Sunday, December 19, 2010

Orphans & Trafficking

Back in October, I attended the "Together for Adoption Conference" here in Austin. One of the break out sessions I had registered for was on the topic of "Orphans & Trafficking". I assumed the session was going to be an explanation of why the international adoption process is so full of paperwork, red tape, etc... because countries are trying to protect orphans from being "adopted" by people with mal-intent. But once the session got rolling, I realized that it was about orphans who "age-out" of the system and are highly vulnerable to trafficking because of a complete lack of options to survive.

The simple version of a common story with Russian orphans is that...
  • * they "graduate" from the orphanage at age 15...
  • * they are released from the orphanage in May of that year with papers enrolling them (room & board included) in a technical school in the nearest big town...
  • * they are driven to this nearest big town and dropped off at the school...
  • school doesn't start until fall, and the facilities are closed for the summer...
  • the kids have no where to live, no way to feed themselves...
  • the result: many-- within weeks, if not days-- have been tricked into meeting up with "well-intentioned Good Samaritans" who will "help them", but in fact are wolves in sheep's clothing who then forcefully traffic the kids into slave or sex-slave industry...
  • the end.
How painful is that? And how frustrating... because it could otherwise have such a simple solution: how bout releasing the children in the fall, instead of May. Geez!

The breakout session was led by Tom Davis, the CEO of Children's Hope Chest. One of the hardest things I heard during that session was, "When you go to your orphanage to pick up your kid, all the other faces you leave behind will likely end up as prostitutes because the transition out of the orphanage leaves them vulnerable." OUCH. According to Davis, in countries like Russia, traffickers target kids coming out of orphanages as their #1 supply chain.

At the conference, I purchased a novel Davis wrote called "PRICELESS". The book is a fictional account of the common story of Russian orphans who age out of the system. It takes a deep look at the dark underworld of the trafficking industry in Russia. It was a page-turner. I could not put the book down. In an interview with the author, published as an appendix to the book, Davis was asked "How much of what you wrote in Priceless is based on true events?" His response: 80%. Wow. This story is painful and frustrating-- a thriller that SHOULD be pure fiction. Instead, it is reality for thousands & thousands of girls in our world today. (I highly recommend reading this book.)

Children's Hope Chest is involved in the prevention, rescue, and restoration of trafficked orphans in places like Russia, Moldova, and India. This is only one branch of what the organization does... the main umbrella being orphan care & intervention... but it is a moving & valuable cause. One that is close to Andy's & my heart.

If you want to get involved in this tragic global issue, you can partner with Children's Hope Chest in the following ways:
  • In Russia, Children's Hope Chest provides over 1,000 orphans with protective services through our Ministry Centers, Family Centers, Independent Living Center Programs, and the Young Mothers Program. Girls and boys in these programs are not only safe, but loved and cared for by our dedicated staff.
  • In India, you can sponsor a classroom of orphaned & vulnerable children to help educate them to in vocational & life-skills to prepare them for independent living when they grow up.

All Children's Hope Chest programs are designed to help these children beat the odds, to become productive citizens and mature Christian adults with healthy families of their own.

Don't you want to be a part of their story too??

Sunday, November 14, 2010

An Unlikely (or Unexpected) God-Story

Back in January, I was having my quiet time after New Year's and reflecting back on how incredibly different my life is in 2010 versus 2000. Lots of praising God for the immense work He's done in completely 180-ing my life in that decade. I mean, my life was ridiculous in 2000. Didn't know the Lord (for SURE!), didn't live in Austin, wasn't married, was running around with boys, a drunk, materialistic, anti-religious athiest, mom was alive, sister was alive, you name it... Anyway, I was truly marveling and how He can redeem and purify my life.

Then I started forward praying... wondering how He might change my life even more over the NEXT 10 years. What would I be celebrating after New Year's in 2020?! How could He possibly do MORE than He has already done?! (Not that I think I am "complete", but just thinking He's taken care of so many "majors".) So, as I was praying and wondering, I literally wrote: "I guess if You're gonna MAKE us have kids, that would happen sometime in the next decade cuz I am getting 'old'."

As soon as I wrote that in my prayer journal, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper... "How bout you talk to Me (God) about that?" Uhhhh, what?! I was shocked. And a little freaked out. So, I immediately started prayer-journaling (for 7pgs) about all the reasons why I didn't want kids, had never wanted kids (as in, never in my entire life), was scared to have to kids, felt called to not have kids, etc. Page after page, I poured out my heart to God with every rational and irrational excuse I could think of.

When I got the end of my pleading and talking, again I felt the Holy Spirit whisper... "Is that all? Cuz I am bigger than all of that." With eyes bulging, lump in throat, I closed my Bible & journal and went to find Andy in the other room. "Uhhh, Andy, we need to talk."

I started to tell him everything that had just happened-- the whole blow by blow-- and the entire time he's listening, he has this strange smile/smirk on his face. His response was so strange to me that I finally asked: "What's the deal?! Have you been praying for God to change my heart about all this or something?!" He adamantly denied it, saying "NO! I swear!!! ... but God started to talking to me about the same thing just a few days ago in my quiet time." I started bawling (the freak-out kind of crying). What does all this mean?!!?

So we both talked through (really, I cried through) the 100s of reasons why kids weren't for us. All our fears. All our selfishness. All our desires for how we envisioned our life together. But we ultimately couldn't deny God was speaking to us about it with a new agenda for the first time. Andy suggested we both take a week to separately explore it in prayer and the Word and talk to a few people about the potential shift. At the end of the 7 days we'd reconvene on the subject and see what we thought God was saying.

It was a strange and scary 7 days. But ultimately at its close, neither of us could deny what God was saying... He was asking us to have kids. Ouch. This was a total paradigm shift for me and completely foreign to even THINK about! But I couldn't ignore what was plain and clear, His call was real. And I (oddly) had a great peace about it... despite all my fears. If God was calling us to it, then I felt sure I could trust Him, even if it made no sense to me.

I immediately asked Andy if I could "have" 6 months to let the shift sink in before we did anything about it. But in his wisdom, Andy said if God has made His call clear, we shouldn't delay in responding. But in God's great mercy, He gave me 7 months before we actually conceived. In that time, He did a lot of work in me, helping me come to terms with a new game plan.

Now, I'm more than half way through my pregnancy. We are having a little girl in March. I still needed all the time I've gotten so far during pregnancy to continue to process. There is a LOT I am having to mourn & let go of. And there are plenty of dreams I am having to pray about assimilating our kids into. We don't feel a game change in our unique ministry calls. We certainly don't feel kids change our focus on serving the Lord FIRST. But I recognize there is a lot I am gonna have to learn as we go...

So, that's our unlikely story. But isn't it just like God?! I can only find comfort & peace when I trust & lean into Him about the whole thing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Spanish Bibles for Kids

Esmerelda is a precious friend of ours. She cleans houses for a living, but above even that, she is a fierce prayer warrior and inspiring follower of Christ. Two Christmas' ago, she and her family decided to drive to interior Mexico to share the gospel. They took $500 and clothed hundreds of people, fed even more, told everyone they met about the hope they have in Christ, and ministered to the poor, the least, and the lost. Even their young son was eager to witness to the children he met.
This coming Christmas break, they are going back. They are aware of the current safety issues in Mexico, but are determined to yield to God's call and trust Him for their protection. They will be driving across the border, kids in tow, and will spend 2 weeks reaching out to those who do not know Christ. They are taking boxes of gently-used clothes to hand out to those in need. And they have made a goal to collect 100 toys for 100 kids. They have almost met their goal, through God's provision.

Andy & I asked if they had thought about giving out Spanish-language Bibles to those they meet. Esmerelda thought that sounded like a great idea. So, Andy & I are committing to get 50 Spanish-language Jesus Storybook Bibles if we can get our friends/readers to match that with another 50... that way they can pass out 100 Bibles with their 100 toys for 100 kids! Anyone interested, please connect with me and I'll let you know where to have the Bibles shipped.

Our hope is that God's word will not return void. That as these children & their families begin to read God's word (after hearing the Good News from Esmerelda & her family) they will develop rich, lasting relationships with the author & perfecter of their faith!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

3 Cooking Classes, 3 Countries

Our Women's International Cooking Collective has continued this fall (even with my lax blogging about it). And in 3 months, we've "visited" 3 unique countries, thanks to some wonderful guest chefs!


Guest Chef Adele, who I thought was a nurse-- but turns out she is a nurse while going to school at a culinary academy-- represented her country well. Adele, who originally comes from Florence, took on the challenge of teaching us to make an exquisite Mushroom Risotto and homemade Tiramisu. She gave me many great tips on how to improve my kitchen tools for optimal cooking ease (thank you!). Adele hopes to one day open her own Italian restaurant & wine import store here in the US. I'll be there opening night!!
(Fabs eager to start our sampling of risotto)
(Adele shows us how to sprinkle cocoa on top of our tiramisu.)
(Adele puts the finishing touch on the mushroom risotto.)
(Adele with Anita, co-workers, now co-cookers.)
UGANDA Guest Chef Rehema was our first Olympic chef... that's right, in passing conversation we somehow got out of her that she was in the Olympics ("just once"), representing her country as a runner! She is here in the US studying for a Masters in Public Health Education in hopes of returning home one day to help combat the AIDS crisis affecting her country (and claimed the life of her twin brother). We learned to cook Cassava, Sim-Sim Balls, Posho, Peanut Butter Black Beans, and 3 main dishes (a chicken, a fish, & a veg) that I still never learned the name for. Needless to say, Rehema was ambitious to teach us all she could.
(Our "nameless" fish dish.)
(Nicole listens to see if the sesame seeds are crackling- the indicator they are cooked.)
(After a first bite, the sim sim balls grew long strings of sugar "hair".)
(A few of us pose with Rehema at the end of class.)
Guest Chef Pari taught us how to utilize about a dozen different spices... and turn any dish into a flavor wonderland! Pari, who comes from my hometown, Fort Worth, is the first person in her family born in the US. Her family fled Afghanistan during the Soviet take-over, lived as refugees in Pakistan for a while, and eventually ended their flight in Texas. She serves on the board of a local mosque (even at her youthful university sophomore age) and was eager to tell us much about her religion as she cooked. She taught us to make Aloo Chole (Aloo means garbanzo bean, Chole means potato- so guess what the dish was?), Samosas, and a milky-sweet dessert called Seviya. Mmmm.
(Fabs tries her hand as stuffing the samosa pouch with filling.)
(Pari pours the finished seviya, steaming hot, into a serving dish.)
(A beautiful spread of Aloo Chole & Samosas.)
(New friends, me & Pari take one final pic.)

Starting this Women's International Cooking Collective has been such an adventure. I've learned so much from the women who have agreed to teach us. Not just about food, but about culture, and about "being a woman" in today's world. I love spending time with both the students and chefs. And I am so thankful that God has given me this unique way to use my house to create friendships and be a place of welcome & love!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Women's Voices from the Muslim World: A Short-Film Festival

I follow a great blog called "Muslimah Media Watch" which tracks and comments on current events/news/issues related to Muslim women worldwide. Today, I saw this short post on their blog...
Women's Voices Now is a non-profit organization that was founded in January 2010 and is based in New York City. Their mission is to “empower women and give voice to the struggle for civil, economic and political rights.”

Currently, they’re accepting submissions for a film festival, "Women's Voices from the Muslim World: A Short-Film Festival." They are taking submissions up until Nov 1, 2010, but they are already posting some films on their website. Go and watch them... great storytelling!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Isaiah's Story: A Beautiful Rescue

Isaiah's Story from 31Films on Vimeo.

I saw this video this weekend at a conference I attended about adoption & orphan care. It is a moving story!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Global Faith Forum

After hearing Carl Medearis speak in Austin this past May, I decided to read his book: "Muslims, Christians, & Jesus." The book was such a breath of fresh air in a sometimes stale conversation (within some Christian circles) on Muslim-Christian relations. I truly appreciated both his insights and shared experiences from a life trying to live out every day not as a Christian... but simply as a follower of Jesus. I learned a lot from the book and hope that his perspective on Truth assimilates itself more and more into my life.

At the end of his book, I read that he had a blog, which I started to follow. Last week, Medearis posted about the GLOBAL FAITH FORUM (of which I'd never heard). Here is his blog post about the event:

Global Faith Forum

November 11-13, 2010

NorthWood Church, Keller, TX


HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal, HE Vietnamese Ambassador Le Cong Phung, Os Guinness, Eboo Patel, Ray Bakke, Bob Roberts, Jr., Ed Stetzer and others

Why the Global Faith Forum?

In case you haven’t noticed, the world around us is getting smaller. What used to be “on the other side of the world” is now in our own backyard.

As a result, we are rubbing shoulders with people of different cultures and religions who hold different values and beliefs.

In the midst of this shrinking world, we have three basic choices:

1. Live in fear of what we don’t understand threatening to burn, hate and denigrate.

2. Bury our head in the sand and play like none of this is happening (but you’d better turn off the evening news and try to not act too surprised when the globalized world lands on your front porch.)

3. Seek to engage in conversation, learning to respect and understand others while not compromising our core beliefs.

We believe option #3 is the best choice.
Join us at the Global Faith Forum as we learn how to join the conversation.

I am intrigued and eager to learn from this event. So, tonight I registered and am encouraging all you out there to go and sign up too!!!