policies as they are about the best solutions for the well-being of these precious children.

Only a sovereign God knows those answers. That's why people in every sphere of society need to be personally transformed in such a way that they are being directed by the Spirit of the living God. Some children may need one thing; others another. Each answer may be as unique as the individual child.

To understand the issues takes increasing awareness. Knowledge is power, and the more people know, the better they can do their part to contribute to viable solutions. The book Orphanology: Awakening to Gospel-Centered Adoption and Orphan Care by Tony Merida and Rick Morton makes a strong biblical case for adoption. The authors base their admirable views on the principles that because God adopted us, those who can should adopt orphans. After reading about little 3-year-old Beniam living on the streets in Ethiopia and thinking about my empty bedrooms, I started considering what God might require of me. Seeing the statistic that 70 percent of unadopted girls [in the Ukraine] end up in prostitution and 80 percent of the boys end up in a life of crime disturbed me almost as much.

The authors, who have adopted 8 children between them, pose the question "why not adopt?" However, they don't really answer it so there's almost an implication that everyone should, and maybe so. At the same time, according to AARP  I'm a senior citizen. My life is already pretty full with work I believe God called me to do. I rather doubt He would have me set that aside to raise another family, especially considering my income. Though Merida and Morton provide some good ideas for how people like me can get involved with assisting others to adopt--a Facebook friend, who works with orphans in Uganda held up a red flag that also needs serious consideration.

Mark Riley is an alternative care consultant with the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development in Kampala. The first response on their website points to a solution for many of the kids in Uganda and perhaps many of the undocumented children coming into the U.S. as well: "Keep the family together." It seems one of the most challenging aspects of adoption is making sure orphans are not being unduly taken away from the family members and communities that want to be caring for them. In many cases using funds to supply resources to those families could make all the difference. In addition with so many international adoptions, there is an increasing risk of traffickers deceiving poor families while promising that their children will have the good life in America, then selling those children to unscrupulous adoption agencies for well-intentioned believers.

One option the authors of Orphanology proposed was for Christians to volunteer in orphanages and while at first glance this seems like a great idea, it, too, has potential for traffickers. Discerning good from evil isn't easy and that's why Transform World calls the body of Christ to work together on solutions. Holding unity in high regard, especially in the face of conflict and intense dedication, can spark the creativity and wisdom necessary to create best practices.

A World Without Orphans is working to facilitate this type of teamwork. By learning about the orphan challenge and working together to find solutions, the light of Christ's love will shine into the orphan wasteland bringing hope, laughter, the love of Jesus, and justice to the children and their families. Everyone can play a role in an orphan child's well-being by being better informed especially according to biblical values. More on some of these issues will be coming soon. Subscribers will receive new posts by email. And if you have some thoughts on this topic, we'd love to hear them.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Undocumented Children--A Christian Response

Photo by Katie Martinez
 When I see problems as huge as the ones faced by the young undocumented children coming into this country without the care or supervision of their parents, my first response is anger directed toward the system that created such a dangerous situation.

My second thought is that the government, which promoted these policies must change them

Both of those responses leave me frustrated and overwhelmed because I want to make a difference but feel helpless. The problems are too big, and I am too small. That's when it helps to sit back and remember who I am.

I may be impotent, but Jesus Christ transformed my life and He created the universe. Rather than expecting the government to right the wrongs, I need to look to Jesus, the Cross, and the Holy Spirit to help me take on our Creator's perspective. That means keeping the big picture in mind without any denial. Unless Christians really step it up by getting involved, the reality of this situation has consequences that will last for generations--not only for our country, but for the individual children involved. An article from the American Psychological Association has this to say about why we must be concerned about these kids:

 "We should care because their opportunities and potential for success are frequently limited, but more importantly, the discrimination, isolation and fear that they go through should not be experienced by any child or adolescent in our society. We should care because the discrimination, isolation,and fear that undocumented youth go through should not be experienced by any child or adolescent in our society [sic]. These children have limited opportunities and potential for success. Many of these youth drop out of school and become disaffected, continuing the cycle of poverty."

The APA is defining the obstacles for children who came here with their parents. They even exist among those kids who work hard and excel, yet continue to live in uncertainty and fear for the future.

No matter how well-meaning, there's no society on the planet that can support an unlimited influx of children and provide them with everything they need for success. No nation I'm aware of even does that for the children born in their own country. In the U.S. our foster care system is saturated with kids who desperately need a forever family that genuinely cares for their needs and raises them to be successful. Rather many kids are often so abused and misunderstood they leave home to live on the streets.

So what chance do those have who are coming into this country without parents to guide, nurture, and support them. Increasingly we must be concerned about their potential victimization. Maybe that was a possibility in the countries they came from, but at least there, they had their families. Here most of them will have no protectors, no one who cares, especially once they age out of the system and those who are 17 are already on the brink of that. Gangs can easily enlist boys by giving them a sense of family. In an oversexualized culture, the girls can easily become a commodity to be sold.

If I see the image of God in my neighbors--and these kids are our neighbors--I must care about their well-being. The thought of that is huge; their needs are so BIG. But so is our God. And, He calls us to love, even our enemies. And these are not our enemies; they are children. If they'd been born here, they might have gone to summer camp and sat in that huge pink chair sharing secrets and giggling about silly things. Instead they might be housed in a summer camp but only until the legitimate residents come. Then these children will be transported to less desirable, sometimes even deplorable conditions. If I were one of them, that scenario alone would make me angry and all the more vulnerable to gang members and traffickers.

Compassion stirs as I try to put myself in the sandals of one of these children. Believers who see with Christ's eyes will find ways to help. We can start with prayer to open doors for faith-based groups to have access to these children. We can pray for their guards and the federal employees that God will give them opportunities to spread a message of hope about how these children are precious, loved beyond measure, and have a Heavenly Father far bigger than their circumstances. And we can pray that as government is increasingly overwhelmed that they will turn to the faith-based community as the counties in So. California have with abolitionist efforts.

That brings to mind what may be a good place to start--with freedom bags such as those distributed to modern-day slaves who are rescued by the police. (Yes, they are considered victims to rescue.) Put together by Traffick Free Pomona (TFP), freedom bags effectively show the disenfranchised and everyone in the community--from the service clubs to city hall to the schools and beyond--that Christians care. Including a Bible offers the young recipient the comfort and hope of God's Word. These bags have been such a practical help that TFP has been asked to supply them in Riverside, San Bernardino, and LA counties. Sometimes they need dozens at a time.

There are as many ways to help with this situation as there are professions. God has a way of turning the world's problems into His opportunities. That's why Transform LA/Transform USA/Transform World calls the body of Christ to personal transformation through Jesus. So that whatever sphere they are working in--be it social workers, healthcare workers, cafeteria workers, security guards or something else--that they will be able to share the Good News of Jesus. Hope comes as Christians show those who are unwanted anywhere else that they matter, they have a purpose, and they can make a difference in the world--whether it's in Central America, or in the U.S.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Thousands of Undocumented Kids Being Dumped in Warehouses and on the Streets

At this point I've heard nothing beautiful about this situation. It's a crisis in the making--one that goes far beyond physical needs and it's on its way into every neighborhood. With all I've learned about human trafficking, perhaps nothing sickens me like the recent reports of the thousands of children coming unescorted into this country. Already in Arizona, hundreds of kids are packed into warehouses with inadequate food, medical care, or other basic necessities. Evidently chain-link fences enclose these precious children in conditions quite similar to those during Hurricane Katrina. Yet maybe it's even worse because these kids came to America without their parents.

I can't help but wonder about their supervision? Who is caring for these kids? Children as young as nine have crossed the border alone without proper documentation, afraid of the authorities, and likely unable to speak the language. In some cases (such as for those from Guatemala), it is said they fear gang violence--although it is also reported that is not true. In America, however, these children really do need to fear gangs involved with modern-day slavery. And there is little doubt that is true and that the kids are like sheep being led into the wolves' den.

Unsupervised illegal immigrant kids are a problem ripe for human traffickers to exploit. Especially because some of those children may soon be bussed to cities around the country and dumped on street corners where everything will be overwhelming and foreign. And they will have no means to support themselves. Traffickers will appear all the more charming as they groom these children for life in the sex trade.

According to Doug McIntyre, a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News, "When President Obama announced a moratorium on the deportation of children, he opened the floodgates. The Associated Press reported last week that U.S. Immigration and Customs Endorcement expects to catch 60,000 children attempting to enter the United States illegally this year, a tenfold increase since 2011." And, that's only the ones being caught. ICE estimates that only 1 out of 5 is taken into custody. The rest (perhaps as many as 300,000) are on their own.

So apart from meeting the physical needs of these children--the ones who are caught--my question is who is going to parent these kids? Who is going to nurse them when they are sick?
Teach them values? Protect them from danger? 

Welcome to Port Huenme.     Within the next week or so this problem comes to a 42,000 sq. foot.building located at the naval base in Ventura County, California. To read some reports makes it
sound like going to summer camp. However my understanding is that an estimated 600 kids will initially arrive at a facility intended for 570. And, I'd bet more will follow.  I'd like to know where is  FEMA getting all the supposed "sponsors" and have adequate background checks been performed? Who is giving oversight and instruction to these kids and who is paying for it? Even more, who is comforting those that are scared and homesick? If we can't manage our own foster care system--and it's well-documented that we can't--how on earth does anyone think this is a doable situation. And, we all know how well FEMA did with the aftermath of Katrina. This is another hurricane of horrendous proportions.

 McIntyre reports that President Obama has already "asked Congress for an emergency appropriation of $1.4 billion to house, feed, clothe, and transport the thousands upon thousands of children his policies helped lure across the borders." But the costs will be far greater than that as the problems continue to escalate. And, I'm not talking about the Office of Management and Budget's correction of our president's lowball figure to $2.28 billion.

McIntyre well-said that "the president's policies actively encourage thousands of parents in Mexico, Central and South America--even parents from as far away as Finland--to roll the dice on their children's lives by handing them over to coyotes often employed by the world's most notorious drug cartels." Anyone involved in the abolition of human trafficking knows the lure for poor families to send their kids to America where they'll receive an education. Many of these kids will end up not in warehouses but as modern-day slaves.

The children who get caught by the U.S. government will likely be the lucky ones even if they are warehoused until they come of age. And then they'll be put out on the street with no one to protect them. Unless maybe people decide to get involved. Any ideas for what we can do? For one, I'm going to start making noise with my elected officials, and I won't stop until things change. What else? How can we help make it a beautiful day in the neighborhood?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Wanted: A Dog's Life

Some dogs have it pretty good. Quite often I see pics of puppies that need adopting on Facebook and in large measure it seems as though people step in to give these sweet creatures a home. Some of my friends even work in shelters making sure these animals are given proper care and a loving forever family.

Sadly most, of the 147 million orphans around the globe don't have it so good. In the United States, girls from foster homes are the prime target for gangs. As girls run away or age out of the system, they usually don't have any way to support themselves. This combined with the reality that gang members are rapidly turning to human trafficking because they can make more money from these vulnerable kids than they can from drugs, makes our nation a breeding grounds for modern-day slavery. Opal Singleton, President and CEO of Million Kids has a message that should motivate all of us to get involved in our communities to protect these children.

The problem is so overwhelming that county governments in Southern California are asking for faith-based organizations to get involved. If battered and abused animals break our hearts, shouldn't Christians be even more inclined to reach out to children whose bodies are being sold over and over again? Kids who are raped, beaten, and convinced no one cares need to know Jesus loves them and  they are far more valuable than a family pet.

We can't all bring these kids into our homes, but we can all do something. Education is the place to start. Please watch Opal's message and consider ways you might help.