Thursday, July 24, 2014

Trippin' and Transformed

Jesus Movement baptism at Corona Del Mar in the 1960s.
Last night, my friend and I went to The Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena to hear "Trippin' the Sixties featuring Barry McGuire and John York.

Unfortunately York, who used to play with the Byrds, had to perform solo at the last minute. Just before he was supposed to appear onstage, McGuire ended up in the ER due to heart problems.

Despite being almost 70 years old, York rocked it, but I still missed McGuire and hope he recovers quickly. Who can ever forget his mega-hit "Eve of Destruction?" But even more memorable for me is his story of transformation during the Jesus Movement

A lifestyle that led to the death of 16 of McGuire's friends through drug overdose, suicide and sexually transmitted diseases deepened his quest for truth and led him into a life-altering relationship with Jesus Christ. “Freedom is good, but freedom without rules will kill you,” McGuire said, comparing life to the vehicle code. “If you throw the rules away, you’re going to kill yourself and somebody else. There’s a road code for life, and it’s basically the 10 commandments. The two greatest commands, to love God and others, sum up all the rest.”

When I got tired of the quest for freedom without rules and all the pain and suffering that lifestyle created I, too, entered a relationship with Jesus and experienced a similar transformation. Paul's words in Roman's 12: 1 & 2 challenge me, along with every other Christian, to offer myself as:
a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Reading God's Word and growing in a personal relationship with Him is why I care about human trafficking. Without Jesus I would be too consumed with my own pleasure to bother. However, being a Christ follower doesn't leave me that option. I have no choice but to care about my neighbors, perhaps especially those at risk for being trafficked due to the underlying causes of  poverty, ideology, relationships, human rights, and orphans. It's not an option to continue seeking my own pleasure with no regard for my neighbors near and far.

Andrew Murray in his excellent commentary on Hebrews speaks about the necessity of shifting our priorities from pleasing ourselves to pleasing God.
"He learned obedience, and being perfected became to all them that obey Him the cause of eternal salvation." [Heb. 5:8-9, emphasis Murray's] Our obedience is as indispensable as His. As little as He could work out salvation without obedience, can we enjoy it. In us, as much as in Him, obedience is the very essence of salvation (p. 211).
It's obedience by Christians that makes prayer effective (see James 5:16). It's obedience that guides us into the answers we need for a world on the eve of destruction. It's obedience that can eradicate human trafficking and the misery it causes. Only as lives are transformed in every sphere of society can the body of Christ make a significant difference. How are we being transformed, and what difference does it make? That's a question worth considering.

Note: Barry posted the following on Facebook:
Well, it's finally happened. For years I've been saying that this year is my last year for public appearances, and then that year goes by, and I say, "Well next year's my last year." But last night at Bob Stane's Coffee Gallery when John York and I got into our sound check, I started feeling a heavy burning sensation in my upper esophagus and down into my respiratory system. Some dear friends drove us straight to the hospital where I spent the night being poked and prodded, squeezed and tweezed, stabbed and jabbed until they finally ruled out the possibility of a heart attack. My blood pressure is perfect 120/80, my blood sugar level is perfect, my oxygen blood level is perfect and there were no heart attack enzymes in my blood. BUT, my body is telling me it's time to stop so stopping I am. My last public appearance was at the Acoustic Music San Diego sponsored by Carey Driscoll. I didn't know it at the time but I know it now. So if you've never seen me live on stage…hahaha, you've missed your chance.
 We can be confident that God has plans to keep Barry trippin' for the Lord.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Messy Miseries in Kampala Orphanages

Around the world, human traffickers exploit orphans in horrendous ways. These innocent children (and their families) need protection. In this guest post, my former neighbor Paul Brethen, founder and director of Net for Hope in Kampala, Uganda, describes this abuse and tells how Christians can insure that they are helping, not hurting, these children.

Early one morning a board member from Net for Hope Foundation came to me and said that a former volunteer at one of our projects in the urban slums was arrested for sexually abusing the children in his orphanage. I knew this young man who used to teach children at our school how to dance. He was good even to the point of winning competitions and getting a lot of public recognition. The community praised him for what appeared to be a wonderful thing.

He left the school and started his own organization and opened an orphanage. He took vulnerable children from the slums to exploit them for his own personal gain. He convinced the parents of 50 children to let them live in his orphanage saying they would be cared for, receive an education, and a better life then in the slums of Katanga. Most poverty stricken-families see this as a welcome opportunity to give their child a chance. Only it was a lie that led to misery and greater harm than good. Often these children are exploited and abused to raise funds for the unscrupulous to get rich on.

This kind of deception works. People have sympathy for poor orphaned children whose parents have died and left homeless to survive on the streets. Sponsoring such children bodes well with donors who feel compelled to provide support. But such sponsorships can be a big scam.

There are three things you should know about sponsoring children in orphanages. First, check to see if the organization is registered and certified by the local government. In Kampala the Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development is now requiring that all orphanages meet specific standards of care and transparency. They are routinely checked and if not up to standards are shut down. If an orphanage is not registered, avoid it.

Secondly, request the year-end record of accounts regarding distribution of funds and expenses from the organization. Many illegitimate organizations don't keep financial records. If they don't have them, don't donate. The funds may be paying for personal cars, land, furniture, frivolous things that have nothing to do with helping children. Often these children are barely kept alive with one simple meal a day, little clothing, no education or medical care even when donors are providing the money for them.

Lastly, and this is a bit more tricky, but perhaps it's also the most important--unannounced onsite visits. Someone independent of the organization needs to show up and check the conditions of the orphanage and the well-being of the children. Unanticipated visits can reveal a lot. The young man abusing the children would arrange scheduled site visits to avoid donors from knowing about each other, prep the kids to look well kept and clean up the place. Because he knew when people were coming, he could make sure the children were ready. To ensure their cooperation, he terrorized the children by threatening to kill them if they told the truth about what was really going on. Even more he'd beat a child mercilessly in front of all of them to show how serious he was about carrying out his threats.

During the unscheduled visit, requesting and receiving the background records of the children will verify that they are orphans. Still that can be misleading. The young man mentioned above falsified all the records to make it appear that the children had no parents. In Uganda, 85 percent of the children have at least one parent. This was the case for all 50 of these kids. Those who didn't have immediate family to care for them, had extended family willing to take them in.

The good news is that the exploitation of children in orphanages is becoming more public. Policies are being considered and restriction of international adoptions have reduced the number of scams in developing countries. Remember money has been the motivation to exploit and abuse the innocent, so become a wise giver and don't be fooled with flashy websites, sympathetic pictures, and cries for help. By doing your homework, you'll be giving in ways that make a genuine difference.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Amidst the Fireworks of Hobby Lobby and Undocumented Children

Phew! The reactions to the Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby this past week have been intense. Some are convinced there's a war on women. The desire of family-held corporations to uphold the moral convictions they built their businesses by makes far more sense to others.

Simultaneously heated protests have been taking place in Murietta as hundreds of undocumented children are being bussed into California for processing. For some the idea of young people with no means of support being released on street corners is frightening; the challenges for meeting their needs, daunting. Yet some want to show these kids compassion by giving them a warm welcome.

Christians are voicing their views on both sides of these issues and respectful dialogue seems appropriate as we celebrate freedom in the United States of America. From the foundation of our government, the freedom to voice our beliefs and act upon them  has been something we've considered worth fighting for. America's founding fathers didn't hesitate to express their faith in Almighty God as they explained how important He is to this country's well-being. Benjamin Franklin requested prayers at the Constitutional Convention saying:
The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this Truth--that God governs in the affairs of Men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We've been assured in the sacred writings that unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel."
Jedidiah Morse, the father of American geography (and Samuel Morse), agreed:
To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. . . . Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.
So did the first Chief-Justice, John Jay:
The Bible is the best of all books, for it is the word of God and teaches us the way to be happy in this world and in the next. Continue therefore to read it and to regulate your life by its precepts.
Their words contain sound advice for today and reveal principles necessary for Christians to incorporate if they are going to meet the 7 challenges identified by Transform World. The same thing that united our country from it's earliest days can still unite believers. The authority of Almighty God is far greater than our differences. It's in knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior that the Holy Spirit can bring us together to examine various positions on an issue and work through our differences to find the answers, particularly when it comes to the underlying issues of human trafficking.

If God values life in the womb, and the Bible says He does (see Gen. 49:25, Judges 13:5, Job 31:15, Ps .139:13, Gal. 1:15),  then determining to value every human being from conception to the grave should be the place to start. That's a foundational truth for everything else. It tells girls and boys, no matter how rotten their lives are, they are valuable. That's true for undocumented children as well. These precious kids are so vulnerable--the best place for them is within the protection and care of their own families. We've long adhered to the belief that children removed from their homes for safety purposes should be reunited with their families as soon as possible. That raises many complex questions and concerns, and believers talking rationally and respectfully can be empowered by the Holy Spirit to find the best solutions in a fallen world. Maybe such discussions would help not only those from other countries learn how to deal with problems such as gangs and violence, but us who live here in this country as well.

In Murietta yesterday, two believers on opposite sides of the issues evidently found the necessary common ground to ease their differences and promote dialogue. The Daily Bulletin reported that after 10 minutes of yelling at one another, Debbie (no age given) convinced Ryan Patterson (22 yrs. old) that she wasn't a racist. Then they decided to agree to disagree. "We're both Christians, though, so we agree on something important," said Patterson. Debbie said "she'd made a new friend." Though Patterson wasn't so sure, the best case scenario would be if they would listen to each other and keep talking.

Collaborative teamwork--what a difference it makes. True leadership generates the ability to work through conflicts. Christians should be modeling the way by having the courage to hear and value the insights of others. For far too long, we've followed the poor example of egocentric politicians who shut down conversation and determine to do things their own way regardless of the consequences. That's not how you achieve "buy in." It's when people participate and know someone is paying attention, that someone genuinely appreciates their input. That's also when individuals most see Jesus.

Almighty God gives true freedom, and that's what His children need to demonstrate when it comes to the social justice issues (Galatians 5:1, 13-16-25). No longer locked in our self-bound souls, we've been empowered by the Holy Spirit  with strength enough to be gentle and kind. We can demonstrate self-control no matter how convinced we are that our views are right. Love and goodness involve truth so that must be the goal--to find the truths about how to best love others as ourselves. By doing so we reveal the kind of freedom that makes a nation great. May God bless America.